The right honourable David John Maclean, having been created Baron Blencathra, of Penrith in the County of Cumbria, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Waddington and Lord Howard of Lympne, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, we are still designing the personal independence payment assessment so it is not yet possible to comment on its impact on people with autism spectrum disorders. However, we are committed to ensuring that it reflects the needs of all individuals effectively. We recognise that the current assessment criteria for disability living allowance can favour physical impairments and do not always fully reflect the needs of disabled people with mental, intellectual, cognitive and development impairments, including autism.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, I declare an interest as the main carer for an autistic adult in receipt of DLA. I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Do the Government accept that autism is a communication disorder, and that a face-to-face interview with a stranger should be carried out only in the presence of a professional or carer who knows the autistic person? Otherwise, autistic people will not turn up at all and so lose their benefit, or the assessment will result in them losing the benefit on which they rely.
Lord Freud: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing up this really important matter. As I say, we are designing the personal independence payment now. One of the things that we want to get absolutely right is how we look after the most vulnerable. The default position is that we would like to see people face to face, but where that is not realistic, helpful or appropriate we will not be doing so. We will also encourage people, autistic people as well as others, to
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Lord Touhig: My Lords, the Government's decision to scrap the mobility award for people in residential care will certainly adversely affect those with autism. There is now to be a review, although I share the view of the National Autistic Society that the original decision was wrong and no review is necessary. However, we are where we are, so can the Minister tell the House what the terms of reference for the review will be?
Lord Freud: My Lords, there is no review. We are reviewing the position of the mobility allowance in the context of an overall look at the personal independence payment. As I have told the House in the past, we are committed to making sure that people in residential care homes maintain mobility.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, I first declare an interest as patron of Autism Cymru. With regard to the flexibility that will be needed in the new system, in view of the very wide range of conditions that fall within the spectrum of autism, how will he ensure that there will be sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the individual in the context of these interviews to which reference has already been made?
Lord Freud: My Lords, that is a key point. One of the main changes we are making to the work capability assessment is exactly about this sensitivity. Professor Paul Harrington, who is conducting the reviews, made a series of recommendations as to how we should adjust this assessment that we inherited to make it more sensitive. We will have learnt those lessons, and will ensure that we pull that over into the personal independence payment.
Lord German: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister right to say that the previous scheme used for the migration to the employment and support allowance would not be appropriate for this form of assessment in the future successor programme to the DLA? Given that so many people were assessed and then went on successfully to appeal against their assessment, we surely now need a different system. Can the Minister tell us whether we have cracked the nut about how we assess people with the sorts of disabilities that autism presents over such a wide spectrum?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what is actually a very complicated question to answer briefly. This is a different assessment. The personal independence payment is looking at what people need to function in their daily lives, whereas the work capability assessment is designed to look at whether people are capable of working. They are different. We need to make sure that we do not have too many tribunal cases. At the moment, under DLA, tribunal cases are at 11 per cent, which is too high. One of the attractions of going to a consistent, coherent new
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Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I declare an interest as the person who took the Autism Bill through your Lordships' House. The Minister will know that that Bill placed an obligation on local authorities to survey the number of adults with autism in their area to ensure that there are enough services for them and their carers. Given the restrictions on local authority budgets, has he any concerns that they will not be able to do this, thus further disadvantaging people with autism and their carers?
Lord Freud: My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness for taking that Bill through the House. One of the effects of that Act is that even in times of restraint local authorities have an obligation to look after this group of people. The Act provides that protection for them.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the most dreadful times for any person with a disability is the transition from childhood to adulthood? The Government have just published an exciting report which recommends that children with difficulties, disabilities and behaviour disorders have one assessment. Will he assure us that that one assessment will take that young person right through-obviously, that assessment will be reviewed-and that therefore these new reviews in adulthood will be unnecessary?
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I ought to declare an interest as the Secretary of State under whom DLA was introduced. That is not to say that I want to defend every dot and comma but I would like to associate myself particularly with the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lady Browning and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I hope that the Minister's department will continue the sensitive way in which he has sought to answer these questions.
Lord Freud: My Lords, one of the issues around DLA is that it is concentrated far more on physical, rather than mental, impairment. As we start assessing how to make personal independence payments, we are learning about the importance of properly factoring in mental impairment. That will be one of the main differences between the personal independence payment and DLA.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, the Government are looking at the approaches taken towards prostitution in different localities throughout England and Wales in order to identify effective practice in terms of policing, minimising harm, multiagency working and enabling people involved in prostitution to leave it. Practical guidance for local areas will be published later in the spring. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the Government have accepted 21 of the 23 recommendations of her recent review. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, particularly on behalf of the Home Secretary, for the wisdom and hard work that she has brought to this issue.
Baroness Stern: I thank the Minister for that extremely encouraging reply and for her very kind remarks about the rape review. Does she recall that after the conviction following the horrible murders of three street prostitutes in Bradford, the Association of Chief Police Officers called for a review of the laws on prostitution and for a dialogue on better ways to manage the problem? Does she accept that the current law is far from ideal? It does not protect prostitutes from danger, it does not help-as it should-those who want to exit prostitution, and it does not help the police to manage the problem. Does she intend to have a dialogue with the Association of Chief Police Officers about this?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My understanding is that it was one particular member of ACPO who commented recently on the subject and that his remarks focused more on management issues-in particular, the establishment of the database, how we fund it, how we get at information about how people are led into prostitution and what we then do about it-than on changing the law. The Government's attitude to the legal situation is that given that there has been a recent change in the law, about which my party had some misgivings, we should now let the change settle down and see how it operates. However, we are doing that on the basis of very close evaluation of its effectiveness.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: Is the noble Baroness aware that women and children who are trafficked end up in prostitution? What is being done to make sure that the people who are trafficking women and children are prosecuted, rather than the women and children?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, trafficking people is a very serious offence, in which the Serious Organised Crime Agency takes a particular interest. I assure the noble Baroness that we are aware of the degree to which prostitution is fed by traffickers, and we will tackle it both at the trafficking end and the prostitution end where women unfortunately become involved. We entirely agree about how serious this is.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is there any liaison between the Minister's department and the Department of Health? As she may be aware, I made known my views on brothels during the debate last week on International Women's Day. For a long time I have argued that it would be good to have brothels registered
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Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, there is a great deal of multi-agency working in this area. I am afraid that I am not aware of the detail of the relationship between the Home Office and the Department of Health, but I will write to the noble Baroness on that subject. I entirely agree that the health aspect of prostitution is an extremely important angle. Her point is well taken.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: As a co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, I will take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. Is the Minister aware that if these women who are trafficked from overseas are processed too quickly and sent back to their homes, many of them are very likely to be retrafficked? That is particularly true if they are sent back to villages in China and Romania.
Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble and learned Baroness has just told me something of which I was not aware. I do not know whether the department is aware of it, but I will certainly take the point away because it is extremely salient.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, does the Minister agree, without commenting on any case currently before the courts, that a woman working in the sex industry who claims to have been assaulted by men should expect protection from the police and from society, rather than face prosecution for brothel keeping?
Baroness Brinton: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the considerable work done in Ipswich after the dreadful murders of five prostitutes in 2006? Does she agree that the Ipswich prostitution strategy, which brings together all partners such as health, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, referred, local authorities, police and probation, is an excellent example that should be implemented nationally?
Baroness Neville-Jones: Schemes of that kind are examples of best practice that the Government wish to foster. We must tackle prostitution at a local level if we are ever to be effective in any of the measures that we take against it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom is a very depressing reminder that this unacceptable behaviour remains a cause of great concern. In December, the coalition Government published the three-year-on response to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, which highlighted the steps we have taken to tackle and reduce anti-Semitism. In addition, the cross-government working party to tackle anti-Semitism will be taking forward future work.
Baroness Deech: I thank the Minister for her constructive reply. Does she agree that this ancient hatred is most pernicious when it takes root in the minds of young people and that she should therefore urge vice-chancellors to take steps, as is their duty under the law, to stop incidents of hate speech on campus? Will she also tell us how she proposes to prevent race and religious hatred material imported from overseas being used in faith schools, including out-of-hours faith schools?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the last place that we want anti-Semitism to take a hold is in our schools or universities. We expect universities to have measures in place to ensure that their students are not subject to threatening or abusive behaviour, and those institutions have a strong legal framework to help them to deal effectively with this. With regard to people coming in from outside and talking on campuses, again, a range of guidance, providing a practical framework, is available to higher education institutions to help them to support tolerance. All these subjects remain part of the work being done by the working party to ensure that, if further guidance is needed, it is provided.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, I am a member of the all-party group inquiring into anti-Semitism. Will the Minister have regard to two somewhat different concerns, although they are both about diffuse anti-Semitism rather than specific acts of violence, which are recorded by the Community Security Trust? I have in mind both the plethora of hate speech on the internet, which in a sense is, sadly, publicly available and the recent report by the Sunday Times to the effect that the word "Jew" is now being used as a term of abuse and opprobrium in the playground. That kind of conduct cannot be acceptable. Can I have my noble friend's assurance that Her Majesty's Government and all decent-minded people will work their hardest to see that it does not take root?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, we must do all we can to ensure that the use of words such as "Jew" in a way that causes people to feel upset or afraid is not taken up for threatening, antagonistic or hatred purposes. Of course, schools must stamp it out at the very earliest stages so that no child ever considers it to be an acceptable way of talking about someone.
The internet is another area of great concern, and it is also quite difficult to handle because we do not always have ways of tackling the problem. The task of removing hate from mass media channels, such as the internet, is daunting and challenging, but we have to look at how we can do so. Many states still view the balancing point differently from the United Kingdom, and that makes the task much more difficult because they do not all see the same pressure and impact. However, we continue to look for opportunities and ways to deal with the problem. In fact, what is on the internet goes beyond hate, and very soon we will have to find a way of obliterating and blotting out such unacceptable material.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there are two ways of looking at multiculturalism. One is the bringing together of communities and cultures, and the other is where disparate groups keep their cultures separate. Whichever way you look at it, I do not think that multiculturalism is going to have anything to do with hatred. My view is that hatred is generated not by culture but by fear, and there is a need for groups to be brought together. If, as I am sure he has done, the noble Lord looks at the report, he will find mention all the way through of incidents in which two or three people get together and are horrible. They use the word "Jew" and then assault or impact in some way on others. Therefore, I do not think that multiculturalism has anything to do with this.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, the statistic quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, is both shameful and deeply worrying for the future. Will the Minister affirm the importance of religious education in schools as being one of the crucial ways in which there can be a deepening of understanding between faiths? Will she also commend the work of the Council of Christians and Jews in tackling issues of anti-Semitism?
Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, I declare an interest as the lead commissioner on religion and relations for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We all agree that it is completely abhorrent that anyone should be intimidated on the grounds of their race, colour, gender, sexuality or religion. That applies also to famous fashion designers. The trust report shows that there are spikes or rises in anti-Semitic incidents that are related to tensions in the Middle East. With current events in mind, will the Minister please set out what is being done to ensure that communities, particularly those of different faiths, are brought together to ensure that we promote the British tradition of tolerance and understanding?
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any payments which could constitute bribes within the meaning of the Bribery Act 2010 have been paid from public funds to Libyan employees or officials in recent weeks.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government do not pay bribes. In relation to fees incurred for charter flights, the payment of handling fees at airports, including for the landing and departure of planes, is an established practice. Like all countries and carriers, HMG had to pay them. These charges increased at Tripoli airport as the situation in Libya deteriorated. Paying these fees was essential to be able to evacuate British and other nationals by plane.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, the whole House will be grateful for the assurance in the first sentence of the Minister's response. However, the rest of it reads rather strangely in the light of what the Prime Minister said in another place last week:
"Facilitation payments" is a bizarre way of describing regular airport handling fees. Can I therefore press the Minister and ask him to be absolutely clear about this? Were any payments made which were in any way irregular? Were payments made to individuals, or were payments simply made to the appropriate authority in a routine fashion for the flights that took place?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The latter is the answer. The noble Lord mentions regular situations, but the situation was far from regular. The situation was one in which these fees were rocketing because there was a desperate queue of aeroplanes to get in and people to get out. There is absolutely no doubt that the fees went whizzing up as very brave pilots and crews managed to get their aeroplanes down, slotted and then off the ground again. I sometimes think that we do not appreciate fully the extraordinary bravery and courage of those getting these aircraft in and out in very dangerous situations. So I can tell the noble Lord that nothing irregular was done of any kind, but it was a far from regular situation in which brave and courageous people had to move very quickly.
Lord Chidgey: My Lords, on a slightly broader note regarding the Bribery Act, is my noble friend aware that delays in introducing that Act have left the
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Lord Howell of Guildford: As my noble friend will appreciate, that is a broader question than the one we are looking at now about Libyan employees and officials, so I do not have any additional comment to make, except that I am sure that the matter is carefully under review and in hand.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Does my noble friend accept that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, would be the first to condemn the Government if we had failed to get our nationals out of Libya, even if we had to pay facilitation fees to do so?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, would the Minister like to reconsider that answer? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, would prefer that situation-anything to get at what he calls bribery.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I do not think that that is worth a further comment. We all recognise the need, in a desperate situation, for large payments to be made. I think that the noble Lord and everyone else appreciates that that was the need; that was the requirement; we had to get people out.
Lord Howell of Guildford: Authority was given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and those in the team engineering-with great bravery and swiftness-the evacuation procedure. No doubt there were checks back to London on whether the larger sums should be paid, and I am sure that immediate authority was given.
Lord Howell of Guildford: As far as I know, they were made to-I use the word again-regular authorities. However, one must envisage, as I am sure that the noble Lord, with his enormous experience of international affairs, recognises, that this was a chaotic situation in which various authorities were controlling the movement of aircraft and the operations of the airport. The ones who asked for the fees were those who normally charged the fees. That appears to have been the pattern. However, it was a far from regular situation.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, this report has been put before the House because the Administration and Works Committee identified a need to clarify the rules regulating the use of electronic devices in the House. Those rules are not only outdated and incomplete; in places they are also inconsistent and contradictory. As a result, many Members are unclear about which devices can be used in and around the Chamber, for what purpose and at what time.
Following careful deliberation over two meetings, the committee has proposed new rules on the use of electronic devices in the Chamber and Grand Committee, as well as in other locations on the Principal Floor. On the whole, the report only restates and clarifies the existing rules or proposes new rules and restrictions where there are currently none.
There is, however, one area where we have recommended relaxing the current rules, in which I am sure that many noble Lords will be interested. The committee has recommended that, for a one-year trial, Members should be able to use electronic handheld devices to access parliamentary papers and other documents that are clearly and closely relevant to the business before the House or Grand Committee.
For example, Members would be able to use electronic versions of the Order Paper, Bills, Marshalled Lists, Hansard or government reports. Although that may seem a big step to some, it seems perfectly reasonable that, if Members prefer to access documents electronically rather than relying on a multitude of paper copies, they should be allowed to do so, provided that the material is generally available to all Members by other means. The report is clear that Members should not use electronic devices to search for material for use in debate to which other participants do not have access.
It may be helpful if I give an example of how I see the rules working in practice. For instance, if there were to be an Oral Statement on a newly published White Paper, it would be entirely appropriate for a noble Lord to use an electronic device to consult the online text of the White Paper. We do not, however, think that a noble Lord should use Google News to search for media comment on the White Paper and then relay that comment in an intervention on the Statement. I hope that the House will agree that this is a proportionate, common-sense approach to a difficult area.
The committee tried to be as general as possible in defining which electronic devices should be permitted, as it was conscious that any rules agreed now could soon be overtaken by new technology. The key considerations are practical. In paragraph 10,
The noise of someone typing on the keys of a laptop could be rather distracting to other Members, a problem that does not arise to the same extent with handheld devices. Furthermore, while handheld devices can be held quite easily and discreetly out of view, laptops are altogether more intrusive. It is for this reason that we have decided to recommend that only handheld devices should be permitted and not laptops.
I hope that the report is clear in its propositions. I encourage noble Lords to consult the box on page 6 for a clear and concise summary of our recommendations. While the rest of the report provides the background of the committee's deliberations, it is only the points in this box that we propose should be adopted formally. If the report is agreed today, the Procedure Committee will be invited to amend the Companion when it is next updated and the Members' Handbook will be revised accordingly.
This House is well respected for the quality and depth of its debates and the way in which it conducts its proceedings. The committee was therefore extremely conscious of the need to maintain an environment that is conducive to good and proper debate. However, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we need to move with the times and that, where there is a demand and good reason to use modern technology, we should respond positively. I therefore hope that noble Lords will agree that this report strikes the right balance between embracing the use of electronic devices while maintaining the dignity and self-regulation of this House. I commend the report to the House.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I think that the whole House will be grateful to the Chairman of Committees for the way in which he has introduced this item and the work that has gone into it by the Administration and Works Committee. There are many elements in the report that I am sure the whole House will welcome, in particular the reiteration of the importance of devices being held in silent mode.
I wonder whether the report quite deals with its prime focus, which, as I understand it, was to reduce the degree of confusion that Members might have as to what is or is not permitted. Although the report refers to devices such as iPads, the words in the box do not. It simply says: "Hand-held electronic devices". How big is the hand? Does that include holding an iPad or a Kindle? What is or is not a laptop? Is it something that opens and closes? Perhaps an iPad will be permitted under the words in the box. My understanding is that the latest version of the iPad can have a little add-on, which folds over the top of the iPad and switches it off. Is a handheld device something that opens and closes? Many small, handheld devices also open and close.
If it is not the fact of opening and closing that is the issue, it is presumably a question of size. Laptops come in a variety of sizes. The marketing phrase now is "netbooks", some of which are extremely small. Is it that they should be no larger than a certain size? I am raising all these questions because, although this has been a helpful move to try to resolve these matters, it has not removed the scope for confusion.
Secondly, perhaps it would be helpful if further consideration could be given to the question of what people can do with these devices. Of course it is sensible that, rather than lugging around large volumes of paper, people should be able to access paperwork, parliamentary material and so on electronically, but I wonder whether it makes sense to forbid the use of search. Perhaps I should apologise to the House at the outset for the fact that I have on occasion used a handheld device in this Chamber and that I once-
Lord Harris of Haringey: I apologise unreservedly, as I apologise for what I am about to say. On one occasion during Oral Questions, in order to clarify whether I was correct in the point that I wished to make, I did a quick Google search. As a consequence, I was much more confident about putting to the Minister the point that I wanted to make. However, it seems to be entirely legitimate and sensible that people are able to do that. I note that our Clerks in your Lordships' House have in front of them a laptop. On occasion, I have noticed that it is linked to Google, so obviously our Clerks, who are not Members of the House, have been known to google things during your Lordships' proceedings.
I hope that we can look at these matters because, while I understand that we might not like the idea of people being able to relay comments externally prior to the Minister knowing what those comments are, the material resulting from searches about factual matters is available to all Members; it is just a question of whether it is permitted. In any event, how would this be enforced, unless there are inspections or we have some sort of fancy monitoring device that lets you know exactly what people are accessing in the Chamber, which I am sure could be supplied by the relevant people? I wonder if that would be useful.
Perhaps I may make one final plea to the noble Lord. When the Administration and Works Committee looks at these matters again, would it also consider the quality of mobile reception around the Palace? I am aware of a number of areas where the reception is very poor from one provider or another. I am sure that, if this provision is to be made, we want to make sure that it is available equally to all Members of the House wherever they happen to be sitting.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, it was my enthusiasm for my new iPad that led me, as a member of the Administration and Works Committee, to suggest to your Lordships that the use of an iPad in the Chamber would be perfectly proper. The point about an iPad is that it is silent; there are no clicking noises. It is quite small and can be held easily in one hand. However, I am a bit old-fashioned and the thought of standing up and referring to notes on my iPad is not very encouraging. I am old-fashioned enough to say that I will still be using paper, as many of your Lordships do in any case.
On a more serious note, most of us in this House have electronic devices and there is confusion about where they can be used. I take absolutely the point made by the noble Lord who is my namesake about where electronic devices can be used, as well as the lack of coverage in parts of the House, which is another important point.
Our devolved Parliaments and Assemblies use laptops, although they are old-fashioned now. While watching them use that technology, I felt that we were very disadvantaged. Members there were able to get absolutely up-to-date papers, yet Members of your Lordships' House have complained many times that we have not been able to get hold of a report while it is being
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Lord Higgins: My Lords, can my noble friend tell us whether the committee considered, if it wishes to clarify the position, whether handheld devices should not be used in the Chamber? To what extent did the committee consider the effect that such use may have on those watching the proceedings of the House on television? They may well think that Members who are using handheld devices are not paying sufficient attention to what is happening.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I strongly support what my noble friend has just said. I must confess that I do not Google, Twitter, tweet or blog, nor do I have any particular desire to do any of those things, but it seems to me that to have handheld devices in the Chamber is not conducive to good debate and intelligent participation in it. The fundamental reason for my opposing the idea is that it is the beginning of what I would call electronic mission creep-if I can use some jargon. I am very concerned about how instructions could be monitored or enforced. The answer is that they could not be. Therefore, anybody sitting in this Chamber with a handheld device could do anything from googling facts to getting in touch with his bookmaker. I suggest that the committee consider once again the point that has just been made briefly but forcefully by my noble friend.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I very much look forward to using my new iPad, when I get one, on the Education Bill, which amends 17 Acts. I very much hope that the Chairman of Committees will confirm not only that we will have wi-fi access in the Chamber when we come to debate that Bill in May, so that I can get at those documents, but also that we will have easy access to statutes in force, because, as he will remember from his days as a Minister or a Back-Bencher, the Acts that one can have printed in the Printed Paper Office are nothing like those that we are amending. Such access would therefore be immensely useful.
I find rather strange the worry expressed in paragraph 8 about having access to things that are not generally available to participants in proceedings by other means. One of the great reasons why I come to this Chamber is that it is full of people who know things that I do not know and understand things that I do not understand. Are we not supposed to have an equality of arms in this place? The point about being here is that you have access to a lot of people who know things that you do not. If someone happens to know something because they have looked it up on the internet or consulted an authority, rather than having done it in the Library five minutes before, I really do not see the problem.
We should allow ourselves to think about how we are going to catch up with the Commons when it comes to allowing participation by the public. The Commons is now allowing public participation in its Committee stages. Committees accept outside briefing from all sorts of people; they often hold open days when people can come and give evidence in front of
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Lord Deben: My Lords, I support what has just been said. Perhaps I may suggest also that making a virtue of being out of date is really not helpful for this House. Let us transpose this debate to the time when writing came in. It was perfectly true that writing might have upset the person sitting next door-it might have taken your mind off the debate-but most of us now write to make notes in this House. Most of us use this electronic equipment-well, I hope that we do; those who do not perhaps are not really involved. It is silent; it is extremely helpful. I must say to my noble friend that the idea that it is better to be ignorant and make a speech where the fact is wrong than to look it up and make sure that you have got it right seems very peculiar. I am pleased that it will not matter, because we will all do it and nobody will be able to see. I hope that the privacy Acts and the Data Protection Act will stop people looking over our shoulder to see what we are looking up. We hear some speeches made in this noble House where perhaps playing Scrabble on our devices would be a better alternative. This House does itself no good in making a virtue out of obscurantism. We either do things properly, which means using the wonderful mechanisms that we have, or we must accept the likelihood of being thought to be out of date.
Lord Broers: My Lords, I suggest the compromise that these devices be used simply as readers and that, for the present, we should allow the use of electronic readers and the searching within documents on the reader. We will not be out of date if we rule out devices that are connected. I am a member of a couple of quite big organisations in New York and, when they have large board meetings, typically today the modern thing is to say, "There will be no connected device during this meeting. There will no connected BlackBerries or laptops". However, to rule out electronic readers would be foolish, because very soon there will be large A4-type readers that are much better than a pack of papers. I suggest the compromise that we make the distinction that we allow the use of electronic devices to read documents and to search within them, but that we do not allow connected devices.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I support the report in its entirety. I do so first for the reason that the House authorities are anticipating working,
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It might reassure colleagues such as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others that if, after looking at the technology over the next year, they genuinely feel that they wish to adhere to the tried and tested ways of doing things, that will be absolutely fine; they should be entitled to do that without distraction. If the pilot produces distraction and the noble Lord and his colleagues feel that they are being put off or that people are abusing the new flexibilities in these rules, the pilot evaluation should take that into account and there should be a serious reconsideration.
However, the pilot should reassure our colleagues who take that view because it will proceed gently, step by step and year by year, consider what is available, change things and try to make the issues as clear as possible. There will always be difficulties but, at the end of the day, people will have to rely on their own judgments, soul and conscience. The rules will do the best job that they can and we should proceed with caution in the way that the committee report suggests.
As noble Lords may know, I am chairman of the Information Committee. I am keen to explore the development of touchscreen technology-not only readers but enabled connected devices-for Select Committee reports, which could transform the amount of paper produced for members in their service on Select Committees. Over the next year, I shall be particularly interested in looking at that.
Let us accept the report. Not to accept it would be a backward step. Let us look at the situation in a year's time and, if it does not discomfort or discommode colleagues who do not wish to adopt the technology, which is a different matter for evaluation, let us take this step. For all these reasons and more, as the Lord Chairman said, if we do not do this we will not be moving with times-and it would not be in the interests of this institution if we do not move with the times.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I, too, support this report. We should accept it in full. As many noble Lords will know, I use an electronic device, even before the report has been accepted. I am using it now, so I suppose I should apologise to the House in the same spirit as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, did. As noble Lords will know, I have this electronic device, which I am holding up and showing now. It is just about handheld, but I prefer to use two hands so that I can read it. It is a bit less cumbersome than the device I had when I arrived in this House. This is the only
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In recognition of this, the House authorities have been very accommodating and have fitted up a little tray on the back of the Bench in front which I can pull down, rather like an aircraft tray table, so that I do not have to hold it in my hand the whole time. I can put the device down and use it more conveniently when I am trying to make a point during the proceedings. I am very appreciative of this accommodation. It is, in the jargon of disability discrimination legislation, a reasonable adjustment, and very helpful it is too. Without it, I would not be able to participate in your Lordships' proceedings in the way that I do. I am very grateful for that.
I think that the sort of facility that has been extended to me should be extended to the rest of your Lordships. I make this point on the basis on which I make many of my interventions in your Lordships' House: namely, as an ardent champion of equality for the sighted.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I welcome this report, which will take our technology into the 21st century. It is of course right for us to update our rules and for us to make proper use of new technology, but we should be under no illusion; it will change fundamentally the way in which we work in this Chamber. That is not to say that it is a bad thing, but it will change it. iPads and other new technologies are absorbing and addictive and will change the way we work. As long as we are aware of that, that is absolutely fine.
The report talks about the policing of various uses of pieces of technology in this self-regulating House. I believe that for the new technology of which the report speaks, it has to be all or nothing. It is simply not feasible and not possible to police the use in the way that is suggested in the report. Like my noble friend, I refer to the box on page 6, which states that the new technology,
Many interesting and valuable points have been made in this debate. I suggest that the report should not be referred back, because it is a good report, but that it needs to be revised in the light of what has been said to make it more coherent and to bring clarity. At the moment, I do not think it brings the necessary clarity. I advise the noble Lord to have a look at the box on page 6 to ensure that it is properly clear because, while it is suggested that this should be for a trial period, this is the sort of issue on which, once one has advanced, there is no retreat. We have to be clear about what we are doing.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate on this subject, as I suspected we would. Given the opposing views of those in favour of this advance and those who I might say are more old-fashioned and do not want to see anything change, it looks as though we got the report about right.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked me a large number of questions, one of which was whether I could define the difference between a laptop and an iPad. I use the expression "iPad" in the same way that one uses the expressions "hoover" or "fridge". It does not necessarily mean the Apple product-there are other varieties. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who is a member of the committee, put her finger on this when she said that it should be used silently. We do not want people clicking away on a keypad-at least that was the idea. That is the fundamental difference between what I see as an iPad, such as the one that is now on the Table, and a touchscreen device. Of course, technology might move on. It has moved on enormously. Only a few years ago we changed the rules of the House on the use of mobile telephones.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. If the object is to clarify the position, in light of what he has just said are we to understand that iPads will be all right but netbooks will not?
I have slightly lost my thread now. I was referring to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. He held up his hands to say that he had used his handheld to search the web for something that was relevant to the debate at that time. The committee did not consider that an appropriate use, for the reasons that we set out at some length in the report, but I remind noble Lords that we specifically say that this is for a one-year trial period in the first instance. We will, of course, take into account the observations that noble Lords have not only made today but will no doubt make during the course of the year. The matter will then be reviewed again by the Administration and Works Committee, and we will have another debate. When we produce a report, we will have to bring it to the House.
As several noble Lords said, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the matter relies on your Lordships' good sense and self-regulation. My noble friends Lord Higgins and Lord Cormack worried that people working away on their handheld devices would be a distraction and that it would not look good on television. At least it would prove that those noble Lords were awake and not asleep. It would look no worse than that. That is unfortunately a picture that one gets occasionally in the television coverage of your Lordships' House. I can tell my noble friend Lord Cormack that nothing in the present rules would prevent him getting on to his bookmaker. If he has been doing that, good luck to him.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked a number of questions. I am glad to say that he was generally in favour of these proposals. We have measures in hand to improve wi-fi access in the Chamber and we will take those forward. My noble friend asked about various things, for example statutes in force. As it says in the report, those would be closely and clearly relevant to the business of the House and would therefore be just the sort of thing that it would be permitted to look at.
Other noble Lords made various other observations. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for his support. He is, of course, also involved in this as chairman of the Information Committee. No doubt it, too, will come forward with proposals in due course. He is right to have said that this is a step towards cutting down on the use of paper and going in the direction of a paperless way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Broers, suggested that one should be able only to read from one of these devices, rather than to access new information, while one was in the Chamber. However, the report makes it clear that it will be possible to download White Papers and that kind of thing, and if one happens to want to do so while one is in the Chamber I can see no objection to that.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, but I did suggest that he should look at various aspects of the report again. For example, the box on page 6 is untenable, as is clear from this debate. I urge him to ensure that the report is clear, because point 2 in the box is not possible; we will not be able to police matters in that way. I urge the committee to look at it again.
The Chairman of Committees: I can give that assurance. On behalf of the Procedure Committee, I may well have to produce another report on these matters and have that debated on the Floor of the House again. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the main cause of concern in today's debate has been about paragraph 8 of the main report rather than the box at the back that summarises it. As we say there, this is a one-year trial period in the first instance. We will just have to see how that trial works out, and come back in one year's time.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, the British Overseas Territories are 14 tiny territories scattered throughout the world. They have been described as the remnants of a once great global empire that have freely chosen, for a variety of reasons, to remain in partnership with the United Kingdom. Their constitutional position, origin, population size, geographical location and politics make them exceptional in the international order of states, and I hope that today's debate will enable us to focus on both general and bilateral issues that affect the people who live in those territories-from Bermuda, now the largest with a population of some 60,000, to the Pitcairn Islands with its population of 50.
My own special interest in what were then known as dependent territories-they had previously been the Crown colonies, and the change to British Overseas Territories came in 2002-began when, as a Member of the first directly elected European Parliament, I was asked to be one of the six British MEPs to look after Gibraltar's interests in the European Union. Gibraltar had chosen to become part of the European Union when we joined in 1973, but it did not gain the right to vote directly for representation in the European Parliament until much later; I believe that it was 1999. That was after a long campaign, supported by your Lordships in debates such as this. I remain involved in Gibraltar as president of the United Kingdom-based Friends of Gibraltar Association.
Since becoming a Member of this House, my interest has broadened to include all the territories and I have had the privilege and pleasure of introducing previous debates on this theme. Today, my intention is to deal with some general issues, since I know that other speakers plan to concentrate on specific territories and issues.
Perhaps one of the most important recent developments in the overseas territories is a recognition of the importance of environment, climate change and biodiversity. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change class small island developing states among the countries which will be the first and worst affected by climate change, but which do not have the internal resources to respond to the challenge. There are, I know, a number of projects-some supported by the Government-to address these threats, to conserve biodiversity and to promote sustainable tourism. For example, DfID has funded a three-year Caribbean overseas territories climate change project to conduct vulnerability and capacity assessments, improve ecosystem monitoring, educate the public and develop climate change adaptation strategies, while Defra has funded a series of projects across 11 overseas territories to address alien invasive species and climate change threats.
In their United Kingdom Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy, the Government are committed to helping the territories access the large international funds for biodiversity and climate change which the territories cannot access directly themselves, because of their status. Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Government intend to help the overseas territories in this way, and will all those territories be able to access the £2.9 billion allocated in the recent comprehensive spending review to the international climate fund? Further, does he recognise the potential for the development and use of renewable energy in the overseas territories, and can he pledge government support in that area?
Biodiversity in the overseas territories is globally significant. There are many examples: Ascension Island supports the second largest green turtle rookery in the Atlantic; Gough Island, near Tristan da Cunha, is one of the most important seabird islands in the world; and the Great Chagos Bank is the world's largest coral atoll. Over 75 per cent of the globally threatened species for which the United Kingdom is responsible are located on these small islands, which hold more bird species under threat of extinction than the entire European continent. The work of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others is invaluable in calling attention to these issues but, again, can my noble friend reassure us that with regard to those challenges the Government will give their support and ensure that United Kingdom overseas territories are not disadvantaged in relation to EU policies, strategies and funding?
Another general issue that affects many of the territories is that of funding for cultural heritage projects. The built environment often links the historical ties between the territories and the United Kingdom. It is also important for the development of tourism perspective and for obtaining world heritage status, which I know is pending in Gibraltar and St Helena and may be elsewhere. St Helena, indeed, is a good example of this and I understand that much could be done to conserve and preserve the historic buildings in Jamestown. Let us not forget in this context that France also has an interest in the Napoleonic aspects of St Helena's heritage, so co-operation there may be a way forward. Is my noble friend able to give us any hope that the Heritage Lottery Fund could be made available for projects in overseas territories, which it is not at present?
Education is also of paramount importance to small territories, which in some cases cannot sustain a viable sixth form, let alone institutions for higher and further education. One of the battles that we have won in the past has been to change the rules for the charging of overseas student fees, and I am proud to have been associated with that campaign. Nevertheless, the need for more scholarships and fellowships remains, and I trust that the Minister will be able to convey to his honourable and right honourable friends in other departments the need to ensure that they realise that the overseas territories are a special case.
It appears that the current relationship between the European Union and overseas countries and territories, OCTs, was under discussion at recent meetings in New
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I have made reference to tourism in relation to biodiversity and conservation. Tourism is of course of prime importance to all the overseas territories, and it is essential for their continuing economic development. The impact of air passenger duty is therefore of considerable concern. The Caribbean territories in particular-for example, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat-are all dependent on tourism and, together with all the other countries in the Caribbean, they fall within Band C, a more expensive tax category than the whole of the United States of America, including Hawaii. This inequality is punitive not only in tourism terms but to the diaspora of these territories looking to visit friends and family at home. The Falkland Islands are also at risk on this score as they fall within Band D, the most expensive tax category. Given that the United Kingdom is the sovereign Parliament of the overseas territories, imposing a tax on people flying to them-flying home, as it were-seems unfair and regressive, apart from the fact that the smaller numbers involved make for a special case as well.
I fear that time will not allow me to dwell in depth on the financial services status of many of the overseas territories, notably the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the currently troubled Turks and Caicos Islands and, closer to home, Gibraltar. I trust that others will cover these issues; suffice it to say that OECD guidelines and new financial regulation systems are in place and are being applied in the territories. Openness and transparency are much more evidence than perhaps they were in the past.
There are also individual political issues, such as the worsening of relations between the Falklands and Argentina, underlined in the UNASUR statement by the various countries of South America regarding the significant movement of ships whose route includes the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich. This, of course, could have repercussions not only for tourism but for fishing and petroleum exploration. On the other hand, Gibraltar is flourishing, and its relationships with the present Spanish Government is constructive. The main problem there appears to come from the mayor of the neighbouring town, La Linea.
I look forward to hearing from my noble friend, I hope with answers to some of these questions and an update on the Government's thinking in general. I also look forward to today's maiden speech and to hearing the contributions of all the other speakers. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the British branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association,
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The most important effect of this debate is that the overseas territories are remembered and appreciated; remembered because of our common history and background, and appreciated because of their enduring and ongoing loyalty. I beg to move.
Lord Jones of Cheltenham: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on securing this important debate. She has great experience of the overseas territories, as we have heard, and has been a constant supporter of these small and remote parts of the world. I also look forward to the maiden speech of our new colleague, my noble friend Lord Ribeiro.
I want to speak about three of the overseas territories, two of which I visited some time ago. The first is St Helena. I congratulate the coalition Government on deciding very early on that the airport on St Helena will finally be built. This is not controversial. The previous Labour Government came to the same conclusion because the economic and social case is unanswerable. Unfortunately, the world economic crash happened and the previous Government decided on a pause. Now that pause is over. Will the Minister give an update on how contract negotiations are proceeding, when he anticipates the contract will be signed, when he expects construction of the airport to start and, finally, when the airport will be operational?
Secondly, there have been budget problems in Anguilla which have led to discussions here, after which DfID funded two consultants to visit Anguilla from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States-OECS-to examine the 2011 budget. The consultants advised that they believed that the global estimates of the 2011 budget which were approved by the Anguilla House of Assembly in December 2010 are achievable, albeit with some adjustments on the revenue side to tax mechanisms to make up for the lost time while the 2010 budget has been in abeyance. Currently, I believe, lawyers are determining whether a new budget needs to be brought to the House of Assembly, or, since the global estimates have not changed, whether the budget can be passed as a matter of procedure: that is, the Secretary of State signals his consent and the governor then signs it off. Whatever the options, the 2011 budget needs to be put to bed soon before more time is lost and more confusion arises from, in effect, having "two budgets" which have to be dovetailed. Will the Minister please give an update on the current situation on Anguilla's 2011 budget?
My noble friend will also be aware that, after the last elections in Anguilla, the new Chief Minister wrote to our previous Foreign Secretary outlining his concerns about the manner in which the territory had been governed in recent years. There are still concerns about the constitutional arrangements of the overseas
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Thirdly and lastly, the Turks and Caicos Islands are currently under direct rule. I went home last night having prepared my speech, and arrived this morning to an e-mail about an anti-British demonstration which has been taking place over several days this week, blocking the road to the airport in Providenciales. My informant, a senior journalist, tells me:
"Flights have been cancelled and there are a lot of very frightened Brits here at the moment. For the first time ever I am really concerned for mine and my family's safety. What the protestors are asking for is election dates".
I realise this is not a situation of this Government's making. Direct rule was enforced by the previous Government more than a year ago. Since then, TCI has been in somewhat of an economic meltdown and a state of limbo. The economy has run into severe difficulty, caused partly, no doubt, by the global downturn. However, direct rule has led to many potential investors pulling out of the territory, causing an increase in unemployment and a decrease in government revenues.
A special investigator and prosecution team-SIPT-was set up to investigate allegations of corruption detailed in Sir Robin Auld's report. So far, no charges have been laid and I have no idea how much longer the legal team, which is costing several tens of thousands of pounds each month, is expecting to continue its investigations. I understand that this is a legal process, and that the UK Government, quite properly, should not try to influence the outcome of the inquiries. I was interested to read an article in the Turks and Caicos Sun, which claims to be the leading newspaper in the TCI; I think that the TCI Weekly News would contest that. It is an interview with the special prosecutor, Helen Garlick, who says:
"Money laundering investigation is a central part of the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT) work and involves very considerable amounts of money, running into several millions of dollars ... We are investigating several cases of exceptionally serious corruption and misconduct allegations and we are also investigating complex money laundering allegations that includes investigations in many jurisdictions around the world".
Later on, the article refers to her as "the veteran prosecutor", which, having met Mrs Garlick, I think is a bit harsh. She is certainly experienced in this area: she was assistant director of the UK Serious Fraud Office when she was the first head of its overseas corruption unit. She currently has a team of more than 30 people in TCI investigating these serious allegations. Can my noble friend give any update on progress apart from the one that Mrs Garlick gave in that newspaper interview? How long does he expect this to go on until charges are laid and court action begins? Will my noble friend also explain who is paying the costs of the SIPT? Is it the UK Government
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Direct rule will eventually come to an end and elections will take place. There will be a return to local rule, albeit under a British governor. I pay tribute to the current governor of TCI who has been in a very difficult position and has carried out his duties as one might expect from an experienced diplomat. It cannot have been an easy or comfortable time for him. Can my noble friend estimate when elections might take place in TCI? Will it be this year, next year or some other year? Can he advise how political parties should be preparing themselves, including selecting appropriate candidates for these elections? May I suggest that when these elections do happen, it is important that experienced election observers from the Commonwealth should be on hand to ensure that they are free and fair?
One of the results of the increase in unemployment in TCI has been an increase in crime, some of it violent crime. I met recently with a magistrate from TCI who told me that his workload had increased dramatically. One aspect which concerned him immensely was that there are no facilities on TCI itself to deal with those sentenced to custodial sentences who have mental health or other special needs. In previous years these people have been sent to special units elsewhere in the Caribbean and the results in rehabilitation have been good. Now TCI simply cannot afford to send them to these special units. The result is that these people are banged up and eventually come out worse than when they went in, only to offend again. Will my noble friend please look at what kind of help can be given to ensure that appropriate treatment is given to these offenders so that they do not become long-term problems for TCI?
I am aware that many people in the Turks and Caicos Islands and, indeed, the other overseas territories, are aware of the importance of our debate today. I have received a submission from a senior lawyer in TCI. It is rather long and I do not have time to read it all, but I would be happy to share its contents with the Minister afterwards. One paragraph leapt out at me. It says that,
However, it is not all bad news on the TCI front. I congratulate the TCI Government and InterHealth Canada on the new hospitals in Grand Turk and Providenciales. They will celebrate their anniversaries on 10 April and have made a huge difference in the
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I should like to add to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on air passenger duty. A family of four travelling to the Caribbean now pays £300 in economy and £600 in premium class in APD. Flights to the USA cost 20 per cent less in tax. The reason for this anomaly is that the different bands are based on the distance of the capital city of the destination country from London. Honolulu in Hawaii is 7,230 miles from London whereas Tortola in the British Virgin Islands is only 4,130 miles from London. However, because the bands are based on the distance to Washington and Tortola respectively, the APD on a trip to Hawaii is 20 per cent lower. Will my noble friend please ask the Treasury to look again at air passenger duty in order to recognise the special legal status of the overseas territories? Will he also ask about relaxing the rules on frozen pensions for those who qualify for UK state pension and now live in the overseas territories? They are in a different position from those people living in Canada, Australia and New Zealand because of their legal status on overseas territories. Those in Gibraltar and Bermuda have their pensions uprated each year; those in other territories do not. Correcting this anomaly would cost very little in Treasury terms. I understand that the full year cost would amount to around half a million pounds, which is loose change in Treasury terms. This is a price worth paying to put right an injustice.
Where do we go from here? I am grateful that the Foreign Secretary is looking again at the overseas territories with a view to making the partnership between them and their sovereign Parliament fit for the 21st century. As individual parliamentarians we have a role to play in keeping in contact with the people of the territories, taking up their concerns and making sure that our Government are aware of what is going on.
In replying to this debate, I hope that the Minister will set our minds at rest that the coalition Government will continue regular communication with, and treat properly, our overseas territories, where the wonderful people are loyal subjects of the Crown and think so much of being British.
Lord Luce: My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who knows an enormous amount about the overseas territories, has introduced this debate. After all, there are 14 overseas territories under direct British government responsibility, with a total population of about 239,000. These are important responsibilities and there ought to be regular opportunities to hold Her Majesty's Government to account for the performance in those territories. Of course, these 14 territories are an inheritance from the former British Empire, which has long since gone, but they have, for one reason or another, decided that they do not wish to proceed to complete independence or-to put it
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I wish to make one or two general observations and then comment on three territories. On the general side, the Minister and I and many other noble Lords share a very strong belief in the value of the Commonwealth. I was glad that the noble Baroness mentioned the value of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. As I think the noble Lord will know, a number of Chief Ministers consider that it would be of value to them if they had a closer link with Heads of Government in the Commonwealth by means of a forum at the Heads of Government Meeting or perhaps by holding regular meetings once a year, or every other year, with the current chairman of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth. This ought to be looked at because there are common interests, for example between the independent Commonwealth members of the Caribbean and the overseas territories of the Caribbean. I hope that the Minister will look at that.
Over the past decade there have been one or two rather unfortunate examples of poor performance by people appointed to serve in those territories-notably by judges. One such case arose in Gibraltar, involving a chief justice, and another in the Caribbean. We need to be extremely careful how we appoint people to serve in these overseas territories. I suggest that the noble Lord consider a wider draw, including from Commonwealth countries, when appointing judges and others to fill important positions.
The principal approach, as I hope the Minister will confirm, should be to allow these territories to achieve the maximum possible level of self-governance. However, that has to be in keeping with Her Majesty's Government's ultimate responsibility for ensuring the good governance and, if possible, the financial viability of those countries. It is interesting to note that DfID has regularly to support only Pitcairn, Montserrat and St Helena. The others-with one or two exceptions, such as the Turks and Caicos-are expected more or less to finance themselves. That should be the right approach.
One thing that has already emerged in this debate is the number of territories that rely on financial services for their viability. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, rightly referred in detail to the Turks and Caicos, but other territories such as the Cayman Islands, the BVI, Bermuda and Gibraltar, as well as the Turks and Caicos, also rely on success in their financial services in one way or another. There is therefore an onus on the British Government to ensure that we satisfy ourselves that all these territories comply with international financial sector standards on, for example, transparency, financial regulation, money-laundering and counterterrorism financing.
I should like to comment on just three territories. The first, of course, is Gibraltar. I declare an interest as a former governor of that wonderful territory, with
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Secondly, Gibraltar now has a trilateral forum involving the British and Spanish Governments and the Chief Minister of the Government of Gibraltar. All three participate in regular discussions and I think that that is a notable improvement. For example, an agreement was reached in Cordoba on arrangements for practical co-operation between Gibraltar and the region-Algeciras and so on-in modernising the airport, sharing its services and contributing to the general development of the region as a whole. All that must be welcome.
The third issue is Gibraltar's financial services. Tourism is important to Gibraltar as well, but financial services have contributed to steady growth in the territory, at a rate which we and many other countries in the European Union would envy. This growth is possible because Gibraltar now has a well regulated authority, an independent financial services commission, and practices that are totally in keeping with OECD standards. There is proper transparency and tax information agreements; and on 1 April-in three weeks' time-a 10 per cent corporation tax will be introduced to deal with the problem of unfair tax competition. All that is welcome. Gibraltar should also serve as a model for the other territories in how to manage financial services. I am not sure of the extent to which there is a consist approach in this field.
It is disturbing that, over the past few months, there has been a dispute with Spain over the territorial waters around Gibraltar, arising from a particular EU directive. There have been incidents between the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Civil Guard based at Algeciras. It would be helpful if the Minister could say how this issue is progressing and whether there is any prospect of finding a resolution to it.
The final matter that I want to raise about Gibraltar is defence. At one time defence was the primary purpose of Gibraltar; but over the past two or three decades that purpose has diminished, and it now represents a much smaller proportion of our total activity in the territory. However, Gibraltar commands the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean; and in the past three or four weeks we have seen precisely the type of unforeseen circumstances that can lead to instability-on this occasion, in north Africa. Surely that reinforces the value to us, and to the West and NATO, of retaining a defence interest in Gibraltar. I therefore very much welcome the joint statement from the meeting on 3 February between the Chief Minister, Mr Caruana, and Nick Harvey, the Minister for the Armed Forces. They have confirmed the continuation of a joint operational base in Gibraltar and reinforced the value of the role of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, which I am very proud of, and which is made up of very able and competent soldiers. It is to take on additional roles from the MoD, which is very welcome.
I wish briefly to comment on the Turks and Caicos Islands, because it is important that the Minister should tell us where we stand on this difficult issue. It is a serious matter for any Government to decide to declare direct rule. On this occasion, it occurred in August 2009, and arose principally as a result of Sir Robin Auld's report which declared that there was systemic corruption in Turks and Caicos. Parts of the constitution have been suspended as a result. The elections proposed for this year have been postponed, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, and it would be good to know what the plans are now. I hope the Minister will also say something about DfID's loan guarantee of £160 million over the next five years to enable Turks and Caicos to restore its fiscal surplus and eliminate its debt. I hope that this will not be a cost to the British taxpayer. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that DfID has taken the lead.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that the last issue on which I wish to touch is the British Indian Ocean Territory. This is a longstanding problem. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the territory's very few inhabitants-1,500 of them-were expelled to enable the United States to set up a base in Diego Garcia. This was an abuse of human rights. No successive Government-one of whom I was a part-have succeeded in restoring justice to these people. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this Government are trying hard to find a way forward, bearing in mind that there is currently an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as serious financial constraints on the Government. It is welcome that Mr Bellingham, the Minister dealing with this issue daily, is taking a positive attitude. In his letter to the chairman of the all-party group, which specifically mentioned the marine protection area which must never be set up at the expense of the Chagossians, he said:
"Nothing has been done to implement the marine protection area and nothing that is currently contemplated would be a bar to the British Government complying with any judgment of the European Court of Human Rights or a bar to any British Government choosing in future to change the policy on resettlement".
I welcome that very clear statement by the Minister on behalf of the Government, and I hope that it will provide an opening for a way forward. I appeal to the Government to develop a strategy involving discussions with the United States and Mauritius that could lead to compromise proposals which could be incorporated in the exchange of letters between the United States and Britain, which is subject to renewal in 2016. This is an ideal opportunity to ensure that justice is done to the Chagossians. Mauritius has a vital role as it claims sovereignty over those territories should the United Kingdom no longer need to continue with its sovereignty. Mauritius now has the support of all 52 countries of the African Union, and of a growing number of members of the Commonwealth.
It seems that the Americans will say that they need to retain Diego Garcia for the foreseeable future. If that is necessary, so be it. However, it should be possible to work out, for the outer isles that are a long way from Diego Garcia, co-management arrangements between Britain and Mauritius for the marine protection area, and to arrange for the Mauritians to work with the Chagossians on the outer islands on conservation matters to do with the marine protection area. If that
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The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for securing this debate, and for the breadth of her contribution and those of the speakers whom we have heard so far on the multifarious issues that affect the British Overseas Territories. I look forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro.
I will concentrate on the responsibility and opportunity for Britain in the role of many overseas territories as tax havens and on the need for us to face the financial element in the role of those territories to which attention was drawn by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Luce. The issues surrounding the tax haven status of some territories are made more important by the secrecy that has developed around them over the years. In the 2008 presidential election campaign, Barack Obama claimed:
At a time of cuts in this country that are bearing down hard on all of us, not least on the most deprived, it is crucial that no quarter is given to corporations that hide profits in tax havens in order to avoid tax. I hope that the Government will assure us that they will take the opportunity of the November G20 summit to ensure that the present secrecy laws will continue to be disbanded and that they will use their authority and influence over the overseas territories to ensure that they will be among those who give a lead. I am delighted by the developments in Gibraltar, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred. I am delighted at the way in which the OECD regulations are developing openness and transparency. However, there is a long way to go.
This is not just a matter of business integrity, crucial though that is. Much of the wealth that is hidden in the tax havens is siphoned from the poorest countries of the world. I am grateful for the Government's defence of the aid budget in tough times, but I remind noble Lords also of the comments of Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, that 21st-century development is about much more than aid. It is about creating opportunities across the policy spectrum. This is an area where that could be crucial. Christian Aid estimates that tax havens cost poor countries some $160 billion per year in lost tax revenue. At worst, the aid budget pours into poor countries money that leaks out again to tax havens. What policies do the Government plan to promote to enable poor countries to collect the tax owed to them and to remove the structural barriers to their doing so?
One important point is the extent to which some British Overseas Territories have become dependent as communities on their status as tax havens. Among
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The historical ties between the United Kingdom and its overseas territories need to be cherished. They are highly valued by the people of the territories. I look forward to promises from the Government that they will enhance those links by aiding the development of those economies in ways that cease to encourage them to be an instrument of oppression for the poorest countries of the world.
In conclusion, I return to the ecological point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The territories have an extraordinarily exciting and important ecological base. They contain a significant number of the species of birds, animals and plants that are in danger and under threat of extinction. Britain is committed to the target of ending the loss of global diversity by 2020, which I very much welcome. The overseas territories are crucial to this aim and I hope that the Minister will tell us more about what plans there are to maintain that diversity. There is a right and developing concern about animal, bird and plant species in the UK. The challenge is far greater in these beautiful and exciting islands.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for her comprehensive introduction to this subject, in which she demonstrated the enormous diversity of the islands. I propose to follow up a slightly different angle, following on from the right reverend Prelate, who in the latter part of his speech talked about ecology. I am going to talk about Antarctica, the largest overseas territory. It comprises some 660,000 square miles and has a resident population of 50 in winter and 400 in summer. Antarctica holds 80 per cent of the world's fresh water locked up in the ice mass, which in places is 5 kilometres deep.
British Antarctica is part of a mutual recognition agreement with four other sovereign nations and their Antarctic claimed territories. The UK is an active participant in the Antarctic Treaty system, which is extremely important and provides the framework for how operations take place there. However, today I propose to concentrate on some of the events that will take place this year in connection with Antarctica.
I start with the International Maritime Organisation, which at a meeting at the end of March will consider a polar shipping code for all passenger and cargo vessels with more than 12 passengers. This is very important,
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The next important event is the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires in June, marking 50 years of the Antarctic Treaty. It has been an enormous achievement and it is important to recognise that. An Antarctic Bill concerned with environmental protection and safety planning is in the pipeline. Indeed, that was mentioned in part by previous speakers in connection with what the IMO is doing. The wide consultation phase has been completed and the Bill awaits parliamentary time. On present progress, it does not look as though it will get on to the statute book before spring next year. So far, only four countries have ratified the treaty out of a total of 28. As we are one of the most important, and original, consultative members, we should be the first to ratify and not among the last.
At the next treaty consultative meeting in June, the UK will present an environmental evaluation of a scientific project to drill into a sub-glacial lake in the Ellsworth mountains. In order to find a freshwater source, drilling will be required to take place some 3,000 metres through the ice, taking it to below mean sea level. It is a fascinating concept, which could reveal much about the evolution of organisms and so on. This lake has never seen sunlight and one wonders what might be growing there. Therefore, science is of the essence in this matter.
Next year marks the centenary of Scott's last expedition to the South Pole. Scott reached the pole on 17 January 1912 but of course never returned. Unfortunately, he was beaten to the pole by 35 days by Amundsen, who arrived on 14 December 1911. The Scott centenary is something that we should also recognise and I hope that we will do so. A number of events to mark the centenary are at the planning stage and many of them will focus on the scientific legacy. Science is the important thing, but I hope that the centenary will be fully supported by Her Majesty's Government.
The final event taking place this year is the construction of the new Halley Research Station, which is going well. The handover to the British Antarctic Survey is expected to take place in February 2012. It will be a worthy successor to the first Halley station, which was established by the Royal Society in 1957. Halley is the furthest away from the cluster of bases on the peninsula on the eastern coast of the Weddell Sea and it is therefore likely to be rather colder than the others.
In summary, all in all Antarctica is a vital continent with regard to science. It is recognised by everyone concerned as being exclusively for science, so we need to, and indeed do, support it. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not in any way diminish any funds that may be available for the extraordinary work of the British Antarctic Survey, which is very worthy of support and needs to be continued at full speed and without any diminishment.
Lord Ribeiro: My Lords, I rise with all due humility and pride to give my maiden speech in your Lordships' House. I have learnt much in the weeks since my introduction in December, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my supporters, the noble Lords, Lord McColl of Dulwich and Lord Patel, and to my mentor, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, for guiding me through what can only be described as a minefield of parliamentary procedure and protocol. The personal attention of the staff has been remarkable, particularly given the heavy workload that they have experienced in the past two months.
My territorial title, Achimota, denotes my birthplace and is also home to a boarding school in Ghana, then the Gold Coast, where my late father taught history and Latin. It was founded in 1924 by three visionaries: the governor, Sir Frederick Guggisberg; the first principal, the Reverend Alexander Fraser; and the assistant to the principal, Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey. They founded the first co-educational school in West Africa and, in doing so, spawned the architects of Ghana's independence movement, which saw the introduction of self-rule in 1951 and independence in 1957.
The motto of the school, Ut Omnes Unum Sint, meaning "That all may be the same", is a reference to the abiding philosophy of the founders that, starting in the context of school life, black and white, male and female, should integrate and combine synergistically for the good of all. This is also graphically represented by the symbolised black and white piano keys-the emblem of the school. Dr Aggrey observed that:
This defining principle of harmony has guided me throughout my career and has emboldened me to achieve my aims in life. Such an attitude was uncommon in the British Empire as a whole and yet my father experienced nothing but friendship and support during his degree course at London University before the last war. One of his pupils at Achimota, Major Seth Anthony, became the first native-born African in British military history to be commissioned from Sandhurst in April 1942. Serving with the 81st Division of the Royal West African Frontier Force, he was promoted in the field and awarded an MBE after the Battle of Myohaung in Burma, in January 1945.
Some 374,000 Africans volunteered to serve in the British Army in theatres such as Ethiopia, Somaliland and Burma during World War II and it was a pleasure to discover that the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, had presented Major Anthony with his Burma Star badge, three months before he died in 2008.
My father, like Seth Anthony, was able to serve his country as an ambassador in Africa, Europe and America and, as a young student, I observed how effectively British diplomacy had translated to its newly independent states. Following the "wind of change" which passed across Africa, Britain is now left with 14 overseas territories which, as we have heard, fall roughly into three categories: military bases, areas of biodiversity and financial interests. Within the military context, the strategic defence and security review appropriately entitled, Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty, gives an undertaking to defend the UK and its overseas territories. It goes further, stating that Britain requires,
In the 1850s, Herman Melville, in his book Moby Dick, described a real event of a giant sperm whale which attacked and capsized the whale-ship "Essex". Some of the survivors landed on Henderson Island in the Pitcairn group of islands in the Pacific, no doubt accompanied by a cargo of rats. This Government are to be congratulated on meeting the challenge of eradicating the rats from Henderson Island in order to protect the eggs and the chicks of the native birds, in particular the petrel bird, some 25,000 of whose eggs are eaten each year by the rats, representing 95 per cent of their population. Protecting the bird life of these and other islands in the overseas territories is essential to maintain biodiversity, and despite cuts in the public sector, the UK Government have found £413,000 to support a £1.7 million project by the RSPB to remove Polynesian rats from the island.
We have heard mention of financial services. It is interesting to note that the legacy of a tax-free zone, promised by King George III to the Cayman Islanders, has provided a tax haven in the Caribbean, which has benefited many, but not always the indigenous islanders, many of whom came originally from Africa. As a child of the empire and an African, I have some sympathy for the citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the majority of whose population are of African decent, and who, having tasted a period of self-rule, find that elections promised for July 2011 are now postponed, with no date set for further elections. What steps will the UK Government take to ensure that the loan guarantees made to the islands will lead to the announcement of elections in the foreseeable future?
In his Ministerial Statement of 9 December 2010, my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford referred to the milestones that had to be met before progress could be made. One of these was the reform of the public services. If any lessons are to be learnt from the transition from self-rule to independence experienced by Ghana and other former colonies, it is that time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. Similarly a sound educational base is needed to provide the infrastructure to support a transition to self-governance. My father used to say to us as children that the most important gift that an African child could have was a good education, and ensuring that this is in place across the islands will encourage the next generation of leaders.
I very much hope that the UK Government will continue to meet their obligations to the overseas territories and support self-governance and independence for those who wish it. I look forward to making further contributions to this House and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating this debate.
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I know I speak for the whole House when I say what an enormous privilege it is to be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ribeiro on a very distinguished maiden speech. He describes himself as a child of the empire and he brings to this debate what my noble friend Lady Hooper called the remnants of the empire, a unique perspective. It must be unusual, to say the least, to have in his territorial designation a title which includes both his birthplace in Ghana and Hampshire. As someone who comes from Hampshire, I am delighted to welcome a neighbour.
After qualifying at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, my noble friend embarked on his career in surgery and he culminated as an outstanding president of the Royal College of Surgeons from 2005 to 2008. He has been a major participant in the restructuring and modernisation of surgical training and he has overseen the introduction of a new surgical curriculum. He brings with him a great deal of expertise and I hope he will speak frequently. I look forward to further interventions from my noble friend.
I join others in thanking my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us this opportunity to talk about developments in the British Overseas Territories. Like her, the right reverend Prelate and others, I want to concentrate on environmental issues. It has already been pointed out that our territories are of enormous significance as regards habitats and ecosystems and that they impose on the UK Government responsibilities and obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Many of these territories support a large number of endemic species-that is, species that are found nowhere else in the world. Of course, in some of the territories that very biodiversity underpins the economy. Nowadays, the Falkland Islands depend largely on their fisheries for their viability and in other territories which have been discussed tourism is dependent on the natural environment. Therefore, biodiversity plays a critical role in helping to achieve sustainable development for the local population.
I should declare an interest as chair of the Living with Environmental Change partnership, which brings together 22 publicly funded organisations for collaboration in designing, undertaking and delivering research programmes, not just in the United Kingdom but overseas as well, and which addresses environmental change issues.
The cost of conservation and restoration projects undertaken in overseas territories-sometimes, but not always, with a contribution from the British taxpayer; often from the British public via NGOs-can be high. Invariably, there are demands for support from government agencies and sources such as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which at one time I chaired. The demands are always that those sums be increased.
My noble friend Lord Ribeiro referred to the control of rats in Henderson Island. Indeed, there are programmes for the control of other alien species in the Falkland Islands, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, all of which have rat control programmes as well as trying to control other alien species.
We have not always been as successful as we should have been in attracting European Union funding for such projects. Frankly, France has stolen a bit of a march on us on this, and I hope that we can be more successful in future. I was heartened, therefore, that last week the European Commission announced a €2 million pilot scheme for biodiversity projects in overseas territories. The project will be used to prepare the ground with a view to longer-term support. We should take a close interest in that; we must ensure that we have our own pilot schemes so that we can get longer-term funding for our overseas territories from European funds.
I shall concentrate my remarks on two territories in which there is no permanent local population: the British Antarctic Territory, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, referred; and the British Indian Ocean Territory, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred. I was fortunate enough to visit the British Antarctic Survey's research station at Rothera, on the Antarctic Peninsula, in January. For just a few days, I represented a significant proportion of the population to which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, referred.
Thanks to the Antarctic treaty, to which the noble Viscount also referred, despite competing territorial claims from Argentina and Chile, we are able to collaborate harmoniously, conducting research of great importance in those unusual conditions. For example, I saw some of the research on marine organisms, climate change, telecommunications and much else, all of which is of enormous significance. Again, the noble Viscount referred to that.
A massive cleanup is under way on the Antarctic continent, as detritus from earlier generations is dismantled and removed, often from remote locations. Everything which is now taken to the Antarctic has to be removed; no waste is ever allowed to stay there. So we are imposing far higher standards of care on that pristine continent than was the case in previous generations. That is an example of excellent international co-operation and a scientific treaty which is really working.
I turn, as did the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to some of the problems in the British Indian Ocean Territory, where, in April, the previous Administration agreed to the establishment of a marine protection area in what has been described as probably the richest marine ecosystem under United Kingdom jurisdiction. My noble friend who will respond later told us in June that the intention to proceed with the MPA was confirmed.
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Although I, like most others, welcome the designation of the marine protected area, I must say that the way that we are negotiating for it to be established leaves something to be desired. Whatever the outcome of the apparently interminable litigation now in the European Court of Human Rights, we have accepted that if in future-it is probably a long way off-the defence base at Diego Garcia is no longer required, the archipelago will be transferred to Mauritius. Therefore, in all conscience, we simply must get the Mauritius Government's support for any initiative in the long-term interests of the environment and, of course, for any future population there.
The Great Chagos Bank is the world's largest coral atoll, as my noble friend reminded us. It is clearly appropriate that the Mauritius and the Chagos refugee groups should recognise what great service can be done to the economy and to the environment by that designation, but, at the moment, the Mauritius Prime Minister and some, but not all of the Chagos refugee groups, are deeply suspicious of the designation. That is not helped by Wikileaks-which, as always, complicates the issue terribly.
We need to do what has been done so much more successfully in the British Antarctic Territory: demonstrate how we can have an international initiative in which the Mauritius Government and Chagos refugee groups can participate. It is no good us thinking that we can impose a designation without their having any opportunity to contribute to the design and management of the project.
Conservation projects around the world, however worthy-and this one is as worthy as they come-will invariably fail if the interests of the indigenous population, even when they have been moved elsewhere, and of sovereign states with sovereignty claims, are not taken into account. Much more fundamental claims have been accommodated in the Antarctic. We need to follow that example in the Chagos Archipelago.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, at the time of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, before I was born, if I recall it right, one-quarter of the land mass of the world was British. More than that, I believe that we controlled perhaps half of the oceans of the world, having the best and most effective Navy.
I suffer from several weaknesses. I am an islander at heart. I love islands; I love the sea. There are about 70,000 islands in the world, and every territory that we are discussing today is an island. Beyond that, we look at the resources of the sea. I have raised the point in your Lordships' House before that the
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When I have my noble friend Lady Hooper, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and others together, I know that these are the professionals in this world. I am only the amateur, and a very gifted one at that, but I love this subject. Therefore, I thought that I might advance a little into the world to make certain suggestions. If what I say is true-that we are still, with the Commonwealth, the most effective and impressive land mass of friends, and have the sea-it is our duty to take initiatives at certain times.
I was brought up to believe that you did not read in your Lordships' House, even with electronic devices, and that you could not even have visual aids, but today, as a bit of support for what I have to say, I have two pieces of paper. One shows little red spots where the territories are. Strategically, they are most extraordinarily presented. If our ancestors planned, as I am sure they did, they would have put points here and said, "This is where we need British representation to the future of the world".
They were also wise in some ways in making sure that those who wanted to support their initiatives followed certain cultural relationships. For example, if you wish to know which countries have claims in Antarctica, all you need to do is say "rugby". All countries that play rugby-Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina-have claims in the Falklands, the biggest single land mass. Then you would ask about the origins of these territories. My family mottos are "Per mare, per terras" and "God will provide", although God is sometimes not as generous as I would have hoped.
On this paper, you see the remarkable name of Bermuda, whose motto is "Whither the Fates carry". We are being a bit unkind about Bermuda in many ways because we use the phrase "tax havens". We are coming up to the feast day of St Giuseppe-St Joseph-the patron saint of work. If I recall correctly, the Pope normally at this time delivers an address to one of the Vatican towns on the lines of "man works to live; he does not live to work".
We have to look at each of these territories and ask where their economic future is. In some way or another, they have carved out a financial services future. Given the comments that have been made about our own financial services sectors in recent years and the losses that have been incurred, I do not think that we should lecture others.
Let us take the simple example of Bermuda, which is the base for most insurance companies. Is there anything wrong in setting up a corporation in a place that has tax advantages, which are of course within the control of the governing body of that country? I am not sure that there is, but I have certain views. Surely, if a nation is overtaxed, it will not be valiant and glorious-I do not know who said that. At one level, we have Bermuda with its significant financial services business, which perhaps is under attack. Other
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The right reverend Prelate referred to the Cayman Islands, which has the motto "For he has founded it upon the seas". However, the only sea business that Cayman can do apart from tourism lies in the turtle sector, but those turtles are now relatively rare. A ban was introduced on, I think, Lusty, that it could no longer produce turtle soup. In all these areas we have to look for alternative uses. I will try to explain to your Lordships that if 70 per cent of the surface of the earth is sea, and we by chance have bits of land stuck in important places and could declare a 1,000-mile exclusion zone or protection zone around all those, we might be able to introduce quite a lot of new business and activities.
We know that the United States has a difficulty when it wishes to go off on military exercises. It does not have many places to land. It is often forbidden from overflying, which is why I have never been supportive of exclusion zones because they are difficult to enforce. Here we have territories, bits of land, located in strategic places. When we look at global warming, we are looking at all sorts of activities for which these bases could be developed for surveillance, for monitoring and even for do-gooding, as it is called. When I chaired a body for sport and recreation for a previous Government, it was suggested to me that, instead of trying to reintroduce national service, we should gather together groups of young men and women and send them off to the dependent territories to do some research and studying. The mottos of some of the territories relate to research and development.
As I speak today I have a certain sense of optimism, but I wonder what the British Government can do. It is not really a question of providing grant aid to many of these places. Under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the one thing that these places have is British citizenship, which should never be taken away. There could or should be some form of collective plan, which I suggest might be advanced under Commonwealth supervision. We know that to this can be added the bailiwicks of Her Majesty's realms. The dominance of the British culture in the world is demonstrated perhaps by the fact that one-third of all people speak English as their first or second language, or they are learning it. We have certain communication advantages.
I hope that this debate has created certain thoughts and ideas. I am always most grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper, who has a habit of popping up in most unusual places. When she takes up a cause, those who oppose her should be very careful indeed.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, this has been a wonderfully varied debate, culminating in the typically discursive speech of the old seafarer, the
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I was particularly struck, as I am sure all Members of your Lordships' House were, by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro. He is a distinguished surgeon and perhaps, more relevantly, a distinguished son of Achimota Hospital, which has sent distinguished Ghanaians around West Africa and beyond as the pioneer providing the new colonial experts from West Africa.
We owe a debt to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who has been a long-time campaigner for overseas territories. I was delighted that she mentioned the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the role that it plays in focusing our attention on the overseas territories. I note that at the current 60th Westminster Seminar on governance, parliamentary procedure and practice, of the 67 participants, 12 come from the overseas territories. That is so important in making these people, who are often from remote territories, walk tall in the world.
With regret, I note that there is often a prevailing attitude in this country to the overseas territories of ignorance and neglect. I am very ready to concede initially that that neglect did not begin at the time of the previous election, nor did the problems we have in looking to the future. Save at times of crises, there is little mention in the UK of the overseas territories. An exception was the interesting series of articles in the Times in November 2009 by Michael Binyon. About the overseas territories, he wrote:
The temptation in a debate of this nature is to give a Cook's tour of various overseas territories. I congratulate the noble Baroness on taking up several key themes, rather than taking us around places she has recently visited.
I shall concentrate on only a few reflections and will not mention all the overseas territories. How would one explain now to the man-perhaps one should say person-from Mars the nature of our overseas territories? In the old empire there were swathes of red all over the map. Now there are but pinpricks. One is struck by the fact of diversity in the fullest sense. Fourteen islands and territories are scattered around the globe, the only nexus being a fierce loyalty to the Crown as remnants of a once-proud empire and too small to be viable on their own. Some are large, some are small; some are constrained by old treaties such as Gibraltar and Utrecht; some are rich-indeed, Bermuda and the Caymans have among the highest GDP per head in the world-some are poor, such as St Helena and Pitcairn; and some are inhabited and some uninhabited, like the British Antarctic Territory mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and of course the Chagos Islands, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne.
Some of the territories have a recent history that makes us feel somewhat ashamed. There have been criticisms that we have not been as quick and ready to deal with the new Government of Anguilla as we should. We think also of the corruption scandals that have characterised the Turks and Caicos Islands in the recent past, the sex scandals affecting eight of the 50 or so inhabitants of Pitcairn, and the disgraceful attitude of this country towards the Îlois, the Chagossians. The noble Lord mentioned the Wikileaks material which showed a certain hypocrisy on the part of the then Government who talked about the marine protection area as if it had been devised for environmental reasons, but it seems that a key consideration was that it was a device for denying the Îlois the right of return. Before the election, the coalition partners were generous in their promises to the Îlois. One can cite statements made by both the current Foreign Minister and Nick Clegg, who said:
In replying, can the Minister say whether we intend to spend yet more taxpayers' money in opposing the application before the European Court of Human Rights? The coalition has called for a new approach to the overseas territories, saying that it regards them as assets and not liabilities. Obviously we need some indication of how this approach is intended to work.
My second reflection is this. Rather like the title of the film "The Empire Strikes Back", there are a number of problems left for London, along with a number of contingent liabilities. A 2007 National Audit Office report stated:
"Our overall conclusion is that since 1997, whilst progress has been made in managing and mitigating some risks; the degree of success in both individual Territories and across key risk areas has been mixed".
An earlier report from the Public Accounts Committee, published 12 years ago, pointed out the difficulties we faced as a result of our international responsibility for the territories in terms of social matters, the death penalty and so on.
Equally, there are the problems of financial regulation and the tax havens mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. The Cayman Islands is the largest centre for hedge funds. Gambling is becoming an increasing provider of employment on Gibraltar, as many companies move there from this country as a result of its favourable tax regime. Another general question in the report was: what was in the past a benefit to the UK in terms of trade routes but which perhaps is not a continuing benefit, what are the obligations to the territories which remain? These were covered generally in the NAO report. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, pointed out that the Government underwrote £160 million of bank loans to the Turks and Caicos Islands following the corruption scandal. What are the potential liabilities on the aid budget because that sum represents a substantial amount for each of the inhabitants?
In July, Ministers approved the use of aid funds for the construction of a long-promised airport on St Helena. I concede that it is a moral obligation, yet there has to be a question mark over the viability of the population of St Helena, particularly following the grant of citizenship in 2002. Swindon has benefited from the many Saints
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My final reflection is this. How stable and long-lasting is the current relationship? Each territory presents its own problems. Is there any vision on the part of this country, any overall plan for the next decade or two, to ensure that the territories will be assets and not liabilities? For example, will the relationship between the FCO and DfID concerning the overseas territories be the same? Do we assume that Bermuda, with its large and prosperous population, will remain an overseas territory for, say, the next decade? If Bermuda becomes independent, that would make the overall population substantially less than 200,000. Have we considered new options, such as the precedent of the French territoires d'outre mer and other interesting constitutional devices to give the overseas territories a greater voice here in Westminster? Why should not selected representatives of the territories sit in your Lordships' House? It would not be difficult and it would mean that the voice of the people of the overseas territories could be heard quite directly. France is able to benefit substantially from EU funds as a result of the DOMs and the TOMs, and equally through representation of French people from overseas in the French Parliament.
I turn to the position of Gibraltar and the Falklands, referred to so well by the distinguished former Governor of Gibraltar, the noble Lord, Lord Luce. We have successfully resisted pressure from neighbouring countries on both Gibraltar and the Falklands, and perhaps the lesson of 1981, in which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, played a distinguished part, is that we need to consult more closely with the inhabitants of those countries on any constitutional change. In Gibraltar, the Chief Minister has indeed made contact with the Spanish and recently sent up an interesting trial balloon by talking about a sort of Andorra solution for the future of Gibraltar. Can the noble Lord say whether Ministers are willing to give this a hearing or not?
On the Falklands, had there been someone from the islands here, no doubt they would have spoken rather more clearly about their vulnerability to defence cuts than the distinguished former military people who speak on their behalf. We recognise that relations between the Falkland Islands and this country are good, which was particularly evident at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council held last November. Like others, I shall raise three issues on behalf of the Falklands and the overseas territories.
Based on the fact of UK sovereignty and the need to boost the economy, the fees for Air Safety Support International, which has not been mentioned so far, have risen greatly. The Department of Transport is seeking to recoup higher fees from, for example, the Falklands, amounting to around £125,000. The impact of the air passenger duty has already been mentioned. It has a specific impact on the Falklands, because they fall into band D. Since last November, there has been
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Pension payments to UK citizens have been already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and others. Her Majesty's Government have already accepted the principle that there should be no discrimination in UK law in respect of fees to students from the overseas territories.
There is a need for some innovative thinking, a consideration of what it means for these territories to be assets, and a recognition that we cannot continue to stumble along with no fixed aim as we are doing currently.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, as one would expect in this House, this has been a dazzling debate full of expertise. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on instigating a valuable debate on the overseas territories. A lot has happened since the previous one in 2008 and it is certainly right that we should mobilise some of our collective expertise. It is right as well for the Government to make their comments, which I shall seek to do in a moment, on the overseas territories as a whole. I was particularly delighted to listen to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Ribeiro, who brings to this House, with his enormously distinguished record, great expertise and clarity. I shall comment on some of the things that he said as I go along, but I think that we are all extremely pleased that he has joined us and hope often to hear from him in the future.
The only way of tackling this vast range of subjects, issues and territories is for me to go through those subjects, issues and territories in turn and then to relate to noble Lords who have spoken on them as I go along. I may not succeed in 20 minutes in referring to every noble Lord; I may not succeed even in covering every one of the issues, although I shall have a very good try. I shall therefore proceed on a themed basis.
To reassert a point made by noble Lords, the Government are responsible for ensuring the security and good governance of the overseas territories and promoting the well-being of their inhabitants-that is not in question. We are talking about almost a quarter of a million people, most of whom are British citizens, and some of the smallest and most remote communities in the world. We have a responsibility to provide effective stewardship, even for our uninhabited territories-they include some of the world's most pristine and varied environmental assets, to which some of your Lordships have referred. We take these responsibilities extremely seriously and none of them should be underestimated. I do not deny that the territories create substantial challenges for the UK Government, but they also have the potential to offer common benefits for all. In our view, we need a vigilant and active approach to managing the risks and problems, especially at a time when a number of the territories have been extremely hard hit by the global recession and the shrinkage of trade, particularly tourism, in some areas. It is a broad and
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This Government have to some extent lived up to their responsibilities already-we have been office for some eight or nine months. In the strategic defence and security review, we identified defence as a core mission. We relaunched the air access project on St Helena and initiated the task of underpinning public finances in the Turks and Caicos Islands, to which I shall come in detail in a moment-a number of your Lordships rightly and unsurprisingly raised that issue. The Foreign Secretary commissioned a review of our policy towards the overseas territories, led by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Henry Bellingham, with a view to framing a new strategy to guide our relationship in the future and addressing some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly raised. Mr Bellingham has discussed aspects with ministerial colleagues and a range of interested organisations and individuals, including the leaders of the overseas territories. The Government intend to announce the conclusions of that review shortly. In the mean time, we have already announced, back in February, that the overseas territories programme fund will be raised by £7 million a year. By way of a further update, we have just announced additional funding to meet certain problems to which I shall again come in detail as I go along.
We continue to stand up for the Falkland Islands, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has just referred. We have no doubt about their sovereignty. The principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN charter underlies our position. There can be no negotiation on sovereignty unless and until the Falkland islanders so wish. Members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, have consistently made this clear. We are also wholeheartedly committed to the Falkland islanders' right to develop their economy, including a hydrocarbons industry within their waters. We are fully aware that Argentina's neighbours support its call for negotiation over the Falklands' sovereignty. That is nothing new; it just maintains endless persistence. We are in close touch with partners in the region. We are enhancing our relationship with Latin America through forthcoming high-level visits and engagement. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has been a tower of strength in developing those relationships. We will continue to defend robustly the Falkland islanders' right to self-determination and to develop their economy both in private, with partners, and publicly. I do not have anything to add at the moment on the detailed point about fees raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, but I shall look into it. If I obtain more detailed and useful information, I shall write to him.
I turn to the British Antarctic Territories-the order in which I address each territory is not a reflection of its importance; it is merely the order in which it was referred to in the debate-on which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, and others spoke with great expertise. We have a long-term, strategic, scientific, environmental and sustainable management interest in the Antarctic, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. These interests are linked to but in many cases distinct from the
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Perhaps I should say a little about our investment in Antarctic science. The particular issue is a matter for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I believe that detailed announcements will be made in due course. In general, the UK directly invests some £50 million a year. It is difficult to quantify the total investment, as there are many cross-cutting programmes and in practice a range of research council activities contribute directly to polar science. For example, the UK's European Space Agency subscription is about £48 million per annum and includes earth observation work. The main funding in the Antarctic is provided by the Natural Environment Research Council primarily for the British Antarctic Survey. Similarly, many UK universities are involved in Antarctic research. There are too many of them to mention individually. However, I should highlight Cambridge University's involvement, not least via its support for the Scott Polar Research Institute.
On Gibraltar, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, of course, was a distinguished governor and knows probably more than many people about the situation there. Again, the position is quite clear: the UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes. Furthermore, the UK will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. We will continue to stand up for Gibraltar's rights and interests, including in the European Union. We are fully committed to the trilateral process of dialogue, which has been working rather well between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar, and Spain and Gibraltar share our commitment. We hope that the trilateral forum will continue to make progress on enhancing co-operation for the benefit of all the people of Gibraltar and the surrounding area.
The Turks and Caicos Islands were mentioned by my noble friends Lord Jones, Lord Ribeiro, in his remarkable maiden speech, and Lord Selborne, and by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I shall spend several minutes on this matter because it is very important and I know that it concerns your Lordships considerably. We are determined to sort out the problems in the Turks and Caicos Islands and to put the islands back on the path to a sustainable future under a democratically elected Government. There are three main strands to what we are trying to do: rebuilding public finances; implementing systemic reforms, including a modified constitution; and ensuring that the special investigation and prosecution team can pursue its work.
The Minister of State at DfID announced in a Written Statement at the end of February that DfID has now finalised a loan guarantee to provide the
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I say to my noble friends that we do not want to postpone elections any longer than necessary, but they cannot be held this year. A joint FCO/DfID Written Ministerial Statement last September set out the milestones-I think that there has been reference to those because I have commented on this since-an assessment of which would need to be met before elections could take place. These milestones do not include everything that will have to be done before elections take place, but they are, in the Government's view, at this stage, minimum preconditions before the Turks and Caicos Islands can return to elected government. It is hoped that the milestones will be met in time for elections in 2012.
It is true that very recently there have been demonstrations in the Turks and Caicos Islands calling for a date to be set for the elections. One fully understands the pressure and concern and no one questions the right of everyone in the TCI to have the freedom to express their views, but I cannot condone the use of lawbreaking in support of freedom of expression. Such actions could easily deter future tourists and investors from visiting the islands and could have a disastrous effect on the islands' already fragile economy. The governor remains open to dialogue with responsible community representatives to discuss their concerns and I hope that the demonstrators will use this avenue to convey their grievances.
In addition, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has announced that he is approving a discretionary grant of £6.6 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands Government to reimburse the costs incurred in the past year pursuing corruption and violent crime. That is for the special investigation and prosecution team, for related civil recovery work and for the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police. Officials in the Foreign Office are co-ordinating this carefully with DfID's work to underpin the territory's finances. That is the scene on the Turks and Caicos Islands. If I had more time, I would go into more detail, but I have not.
I turn now to another issue that greatly concerns your Lordships, the British Indian Ocean Territory, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, my noble friend Lord Selborne and others have referred. Let me set out the position as we see it now. Successive Governments have expressed regret for the way in which the resettlement of the Chagossians was carried out in the late 1960s and 1970s. I repeat those regrets today and do not seek to justify many of the things that were done at the time. However, the UK courts have considered the
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The Chagossians have taken their case for resettlement and further compensation to the European Court of Human Rights, as we all know. The Government will continue to contest the case, as we believe that the reasons for not allowing resettlement on the grounds of feasibility and defence security are clear and compelling; nor do we see the case for paying further compensation, as it has already been paid in full and final settlement of all claims. Obviously, I and my colleagues fully understand the disappointment felt by Chagossians on hearing that the Government have decided not to change the fundamental policy on resettlement, compensation and the marine protected area, but I stress strongly that we are most keen to continue engaging with the Chagossian communities. The Minister for the Overseas Territories, Mr Bellingham, has already met Mr Olivier Bancoult and Mrs Sabrina Jean of the Chagos Refugee Group and Hengride Permal of the Chagos Islands Community Association to hear their concerns. Our high commissions in Port Louis and Victoria continue to meet Chagossian communities in Mauritius and the Seychelles, while officials from the BIOT Administration keep in touch with Chagossian communities in the UK.
We are looking at ways of mitigating the impact of our policy on the Chagossians through continuing to enable them to visit the territory and engage in humanitarian, cultural and environmental activities. We are arranging a further visit by Chagossians to the territory later this month and Mr Bellingham is very keen that such visits should continue. We want to involve the Chagossian communities in implementation of the marine protected area-although there is a certain difficulty, obviously, as the Chagossians are seeking annulment of the area in the UK courts-and we are seeking practical ways in which we can continue to help the Chagossian communities in Mauritius, Seychelles and this country.
I say finally on the issue that, while we have no doubts about the UK's sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, we value our bilateral relationship with Mauritius and would welcome a constructive dialogue with its Government on these issues. We will continue to look at this policy in detail and engage with all those with an interest.
I have a long list of many more other issues. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds raised the issue of tax havens and I have not commented on the Caribbean, which covers some of the same issues. We are working closely with these territories to stabilise public finances and to strengthen regulatory regimes, to help them to meet international tax transparency standards, which is very important, and to support them in longer-term economic planning.
I should like to spend more time on the Commonwealth but time does not allow. The case for full participation in all Commonwealth meetings is based on membership of the Commonwealth. Of course, the OTs are not strictly individual members of the Commonwealth, but they are associated. We are looking at ways to strengthen the links between the OTs and the Commonwealth.
On advanced passenger duty, the Government are exploring changes to the aviation tax system. Any major changes will be subject to consultation. On St Helena, the Secretary of State stated last July that we have made progress on a wide range of aspects. The invitation to tender has gone to bidders. Air Safety Support International has approved the use of engineered material arresting systems for the St Helena airport and the Secretary of State for International Development will consider issuing a further Statement when he is in a position to report on all the conditions that he set out in the July Statement. On Anguilla, we have accepted the package of measures and actioned the recommendations by the UK-funded experts to deliver the Chief Minister's commitment to balance Anguilla's overall budget by the beginning of 2013. I do not have time to cover offshore financial centres, but I have mentioned them in referring to the Caribbean.
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