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House of Lords

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Iraq: Camp Ashraf


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, officials at our embassy in Baghdad and at the Foreign Office follow developments at Camp Ashraf closely. We have raised Camp Ashraf with the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Human Rights Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs and, recently, my ministerial colleague Ivan Lewis with the Foreign Minister, to remind them of the need to deal with the residents in a way which meets international humanitarian standards. We are in contact with international partners and UN agencies. Camp Ashraf is part of a sovereign and democratic Iraq and is primarily an issue for the Iraqi authorities to address.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I thank the Minister for that Answer. As it was the Government who invaded Iraq on flimsy evidence, and who sacrificed our troops and placed a new Iraqi regime in power, how do they justify walking away from the responsibility for what has been left behind in respect of the oppression, murder and torture of those Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf who share our loathing of Ahmadinejad's murderous regime in Iran? Do they care that currently Camp Ashraf-

Noble Lords: Move on!

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Do they care that currently Camp Ashraf residents are being denied food, medicine and winter fuel, and live under a real threat of being moved by Nouri al-Maliki's troops-

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that their questions should be brief, as should the Minister's responses.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I can confirm that we consistently remind the Iraqi Government of all their international obligations on this matter. The

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Iraqi Ministers confirm that the Government are in discussions with the camp leadership and that they will treat the people in the camp in line with international humanitarian law. There is absolutely no evidence of the kind of intimidation and harassment which the noble Lord has described. Indeed, the access to food and medicines, to clean water and medical supplies, clearly exists. There have been some disruptions to supplies entering the camp, but I understand that all those have been resolved.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree-

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords-

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords-

Noble Lords:Waddington!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this works only if noble Lords are prepared to give way. Shall we hear from my noble and learned friend first and then from the Conservative Benches?

Lord Archer of Sandwell: Does my noble friend accept that to deliver the refugees into the hands of the Iranian regime would, for some of them at least, be the equivalent of a death sentence? Does she further accept that the attack on Camp Ashraf by Iraqi forces in July, leaving 11 dead, establishes that it cannot safely be left in Iraqi hands? Is this not a matter that we should discuss with our American allies?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I can assure my noble and learned friend that these matters are regularly raised by our ambassador and others with the United Nations and with the authorities in Iraq. It is the long-stated wish of the Iraqi authorities to close the camp and transfer the residents, but they have given us clear assurances, most recently at a meeting on 27 January, that they will do that in line with international and humanitarian law and that no Ashraf residents will be forcibly transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution or where substantial grounds exist to believe that they could be tortured.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is very important that we should be clear about the responsibility for this matter? Is it not right that back on 13 April last year, our ambassador in Baghdad called on the Iraqi Minister to seek new assurances that the residents of Ashraf would be treated humanely? Was that not an acknowledgement of the British Government's responsibility for the welfare of the people of Ashraf? Indeed, how can the British Government avoid their responsibility for the welfare of the people of Ashraf when, first, they were a party to the invasion of-

Noble Lords: Order!

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Lord Waddington: I do not think I am being very long. First, they were party to the invasion of Iraq and, secondly, they were party-

Noble Lords: Too long!

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The Companion reminds us that we should ask no more than two questions when questioning Ministers. I respectfully urge noble Lords to recall that.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord for the questions. I can assure him, as I did in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that Iraq is a sovereign and democratic state and, as such, has that responsibility. It has never been the case that the UK has responsibility for the residents in the camp. However, as I have said on a number of occasions, the UK works with the United States and the United Nations to ensure that the rights of the residents of Camp Ashraf are protected.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that these people are not non-protected persons under the Geneva Convention? If that is correct, do the Iraqis have the right to deal with them within internal Iraqi constitutional law? Have the results of the inquiry come out yet?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead:The view of the UK Government is that with the formal end of hostilities and the transfer of responsibility for the camp to the Iraqi authorities, any claim to protected person status by the camp's residents under the fourth Geneva Convention has ceased to apply. That view is shared by the United Nations. The camp leadership have been given that information. As for the inquiry into the violence that occurred in July, we asked for a review of the events that took place. The ambassador met the Minister responsible on 27 January and reminded him of the need to send a copy of the report. We are still waiting to receive it. I will urge the ambassador to press again for a response from the Government.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, how does the Minister square her statement to the House that there is no evidence that the residents of Camp Ashraf are at risk with the statement from Amnesty International that they are at risk of,

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I can only reiterate what my noble friend Lord Brett said in the answer that he gave to that question. We have no evidence of intimidation or harassment in the camp. I am aware of the Amnesty International report. The recent UN mission reported that the camp is calm and that the residents have access to food, water and medical supplies. We have no evidence of intimidation, harassment and the other issues raised by Amnesty International.

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Fishing: Discards


2.44 pm

Asked By Lord Teverson

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, the UK Government are funding initiatives to address discards, working together with the fishing industry. These include limitations on fishing effort, improving gear selectivity and closures that protect spawning and undersized fish. The UK has also committed, with Denmark and Germany, to trial a catch quota management system. Through the review of the common fisheries policy, we are working towards a European discard policy that applies to all member states, regardless of where they fish.

Lord Teverson: I thank the Minister for that reply, but I am rather disappointed. The Secretary of State for the Environment called last month for a ban on waste food, yet he is responsible for discards whereby we throw away a quarter of our most precious species. Is that not obscene, and should not the UK Government insist, in relation to the common fisheries policy, that like Canada, Norway, Iceland and New Zealand, we should have a ban on discards? Why cannot the EU do that when other nations can?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, of course the Government are opposed to discards; the problem is monitoring and controlling them. The issue is exacerbated by the developments in gear which have led to the catching of a greater amount of fish of the wrong kind as far as the fishing boat is concerned. However, we are making progress and have almost halved the tonnage of discards in the past 10 years. We are also spending considerable sums on it, pursuing initiatives and responding to the European Commission's request that further action be taken.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what lessons the Government have learnt from the Norwegian experience in these matters, and have the Government put pressure on the EU to look at the situation of France and Spain and to insist that they report accurately their discards to the EU?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are critical of other countries that do not reach the same standards and are perhaps not putting in the same level of investment as we do. Nevertheless, monitoring is certainly the problem with regard to discards. That is why we are piloting electronic measurement on-ship and encouraging British fishermen to participate in initiatives

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to monitor the nature of the catch and ensure that discards are kept to the absolute minimum, with the expectation that the rest of Europe will follow any successful development of that policy.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what progress is being made with the revision of the common fisheries policy? In his Green Paper, the outgoing Commissioner drew attention to the possibility of making progress on a ban on discards. What is the progress on that subject?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Commission asked all member countries with fishing interests to submit proposals for the reform of the common fisheries policy by the beginning of this year. The submissions had to be in before December and we met that deadline. The Commission will publish the responses from the nations concerned with fishing, with a view to developing a fresh approach to the fisheries policy, which we all recognise is in need of very considerable reform.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords-

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords-

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have not yet heard from UKIP.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Could the Minister confirm that the countries mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in his second question-countries which all run successful fisheries policies-are all outside the European Union? Would it therefore not be better for this country to follow their path, repatriate the common fisheries policy and run it from the UK in the interests of UK fisheries?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there is still the question of who fishes in which waters. The noble Lord will readily accept that the fishing fleet of Spain, for instance, has been significantly expanded in recent years. It is important that we have a common fisheries policy that ensures that the practices that are followed by the Spanish, and to an extent by the French, are the high standards that we are trying to set, particularly with regard to our discard policy for British fishermen.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, what is the logic behind discards? Fish tend to swim not in isolation but in shoals of different sorts of fish. Why, when we are short of fish to eat, are we throwing into the sea fish that could easily be eaten, just because they happen to be the wrong sort of fish for that particular boat?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the fishermen have to make a living. Their problem is that only certain fish are marketable and economic to land, to say nothing of the fact that new gear tends to catch in its nets a whole lot of sea animals and fish that are really not edible and which are therefore discarded. The noble Countess is right; we want to change the

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gear that is used so that it is appropriate for the commercial fish to be landed. That is exactly what the British Government are seeking to achieve.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, do we not also want a change of gear in education policy in this country so that we can encourage people to eat edible fish that is highly enjoyable but that is currently being discarded?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I hesitate to cross the British people when it comes to the traditional fish that they enjoy. My noble friend is right that the British public are finding increasingly palatable fish to which we have not been used in the past, but that does not alter the fact that we need to protect the fishing grounds of our traditional fish, too.

Universities: Higher Education Framework


2.52 pm

Tabled By Lord Judd

Lord Judd: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as someone involved both in a professional and lay capacity in the work of universities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, the Government will continue to invest in the very best research in the social sciences and humanities in UK higher education institutions. Funding through the economic, social sciences, arts and humanities research councils combined is due to rise to £286 million in 2010-11. The Higher Education Funding Council for England's research allocations for social sciences and humanities for 2009-10 total £517 million, and we are maintaining research funding to HEFCE in 2010-11.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the social sciences and humanities are indispensible to generating an economically and socially successful society and to effective leadership in all dimensions of that society? Is there not a desperate need to reassert qualitative concerns in education as well as quantitative concerns? Is it therefore not important to realise that however significant STEM subjects are, STEM subjects without balancing research in social sciences can be dangerous?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thank my noble friend for those remarks. We agree with him on the importance of arts and humanities research. While the arts and humanities research councils might not be as large as some other research councils, such as STEM

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research councils, it must be understood that social science and humanities researchers have significantly less need for expensive equipment and laboratories. The cross-council programmes bring social science and humanities expertise to bear on some of the most pressing issues of the day, such as living with environmental change, ageing, lifelong health, and well-being.

Lord Krebs: Does the Minister recall that the research councils are now asking investigators to comment on the impact of their research when they apply for a grant? Does he agree that to understand the impact of the research you have to understand the outcome of the research and that it is therefore fatuous to ask researchers to comment on the outcome before they have completed the research or have even started it?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we are looking for quality-related research. The plain fact is that the funding for non-STEM subjects through quality-related research increased to £517 million in this academic year. We are maintaining that funding in real terms through HEFCE for 2010-11.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, UK universities are world leaders in the humanities and social sciences. More than 50 per cent of overseas students are drawn to study here by the excellence of teaching and research. From the figures that he has already produced, perhaps the Minister could clarify the latest figures given by Mr David Lammy on 20 January. They indicated that the Arts and Humanities Research Council granted around £60 million last year, which was about 5 per cent of the combined research council funding. Is the Minister satisfied that such levels of funding are sufficient and balanced to ensure the highest standards that we need in these departments?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thank the noble Baroness for her question. The international comparative performance of the research base published in September 2009 shows that social sciences and humanities in the UK maintain their ranking in the G8 in numbers of papers and citations, ranking second only to the USA. Since the Arts and Humanities Research Council was created on 1 April 2005, funding has been increased by 35 per cent from £80 million in 2005-06 to £109 million in 2010-11. The AHRC will spend some £56 million this year in supporting a wide range of research in universities.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I did not detect an answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Does the Minister accept that in order to ensure that social science and humanities research is adequately funded, the research excellence framework should be reviewed to assess whether the weighting towards impact needs to be amended?

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