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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. We hope, subject to departmental business, to make an announcement in March on the cross-governmental initiative. As for the pamphlets, I see no reason why we should not be able to make them widely available in places such as job

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centres, shopping centres and so on. We will try to get them distributed as widely as possible. I entirely agree with her that this Government have a very good record on focusing on this issue, an issue which is a disgrace to a civilised nation. I am delighted with what the Government have done over past years to try to resolve it.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, what guidance do the Government give on when restraining orders should be used, as opposed to forcing women and children to flee to refuges?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not know the precise details. Perhaps I may get back in writing on that point.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, will the Government provide minimum standards for local authorities to ensure that they do have domestic abuse co-ordinators in every local authority area, as has been established in Wales, and also to ensure that there is a long-term funding commitment for the future of sexual assault referral centres which were pump-prime funded by the Home Office?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I missed the first part of that question. Perhaps the noble Baroness would repeat it.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I was asking whether minimum standards will be set for local authorities to ensure that there is a minimum standard of provision, given that there is no local authority in this country that does not have women who are subject to violence and abuse.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I go back to my previous statement. We want to force out into local authorities the decisions on how they spend their money, but they have to report exactly what they are doing. The Map of Gaps report highlighted some of the real problems. We need to give the authorities that the report highlights the opportunity to show whether they are meeting the requirements in other ways, as I am sure some of them are. I do not believe that they would simply forget the responsibility. However, it is incumbent on us to focus on those that are not and point out what should be done. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that these things occur all over the country and through all spectrums of society, and it is important that we focus on it.

Sri Lanka


11.30 am

Asked By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, DfID has provided financial support of £5 million since October; £1,750,000 has already been disbursed to help meet the immediate needs of those displaced in Vanni and elsewhere. As a leading donor, DfID has taken a strategic approach to supporting those key agencies which have been able to operate effectively despite the difficulties on the ground. Most other donors are working through the UN and the ICRC. We have sent three DfID humanitarian experts to Sri Lanka to conduct an urgent reassessment of the deteriorating situation. DfID is working through the United Nations to maintain pressure on both sides, for international humanitarian law to be respected, for access to humanitarian agencies and for safe passage out of the conflict area for all civilians.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I hope we all recognise that Britain has a very active interest in this tragedy. We have the largest Tamil population in Europe and a rather smaller Sri Lankan population. A humanitarian disaster will therefore lap over on to this country if there is a substantial flow of asylum seekers. Many of us are not partisan of either side in this dispute; it is clear that there have been serious human rights abuses on both sides. Will Her Majesty’s Government do their best with others, including Sri Lanka’s neighbours, to bring sharp pressure to bear on both sides not to use civilians as shields in a very bitter conflict?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Lord says. This is a desperately sad conflict, with some 250,000 internally displaced persons. It is absolutely right that the Government, and all Governments, should bring the maximum pressure to bear on the parties to respect international law. We recognise the importance of that. The real issue is not money, as we think that we are providing enough money, but ensuring that people respect international law—that is true of both sides—and getting access to the war zones to provide help to the affected civilians.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the real issue is between a democratically elected Government, including Tamils, and a terrorist outfit, probably the strongest in the world? Is he further aware that this morning there is a new safe zone west of Mullaitivu? The figure that I have is still huge, but the number of people involved is around 100,000 rather than a quarter of a million. Provided that the Tigers do not shoot people when they come into the new safe zone, they will be welcomed and the international community can help to look after them. However, my key question is: did Her Majesty’s Government support the statement by the Tokyo co-chairs; namely, Norway, the US, Japan and the EU? I am sorry to burden the House with this but it is very important. They,

Did the Government wholeheartedly support them?

Lord Tunnicliffe: Yes, my Lords.

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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, further to the Minister’s first Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, what contacts have the Government established and maintained with aid agencies in the region? As soon as it becomes possible to access the conflict area thousands of people will need urgent humanitarian aid. Do we have the logistics in place to spring into action?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government have dispatched three specialists to Sri Lanka. I think that they went about three or four days ago. They are assessing the situation on the ground and will provide information to the UK about where to channel the aid. It is our view that aid should be disbursed through the people on the ground at present. They have the local knowledge and the local contacts. It is about our knowing who to support and then supporting them as soon as that possibility emerges.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, do not the suicide bombing of people who have already escaped from the enclave and the shooting of people still trying to escape show the necessity in the long run of eliminating LTTE terrorism from Sri Lanka? At the same time, will the Government urge Sri Lanka to make it clear that the doors are open to sensible, moderate Tamils to discuss the constitutional future of the country and the devolution of powers to the north and east?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, clearly the society of Sri Lanka needs to eliminate terrorism. It is a cancer in its heart and there is, as the noble Lord suggests, significant LTTE terrorism. The Government do not go as far as being very specific. They are urging, and asking the international community to join them in urging, that there must be a political solution and an understanding on all sides as to how to form a Sri Lanka for the future. Sri Lanka has the resources to be a very successful country, if only this terrible war could end.

Geert Wilders

Private Notice Question

11.36 am

Asked By Lord Taverne

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question of which I have given private notice.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, under European law, a member state of the European economic area may refuse entry to a national of another EEA state if they constitute a threat to public policy, public security or public health.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am aware that Mr Wilders holds views highly offensive to the Muslim community, but freedom of speech issues often raise awkward

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questions. Indeed, this ban has united in opposition the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, the Dutch Government—unusual allies—and also a section of the Muslim community which cares about freedom of expression. Does the Home Office agree that causing offence, even deep offence, to particular religious groups is no reason for compromising on the principle of freedom of expression? Why else did we repeal the laws on blasphemy? Since this is a ban on an EU citizen and Member of Parliament who has been convicted of no offence, and who has been invited to a private showing of a film in this House—not a rally in Trafalgar Square—does it not set a deeply disturbing precedent for the vital question of freedom of expression?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the Government and I are great believers in freedom of expression. Indeed, I am constantly getting into trouble because I am too free with my expressions at times. But the decision was not based purely on the film “Fitna”, but also on a range of factors, including prosecution in the Netherlands for incitement and discrimination, and other statements. The Home Secretary has to make a decision, as was said, on anyone coming in if they are a threat to public policy or public security in particular. We are constantly looking at this and are very robust about it with all sorts of extremists, from whichever corner they come. I regularly, across my desk, have to give advice to the Home Secretary about stopping people coming into this country, because I do not think it is appropriate that they should be here. I think it is good that we are being robust about this, and absolutely appropriate that the Home Secretary should have made this decision.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there seems to be a bit of a lottery as to who is admitted and who is not. Are there any criteria by which the Home Secretary works, even if advised by the noble Lord, to justify who is refused admittance and who is not?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, there is effectively a list of things the Home Secretary will check through when she is making a decision about whether someone should be allowed into this country. Of course, as the House will well know, quite often we will say that someone should not come into this country, but they then appeal and, through our judicial system, it is decided that they should be allowed to do so. One of the great strengths and joys of this country is that there is a very robust approach to these things. Sometimes, it surprises many of us that that person is allowed to come in and continue to say things—that seems very strange, whatever persuasion they come from. There is a list, and it is checked through. As I said, the Home Secretary thought long and hard about this. The decision was based on a whole raft of things, not just on this film. I believe that it was the correct decision.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for asking this Question. I suggest to the Minister—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty. I only have one

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question, because I know that we do not want to spend long on this. Does the noble Lord think that this situation would have occurred if Mr Wilders had said, “Ban the Bible”? If it would not have occurred, why not? Surely, the violence and the disturbance that may arise from showing this film in this country is not caused by the film, which merely attempts to show how the violent Islamist uses the Koran to perpetrate his terrible acts, but by the jihadist, the violent Islamist. In doing what the Government have done, surely they are therefore guilty of appeasement.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I certainly do not think that we are guilty of appeasement in any way whatever. I do not want to go down the route of discussing a hypothetical case about what if he had talked about this or that. I am afraid that I am rather constrained about exactly what I can say about him. He is under prosecution in the Netherlands for incitement and discrimination. Clearly, anything that I say in this House could become involved in that, and I would not wish that to happen. It would be wrong if that was the case. Also, he can appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision, and anything that I say could be used there.

As I said, we are very robust across the board. We take no sides on this. We treat people whom we believe are a threat to the security and safety of this nation in exactly the same way, from whatever cloth they come; that is extremely important. I believe that this was the right decision.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, the Minister has talked about incitement, and reference has been made to the possibility of counterprotests. These are public order matters. The criterion that the Minister should be operating under is public security, which is a different thing.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, again, I really cannot go too far down this route. These things will be looked at in the Court of Appeal and in the court of another nation. I do not wish to go down this route; I think that it would be wrong for me to do so.

Lord Peston: My Lords, will the Minister comment on one matter, which might enable us to make up our minds? Who brought this matter to the attention of the Home Secretary? Since this man is an EU citizen, he does not have to apply specially to come to our country. How did this become a matter of public policy?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend an answer to that question, because I am not quite sure how it came to the attention of the Home Secretary. I was first aware of this about a week ago. I do not know the answer. Perhaps I can write to my noble friend when I can discover the answer.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords—

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords—

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Baroness D'Souza: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross-Bench!

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, 20 years ago, the Government were robust in their defence of Mr Salman Rushdie when he published the book The Satanic Verses. This book provoked a number of riots and demonstrations, as we all know, and some violence within the community. Nevertheless, the Government remained steadfast in their defence on a free-speech basis. What has changed?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not think that anything has changed. There is a difference in that I think Salman Rushdie was based in this country when he was writing his book. I am sure that other factors are involved. If today he was writing things that we felt were going to cause a real problem—I have to be careful here because we are going into hypothetical areas—we would be as robust. We are robust, as I said, whatever people’s cloth, if we believe it is something that goes beyond just having an extreme view. Of course people can have extreme views. I am sure that all of us have views about things that no one would challenge although we might not agree with them; those are things that one is allowed to have. This is a step beyond. As I say, I do not want to talk in full detail about this. It is to do with a whole range of factors, including Geert Wilders’ prosecution and other statements. I think that it was the correct decision.

Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister has looked at precedent. Will he please tell us the last time that a democratically elected politician from an EU country was denied access to Great Britain and the last time that a democratically elected politician was denied access to speak in this House?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that. I shall have to come back to the noble Lord in writing, if I may. I do not like making excuses, but I was aware of this Question only about 23 minutes ago and there were two Questions in between. I feel rather like Eugene Esmonde, who, 67 years ago today, flew a few Swordfish at the “Gneisenau”, “Scharnhorst” and “Prinz Eugen”; he got a VC for doing it but, sadly, he was lost. I feel that I am similarly stepping into the breach; I do not know the answer and I will get back to the noble Lord in writing.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, in a democracy, there will always be people who will not have the electoral outcome of their choice? Does he also accept that those people, too, have the right to hold their views, unpalatable though they might be, and that it is not the role of government and public policy to gag them?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I agree with that. As I say, there was a whole number of factors in this case which the Home Secretary took into account and I believe that she made the right decision, but I agree with the noble Baroness.

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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is not the essence of this public order? There is a raft of considerations, but the essence is public order. One cannot ask for a reply because it was a decision of the Home Secretary and one really has to leave it at that. What else can one do?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I think that it is correct that one can question these things on the Floor of this House. It is difficult to go into detail at the moment because this is subject to a lot of legal issues, but I say again that I believe that the Home Secretary has made the right decision in this case. As for what happens in this House, that is a matter for the House authorities and not for the Home Secretary.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in response to the question put by my noble friend Lady Hanham, I understood the Minister to say that the Home Secretary responded—

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I draw attention to the Companion, in which it is clear that Private Notice Questions are not intended to take longer than 10 minutes.

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