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House of Lords

Monday, 12 January 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Employment: Public Sector


Asked By Lord James of Blackheath

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, the Government will continue to invest in key public services to support people during the economic downturn. To ensure that resources are targeted on core front-line areas and to reduce further the cost of running government, administration budgets will fall by 5 per cent per annum in real terms for each of the next three years. Public sector employers will need to take decisions over how best to deploy the resources within their budgets.

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I find it very disappointing and falling short of what we might have hoped for in these stressed times. The Minister will no doubt be aware that, prior to his arrival to rescue the Government, they had for 11 years been increasing public employment at the rate of 2,770 jobs per working day—a total of 573,000 more jobs today than when they came to power. As this has brought about an increased tax burden of £2 billion a year for 11 years—it now runs at £22 billion, which is exactly the same as the amount that the Government have boasted that they have saved as a result of the Gershon report—will the Minister now consider whether it is time for another cost-cutting exercise and to take forward another Gershon exercise?

Lord Myners: My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that the Gershon exercise, which was part of the 2004 spending review, has been followed by further exercises and further commitments to secure operational efficiencies, including in particular the use of five well respected business people to provide guidance on core areas, such as Mr Grimstone of Standard Life, who is providing advice on asset management. These are quite complex areas. I felt a degree of sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, when Mr Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, said on 19 May that he was not sure that the approach that the noble Lord, Lord James, had adopted in his own review of public expenditure was credible.

Noble Lords: Oh!

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Lord Myners: My Lords, the House can remain assured that we are absolutely committed to effective public expenditure, to value for money and to securing operational and efficiency improvements. However, at the same time, we are not going to slash public expenditure when it is most vitally needed to support the economy.

Lord Newby: My Lords, in the months ahead, will the Government practise what they are advocating to the private sector in terms of their hiring policy? Will they, for example, pay graduate trainees to be interns, and what incentives will they give to the long-term unemployed to work in the public sector?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the Government’s policy on recruitment, head-count and remuneration for public sector employees is to pay whatever is necessary to meet the predetermined requirements. In as much as labour market conditions are changing, I envisage that the Government’s own policies will reflect those changing conditions.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, underneath all those words, did the Minister mean to say, no, he will not think of a freeze or, yes, he will think of a freeze?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asks a penetrating question. I do not think that it is quite as simple as that; in the real world, it is a matter of efficient expenditure and efficient head-count allocation to meet needs. Some parts of government services are demand driven. In this type of economy we have automatic stabilisers, which recognise that. In some parts of government there will be reductions—and I have said, in response to the noble Lord, Lord James, that there is a 5 per cent per annum commitment in real terms to reduce expenditure on administration over each of the next three years. I hope noble Lords take some comfort from the fact that we are pressing for further efficiencies.

In a straight answer to the noble Lord’s question, no, there is no head-count freeze.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it not the time—

Noble Lords: This side!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, this corner must have a turn from time to time. Is this not the time to start rebuilding our manufacturing industry, which has declined by two-thirds over the past 30 years and needs rebuilding, unless we are to import everything from overseas—particularly from China and India?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I would welcome further strengthening of the British manufacturing industry, and believe that will be one of the consequences of the actions that we have taken on fiscal stimulus, on monetary easing—and as a consequence of the fact that we now have a very competitive currency.

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Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, is it not the case that, following recent productivity gains, manufacturing industry now provides 60 per cent of our exports?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I defer to the noble Baroness. I do not have those statistics to hand. However, to the extent that I find that that is correct, I shall confirm it to her in writing.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I think that we would all like to hear the answer to that, as I do not think that the noble Baroness was correct.

On efficient spending, the Minister referred to real-term cuts in administrative budgets, and the PBR referred to £5 billion per annum of efficiency gains. What does that mean as regards employment in the public sector, or do the Government believe that maintaining public sector employment is one of their responses to the recession?

Lord Myners: My Lords, we are talking about securing sustainable efficiencies and improvement in productivity. The audit done under Gershon evidenced that that has been achieved in the past and will be continued in future.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what are the Government doing to rein in our contributions to the EU?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I think that we are straying from the subject of the Question. I would beg noble Lords’ indulgence not to be guilty myself of straying from the subject.

People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran


2.44 pm

Asked By Lord Waddington

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, mindful of the clear judgment of the Court of First Instance of 4 December 2008 annulling the July 2008 listing of the PMOI, the UK believe that EU member states must observe and respect the court’s judgment in the current review of the EU list of terrorist organisations.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, but I think that he will agree with me that so far the British Government have not covered themselves in glory, having abstained rather than supported the Court of Appeal’s decision that the PMOI was not a terrorist organisation when the matter was before the Council of Ministers some months ago. Did not the European Court say in its judgment of 4 December that the British Government’s excuse for abstaining on that occasion—namely, that they had to vote either for or against the whole list of terrorist organisations—was wholly spurious? Surely

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we are entitled to expect that from now on the Government will ensure that the judgments of the Court of Appeal and the European Court are observed and that the European Union respects the rule of law.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is, as always, gracious; he was kind enough, in attributing the spurious response to the Government, not to say that it was my response in this Chamber to him and others. This gives me the opportunity to say that, while the Court thought the view incorrect that it was impossible to vote against only one member of that list, I checked back with officials, who have reconfirmed that it is up to the presidency of the European Council at the time to determine how such business is dealt with. A whole list was given and there was no option but to vote it up or down. Therefore, if we had not abstained, other terrorist organisations would have been delisted.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to hear the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, supporting so strongly the EU Court of Justice and the importance of obeying its rules. We all recognise the delicacy of defining a terrorist organisation. I am not an expert on the PMOI, but I have some hesitation about it, which arises from the fact that right-wing think tanks, Washington, Christopher Booker and the Sunday Telegraph are among its strongest proponents. Does the Minister accept that we are concerned about the delicate line between legitimate exiled organisations in this country and terrorist organisations? For example, the last day we met in December, the VHP from India was mentioned in the context of raising charitable moneys in this country that may go through to violence against minorities in India. Are the Government looking overall at the question?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we constantly review which organisations we believe should be proscribed. It is enormously important that our reviews and the decisions that we and our European partners make are subject to scrutiny by the courts. In this case it is clear that courts both at the national and the EU levels have found repeatedly against our desire to proscribe this organisation and it is enormously important that we accept and respect those judgments.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, will my noble friend reassure the House in clear and absolute terms that every future vote cast by Her Majesty’s Government will aim at the removal of the word “terrorist” in relation to the PMOI?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me be clear: at the end of this month there will be a decision on this issue by Ministers at the European level. Let me be equally clear that the UK will, both in the working meetings that precede that decision and at the time of the decision itself, urge respect for the decisions of the courts.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will the noble Lord explain why, if one is excluded, all others are excluded? Surely there is a form of assessment on the merits of each case. What is going on?

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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, each organisation is individually considered by the working committee that gives advice to the Council of Ministers. It is then the prerogative of the presidency to decide how a vote is taken on the list derived from those discussions. The last presidency determined that the vote should be on the list as a whole and that the list should be either adopted by consensus or rejected. It was not possible, in the view of the officials involved, to demand a vote on individual organisations on the list.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, in the light of the PMOI’s hopes for a Government in Iran who respect religious freedom, what action are Her Majesty’s Government taking on the position of the seven leaders of the Baha’i community who have been imprisoned without trial and held in severe conditions and who are now threatened with execution for no other crime than their religious beliefs?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we are very much aware that seven leading members of the Baha’i community have remained in detention without formal charge since their arrest in the first half of last year. We received reports in December that the group had been sentenced to death and that executions were imminent, although we have been unable to confirm this and cannot therefore substantiate the reports. Since the arrests, we have made several representations to the Iranian authorities calling for the group’s release and will continue to monitor developments closely. I associate myself with the right reverend Prelate in saying that this is an extraordinary attack on freedom of religion in that country.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in view of the court decision that effectively removes the PMOI from the terrorist list, it would be quite wrong to seek its inclusion on the EU’s asset-freeze list?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the two lists are in this sense linked. The deproscribing of the PMOI indeed has knock-on effects on the organisation as a whole.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, when the decision comes before European Ministers at the end of this month, will there be an individual decision on the PMOI? Will the Government then vote for deproscription?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, in the light of the court decision, we hope that the list, when it arrives before Ministers, will ideally not contain the PMOI.

Iraq: UK Armed Forces


2.52 pm

Asked By Lord Astor of Hever

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan since the House last met. They were Rifleman Stuart Nash, Corporal Robert Deering, Lance Corporal Ben Whatley, Corporal Liam Elms—all of them Royal Marines—and Sergeant Christopher Reed of the 6th Battalion The Rifles. Our thoughts are likewise with the family of the marine who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday.

The legal basis that took effect on 1 January requires the withdrawal of UK forces from Iraq, including those in Baghdad, by 31 July. As part of the normal bilateral defence relationship that we will move to in 2009, the Iraqis have indicated that they wish the UK to continue to provide military training. Negotiations to establish the scope of that activity will begin shortly.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches associate ourselves with the condolences the Minister sent to the families and friends of the servicemen tragically killed in Afghanistan.

Can the Minister confirm that the 600 British troops in Kuwait who are currently acting as a reserve for Iraq will also be withdrawn? The Minister mentioned training; will the Royal Navy’s training and advisory mission, carrying out the vital work of training the Iraqi navy, remain for the time being?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we do have reserves in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Government continue to support the ongoing operations in Iraq through the provision of facilities such as logistics and engineering staff. That will continue for the time being because we need to see an orderly withdrawal from Iraq. We have a good, long-term and strong bilateral relationship with the Government of Kuwait, which will of course continue.

We are significantly contributing to the training of the Iraqi navy, which is important for protecting energy reserves and maritime movements in that area. There is still a significant amount of work to be done, and we anticipate that that may be one of the areas in which we have ongoing work. However, as I have said, no direct decisions have been made at this stage.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I associate these Benches with the condolences that have been given. Will the Minister guide us on the status of the troops who will be left in Iraq? Will they still be regarded as front-line troops, even after the withdrawal of the majority of their colleagues, and will they receive the same support packages when they return from their tours of duty?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we have been in direct negotiations with the Iraqi Government about the protection that will be offered. We would not allow troops to maintain a presence there if we were not satisfied that there were proper safeguards for their positions, and the service chiefs agree that that is the case. As the Prime Minister indicated in his Statement in December, we are now moving away from a combat role to one of training, support and mentoring. The

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discussions that we will have with the Iraqi Government about our future presence, which will be a more conventional presence, as I said, will scope the exact extent of that military support. However, we can all be assured that the agreement we have will safeguard the positions of any troops that we will have in Iraq.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this withdrawal of troops from a combat role removes the Government’s objection to an inquiry into the Iraq war?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it has been made very clear that at the appropriate time there will be an inquiry into what happened in the events leading up to the war in Iraq. We have said repeatedly that that is not appropriate while we have servicemen there.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will that inquiry include an investigation into those companies, some of which are British, particularly the Weir Group, which were responsible for breaching the sanctions legislation in the early part of this decade?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, as no decision has been made on the exact extent or remit of any such inquiry, I cannot comment on that. I have heard some very interesting suggestions about the scope of any inquiry, including from my noble friend Lord Soley, who suggested that the inquiry ought also to include the circumstances in which international organisations failed to live up to their commitments.

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