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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, in his opening remarks the Minister mentioned voluntary partnerships. These have been up and running for some time, but the transport Act 2008 was designed to make them easier and ensure that they do not fall foul of competition law. Does the Minister understand that the Secretary of State's guidance on the issue has done very little to
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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am very surprised to hear the point that the noble Baroness makes. During the Recess I spent a day in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire with Trent Barton, which has signed a very comprehensive quality partnership with the two local authorities in its area. It is providing a hugely improved quality of service to the local people in that area, working in collaboration with the local authorities, particularly in Nottingham, where it has established its own smart card. I am not aware of the difficulties that the noble Baroness has raised, but I will certainly check, and, if there are any, I will come back to her.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will turn his mind to the parlous state of the bus industry. I refer to the woefully inadequate reimbursement of concessionary fares; the reduction in the availability of resources from local authorities for supporting the bus industry, to which he has referred; the greatly increased regulatory burdens on the industry such as the revised drivers' hours legislation; and the proposed attack by the department on the bus service operators grant, which will result in the fares of those who do have to pay going up substantially. Will the Minister address these issues, which are fundamental to the health of the industry?
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the picture that the noble Lord paints of the bus industry in this country is not one that I or the great majority of bus users recognise. The introduction of free travel for older and disabled people, which came in in 2008, has provided travel opportunities for 11 million people, is hugely popular and has reversed the decline in the use of bus services. The Government are providing additional funding of £217 million this year, and a further £223 million in 2010-11, in order to fund the concessionary fares scheme. The Government have also paid around £30 million to local authorities for the cost of issuing the England-wide bus passes. This is not an industry in decline. As a result of the Government's policy, bus usage is going up and the industry is a great deal more popular.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the Mayor of London's budget problems with transport, which are exacerbated by his scrapping the congestion charge for the west of London, scrapping the £25 charge for gas guzzlers, putting up bus fares by 12.7 per cent and wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on replacing the bendy bus, which will cause a lot of extra pollution and reduce the number of bus passengers? Is this a good example of what will happen when these regulations come into play in the rest of the country?
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, transport operators put up their fares for two reasons: either because they have to or because they choose to. In the case of Transport for London and the mayor, the fare increase is entirely out of choice. It would not have
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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the Government are determined that young people and lone mothers should go to work. There is acute difficulty in rural areas, where they have no transport. The Minister mentioned concessionary fares for the elderly, but many jobs that women and young people get are extremely low paid, and bus fares are too high for them to afford. Are there any concessionary measures which the Government can make to help these people keep jobs once they get them?
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Countess in her reference to the importance of rural bus services. It is a concern that the Government very much share. The Department for Transport supplies nearly £60 million a year to local authorities in the form of rural bus subsidy grant, the purpose of which is to support those rural services. Some 2,000 bus services are supported in this way and that assists 38 million passenger journeys a year. The Government have invested heavily to ensure that resources are available for uncommercial routes, particularly in rural areas, and local and national funding for that is around £2.5 billion a year. The bus industry has every prospect of doing well and the role that it will play in rural areas will, I hope, continue to grow.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, we believe that there is a high threat from al-Qaeda in Yemen, which is seen as an easier environment to operate in than some regional neighbours. We are concerned about that rising threat. Yemen has witnessed a significant upsurge in al-Qaeda activity since Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in 2006. There have been a number of terrorist incidents in Yemen, including against western interests, and we believe that terrorists continue to plan attacks. There is little indication of an influx of insurgents from Yemen into Afghanistan.
Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. From it, I think it is fair to say that she accepts that the destruction of infrastructure and local economies in Yemen and the creation of tens of thousands of IDPs have provided a prime recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. I am sure she will accept that independent panellists are claiming that literally hundreds of Yemeni insurgents trained by al-Qaeda have been seen in Afghanistan and therefore one must presume that they have been engaging with our forces. Given that situation, does the Minister agree that it is incumbent on the United Kingdom to take a lead role in trying to bring peace and stability back into Yemen through international aid and reconstruction in order to tackle the problem at its source? Finally, in that context, can she tell the House where we are in terms of the international funds that we are contributing to compared with other countries-for example, Germany, which I think has given some £70 million this year alone to assist in Yemen?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for his comments and for the commitment that he shows to these issues. The noble Lord seeks reassurance on the UK's commitment to funding. The UK spent £20 million in the financial year 2008-09 and this figure is bound to increase significantly in the next two years. Our development partner agreement with Yemen has allocated £105 million from April 2008 to March 2011. We also contributed £2 million to the UN appeal for displaced people in the north. Again, I reassure the noble Lord that we, with Germany, are leading in the European Union as the most substantial donors of assistance in Yemen. We agree that the implications of an unstable Yemen will be felt by the entire international community. It is therefore important that we work together with our partners in the European Union, with Saudi Arabia and the United States, and that we co-ordinate those activities.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that we have no evidence of any piracy connection with al-Qaeda in Yemen. However, we are working very hard with the Yemeni authorities in actions against piracy. Our main activity is supporting and funding the coastguards, who are doing a very good job in the waters around the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on the relations that we have with the Saudis on this question. The Saudi Government are clearly threatened by what is happening in Yemen. In past years, the Saudi regime and members of Saudi society have not been entirely helpful in coping with the threat from al-Qaeda. There was a very good article in the New York Times the week before last by a senior member of the Saudi Royal Family about how we need to work together in combating al-Qaeda. Are Her Majesty's Government and other members of the European Union now in active dialogue with the Saudis on how we work together in this respect?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, again, I can reassure the noble Lord. He may be aware that quite recently the Foreign Secretary discussed Yemen with Prince Saud, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, and the Government of Saudi Arabia have committed substantial support to the Government of Yemen. We have included Saudi Arabia in the UK's partnership in Yemen to ensure that we work in a co-ordinated way.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, we are aware that Yemen has enormous problems. President Saleh has to deal with the problems in northern Yemen and in the south, where there are secessionist movements which are claiming independence from Yemen. In the Arabian peninsular, the Yemenis are having to conduct a struggle against al-Qaeda, which recently carried out attacks. They also have very serious problems with their economy; they have to make tough, painful reforms and they have very poor public services. DfID is assisting efforts to ensure that they have a better education system and that they can improve their infrastructure and work against the increasing radicalisation of young people in Yemen. That is the mentoring process in which we are involved. There are many tasks and a big DfID programme with much collaboration with the Ministry of Defence.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the noble Baroness has mentioned the good work done by the Royal Navy in combating piracy off the coast of Yemen. Can she tell the House what has happened to the pirates who were captured earlier this year by the Royal Navy?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the most observant Members of the House will have seen that an additional sitting Friday has been scheduled for 6 November. I am pleased to report to the House that business has now been scheduled for that day. There is to be a debate on the Armed Forces and future defence policy in the name of my noble friend Lord Drayson. I hope that Members on all sides of the House will welcome the debate. A speakers list is now open in the Government Whips' Office.
The House is about to embark on the first day of Report on the Coroners and Justice Bill. Given the long summer break, this would be a convenient point for me to remind your Lordships of the guidance in the Companion on the rules of debate on Report. I quote, in particular, that:
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl makes a good point. Of course, we always try to find time for important debates and I am afraid that on some occasions defence debates, important though they are, have to be scheduled for a Friday.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 47. I shall not repeat the arguments deployed in Committee on either of these issues, arguments which were very ably put by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. With her permission, I have tabled a similar amendment to the one which she tabled in Committee and I shall speak to them both. I remind the House that we spoke at length about the great difficulties caused when inquests are delayed. Over time, witnesses may become more unreliable, thereby obscuring the search for truth, and making families wait prolongs and intensifies their pain.
These amendments reflect the Minister's comments in Committee. They ensure that a monitoring system will be in place to highlight problems within the coronial system. If particular jurisdictions are struggling with workloads or resources and not completing inquests in a timely manner, the Chief Coroner would be able to take action. As the Bill intends to modernise the coroners service, the long delays suffered by a very few inquests-I accept the comments the Minister made in Committee-surely must be addressed. The Minister said that inquests should be held as soon as possible when all the relevant information is to hand. Some of the problems identified in the examples given in Committee were because various authorities dragged their feet in providing the relevant information. That needs to be resolved.
The Minister also argued that the Chief Coroner will be able to carry out the functions that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke about so persuasively because the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Coroner will be given power in regulations to require information to be provided to them by senior coroners. If the Government intend to lay that out in regulations, why can they not put it in the Bill? Not having that in statute undermines the comeback that families would otherwise have to obtain a judicial review where an inquest has dragged on for year after year for no reason. Finally, it would focus attention on ensuring that delay in relation to deaths in custody or otherwise in state detention is addressed. Many of them address Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This issue has been highlighted year after year by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, beginning in 2004, and I remind the House that the committee commented in March 2009 that it had recently received evidence that many of the issues and delays not only remain, but are getting worse. I beg to move.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I support this amendment but shall not speak at length. I think we sometimes underestimate the importance that bereaved families attach not only to the results of the inquest but to the fact that it represents closure that enables them to put their life ahead on an even keel. We probably will not have another coroners Bill for 25 years, so it is right that we should take the opportunity to reduce delays in the opening and completion of inquests.
I am pleased that the Government have included in the Bill the appointment of a Chief Coroner with powers to intervene in specified circumstances, the introduction of senior coroners for each area and the possibility of some transfer between areas. Those are good proposals that will cut logjams and reduce delays. However, this amendment on monitoring the situation is a useful addition, and I hope that the Government will accept it. I know the Minister may say that only about 10 per cent of inquests last beyond a year, but that is a lot of inquests and some delays are very long indeed. This amendment demonstrates an intention to do our best to correct the situation and deserves government support.
In Committee, the Minister said that the average time for an inquest was 26 weeks. That, of course, is not so for Schedule 2 inquests, particularly those involving prisons, the police and the Armed Forces, for which two years is the average time.
Very recently, a very complicated case involving the police was brought to a conclusion within one year, because all those involved put their minds to getting the thing done quickly. That suggests that if greater pressure was put on the system to speed it up, it would be possible to avoid some of the dreadful cases that we
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There is an example of this in the case of the Armed Forces. Since 5 June 2006, there have been regular Written Ministerial Statements with information about inquests into the deaths of military personnel. I welcome the amendments and commend them to the Government, but I particularly welcome Amendment 47-with its suggestion that the Lord Chancellor should make six-monthly reviews to Parliament-because Parliament could then be aware of delays, particularly in outstandingly long cases, and perhaps imposing ministerial scrutiny on the system could help to speed it up and reduce delay, which is one of the reasons for this Bill.
It seems quite a long time since the beginning of June when we were in Committee on the Bill. The Minister might remember that my late friend Lord Kingsland dealt with this matter at that stage, when the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, talked about the need for timely inquests. The Minister will accept that there is agreement right around the House about the need for timely inquests; we all think it desirable.
We support these amendments, moved this time by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in that they would make no extra demands on the resources of coroners but would help them, and indeed everyone else, to get a clearer idea of where and why blockages are arising in the system. It is in the interests of everyone that we have such expeditious inquests, not least for bereaved families. I particularly remember the somewhat voguish word used by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, when he talked about the need for "closure" in these matters. He was right to use it, and it is something that we should all pursue.
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