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House of Lords

Monday, 11 May 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Death of a Member: The Lord Bishop of Peterborough


2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it is with great regret that I have to inform the House of the death on 7 May of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our sympathy and condolences to the right reverend Prelate’s family and friends.

EU: UK Citizens’ Attitudes


2.37 pm

Asked By Lord Stoddart of Swindon

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recently commissioned some focus group work which does not provide any quantitative results like a survey but has helped us better understand people’s level of knowledge about the EU and the types of EU activity they were interested in. We will publish information from the focus groups on the FCO website.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but has he seen the poll by the BBC’s “Daily Politics” in March which showed that 55 per cent of people wanted to leave the EU; 64 per cent were against scrapping the pound in favour of the euro; and 84 per cent wanted a referendum before the transfer of further powers to the EU, confirming the overwhelming demand for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty? Is it not about time that the Government listened to the British people, stopped transferring further powers to the EU and conducted a serious investigation into whether the United Kingdom would be better off out?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, all in this House would expect a Minister of this Government at this time to say that we should never put our faith in opinion polls. I am glad the noble Lord has pointed out that this was not a British Government poll. It remains a clear fact that this Government have not been able to persuade all the people of Britain of the benefits of membership of the European Union and will have to go on trying harder.

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Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that those responsible for administering the EU school milk supply refuse to supply school milk to British schools unless they advertise and eulogise the EU?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Baroness has stumped me. I was not aware of this and I will be very happy to look into it for her.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, is it not extraordinary that attitudes are so positive in percentage terms when successive governments have never sought to explain or defend the EU properly until last year, mercifully, with the British Government now defending the Lisbon treaty? They are explaining it properly for the first time since Edward Heath—many years ago. There are 1 million British companies now in the EU doing business; nearly 2 million Brits living in other EU countries, including Spain; 3.5 million jobs directly linked to membership of the EU; and 50 million individual journeys to EU countries, mostly on low-cost airlines, were taken last year. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is independent Labour but why is he so nervous and old-fashioned?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord has asked his question and answered it. The case he makes is persuasive.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, has the noble Lord read that enduring masterpiece by Christopher Booker and Richard North, The Great Deception, which clearly shows that the big idea behind the project of European integration has always been to replace national democracies with rule from Brussels, which also turns out to be corrupt? Is it therefore any wonder, now that they are waking up to it, that our people do not like not being able to sack those who make most of their unwanted law? However unpopular the system is down the other end and in this House, at least the British people can get rid of them. They cannot get rid of their law-makers in Brussels.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we are on the eve of the European elections and the Commission is renewed every term, so there are plenty of accountabilities in Europe, too.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we ask people, “What can Europe do to improve your lives in tackling cross-border crime, upholding civil liberties, dealing with climate change in the world and delivering economic security?”, we get much more positive answers than if we concentrate on the institutional framework? As an MEP I am very conscious of 4 June, when people can chuck me out or vote me back in if they so wish.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the focus group research to which I referred in the original Answer has confirmed exactly that point made by the noble Baroness. When Europe is not an abstraction but is about the services, benefits and projects it brings to specific British communities, there is a much higher level of support for it.

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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the noble Lord said that the Government were trying to persuade British people that our membership of the European Union was a good thing. It is a very long journey. Could they start with one small step along that journey by wresting back from our European masters the power of decision over whether Danish meat or any other foreign meat can be described as British when it is brought here provided that somebody has put a plastic wrapper round it?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is more of an expert—indeed, there are many experts on the other Benches—on the food policies of Europe, most of which are driven by food and safety issues but also, I agree, by the complex labelling system. Again, I am stumped on an issue, and I shall have to get back to the noble Lord.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord is batting nobly for his department on this difficult issue. Should we not review thoroughly the whole approach of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the European case, to remove some of the lukewarm attitudes reflected in the devastating figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart? When the Foreign Office goes into bat on European issues, it should be rather more forward in promoting our links with the Commonwealth, which covers almost one-third of the human race. We notice that our French friends always turn up with arguments for the Francophonie but the British always seem to be fazed by how to please the French and the Germans rather than how to promote our worldwide network of the Commonwealth. Could we have a little more vigour and strength in that department and then we might do better on Europe?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord knows full well that I completely share his enthusiasm for the Commonwealth and, as he implies in his question, we recognise it is not an either/or situation. We are members of both these important networks, and the extent to which we can create links between them is good for Britain and for all our partners in both organisations.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the only experience that British schoolchildren have had of losing milk was not from the EU but on the occasion when Mrs Thatcher—now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—became known as “Thatcher, the milk snatcher”?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that that is a much more memorable milk story than the one referred to today.

People Trafficking


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Sheikh

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Lord Brett: My Lords, we continue to make the UK a hostile environment for trafficking and to ensure that victims are protected as part of our comprehensive victim-centred, end-to-end strategy, as set out in the UK plan to tackle human trafficking. This approach has been reinforced by our ratification of the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking which came into effect on 1 April and which strengthens our identification and protection arrangements for victims.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I have a number of concerns but will confine myself to two points. First, bearing in mind that victims of human trafficking are all over the country, what is being done to ensure that training is provided to all the police forces? Secondly, as human trafficking is a global problem, what liaison is being maintained between us and other European countries and other foreign countries?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord on both the points he makes. Our strategy regards the fight against human trafficking as a core part of police business, and the training of all police officers in all regions is an essential part of that. Providing funding for that activity through the core funding of police is also important. The noble Lord makes a very important point; in many cases we are a destination country for trafficked people. Some years ago when I chaired a major conference with Interpol I came across the most horrific story involving deaf and dumb people who were trafficked from Russia to sell dolls in France, and the evidence suggested that they never returned to Russia if they failed to sell the dolls in question. It is most important that we use Interpol and our European colleagues and the UK is playing a leading part in that task.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, will my noble friend explain to the House the benefits that he believes will accrue from the Government’s decision to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which I believe came into force on 1 April? What benefits does he expect to accrue from the Government’s ratification of that convention?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question because it allows me to say that not only have we ratified the convention, we have gone beyond the minima it sets down. The key aspects of the convention include: the granting of a 45-day recovery and reflection period for identified victims during which removal action is held in abeyance—the convention requires only a 30-day minimum; the issuing of one-year residency permits for identified victims, crucially entitling the identified victim to access public funds—the convention requires a minimum of only six months; and the establishment of a national referral mechanism which allows for the systematic identification of victims by the competent authorities and their onward referral for support. We have established two competent authorities based in the UK: the UK Human Trafficking Centre and the UK Border Agency.

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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, if the strategy is so strong, how can it be that children, particularly young girls, are disappearing from the care system into trafficking and the sex trade? What practical steps are the Government taking to ensure that local authorities do not allow this to happen?

Lord Brett: My Lords, we are providing considerable financial support to local authorities. The noble Baroness may be referring to a horrific case that was brought to our notice by the media some weeks ago involving young Chinese girls who were brought into the UK via Heathrow Airport and subsequently trafficked. They were brought in believing that there was a better life here for them and they joined the people trafficking them in the hope of finding that better life, which does not exist. I am pleased to say that, in tackling this, the police have reduced the number of such children coming in through Heathrow from some 70 or 80 cases to only a small number, none of whom have subsequently disappeared from local authority homes. So it is a success.

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to counter trafficking in respect of both exploited labour and prostitution in connection with the 2012 Olympics?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises a very important point. We are on our guard: we are forewarned, we are responsible for the Olympic Games, and this matter is at the forefront of our strategy. We have already been successful but it is still right to ask what we are doing. The Metropolitan Police will have responsibility for this in the London area and we are strengthening provision for them in the next 12 months to ensure that they are prepared.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, since a child can get on to a plane scheduled to arrive in the United Kingdom only with the most thorough documentation, which is available to the airline, what discussions have the Government had with the airlines so that this problem can be stopped at source, so that the 327 children who arrived in the UK to be trafficked last year might have been prevented getting on the plane in the first place? Secondly, with regard to Hillingdon and other local authorities which look after the children once they arrive, if the children were dispersed away from Heathrow—or Gatwick as the case may be—would it not be far more difficult for the traffickers to prey on them in the children’s homes where they are located?

Lord Brett: My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first question, we are in close contact not only with the airlines but with the police authorities in the countries of origin. One aspect is that the traffickers’ agents—not agents in a welcome sense—and false travel bureaux issue false documents. There is also the transport aspect whereby the child’s nationality is changed en route. It is an unfortunate fact of life that most immigration officers in Europe cannot tell a Korean from a Chinese, and quite often a Korean passport is used to bring somebody in and then recycled to bring in someone else. As for how we deal with it, I do not

11 May 2009 : Column 814

think that dispersal is necessarily the answer. We have had great success in tackling the issue of children coming in via Heathrow simply because we have got to them and counselled them through social workers. As they have not then sought to leave, the traffickers are deterred from sending more children because they lose the asset if the child is persuaded that they will be regarded not as part of a trafficking crime syndicate but rather as a victim of trafficking and as someone we will take care of.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, if brothels were legalised, would it not help the situation?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the game of leapfrog is played well in this House, but it is not a game that I play. That question requires me to leap a long way. My own view is that the answer is no. It is also not a question that I would care to answer on the Government’s behalf.



2.52 pm

Asked By Lord Cobbold

Lord Brett: My Lords, the Government have made no such changes. The political declaration gave no basis on which to do so.

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that rather brief response. He has, I believe, seen the House of Lords letter that was addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations ahead of the Vienna convention. It was signed by 28 noble Lords from this House and suggests that, because current prohibition policies have failed, the UN,

There has been no response from the UN, but is this not a really important policy option that our Government should now follow up either at United Nations level or perhaps within Europe as a starter?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. When I responded to our debate on 22 January, when this issue arose, I pointed out that my experience in the United Nations—I look for an affirmative nod from noble friends around me—has shown that it is easier to build on what is there than to change, because the consensus required would involve the vast majority of nations which have ratified the conventions. Therefore, when we sought in Vienna to investigate these areas we found no consensus in the United Nations forum for a review of the kind proposed, therefore it would not seem the most productive route to take.

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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while a global or international effort to reduce drugs may be helpful, the chances of co-ordinated effort, as he has already said, are still somewhat remote? What further action does he think this country can take nationally to reduce the illegal importation of drugs?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the answer to the question is that, sadly, it is very limited because the point about the drug trade is that it is international. Much like trafficking, it requires the co-operation of countries of origin, countries of transit and countries of destination. Through the United Nations and the European Union, therefore, and indeed through our relationships with Governments across the world who share this problem in one form or another, that is the way forward. I have to say we were not particularly enthused about the meeting in Vienna. The outcome was not as positive as we would have liked—we would have liked a more positive declaration to use—but we will seek to use the declaration we have to ensure a managed approach in all the other fora of the United Nations where drugs are the issue of the day.

Lord Monson: My Lords, the Question to Her Majesty’s Government is about drugs policies, so my supplementary is within the rules. When do the Government intend to follow the lead set by the United States, Canada and Sweden and ban the dangerous drug GBL which has been responsible for the deaths of many teenagers in this country and which the Government’s own advisers recommended should be classified as a class C drug nine months ago?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I admit I am not fully aware of what the position is on that. I will seek to find the answer and let the noble Lord know. The position overall is that on cannabis use is falling, and that on ecstasy and cocaine it seems to be stable. I will have to seek advice on the drug mentioned by the noble Lord and respond to him.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the UK is the only country in the whole of the European Union which does not control the use of khat. Was there any discussion on this subject in the United Nations conference and were any recommendations made that would be relevant to the reconsideration of the ban on khat which is now going on in government circles?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I have to confess to the noble Lord not to my knowledge. I will check to see if there was. Nothing in the official communiqué suggests that, but in the side discussions at any UN conference many things are discussed.

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