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House of Lords

Monday, 20 July 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Introduction: Lord Sugar

2.40 pm

Sir Alan Michael Sugar, Knight, having been created Baron Sugar, of Clapton in the London Borough of Hackney, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Vadera and Lord Davies of Abersoch.

Supreme Court

Question

2.43 pm

Asked By Lord Pannick

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, arrangements for the transfer of judicial functions from the Appellate Committee to the new Supreme Court are on time and within budget and will meet the needs of the Supreme Court justices, court users and the public. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I take this opportunity to thank the noble and learned Lords, the Law Lords,for the considerable personal contribution that they have made both to this House and to the design and functioning of the new Supreme Court.

Lord Pannick: My Lords, I thank the Minister and associate myself with his remarks. As justices of the Supreme Court who are appointed in the future will not be Members of this House, do the Government propose to ensure that this House will continue to benefit from the experience and expertise of retired senior judges? In particular, will they ensure that all retiring Supreme Court justices in the future are appointed to this House?

Lord Bach: My Lords, justices of the Supreme Court who are appointed after October 2009 will not automatically become Members of the second Chamber on retirement, but could be considered for appointment by the Appointments Commission. It is right to say that former Law Lords will be able to take up their places again in the House of Lords on retirement from the Supreme Court, and it is right that this House needs a lot of expertise, particularly in that field, but I cannot give the noble Lord the assurance that he requires.



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Lord Henley: My Lords, to assist the House in appreciating whether this new creation has been value for money, will the noble Lord remind the House just how much the capital costs have been in creating this new Supreme Court and what the additional costs of running this will be, over and above what they would have been if left in this House?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the set-up costs are £58.9 million, a figure which the House knows about and has been agreed. We are coming in within cost and I know that the noble Lord will be delighted to hear that. Running costs for the Supreme Court will be £12.3 million per year. This year, an extra £1.2 million for estimated national insurance contributions and pension contributions of the Law Lords will be transferred from another fund to those running costs. I do not think that the emergence of the Supreme Court will mean that it will cost the taxpayer much more money.

The new court is a fantastic symbol on Parliament Square. It will bring together the legislature on one side of this historic square, the Executive on another, the judiciary now will be on the third and, of course, the established Church is on the fourth.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I declare an interest. What will happen to the law books in our Library?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not know what will happen to the law books in our Library. The new Supreme Court has an excellent Library which will be used by the justices of the Supreme Court.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the transfer of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords to the United Kingdom Supreme Court was for the purpose of dividing political and judicial responsibilities? If bringing Lords back into the House on that basis is the case, would it not have been better to leave them here in the first place?

Lord Bach: My Lords, my noble friend is right in half of what he says. It is right that the separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive should be made even clearer, which this move does. However, what it also does-in some ways, this is as important-is to make the most important court in our land much more accessible to the public whom it is there to serve. Everyone knows that in this building it has not always been possible for the general public, particularly young people, to be able to watch the Law Lords in action. They will certainly be able to do that in the new court.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, would it not be possible for a peerage to be offered as an honour to these distinguished men who have spent their lifetime in the law? If they are expected to play a full part in the work of the House, I suspect that quite a lot of them will not accept.

Lord Bach: My Lords, of course those who are serving Law Lords now and are shortly to become Supreme Court justices will come back with their honour when they retire from the Supreme Court. On the position of those who are made Supreme Court

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justices after the court is set up, as I have said, we cannot guarantee that they will become life Peers but they will be eligible to become so like everyone else.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that no problems have arisen hitherto or are likely to arise between the Executive and Parliament, and between the judiciary and Parliament?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is true that the system has worked well, but it is important, particularly in modern times, that the separation of powers is made absolutely clear. We think that this is one of the advantages-not the only advantage, but one of them-of the change that has been made. The other-I shall repeat it because it is important-is accessibility to the highest court in the land.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, while some of my best friends are lawyers, including my noble friend at the Dispatch Box, does he not agree that it would be quite difficult for an objective observer to suggest that what this House suffers from is a serious shortage of lawyers? Does he therefore agree that in any consideration of the future composition of this House it is vital that we have the widest possible spread of professions and occupations and that places are not given automatically to any particular profession?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am sure that is exactly the way the Appointments Commission will deal with the matter.

Sudan

Question

2.51 pm

Asked By Baroness Cox

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, as a witness to the comprehensive peace agreement, the UK is working with all parties for its full and timely implementation. We and other parties reaffirmed our support for the CPA at the Washington forum on 23 June 2009. The UK is the largest European bilateral provider of humanitarian assistance to Sudan, having spent £56 million towards humanitarian aid and early recovery assistance in Sudan for 2008-09.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Is he aware of the growing concern that the National Congress Party may resume conflict if it does not agree with a ruling by the Abyei Court of Arbitration to be announced this coming Wednesday, 22 July? That concern is being exacerbated by reports of large numbers of militias dressed in police uniforms, believed to be supported by the NCP,

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amassing on the border between Muglad and Abyei. Given that the SPLM has agreed to abide by the ruling, whatever it is, will Her Majesty's Government put the strongest possible pressure on the National Congress Party to accept the ruling and to desist from further conflict?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, we welcome the public commitment made by both parties to abide by the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Abyei boundary. The UK urges both parties to ensure that the decision is fully implemented in a timely manner and in a way that does not escalate tensions or cause conflict. This was reiterated by the UN Security Council on 17 July.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that, further to the Question put by the noble Baroness, UNMIS has enough troops in Abyei to protect civilians from harm in the event of any disturbances and that it will report immediately to the Security Council on who is guilty of any breaches of the ceasefire following the declaration of the arbitration court on Wednesday?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I do not think that I can give that assurance. UNMIS will do all it possibly can, but in the end what will achieve acceptance is if the political parties on both sides urge their supporters to accept the ruling.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, in the light of possible developments arising from the agreement of the CPA, such as autonomy for the south, equal distribution of oil revenues between the north and the south, and lately a vast real estate boom, it is good news that Her Majesty's Government are providing further humanitarian assistance to those still affected by the conflict. However, what are they doing to redevelop the nation's torn infrastructure?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, at the moment, the situation in Sudan is essentially about humanitarian issues, reconstructing governance, getting a proper census for the elections, getting the borders agreed, holding the elections and so on. It is crucial that this period of constitutional reform leading to the elections and the referendum goes smoothly. I am afraid that those matters are taking the highest priority in DfID's work.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I am confident from my noble friend's first reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that he is aware of the great importance of the comprehensive peace agreement. However, is he as concerned as I am that in the event of this peace agreement not being upheld there will be a further outbreak of war? Can he expand on the recent discussions in Washington and say whether Her Majesty's Government's initiative received proper support from other members of the international community?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the north-south war in Sudan was probably one of the most awful wars that the world has seen and we must all pray that the CPA

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persists. The UK, other witnesses to the CPA and regional partners attended the forum for support of the CPA in Washington. We support the statement issued on 23 June by participants noting the progress made by the parties to the CPA and reaffirming the importance of progress on the CPA for peace and stability in Sudan.

Lord Elton: My Lords, if I heard correctly, there is some irony in the fact that the figures the Minister cited for aid in the Answer to this Question and the cost of the new judicial structure given in the previous Question were approximately the same. What are we doing to ensure that this money is properly spent?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, we are very careful in ensuring that the money is properly spent. Perhaps I can answer the question in the negative; none of this money will be spent either through the Government of Sudan or the Government in southern Sudan. All of it will go either through international agencies or direct to NGOs. We are as confident as we can be in such a difficult situation that it will be audited and will all arrive where it is meant to be.

Lord Luce: My Lords, as there is a real danger that if the comprehensive peace agreement breaks down there will be resort to civil war, fragmentation and probably repression in the south, is there not an overwhelming African interest, let alone Western interest, that we do something positive about this and that the British Government play a vigorous role, alongside the other nations, in trying to get this agreement implemented and a settlement brought about in Darfur?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government have Sudan high on their agenda. We appreciate just how important it is. What we are doing is absolutely in line with the White Paper. We recognise the issues of fragile states and the need to bring security as part of our aid. Our influences in that area are the best we can do. It is a unique situation in Sudan, where an African Union and United Nations force exists, and we must all pray that it is successful in maintaining the peace.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Sudan. Following on from the comprehensive peace agreement, what has the international community been able to do to ensure transparency in the division of the oil revenues between the Government in Khartoum and the Government of southern Sudan so that the people of southern Sudan know exactly how much money their Government have received?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government, with the international community, are helping in the demarcation and border issues in southern Sudan to ensure that that division is appropriate, and we are helping with the election processes and governance processes related to it. If there is peace and we are able to stick to the CPA, the agreement sets out what the

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division of wealth and influence would be. The problem is not with the CPA but with maintaining it while it comes into force.

Education: Unauthorised Colleges

Question

3 pm

Asked By Lord Naseby

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, we regulate education and training businesses that are in receipt of public funding, not those established as privately funded businesses. However, all education providers offering services to international students now need to be licensed by the UK Border Agency. We do not have estimates of those who entered the UK as students and are now here illegally or of those who entered improperly prior to the introduction of the new points-based system for migration.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is reassuring to hear that the UK Border Agency is now involved. However, should we, or the agency, not have known how many colleges were open? All you needed to do was fill in an online application form. No one ever inspected these colleges, made authorised visits without telling anyone or knew how many students there were. We knew that these colleges existed, though, so why do we not now have a list of them and make sure that every single one of them is closed down? It is too easy for terrorist suspects to come in, not least because the majority came from the north-west region of Pakistan. I would like a reassurance from the Minister that all the former colleges that were offering all sorts of bogus degrees are now inspected and, if found wanting, are closed.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, all education providers offering services to international students-that is, those coming from outside the European economic area-now need to be licensed by the UK Border Agency and entered on the sponsor register. To qualify for the register, all private education institutions will need to be accredited by one of a limited number of UKBA-approved accreditation bodies. I can tell the noble Lord that, since the new register and inspection process were introduced, nearly 300 colleges have been removed. We have not yet gone through all of them, but we are making rapid progress.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Independent Higher Education Providers and as a member of the joint education task force. I ask my noble friend to make it abundantly clear that, from this day forth, no student

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can come to any part of the higher education system, either public or private, unless they are coming to a sponsoring college, which has to be accredited and licensed, and without which no student can apply for a visa. Is not the real problem now not to get the system in place, because it is already there, but to get our high commissions and our embassies overseas issuing visas under the new system so that genuine students can come to this country to get their education without the good brand of British higher education suffering due to the absence of students caused by dilatory procedures now in issuing visas?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for both his comment and his questions. I confirm that the processes are as he described. It is important to find the balance between ensuring that people do not enter on false pretences and go to bogus institutions and recognising that international students provide a vital cultural, academic and economic contribution to this country.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, what are the views of the Minister's department on the suggestion from the Association of Colleges that the term "college" be protected by an amendment to the Companies Act, so that any organisation wishing to trade under the term must be authorised by the appropriate authorities?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I can confirm that our department is looking at the arguments for registering all academic institutions. I cannot yet confirm the attitude taken over the word "college", but we will consider the arguments for and against a universal requirement for registration or accreditation over the summer. Officials will invite views and opinions from those with an interest in this business sector and report the findings to the Minister in the autumn for consideration.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, the British high commission in Pakistan estimates that half of all students to whom it grants visas disappear after reaching the UK. How confident is the Minister that this will now stop?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we are confident that we now have the right processes in place. We have a process in place to deal with the bogus colleges, which was absolutely essential. We have much stronger checks on immigration and a much stronger visa application system. We can be confident about the processes. Systems will need to be checked over a period of time, but the whole process of border control is being enhanced.


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