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House of Lords

Thursday, 21 January 2010.

11 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.



11.06 am

Asked By Baroness Rawlings

Lord Brett: My Lords, providing sustainable livelihoods and economic opportunities for Afghans is critical to countering the appeal of the insurgency and to increasing stability. That is why the UK is building the capacity of the Afghan Government to deliver economic growth. The Department for International Development has committed £96 million to increase agricultural productivity, improve the business environment and support the private sector. This will aim to support the creation of 20,000 jobs and raise the incomes of 200,000 people by 2013.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In a previous Question for Short Debate on alternative livelihoods, the noble Lord stated that Her Majesty's Government supported the production of wheat, which is,

and that,

Does the Minister not agree that pomegranates would be a better product? I know that Her Majesty's Government do not directly support charities, but what help is he prepared to give to proven and successful organisations, such as POM354?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important question. Diversification of crops, in terms of moving away from the production of poppies, is an essential part of improving the lot of the people of Afghanistan. In practice: wheat has been mentioned and there has been success in that area; we are looking at saffron and at the trellising of grapes, which improves their value and quality; and we are supportive of POM354. We have recommended that POM354 produces a detailed business plan which will help maximise the programme's chances of success and will help in terms of conversations with potential donors. DfID will continue to provide advice on that plan.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that absolutely imperative to this question of sustainable livelihoods is the need to create an environment of peace? Therefore, the imperatives of sustainable livelihoods are support for the military activity that is

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taking place in Afghanistan by this country and its allies, together with development assistance to that country, and then all the necessary diplomatic efforts to make sure that it can continue to exist in peace and that the development assistance will be properly used.

Lord Brett: My Lords, I can only agree with my noble friend. The overall stability of that country depends on its security. What we are doing in terms of training Armed Forces and police personnel, the support we are giving to national and sub-national government, and to farmers in terms of alternative crops, are all part of a coherent and cohesive plan to save that country from some of the travails it has experienced in recent years.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, is it not the case that neither the international community nor the British Government will ever be able to deliver livelihoods, sustainable or otherwise, to the Afghan population unless they speak with a single voice and act to a single plan? It seems that we are still scandalously completely incapable of doing that. Will the Minister reassure the House that this will be the first aim-and, I hope, the first outcome-of the Afghan conference next week?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I do not totally agree with the noble Lord's analysis but I agree that the conference next week is a very important event taking us forward. It was announced by the Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the United Nations; the Prime Minister and President Karzai will open the proceedings; and Foreign Ministers from all 43 ISAF partners plus the EU international organisations will be present. We hope the conference will focus on the delivery and co-ordination of international support for the new Afghan Government's programme on security, governance, reintegration, economic development and regional relationships. That adds up to a comprehensive way forward which is in line with what the noble Lord is seeking.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, why do we not buy the Afghan poppy crop and use it to make medicine for the NHS, instead of trying to grow it ourselves?

Lord Brett: My Lords, there are two reasons why that seductive solution is not practical. First, the Afghan Government do not believe that they could actually police and monitor successfully licit poppy production. Secondly, in economic terms, Australia can produce the quality that we require from poppies for opium used in medical practices at about half the cost of doing it in Afghanistan.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, yesterday told us that poppy prevention, or poppy diversion, is one of the areas in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had to make cuts. Is that joined-up government?

Lord Brett: My Lords, we can show progress in the reduction of poppy production. Eradication is a matter for the Afghan Government. We are seeking alternative livelihoods so that farmers in Afghanistan do not see

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the seduction of poppy production and the moneys that come from selling poppy for narcotics as a substitute for the normal type of legal activity that farmers across the world engage in to make a living.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what effect the weakness in the pound is having on the DfID budget in Afghanistan?

Lord Brett: My Lords, clearly the question of moving exchange rates has an impact on budgets of all government departments. I cannot give the figure the noble Baroness wants but I will make inquiries and write to her.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I have asked this several times of various Ministers over the past two years. Can the Minister please tell me what replacement crop there is for poppy that is suitable for conditions in Afghanistan?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the noble Lord asks a good question and the answer is that it depends on the skill and techniques of farmers and the ability to look at alternative crops for which climatically there are the right provisions and which would have a market. I mentioned that saffron is a high-value product now being considered; the use of trellis grapes, rather than grapes grown on the ground, provides for a greater yield and better quality; and pomegranates are native and grow naturally in some parts of the country. Again, we must not see the whole country as a single entity. It has different climatic conditions from north to south and it is a question of what is appropriate.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, one very strong alternative is dried fruit. What are the Government doing to promote the export of dried fruit and are they aware that USAID is improving the packaging which goes with those exports?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I do not have details on dried fruit export. That seems to be an area I should investigate and I will write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, there was a question about joined-up government which I do not believe the Minister answered. Can he quickly answer it now?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the Government believe in joined-up government. The Ministry of Defence, DfID and the Foreign Office work together on international matters. There has been much evidence over the past 12 years to show that has been successful and I see no reason to think that the situation will change.

Cyclists: Safety


11.14 am

Asked By Viscount Falkland

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, measures to make roads safer for cyclists include providing better infrastructure, funding cycle training, improving training

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and testing for motorists and encouraging cyclists to protect themselves by making themselves conspicuous and wearing a safety helmet. Other initiatives such as anti-drink/drug-drive and speeding campaigns, the provision of 20 mph zones and new measures on goods vehicles' mirrors can also contribute to cycling safety.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. The Government must be commended for the support they have given to cycling for health and many other reasons. However, safety is still a problem.

Can the Minister tell me why young people who might go out with their families at weekends, or possibly in the evenings in summer time, are inhibited from doing so-parents are particularly inhibited from letting their children go out-because, at that time, most of the cycle lanes in urban areas are filled with parked cars? This seems to be a problem that does not go away. Does the Minister agree that children get a lot of benefits, apart from health benefits, from cycling? They learn road sense, which is very useful to them later on in life.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Viscount. There are mandatory cycle lanes, which are indicated by a continuous white line. They may not be used by vehicles other than pedal cycles during their hours of operation. However, as with bus lanes, mandatory cycle lanes can operate full time or during certain times of the day only. If a mandatory cycle lane is to be introduced, it requires a traffic regulation order.

If cycle lanes are to be enforced at weekends, it is the responsibility of the local authority to ensure that the traffic regulation order covers that eventuality. We take the view that, in those circumstances, it would probably be wise for local authorities to lay down yellow lines at the same time to indicate that parking in the cycle lane is not permitted.

On the noble Viscount's point about cycle training for young people, we agree completely.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the real problem with cyclists and drivers not obeying the law is the lack of enforcement? Certainly when I cycle around London, I have recently come across several cars, including a police van, driving up a one-way street the wrong way. I know that cyclists do it as well, but the Minister would surely agree that there must be much better enforcement, possibly even by a dedicated police force.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the Question is about cycling rather than motoring. If the House will allow me, I will confine myself to answers on cycling today.

The Government do want people to cycle more, as I indicated in my Answer, but we certainly do not condone those who cycle irresponsibly. It may be for the benefit of the House if I remind your Lordships that cycling on the pavement is an offence that goes back to 1835,

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under Section 72 of the Highways Act as amended by the Local Government Act 1888. That penalty can be enforced either by way of prosecution or by the use of fixed-penalty notices.

The same applies for running red lights. I know that a number of your Lordships have in the past drawn attention to cyclists who go across red lights. That, too, can be subject to a £30 on-the-spot fine.

Lord Tebbit: Did the Minister read the recent reply that I received from the noble Lord, Lord West, in which he told me that there is no record kept of how many fixed-penalty notices issued to cyclists for cycling on the footpath are paid? If the Government do not have any statistics on this, how do they know whether their policy is working or not?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: The noble Lord asks an interesting question. I shall ask it myself and see whether I can discover the answer. I obviously do not have that information with me but I will come back to the noble Lord.

Lord Bradshaw: If I may turn to government responsibilities that cannot be passed to local government, will the Government do something about lorries not having adequate rear-view mirrors or many of the other proximity devices that would prevent the death of quite a lot of young people in London every year? It is really an absolute disgrace.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the Government have introduced new regulations on rear-view mirrors for heavy goods vehicles. We recognise the problem of long goods vehicles not seeing cyclists coming up on the inside-that is a particular danger and gives rise to some very serious accidents. The regulations have been enhanced and we believe that the new rear-view mirrors will go some way towards solving that problem.

Baroness Hanham: Further to that response and to a reply that the Minister kindly sent me a little while ago, can the Minister tell me whether discussions are taking place with Transport for London on, in particular, the mayor's proposals to allow, in the interests of safety, cyclists to turn left through a red light? What research would need to be carried out to enable a pilot, to which the Minister referred, to be undertaken?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I wrote to the noble Baroness on 17 December on exactly that subject. We are ready to undertake a pilot if there is demand for it. We think that there is a lot to be said for there being at least an experiment on this, but we do not want to give cyclists the feeling that they are allowed to ignore red lights and just turn left or right when they think it is appropriate for them to do so; that has to be properly regulated.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that probably the safest and most effective form of cycle lane are those that have a small physical barrier between the cycle lane and the remainder of the road? That deals with the problem that was raised in the original Question asked by the noble

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Viscount, Lord Falkland. What encouragement are the Government giving to local authorities to use this safer form of cycle lane rather than simply delineating with lines?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, we are giving every encouragement to the Mayor of London's proposals for 12 cycle highways, which I understand will offer some form of segregation in the way that my noble friend referred to. We think that that is important. We want an increase in the number of people cycling to work in London. The London figure is very low compared with European cities. It is only 3 per cent in London, compared with, for example, 36 per cent in Copenhagen and 25 per cent in the Netherlands. These figures can go up a lot. We think there are health reasons and other very strong reasons why that should happen.

Iran: Baha'i Community


11.22 am

Asked By Lord Avebury

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, reports so far suggest that the trial of the Baha'is has worrying parallels with the post-election show trials and falls far short of international standards. Ivan Lewis summoned the Iranian ambassador on 20 January-yesterday-to echo EU calls for the Baha'is to receive a just and open trial. We are considering options for further action at the Human Rights Council, with the universal periodic review providing an important opportunity to draw attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the evidence presented to the universal periodic review there is only one short paragraph dealing with the relentless persecution of the Baha'is and no mention at all of the trial of the seven who had been in custody for over two years incommunicado and are now facing the death penalty? Will the Minister undertake to ensure that the British delegation at the universal periodic review will submit supplementary evidence about the treatment of these seven Baha'is? Could she ask colleagues in the European Union to ask to have observers present at the trial, which takes place a week before the UPR?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord. I will attend the Human Rights Council next month and will make every effort to address some of the points that he has raised. As he will know, the European Union has repeatedly expressed concern over the treatment of those imprisoned and has called for their release. To reiterate, Ivan Lewis summoned

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the Iranian ambassador to express concerns about human rights abuses and violations and he renewed calls based on the declaration made by the European Union on 12 January. There is a great deal of co-ordinated effort about the concerns that the noble Lord raises.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend has said about the representations in relation to the seven people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. Is she also aware of the cases of three other young Baha'is, Haleh Rouhi, Raha Sabet and Sasan Taqva, who have been held in the Ministry of Intelligence detention facility since November 2007? Can she confirm that, if they are supposed to be serving sentences of imprisonment, even under Iranian law it is illegal to hold them there? Will she be able to make representations on their behalf as well as on behalf of those to whom she has already referred?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I reassure my noble and learned friend that I will ensure that representations are made on behalf of the people to whom he referred. We continuously express our deep reservations about the treatment and the severe intimidation that these people suffer as a result of staying true to their faith. At least 50 Baha'is remain in detention in Iran and we have grave concerns about the conditions in which they are being held.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, in addition to the very telling interventions that we have just had on the plight of the Baha'is, does the Minister recall that in modern Iran the persecution of the Baha'is has been long standing and very vicious and that it has involved executions-sometimes public executions-the desecration of cemeteries and other revolting practices that bring home the repulsive nature of much of the mullahs' regime in Iran today? Will she therefore accept from this side, too, strong support for using very firm words and action in all possible fora to ensure that the plight of the Baha'is is brought home? Does she recall that many have had to seek refuge in this country, particularly in my home town of Guildford? We owe it to these people to stand up for them, given the horrific experiences that they have had.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, very much for the points that he makes and for illustrating that Baha'is live in his town. We have made it clear that the persecution of individuals on the grounds of ethnicity or religious beliefs is totally unacceptable. We have raised our concerns on several occasions. The religious intolerance of the regime in Iran also extends, of course, to Muslim denominations that do not share the official version of Islam promoted by the state.

Baroness Afshar: My Lords, would it be advisable to impose sanctions on the grounds of human rights rather than nuclear power, because human rights in Iran are being transgressed for all, including human rights lawyers, who can no longer function in Iran? If it were possible to focus sanctions on human rights, support for that in Iran would be enormous, whereas sanctions on nuclear power are perhaps not so effective.

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