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3.31 pm

Asked By Earl Attlee

24 Feb 2010 : Column 1014

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, my noble friend the Secretary of State for Transport has today issued a Written Ministerial Statement welcoming the Eurostar independent review, which looked into the collapse of Eurostar services before Christmas and was published on Friday 12 February. It was a tough and thorough review and contained specific criticism of Eurostar's contingency planning.

Ministers have requested Eurostar to present a further report to both UK and French Governments by the end of March explaining what measures the company has taken towards implementing these recommendations. Eurostar has committed to do this.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full reply. Noble Lords will recognise that it is not possible to anticipate every technical failure in a complex transport system. I do not want to get bogged down in the detail but it is clear that Eurostar and Eurotunnel have failed to undertake a proper risk assessment. Why have the Government failed to identify and correct this?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I was about to thank the noble Earl for the first half of his question, and I agree that it is not possible to plan for every eventuality, but if I may say so the second half of his question is a little unfair. The issues he raises are covered in great detail in the report produced by Christopher Garnett and Claude Gressier, which I commend to him. He may be aware that in May this year Eurostar is moving to a single unified structure instead of a joint venture between three railways, which we believe will address a number of the issues to which he refers.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I declare an interest having been through the Eurostar tunnel more than 1,100 times since its inception for a reason that might not commend itself to all Members of the House. I have been stuck twice in the tunnel and five times in open country, which is a pretty good record. Am I right in thinking that at its inception there was an understanding that after 10 years of operation an element of competition should be considered, to provide an even better service? I do not know whether that means a new tunnel, but if there is to be one I would welcome it as I am bored with going through this one and would love to go through another.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I do not know whether there will be a new tunnel but there will be an open access arrangement for the running of Eurostar services in future. From the early part of this year the tunnel has been available for open access operators and we are looking forward to applications from other railway companies which may wish to provide services through the tunnel. I am pleased that my noble friend referred to his record of its operation. As the review report says, when Eurostar operates well, passenger satisfaction is high. Reliability has improved from one incident per 20,000 kilometres to one per 67,000 kilometres. Although things go wrong from time to time it is rare and over the 15 years of its operation it has achieved very high levels of customer satisfaction.

Baroness Hanham: On the question of risk assessment, the review indicates that well over £12 million to £15 million will have to be spent on communications.

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It is remarkable that the communications system has been so bad for all these years. Does the Minister have any idea what assessment was undertaken of the communications that might be necessary between the ground, the train and passengers so as not to end up with the debacle that there has been in the past few weeks?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: The noble Baroness is right. Communication was one of the major failings which the review identified. There were 21 recommendations in that review, split into three areas: train reliability; evacuation and rescue; and thirdly, managing disruption and improving communication. A significant number of improvements is under way in respect of communication. Although it was unpleasant for the people involved in the incident at the weekend, the communication on the train which broke down on Sunday was dramatically better than that on the trains before Christmas. Lessons were clearly learnt, and Eurostar is improving.

Lord Bradshaw: Any transport system has breakdowns; the important thing is how they are dealt with. Can the Minister give the House any assurance that, having decided how such incidents are going to be handled in future, proper arrangements are in place for regular rehearsals, so that when something happens staff know what to do? It is no good doing it once off; it has to be done repeatedly.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I agree completely with the noble Lord. That issue is addressed in the review, and Eurostar has committed to undertake staff training of precisely the sort he has described.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Is my noble friend aware that we in the West Midlands are anxiously awaiting a direct Eurostar service in and out of the city of Birmingham-either on the existing west coast main line or the proposed high-speed line? In that connection, can he confirm that the Conservative-led councils of Birmingham and Solihull have welcomed government proposals for a high-speed line, in spite of the opposition of Her Majesty's Opposition in another place?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Yes, my Lords, we are a little puzzled by the attitude of the official spokesman for the Conservative Party in the other place, who has claimed to be a great supporter of High Speed 2. The Conservative-controlled councils of Birmingham and Solihull, and indeed those of Hammersmith and Fulham and Leeds, have all met my noble friend and been extensively briefed on the High Speed 2 proposals. I am happy to say that the Liberal Democrat spokesman will be briefed by my noble friend on High Speed 2 next week.

This project deserves all-party support. As the leader of Manchester council said in a letter to the Guardian only this week:

"If there is one area where we sorely need political consensus, it is planning a high-speed rail network. ... Regardless of the temptations offered by the coming general election, HSR\\UK calls on all the parties to put aside their short-term political considerations and look to the long-term economic future of our nation".

24 Feb 2010 : Column 1016

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

3.37 pm

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

Welsh Zone (Boundaries and Transfer of Functions) Order 2010

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010

Legislative Reform (Dangerous Wild Animals) (Licensing) Order 2010

Gambling Act 2005 (Operating Licence Conditions) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

Code of Audit Practice 2010 for Local Government Bodies

Code of Audit Practice 2010 for Local NHS Bodies

Motions to Refer to Grand Committee

3.38 pm

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move the six Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, can the Leader of the House tell us if she expects these orders to be agreed by the House before the Easter Recess? In that context, is she willing to give us the dates of the Easter Recess?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I certainly expect these orders to be agreed by the House before the Easter Recess, but I am afraid I cannot enlighten the noble Lord or the House as to the date of the recess as yet.

Motions agreed.

24 Feb 2010 : Column 1017

Asylum (Designated States) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

3.39 pm

Moved By Lord Brett

Motion agreed.

Occupational Pension Schemes (Levy Ceiling) Order 2010

Pension Protection Fund (Pension Compensation Cap) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

3.39 pm

Moved By Lord McKenzie of Luton

Motion agreed.

Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010

Access to the Countryside (Coastal Margin) (England) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

3.39 pm

Moved By Lord Davies of Oldham

Motion agreed.

Child Migration


3.40 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.

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"With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement. Until the late 1960s, successive UK Governments had over a long period of time supported child migration schemes. This involved children as young as three being transported from Britain to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

It was hoped that these children, who were aged between three and 14, would have the chance to forge a better life overseas. But the schemes were misguided. In too many cases, vulnerable children suffered unrelenting hardship and their families left behind were devastated. They were mostly sent without the consent of their mother or father. They were cruelly lied to and told they were orphans-that their parents were dead when in fact they were still alive. Some were separated from their brothers and sisters, never to see one another again. Names and birthdays were deliberately changed so that it would be impossible for families to reunite. Many parents did not know that their children had been sent.

The former child migrants say they feel that this practice was less transportation and more deportation: a deportation of the innocents. And when they arrived overseas, all alone in the world, many of our most vulnerable children endured harsh conditions, neglect and abuse in the often cold and brutal institutions which received them.

Those children were robbed of their childhood-those most precious years of life-and the pain of a lost childhood can last a lifetime. Some still bear the marks of abuse; all still live with the consequences of rejection. These wounds will never fully heal, and for too long the survivors have been all but ignored.

When I first was made aware of this wholly unacceptable practice, I wrote to the Prime Minister of Australia to urge that we do more to acknowledge the experiences of former child migrants. It is right that today we recognise the human cost associated with this shameful episode of history-this failure in the first duty of a nation: to protect its children.

Shortly, I shall be meeting a number of former child migrants here in the Palace of Westminster to listen first hand to their experiences. And as Prime Minister I will be apologising on behalf of our nation.

To all those former child migrants and their families, to those here with us today and those across the world-to each and every one-I say today we are truly sorry. They were let down. We are sorry that they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable. We are sorry that, instead of caring for them, this country turned its back. We are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard, their cries for help not always heeded. And we are sorry that it has taken so long for this important day to come and for the full and unconditional apology that is justly deserved.

I should like to recognise the work of the Member for Rother Valley as chair of the Health Select Committee and of his predecessor, the former Member for Wakefield. And, for their commitment to this cause, I should also like to praise all past and present members of the Commons Health Select Committee and the All-Party Group on Child Migrants.

24 Feb 2010 : Column 1019

I should also like to pay tribute to the work of the Child Migrants Trust and the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families, which have campaigned for justice over many years. And I know that the House will join me in paying special tribute to Margaret Humphreys, who founded the Child Migrants Trust and who has been a constant champion of, and fighter for, child migrants and their families.

Although we cannot undo the events of the past, we can take action now to support people to regain their true identities, to reunite with their families and loved ones, and to go some way to repair the damage inflicted. I can announce today support for former child migrants. This includes the establishment of a new £6 million family restoration fund.

There are many painful memories as a result of the child migration schemes and, for many, today's apology will come too late for them to hear it. We cannot change history but I believe that, by confronting the failings of the past, we can show that we are determined to do all we can to heal the wounds. I commend this Statement to the House".

3.44 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister. I fully associate this side with that full and whole-hearted apology, as has my right honourable friend David Cameron. We also join the noble Baroness in sending those very sincere apologies to those affected who are attending all the events today. We share the respect rightly accorded to Margaret Humphreys and the Child Migrants Trust. They have not been able to reverse injustice but they have made sure that it has been exposed and some wrongs righted. I also welcome the family restoration fund that has been announced.

All governments of all parties do things, or turn a blind eye to things, of which they should be ashamed. Perhaps we brazen things out too much without admitting our mistakes. That does not serve politics in general. It is always easier to apologise for past events for which we were not responsible. In this profoundly shocking case in which many of those affected are still alive, it is right that we should publicly atone for the lies, abuse and cruelties involved and apologise unreservedly.

We should judge a society on how it cares for its most vulnerable, especially its children. We must do all we can to make sure that the lessons from these appalling events are learnt and applied so that nothing like this can ever happen again. I am sure that the whole House will unite behind these sentiments.

3.46 pm

Baroness Barker: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for repeating the Statement. I am very glad to be able to respond to it on behalf of these Benches and I say that for one reason. Quite by chance one night I happened to flick on to a television programme about Margaret Humphreys and the establishment of the Child Migrants Trust. I commend that programme to Members of the House. It was one of the most searing television programmes that I have ever seen and it sparked my continuing interest in this issue.

24 Feb 2010 : Column 1020

As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, governments atone for things that have occurred well in the past and they do their best to make amends. I welcome very much the establishment of the family restoration fund. That will enable many people to visit their existing families and, in some cases, it will enable them to visit grave sites. The damage that we are talking about is that searing.

I vividly remember listening to a gentleman in the programme who had done very well for himself and his new life in Australia and had made a lot of money. With that money he bought all the Beatles memorabilia that he could find because the only thing that he knew about himself was that he came from Liverpool. That goes right to the heart of this question. The single most important thing to these people who are now adults is to know their identity. There is one particular thing that this Government could do to enable them to achieve that. That is to change the law on access to care records for former care adults. It applies to adults who were in care as children in this country too and is a matter that I have raised with successive Ministers in this House.

If the Government feel that they cannot do that, will they ensure that every social services department in the land has a copy of Access to Information for Post-CareAdults: A Guide for Social Workers and Access to Records Officers, which has been produced by a lady called Julia Feast, an expert in this field, who works for BAAF. It enables social care workers today to understand the good practice that they should follow in enabling people to deal with the hurt of not knowing their identity and having their identities concealed from them for so long as they have been in the past. Were the Government to take that step it would be as profound in its effect as the establishment of the fund and would make this sincere commitment to make things better in the future all the more worth while.

3.49 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for associating themselves with the apology. I am also grateful for their welcome for the family restoration fund. I take on board the points made by the noble Baroness. However, I cannot change policy at the Dispatch Box in relation to access to care records but it would seem to be a very good idea to ensure that social services departments have a copy of that good practice document. I certainly undertake to follow that up.

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