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The further steps we have already taken to prevent the use of this power of entry in connection with an investigation into a suspected offence ought to reassure the House that the power will be used appropriately. In addition, the Electoral Commission says in its briefing:
Government amendments agreed during the passage of the Bill provide appropriate safeguards on this power ... The proposed involvement of a magistrate may create the misperception that a party has breached the law, where clearly it has not.
This power of entry is not newas I say, it has existed since 2000. The Electoral Commission has undertaken to use it only when necessary and to give parties prior warning. I repeat that the power cannot be used for investigations; instead, it allows the Electoral Commission to access information on those it regulates for its supervisory functions.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord realises that saying that something is already there and therefore it must be all right really is not acceptable in this area. Secondly, if the situation is as the noble Lord says, why does not the commission simply have the power to invite the organisation concerned to visit it, bringing along the relevant documentation?
Lord Bach: My Lords, of course I do not say that because this has been law since 2000, that is a complete answer to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. However, it seems to have worked fairly well since 2000; no one seemed to object the last time this matter was before Parliament. I am not sure what has changed since then to make a difference. Secondly, of course the commission
Lord Bates: My Lords, the Minister asked what has changed since then. The answer is the incident with Damian Green. We never considered that those powers would be exercised in the way that they were. They were exercised in that particular way and, as a result, the House is now extremely vigilant before giving them to anyone else.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not blame the noble Lord for using that example, but it is a completely irrelevant answer to my rhetorical question. The Damian Green incident had nothing whatever to do with a power that already exists in law and has done since 2000. It has absolutely nothing to do with the power that remains in the schedule, which has existed since 2000. To answer the second point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, of course it is hoped and intended that normally these regulated organisationswhich are, as I have set out, the partieswill go to the commission if and when requested. This is just a back-up power in case that does not happen. It has nothing to do with investigations or times when there is a suspicion of wrongdoing.
Lord Marland: My Lords, at the risk of testing the Ministers patience, I agree with his point about Damian Green but it is absolutely fundamental that the Electoral Commission has failed to police the donor system since 2000. It has failed to carry out its authority. Therefore, the amendment categorically puts in train a system that prevents the failure of the Electoral Commission. We must encourage this. There has been a litany of failure by the Electoral Commission. I
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Lord Bach: My Lords, hard as he tried, the noble Lord could not try my patience. I take the point, but I do not think that this is an example of the failure of the Electoral Commission. The power remains. It has been there since 2000. It is useful as a back stop. I quite understand why the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has chosen this as a way of getting across his important and general point about entry into premises, but I submit that it does not apply here. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Bach: My Lords, it has not happened. It is a back-up power. It has either been successful or not, depending on how the noble and learned Baroness looks at it. It has not been necessary to use it.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, in the Ministers explanation of why the Government wish to reject the amendment, he placed great stress on the fact that this power was for inspection, not investigation. We must understand that, in these circumstances, fishing expeditions may surely follow. You go out to inspect and, lo and behold, you end up with an investigation. It is naïve for us to think that there is a clear dividing line between inspection and investigation. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is really concerned about investigation, but investigation may follow inspection as surely as night follows day. In many cases, the Electoral Commission may wish to use this power of inspection without the let and hindrance that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, proposes to impose upon it, to find ways of triggering and beginning investigations. The Minister is not being fair to the House in suggesting that there is a clear line between the two.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I think that for once the noble Lord is wrong. I specifically asked outside the Chamber what the position would be if in the course of a normal supervisory, regulatory visit to a political party, suspicion of wrongdoing was found. I understand from the answer that was given to me that at that moment, the Electoral Commission would have to leave the premises and go through the process to which the noble Lord, Lord Neill, related, in paragraphs 3 and 4. That is the law. As soon as the Electoral Commission becomes suspicious that a wrongdoing has occurred, it has to work under different rules altogether.
Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, I have one question. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, has been saying repeatedly that this will not be used for investigatory situations but the Bill is unclear because it all comes under proposed new Schedule 19B, entitled Investigatory Powers of Commission at page 38. I support what my noble friend asked a moment ago. How on earth will one tell what the commission thinks it is doing?
Lord Bach: My Lords, it is all in Schedule 1. This item comes under the sub-heading Powers of entry and inspection; which comes after Power to requiredisclosure and before Powers in relation to suspected offences or contraventions. This passage occurs before that. I have tried to do my best to tell the House how this will work and how it would have worked since the year 2000.
He said that there may be a misunderstanding but there is no intention on my part, and no consequence from this amendment, to interfere with the proper functions of the inspectorate and those who are checking, as they are required to do, the implementation of the legislation. That is the first, basic point. I accept that in the great majority of cases99 point whatever per centthere will be no need for magistrates warrants because these matters will be dealt with by a perfectly civilised communication and request for inspection and consideration. Most police actions are perfectly straightforwardly done by consent, discussion and agreement. The noble Lord said that the provision did not refer to individuals but it specifically says:
When the police have to intrude compulsorily on an individual they have to get a warrant and the magistrate takes into account the reasonable cause that the police put forward for the warrant. Exactly the same would apply here. The implication that magistrates would be incapable of making a decision is one that I would, I am afraid, reject.
I am very disappointed in the noble Lords response. The argument about it being there since 2000 is never a good one. We are moving forward and there is increasing dismay at the extent, much of it inevitable, of the supervising, the checking and, in some sense, the intrusion on organisations and individuals. The time has come that this should be limited, as far as possible, to consent, and where consent is not given then the warrant of a magistrate is a good and democratic way to discourage unnecessary intrusion. I am afraid that I am not happy with what the Minister has said, and I should like to test the opinion of the House.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another
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Mr Speaker, the whole House will want to join me in expressing our condolences to the family and friends of the two soldiers who recently lost their lives serving in AfghanistanLieutenant Paul Mervis of 2nd Battalion the Rifles and Private Robert McLaren of 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Black Watch.
Our troops first went into Iraq in March 2003 and now they are coming home, so it is fitting that I should come to the House to talk of their achievements through difficult times, to chart the new relationship that we are building with Iraq and to set out our plans for an inquiry into the conflict. As always, we can be supremely proud of the way in which our forces carried out their missionof their valour in the heat of combat, recognised in the many citations, rewards and decorations, and of their vigilance and resolution amid the most difficult imaginable conditions and the ever present risk of attack by an unseen enemy. Today, we continue to mourn and remember the 179 men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country.
In my Statement to the House last December, I set out the remaining tasks in southern Iraq for our mission: first, to entrench improvements and security by putting Iraqis in charge of their own defence and policing; secondly, to support Iraqs emerging democracy through the provincial elections; and, thirdly, to promote reconstruction, economic growth and basic services such as power and water, to give the Iraqi people what matters most for their livelihoods in years to come and a stake in their economic future. I can report that these objectives have been achieved and that, thanks to our efforts and those of our allies over six difficult years, a young democracy has replaced a vicious 30-year dictatorship.
In recent months, we have completed the training of the 9,000 troops in the 14th division of the Iraqi army, which is now fully in charge of security in Basra. It was the 14th division that, with our help and the help of the Americans, took on the militia in the crucial Charge of the Knights operation in spring last year. Since then, violence and crime in the Basra region have continued to fall, while levels of violence across Iraq as a whole are at their lowest since 2003.
Provincial elections were held peacefully on 31 January with 7 million Iraqis turning out to vote for 440 different political groups. The Iraqis ran the elections themselves with only three violent incidents across the entire country. Preparations are now under way for national elections on 30 January 2010.
Since 2003, the UK has spent over £500 million in Iraq, including providing humanitarian assistance and infrastructure and promoting economic growth. Support for the health sector has included $14 million spent on 189 projects in Basra, including the refurbishment of Basra general hospital and the building of the Basra childrens hospital. As a whole, the international community has rehabilitated over 5,000 schools, as well as constructing entirely new schools and new classrooms in existing schools. Despite high unemployment and the scale of the global recession, economic growth in Iraq this year is predicted to be nearly 7 per cent.
Significant challenges remain, including that of finding a fair and sustainable solution to the sharing of Iraqs oil revenues, but Iraqs future is now in its own handsin the hands of its people and its politicians. We must pay tribute to the endurance of the Iraqi people and pledge to them our continuing support, but it will be support very different from the kind that we have provided for the last six years.
As the House knows, our military mission ended with the last combat patrol in Basra on 30 April. As of today, there are fewer than 500 British troops in Iraq, with more returning home each week. On the day of that last combat patrol, I welcomed Prime Minister Maliki and most of his Cabinet to London, where we signed together a declaration of friendship, partnership and co-operation, defining a new relationship between our two countries for the future. At the request of the Iraqi Government, a small number of British Navy personnel, no more than 100, will remain in Iraq for the long-term training of the Iraqi navy at Umm Qasr. Royal Navy ships will continue to protect the oil platforms on which Iraqs exports depend and we will continue to offer training to the Iraqi army as part of a wider NATO mission. We will also offer training opportunities at Sandhurst and elsewhere in the UK for Iraqi officers of high potential.
At the core of our new relationship will be the diplomatic, trading and cultural links that we are building with the Iraqi people, supporting British and other foreign investors who want to play a role in the reconstruction of southern Iraq. I have discussed with Prime Minister Maliki a plan for British companies to provide expertise to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Earlier this year, the Mesopotamia Petroleum Company signed a joint venture worth $400 million. Shell is working with the Southern Oil Company to bring to market some of the 7 million cubic feet of gas currently lost each day by flaring. British firms are now competing for further contracts totalling $15 billion, and Rolls-Royce and Parsons Brinckerhoff are currently discussing with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity proposals for a new power generation infrastructure in Iraq, worth an initial $200 million.
British funding will support lending to 1,000 businesses in southern Iraq, and a youth employment programme, which should give training and work placements to 500 young Basrawis, could be rolled out across the whole of Iraq. We are supporting the Iraqi Transport Ministry in the resumption of civilian flights. Also, DfID and the British Council are working on a major education programme; Iraq has already identified its first 250 studentsan early initiative in Britains contribution to Iraqs plans for 10,000 overseas scholarships for Iraqi students.
Issues in the region still confront us. Iran is an independent nation that deserves our respect, and the Iranian people are a proud people who deserve democracy. That is why the regime must address the serious questions that have been asked about the conduct of the elections. The way in which the regime responds to legitimate protests will have implications for Irans relationship with the rest of the world. The House will also note the speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu, where, for the first time, he endorsed the two-state solution. His
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With the last British combat troops about to return home from Iraq, now is the right time to ensure that we have a proper process in place to learn the lessons of the complex and often controversial events of the last six years. I am today announcing the establishment of an independent privy counsellor committee of inquiry. It will consider the period from summer 2001, before military operations began in March 2003, and our subsequent involvement in Iraq until the end of July this year. The inquiry is essential; by learning lessons, we will strengthen the health of our democracy, our diplomacy and our military. The inquiry will, I stress, be fully independent of government.
The scope of the inquiry is unprecedented, covering an eight-year period that includes the run-up to the conflict and the full period of conflict and reconstruction. The committee of inquiry will have access to the fullest range of information, including secret information. In other words, its investigation can range across all papers, all documents and all material, so the inquiry can ask for any British document to come before it and any British citizen to appear. No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of this inquiry. I have asked the members of the inquiry that the final report of the inquiry will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive informationthat is, all information except that which is essential to our national security.
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