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House of Lords

Wednesday, 28 January 2009.

3 pm

Prayers—read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

EU: Welfare Benefits


Asked By Lord Roberts of Llandudno

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, the EU member states have put in place social security co-ordinating regulations that ensure that citizens can access their own nation’s benefits if they have entitlement to them. Entitlement depends on a number of factors such as the current place of work, if in work; the last place of work, if retired; and where their centre of interest lies. These rules do not discriminate between EEA citizens on the grounds of nationality.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. The Minister will be aware of the number of migrants who are legally resident in the UK whose jobs collapse, especially in the present economic circumstances, and who are then homeless and without any income whatever. Would the Government be prepared to explore with our European partners arrangements whereby people who had paid their contributions, say in Poland or in Lithuania, would be able to draw on their country’s resources if they were in need because they had had a hard time in the country where they were living at the time?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, this is a very complex area. There are cross-border issues around benefits. There are existing co-ordination arrangements under which posted employees—people who are posted for just 12 months to another state—can access and contribute to their benefit system back home. EEA nationals, including those from the accession countries, can access income-related benefits in the UK under certain circumstances, including if they have been working and registered for at least 12 months and are seeking work. There are more restrictive arrangements for A8 and A2 nationals but there is still an opportunity, with that proviso, to access income-related benefits.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, how many people are in the position that the Minister has just described? In other words, to how many foreign residents are we paying social security benefits and what is the global amount of the benefits they are receiving?

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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord those data off the top of my head. I am not sure whether we record them fully in respect of foreign nationals because, for the most part, under these co-ordinated arrangements, nationality is not a key determinant of benefit payments. I can give him a number for the total payments made to UK nationals and EU citizens living in the EU in the year to September 2008: it was about £1 billion, most of which was pension entitlements.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, are claimants able to draw benefits in more than one country at the same time?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it is unlikely. The co-ordination arrangements, which are not about harmonising benefit systems across the 31 countries involved, seek to allocate, particularly for workers, to which country’s scheme you pay contributions to and therefore which state is responsible for the benefits. It is therefore unlikely that there would be overlap, but we are dealing with 31 systems here and they are not totally aligned.

Lord Soley: My Lords, I endorse my noble friend’s comments about the complexity of this issue but is there not a case for the European Union to look at other ways of helping? I do not think that it is easy to harmonise all the arrangements but I give the simple example of the problems presented by a Polish person needing emergency housing in London, when there is housing available, but no work, in their home town in Poland. There is a case for looking at voluntary schemes that would allow for transfer between countries and provide additional help to enable people in those circumstances to go home instead of remaining homeless on our streets or on the streets of other countries.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, my noble friend raises a very interesting question. I do not think that the matter is currently under review but I shall certainly take back his suggestion to colleagues in the department.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, given the unprecedented collapse of the building industry in this country, in which many visiting workers from eastern Europe have been employed, has the department any estimate of how many workers in that industry are from eastern Europe, and how many of them are now unemployed?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the answer is no. Clearly, we have unemployment data which are broken down into broad sectors but I do not believe that the data distinguish between people from particular EU states or from outside.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it might be helpful if he published the answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, if and when he is able to discover it?

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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, if the information is available in the form requested I shall certainly ensure that it is made available. The point I was seeking to make is that access to a range of benefits—we are dealing with income-related benefits, contributory and non-contributory benefits, with different rules for each—does not necessarily rest on nationality. Therefore, nationality is not necessarily recorded when a benefit is claimed or, indeed, awarded.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if these folk who fall on hard times in the UK, but are not of the UK, could access their own national benefits at least they would not be penniless and that would resolve many of the problems of rough sleeping and homelessness, which are increasing as the credit crunch continues?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not think that anything in the UK system would preclude people’s home states making contributions. Under the co-ordination arrangements, when people from abroad are in work in the UK, they pay their contributions into the UK state system and not into their home systems. However, I take the noble Lord’s point. This area is worthy of further examination.

Prisons: Young Offender SP


3.07 pm

Asked By Lord Ramsbotham

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, in his letter of 18 June 2008, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman set out his reasons for withdrawing from the SP investigation. The letter was publicised by the Howard League and has been on its website since June; indeed, it is still there today. I am placing a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, although it is very disappointing, because I had hoped that the reasons would be explained to the House, which basically—correct me if I am wrong—amounted to obstruction by the Prison Service in the conduct of an inquiry on behalf of the public. This is a very disturbing fact, but it has marked the Prison Service’s attitude to inquiries for far too long. It has been noted in coroners’ reports and in the report on the Mubarek inquiry. Only last week a High Court judge refused to accept the Prison Service’s nomination of a retired senior manager to replace the ombudsman in this inquiry. This attitude amounts to little short of contempt of the public. Recently, this House voted that the Prison Service management should be subject to the conditions of the corporate manslaughter Act.

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Will the Minister tell us what steps are being taken to cleanse the Prison Service of its attitude towards other inquiries?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I have to refute the noble Lord’s suggestion as strongly as I can. From a particular case he generalises to an absurd extent. The fact is that the Prison Service and all those who work in the prisons part of the Ministry of Justice have a hard job to do. There are some extremely difficult cases. I do not think that it aids prisoners in any way if someone with as much experience and who is as widely respected as the noble Lord is on this subject generalises to the extent that he has done in the House today. It does them a huge disservice. If I may say so, he should choose his words rather more carefully.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is not generalising. This case has been going on since 2003 to 2005, when the individual SP suffered her injuries. There was then a prolonged inquiry, which collapsed. Then the Government, in their wisdom, appointed a Prison Service manager to chair the inquiry. Rightly, that was struck out by the courts. I do not think that the Minister can dismiss that as being the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, generalising. Will he now answer the points put by the noble Lord?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I was not for a moment suggesting that in asking about this case the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was generalising. However, he made some very general attacks on the way in which this particular part of the Ministry of Justice reacted to prison problems. I thought that that was unfair. On this case, of course it is right to say that there have been difficulties. The court decided that there had not been undue delay by the Ministry of Justice. We had considered that the investigator whom we had commissioned to undertake the investigation would be suitably independent and have the relevant skills to conduct the investigation in a transparent and robust manner. The court disagreed. That is the position that we are in and we want to move forward.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Howard League—unremunerated—which is acting for SP in this case. Can I tempt the noble Lord to look positively to the future? I invite him to confirm that shortly a new chairman will be appointed who will be independent and preferably of judicial rank; that there will be new terms of reference, so that the full history of SP can be looked into and all relevant matters investigated by the inquiry; and that there will be funding, so that a full and proper inquiry can take place in a suitably rigorous manner.

Lord Bach: Yes, my Lords, I can. We hope to announce the appointment of the new investigator shortly. That person will be independent. As far as funding is concerned, in the recent case, which the noble Lord knows about so well, the judge concluded that the funding arrangements put in place by the department “plainly are”, to use his words, sufficient to safeguard SP’s interests as required by Article 2. I can answer his questions in the affirmative.

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Lord Elton: My Lords, the Minister said that the substantive Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was acceptable, but he has not answered it. He told us to look on a website. Could he tell us in synopsis what we will find there?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the letter that I referred to is four or five pages long and gives the reasons why the very distinguished ombudsman decided not to continue with the case. It is a question of why he decided that he could not carry on with it, so the question is perhaps best asked of him. It is his decision and the letter gives, over four or five pages, a number of reasons why he came to the view that he did. That letter is in the public domain and I will put a copy in the Library. The noble Lord can see what that letter says. To try to summarise it would be doing an injustice to the ombudsman.

Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill: Pre-legislative Scrutiny


3.14 pm

Asked By Baroness Neville-Jones

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill is based on the current arrangements for extending pre-charge detention. These arrangements have been agreed by Parliament and work well. Pre-charge detention has been the subject of extensive debate over the past 18 months. The draft Bill has been made available for comment and Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the Bill if it is introduced.

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. It seems to me to amount to saying that the Government will not submit this Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. I am sure that the House will be disappointed, as that is contrary to good legislative practice. Does the Minister accept that it could be counterproductive not to submit the Bill to proper legislative scrutiny? If the extended period of detention, which might be incorporated in the Bill, is applied to a single suspect who then goes to trial, the defence could argue that the circumstances of the investigation undermine a fair trial, as the jury, being aware that Parliament had approved such a drastic measure in a particular crisis, may be tempted to assume the suspect’s greater guilt. There is a problem in proceeding that way.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I understand why the noble Baroness asked a longer question. When one tries to shorten things, one gets into a terrible state of affairs, as I have recently. One has to be careful.

A copy of the Bill has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses; it is on the Home Office website; copies have been sent to the Home Affairs Committee; and it was the subject of a very lengthy debate during the Commons consideration of the Lords’ amendments,

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during which there was widespread support for the Home Affairs Committee to scrutinise the Bill. We are very happy for that committee to scrutinise the Bill and, although it is not within my gift, I hope that Parliament is given an opportunity, if it wishes, to discuss any Home Affairs Committee report.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, given that the Home Secretary produced the draft Bill within hours of this House rejecting the original clauses in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, what substantial changes have been introduced into the draft Bill, compared with those in the original Bill which this House rejected, which would make it more likely that this House will approve the draft Bill?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the safeguards in the Bill are the current ones for people who have to remain in pre-charge detention up to 28 days. There are a number of differences between the two Bills, such as the requirement in legislation for there to be a grave, exceptional terrorist threat. Effectively, in that situation, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will decide that it should be brought into play because, for the security of the country, she will have decided that the investigation of terrorist suspects needs a longer period than 28 days. I could go through a whole number of other things which are different, but the safeguards are exactly the same as for the current 28-day period.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, having seen the magic phrase “pre-legislative scrutiny” in the Question, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on their record of developing and extending the whole system of pre-legislative scrutiny, which cannot sensibly be applied to every single Bill as there is no demand for that? None the less, it is an improvement in our parliamentary proceedings. I say, in this bipartisan spirit, well done to the Government.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend, not least because I actually asked for the statistics on that, thinking that it might be raised. In 1997, less than 5 per cent of Bills had any pre-legislative scrutiny and in the past year the figure was 33 per cent. My noble friend is absolutely right: we have quite a good record.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, does the Minister accept the premise behind the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, that introducing the Bill in a moment of crisis will completely prejudice any subsequent trial against the individuals concerned?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not accept that. Of course, the Bill was roundly defeated—suffering the largest defeat ever in the Lords is one of my successes—but we hope to get something in place before there is a period of crisis. I am a great believer that legislation passed in an emergency generally is not good. That is an issue. It is necessary to have this; it has been simplified; and it is very small and focused. It has been placed in the Library and on the website and

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has been debated in the other place, and people have had a chance to look at it. On that basis, our position is sound.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord had great praise for the Government’s record on pre-legislative scrutiny and I agree with that. Could we, perhaps, go a little further and have post-legislative scrutiny to see that the legislation that has been passed is working properly and is not oppressive?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, this is going a little beyond what I can say on the Floor of the House without getting into serious trouble. As I said, we have a good record on pre-legislative scrutiny. We also have a good record on counterterrorist work. We have a new counterterrorist strategy, which will be put to Cabinet and will come out in the next couple of months. Over the past 18 months, we have done a huge amount to make this country safer, of which I am very proud. It does not mean that we are safe, I am afraid, because there are still severe threats out there. However, some very good work has been done and I am proud of that.

BBC: Disasters Emergency Committee


3.21 pm

Asked By Lord Faulkner of Worcester

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the Question. I have had no discussions with the BBC on this matter and nor, I believe, have any of my departmental colleagues in the other place. Decisions on broadcast material are entirely a matter for the BBC management and thereafter, in the case of impartiality, a matter for review by the BBC Trust. The Government, rightly, do not seek to dictate the BBC’s or other broadcasters’ day-to-day editorial policy, however emotive the subject.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for that Answer. I am sure that he, like many noble Lords, has had the opportunity to see the appeal by DEC during this week. Does he agree with the assertion contained in the beginning of the appeal—that it is,

and that DEC,

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