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House of Lords

Monday, 28 June 2010.

2.15 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Introduction: Lord Kennedy of Southwark

2.23 pm

Roy Francis Kennedy, Esquire, having been created Baron Kennedy of Southwark, of Newington in the London Borough of Southwark, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Gould of Potternewton and Baroness McDonagh, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Baroness Benjamin

2.29 pm

Floella Karen Yunies Benjamin OBE, having been created Baroness Benjamin, of Beckenham in the County of Kent, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Dholakia and Baroness Scott of Needham Market, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale

2.35 pm

The right honourable Jack Wilson McConnell, having been created Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, of the Isle of Arran in Ayrshire and Arran, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill and Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Lord Saatchi took the oath.

Death of a Member: Lord Flowers


2.40 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of Lord Flowers on 25 June. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Commonwealth Games: Delhi


2.41 pm

Asked By Lord Harries of Pentregarth

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we have maintained close dialogue with Indian officials responsible for all aspects of the Commonwealth Games. According to the chairman of the organising committee, Mr Kalmadi, the costs of the Delhi Commonwealth Games will be met by the revenues generated through the sale of broadcasting rights, sponsorship, and ticket and merchandise sales.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for his reply. However, is he not very disturbed by the report of the Housing and Land Rights Network, released by a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, showing that money which had previously been earmarked for the uplift of the poor-particularly the poorer castes-had been used to finance these Games, which have run hugely over budget? Will he, with other Commonwealth countries, raise this with the Indian Government?

Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, my Lords, we were disturbed, and indeed the Secretary of State launched an immediate inquiry when some of these statements and allegations appeared in the media. However, although the noble and right reverend Lord is correct about the likely overrun of costs-which were estimated to be £250 million but are probably going to be considerably more than that-from our examination we are satisfied and have full confidence that the Games will be properly financed and that there will be no diversion from the very important funds that go via the Indian Government and DfID to the scheduled castes, slum clearance and other crucial issues. Therefore, we have full confidence in India's commitment to deliver a secure and successful Commonwealth Games and to avoid the very problems that have been raised.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord used the word "examination" in relation to what was happening over the costs but he also said that a statement had been made on behalf of the organising authority that the costs were being drawn in the way that he described. When he used the word "examination", did he mean that he and the Secretary of State have had the opportunity for independent verification or are they proceeding on the basis of an assurance?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The latter.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, before the Minister finishes on this Question, will he return to the point that my noble and right reverend friend made about the impact on the poorest people in India? Can he say a word more about the effect on the scheduled classes, to whom he referred, and particularly on the Dalits, and whether this will be seen as an opportunity to draw people from those underclasses-the untouchables-in India into the wider civic life of the nation?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right to say that this should be seen as an opportunity and I hope very much that it will be. I mentioned the Indian Government's major slum clearance programmes, which must be going in the right direction. I believe that, far from being a disadvantage for those

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sorts of programmes, projects such as the Commonwealth Games can be a positive opportunity for, as the noble Lord said, drawing minorities and ethnic groups more effectively into proper civil life and the civic stream in India. We have full confidence that that can be achieved.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, we will all be glad to hear the assurance given by the Minister. It is particularly important because during the passage of the Equality Bill-I wonder whether he is aware of this-the previous Government, with cross-party support, included caste discrimination as a form of unfair treatment that should be dealt with. At the time, the Indian Government made some representations against that, which I am glad to say the then Government did not heed. Would he bear that in mind in ensuring that the assurance he has given is implemented in practice?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, that is a very valuable observation. I did not know that and I am very glad that I do now. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, at the moment, we stand as the 18th largest exporter to India, whereas 10 years ago we were the fourth largest. Will the Minister please explain, first, how we can use the Commonwealth Games to improve on that awful decline; and, secondly, why are we giving, through DfID, aid to a nation which has quadrupled its defence budget in the past three years?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, on the first point, the Commonwealth Games are part of an ever growing and stronger Commonwealth network, in which I take a particular interest. I believe that it can be of great advantage to all developing countries, including India-and to ourselves and our prosperity, exports and interests. The noble Lord is quite right on that point.

On the issue of aid, India is a country which still contains one-third of the world's poor people, which is an enormous number. Part of our growing and enhanced relationship with India includes the immensely well targeted DfID programmes which are aimed at meeting the absolutely unbelievable poverty that still exists in India. Those programmes are, of course, greatly welcomed by the Indian Government and the Governments of the various states within India.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, have I missed something? Is India not a sovereign nation and is it really our business to tell it how much money it should or should not spend on the Commonwealth Games?

Lord Howell of Guildford: No, it is not our business. We have negligible influence on the matter and I would not presume to tell India how much it should spend. It will manage perfectly successfully and it does not need any additional comment from us, except helpful and friendly advice, which we are always ready to give.

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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, has India held the Commonwealth Games before and, if so, how many times?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am not 100 per cent sure, but I do not think it has. This is a very big and important development for India and I think they will be the biggest Commonwealth Games held so far, with many participants from all over the world.

Immigration: Refugee and Migrant Justice


2.48 pm

Asked By Lord Avebury

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, since this Question was tabled, Refugee and Migrant Justice has been placed into administration. The Government's immediate concern was that the clients of RMJ should continue to receive a good-quality service.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, as other practitioners specialising in asylum cases-particularly, although not exclusively, those who operate on a not-for-profit basis-have had similar cash-flow problems to those of the RMJ, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the LSC may be able to find providers to take on the RMJ's 10,000 cases? Will my noble friend acknowledge that there will be serious delays in looking after those cases, first, because the new providers will have to get to know what the cases are, and, secondly, because they do not know whether they will be funded in the spending round that begins on 1 October?

Lord McNally: My Lords, I will take the last point first. Yes, there is bound to be a certain amount of disruption if an organisation that covers 7 per cent of cases goes into administration. However, I can assure the House that the Government are giving high priority to minimise that disruption. On whether other non-profit-making practitioners are facing difficulty, it is true that there have been complaints about the change in funding and fees, which was made by the previous Administration with an eye to saving taxpayers' money. The change is not popular but, as my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor said in another place, the organisations are coping. Trying to balance the good work that these organisations are doing against the taxpayers' not-bottomless pot is difficult.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am delighted that the Minister has praised those who worked for Refugee and Migrant Justice, which over a number of years did an excellent job. I am also delighted that the Legal Services Commission is ensuring that the existing clients of that organisation continue to have proper advice and representation. Are there estimates of the extra cost to the Legal Services Commission in ensuring that proper advice and representation from fresh providers?

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Lord McNally: There are no estimates on that. There will be an extra cost, but Ministers had to face a balance of judgment: did they take into account that RMJ was going into administration and that therefore there would be knock-on costs, or did they give it more taxpayers' money with no guarantee that it would not again find itself in difficulty in a short time? It was a hard call but, as the noble Lord knows full well, sometimes Ministers have to make hard calls.

Lord Pannick: Will the Minister confirm that the problem faced by RMJ is the consequence of payments being made only after decisions are taken by the Home Office, or by the tribunal, in an individual immigration case, and that that can take two years or more? Will the Government therefore consider introducing a system of interim payments so that competent and efficient organisations such as RMJ are not threatened with closure?

Lord McNally: My Lords, if the description "competent and efficient" was correct for RMJ, one asks how it managed to get itself into administration. It represents 7 per cent of cases, so organisations representing 93 per cent are coping. Again, it was a difficult decision to make and I know that there have been complaints about the tough system of paying. However, we are dealing with taxpayers' money and there is justification for ensuring that the organisations provide value for it. It may be worth noting that, in the round of bids, double the number of law firms are bidding for this business. That suggests that RMJ is not alone and that companies believe that they can deliver the service under the present scheme.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, reports are circulating that the UK Border Agency is refusing to grant extensions to RMJ clients in order that they might find new representation. It is saying that clients can raise any issues that they have with such a refusal at the time of an appeal. That is not only terrible for clients, but it is also poor value for money, because the appeal process is extraordinarily expensive. What advice, if any, is being given to the UK Border Agency in this respect?

Lord McNally: My Lords, the UK Border Agency has been asked to treat RMJ clients with common sense and to allow time during this period of adjustment. Therefore, according to my briefing, the right reverend Prelate's first assertion is not true.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords-

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords-

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there is room for both. Let us listen to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, RMJ says that it is owed £1.8 million by the Legal Services Commission. Is that the correct figure? The Legal Services Commission was supposed to be abolished by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Will the coalition Government revive it, or would it not be better for it to disappear as soon as possible?

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Lord McNally: Again, dealing with the last point first, I am not even sure whether that is under review, but I certainly cannot give an answer. On the matter of money owing, a case from RMJ will be heard on Wednesday, so I am not sure how much I can comment on it, other than to say that it is the view of the Government and the LSC that no moneys are owing to RMJ. Indeed, when the books are finally balanced, it may prove to be the other way around.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, the Minister said that he had to strike a balance. He also said that he did not know what it was going to cost. How does he strike a balance when he does not know what it is going to cost?

Lord McNally: Because Ministers have to take a view on whether paying out money to an organisation that has gone into administration is a better deal for the taxpayer than making the adjustments necessary to give the clients-as I said at the beginning, the clients are our first priority-the legal coverage that they deserve. Of course, during this period of adjustment, we do not know the final cost, but a decision had to be made. As I said, sometimes Ministers have to make hard decisions and we made this one.

Nuclear Posture Review


2.56 pm

Asked by Lord Hannay of Chiswick

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the review of the UK's nuclear declaratory policy announced by the Foreign Secretary will take place as part of the strategic defence and security review. We will re-examine all the factors that make up our declaratory policy to ensure that it is fully appropriate to the circumstances we face today and into the future. The Government expect to report their findings from the strategic defence and security review in the autumn.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is very helpful that that will be brought together with the other matters in this very broad security review. Can he confirm that the nuclear posture review, which is the object of my Question, will include a critical analysis of the justification for the "continuous at-sea" aspect of our present nuclear posture? Does he agree that that requirement was related to the Cold War need to deter the threat of a Soviet first strike and that, as that threat is no longer considered to exist by the NATO alliance, the grounds for maintaining the requirement of "continuous at-sea" no longer exists either?

Lord Howell of Guildford: No, I cannot confirm that. The nuclear posture review, which will be in the context of the SDSR, will include questions such as

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our approach to nuclear-free zones and our assurances given to non-nuclear states who have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The review of Trident will focus on value for money and will be separate. It will look at whether it is possible to stick to the constant at-sea deterrent system, to which we are committed, with three boats rather than four. That is what it will examine. It will be a separate review from the SDSR plus nuclear posture review, which will be plugged together.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: Will the Minister confirm that the parties to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty undertake to enter into negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament and, afterwards, for a treaty on general and complete disarmament? Are the Government proposing any steps to initiate such negotiations, or at least to encourage them? If not, why not?

Lord Howell of Guildford: As the noble and learned Lord knows well because he follows these things closely, the advances and progress made at the recent review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty pointed in that direction. The general desire, which is long-term but to be achieved step by cautious, realistic and practical step, is a non-nuclear world. That is what we all want to see, but progress towards it has to be through the kind of arrangements and protocol developments that were organised at the non-proliferation treaty gathering the other day. That was a considerable advance, and I am very glad that we were able to report our own decisions to reinforce it further with our declaration of the number of maximum stockpile warheads we would close. It is the right direction, but we have to move carefully.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to maintain the momentum towards nuclear disarmament? In particular, will the nuclear posture review look at the alert status of our deterrent? Obviously moving towards having a longer period in which people have time to consider their reaction is a very important part of moving the momentum towards disarmament.

Lord Howell of Guildford: I agree with the noble Baroness that this is an important part of the developments. The review conclusions were very encouraging-they were not all-embracing, but certainly took us some steps forward. I will note what the noble Baroness said.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, the United States is making its posture a legislatively mandated review. Given the sensitivity of the subject, would it not be appropriate to do so in the United Kingdom in line with our consideration of UK future declarations of war?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I am not quite sure that this relates directly to what we are discussing at the moment, but I note what the noble Viscount said.

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