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30 Apr 2009 : Column 326

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and to other noble Lords in this House who help to keep me and my colleagues up to the mark. It is useful to have assiduous colleagues, such as the noble Lord, snapping at our heels, if I might put it like that. Answers to Questions often do not answer the question properly; as the noble Lord says, they are replies rather than answers. Quite often we send the replies back, asking for answers. I think we should be even more assiduous and do more of that in future.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I associate myself with the compliment from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, but can I ask the Lord President to clarify another matter? When I first started working in Whitehall, betting and gaming was the responsibility of the Home Office. It was then moved to DCMS. When I want to ask questions or get advice on long-odds betting, is it now better to go to the DCMS or to the noble Lord, Lord West, in the Home Office?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I would not bet on that.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, did the noble Baroness say that part of the reason for the delay was that a new piece of IT equipment had been introduced? What is the length of the extra delay that this machinery has caused, and what was the cost of it?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not have the cost of that piece of equipment. Initially, there were problems because of the introduction of a new IT system, but they have been resolved. I think noble Lords will find that the Foreign Office has stepped up to the mark and Questions are now being answered in the appropriate amount of time.

EU: External Action Service


11.34 am

Asked By Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, no, the European Commission has not started to train staff specifically to serve in the European External Action Service. This will only happen once the Lisbon treaty comes into force and the EEAS is established. The European External Action Service is not about replacing our embassies with union delegations. The treaty makes clear that the EEAS shall,

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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer, which tries to convince us that the octopus in Brussels is not putting a tentacle around yet another vital area of our national sovereignty. Is the noble Lord aware that an EU official admitted:

“We are trying to push the envelope as far as we can within the current environment”,

and that 530 Commission staff are being trained to work in the new embassies, in addition to the missions overseas? Can he tell your Lordships under which clause in the treaty of Nice all this is legal, and can he give us a firm guarantee that no British embassy will be closed as a result in the longer-term future?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I would very much like to and can give assurances to the noble Lord. First, the 500 people were trained as part of a regular ongoing training programme whose origins date back to the establishment of Commission offices around the world as a result of the treaty of Maastricht. The training programme was reorganised by my noble friend Lord Kinnock some years ago, so it is a routine part of the Commission's work. There are now 130 overseas Commission offices. Sometimes, that is confused with the new external service, which is intended to secure better co-ordination between the Commission and the Council and is in no way intended to replace the embassies of member states.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I ask the Minister, because this all seems rather strange to me: do they train 530 people every year since the Maastricht treaty came into force?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that if they trained 500 people a year, we would have a very large external service. I cannot at this moment provide the annual figures, but the point is that it involves people from different parts of the European Commission who, as part of their work, need to engage with the broader Community. I will provide her with exact numbers.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will forgive me if I refer to the previous Question and express the gratitude of the House for what he said about Written Questions. Although it was accidental and a normal procedure, it was fascinating to observe the change of sequence of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, deferring to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, when on Monday it was the other way around. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, also abandoned the previous text of his Question for this one—quite rightly, because the previous text was totally incorrect in the fact that he was asserting. Does the Minister agree that the treaty text confirms in black and white that,

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord: he saves me from having to read out precisely the same quotation, which is indeed as clear as can be.

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That is exactly the case: the treaty makes it clear that there should be no replacement of existing national embassies.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that a great many of the people who are being trained and, eventually, employed are employed in the chanceries accompanying the main offices and that they do very important and extensive work and will always be needed?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am delighted to confirm that. If we look at the work of the Commission around the world on issues as wide-ranging as the environment, commerce, trade, transport and human rights, we see that they are a series of activities of enormous importance. Most of us in the House believe it very important that the Commission carries out that work around the world.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister have to hand the figures on how many overseas posts the British Government have closed in the past five years as a result of various cuts? Does he by any chance have figures on how many member states of the United Nations the British Government no longer have permanent representation within? Does he accept that there are some advantages in sharing facilities in small countries abroad? I am about to go to Reykjavik; I know that we share some facilities with the Germans there and in several other countries. Are there not arguments on grounds of cost and efficiency for sharing facilities with other European Governments?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I do not have those figures immediately to hand; they are unhappy figures which I prefer to forget between the occasions when I am asked about the subject. Like the noble Lord, I think that Britain’s representation abroad is critical. We want to keep it as strong and universal as possible. However, where costs make that impossible, the fact that we can occasionally share offices with other European member states or, occasionally, even with the Commission is an economy measure which allows us to be present in more places than would otherwise be the case.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, can the Minister explain what the procedures are for deciding on a joint EU demarche in a particular capital? Are these settled locally or does Brussels have to be consulted?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, in most cases they are settled locally, where—under the current presidency, or where the president is not represented, the acting presidency in that country—demarches are settled on human rights and other issues. The Council of Ministers or other organs in Brussels occasionally determine that such a demarche needs to be made, so the instruction can occasionally also come from Brussels. However, there is a lot of delegated freedom for European diplomats collectively to act locally on key issues.

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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords—with the leave of the House, as there are several minutes on the clock—I do not think that I heard the noble Lord give a clear, unequivocal guarantee that no British embassy will be closed in future as a result of this initiative. Is he aware of the confidential internal EU memorandum which recommends minimum disclosure of this initiative? Why would that be, if the noble Lord’s brief is correct?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, we have sought and received assurances in writing from the Commission that no preparations are under way in this area prior to the approval of the treaty by all member states. There were initial routine preparations under the Slovenian presidency in 2007, which always happens when there are preparations for a treaty to go into force, but those were suspended at the time of the loss of the Irish referendum and have not been resumed. On his first point, I say again that the purpose of this external action service is not to replace national embassies. What I cannot give the noble Lord, obviously, is an assurance that the current footprint of British national embassies around the world will remain exactly as it is for ever. Nor could I, in a sense hypothetically, tell him now what a Minister standing at this Dispatch Box some years from now might claim as the reason for opening or closing specific embassies.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords—as we have time on our side on this occasion—can the Minister recall how many embassies Her Majesty’s Government needed in 1830 in order to conduct their international business? If he wants a bonus question, can he name more than half of them?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, this really is a new example of talking out the clock. On his question, the noble Lord will forgive me if I take the plunge and suspect that it was a very small number and that he would support the idea of British foreign policy today being conducted by such a small number of embassies. Let me also point out that in those days we did not need embassies where we had an empire.



11.44 am

Asked By Baroness Gardner of Parkes

Lord Brett: My Lords, this Government recognise the courage, commitment and sacrifice that the Gurkhas have given this country; indeed, they brought in rules for the first time giving ex-Gurkhas the right to settle in the United Kingdom. Based on the revised guidance published on 24 April 2009, the Government provisionally estimate that over 4,000 Gurkhas and 6,000 of their dependants will meet the new qualifying criteria for settlement.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but did not the Government fail to appreciate how extremely divisive the announced criteria would be? I am thinking of the requirement to have served for 20 years, when only officers are allowed to do so, with 15 years being the maximum for others. In view of the Government’s defeat yesterday, will the Statement later give all the information necessary? Will the changes that will be proposed as a result of yesterday’s defeat become effective immediately or will we have a date for when they will come into force?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the Government take seriously the role and views of Parliament. Therefore, a Statement was made in the other place yesterday evening, which I will repeat later today. On numbers, one of the major difficulties seems to be the estimate from those who are supporting the Gurkhas that only 100 people would benefit from the new government proposals, whereas the Government’s estimate, which was based on Ministry of Defence figures, was 10,000, as I have just outlined. The test of this will be the examination of the 1,500 outstanding cases, which my colleague in the House of Commons, the Minister responsible for this, said would now be completed by the end of May. That will give us a much closer estimate and enable us to see who is correct—those who are very pessimistic about the number who will enter or those in the Government’s ranks who believe that the number will be in the area that I mentioned. Any new policy has to await the urgent examination of these cases and take account of the debate in the other place yesterday.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I believe that it has been suggested that to allow all those who might want to come to this country would cost billions. What are those estimates based on? Is it, for example, pensions or housing?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the totality of the figure is £1.4 billion, which was based on the maximum of 36,000 eligible ex-Gurkhas all taking up the option to come to the United Kingdom. In making estimates, one has to estimate the scenario that could be the most expensive. Some argue that fewer than that would wish to come. The figure will be tested in the debates next Tuesday, because the Minister responsible, Mr Woolas, will appear before a Select Committee on this issue. I would rather await that examination than attempt one myself.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I have every sympathy with the Minister, who has, frankly, been dropped in it today in terms of this Question and the Statement later, but the reality is that the vote yesterday in the other place was a major humiliation for this Government and another nail in the coffin for what is clearly a dying Administration. When will the Government do the right thing and accept that all those who have served in our forces, including the Gurkhas, should be given a right of settlement? When will they listen to the parliamentarians and to the vast majority of people in this country?

30 Apr 2009 : Column 331

Lord Brett: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord’s sympathy. I feel more like a sacrificial goat than a sacrificial lamb, although I do not want to take that too far. This gives me a unique opportunity as a Minister to say that the Liberals did not do a lot about the Gurkhas when they were last in power. In fact, no Government did until this Government. In 1997, we introduced equal pay with the British Armed Forces and we have improved pensions. All the fairness that has been given to Gurkhas has come in the last decade. We believed that these regulations were full and fair, met the spirit of the judgment in the High Court and would command the respect and support of Parliament. However, it is clear from the views expressed in another place that they have not achieved that last aim. Therefore, they will be looked at again over the next few weeks. It is promised that the outcome will be reported to the House before the Summer Recess.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the Minister is extremely fortunate that the late Lord Russell is no longer with us, as Conrad would now be on his feet giving details of the many benefits that former Liberal Governments gave to the Gurkhas.

Lord Brett: My Lords, I was a great fan of the late Lord Russell, who was one of the clearest and most interesting speakers to speak on any Bench in this House. As a historian, he was excellent. Then again, the Liberals are quite good at history, but not quite so good at the present time.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the £1.4 billion relating to the 36,000 potential applicants take into account any taxes that they may have paid while they were serving as Gurkhas on behalf of this country?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I am not sure whether the figure took account of tax, social cost and so on. Undoubtedly the area will be probed on Tuesday next week and the answer will come forth, but I am more than happy to commit to write to the noble Lord and to give the information as far as I can.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, would the noble Lord reflect back to what happened when Hong Kong went over to China? At that time there was tremendous pressure for those who lived in Hong Kong to be able to come to Britain if they wanted to. There was a terrible row because the Home Office did not want that. The officials said that there would be far too many people coming in. I was at the Home Office at the time and I thought that they should be allowed in, but I was told, “No, we can’t have it”. The result was that hardly anyone came in. If we gave the Gurkhas the right to come here, maybe very few would do so, but the ability to come would be a great comfort to them.

Lord Brett: My Lords, it is a great comfort to me to know that the noble Earl, who was a distinguished Minister, found himself out of sympathy with Home Office advice. I am clearly not the first to find myself in that situation. On the more substantive point, this is

30 Apr 2009 : Column 332

a judgment that has to be made in the light of the decision in the other place. We have promised to ensure that the cases of those in the pipeline are not at all prejudiced. Those who are being reviewed before the end of May, if they have passed the criteria, will be granted leave. Those who have not will not be subject to any penalty or deportation until Parliament has had the opportunity to view and take a decision on new policies that may emerge in the next few weeks.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, with reference to the statement made just now, those who will be reviewed by that date in May will be reviewed on the present criteria of how many years, whether they have received a medal and so on. Decisions will be made on that divisive basis until that date in May, with any change happening after that. Is that correct?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the noble Baroness says that it is divisive. Any criteria that take account of service other than 100 per cent of zero—in other words, people have eligibility simply by being a member of the Gurkhas at any time—will have to be cast in a discriminatory sense; there will have to be a qualifying period below which you do not qualify and above which you do. Taken with the other factors, that is part of the package that has not found favour in another place, so we will be looking at it. The 20-year factor produces a certain number, which will clearly increase if the factor of seniority is reduced from 20 years, but that is a judgment to be made in the light of the examination of the outstanding cases, taking account of the sentiments of Parliament.

Arrangement of Business


11.53 am

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Brett will repeat the Statement on Gurkhas immediately after the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. Immediately afterwards, my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown will repeat the Statement on Sri Lanka.

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