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House of Lords

Thursday, 12 February 2009.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Royal Assent

11.06 am

The following Act was given Royal Assent:

Banking Act 2009.

Armed Forces: Recruitment


11.07 am

Asked By Lord Lee of Trafford

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, recruitment to all three services has improved over the past few months, primarily as a result of targeted national, regional and local-level recruiting campaigns. There has also been a significant increase in expressions of interest through the Armed Forces recruitment offices and through online applications, which is attributed in part to the current economic circumstances and rising unemployment.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, since they came to power in 1997, the Government have presided over a 12 per cent reduction in the size of our Armed Forces. Only they believe that our troops are not overstretched. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from the British Medical Association, which states that the UK harmony guidelines work well when they are adhered to but that when they are not there is an increase in post-traumatic stress and in subsequent alcohol problems, and that what has been shown to be particularly detrimental is where the actual tour length exceeds the expectation. Does not the encouraging recruiting picture, to which the noble Lord referred, give the Government a real opportunity to right a wrong and rebuild our force levels both for obvious military advantage and, in terms of their moral responsibility, for the welfare of those who bravely and daily put their lives on the line for us?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I will refer particularly to the harmony guidelines, which are important, and recruitment will help. Presently, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines are meeting their figure and there is a significant improvement in the Royal Air Force. The last figure we have faith in for the Army is about a 10 per cent failure. The recruitment will help but so will our commitment to the drawdown in Iraq, where we have 4,100 troops. We hope that their activities will conclude by the end of May and that they will leave Iraq by the end of July. Only a limited number of

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service personnel will remain in Iraq for training and administrative purposes. That will help with the harmony guidelines, which I agree is a good thing.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, what action are the Government taking to address the specific manning pinch points?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the specific manning pinch points are important. There is very careful tracking of all pinch points, which are being addressed by a series of actions; namely, restructuring and reducing some of the operational commitment. We are trying to reduce the voluntary outflows through financial retention incentives, which is having a positive effect. There will also be changes in the outside world. For example, pilots are a specific pinch point and the market for pilots is not nearly as hot as it was. But they are a problem and they are being very carefully monitored to make sure that their operational impact is mitigated.

Lord Burnett: My Lords, decent salaries are crucial to successful recruitment and retention. However, what is far more important to the Armed Forces is the public recognition that decent salaries provide for them. We hold our Armed Forces in high regard, and that is reflected in those salaries. Last year the Armed Forces were singled out and awarded an above-inflation pay settlement. This was widely welcomed throughout the country. Will the Minister confirm that this year the Government will follow last year’s admirable precedent?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, it was quite nice to agree with everything the noble Lord said until he made his last point, when he asked me to pre-empt a government decision. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body will meet and make recommendations, and the Government will act in the light of those recommendations.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that while recruitment is important, the issue of the retention of middle-ranking and non-commissioned officers who are the high-quality backbone of our Armed Forces is absolutely critical? In that connection, while he mentioned the imminent reduction in numbers in Iraq, which is hoped for and would be welcomed, what remains pending is the question of further forces being assigned to Afghanistan in response to any request by the new President of the United States. Against that background, if people have to make frequent tours to Afghanistan because of shortages, that will have a serious effect on retention.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, as yet, the Government have not come to a view about changes in Afghanistan. As my noble friend Lady Taylor said last week, we are initiating a review of our Afghanistan policy. The numbers coming out of Iraq will have a significant impact on meeting the harmony guidelines. The noble Lord is right to say that frequent tours have a negative impact, but the Army is extremely cognisant of that and is working very hard, right down to the level of individual groups of soldiers, to try to mitigate the effects. The changes being made in Iraq will have a considerable positive effect.

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Identity Security: Visas


11.12 am

Asked By Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, following the introduction of biometric checks as part of the visa application process, more than 3 million sets of fingerprints have been enrolled. Checks against these biometrics have identified more than 5,246 cases of identity fraud or changes of identity. Twenty-five applicants were subsequently arrested by the police force of the host country in 2008, and one applicant so far in 2009 has been arrested.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging news. Can he confirm that without the use of biometrics, it is likely that the 5,246 individuals he mentioned would have gained entry to the United Kingdom, would have remained here illegally and possibly worked illegally as well? Does the checking of fingerprints for biometric visas identify those who have previously come to the attention of either the police or immigration officers as a result, for example, of criminal convictions or failed asylum applications?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that this does allow us to make much better checks on who we allow into the country. Indeed, in 2007 we refused 474,000 visas for a number of reasons, among which would be as a result of these checks. The reason for the small number of those who have been arrested is that we have in place strict rules in various countries around the world. We passed on 490, but those rules, known as the police referral programme, mean that we have to be sure that within each country things will be handled in a similar way to this country. We do not pass on the information willy-nilly. That is the reason for such a small number when compared with the very large number of irregularities we find. However, those irregularities can help us dramatically in that we often find people with multiple identities.

I have to say that primarily the irregularities are not based on counterterrorist reasons, but the system does have value in that regard. We know very well, for example, that al-Qaeda specifically tells its people to adopt multiple personalities. Those whom we have caught and put away in prison in this country often have up to 30 different identities, but this system absolutely stops that. They might not be who they say they are, but they cannot be anybody else because the biometrics tie down their identity.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, one of the other arms for preventing illegal immigrants and enhancing security is the e-borders programme. By what date will the full e-borders programme be implemented and what will it cost?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not have that specific information with me. The plan is that there will be a 95 per cent check of everyone going in and out of this country by 2010, but I shall come back to the noble Baroness if that date has changed. The total cost of the programme has not yet been finalised. We have now got down to the last two people who are contracted for this but, again, I shall come back with the latest data for the full costs.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, whatever the costs, it is particularly good value for money?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I agree totally with my noble friend. As I mentioned in the debate last night, for some decades we have not properly grasped the nettle of controlling our borders and immigration. That is now beginning to happen. In 1994, I think it was, we stopped counting people out of the country; we will now be counting people out and in. We will have exact details of the persons they say they are so that they cannot come in as anyone else. This will be extremely valuable. The pilot studies that we have run with some airlines flying to south Asia have already bowled out a large number of people who have done some pretty nasty things. As I say, they are not primarily terrorists but people who have done some other very unpleasant things. The pilots have been very successful. The fact that we have this clear check is very important and is no less than the people in this country would expect.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some people already within the country are assuming different identities all the time? Having suffered my pocket being picked a week or so ago, the police informed me that, in London, when they have cause to arrest people for something else, these people can come up with as many as 10 different identities but the police check shows that they are all one person. The biometric visa does not help because they are already here. Does the Minister have any comment on that?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I cannot believe that gift. This, of course, leads directly to the issue of identity cards, the great joy of which is that one will be able to tell. Again, it might not be who he actually is, but he is going to be that person on the identity card. That is who he is—bang; he will have one identity. The security measures within the identity card make it very difficult to tamper with and give some surety. Identity theft is a bad thing and we have focused on it a great deal. It reads across into e-commerce and some of the problems we have there. There has been a great rise in the number of incidents and that is one of the reasons why we need to pin down identity. As the noble Baroness rightly said, often when the police arrest someone it can take them two or three hours to establish who the person is. Again, the quicker this can be done and the matter sorted out, the better it is for people who are innocent, we catch the people who are guilty and it allows the police to get on with all the other things they should be doing.

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Lord Rogan: My Lords, what arrangements, if any, are in place to monitor and control the land frontier with the Republic of Ireland?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, that is a little beyond the scope of the Question. At the moment, the land frontier is exactly the same as it has ever been. It is, indeed, as it was when I did the odd patrol on it. One of the great difficulties was making sure in which country you were. But we have no changes in mind at the moment.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, what is the situation in relation to people who have dual nationality, particularly those possessing more than one passport? Is the system being monitored to identify the people who travel in on one passport and go out on another?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a good point, which was raised and discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in the debate yesterday. There is clearly an issue here. It is not only a question of whether we check if more than one passport is held—we do not monitor that specifically at the moment—but whether people with our nationality should be allowed to fight for other countries’ armed forces, and what exactly is the position of people with other passports fighting for our Armed Forces. We need to look at this area. There is not a specific programme for looking it at the moment but it is something that we need to do and should do .

Lord Broers: My Lords, how is the IRIS recognition system working? What percentage of people sign up for that? How satisfied are they with it?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on those specific points.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is it not the case, as the Government have told us, that it will not be laid down that everyone must carry an identity card, even when they are introduced? If people can choose whether to have one, how will that help in the circumstance that the Minister earlier outlined?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct that people will not have to carry the card with them. To go through an example, let us say that the police stop someone for some kind of offence. They will try to establish an identity, which is often involves a long debate—your Lordships might have seen the odd programme on television showing these incidents going on. They say, “Where do you live? Will you take us back there?” and they often then go back to the person’s house. One would expect to find an identity card there and the person somehow to be able to prove who they are. They should have some documentation, which, in that case, one would be able to find. That would then bowl out instantly multiple identities.

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Local Authorities: Violence against Women


11.21 am

Asked By Baroness Howe of Idlicote

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, local authorities form part of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which have a crucial role to play in tackling violence against women; for example, considering what more can be done to prevent sexual violence, bringing perpetrators to justice and providing services to victims.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and, indeed, for all that the Government have already done to tackle this horrendous problem. But despite this, is it not still the case that no fewer than 3 million women in the UK will have experienced violence this year, and every year, and that 25 per cent of local authorities still do not provide any women’s support services? What will the Government do to ensure that all local authorities have both the will and the resources to provide these services?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is an appalling business. I was quite horrified when looking into it to find, for example, that 24 per cent of women have apparently experienced sexual violence since the age of 16—a staggering figure—and that 5 per cent of women have been raped but only 15 per cent of them reported it to the police.

We have done a great deal to ensure that there is enough funding. Indeed, on Tuesday, the Home Secretary announced the launching of a new guide with tips on how to recognise domestic violence; a further £3.5 million to tackle interpersonal violence, including expanding the number of multi-agency risk assessment conferences; and just under £1million to support a range of domestic violence helplines.

We very much believe that we should let local authorities decide their spending as part of our commitment not to require local authorities to ring-fence funding other than for education. By 2010—11, we will have “mainstreamed”—in other words, let the local authorities use some £5.7 billion of funding as they think best. It is absolutely right that we should keep a check on whether they are looking after women at risk, and they are required to report their performance against a set of national indicators. The recent Map of Gaps report highlighted that a number of local authorities are not doing enough. We need those local authorities to let us know what they are doing with non-governmental groups. If it emerges that they are not doing anything, we need to focus on it quite specifically.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the view of many who have experience of the family jurisdiction in the courts, women’s refuge centres have achieved more in terms of protecting women and children from violence and abuse than

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probably all other public initiatives put together? Does he further agree that it would be most injurious to the success of those institutions if there was to be any diminution at all, even in these difficult economic circumstances, of the support that they receive?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the dynamics, particularly of domestic violence, mean that accommodation plays a vital role in resolving these issues, and there is no doubt that the provision of accommodation has made a huge difference. In 2006, for example, local housing authorities in England accepted 3,180 households that were made homeless as a result of fleeing from domestic violence. He is quite correct that the refuges are important. In 2004—05 we spent £57 million on the Supporting People programme, which provides housing for domestic violence victims. Funding increased to £59 million the following year and to £61 million in 2006—07. CLG provides a yearly homelessness prevention grant of about £47.2 million and further moneys from CLG go to the third sector. This area is crucial and the noble Lord is absolutely right: we must not let this funding go because it is so important within this area of violence.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a child who is brought up in a household that experiences domestic violence is very likely to be affected to the extent that they will leave themselves in the hands of violent men in the future? What advice is given to local authorities about dealing with the children of families that are subject to domestic violence?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not know the exact details. I imagine that our sexual assault referral centres and investment in the other non-governmental groups would provide such advice. If I may get back to the noble Baroness in writing on the specifics I can let her know exactly.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government have over the past 11 years made violence against women one of our top priorities by bringing in new laws and providing additional funding? Will he comment on the Home Secretary’s announcement last week that there will be a consultation to find new ways of dealing with domestic violence, and can he say when that consultation will be launched? Can he also comment on other new initiatives launched last week, including a leaflet that seeks to help the relatives and friends of those believed to be suffering from domestic violence by giving hints, advice and support on how to help these victims? Does he agree that these leaflets should be distributed widely in supermarkets, community centres and post-natal clinics?

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