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The noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Gardner, raised the issue of people being able to choose whether to stay at home or move into residential care. The purpose of the Bill is not to remove choice. We recognise that some people will choose to enter residential care-we will discuss the issue later in Committee. However, we are also encouraging local authorities to work with, for example, the voluntary sector to encourage the development of wider community services for older people who are lonely. Here the noble Baroness made an important point. She also asked whether it would be possible for the Care Standards Tribunal to deal with these appeals. I have already addressed that. The appropriate appeals system is already recognised in this area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, raised the issue of the incentive for people to stay at home because it is free when a residential setting may be more appropriate. The decision about the appropriate care setting for people should be made first based on the person's needs and whether they have carers who can help with some of them. The Bill will give people a breathing space sometimes to stay at home for longer, rather than going into residential care.

Amendments 3 and 39 would require the Secretary of State to make regulations to establish a specific appeals mechanism for those who believe that they are entitled to indefinite provision of a free qualifying service but have been denied it by their local authority. I have explained why that is not an appropriate route to go down. As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, it is important that decisions on free personal care are as fair and transparent as possible. People who believe that they have not been treated fairly and that the criteria have not been applied fairly should have the right to challenge the local authority's decision. Refusals to provide free personal care that are felt to have been wrongly determined should be dealt with under the existing procedures. We intend that this area should be considered as part of the review policy within 12 to 18 months of implementation.

Several noble Lords asked whether the system would be overburdened by appeals. As part of the review that will take place within 12 to 18 months of implementation, the issue of whether the appeals procedure is appropriate

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and working will be considered. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that, while it is entirely right that people should be able to appeal and that the appeals system should be accessible, we should not create a new system on top of that which already exists.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords who have spoken. This whole situation is very complex. One of the most complex things is that the people who have the highest personal care needs are going to be the ones that get it free. However, what happens to those who may not have the highest needs? Do they get nothing? I can see local authorities saying, "We haven't got any more money, so you can't have any help".

What worries me tremendously when I think of people who may be diagnosed with motor neurone disease is the slowness of assessments. They need quick assessments and quick help and they sometimes do not get it. I would like to discuss this whole matter with Members such as my noble friend Lord Sutherland, who is an expert on these things, and with other noble Lords so that we can get something satisfactory written into this Bill to avoid confusion, because I am sure that there will be confusion-indeed, there is already a lot of confusion about this whole Bill. This issue needs looking at in depth.

This afternoon has been useful, but it shows how difficult the whole situation is. A growing army of people are becoming more elderly and more disabled and need help. I will read carefully what the Minister has said and maybe come back on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

House resumed.

Passports: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh


3.51 pm

Lord Brett: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe. The Statement is as follows.

"Mr Speaker, although new facts continue to emerge, let me set out the facts as we know them. On 19 January, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed in Dubai. The first press reports about this death appeared on 28 January. On 31 January, the Emirati authorities confirmed to our officials press reporting that European passports had been used, and undertook to provide us and others with further details. This was followed up by embassy officials in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on several occasions.

On 12 February, the Emirati authorities informed UK officials in London that UK passports might-I repeat, might-have been involved. On 15 February, they confirmed this and provided the details of six British passports involved. Soon after on the same day, they provided a full briefing to the media. On 17 February, the Prime Minister announced a full investigation by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. On 21 February, the Foreign Secretary spoke to Abdullah

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bin Zayed, the Emirati Foreign Minister, who confirmed that they would be sending us details of at least two further British passports that may have been involved.

It would be wrong of me to prejudge the SOCA investigation. But let me make it crystal clear that no part of the British Government, either Minister or official, had any foreknowledge of Mr al-Mabhouh's killing or the use of British passports in it or of any clandestine operation being planned. To suggest otherwise is to make an irresponsible allegation without any basis in fact.

I know that there is considerable concern among honourable Members about the possibility of the role of the Israeli authorities, so I should set out our exchanges with them. On 18 February, the Israeli ambassador came to the FCO for a meeting with the permanent under-secretary, and earlier this afternoon my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman, in Brussels. He underlined the deep discontent felt in this country, in this Government and in this House over the issue. He made clear that we regard the killing of Mr al-Mabhouh as profoundly unhelpful for the cause of peace in the Middle East and stability in the region. He stressed that we require full co-operation from the Israeli authorities with the SOCA investigation.

My right honourable friend said that we would stand ready to work with Israel on bringing stability and peace to the Middle East, but that we can do so only on the basis of trust and mutual transparency. Honourable Members are rightly concerned about the impact this incident has had on the British nationals involved. Our embassy in Tel Aviv has been in touch with all six of those whose passports have already been reported as having been misused. We will do all we can to ensure that they get the consular support they need".

3.55 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement by the Minister for Europe in another place. Does he accept that a staggering number of questions arise from this deeply serious, bizarre and very sinister episode? These questions are quite aside from the facts of the apparent assassination and whether it furthers in any way the cause of peace in the Middle East. Those questions are possibly for another time.

We are left with some very ugly feelings indeed about our own passport system and its integrity. Does the Minister accept that the debasement of our passport documents and the apparent identity thefts involved in this case strike at the heart of our sovereignty and security, and can he confirm or elaborate on what assurances the Government of Israel have given that there has been no abuse of any kind of our intelligence co-operation with them? That is very important. Can he explain a little more, even at this stage, how on earth these passports were forged, whether they were forged, or cloned, whether they were cloned-or were they copied or stolen? Were they older British passports without microchip technology, or were they the newer documents, in which case can we draw the conclusion that this sort of thing is now less likely to happen?

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How soon did the Government first learn of these passport thefts? The Statement tells us that the assassination took place on 19 January, and that, apparently on 12 February, the British were warned by the UAE authorities that British passports might have been involved, which was confirmed on 15 February. Almost a month passed between the killing and the information coming to light, which seems an extraordinarily long time. At what point was the Serious Organised Crime Agency involved? I understand that the agency operates from a base in the British embassy in Abu Dhabi. Was it aware of the impending difficulties and the involvement of British passports before 15 February, or was it news to the agency as well?

Does the noble Lord agree that this is very worrying indeed for a number of groups? At present, British passport arrivals in the UAE get a visa waiver. I say "at present", and one hopes that there is no question of that changing. However, does the Minister accept that all passport holders-especially those travelling in the entire region where we have good friends and maintain good relations which we wish to develop and strengthen; and particularly all those whose identities have been stolen-really need swift and urgent reassurances that our system is secure and that this kind of thing can never happen again?

3.58 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, we share the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. These are very serious matters that touch on attempts to get a peace settlement in the Middle East, on the safety and security of our own citizens, and on the ability of our passport, intelligence and other services to secure the integrity of data held on British citizens. The Minister has given us the chronology of the events. That bare chronology is known to all, but two or three issues come out of it.

If, as the Minister said, UK officials were told that British passports might have been used on 12 February, can the Minister confirm why it took until 18 February for the Israeli ambassador to be invited to a meeting with the head of the UK Diplomatic Service? The citizens of this country would expect that when their security is so endangered and when such a serious breach resulting in identity theft has taken place in what is ultimately an unstable part of the world, the UK Government would be slightly more agile in investigating the matter and calling in the relevant ambassador in a more efficient manner than the chronology reflects.

Can the Minister confirm that the security of other data held on databases which we might share with Israeli government sources is not compromised? Can he also confirm that all measures are being taken to reassure these British citizens that their security is uppermost?

To end, I ask the Minister to touch on the rather curious interpretation of events around the meeting of 18 February between the Israeli ambassador and Sir Peter Ricketts. It seems that it was inconclusive. We do not know what happened at the meeting, yet we are told

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today that the Foreign Secretary has met Israel's Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman, and expressed his deep discontent. Was that not expressed to Mr Ron Prosor at the meeting on 18 February, and if not, why? What has changed between 18 February-four days ago-and today, to make the Foreign Secretary far clearer about the implications for Israel of this extra-judicial killing, as the Minister has just told us in the Statement?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Before the Minister replies-

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock:It is on a point of order. The Annunciator has been saying for the past five minutes that we have been talking about the Personal Care at Home Bill. If we were in another place, we could raise a point of order and have this sorted. Members outside this Chamber do not know that this Statement is taking place.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, unfortunately there are no points of order in your Lordships' House. Therefore, the Minister is due to answer the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches, and my noble friend.

4.01 pm

Lord Brett: My Lords, I apologise the Annunciator is not performing its duty. It was at the beginning. I hope that the earlier announcement, which was in green on the red Annunciator screen, will have alerted noble Lords to be here.

I begin by echoing the statements from both opposition Front Benches-certainly from the noble Lord, Lord Howell-that we look at the integrity of UK passports with very great concern. We would be most concerned at any suggestion of debasement. I will try to deal with the questions in the order in which they came.

First, in order to put things into context, I should say that at least two criminal inquiries are taking place: the SOCA inquiry into possible misuse of British passports, and, in the Emirates, a murder inquiry. I am not sure what will happen in our European partner countries whose passports also were misused-Ireland, Germany and France. We have to be somewhat careful, certainly in apportioning blame. I can do no better than to start by referring to the statements made by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on 18 February. The Prime Minister made it clear that we have to get to the bottom of this question, then we can see where we go and what remedial action to take.

The noble Baroness raised the question of what the response of the Israeli ambassador was. I think that we saw it, because he made a brief statement on television. He simply said-I think that it is a fact-that he would take the message from the UK Government back to his Government. That was as far as he went. The meeting that took place today between the Foreign Secretary and his Israeli counterpart was requested by the Israelis some 10 days ago. I have related, as my colleague in another place has, the response of the British Foreign Secretary. In turn, we await the response of the Foreign Minister of Israel. I am sure this will be reported back to your Lordships' House in one form or another.

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The gap in time was the other issue that concerned both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. Fifteen February was the first occasion on which we knew the names of the six British passport holders. We made inquiries between 12 and 15 February, but it was made clear by the police authorities in the Emirates that they wished to conclude their initial investigation before they contacted any other foreign embassy. It was only at the point when we received the passport details that we could start to investigate whether they were forged or real. We know now that they were not real. We are offering assistance to the passport holders and reassuring them about the reissue of passports and so on.

We take seriously the compromising of the British passport system. To answer the noble Lord's question, these were current, not old, passports, but they did not have within them the facility that we have with biometric passports, which will be fully introduced by 2012 and will be much more difficult to forge. On this occasion, we do not know how the forgery took place and I am sure that that will be one of the issues that the Serious Organised Crime Agency will continue to investigate. We are seeking the co-operation of the Emirates and Israeli authorities in conjunction with our European partners, who also have an interest in this issue.

As I say, we have not received any reassurances from the Israeli Government. At the moment we have no proof of an extra-judicial killing, whatever supposition we might have and whatever speculation there has been in the press. The Government should be commended for their clear and speedy response in setting up the SOCA inquiry, which will report to the Identity and Passport Service and, through it, to the Home Secretary. I am sure that when in due course that inquiry is completed, the outcome will be reported to Parliament.

4.06 pm

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I am one of the many Members of this House who has long been arguing that we should be talking to Hamas. Does the Minister agree that, given the inevitable conspiracy theories that will arise from the use of British passports, it is essential that the Government condemn this crime? Whatever the circumstances and whatever the responsibilities, does he agree that we should condemn unequivocally the murder-the death-of a senior member of Hamas?

Lord Brett: The Statement is clear that we do not see this death-judicial, extra-judicial or whatever-as having any helpful effect on what every good thinking person wants: a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem that is acceptable to both sides. In that sense, it is certainly a setback.

On the broader question, talks with Hamas take place indirectly. Hamas is talking to the Egyptian authorities, so it is not a question of it not being aware of the British Government's and other European Governments' views, or vice versa. However, we are not in a position where we talk directly to Hamas.

Lord Clinton-Davis: While recognising that the falsification of British passports was totally unacceptable, will my noble friend attempt to keep the matter in perspective? Did the deceased ever condemn the killing of innocent Israeli citizens by rockets aimed by Hamas?

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Lord Brett: As I have indicated to your Lordships' House in the past, I do not find a great deal of benefit in attributing blame to one side or the other. Suffice it to say that there is enough blame to go round. On this occasion we are looking at a specific act which appears to have involved the use of British and other European passports. That is a matter of major concern. We have instigated an inquiry and we have sought the co-operation of the Israeli authorities by telling us what they know. It would be injudicious to go any further than that until we have some indication of the Israeli response and the outcome of the inquiry.

Lord Eden of Winton: Is the noble Lord aware that it was recently reported that a British passport-holder, on arrival in Israel, had the experience of having his passport removed? It was taken by the authorities and kept for 15 to 20 minutes-presumably long enough to photograph it-and then returned to him without explanation. Would the noble Lord look into that sort of matter?

Lord Brett: If the noble Lord would care to write to me, giving me chapter and verse, I will certainly pass it to my Foreign Office colleagues so that we can look into it. The truth is, when passports cross international borders, however briefly, that information is recorded in one form or another. The issues here are: how did these British passports get to be misused by whoever it was, and what is the implication for those and other British passport-holders?

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the Government would be very wise to comment only on the facts which are known and to stay well clear of a great deal of the speculation. Sooner or later we may well learn more. When we do, there will be the occasion for further debate. But until then, I feel it is best that we let matters rest.

Lord Brett: I agree entirely with the noble Lord. Many Members of your Lordships' House have greater influence with the media than I have, and I would be grateful if that message was passed on.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I, too, commend my noble friend on his Statement. I would have been able to commend him even more if I had been in to hear it, but unfortunately, as I said earlier, the Annunciators were not working. Since he is also a Whip, can he make sure through the House authorities that this thing is sorted out? I understand there is to be another equally important Statement, and it is important that Members, especially those of us who come from long distances, are given notice. The Member opposite on the Front Bench, clever as always, points out that the Annunciator has changed, but it took 10 minutes for it to change. Some of us not as lucky as the Front Bench opposite have offices on the other side of the street and we have to find our way over from there. There should be adequate notice of any Statement that is being made. Members outside this Chamber might have wished to take part in the previous Statement and might wish to take part in the next. Can my noble

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friend give us an assurance that he will take it up with the House authorities? What is the point of having someone sitting on the Woolsack all through these Statements if he has no power to do anything to alert Members as to when they are being made?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I shall take my noble friend's concerns away and discuss them with the House authorities. Many of us see conspiracy theories in lots of issues. In my lifetime, "cock-up theories" has proved to be a more accurate description. This was unfortunately a technical hitch or, as I put it very ungrammatically and in very poor language that is not acceptable in your Lordships' House, a cock-up.

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