12 Mar 2009 : Column 1261

House of Lords

Thursday, 12 March 2009.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

EU: Security and Defence Policy


11.06 am

Asked By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government strongly support the contribution of ESDP to global security, with the proven value of its operations and increased European capability. In February, the Minister for Europe promoted UK participation in ESDP in her speech on citizens and security in Europe, and the Foreign Secretary discussed ESDP operations in his online blogs and addressed European security in his Munich security conference speech. The importance of European security was also underlined in the national security strategy.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that mildly encouraging reply. I am sure he is aware that the leader of my party dragged a reluctant commitment to closer European defence co-operation out of the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday. Given that this was a British initiative to which Robin Cook, George Robertson and others were deeply committed, why have the Government allowed the public perception of European defence co-operation to slip back into being, as Conservatives appear to believe, a French plot to set up a European army against British sovereignty? Would it not be better to highlight for the public the gains that we get from closer co-operation with the French, in particular, and with the Dutch, the Danes and others in general?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have indicated where g government Ministers, including the Foreign Secretary, have been active in promoting ESDP. The noble Lord will recognise that opportunities provide themselves from time to time. The work being done, for instance, to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia relates to ESDP and its work there. I do not accept that the Government have been neglectful in this area. The noble Lord will know that it is more than difficult to get the issues across in some parts of the media whose stance on Europe tends to be severely critical rather than appreciative of where progress is being made.

12 Mar 2009 : Column 1262

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is something a little ironic about the fact that all opinion polls show that the citizens of Europe would like to see more co-operation on security issues, yet the Governments do very little to tell them, despite the protestations of the Minister, what this amounts to? What is the Government’s reaction to the recommendations of this House’s Select Committee that more prominence should be given to the reviewed European security strategy, which was agreed last December, in the presentation of EU policy? Does he not think that today, the day after President Sarkozy made a most welcome speech announcing France’s intention to return to the integrated command of NATO, would be a good day to drive a stake through the myth that somehow there is a competition between the EU and NATO, which we have to raise every time the matter is brought up?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, this is a good day, and the Government welcome the opportunity to respond to this Question because it enables us to emphasise the importance that we attach to ESDP. The noble Lord is right: the French position has been constructive. When people know the truth about the successful contributions that have been made under the ESDP, it reinforces the noble Lord’s point about public opinion being concerned that there should be adequate and more integrated European defence. But, of course, at times that gets submerged in the absurd debate that somehow there are intentions to create a European army, which there are not and will not be.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: In that case, my Lords, does the Minister agree with the former President of the European Commission, who said:

“You can call it Mary Ann, you can call it Margaret”

but it is still an EU army? In that context, for those of us who view the whole project as underfunded and grandiose, is there any hope that the CargoLifter programme, the A400M, is thankfully slipping from postponement to cancellation?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it would be an odd concept to have a European army when each member state has to sign up to its contribution and each makes it own decision. The UK certainly insists that it makes its own decisions when it deploys its Armed Forces. The idea that inherent in ESDP is the sacrificing of control of British troops to some overall control envisaged in a European army is just not correct.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the points put to him by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Hannay, are profoundly wise advice, that the opportunity created by yesterday’s decision by the President of France underlines its importance and that, moreover, if he were to act on all that advice, he would be moving towards achieving an objective first set out very clearly by my noble friend Lady Thatcher in 1984, when she attended the summit of that summer.

12 Mar 2009 : Column 1263

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that accurate historical recollection. He will also know, as will the House, that that was reinforced to a degree by the development of the Maastricht Treaty some time afterwards. Europe is seeking to build on its experience of effective action and there are many parts of the world where this effective action is already apparent. However, the noble Lord will also recognise that, although the Government commit themselves to this debate, it does not mean to say that they are always listened to with the attention they deserve.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, I welcome the statement by President Sarkozy today that France is to rejoin the core decision-making of NATO, although, of course, the Minister will accept that as France never left NATO in the first place and has been very active at the operational level, it is presumably more symbolic than a decisive change. Nevertheless, will he speculate on what ways this move will improve relations between the EU and NATO, which have not been very good? Might this be an opportunity also to think about Turkey’s position and whether it should be brought more into the European Defence Agency and other European, NATO and EU-connected operations? Turkey is an enormous resource that does not seem to be fully used in European defence at the moment.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think the President of France’s contribution is a little more than symbolic; it has real intent behind it and is of very considerable significance. We expect to build upon it in improving relationships between the European position and NATO, which have, in the past, been under strain—often because of the French position, which is now subject to this quite significant change. On I accept entirely the noble Lord’s point that Turkey is a significant power and could make a very significant contribution. However, there are many bridges to cross before we see Turkey integrated into the European community and more fully integrated in regard to defence.

Lord Dykes: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I regret that we are in the ninth minute.

House of Lords: Police Searches


11.15 am

Asked By Lord Campbell-Savours

12 Mar 2009 : Column 1264

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, the Lord President’s consultation on the paper of the Clerk of the Parliaments on police access to the House of Lords, and the draft protocol, closed at the end of February. The draft protocol will be considered by the House Committee on 24 March and by the Committee for Privileges on 30 March. It is expected that reports from the two committees will then be put before the House for joint consideration. I have no plans to put the protocol to the Administration and Works Committee.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees recognise that the draft protocol marginalises the role of the Lord Speaker by giving Black Rod ultimate power to decide on police access to this House for the purpose of searching Members’ offices? In the House of Commons it is the Speaker who decides. Should the Committee on Speakership not now be reconvened to consider the powers of both the Lord Speaker and Black Rod to decide on such matters and whether any Leader of the House—a politician—should have responsibility for influencing a decision on whether the offices of opposition Members, or indeed of any Member, should be searched by the police? That is a very dangerous proposition. The draft protocol is ill conceived, it treats the Speaker of this House shabbily, and I object.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, it is clear to me that the final decision should lie not with Black Rod but with the Lord Speaker and/or the Leader of the House, depending on what the House Committee, and eventually the House, decides.

I agree that the word “normally” could be seen as misleading, and I understand that it may well be removed from the final version of the protocol, subject to the decisions of the two committees and then, of course, the House. In any case, I will ensure that the noble Lord’s concerns about the ambiguities in the drafting of the protocol are heeded by both committees.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees appreciate the concern still widely felt on this side of the House about the police entry into the offices of Mr Damian Green and the way in which it was authorised? We all need to understand exactly what would happen here. Therefore, is not the Leader of the House is to be congratulated on having speedily brought together a group and published a document in draft that has been given the widest possible consultation in all parts of the House before being brought to the House Committee and the Privileges Committee? Should we not ensure firm political control on access to this House so that we can learn from the mistakes that were made by the House authorities in another place during the course of the Green affair?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the points made by the Leader of the Opposition will be discussed by the House Committee and, if it is a case of parliamentary privilege, by the Privileges Committee, and everything that is said in the House today will be taken into account by those two committees where relevant. I do not want to comment on the case of Damian Green; that is a matter for another place.

12 Mar 2009 : Column 1265

However, the noble Lord will note that the Speaker of the House of Commons has also published his own protocol on this issue.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees aware that in the response on behalf of these Benches I have suggested that a single person should be responsible, and that that should be the Lord Speaker? Does he not also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that now might be a good opportunity to bring together a committee of this House, perhaps an ad hoc committee, to review the powers of the Lord Speaker, the Lord President as Leader of the House and the Chairman of Committees, to see whether, with our experience of a few years of the Lord Speaker, we have got the balance right in terms of the responsibilities of these offices?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as I said earlier, as far as this protocol is concerned, one of the issues, which will have to be decided by the House Committee and, ultimately, by the House itself, is whether it should be for the Lord Speaker, the Leader of the House, or both, to take the final decision. That is one of the issues raised in the Lord President’s original letter to Members when this first came up. As regards the powers of the Speakership, I take on board what the noble Lord says, but I cannot give any undertakings.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, what exactly is the fundamental constitutional basis of our privileges? Do they rest on the fact of the precincts of the House being a Royal Palace, on Article 9 of the Bill of Rights of 1689 or on the inherent authority and jurisdiction of the High Court of Parliament?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is a very interesting question, but one which it is presently above my pay grade to answer.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, perhaps it is opportune for me to ask the noble Lord at this juncture to confirm that the Attorney-General is always available, by convention, to advise the House authorities and Speakers in both Houses and, should the committee deem it necessary, that they will seek such advice? Police searches of Parliament in general, and in the particular instance that we know of, should not be embarked on without careful consideration and legal advice to clear up any uncertainty.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I believe that the noble and learned Lord is right and that the Attorney-General is always available to give advice. I see a nod of assent from the Attorney-General.

Binyam Mohamed


11.21 am

Tabled By Lord Thomas of Gresford

12 Mar 2009 : Column 1266

Lord Avebury: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Thomas, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Home Secretary referred the question of possible criminal wrongdoing to me on 23 October last year in my capacity as an independent Minister of Justice. The Home Secretary did not seek to set terms of reference but provided me with relevant material from the court proceedings. After undertaking a preliminary review of the material referred to me, I took the view that I should seek the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions. All the material provided to me was then made available to him. At this stage, no decision has been reached and it would be premature to speculate as to the outcome. Nor is it possible to give a precise timescale. I intend to report to Parliament on my assessment. We will continue to do everything that we properly can to bring this matter to an expeditious conclusion.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, whatever decisions are made about individual criminal prosecutions of particular offences, is not the noble and learned Baroness aware of the widespread concern about the allegations of complicity and knowledge of these events by the Government as a whole? Does she therefore agree that now is the time for the Government to institute a general inquiry into those matters as well as the individual proceedings against individuals?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I think that the most appropriate course has been taken. Noble Lords will know that this matter came before the Divisional Court, which had an opportunity to consider what steps should be taken. Before its decision, an indication was given to it by counsel that the Government had taken the decision to refer the matters to me. The court took the view that, because of my constitutional role as an independent Minister of Justice in these circumstances, the most appropriate thing was that the Government should do that which they did. The court derived great comfort from that, as is clear from the judgment. I think that the right thing has been done and I intend to discharge my duty without fear or favour.

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, may I press the Minister a little further on the scope of her inquiries into the matters arising from the case of Mr Binyam Mohamed? Is she considering cases that go beyond Mr Binyam Mohamed? If she has not had terms of reference set by any other member of the Government, will she tell us what terms she has set herself and whether she is willing to publish them?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I have indicated, no terms of reference have been given to me and, if I may respectfully say so, that is proper. When an Attorney-General, whatever their political complexion, turns over these issues, they do so absolutely independently. It will be my duty to look at these issues and to consider whether it is right to invite the police to investigate this matter. That is what I will do.

12 Mar 2009 : Column 1267

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, with respect to the Attorney-General, whose independence I do not question, may I ask her to consider one aspect of the time that has been taken to reach a conclusion about the allegations made? Ministers both in this House and in another place have repeatedly given assurances about torture and rendition that appear to be in conflict with the evidence that has now emerged from the United States and the evidence that has emerged from the High Court’s recent consideration of the case of Binyam Mohamed. Will the Attorney-General therefore consider the damage that is being done to this country’s reputation and to Parliament as a consequence of what appears to be a sheer conflict of evidence coming from the United States and this country?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course I understand the anxieties that have arisen as a result of this matter, which is delicate, sensitive and needs to be thoroughly investigated. The papers that have been sent to me to be reviewed are comprehensive; they are the papers that went before the court. I have set out the issues in the letter that I wrote to Mr Dismore, who is the chair of the committee in the other place. I appreciate the facts, which is why I intend to ensure that the most careful scrutiny and attention are given to this matter. I do not demur at all from all those who say that this is an extremely important issue.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will not the Intelligence and Security Committee deal with these matters anyhow?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Intelligence and Security Committee will of course deal with the matters referred to it. I shall deal with the matters that have been entrusted to me.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, as the constitutional obligation and entitlement of an Attorney-General are to report to Parliament, is not the suggestion from the other opposition Benches that there should be some form of general consultation a derogation from that constitutional entitlement?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I believe that the proper course has been taken by the Government. I believe that the proper course, once I have concluded my inquiry into this matter, is that I should report to Parliament, which is what I will do.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, can the Minister say what Mr Mohamed’s status in the United Kingdom was before he travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and what travel documents he was using when he went there?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page