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House of Lords

Monday, 6 July 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter

Death of a Member: Lord Murton of Lindisfarne


2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death yesterday of Lord Murton of Lindisfarne. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord's family and friends.

EU: Lisbon Treaty


Asked By Lord Blackwell

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, Parliament has decided on the Lisbon treaty. The treaty was debated in detail in Parliament over 25 days and both Houses voted strongly in favour at every stage. Both Houses rejected, by clear majorities, amendments proposing to decide by referendum. The UK considers and decides on the British national interest through our Parliament, as Governments of all political complexions acknowledge and as Parliament has done with every previous EU amending treaty.

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he accept that, since Parliament debated this matter, in the recent European elections the majority of UK MEPs were elected on manifestos opposed to the Lisbon treaty? Given that and the concern for democratic renewal, is there not a case for saying that those in favour of the Lisbon treaty would now be well served by calling for a referendum in order to put beyond doubt its legitimacy and democratic mandate?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, obviously we all respect the vote in the European Parliament elections but it is up to the national Parliament-the UK Parliament-to decide on the treaty. To unpick done business in this way would not be a good precedent for parliamentary government.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if we have daft electoral systems for the European elections, we sometimes get daft results and so we should not get too obsessed by them? Equally, will he point out to the noble Lord who raised the

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question that the issue concerning the referendum is abundantly clear: there is no need for one; there is no majority support in this country for one; it is an issue on which the will of Parliament should prevail; and that will happen as far as we are concerned?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, it is indeed an issue on which the will of Parliament should prevail and Parliament has declared itself.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, is the Minister not puzzled by this continued and artificial anxiety among a small number of Eurosceptics? Only recently the Karlsruhe constitutional court said that the EU was broadly a democratic structure anyway because it represented a collection of sovereign member states, with their own national sovereignties as individual countries. Only Ireland had to have a referendum because that is built into its constitution. Why do these anxieties persist, other than to make mischief, when what is needed above all now, particularly in view of recent events, is building up the authority of Parliament and its rights?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I agree that this is a matter now decided and we should move on. As to the anxiety of Eurosceptics, I leave that to their psychologists.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is not a matter for this Government, who have ratified, but for another Government after the election?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me be clear. The treaty was introduced and passed during the life of this Government, it was negotiated by this Government and I very much think that it is business to be finished in the course of this Government.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me, particularly in view of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Have we received any indication from what might be an alternative Government after the election about whether they propose holding a referendum in the event that the treaty has been implemented?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, all I can say is that, if the Front Bench wants to respond, I shall immediately defer to it.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords-

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we have made it clear that if the treaty is not ratified, we will of course have a referendum, when the vast majority will turn it down. However, has the Minister noted the remarks of the outgoing Irish Commissioner, Charles McCreevy, who observed that, if there had been referenda in the 27 member countries of the European Union,

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95 per cent of them would have delivered a no result? Does that not make him think a bit about the question of keeping close to the people and obeying the democratic will?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, just in case he has to occupy the ministerial Box in the future, I do not think that he completely answered the question that was asked from behind me. On referenda, I am sure that there are many policies that Parliaments and Governments are forced to take for which instant popularity is not the proper judge. I hope that there is no suggestion that all decisions, popular and unpopular, should rest on the decisions of referenda in future.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, asked persuasively for a referendum in order to put the matter beyond doubt, but does my noble friend recollect that there has already been one referendum on the European Union, as well as several others about the Scottish Parliament and so forth, and that the losers have never once accepted the result?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I certainly agree that there has been a history of continued challenge to the outcome on Europe, whatever it has been. After all, in 1992 we faced a situation in Denmark analogous to that in Ireland now and the Tory Government of the time felt that they could proceed without a referendum on the assurances given to Denmark.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in all its history the Conservative Party has had only one referendum, which was on the Sunday opening of pubs in Wales?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I can only say yes.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I say in passing that my late noble kinsman was responsible for the referendum to which the noble Lord has just referred. Is it because the Minister was living across the Atlantic in 2005 that there was no reference to the Labour Party manifesto in his initial Answer?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a telling point. Indeed, he is right that I was living across the Atlantic, but, as he is well aware, the issue was whether Lisbon was a constitution or just a treaty; the referendum pledge applied to a constitution, which is not ultimately what was adopted.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, will the Minister take the opportunity to put the remarks of his noble friend Lord Tomlinson into perspective by agreeing that all polls taken in the United Kingdom put support for a referendum on Lisbon at around 70 per cent and that a recent poll in Germany puts German support for a referendum on Lisbon at no less than 77 per cent?

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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I would certainly never think that all polls agree with each other, so I am sure that such a blanket statement is not correct. However, the noble Lord has a point-there is no doubt that polls have shown considerable expressions of opposition to the treaty. Again, it is the job of government to lead and to win the debate in this House and the other place, which we have done.

Lord Rees-Mogg: My Lords-

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): We are in the ninth minute, my Lords, and should move on.

Immigration: Heathrow Airport


2.45 pm

Asked By Baroness Hanham

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the BAA is responsible for the provision and maintenance of holding rooms at Heathrow Airport, including providing basic facilities such as rest rooms. We are aware that the independent monitoring board does not consider the current facilities to be adequate. Since its report was written, we have opened Cayley House, which provides better facilities, including showers. The United Kingdom Border Agency and its contractors are committed to providing as comfortable an environment as is reasonably possible, and have been working with the IMB to consider its report's recommendations in further detail.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. What direct relationship is there between the Home Office and the British Airports Authority to ensure not only that these facilities are adequate, particularly when children are being held in them for several days, as is often the case, but that the standards required by the monitoring board are in fact met?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness takes a particular interest in this important issue. When I visited one of these holding rooms at Gatwick, I have to say that I was not overimpressed. There have been two reports; the first made 34 recommendations, and we accepted 32 of them, and out of the second report's 47 recommendations, 38 were accepted. That shows that there is a lot to be done. In concert with BAA, we have produced an action plan; it was sent to the IMB on 29 May, and a copy has been placed in the House Library. We work

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very closely with BAA and, of course, G4S, which implements a lot of the personnel issues; the co-ordination now works well. I believe that we are putting right some of the faults that existed and are well on track to recover from the position we were in.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, there has been no response from the Home Office, UKBA or G4S to the report on the appalling conditions in these facilities. Does not the noble Lord think that in the circumstances, an instruction should be given to UKBA that no one is to be detained overnight in places that have no accommodation for sleeping and scarcely any facilities for washing and cleaning oneself? Could not the Government ensure that any detainee who is held temporarily in these places is transferred before 24 hours has expired to a proper place of detention?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as I said, I think that the provision of Cayley House at Heathrow resolves that situation. It is not as though we provide nothing: we provide toiletry packs, clothes, blankets, newspapers, magazines, hot and cold food, eye masks in places where the lighting is difficult, family areas, telephones without SIM cards which people can use, DVD players, DVDs and baby changing facilities. We provide a lot, and it is getting better. We are meeting all these commitments, and I do not believe that there is a need for a statutory obligation. In close co-ordination, we are arriving at the right answer.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the contract for running the Heathrow centres expires in April 2010, and that the independent monitoring board has recommended some changes to the contract, such as a prohibition on moving families in caged vehicles and a requirement that a female officer is always present when women are detained? Can the Minister assure the House that these requirements will be in the new contract?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am not aware of all the details of the new contract being negotiated. As for there not being enough women officers, I am aware of that as an issue; there were not enough, and G4S is actively recruiting people to get around that problem. I should like to get back to the noble Baroness with details of the specific contract.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the United Kingdom Border Agency's response to many of the recommendations in the action plan is that recent changes in the G4S management structure at Heathrow will ensure contractual compliance. Can the Minister tell us today what these changes are and what it is hoped they will achieve?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as the third partner, G4S has instigated its own action plan. It has changed its senior management; clearly, it was not providing the right answer. It addresses such things as appropriate stock levels for consumables, welfare items and so on. There is a training course for its staff because one of the issues that was picked up was the

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attitude of detention staff to detainees, which was not appropriate. There is one-to-one training for staff to make sure that their attitude is correct. Pressure has been put on G4S to improve collection times. Clearly, those times were not as good as they should have been. In one case, collection took something like 12 and a half hours; now the average is one and a half hours, and we are improving that so that detainees can be moved on to other facilities. All of those issues have shown a marked improvement, which gives a flavour of the sort of improvements that G4S has made.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, could the Minister confirm whether there are plans to improve family rooms in Terminals 1, 2 and 3 at Heathrow Airport, which are described in the report as being small and poorly equipped?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the sort of issues and facilities that I have mentioned are being dealt with. What is extremely difficult-because the terminals have already been built-is, for example, providing showers and shower rooms. That is why we have constructed Cayley House, which has plenty of space and shower facilities. Therefore, we would move people from more cramped places to Cayley House if they are to be held for longer periods. At the moment, there are no plans to put showers in the terminals because Cayley House has been constructed and people can be moved there.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concern raised in the report that pregnant women due for removal from this country were spending nine or more hours in the airport before their departure, when the target time is between three and seven hours? Are there instructions on this matter?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I was aware of this issue and the length of time that removal was taking. Each woman is assessed on a case-by-case basis because pregnant women are not, of course, ill-they are just pregnant. Issues such as concern and timing depend on the stage of her pregnancy. There is no doubt that some cases were taking too long and shortening those timescales is one of the issues that is being addressed.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, does the Minister accept that in many of these cases, interpreters are needed to ensure that detainees can communicate with the person dealing with their case? How much of the long time that some detainees spend in the holding centres is due to delay in providing an interpreter, and are there plans to improve the situation?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord identifies an issue. We are now trying to allow phone interpreters to speed this up.

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UN: Peacekeeping


2.52 pm

Asked By Lord Hannay of Chiswick

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, we have not capped the UK's payments to the UN for assessed payments, since these are legal obligations, but as part of the 2007 CSR settlement for conflict funding from 2008 to 2011 the call on the Treasury reserve for peacekeeping is currently set at £374 million annually. Therefore, when assessed UN peacekeeping costs rise, the overall UN conflict budget has less funding available for discretionary conflict prevention activity. To help mitigate this, this year the FCO, DfID and the MoD provided an additional £71 million for discretionary conflict activity.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for confirming that we are indeed standing by our international legal obligations. Does his Answer not lead him to regret or reconsider the decision to put assessed peacekeeping contributions into the same pot as discretionary spending, with the result that, if the UN-as, alas, all too often happens-does more in-year, or the British exchange rate moves in the wrong direction, the squeeze will be exclusively on discretionary spending? Is this not a case for reconsidering this, and reverting to a situation where the peacekeeping assessment, if it overspent in-year, was met under a formula known-after my noble friend Lord Armstrong-as the Armstrong formula, meaning that it came out of the contingency reserve, and the discretionary spending was ring-fenced?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very powerful point. There is no doubt that when we engage in multilateral peacekeeping, which is often more cost-effective than a direct bilateral operation of our own, we are engaged in meeting a national security goal, as my noble friend's report again confirmed just last week. Therefore, on the face of it, it appears anomalous that multilateral activities are subject to this cost control in a way that bilateral ones are not. However, the Treasury understandably feels very strongly that to control public spending it is important to set targets in an area like this and hold the department-in this case, the FCO-accountable for that.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is there not a case for separating out the contributions the Government have to make to international organisations, which, as the Minister emphasised, are legal obligations, from departmental budgets? Particularly for those departments such as the FCO that have very small budgets, our multilateral legal obligations can end up squeezing out other departmental needs if the exchange rate moves against us or if there are particular needs in peacekeeping.

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