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House of Lords

Monday, 26 October 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Commonwealth: Privy Council


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Anderson of Swansea

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government have no plans to modify the system of appeals from certain Commonwealth countries to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My noble friend will be well aware of the concern that a disproportionate amount of time and resources in the new Supreme Court is spent on these Privy Council cases. There can of course be some ad hoc appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, but the Caribbean court of appeal was designed specifically to replace the Privy Council and its credibility is enhanced by the fact that a British judge and a Dutch judge serve on it. What in my noble friend's view are the prospects of that Caribbean court replacing the Privy Council for those purposes and what help are the Government prepared to give to the Caribbean Court of Justice to this end?

Lord Bach: The amount of time spent on Judicial Committee cases and the question of deciding which judges are to sit on those cases are matters entirely for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, in his dual capacity as chairman of the board of the Judicial Committee and president of the Supreme Court. We certainly have no reasons to discourage the Caribbean Court of Justice-indeed, we have reasons to encourage it. It was set up in 2005, and countries that previously sent their final cases to the JCPC have chosen to use that court in its place. That is absolutely a matter for them and, as I said, we do nothing to discourage it.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I declare an interest as a practitioner on the Judicial Committee and, indeed, as having had the privilege in July last of appearing in the final case to be heard in Downing Street after 170 years. Does the Minister agree that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has for more than 100 years protected the people of colonial countries and former colonies and that in particular it has been instrumental in the interpretation of constitutions, the protection of human rights and, absolutely essentially, the independence of the judiciary in those countries?

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Lord Bach: Yes, I agree with the noble Lord. That is exactly what the Judicial Committee has done over a very long period. Countries where Her Majesty is the head of state, UK colonies and the Crown dependencies are entitled to retain this right of appeal to the Judicial Committee as the final court of appeal. The essential point is that it is absolutely a matter for them whether they choose to continue to do so.

Lord Pannick: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that many of the cases heard by the Judicial Committee have involved the imposition of sentences of death on defendants in criminal cases? Will the Government consider whether it is really appropriate for British judges to continue to participate in proceedings that involve the sentence of death and thereby to validate a sentence that is rightly regarded by this country as both degrading and inhumane?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful for the question. The judges who sit on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council do so as privy counsellors and their task is to rule on the law of the individual country involved. The noble Lord is right that they sometimes have to make difficult decisions with regard to the death penalty. As long as this system continues-and we have no intention of changing it-that is a role that the judges must take on themselves.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords-

Lord Morris of Handsworth: Is the Minister aware that the Caribbean Court of Justice is grossly underfunded and that this impacts on the quality of the decisions? Are the Government prepared to look again to see what resources could be afforded until the court finds the proper level at which to dispense justice similar in quality to that of the Privy Council?

Lord Bach: I am grateful to my noble friend. I did not know that it was considered that the court was underfunded and I shall take that back to the department.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords-

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords-

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): We must let the noble Baroness in.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Can the Minister tell me the exact process by which a country decides? I recall clearly when all cases in Australia came from the Privy Council but now they are all done in Australia. Did that decision come from this end or the Australian end?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the answer to that question is easy. The decision would have come from the Australian end. It is absolutely a matter for the independent country itself to decide whether it wants to use this provision.

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Lord Lloyd of Berwick: As the noble Lord will know, I have sat in many appeals from Caribbean and other countries that used to have an appeal to the Privy Council. I never understood that in sitting on those appeals I was in any sense validating the death sentence. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that I was trying-successfully, I hope-to apply the law of the countries in question.

Lord Bach: I thank the noble and learned Lord for the role that he has played over many years and all those who continue to do that valuable job.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Can my noble friend tell me whether, in doing exactly what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has said about looking at the law of the country, the committee has upheld the death sentence in those countries since it was abolished in this country?

Lord Bach: I do not know the figures, but I suspect that the answer is that the committee has upheld the death penalty in certain instances. I am sure that, on the other side, there have been occasions when it has allowed an appeal against such a sentence.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: In overseeing and checking on the quality of justice in Crown dependencies and overseas territories, does the Ministry of Justice or do other aspects of Her Majesty's Government play a more active role than simply waiting for court cases to come to the Judicial Committee?

Lord Bach: We have to be very careful here. Many of the countries involved with the JCPC are proud, independent countries with their own judicial system. Largely because of tradition and history, they happen to choose to have their senior appeal court in this country. The Ministry of Justice and the Government generally have to be very wary indeed about interfering in the legal systems of other countries.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, is it not the case that, when jurisdictions have gone not to the Privy Council but to the Caribbean court, the death sentence has much more often been upheld? Will my noble friend use every pressure that he can through diplomatic means to encourage other jurisdictions to do away with the death penalty?

Lord Bach: In my personal view-not that that matters-and in the view of the Government, the death penalty is not a proper sentence for any offence.

Health: Tuberculosis


2.44 pm

Asked By Baroness Sharples

Baroness Thornton: The Chief Medical Officer's 2004 TB action plan makes raising awareness of TB one of its top priorities. The Government funded TB

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Alert to raise awareness among communities at particular risk and healthcare professionals, and also Find & Treat to work with vulnerable groups, such as the homeless, to increase uptake of TB screening.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Perhaps I should declare that I had TB in my teens. Have any evaluations been carried out to ascertain the effectiveness of the port-of-entry screening for TB?

Baroness Thornton: I am not sure that having had TB is a declaration of interest, but the noble Baroness's experience has helped us with our discussions. As she knows, screening new entrants for TB has been a long-standing government policy, as indeed has pre-entry screening in some of the countries. However, 80 per cent of people born outside the UK who develop infectious TB do so only after living in the UK for two years.

In my previous Answer, I referred to the fact that the HPA would be reviewing the effectiveness of port screening and there is a cross-governmental review of pre-entry screening to consider this in relation to TB management and how it affects the migrant population in general. The result of that will be led by the Department of Health and the Home Office. However, experts maintain that early detection and completion of treatment in tackling TB is a priority at local level and that is why our awareness-raising campaign is so important.

Lord Tomlinson: Is my noble friend satisfied that the campaign to raise awareness is working? How is it being monitored? What are the Government doing specifically about the drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis and do we have any powers to detain people who have drug-resistant TB?

Baroness Thornton: The TB Alert awareness campaign was rolled out some two years ago. We can say that 90 primary care trusts are using awareness-raising material, such as leaflets in 20 different languages. In Bradford, for example, the TB Alert people are working with 170 GPs, issuing important messages. In Bristol, they are working with the homeless and substance abusers.

As regards drug-resistant TB, my noble friend raises an important point. About 1 per cent of TB cases are multiple-drug-resistant-that is about 50 to 60 cases a year-and a small proportion of them are classified as extremely drug-resistant. We have a system of identifying those, and under the Public Health Act 1984 we have powers, in certain circumstances, to order an individual to undergo medical examinations and to be detained in hospital. However, no one can force someone to undertake medical treatment. It is a very important question and it is one on which we are working very hard indeed.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Find & Treat project run in London is absolutely splendid? It has dedicated people who go around in mobile units to X-ray the homeless and the hard-to-find. How is funding for that project going? The DHSS funded it, but I think that now the PCTs must do so.

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Baroness Thornton: I know that the noble Baroness has an interest in this, having visited a prison where she saw the mobile units at work. This scheme will be evaluated in 2010. We are encouraging all London's PCTs to put in the small amount of money required of each of them-in the region of £10,000 to £12,000-to ensure that both the mobile units that we currently have can be maintained and can continue with the very good work that they are doing. I believe that during the past year they have identified 300 to 400 cases.

Baroness Barker: Does the noble Baroness agree that it is in the interests of general public health that people who are at risk of developing TB are encouraged to go for early diagnosis and treatment? Can she confirm that it is not a requirement that a person has to be resident in the United Kingdom to receive diagnosis and treatment? If it is, can she tell the House whether that is a central message in the TB awareness campaign?

Baroness Thornton: The key point of the TB awareness campaign is that anybody who might be infected with TB should be diagnosed as early as possible and should receive treatment. That would apply to anybody in the UK, both people who are resident and people who are visiting.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the programme reaches the less hard to find, namely, those who are employed in the NHS, who, although they are tested on employment, may subsequently contract TB? It has been known for patients then to be infected by members of staff whose previous test was too long ago.

Baroness Thornton: The noble Baroness raises a good point. All health service workers undergo screening. I cannot say whether that is continued at regular intervals, but I undertake to find out and let her know.

Lord James of Blackheath: Can the noble Baroness advise what steps the Government will take to replace the invaluable services performed by the screening service at the junction of Greek Street and Soho Square at St Barnabas, which was forced to close for two years to make way for the excavation for Crossrail?

Baroness Thornton: I am not aware of the detail of that, but it strikes me that the mobile screening units, of which we have two in London, will be essential under those circumstances.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: Given the tremendous prevalence of TB from central and eastern Europe, particularly from Russia, where the pasteurisation of milk has long since ceased and where there is a great prevalence of TB in prisons, will the Minister put pressure on the Government to spend some funding bringing the DOTS programme back into Russia? I am sure that she will confirm that it is the full answer to the control of TB.

Baroness Thornton: We have not at all abandoned the DOTS programme, which is about making sure that people take their medicine on time and in a supervised fashion.

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2.52 pm

Asked By Lord Haskel

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Budget 2009 noted that the macroeconomic environment provided the conditions for a significant rebalancing of demand in the economy. This adjustment would entail increased saving by households, increased investment by companies as they responded to new opportunities, and a rebalancing of domestic and external demand. The Government have also taken steps, both domestically and internationally, to support this rebalancing.

The G7 Finance Ministers agreed in Istanbul to develop a new framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth.

Lord Haskel: I thank my noble friend for that reply. It is the kind of reply that would get top marks in an exam paper set by my noble friend Lord Peston, but I am afraid that it has little meaning to men and women working in industry, to the designers and engineers who are developing our new products and new technologies, to the scientists working in our laboratories, all of whose work is absolutely essential if we are going to rebalance the economy. What are the Government doing for them?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I thank my noble friend for his complimentary remarks about my Answer. I must say that I did not get top marks when I was answering questions in the University of London economics exams, whether marked by my noble friend or not. However, on the particular issue that my noble friend has raised, we have increased investment in science by 88 per cent since 1997. We have also spent a great deal more regarding money distributed by the Technology Strategy Board, which has more doubled over the past 10 years. When my noble friend emphasises how important research and development, scientific research and engineering research are to the recovery of the economy, he is speaking in terms which the Government entirely endorse.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: Are the Government satisfied with the support that they are giving to manufacturing industry and have given in the past? The Minister will be aware that many of us in this House have been urging the Government for a considerable time to give more support to manufacturing industry.

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