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Human Rights: Women


3.04 pm

Asked By Baroness Prosser

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the protection and promotion of women’s human rights form an important part of the Government’s objectives on conflict. Specifically, improving our ability to tackle the long-term and structural causes of conflict, which include human rights abuses, is part of the FCO’s strategic objective to prevent and resolve conflict.

Baroness Prosser: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. First, will he reassure the House that the British Government are doing everything they can to ensure the removal of the discriminatory clauses contained in President Karzai’s so-called Shia law?

1 Jun 2009 : Column 9

Secondly, will he advise the House on progress on United Nations Resolution 1325 and the action plan for Afghanistan?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am very happy to reassure my noble friend on both points. On the first, when the circumstances of this law and its prospective status were discovered, not just our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary but the United States President and Secretary of State surprised President Karzai by making calls to him within the space of a few hours expressing outrage. Everyone respects the right of a country to write its own laws but you cannot expect the armed services of Britain, the United States and other countries to put their lives in jeopardy—many lives have been lost—in a country that legislates abuse against women in this way. We believe that point is now fundamentally understood. This Government have a global action plan on UN Resolution 1325. We are taking a series of steps in Afghanistan to support women’s human rights and better their representation across all areas of government and public and private life.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, do the Government’s goals include the elimination of the abhorrent use of rape as a weapon of war? If this is the case, how long do they estimate that it will take to achieve such a goal?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, UN Security Council Resolution 1820 of 2008, of which the UK Government were a sponsor, has this as its specific target and is supported by action plans and direct pressure on the UN to move in this direction in countries where this issue is particularly acute such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, I hesitate to give the noble Baroness a date at which these practices might cease. I fear that wherever you see brutal subjection of civilians to violence for political ends and men who feel that they are not constrained by the rule of law or military discipline, we have a long way to go to prevail in this vital task of eliminating this practice.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with the 2006 report of the UN high-level panel, of which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was a member, which reported that the UN’s support for women has been “incoherent, fragmented, and under-resourced”. Does he agree with the panel that there should be a single, strong and well resourced agency, and would not this go some way to help address this problem?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and I spent a huge portion of our last month in office trying to implement exactly that recommendation and to create a single women’s entity under the leadership of an under secretary-general. It is a depressing commentary on the speed or slowness of reform at the UN that we are still hoping to get it done, but perhaps not until the forthcoming General Assembly. I assure the noble Baroness that I remain as committed as ever to that objective.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the noble Lord think that Western Governments intervening in Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq to tell Muslims how they should construct their society

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and what values they should observe within their own countries is going to be helpful in winning hearts and minds in those countries, or is it more likely to push people towards Islamic fanatics instead? Should they not run their countries, and should we not run ours? Perhaps we could even spare the time to deal with polygamy, forced marriage and female genital mutilation in this country before we try to teach other people how to run theirs.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, to the general point that the noble Lord makes, that we should not be seeking to micromanage the social and governmental practices of Muslim countries, I completely confirm my agreement with him. I acknowledged that in my first Answer. However, I added that I believe there are certain universal human rights, such as the rights of women. If we are to commit our men and women to putting their lives on the line to defend a society, we have right to expect that these fundamental values are in turn respected by the country and government we are seeking to defend.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, many of us will be very pleased to hear what the Minister has just said, but there is one particularly abhorrent practice in some countries, which is the hanging of young women under the age of 18 for perceived sexual misdemeanours. What action are the Government taking to try to stop that abhorrent practice?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, because the policy dates back to when she was in government, we seek to oppose the death sentence everywhere in all circumstances and have been fighting through the UN General Assembly and elsewhere to try to build up a universal ban. We have a long way to go, but I certainly agree with her that on this particular issue we must make additional efforts. Within our different programmes of support for women’s rights, I suspect that I can confidently reassure her that we target this particular abuse.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, when Her Majesty's Government intervene regarding women’s rights, will they make a point of emphasising the appalling treatment of widows, many of whom, following conflict, are very young? Their rights are totally ignored and they are very often punished because they no longer have a husband. Attention needs to be drawn to this issue.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, in the case of conflict and the aftermath of a disease such as HIV/AIDS, time after time we see issues whereby widows and women heading single-parent families do not have the basic legal protection that allows them to find a job, pay for a house or establish the family as an economically viable entity, let alone have the social respect they deserve.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that in tackling these challenges, one of the most important principles is the example of the UN system itself and of multilateral forces operating in the name of the UN? Must it not become absolutely and abundantly

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clear to all concerned that the rights and dignity of women must be central to all that the UN is doing in the field?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me absolutely say yes to that. It was my experience at the UN that there were more women in senior places there than, I am afraid, I found when returning to the United Kingdom.

Coroners and Justice Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

3.13 pm

Moved By Lord Bach

Motion agreed.

Law Commission Bill [HL]

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes

Third Reading

3.14 pm

A privilege amendment was made.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

Copy of Bill
Explanatory Notes
11th Report Joint Committee Human Rights

Report (4th Day)

3.15 pm

Amendment 124EZA

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

124EZA: Clause 286, page 173, line 29, at end insert “or, in the case of land along the landward boundary of the route, where an agreement with all persons with a relevant interest in the land has not been entered into”

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, it is appropriate to consider coastal access—or should I say exercise, as the House changes mode?

We raised this issue in Committee. I have modified the amendment slightly, but we still have very strong concerns about the way in which the coastal margin

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will be extended out from the route, across private land. We fully support the establishment of the coastal route and we also see the value of the second objective in Clause 286, to expand access sufficiently to allow for recreation. We have had some interesting debates and no little amusement about cliff climbing, base jumping and other intrepid sports particularly loved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who I am sorry to see is not in his place today. There are many places along our coast where these recreational activities are particularly suited.

However, the primary reason for this part of the Bill is, and should remain, to enable the public to walk around our coast. The secondary objective is not of the same priority as the first, but it can add most value to the public by allowing them to enjoy the coast. The recreational strip would in the vast majority of cases be utilised between the route and the sea itself. My amendment limits the automatic establishment of coastal margin to that strip of land. As the Minister made clear in Committee, land to the landward side of the route might occasionally fall into the definition of coastal land as well, or it might have recreational uses, such as where the path goes along the bottom of a cliff, rather than the top, for example.

My amendment would therefore allow land in that situation to be designated coastal margin with the agreement of the landowner or occupier. When such agreement is not forthcoming, it might be reasonable to assume that in the huge majority of cases the land would be of more value to the landowner than to any would-be users. The Government have rested their hopes that coastal margin will be sensibly designated in the systems of consultation, and so on, that they are implementing. I hope, of course, that the system will ensure that the margin will be sensibly designated and that the Government’s later amendment will certainly help to redress any confusion as to its extent. But even where that is the case, some members of the public will still wander where they should not. An expectation of margin to the landward of the route will unavoidably increase the number of these incidents.

I hope that the Minister understands our concerns over the coastal margin and will take the same constructive attitude to address them as he has done on so many others. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on finding things to say while noble Lords left the usual suspects to it, but that is the extent of my congratulations on this amendment.

I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Greaves. I am sure that noble Lords will understand how devastated he truly is not to be fit enough to be with us this afternoon. He has put so much effort into the issue of coastal access not just in this Bill but at the pre-legislative stage and throughout the years since the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passed. I fear that I will not do him justice on his amendments.

On this amendment, I do not regard the second objective as separate in the way that the noble Lord described it. It seems to me to be an aspect, a limb, of the single duty described at the start of the clause. It is not something that can be extracted or separated but

1 Jun 2009 : Column 13

something that must be read alongside the first objective. At first reading, I thought that this was a moderately benign amendment giving an exception but, now having read it three times, it seems to me that it would give all landward owners and others who fall into that category what amounts to a veto. As I read it, that would wreck the coastal duty. Therefore, we on these Benches cannot support the noble Lord.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I should also say how sorry I am that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is not with us today. I hope that he will be able to be with us when we come to Third Reading in a week’s time.

Let me say at once that I understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, which he raised in Committee. I very recently met the Country Land and Business Association; I have met it several times during the months for which we have been debating the Bill. Of course I want the development of the coastal path to be done in as consensual a way as possible. That means listening very hard to the concerns that landowners may have and trying to deal with them in as sensitive a way as possible. Later, we have a series of government amendments sought by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on landowners’ ability to seek reviews of proposals being made by Natural England. I reassure noble Lords that suitable safeguards are in place and that the Government do not intend unnecessarily to include land in the margin.

Our vision is for access to coastal land as a whole. It is to allow people access to their coastline so that they can play and explore and gain a deeper understanding of the wealth of our coastal environment. Realising that vision needs a route around the whole of the English coast that is accessible by members of the public for recreational journeys on foot and a margin of land accessible to the public for the purposes of its enjoyment by them in conjunction with that route or otherwise.

If I may, I shall give examples where the provision for margin may be of benefit. There may be places where the best position for the route is through a dune system. Agreeing to the amendment, however, would mean that although dunes to the seaward of the route were included in the right of access, those to the landward would not be. That would be confusing for users, which is not what we are aiming to achieve. Equally, to make the boundary of the margin clearer to users, it may be drawn to a physical feature such as a field edge or wall that is landward of the line of the route. We want the route and the boundary of the wider margin to be in the most sensible position, taking all circumstances into account, and for the right of access to be consistent and clear on the ground.

We have listened to concerns expressed in previous debates about the description of the margin, and we will discuss later Amendment 124K, requiring Natural England to include in its coastal access report a map showing the landward boundary of the relevant coastal land where Natural England is unable to provide a description of the boundary sufficient to identify the relevant coastal margin.

1 Jun 2009 : Column 14

A number of safeguards are built into the Bill to avoid adverse impact on property and business, including consultation of landowners in deciding the line of the route and any conditions or restrictions on access—for example, for land management purposes. Certain land types will also be excepted from the right of access—for example, buildings and their curtilage. Once access is in place, I recognise that my department and Natural England will want to work with stakeholders on the best ways to promote safe, considerate and responsible behaviour by users of the coastal route and the wider margin.

In conclusion, we think that we need this flexibility to allow there to be a margin in the way that I have described. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that to accept the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, would inhibit that by giving a veto to landowners. We think that that does not support the careful balance that we have sought to achieve in the Bill. It also has to be seen in the context of the later government amendments in relation to the landowner’s rights of representation.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response and for all the discussions he has had with interested Members of your Lordships' House and with interest groups. He will know that they are particularly concerned about this issue, and I remain concerned. I do not doubt his sincerity in seeking to bring about a consensual approach to the route, and I hope he will accept my sincerity in believing that this is one of the obstacles to consensus. It makes it more difficult for landowners to accept with equanimity that they own land that will be designated as public access because of fears about where the coastal margin to landward might end up, as opposed to the line of the route. I regret to say that I feel that I must force the issue; I wish to test the opinion of the House.

3.26 pm

Division on Amendment 124EZA

Contents 93; Not-Contents 154.

Amendment 124EZA disagreed.

Division No. 1


Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. [Teller]
Ashcroft, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Bates, L.
Blackwell, L.
Bowness, L.
Caithness, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Surbiton, B.
Cathcart, E.
Chidgey, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
Crickhowell, L.
Cumberlege, B.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dundee, E.
Eames, L.
Eccles, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Fookes, B.
Fowler, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Freeman, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Glenarthur, L.
Glentoran, L.

1 Jun 2009 : Column 15

Goodlad, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Henley, L.
Higgins, L.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laird, L.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mar, C.
Marlesford, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Monson, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Montrose, D.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Naseby, L.
Neville-Jones, B.
Newton of Braintree, L.
Noakes, B.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Parkinson, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Plumb, L.
Rawlings, B.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rogan, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Sheikh, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Stewartby, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Tebbit, L.
Trimble, L.
Trumpington, B.
Ullswater, V.
Verma, B.
Waddington, L.
Warsi, B.
Wilcox, B.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Bach, L.
Barker, B.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]
Berkeley, L.
Best, L.
Bhatia, L.
Bilston, L.
Blood, B.
Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.
Bradshaw, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cobbold, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Cotter, L.
Craigavon, V.
Crawley, B.
Darzi of Denham, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dholakia, L.
D'Souza, B.
Dykes, L.
Elystan-Morgan, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Falkender, B.
Falkner of Margravine, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Fearn, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Foulkes of Cumnock, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Garden of Frognal, B.
Goodhart, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grantchester, L.
Greengross, B.
Griffiths of Burry Port, L.
Grocott, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hannay of Chiswick, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskel, L.
Haworth, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
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