Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC27

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC27

Grand Committee

Wednesday, 8 June 2011.

Arrangement of Business


3.45 pm

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale): My Lords, it has been agreed that should any of the Questions for short debate not run for their allotted hour this afternoon, the Committee will adjourn during pleasure until the end of the hour. Therefore, each of the Questions for short debate will start at a quarter to the relevant hour. In the likely event that there are Divisions in the Chamber, this Committee will stand adjourned for 10 minutes. If any noble Lord is in full flood at the time, they will of course be given injury time after the 10 minutes are up.

War Widows' Association of Great Britain

Question for Short Debate

3.46 pm

Asked by Viscount Younger of Leckie

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, this morning I attended a most moving and uplifting service in the Guards Chapel to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the War Widows' Association. Quite understandably, and quite rightly, much time is given in this country, in the way we do best, to remembering all those who we have served in the forces, those who have died and those who have been wounded-some very seriously. The service on this memorable day allowed time to reflect on a group no less important: those who are left bereft and devastated by the loss of loved ones serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force-the widows and widowers, of whom there are over 30,000 in the UK. It is therefore a great privilege for me to open this debate this afternoon on the association, which by happy coincidence-or by design, I am not sure which-falls on the same day as the service. It is the first debate in the House of Lords on this important subject, and it provides a good opportunity for me and for all speakers to help to raise the profile of the association, to assess its achievements and to set the stage for its future, looking forward to the next 40 years.

The term "war widows" is an evocative catchphrase and is a broad description, carrying considerable meaning, for an association that represents not just those women who have lost husbands in conflict but husbands who have lost wives. A loss can be the result not just of war in the Armed Forces but of general service, whether by accident, illness, of wounds suffered many years ago or indeed of friendly fire.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC28

The War Widows' Association, which gained charitable status in 1991 and has a strong regional network supported by a dedicated team of volunteers, has come to be recognised as the arms of embrace in waiting, after the immediate family, for comfort, support, understanding and camaraderie. The main event of the year is the AGM, staged over four days, when there are excursions, a dinner and some entertainment.

The War Widows' Association was formally recognised in 1972 under the formidable leadership of Mrs Jill Gee from Liverpool. This followed a high profile stand-off between another lady, a Mrs Laura Connolly, and the tax authorities, over her refusal to pay tax on her widows' pension. She had arrived from Australia, where there is 100 per cent exemption. Prison was threatened, but she succeeded in receiving important media coverage for the widows' cause. However, it was not until 1976 that the Labour Government cut the tax on widows' pensions by 50 per cent, and Mrs Thatcher in 1979 abolished the tax altogether.

In 1982, war widows were included for the first time in the remembrance service march past at the Cenotaph. This tradition is now a proud and important annual event for the association, and 2010 was no exception when the march was led by the president, my noble friend Lady Fookes. In 1989, another milestone was reached when the war widows were represented for the first time at the Royal British Legion remembrance service in the Royal Albert Hall. Further achievements included equal rights afforded to war widowers in 2003. Such national recognition has been hard fought. Most people would argue that the care, understanding and provision, material and financially, for war widows should be top of any national list and should be unconditional and total. This is surely true, but the reality is that improvements for war widows have often been halting over the years.

I welcome the work undertaken by this Government. On 16 May, the Armed Forces covenant was announced, and the sentiments are encouraging. I quote:

"The Government have no higher duty than the defence of the realm, and the nation has no greater obligation than to look after those who have served it".

The Statement said that the,

The covenant is a result of ideas drawn up by Professor Strachan, who reported last December and highlighted the need, inter alia, to introduce a community covenant for forging new links with and between the Armed Forces, local authorities and communities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said:

"The armed forces covenant is not just about words; it is about actions".-[Official Report, Commons, 16/5/11; col. 26.]

An external reference group has been established to monitor progress. We should expect such progress and actions to include the needs of those represented by the War Widows' Association. References in the paper are not obvious, but I welcome the introduction of scholarships for children of the bereaved service families. I ask my noble friend the Minister what specific plans there are for supporting war widows in the covenant.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC29

There are several further issues to raise. Following a bereavement, a widow is likely to experience extreme emotion from a broad range-shock, trauma, grief, denial, anger, loneliness and depression, to name a few. The Ministry of Defence and the three services handle with great sensitivity the immediate aftermath of loss. However, it can take much more time-if they wish it at all-for the bereaved to accept an invitation to join the War Widows' Association. Not least, many do not wish to be labelled a widow. Many do not even wish to venture out.

It is partly this challenge of engagement and a technical firewall created by the Data Protection Act that may explain why only 3,000 members are registered with the association out of a total of 30,600. It is therefore a circuitous process to transfer contact details of those recently widowed to the War Widows' Association, despite the fact that it represents a vital link in offering help from those who are best placed to help. Surely data protection laws can be bypassed to allow a near-seamless link to be made from the bereaved, via the Ministry of Defence bereavement services, to the association.

The opportunity for a widow to visit the grave of a spouse-a so-called pilgrimage-is vital. The Government have provided a one-off subsidy for those who wish to visit a grave. I ask my noble friend if it is the Government's intention to continue or to extend this provision.

The Government's announcement last year that pensions and benefits would in future be pegged to the consumer prices index, not to the retail prices index, has had a negative impact on vulnerable groups. To what extent are the Government considering exempting certain groups in the UK from this change, including widows of policemen, firemen and Armed Forces servicemen?

However, the overriding issue for war widows remains the receipt of a fair pension. This is as relevant now as it has been in the past in the light of the number of young widows arising from the prolonged and challenging war in Iraq and, of course, now in Afghanistan. There are two specific issues to address. From 2005, war widows whose bereavements occurred prior to April 1973 are eligible to continue to receive a pension if they remarry or cohabit. It was in 2005 that the Armed Forces compensation scheme was set up, with widows receiving a pension for life. However, payments are not retrospective. Thus, there is a group of widows, currently numbering 4,100, whose bereavements fall post-1973 and pre-2005 and who still lose their pension if they remarry or cohabit.

Finally, a government consultation paper proposes changes to the pension age-related increments awarded to war widows. This would include abolishing the increment at age 65, retaining those at age 70 and 80, but providing a final lump sum of £1,000 at age 90. The War Widows' Association rejects this proposal on the grounds that the award at age 90-more than 8,000 widows are nearing this milestone-is minimal and is more likely to be given away to grandchildren than to be used for necessity, such as funding future

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC30

care needs. I trust that under the auspices of the covenant these specific issues will be given due attention and acted upon.

The War Widows' Association has worked tirelessly to develop a strong national voice. It is clearly heard. Its objectives now should include recognition within the covenant, ensuring ease of contact with new widows and increasing membership from the current 10 per cent of total. This will help create more impact in seeking further government help for this determined, proud and resilient group. I wish the association every success.

3.55 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, for bringing this important issue forward for debate today, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the War Widows' Association. I declare an interest as the vice-president of the War Widows' Association, about which I feel extremely privileged and humble.

Debates are the bread and butter of what we are about in this House. Having been a Member for just under 20 years, I could never feel as privileged as I do today to be standing up and taking part in this debate. This morning, we had a very moving service at the Guards Chapel. It brought home to everyone there what amazing women are part of the War Widows' Association and how they have stuck together like glue. The saying "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" really applies to those ladies and, as the chaplain said, they know how to enjoy themselves as well. One of their great assets is that they have never portrayed themselves as victims-the majority were widowed during the Second World War-but they include among their ranks many younger widows because of recent operations. They portray themselves and act as proud individuals-proud of their spouses and what they did for their nation, and indeed for their paying the ultimate price. They are prepared to stand up and be counted and do what they can do to help each other. They have done that for many years, which is an enormous credit to them.

The widows have many ways of expressing that support for one another. This morning was one of them; the annual remembrance activities in London are another. They also have their annual get-together. I have been privileged to go to one or two-it is not just a day but several days. They all meet up, look after each other and catch up on news, too-that is very important. And then on the Saturday evening, when the hair comes down, the frocks go on and the band starts up, you really start to ask, "Are they really that old?". There is also the arboretum. The previous Government strongly supported the role of the War Widows' Association, and I am delighted to say that the current Government are building on that. We are privileged to have with us today the noble Lord, Lord Astor-without sparing his blushes. Along with his fellow Minister in the MoD who is responsible for veterans' issues, he is very committed to supporting what the war widows are doing.

The magazine Courage-a great title; it has been going for years-provides another way for them to keep in touch with each other. I was reading earlier

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC31

today a newsletter dating back to 1987. It talked about how you could win a Marks & Spencer's voucher for the ladies. Last year, the association was able to give one to each of its members.

The War Widows' Association is also a democratic organisation, having office and committee elections. It does that because it wants to try to make sure that it makes progress on behalf of the people whom it represents. That includes lobbying Parliament. This House has always given good support to the work that the War Widows' Association has done. We all remember Baroness Strange, who was a wonderful advocate of the association. In fact, it was through her that I got involved with speaking in the Chamber on issues affecting war widows. She was ably followed by the current president, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who was at the service this morning and who is present everywhere whenever there is an event. She gives marvellous representation for, and support to, this amazing organisation.

However, the work goes on and there is still a lot to achieve. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, mentioned the covenant. The legislation will be coming to the House of Lords in the coming months and I can assure the Minister-he would be disappointed if I did not-that we will be on our feet talking about issues affecting the war widows and making sure that they get their fair share of both representation and adjustments in the covenant where needed.

There is one area-the noble Viscount touched on it-that I would ask the Minister to address, if he can. It is a difficult area because of the legislation. The Data Protection Act is a barrier to reaching the newly widowed wives and husbands of serving personnel. We have to find a way around that because the law is being an ass in this case and bureaucracy is preventing us from giving the comfort and support that those women and men may well need.

As has been mentioned, the organisation started in 1971 and came out of the case of a war widow, Laura Connelly, who came back from Australia. At the service this morning the association prayer was sung-I do not intend to sing it, your Lordships will be relieved to know. It was written by a war widow, Mrs Kay Todd, and even today, 40 years later, it encompasses what the organisation is all about. It goes like this:

"We will recallOur yearly tribute placing The hopes and dreams that slowly had to fadeWe will go onThe lonely future facingKnowing too well the sacrifice you made.We will forget The loneliness and worryThe pain of parting and the tears we shedForget as wellThe aching and the longingKeeping our memories of the times we shared.We will rememberHead held high with prideWe will keep vigilWith our men who died".

The war widows have kept faith with that commitment.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC32

4.02 pm

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in introducing the debate, the noble Viscount has given us an opportunity to learn more about the development of the War Widows' Association of Great Britain since its inception in 1971 and to make some comments on the current situation.

Of course, 1971 was the year Laura Connelly returned from Australia, where the war widows' pension was tax free, only to find that her war widows' pension was taxed in the UK. She refused to pay the tax on her pension and was supported by 14 women who battled successfully to remove the burden of paying taxes on their pensions. A letter from Joyce Maxwell, one of the founder members of the association, allows us to see more of the story. She tells us of her anger at the removal of tax from her pension, which she characterises as,

which I think is a wonderful phrase.

Campaigning by the association has resulted in significant improvements in the situation: the removal of income tax from the war widows' pension; reinstatement of the pension to war widows on cessation of second or subsequent marriage; and retention of the MoD occupational pension on remarriage. However, it took many years of sustained campaigning to achieve this position. I do not think that the results that were achieved in those days reflected very well on society's attitude to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We hear a great deal about sacrifice at this and other times of the year-and it is a true sacrifice-but to make a kind of flowerpot out of it does not suit me very well.

Today, however, there are still financial problems to be faced by wives and families when husbands are killed or disabled-and, of course, large numbers of heavily disabled young men are now being returned from Afghanistan and other places. The widow may see a marked loss of income-this is quite common for women pensioners. SAGA evidence clearly demonstrates unfairness between men and women in general. In particular, SAGA has highlighted the fact that pensions are to be uplifted more rapidly for male than for female pensioners. This is despite the fact that women rely more heavily on the basic state pension as a result of having to do most of the childcare in the family.

Meanwhile, the armed services are being warned that they cannot be spared from government cuts leading to changes in military expenditure that could cost families thousands of pounds. Lobby groups and MPs are working to achieve a rethink. The Royal British Legion and the Forces Pension Society have given evidence to the effect that some forces families should be exempt from the payment of pensions. The expected change from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index will hit the military pensions hardest. That is especially true for widows and invalids.

Despite the splendid efforts of the War Widows' Association, we may still need to press for improved pensions for members of the armed services and their wives and partners. Therefore, while I pay tribute to

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC33

the tenacity of the association, it seems to me that this did not reflect well on society's attitudes to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Many people-the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, spoke about them-have put tremendous effort into supporting armed services personnel and their wives in trying to achieve the appropriate recompense for tragic circumstances, which they so thoroughly deserve.

4.06 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, on obtaining this debate. I was going to congratulate him on happily achieving it on the day of the service, but he modestly told me this morning that that was not necessarily so. However, I am extremely glad that we have this opportunity to pay tribute to the War Widows' Association on the very day that it held the moving service I was fortunate enough to attend.

I want to mention two things about that service. First, perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, the indefatigable president of the association, that she read Sir William Tyndall's timeless translation of "Corinthians" about charity quite beautifully. It is something that I shall never forget. Secondly, I was sitting alongside a window whose inauguration I shall also never forget. It is in commemoration of a young grenadier who was killed in Belfast in 1980 when he was commanding my SAS troop. I remember its unveiling and the dignity of his young wife widowed in the first year of marriage. It was moving to be sitting alongside that particular window.

Those of us who have had the privilege of serving in the Armed Forces have come across colleagues and friends who early in their career have left widows. I am extremely grateful that the noble Viscount mentioned the problems of those who risk losing their pension because of marrying and cohabiting. I remember two colleagues in particular. One was killed in Aden three weeks after leaving the staff college, where for a year we had lived opposite each other. He left a wife and two young children, who had the most terrible problems trying to look after them. Another was the widow of a colleague who died on Bloody Sunday, after being shot in Londonderry six months before. In order to be able to bring up her children, she could not afford to give up her widow's pension. It is timely to bring these things out.

I also warmly support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, about the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act. It seems quite wrong that the charities and others which are trying to help people are having difficulty obtaining information that will enable them to contact the people who need help. Something is wrong here and it needs to be put right.

I want to say a few words about the context of the Armed Forces covenant, which is totally new to me, because in all my service it did not exist; there was no such thing. Indeed, "Armed Forces covenant" is a very new phrase. A military covenant has been talked about in the Army for the past three or four years, but is unknown to and unrecognised by the Navy and the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC34

Royal Air Force. I do not wish to appear to carp, but I must admit that one word makes me slightly cross when I read the introduction to the thing. It talks about rebuilding the Armed Forces covenant, but we are not rebuilding anything; it has never been there before. "Rebuilding" defines something that has been bust and requires repair. What we actually require is a covenant to be built-to be made. It would be much more dignified if we dropped the word "rebuilding" and set about trying to develop the covenant as it ought to be.

I draw attention to one aspect of each of the three parts that illustrates what I mean. The Armed Forces covenant itself describes the levels of support on page 5. The greatest level of support is due to those who are "bereaved due to Service". That implies that the most should happen for them. However, the second document, The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow, far from listing all the support to bereaved families has two pages that are very largely given over to discussing what help they might need from the inquest advice service when they go to an inquest. I suggest that there is a disconnect here. I seriously believe that any support that needs to be given to bereaved families, who are listed right at the heart of the covenant, needs to be spelled out much more clearly.

Recommendation 4.3.2.d in the third document, The Government's Response to the Report of the Task Force on the Military Covenant, refers to,

I ask the Government whether, in close contact with the War Widows' Association, they could draw up a shopping list of what the association recognises to be the areas of greatest need, insert them into the covenant and then set out in the covenant that the Secretary of State should be required to report every year to Parliament on how that shopping list is being met. It seems to me that that would be the best way in which to repay the debt that we owe to these remarkable people, whose bravery and fortitude, frankly, I admire and am humbled by every day.

4.13 pm

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, my first duty is to declare an interest as the president of the War Widows' Association of Great Britain. However, it is not only my duty but my pleasure so to do, because I have found this one of the most rewarding tasks I have ever undertaken, and my admiration for these ladies and a few gentlemen knows no bounds.

Indeed, I am amazed when I look at the strength of the association now and remember the humble beginnings 40 years ago which other speakers today have already touched on. Sadly, most of those pioneering ladies have now gone, but I am delighted to name one, Mrs Kathy Woodside, who is alive and very much aware of the work of the association. She is a real pleasure. I spoke to her only today; she was at the service, at the reception and at the luncheon afterwards.

It has been a very hard road that they have had to travel. We have had some indications of their achievements so I will not rehearse them in a short speech. I stress that none of those various achievements over the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC35

years was brought about without a great deal of effort, work, disappointment or various authorities' obstinate refusal to listen. None of this has come easily-it has come very hard indeed. I hope that in more enlightened times it will be easier to get done the things that need to be done. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in principle I very much welcome the building of the covenant, of which he reminded us, but I am also aware of that old phrase, "Fine words butter no parsnips", and we shall want to see whether the fine words and aspirations actually come to anything in terms of deeds. I shall therefore look to my noble friend the Minister to see whether these fine words are actually translated into action. The War Widows' Association will be anxious to help in this regard and I hope it will be consulted.

The association operates at two distinct levels. One level that is important to this debate is what I call the campaigning arm, which tries to make things better and redress wrongs. In the course of doing so, it has also been very wise in making sure they have representation on all the various bodies that advise Governments or make their points. That is very important, and I hope that if ever a new body is created or some consultation has to take place, the War Widows' Association will always be at the forefront of those who are consulted. I make that as a general point since we do not quite know what the future may hold.

The other arm, which was already touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is the highly valuable social networking that goes on, including at the AGM which over the years has developed into a mini-holiday, which is absolutely splendid. I go each year for the full four days and I join in with everything. It is extremely worthwhile and enables anyone on the outside, as it were, to really get to know people, hear their stories-some of them almost unbearably moving-and to see how they can enjoy themselves. To see them dancing is quite something, and those who cannot dance sit there and tap their feet. It is a remarkable way of bringing people together who have suffered such losses.

I want to deal now with several issues of concern that have been touched upon this afternoon, and one that has not. One of these, of course, is the Data Protection Act. I make no apology for saying again that if ever the law of unintended consequences were working with an Act, it is this one. It is ludicrous beyond belief that the Act should stand in the way of the War Widows' Association making contact with women-or in some cases men-who have just had the most appalling experience of their lives and everything they hold dear being turned upside-down, or offering the comfort of those who have gone through exactly the same process. None of us who has not been through such a trauma and come out the other side is ever able to do that as well as someone who has. I am not sure what the way around this is, but I do believe that if there is a will there is a way. I strongly urge my noble friend the Minister to look at this again and to overcome any objections from those who think it is more important to have data protection than it is to help people.

I also want to touch upon the issue of the chief coroner. My noble friend the Minister will recall that

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC36

in the dying days of the previous Administration we asked, and got it put into a Bill, that there should be a chief coroner with a responsibility and a duty to make sure that those coroners looking at military inquests were fully prepared and trained, so that they understood the ethos and the particular circumstances in which people die in war and conflict. That office has been put on ice-that is probably the right expression-but I want to see that those duties are not forgotten while the office is not in existence. I end with that plea to my noble friend.

Finally, we are very fortunate in the association in having such an enthusiastic patron as His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who was present at the service today and took an immense amount of time to meet, I think, practically every war widow at the reception. We are indeed fortunate in that royal patronage. Who would have thought it when it started, 40 years ago?

4.21 pm

Lord Loomba: I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Leckie, for securing this debate. The issue of widows is very close to my heart. Before I start, let me declare my interest: I grew up as a widow's son. I set up a widows' charity in 1997 in this country in honour of my mother. It has now become a global charity, which was accredited by the United Nations in 2008. The issue of widows is global and the war widows are suffering so much that we should pay attention to their problems. My mother was not a war widow, as my father actually died of disease, but no matter how a woman loses her husband-through poverty, disease or conflict-her plight is exactly the same. She has to deal with the bereavement and financial insecurity in her life.

The emotional turmoil faced by widows after the loss of a spouse is not a sentiment which can be altered. However, financial provision for those widows and widowers who have lost spouses in the Armed Forces is a step towards helping them rebuild their lives and provide a positive future for their children. Members of the Armed Forces past and present placed their trust in the Government as they previously declared a commitment to preserve the military covenant, as we have heard earlier. Yet to state now that members of the Armed Forces need to understand they cannot be exempt from the big picture is degrading to those risking their lives every day, serving our country in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

It is understandable that temporary cuts need to be made in relation to the deficit. However, the long-term effect of losing hundreds of thousands of pounds will be felt by many widows for generations to come. It is unfair to make a decision hastily, especially in the case of widows. Treating people who work in the Armed Forces in the same way as those who work in the public sector is simply unacceptable and quite frankly it is an unfair proposal-not to mention the impact this decision will have upon the credibility of the Government.

The other issue is whether widows' pensions should be linked to the retail prices index or the consumer prices index. The Government are well within their rights to use either the CPI or RPI. However, we are

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC37

all aware that CPI inflation is significantly lower in comparison with that of the RPI; and that will result in hundreds of thousands of pounds being taken away from deserving widows. Furthermore, the proposal to discontinue a widow's pension if her partner died before 2005 and she wishes to remarry or cohabit with a new partner also cannot be dismissed. It is unjust to force a widow to choose between living alone with a pension or cohabiting with or marrying a new partner without the financial aid that they are accustomed to receive.

My charity, the Loomba Foundation, which works to raise awareness of the plight of widows around the world, gained support from the United Nations which, about six months ago, declared 23 June as International Widows Day. Perhaps I may add that on 23 June this year, the United Nations is hosting a conference at the UN to raise awareness of the plight of widows all around the world. There are war widows in every country. The number of widows who have lost their husbands through conflict is incredible. Recent research has shown that there are 245 million widows in the world. That is why the UN is taking up their case, and the British Government should also do so seriously.

We are aware that financial aid is not something that can erase the emotional and internal turmoil faced by widows, yet it permits widows to regain some independence and allows them to live out their lives with the dignity and respect they deserve. The War Widows' Association is supporting the unfortunate women whose husbands have fallen while fighting for our country. The association not only helps the bereaved to overcome loss and to resume a normal life, but works with the Government to ensure that the war widows receive the benefits and pensions to which they are entitled.

Widows suffer their own sorrows. We must do everything not to add to their suffering.

4.28 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Viscount for securing this timely debate. It was a real honour to attend the service at the Guards Chapel this morning to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the War Widows' Association of Great Britain. This remarkable association, now under the chairmanship of Mrs Rosalind Campbell, has achieved much since it was established and it is right that it now has proper recognition and a voice in all of the appropriate fora.

The aim of the association, to improve conditions for all war widows, is a noble aim and, sadly for a civilised nation in the 21st century, still they have to do battle. However, the members of the association are passionate and resilient; they inspire and give hope to one another and to tomorrow's war widows. When their brave and patriotic husbands were alive, before they had given their precious lives for our country, life was already challenging for these women. I used the term "husbands", but I am aware and delighted that in 2002, war widowers were officially recognised by the Government and are entitled to be full members of the association. The widows and widowers were the ones

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC38

who had to care for the children as single parents for great stretches of time. They had to manage the household and juggle finances and commitments-all the time worried about the safety of their loved one. The death of a partner is always painful, but the death of a partner on active service must increase the pain. We, as individuals and as a society, owe these widows and widowers a great deal. Their partners paid the ultimate sacrifice.

While saluting the work of the association and the courage and tenacity of the widows, I, too, have some questions to put to the Minister. First, I associate myself with the concerns already expressed about the retention of pensions for those war widows or widowers who remarry. It is wonderful that some whose spouses have died find a new loving relationship and, as someone who values the institution of marriage, I can understand why they would wish to remarry. It is wrong if this decision is coloured by the consideration of the loss of a pension.

Secondly, while acknowledging the need for restraint in public as well as private sector pay and pensions, I simply do not understand why the decision was taken to reduce the value of pensions for soldiers and war widows. By linking forces' pension rises to CPI rather than RPI, members of the Armed Forces and their loved ones will see their pensions reduced for the rest of their lives. It cannot be right that the men and women who give their limbs and their lives for our country, and the families that they leave behind, should suffer in such a way. We are told that these measures are necessary in order to reduce the deficit, but the deficit is temporary while the impact on war widows will be felt for the rest of their lives.

Finally, I come to the issue of the Government's plans to abolish the post of the chief coroner, already raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. As noble Lords will be aware, we had major debates on this issue during the passage of the Public Bodies Bill. With the strong support of the Royal British Legion, we secured an amendment to the Bill which reversed the decision of the Government. This was an important step for many in our society who had made the argument for years in favour of a chief coroner's office and who were devastated to learn of the Government's plan to abolish it. It was especially important for bereaved Armed Forces families who have first-hand knowledge of the difficulties currently faced through the Independent Inquest Advice Service. The Government's arguments in favour of abolition were based on cost and accountability, but these were comprehensively rebutted in the House of Lords by many noble Lords who are in this Room today.

I have heard from various sources that during the passage of the Public Bodies Bill in the Commons the Government intend to introduce an amendment securing the abolition of the office of the chief coroner, precisely overturning what was decided in the Lords. This would not only fly in the face of the very substantial vote in this House, where the amendment was agreed by 277 votes to 165, to preserve the office of the chief coroner, but also be a huge disservice to the Royal British Legion and to the War Widows' Association, which rightly believe that the role of chief coroner is vital to ensuring

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC39

that bereaved service families receive the help they deserve when the deaths of their loved ones are investigated. I ask for an assurance from the Minister that the Government will not seek to counter their wishes. I also warmly support the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in respect of the covenant and reports to Parliament.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting the partners of many who are bravely serving our country. It is possible that some of them will now be widows or widowers. I owe it to them, to my Aunt Jean who has been a war widow for many years and to the thousands of others whom I have not met to do everything possible to support the association. It is a privilege and an honour to do so, and I wish it continued success.

4.33 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already offered to my noble friend on securing this debate on the very important work of the War Widows' Association. It is clear that the whole House recognises the importance which we as a nation must continue to attach to supporting grieving families. The pain of losing a loved one is lifelong, and many take great comfort from others who have had similar experiences. I pay tribute to them all, and I am very honoured to take part in this debate today.

Like the Government of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, I and my fellow Ministers will do all we can to support the very important work of the War Widows' Association. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Fookes, who spoke with the authority that one would expect of a president of the War Widows' Association. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, as a vice-president, spoke in an equally informed manner. With their combined knowledge and support, the association is very well represented in this House.

Like many organisations, the War Widows' Association of Great Britain was founded out of conflict. When Laura Connelly read an article in a newspaper in 1971 highlighting the plight of Britain's war widows and decided that action must be taken, she could not have foreseen the impact that her stand would have on the future policies of all Governments of this country. Her endeavours have been carried on by the association's 13 chairmen. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their tireless work on behalf of their members, and to welcome Mrs Rosalind Campbell as the association's newest chairman. I am sure that she will continue the great work of her predecessors.

Only those who have suffered the sudden loss of a loved one can truly appreciate the hole that this leaves and the unexpected problems that can arise as they try to rebuild their lives. Today's war widows are no longer the stereotypes that we remember from the war-though their numbers are still significant-but are much younger and often with young children. Of course, this is extended to include widowers and civil partners who must not be forgotten. They have very specific needs of their own, and we have an obligation to do all we can to meet them.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC40

Our Armed Forces are currently deployed to the most demanding areas of conflict in Afghanistan. They are performing magnificently. Together with our allies, they are reversing the momentum of the Taleban. But, sadly, tragedy does occur. We will do all we can to support a family and help them through these difficult times. But we recognise that we cannot do everything, which is why we partner with charities and other organisations to deliver a full range of support. For example, the willingness of the War Widows' Association to adapt to the different challenges facing our war widows must be applauded. I know that its role in shaping recent Ministry of Defence policy, its work with the previous Government on the Service Personnel and Command Paper, and its input into the review of the Armed Forces compensation scheme by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, was valued and appreciated. It can be rightly proud of its achievements. Its contribution to the review has ensured that the partners and dependants of those tragically killed received payments of hundreds of thousands of pounds over their lifetime in the shape of the survivors guaranteed income payment. While we understand that this will never replace a loved one, it does help to ensure that life can be made more comfortable and the future more secure.

This Government are rightly proud of the work we are doing to build the Armed Forces covenant, mentioned by several noble Lords. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about "rebuild". On 16 May, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced the publication of a covenant and outlined how, with the passing of the Armed Forces Bill-due to be debated in your Lordships' House soon-he will be required to report annually on how the Government are performing against the measures we are committed to put in place. In doing so, he will be able to call on members of the external reference group, on which the War Widows' Association is represented. I am particularly pleased that it is at the heart of holding the Government to account. I will take back to my department the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the association's shopping list as it is an excellent suggestion.

I know that an area in which the War Widows' Association shows great interest is coroners' inquests and ensuring that improvements to the system continue to be made. That was raised by several noble Lords.

A Ministry of Defence familiarisation event was held last May to provide coroners with awareness of the equipment and procedures used in theatre. We intend to repeat this event annually. Induction and continuation training for coroners and their deputies-this relates to the question asked by my noble friend Lady Fookes-will also continue and the Ministry of Justice Coroners Training Group is planning training for the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked whether the chief coroner's position would be abolished. I have no brief on this today but I undertake to write to the noble Baroness and to put a copy in the Library.

Support is made available to bereaved families before, during and after an inquest, and families are kept fully informed of preparations through dedicated single

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC41

service teams. We also make funding available for the attendance by three family members at inquests into deaths deemed attributable to service. We have produced a DVD to try to improve the understanding of what to expect from and at an inquest and to make the whole process less daunting and stressful. I would like to assure all service widows that the interests of bereaved families will remain at the heart of any legislative changes.

The Government are aware of the need to ensure that families receive appropriate support, especially during the most difficult times. Each of the services offers ongoing practical support for the next of kin of the deceased. However, while each service provides its own support networks, sometimes the best and most valuable support can come from those who have endured a similar situation and a tragic loss. That is why the Government and the House recognise and appreciate the invaluable support of the War Widows' Association over the past 40 years and the vital role it will play for many years to come.

I have answered one or two noble Lords' questions and I shall do my best to answer the others. If I do not, I undertake to write.

My noble friends Lord Younger and Lord Loomba asked what we were going to do about the widows who lose their pension because they fall into the gap between 1973 and 2005. I know that the area of pension provision for widows is one of the association's top priorities. However, it must be remembered that it is a general principle of public service pension policy-one that has been upheld by successive Governments-that improvements to pension schemes should not be made retrospective. The issues raised by service widows are not limited only to the Armed Forces but are common to other public service schemes which have similar provisions.

Resolving legacy issues across the wider public sector would be extremely costly, with estimates running into hundreds of millions of pounds. However, in some specific circumstances-often at the behest of the War Widows' Association-we have been able to make changes, and where it is possible we will of course continue to do so.

My noble friends Lord Younger and Lady Fookes, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised issues about data protection. I can confirm that my department would welcome any suggestions on this issue from the War Widows' Association. On the data protection issue, a dedicated visiting officer will work very closely with the bereaved family and will assist in making pension and compensation claims. As part of that process, a widow will be invited to give her permission for her details to be released to the War Widows' Association. In addition, the association is brought to the attention of a bereaved family through a variety of means. We believe that these steps give the association visibility to those who most require its help.

I have run out of time. My noble friend asked about visits to graves and I can confirm that visits to graves will be continued.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC42

Migrant Domestic Workers

Question for Short Debate

4.45 pm

Asked by Baroness Cox

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords speaking in this debate today on a subject that demands our attention both for the heart-rending predicament of many domestic migrant workers and for the urgent need for action to remedy the situation, which renders them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In addition to those who will be speaking, there are colleagues who cannot be here but who share our concern. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, has especially asked me to say that she much regrets not being able to participate in the debate.

My first awareness of this very disturbing situation came from meeting Mende, a young girl from Sudan who had escaped from the Sudanese embassy. She had been abducted into slavery from her home village in the Nuba mountains in Sudan in a raid typical of many that I encountered there during the war that raged until the peace agreement was signed in 2005. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been captured and sold into slavery there; we had the opportunity to rescue many hundreds, and their stories were heart-breaking in the details of the cruelty inflicted on them.

Mende's story was no exception. After being captured, she was forced to work as a slave in a diplomat's house in Khartoum and then brought to London to continue her servitude here. She managed to escape, and it was my privilege to do a little to support her as she tried to find freedom in this country. Her story is recorded in the very moving book entitled Slave: The True Story of a Girl's Lost Childhood and Her Fight for Survival.

In preparing for today's debate, I have been grateful for excellent briefings, including those from Anti-Slavery International and from Kalayaan-justice for migrant domestic workers. The debate is particularly timely, because this month the International Labour Organisation is celebrating its 100th anniversary. As we meet here today the ILO is meeting in Geneva, working on standard-setting in relation to decent work for domestic workers, with the intention of adopting a new international convention on domestic work by the end of the month. This represents an historic opportunity to provide greater international protection for domestic workers and highlights the ILO's recognition of the critical need to do so.

Domestic work is generally poorly regulated and undervalued. Many domestic workers are subject to serious abuses, which often include forced labour and slavery. They frequently work excessively long hours, without breaks, days off or holidays. The pay is often very low, and wages are frequently delayed. Some are not paid at all, or only receive payment in kind, such as food or accommodation. Many also suffer verbal

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC43

abuse such as insults and threats, as well as physical and even sexual abuse. Some experience a lack of food and poor living conditions, such as having to sleep on the floor in a utility room.

Many migrant domestic workers often make great sacrifices to live away from their families to earn money for their dependants back home. Their exploitation by unscrupulous employers renders their sacrifice doubly painful; the sadness of poignant separation is exacerbated by denial of appropriate remuneration to send home. In the UK in 2009, 14,898 migrant domestic work visas were granted. Also, in the UK in 2009, the group Justice for Domestic Workers interviewed 111 of its members and found that over 50 per cent of them were expected to work over 55 hours a week and 95 per cent of them were not paid even the minimum wage. Almost half had not had a paid holiday in a year.

Domestic workers are exploited behind closed doors in private households and therefore fall outside the normal regulatory and inspection framework applicable to other places of work. They are especially vulnerable when working in residences of foreign diplomats, who can use diplomatic immunity to prevent scrutiny. While welcoming the fact that UK migrant domestic workers have access to visas in their own right, I must say that some employers keep control of their passports, denying them access to the papers needed to seek alternative employment without fear of deportation.

Real-life stories illustrate the suffering behind the statistics. I have time for only two, but they are sadly typical of countless others. The first is about the plight of a sub-Saharan African woman trafficked by a diplomat from her own country. In the UK he withheld her passport. Whenever she asked about it he became angry. Twice she was severely beaten. She was refused medical care. The employer told her that in the UK he was extremely powerful in their community. He also refused to allow her to call home on the grounds of expense. She was not paid any salary. She believed the diplomat was claiming an allowance for her work because she was told what to say if the office ever telephoned and asked her about her work there. She worked for 15 hours a day, sometimes more. At one point she became so disillusioned at how bad her life was here that she asked to go home. The diplomat said she could not leave until his family did. He told her if she tried to go home without his permission he would cause serious trouble for her family. She had been too scared to approach the authorities and had been living in fear.

The second story is in the words of the domestic worker herself:

"At first I was really excited to move to London and work for an African diplomat and his wife. The plan was that I would live with the family and be a nanny to their young son. I hoped to learn English and I thought I could earn enough money so that when I go home I could study. I moved to London with the diplomat a couple of weeks before his wife and child arrived. I quickly realised I had made a terrible mistake. From the very first day I was treated like a slave. It immediately became clear he wanted more from me than just to look after his son. He sexually molested me and would become angry when I refused his advances. Life became even worse when the diplomat's wife arrived. I was forced to work 17 hours a day, doing all the cooking, cleaning, nanny work, never allowed a day off. The wife would get violent and throw things at me as well as shouting at me. I was completely trapped like this for six months. One day the diplomat was drunk

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC44

and furious. He became really violent, threw me against a wall and started bashing my head against the front door. I was so scared I knew I had to escape. I ran into the street. I didn't know anybody, didn't have any identity documents, no money. I was crying uncontrollably and bleeding from my head. I was lucky that a man who spoke my language spotted me. He took me to the police to report what had happened. They sent me to the hospital and Kalayaan agreed to help me seek justice ... Seeking justice comes at a price. The diplomat and his wife are connected and I knew after making the allegations against them my life would be in danger back in my home country, so I applied for asylum in the United Kingdom".

What should be done to remedy such problems? In 2010 the ILO voted by a comfortable majority to adopt a binding convention, supplemented by a recommendation, recognising the urgent need to protect this vulnerable category of workers. Although the UK did not vote in favour of having only a recommendation, it has maintained its initial reservations about the need for a convention. In the latest round of tripartite consultation, the UK found itself quite isolated on the international scene in its official response. Despite recognising that domestic workers are undoubtedly a vulnerable class of worker who require particular attention, it did not express its support for a strong convention and invoked legal exemptions in relation to the labour rights of domestic workers.

The Government are objecting, inter alia, to the regulation of domestic workers' rights to working time and occupational safety and health. The Government stated that the working time regulations do not apply to domestic workers, making it clear that they want to exclude them from the protection they need and which the overwhelming majority of other workers enjoy. Anti-Slavery International is concerned that the UK is considering maintaining its position by invoking a number of possible exemptions to the EU working time directive. The regulation of working hours of domestic workers, especially those living in with their employer, is at the core of what this international standard has set to achieve: that is, to redress the legal gap that leads to so many abuses of domestic workers' rights. May I ask the Minister if Her Majesty's Government is reconsidering their position so as to enable working hours for domestic workers to be regulated in ways comparable to those of other workers?

The UK Government have also raised their opposition to Article 13 of the draft convention, invoking the exemption allowed by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in relation to domestic workers. Domestic workers often incur burns, cuts and exposure to hazards from handling toxic and boiling liquids and lifting heavy loads. Surely they should benefit from the same protection in their workplace as other workers do. Will Her Majesty's Government discontinue their policy of applying exemptions regarding core labour rights for domestic workers to ensure that they work under health and safety circumstances in the home?

I have two more specific questions for the Minister. Are Her Majesty's Government considering extending the right to change employers to domestic workers in diplomatic households, and is the Minister aware of the recent report, Ending the Abuse: Policies that Work to Protect Migrant Domestic Workers, by the charity Kalayaan? It gives support services to these workers, including victims of trafficking. Will the department be considering its recommendations?

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC45

I conclude by asking whether Her Majesty's Government will take a leadership role during these weeks in Geneva and join the wider international community, employers and trade unionists to demonstrate that we will no longer turn a blind eye to the maltreatment of vulnerable domestic workers. Many of them are paying a high price for a better future for their children. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure your Lordships that we will support and protect them in their endeavours.

4.56 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for securing this debate. She works tirelessly to secure the rights and liberties of disadvantaged people in many parts of the world, and I am delighted that this time she has drawn attention to the plight of domestic migrant workers. This debate is timely; the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations agency that concentrates on labour rights, draws its strength from having national Governments, workers and employers participate in its decision-making process and, as part of its international conventions on slavery, a new international convention on domestic workers worldwide is likely to be adopted shortly. We want to ensure that our Government are a signatory to this and, more importantly, that they have policies and procedures in place to ensure that we give real meaning to such a convention.

I thank Anti-Slavery International and Kalayaan, as the noble Baroness has done, for the briefing material that they have supplied. I urge the Minister to study their publications, which identify policies that work to protect migrant domestic workers. Their research was undertaken to inform the current Government in their review on the domestic workers' visa. Kalayaan submitted a research report in March 2011 to the government team conducting the review. The UK Border Agency has said that the review will not be a public consultation, but I hope that it takes a serious look at it and at today's debate. In the mean time, I ask the Minister for the exact timescale of this review and whether she will publish the ultimate article when it is completed.

We in this country have been pioneers in promoting legislation on human rights and equality, which has served us well. It is no surprise that other countries have followed our example. Those of us who have read cases highlighted in the media and taken up cases with the Government can vouch for the fact that domestic work is poorly regulated and that inadequate legal protection is afforded to workers. Some basic human rights are denied. The predominant groups are women and girls, who are most vulnerable to abuse. Poverty compels vulnerable people to accept jobs where basic rights are denied. In many cases, the circumstances and conditions of their employment amount to forced labour. I have come across cases in which women have been forbidden to leave the home where they are working. Violent threats have become an everyday reality and their passports are withheld by their employers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said. Add to that the other ingredients that make their lives a living hell.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC46

The job offer often bears no reality to the actual tasks they have to perform. Often, transportation and living costs are deducted from their wages, making it almost impossible to sustain a normal lifestyle. The worst cases are those in some diplomatic households. Domestic workers are not afforded adequate protection from exploitation and do not have the right to change employers. They are most vulnerable when fleeing from abusive employers.

Of course we can and should take action when such practices are exposed. Should we not seriously consider a domestic worker's right to change employment in a diplomatic household? When visa applications have been made, should we not supply applicants with information about their rights and responsibilities? We should also mention who to approach when employment conditions are breached. I know that we are treading on sensitivity when dealing with overseas missions enjoying diplomatic immunity, but surely if the ILO convention on decent work for domestic workers is ratified, it will put such missions to shame, and rightly so.

We also need to pay special attention to our own immigration rules. Migrant domestic workers are dependent on their employers for their work and accommodation. There is no oversight of what happens in the private household, which is almost always invisible. A comparison with forced marriage is appropriate. None of us was aware of the size of the problem until recently, and now we have adequate machinery to ensure that victims receive all the help both here and at British high commissions abroad. I was a member of the first working party established by the Home Office, and I am glad to say that good practices have followed.

Surely it is possible to monitor visa conditions on a small sample of domestic workers without the presence of their employers. The number of migrant domestic workers entering the UK is estimated at nearly 15,000. This is not a small number, and I accept that in many cases the relationship between the worker and their employer is sound, but it is rogue employers that we are after. We need to pay particular attention to child labour. Children are the most vulnerable to slavery.

There is evidence at an international level that many who are separated from their families are inherently easier to coerce and control. An ugly feature here is that some are trafficked, while others are bonded labour forced to work to pay off debts that their parents have accrued.

I started by saying that a new international convention on domestic workers is likely to be adopted shortly. This will set out the employment rights of this category of people. As the Minister knows, all countries that ratify the convention will have a legal obligation to ensure that these rights are granted. I want our Government not only to support the convention but to take a lead in its implementation. We must move away from the notion that it is only informal labour and not proper work. We must ensure that domestic migrant workers have the rights and liberties that other workers enjoy. We must strengthen our existing legislation, including the Race Relations Act, to ensure that no exceptions are made in the employment of such workers. We must not underestimate the role that trade unions can play. In the final analysis, let us work

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC47

towards a society where individuals' human rights are upheld. In many cases, domestic migrant workers have lost almost everything. They are right at the bottom of the ladder. Let us not strip them of their dignity as well.

5.03 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, first, I welcome the Minister to our debate on immigration, which again includes some of the usual suspects. Thanks are also due to my noble friend for introducing this debate with her characteristic and well-known enthusiasm for human rights and justice. I also thank my noble friend Lady Young, who takes a lot of interest in this subject but who was unable to be here today. She initiated the longer series of discussions that led to this short debate. Some of us have benefited from the advice given by at least two specialised voluntary agencies working in London and alongside the ILO in Geneva.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, the principal purpose of today's debate is to encourage Her Majesty's Government, and the noble Baroness in particular, to support and ratify the new ILO convention on decent work for migrant domestic workers. The term "decent" work for domestic workers was unfamiliar to me, but its purpose seems clear. It is spelt out in Article 5 as being fair terms of employment, decent working conditions and decent living conditions.

The convention recognises that many domestic workers are migrants or members of historically disadvantaged communities and are therefore especially vulnerable. As a former Anti-Slavery International council member I have spoken more than once in the past on behalf of these workers, and I have had to inform the House of some almost desperate cases reported by them or by Kalayaan, the campaigning agency that works most closely with them. We heard about some of these cases from the noble Baroness.

I have worked with a number of voluntary organisations, but I especially admire the style, focus and balance displayed by Kalayaan in its commitment over many years to this important element of our workforce. Kalayaan's research shows that nearly two-thirds of migrant domestic workers surveyed over the three years to last December had to work seven days a week without a significant break. That testimony in itself shows the degree of unseen exploitation of these workers. Then you learn from the survey that about the same number had their passports withheld, and nearly as many were psychologically abused and were paid only £50 a week or less. These are scandalous figures, which have not improved since we last debated this subject.

It might be assumed, in the present climate of reducing the rate of immigration, that these migrants are seeking asylum. In fact, only a very small number-less than 5 per cent-are able or willing to settle in the UK. The vast majority wish to return home. Yet they could be targeted under new immigration rules so that even this number may not be awarded an ODW visa in the future. This visa, apart from giving them the temporary permission to stay, also protects the worker's right to change employer in the case of exploitation or abuse. The removal of this right could only add to their sense of insecurity.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC48

The visa has been described by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in its report on human trafficking as,

It provides them with a recognised immigration status and ensures that they are recognised as workers and protected by UK employment law. Can the noble Baroness assure us that there will be no reduction in the numbers currently protected by the ODW visa?

I have read through the detailed comments of Anti-Slavery International on the draft convention. One of these deals with the old dilemma of international development specialists: child protection and the right to work. Provided that young people are not working in exploitative or hazardous conditions, they should be allowed to earn money as domestic workers provided they are below the minimum age for compulsory education. In other words, education is not automatically the best place for a child unless the state has made it compulsory. This seems to be the argument of Anti-Slavery International in amending Article 4.2 of the draft convention, and I support it.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned, another concern to ASI has been Article 10 on working time. The UK apparently wants to exclude domestic workers from this protection because it believes that the nature of domestic work makes it impossible to regulate and it has enshrined its objection in the EU directive on working time.

As has been mentioned, discussions about the convention are going on in Geneva. I understand that two days ago the United Kingdom, along with other EU member states, sought to weaken the protection offered by Article 10 and the result has been new wording that states,

instead of simply "to ensure equal treatment".

I understand that this is not the only example of the UK watering down some of the wording in the convention. It seems, for example, that we were the only country to express our opposition to Article 13 on occupational health and safety. Do the Government, who ostensibly support the convention, really want to be seen as the only one unwilling to ensure that domestic workers are protected against hazards and accidents at work? It would seem so.

This coalition Government have already taken the lead in many initiatives in international development in this first year, both in Europe and elsewhere, and have been able to change their mind, most notably on the recent opt-in to the trafficking directive, which will be greatly welcomed. However, it is a major concern to the rest of the world that the EU as a bloc has put on the brakes and subscribed to more than 100 amendments to the text of this convention alone. I therefore very much hope that the Minister, having heard the various comments today, will confirm that from now on she will at least speak to the UK team in Geneva and persuade it to take a more positive direction.

5.10 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I join in the congratulations that have been expressed by others to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who not for the first time has raised the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC49

issue of rights for migrant domestic workers, as have my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, in previous debates. This problem goes back a long way, as noble Lords can see from the fact that Kalayaan, which has been quoted by everybody who has spoken so far, goes back for more than 20 years. In fact, its briefing quotes from a debate we had on the subject in 1990, by no means the first of its kind, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to whose determination and persistence we should pay tribute.

Throughout the whole of the two decades, the abuse of foreign workers has followed a similar pattern to the description by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton: there are no written contracts of employment or contracts are arbitrarily changed, and wages are often withheld or paid in kind. Then there is compulsion to work excessive hours; inadequate food; denial of privacy; denial of access to friends or often to the outside world; and, in extreme cases, physical attacks, sexual abuse, and credible threats of violence. These things are still with us.

It is true that Kalayaan statistics comparing 1,000 MDWs in a survey done in 1996 with the workers registered with the organisation in 2010 shows some improvement, but from a totally unacceptable baseline. In the earlier year, 100 per cent were being made to work for 17 hours a day, while last year nearly half had to work 16 hours or more. In 1996, 38 per cent were not given enough to eat, compared with 26 per cent in 2010. The only statistic that got worse in those two years was that employers are now withholding the passports of nearly two-thirds of MDWs, compared with 62 per cent in 1996. The ability of the MDW to change employers and in 2008, the extension to MDWs of official status as workers under the points-based system, for which Kalayaan must be given a lot of the credit, should make a big difference in the longer term, but we need to know why a substantial proportion of employers are still ignoring their obligations.

Should not there be a provision in the rules that when an employer is found to have committed serious abuse of an MDW by the employment tribunal, his right to employ MDWs should be suspended for a period to be decided by the tribunal? The Kalayaan statistics on tribunal cases demonstrate that all too many employers are unfit to be given the power over the lives of domestic workers that allows them to break the law with impunity. While two-thirds of those registered with Kalayaan were made to work seven days a week with no time off, for instance, only 14 such cases were reported to the tribunal, so there is still a huge penumbra of abuse which the oppressors successfully conceal. The threat of not being allowed to have domestic servants might be an effective deterrent to the widespread defiance of the law that is continuing.

Another possible way of improving compliance would be to produce an explanatory leaflet in the principal languages of MDWs, and hand it to employers and MDWs at the port of entry. It is all there on the UKBA website, but I doubt whether many of the workers have access to the internet or have adequate knowledge of English to understand that advice.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC50

The treatment of some MDWs equates to trafficking for domestic servitude, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, demonstrated, and these cases are brought to the attention of the national referral mechanism, established in 2009 following the Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Up to the end of last year there were 175 adult referrals under the domestic servitude heading, of which 55 were from Kalayaan. Could the Minister give us a breakdown of the agencies that reported the other 120 cases?

What is revealed in the statistics is that 246 of the NRM referrals were of children, of which 104 led to conclusive grounds decisions-a really shocking picture, particularly when you consider the difficulty and danger for a person making the initial complaint while still under the roof of the oppressor. What happens when it is first established that the referral is of a child, bearing in mind that the average time taken to reach a conclusive decision is 190 days, compared with the 45 days reflection period? One would expect that the child would be removed from the employer and fostered pending the NRM decision, but suppose the employer claims to be a close relative, as in the case of Victoria Climbié, for instance. Do we ever allow children to enter the UK now with a person who claims to be a relative but not a parent? Does the NRM refer all the cases reported to it of children to the UKBA with a view to checking on their immigration status? The children obviously did not qualify for admission under the overseas domestic worker regime, first introduced in 1998 and now part of the immigration rules. But one reason given by abused workers for not agreeing to be referred to the NRM is that it would lead to excessive focus on their immigration status. This means that the NRM statistics are the tip of the iceberg, because only those who entered legally as ODWs are likely to register. With an ODW visa, the migrant is free to change employer and frequently does so with minimum support. For the undocumented, Kalayaan recommends the issue of a three-month bridging visa to enable the exploited MDW to find new employment and to apply for an ODW visa, paying tax and national insurance, and eliminating the expense of treating the victim as an illegal entrant.

Finally, I turn to the knotty question of MDWs brought here by diplomats, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. These workers are not allowed to switch to another employer without losing their immigration status, and the employer's immunity means that although the levels of abuse and exploitation in diplomatic households are similar to those in private households, the FCO does not ask to be informed of trafficking cases identified by the NRM, which itself is a woefully incomplete record. The Austrian Government interview diplomatic MDWs annually, and it would be useful to know how many cases of abuse are thereby uncovered. Does my noble friend think we should have a similar procedure, or better still, that it should be made part of European law?

The annual interview could be an important tool for uncovering abuse throughout the whole of the MDW population. To minimise the bureaucracy involved, the employer could be obliged to complete a form detailing the hours of work and hourly pay; the additional hours the worker is expected to be on standby and the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC51

hourly rate for those hours; the details of rest breaks, days off and annual holidays; and the details of tax deducted and national insurance contributions paid. This form should be countersigned by the worker as correct, and it should be available for rechecking at the annual interview. When the worker is said to be treated as part of the family, and to be covered by the family worker exemption, this should be clearly specified, but Kalayaan recommends that the statutory minimum wage should apply to these workers as to all others. Seeing that half of all MDWs are paid less than the minimum wage, it seems likely that the exemption has been widely abused.

The Kalayaan report is a competent and thorough piece of work, and its recommendations demand well considered replies from the Government. In the quarter of a century since the abuse of domestic workers from overseas first became a subject of concern to your Lordships, there have been several attempts at reform, but the extent and nature of the problem has remained the same. It is intolerable and unthinkable that we should fail to act against the criminal employers who treat vulnerable domestic workers, many of them children, like slaves, and I hope that this debate will enable us to signal the determination to stamp out abuse and bring criminal employers to justice.

5.20 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I, too, welcome the initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and, like other noble Lords, thank her for the important work that she undertakes in this area. This has been an interesting debate and we all look forward to the Minister's response.

Exploitation is clearly a serious problem for thousands of people living in our country. I was struck particularly by the introduction of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, when she talked about the heart-rending circumstances of some migrant domestic workers and the need for action. She started by quoting a number of examples of people forced to work here, as she described, as slaves. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, some of the abuses suffered by people working in this country at the hands unscrupulous employers; for example, seven-days-a-week working without a sufficient break, passports being withheld-which gives those employers huge leverage over the people concerned-gross underpayment or no payment at all and physical and mental abuse.

The thorny issue of diplomatic employers' abuse of their diplomatic status was raised again. It is a particularly difficult and serious problem. The noble Baroness spoke also of workers who sought justice both here and in their country of origin. Members of their families may be put under threat by people who, after all, are likely to be very powerful there as well as enjoying diplomatic status while they are here. There will be great interest in the Minister's response.

I, too, have some questions for her. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised a very important issue about employment tribunals and cases that have been brought before them. He asked whether tribunals would be allowed to rule that persons who exploited migrant workers were not suitable to employ workers in the future. I do not know whether it is possible to extend

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC52

the remit of employment tribunals, but it is well worth looking at. To be of any real use, that would have to encompass diplomatic families. It is clear that diplomatic immunity will need to be looked at; we cannot escape that. It might be argued that those people are not fit to be diplomatic representatives in this country. I would have thought that there was a strong case for encouraging the FCO to consider whether those diplomats ought to remain in this country.

Point-of-entry advice was also raised. What about children? The case of Victoria Climbié was mentioned. I well recall the report on the tragic circumstances leading to her death. It showed that about eight or nine agencies were involved in dealing with her. If just one person in one of those agencies had taken the necessary action, she would probably still be alive today. The role of officers at the point of entry needs to be looked at very carefully.

A few months ago, Mr Bob Russell asked some questions in the other place, one of which was whether there was a mechanism at the point of entry to ensure that those entering the UK were not destined to work in domestic service which was either unpaid or paid less than the national minimum wage. He also asked whether the Home Office has been able to estimate the number of foreign nationals working in domestic service who are unpaid or paid less than the national minimum wage. I know that the Home Office has considered and answered this issue, and I know that it has stated that border officers are trained in identifying signs of trafficking, of which domestic servitude is a part. However, I wonder, in the light of this debate, whether this is a matter that the Minister will ask her officials to look at again.

I should also mention a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, some months ago, about the Life in the UK Test. He asked whether migrant domestic workers will be able to undertake volunteering or study to pass the Life in the UK Test, in the light of their possible working conditions. I know that before an employer is able to employ an overseas domestic worker they are required to provide a statement of the terms and conditions of employment, and that as part of that statement the employer is required to confirm the level of annual leave and free time that the domestic worker will be entitled to. Therefore, there should be sufficient time in order to prepare for and undertake the Life in the UK Test. However, the problem is that this does not stand up to the reality of the situation if such workers are employed under the conditions mentioned by other noble Lords.

In May 2009, the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place published an interesting report entitled, The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK. One of the issues raised by the committee was the difficulty experienced by migrant domestic workers because the police do not always understand their special status, and the immigration authorities frequently fail to follow the correct procedures for issuing visa procedures that would help to identify abuse. I realise that the report was produced when my party was in government, and I fully accept that there are issues here that will cover the periods of both the previous Government and this Government. It was interesting that the report noted that migrant domestic

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC53

workers frequently experience difficulties in securing the return of their passports from former abusive employers and in obtaining assistance from the police. The committee said that there was,

Has the Home Office looked into these matters as a result?

Finally, as to the EU directive, I understand that the Home Office's position is that the directive would make very little improvement in the way that the UK tackles this problem. However, even if that view were absolutely correct, there are arguments to be made in terms of the UK contributing to European-wide policy. I should be interested in the noble Baroness's views on that.

Overall, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, made a persuasive case for action, and all noble Lords will be interested in the Minister's response.

5.29 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject, which invokes passionate and sincerely held views. I will respond to as many points as possible.

I start by answering the noble Baroness's question on whether I am aware of Kalayaan's recent report and considering its recommendations. I am aware of it, I have it here, and we will consider its recommendations, particularly in the context of a forthcoming consultation, to which I shall return later. Perhaps I may at this point pay tribute to the work of Kalayaan. I am new to its work, and when I saw the report it was the first time I had any reference to what it does. Clearly, its contribution is invaluable in this field.

I begin by summarising the relevant immigration provisions. There are two routes of entry to the United Kingdom for overseas domestic workers. One is for those accompanying their employer to work here in that employer's private household. Most such domestic workers arrive for short visits of up to six months. The second route is for those coming to work in the private household of a diplomat posted here.

Before I continue, let me make one observation. The Question in this debate refers to "migrant domestic workers". The term used for the private route in the Immigration Rules is "overseas domestic workers". Forgive me if this seems mere pedantry but my reason goes beyond strict adherence to the formality of the language in statutory rules. I accept that "migrant domestic workers" may be convenient shorthand. It may also be an appropriate description for people who, by and large, come and go. However, "migrant domestic worker" can also be used intentionally to convey the impression of an independent right of entry and stay in the United Kingdom. The point that gets lost, though, is that the route is called "overseas domestic workers" in the Immigration Rules for a reason. The worker is from overseas. Their usual residence and employment is overseas. They are here because the employer whom they work for overseas is here, and for no other reason. They do not have an independent right of entry into the United Kingdom.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC54

The Question asked in this debate is how the Government intend to address the exploitation of this group of people. Let me respond in terms of the immigration provisions and UK employment law, and conclude briefly by mentioning the forthcoming consultation that will invite views on the overseas domestic worker routes and on wider proposals, including reform of employment-related settlement in the United Kingdom. We realise that there are serious issues around this whole subject, many of which have been raised by noble Lords this afternoon.

In the private household route, the potential for exploitation is addressed through a specific condition of entry that has to be satisfied: that there is evidence of an employment relationship of 12 months' duration. This is intended to be a safeguard, prior to entry to the United Kingdom, by demonstrating that the relationship is genuine. It establishes a degree of longevity. Sadly and worryingly, given what is sometimes reported once people have arrived here, it is plainly not an adequate or foolproof form of prevention. Once here, protection is available under employment law. Foreign workers, provided they are working legally, have exactly the same basic employment rights as anyone else working in the United Kingdom.

I qualify that by adding that there are some exemptions to the payment of the national minimum wage, which have been mentioned, one of which relates to people living and working within the family. The exemption is a limited one and turns on how a person is treated rather than any label put on them. If they are not treated as a member of the family, they will of course be eligible for the minimum wage. Perhaps I might mention, because it has been raised in the debate, that there is a pay and work rights helpline, which has rapid access to helpline operators through the language line, which provides accurate, live first-person interpretation. We have continued that route and have worked with the helpline staff to ensure that they provide as accurate a service as possible to overseas domestic workers.

Returning to immigration provisions, both routes currently permit extensions of stay and have a route to settlement in the United Kingdom. Also, all domestic workers may change their employer for whatever reason, although in the case of those in diplomatic households, working only for another diplomat in the same mission as the original employer is permitted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked whether we are considering allowing a change to employment outside the mission. As I have said, a consultation inviting views on the overseas domestic worker routes is imminent. I cannot pre-empt the detail, but suffice to say that it will include a reassessment of the current provisions. In response to other points made, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, it will be a full three-month consultation and the results will be published.

I should add that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 entitles foreign diplomats accredited in the UK to employ domestic workers, foreign or British. Under that convention, diplomats have a duty,

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC55

This applies to the terms and conditions of employment for all domestic staff. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office regularly reminds all foreign missions based in the UK of their obligations.

The question has been raised as to what happens if a diplomat is accused of abusing those working for them. The police investigate any allegation that the law has been broken by persons entitled to immunity. Given the number of people entitled to immunity in the United Kingdom, around 22,500, the number of serious offences allegedly committed by diplomats has remained proportionately low in recent years. Just two cases that were reported by the police in 2010 to the FCO involved a domestic worker. The FCO treats very seriously any allegation of mistreatment of domestic workers in diplomatic households. When an allegation of mistreatment is brought to the FCO's attention by the police, it will write to the diplomatic mission in question about the matter. If the police decide that an allegation warrants further investigation, the FCO will request from the diplomatic mission a waiver of the diplomat's immunity. Failure to provide a waiver will usually result in a request to the mission for withdrawal of the diplomat from the United Kingdom.

All domestic workers, whether private or diplomatic, have access to the national referral mechanism for victims of trafficking. The NRM is a multi-agency framework involving the police, the UK Border Agency, local authorities and designated NGOs to help in the identification and support process of victims of trafficking. It was introduced in April 2009, and since then more than 1,250 victims have been referred for confirmation of trafficking-victim status and provision of care and support. Serious abuse by an employer of a domestic worker is assessed through the NRM to decide whether there are reasonable grounds for someone to be regarded as a victim of trafficking. Victims receive a minimum 45-day recovery and reflection period and support such as accommodation or access to legal assistance. If there are reasonable grounds for a person to be regarded as a victim of trafficking, NRM decision-makers go on to decide conclusively whether the individual is a victim of trafficking under the Council of Europe convention. If so, the victim may, in certain individual circumstances, receive a period of 12 months' discretionary leave, such as to assist with a police investigation or prosecution, or in compelling compassionate circumstances.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked three questions about the Government's position on the ongoing International Labour Organisation's discussions on a new international convention on domestic work. This matter was also raised by other noble Lords. I shall be brief. We support the principle of a new convention and accompanying recommendation. As ever, the detail of the new instruments will be crucial. In the negotiations and in developing our position on the final texts, we will take into account a number of factors, including whether the convention will provide suitable protection and whether it is formulated in a way that helps it to be widely ratified.

In respect of working hours and working in healthy and safe circumstances in the home, we take the view that domestic workers should be afforded appropriate

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC56

protection, in common with other workers. However, the position is complex and negotiations on any international agreement need to have regard to practical implementation and effective enforcement.

We also recognise that some workers may be more vulnerable generally, not because they lack protection but rather because there are unscrupulous employers who have denied employees rights or information about their employment rights and how to assert them. We are doing more to provide literature at the point at which visas are issued to make sure that workers are aware of those rights. The remedy lies not with new legislative requirements but with improved awareness of rights, and confidence in how to assert them. Therefore, no changes to existing provisions are foreseen. To include in the provisions domestic workers who live in private households would require the application of criminal sanctions to such private households, which is considered inappropriate.

This has been a valuable debate. In closing, I should confirm that tomorrow the Government intend to publish a consultation document on their next phase of immigration system reform. I hope that the Committee understands that I cannot pre-empt the detail, but I can say that the context is around breaking the link between temporary migration and settlement. The consultation will reassess employment-related settlement, including other overseas domestic worker routes, and take into account our recognition of the problems associated with the treatment of individuals who are brought here to work for others. That will be a three-month consultation. I would be very happy within that period to meet noble Lords who have an interest in the matter or who wish to make representations so that their views can be discussed in more detail.

5.41 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Disabled People: User-led Organisations

Question for Short Debate

5.45 pm

Asked by Baroness Wheeler

Baroness Wheeler: My Lords, I am delighted to have secured this debate. As one who is still very much a newcomer to your Lordships' House, I am proud that this subject marks my first success in obtaining a QSD and realise that patience really does pay off. I am also pleased to have supporting the debate noble Lords who have done so much to campaign and support disabled people. I particularly want to thank my noble friend Lady Wilkins, my office mate and a great inspiration, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, whose work and contribution to championing the right of disabled people to take control of their own lives is fully recognised by the House. I pay tribute to

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC57

her formidable record and achievement, but also for personal reasons. In 2007 I became the carer of my partner, who is now disabled. I was fortunate enough to have a very good friend who put me in immediate touch with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and her help and support was invaluable. She introduced me to the work and role of user-led organisations. The subsequent support that I have had from advisers in local ULO groups in Surrey, where I live, has been so important, helping me navigate the minefield of information and pathways to health and social care provision for users and carers. What really helped was that I was talking to advisers who were themselves users of the care and health systems that they were advising on or signposting to. This is one of the key strengths of user-led organisation, and what led the Labour Government to make a major investment in their continued development and to ensure that they had a key role in the transformation of social care and personalisation agenda.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence emphasised that personalisation starts with seeing the person as an individual with strengths, preferences and aspirations and puts them at the centre of indentifying their needs and making choices about how and when they are supported. ULOs for disabled people are organisations where service users determine their own needs and planning support and themselves have expertise which they utilise in the advice and services they provide. SCIE underlines the importance of ULOs having a rightful place in the social care and community marketplace, promoting equality and reaching out to people who need social care support, especially supporting marginalised people.

Personalisation goes beyond giving personal budgets or direct payments to individuals, and ULOs help to ensure access to the right information, advice and advocacy. This is why the Labour Government invested heavily in promoting the setting up and development of ULOs for disabled people, and provided substantial support funding for local authorities to invest and work with them. Under the transformation of social care agenda, ULOs have developed a particular role and expertise in supporting people using direct payments or personal budgets, assisting with the self-assessment process and in the recruitment and employment of personal assistants for disabled people. This is a key role for a number of ULOs, and there are many excellent examples of ULOs working with local employment advice organisations and trade unions to ensure fair pay rates and good employment practice, standards and conditions for personal assistants.

There is no national data collection on the number of ULOs, although I understand the National Council for Independent Living, the umbrella organisation for ULOs, is currently undertaking a sector audit, which will give a much needed clearer picture. ULOs by their very nature are developed locally to reflect community needs. The strong support for ULOs by a number of local authorities has been in the form of direct grants and contracts to provide services, including information provision, advocacy and supporting self-directed care programmes. My own area in Surrey has a strong ULO organisation in the excellent Surrey Independent

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC58

Living Council, the Surrey Disabled People's Partnership and the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People. These groups are typical of ULO organisation, in that they are active groups in themselves as well as the umbrella supporting groups for local hubs representing a range of specific health or disability interests, such as Surrey's Vision Action group, or the Surrey Deaf Forum or the Surrey Autism Partnership Board.

This is just one local authority area where strong ULO organisation has had a major impact on the development and shape of services, and there are many similar local examples of the work and impact of ULOs of disabled people which I am sure noble Lords will highlight in this debate. However, direct government funding to ULOs ceased at the end of 2010, when the 2008-10 programme ran out, although some funding is still provided to the NCIL under Section 64 powers and through the Office for Disability under the Right to Control trailblazers work. In the current climate, for ULOs to survive, to continue to undertake their vital role and for their operation to extend into other localities, there needs to be continued and active support at a national level.

There is increasing concern at the impact of cutting the current local authority grants and contracts with the ULOs. The Disability Rights Partnership has highlighted, for example, the recent closure of DPAN Northamptonshire after two other non user-led organisations won contracts for work it was previously involved with. This came shortly after the demise of another user-led organisation, Ability Northamptonshire. Cutting grants and shrinking contracts will only shrink the potential pool of providers at a time when it needs expanding.

I would like to ask the Minister how the Government will ensure that commissioning requirements create a level playing field between small user-led mutuals and organisations and their larger either voluntary or profit-making counterparts. Existing commissioning services favour large providers and often overlook the added value of ULOs. This inhibits user-led entry. Commissioning requirements should provide a level playing field for ULOs, including accessibility in bids and tenders. ULOs face entry costs due to disability-related expenditure and other barriers for which they need to be supported to overcome. Service agreements, payment by results and preferred provider lists need to be reviewed and sub-contracting to micro-providers needs to be incentivised. We need to ensure that ULOs have the requisite capacity and support to enable them to bid for key public service contracts.

I welcome the Government's recent announcement of the ULO fund of £3 million for disabled people's organisations and would like to ask the Minister how it will be administered and how disabled people will be involved in its design and implementation. Also, what other measures will the Government be taking to encourage innovative social enterprise by ULOs? The ULO fund, while welcome, amounts to little more than £5,000 per year per local authority in England for the next three years.

Also, within the Government's plans for localism, the big society, the right of independent living-and within their oft-repeated mantra that local authorities

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC59

must make their own decisions on local priorities in the light of local needs and resources-I ask the Minister what steps they will take to encourage local authorities to co-produce innovative services with ULOs and to support service provision by way of user-led social enterprise.

Can the Minister advise how the services relating to the personalisation of social care, which the Government continue to support and is currently provided by ULOs, will be provided where ULO funding has been cut or stopped? These services include essential advice and administrative support for people using direct payments and personal budgets and for users employing personal assistants.

I close by paying tribute to one of the pioneers of the independent living movement and of user-led organisations who died recently, Nasa Begum. I did not know her personally but I do know about her enormous contribution and inspirational work. Nasa was a professional social worker and she brought her professional skills and personal charisma and energy to the first National Centre for Independent Living. As a disabled woman from a BME community and also a mental health services user and "survivor", Nasa particularly championed the greater involvement of BME communities in the creation of more inclusive communities. She was a prolific author of many books and papers and her book, Towards Managing User-led Services,had a major impact in providing the framework for a new partnership approach which encouraged all sections of the community as active partners in designing services and support that are personalised and culturally appropriate. I am sure noble Lords will join with me in paying tribute to Nasa and expressing our sorrow at her untimely death.

5.53 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, when I saw on the Order Paper the subject we are debating today and put my name down for it, I immediately thought of one thing: that it is sensible that user groups,-the people who suffer from disabilities-should be heard first. This is for selfish reasons for everyone else because, if you get a good idea of what the problems are, you stand a chance of taking the right action to address them quickly and concisely and thus save the costs involved in getting it wrong. Mistakes can, in certain cases, result in legal activity and often mean that the benefits and medical services have to pick up the pieces further down the line. Wear and tear on carers is another consideration. It is trying to get an understanding of where most mistakes in the system tend to be made. It is safe to say that there is good will from everyone involved, but people often make decisions and try to implement them but do not quite understand how to do so. They then find themselves in a corner and without the right amount of communication to be able to back off when they have made mistakes.

This is a Treasury Bench problem, no matter who is in government. The previous Government did their best to try on occasions. Sometimes they got it wrong, sometimes they got it right. I do not think at any point they were looking to get it wrong. We who have been giving advice in Parliament, through the contact we have with outside groups, have been able to reassess

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC60

what is going on. Occasionally fashions in ideas may change but mainly it is based on practicality. That way we avoid those "does he take sugar?" mistakes. That way we try to get the correct information to those who are in power and making those decisions. User-led organisations are often a very good way of addressing these problems. They are not a magic bullet-in my own world of dyslexia, I have often met people who say, "We will do everything". I am afraid dyslexics do not make terribly good secretaries of groups or good managers of diaries. People must make sure that they learn to ask for help; there have been occasions when they have failed by not being prepared to ask for enough help. If you experience problems, you will know when to ask for outside help and when to do something. We are talking about people with disabilities and once again-I have said it dozens of times and I will say it again-if any dyslexic says to me, "I am differently abled, not disabled", I hand him an insurance form to fill out quickly and under pressure. When he has failed at that I say, "This is why we have legislation, this is why we have a framework, this is why we do the stuff we do. You are going to have to try to access support and help". If we are going to fulfil our agenda of getting people into jobs, we must make sure people know how to give the correct assistance at the right time. We must talk to those who understand the problems to find out the correct way to make a change.

Having said all that-and here endeth the sermon-I say to the Government, "What are we doing to make sure you drag in this pool of expertise to make the job of Government easier?". That is the big question. If we are not to continue with the previous model, how else do we do it? The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, spoke about sub-contracting and feeding into smaller groups as one way forward. Making sure that people who apply for these support jobs actually have contact with disabled people, and that it is seen as a benefit, would be a very sensible way forward. Thus, you may be able to combine the best of both worlds. Cats and skinning come to mind here, but it is making sure we get the correct information in. Those groups with outside experience will always have at least a very useful perspective on how to do this. We should also study how this will get through to the interface.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has had experience of this and I would be interested to hear what his take is from his own experience in office, when we had to deal with similar problems. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Freud, will not think me presumptuous by saying this is one occasion when you should listen to your political opponent because he has experienced it for quite a long time and indeed I bored him for a quite a long time on these and similar subjects. How can we encourage that interface? How will we make sure that we work properly to drag in the information? If we do not, we will make costly mistakes that will sometimes end in litigation and will always end in on-costs further down the line. How can we encourage people-and this is the big challenge to operators-to say, "I do not know the answer, can I go and get somebody who does?". I find this is one of the most difficult parts of dealing with any government official, encouraging them to say, "I do not know, I will find out, let us figure out something else". This is something that is

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC61

very difficult to do by diktat. It is almost counterintuitive but it is vital to make sure it works properly. If the Minister can say something on this subject I will be eternally grateful.

6 pm

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for giving us this opportunity to debate the future of ULOs. I shall try not to get confused and talk about UFOs, because there is a practical joke in the disability movement about this. I shall talk particularly about ULOs and their relationship to the personalisation agenda. I also thank the noble Baroness for her very kind words.

I should start by declaring an interest as a trustee and co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living. NCIL is one of the largest user-led umbrella organisations in the UK. It pioneered the personalisation agenda long before it was adopted by social care professionals and civil servants-and long before politicians did so. One of the first user-led organisations in the UK was the British Deaf Association, which dates all the way back to the 1890s. User-led organisations have one central principle, which is summed up in the slogan, "Nothing about us without us". This phrase does not belong in the NHS and did not come from a politician but originated in the early 1980s at an eastern European conference of disabled people. They were fed up with others making wrong decisions about their lives by not involving them, very simply. From then on disabled people's influence over their situation escalated, becoming a social movement touching on all issues that affected their lives, such as transport, access to the built environment, social service support, healthcare, housing and so on. I was very privileged to be a child of that liberating time.

There are now a whole range of ULOs led by all sorts of people who use services, including mental health service users, young and older people, people who have been in care, carers, people with long-term illnesses-not, as many would think, just physically disabled people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, or me. That is, not just wheelchair users.

ULOs represent an ongoing challenge to stigma, as they demonstrate not only what service users are capable of doing for themselves but, more significantly, what they can do for society. For example, Hampshire Centre for Independent Living pioneered the blueprint for direct payments, again long before it became part of an Act of Parliament and long before any politician had even heard of the words.

Shaping Our Lives is a notable example of a national ULO. It has been funded by government and NGOs, such as the Rowntree Foundation, to conduct research and evaluation, led by service users. The high quality of its evidence has informed public policy and practice for over a decade. In 2009 alone, it carried out studies and developed practice guidance for the Crown Prosecution policy on witnesses and victims with mental health and learning disabilities, on user-led involvement in social work, and on future housing services for older people. Most of the work is overseen by Professor Peter Beresford. Here is the big society at work.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC62

At this point, Baroness Wilkins continued the speech for Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.

The ULO ethos has been particularly important in the development of personalisation, so much so that it became a key objective in the 2005 Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People strategy, which said that there should be a user-led organisation in every area with social service responsibilities by December 2010. There have been some notable advances, but the funding and policy push came almost entirely from the Department of Health. That funding is now coming to an end, but there are over 60 areas still waiting for a ULO.

Lack of funding, of course, is only one part of the problem. Another has been linking ULOs so strongly with social care services and the Department of Health. ULOs are not solely about social care, and neither is personalisation. The majority of ULOs were established to further the broader goal of supporting disabled people to live independently, working across a range of life areas other than social care: transport, housing, health and leisure. So, if the Government want to deliver the personalisation agenda, ULOs have to be understood, resourced and supported from across national and local government.

The Essex Coalition of Disabled People recently conducted a study, resulting in the report on key issues facing ULOs. Interestingly, it identified the narrow social care approach as one of the major reasons why ULOs have struggled to succeed. I know that the Minister for Disabled People in the other place has been particularly impressed by this ULO as a role model for the future. It and others rightly say that personalisation can be delivered efficiently and effectively only with joined-up thinking and resourcing responsibility.

At this point Baroness Campbell of Surbiton resumed.

I was privileged to chair the Government's Independent Living Scrutiny Group for two years. It looks across government for evidence of this kind of delivery. I know how difficult this is to achieve, but we really need to crank up the mechanisms to do this. Can the Minister tell me what plans he has for this?

ULO personalisation services require an enabling framework that helps them to be more self-sufficient. Small pushes can help-for instance, with the use of the EC Article 19 procurement directive, which allows for public contracts to give preference to businesses with a workforce that is over 50 per cent disabled. If local authorities were encouraged to do this, it would help ULOs enormously in the bidding market. The Essex study and previous research conducted by Leeds University clearly shows that when an organisation involves disabled people throughout, the support costs are higher than for those that do not. The commissioning culture has never really factored that realism into its procurement processes, so ULOs have lost out. Will the Minister assure us he will liaise with the Minister responsible for local government on how this enabling power could be incentivised within local authorities? This will enable ULOs to survive better in the marketplace.

We have heard a great deal about the Government's £3 million over the next four years to help build capacity and support ambassadors. This is welcome, but as I think I have shown, disabled people have demonstrated their ability to provide the solutions to

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC63

their own problems, against the odds, since as far back as the 1890s. What we need more than ever is money to pay the rent on accessible offices, computers and wages for staff-yes, that old chestnut-infrastructure funding that cannot be found from service contracts alone.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the Government's imaginative plans to help disabled people continue to help themselves and others through the dynamic network of ULOs. Personalisation will never happen without them.

6.09 pm

Baroness Wilkins: I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Wheeler for her kind words, and for securing this debate on a subject that, at its heart, is one reason why I became a Member of your Lordships' House. I declare an interest as vice-chair of my local borough disability user-led association-Hammersmith and Fulham Action for Disability, or HAFAD. I would like to say how delighted we are that, following the debate on 5 May, the Minister accepted our invitation to visit.

I became disabled the year the Disablement Income Group, known as DIG, was formed by two women who had developed MS and found that they, and thousands of others, had no right to any income support. That was 1966. That user-led organisation is seen by many as the start of the disability movement in Britain, a movement that has led millions of disabled people to recognise that our position in society is politically driven and that society could be changed to accommodate our needs.

Unless you have experienced disability, you cannot understand its daily living reality, and I came to it with the same ignorance as most non-disabled people. DIG, a mass movement of people over the whole range of impairments, was fighting for the extra costs of living with a disability to be recognised and for an income benefit to be given regardless of the cause of impairment. There were rallies in Trafalgar Square, petitions to Parliament and lobbying of Ministers. DIG introduced me to political campaigning, but, most importantly, it welcomed me to a world of people who had faced and were living with the same experiences as me. It was to those people whom I turned for help and information about housing, about how to get around, about places that were accessible and about how to find equipment that I could use, whether it was an accessible car or a manageable ironing board. My fellow disabled people had been there before, knew the real barriers to be overcome and had found solutions.

It is this shared lived experience that is the unique value of user-led organisations. It is a value to which policy-makers pay lip service but which is far too easily overlooked and jettisoned when it comes to the crunch, especially funding. It is very hard to convey how important this is, but it provides a quality of help and support that no one else can give. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, has eloquently expressed how important it was to her. The Government need to understand and constantly reinforce its value if services are truly to meet people's needs.

This is the unique value of the small user-led local organisations for disabled people such as HAFAD, many of them centres for independent living. As the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC64

noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, its importance was recognised by the previous Government's Strategy Unit report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, which recommended that there should be a user-led organisation, modelled on existing CILs, in every social services area by 2010. Does the Minister still see the value of that recommendation, and would he support it?

I shall concentrate on the experience of these small local organisations and on what the Government can do to support them. The local disability organisations have been the drivers in developing the independent living services throughout the country. The take-up of direct payments succeeded because user-led organisations understood what was needed in order for them to succeed. They provided the necessary assistance in recruiting and employing personal assistants, payroll services, information, advice and advocacy, but, crucially, they provided the confidence through peer support and local networks.

Since direct local authority grants dried up, HAFAD, like many borough organisations, has derived the majority of its funding from providing these services to the council through service level agreements. However, the larger profit-making providers see the market in this work and constitute a major threat to our existence. With their lower overheads, they can undercut small user-led organisations such as HAFAD.

Now, to save money, local authorities are increasingly banding together to award contracts. Currently, HAFAD's direct payment support service is faced with the prospect of tendering for a new contract to be spread over four boroughs-Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Brent, and Hillingdon. It would be impossible for us to cover that area or for anyone to provide the essential local support.

One of the most important things that the Government can do is to ensure that the importance of local user-led support is given its proper value in competition for contracts. Perhaps I may echo my noble friend Lady Wheeler in asking the Minister what the Government will do to ensure a level playing field between the small user-led organisations and their larger, profit-making counterparts when it comes to commissioning.

HAFAD's excellent employment project, which was succeeding in getting disabled people who had never had any prospect of work into work after long periods of unemployment, has already been lost to the big contractors that won all the Work Choice and Work Programme contracts. As a result, we had to lay off all the staff except the manager, and we are using the organisation's reserves to fund his search for subcontracts. In west London, the Work Choice contract went to Seetec, which has subcontracted to Leonard Cheshire, among others. Leonard Cheshire has now approached HAFAD for help with its delivery in west London and has asked for training in our access-to-work expertise, as it does not have specialist knowledge. So the user-led organisation is bled dry of funds and staff, while supporting others to provide a service, when it could have been given the security of a contract in the first place. User-led organisations can provide this expertise only if it is properly recognised and valued, and the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC65

Government could have helped by making it a requirement on the winning contractor to work with specialist organisations at a local level.

The problem is that the small user-led organisations survive only by a jigsaw of funding of these projects. If one project goes to the wall, it undermines the framework of the whole organisation because it is almost impossible to get funding for the running costs of an organisation either from trusts or local authorities, so a charge has to be made on each project to cover those costs. If a major project is lost, the whole organisation becomes vulnerable. Yet the organisation has to have a director and finance officer if it is to be competently managed and have proper financial control. Can I ask the Minister whether the Government have any plans to address this problem?

Like many organisations, HAFAD has been trying to become self-sufficient through social enterprise schemes and partnerships. Not only is there the problem of the extremely stretched management framework of the organisation, which leaves little time to develop social enterprise, but small user-led organisations have no assets to provide collateral for bank loans. Major fundraising requires a massive investment of time, and these organisations can turn only to government to provide the seed money required. I hope that the Government are listening.

I add my tribute to Nasa Begum for her wonderful contribution to spreading understanding of the value of user control, and most especially for being the only wheelchair user I have known who went bungee-jumping in a wheelchair in Australia.

6.17 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for obtaining this debate. I shall be brief. I declare an interest as a former adviser and now vice-president to the former Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health-now the Centre for Mental Health-because I wish to comment particularly on the mentally disabled. I want to concentrate on an area in which the treatment of the mentally disabled is not good, has not been good, but-it has been announced-is going to be better. My concern is that what appears to be happening in the user-led agency is likely to deny a way of putting that right. I refer to the well of psychiatric morbidity in Her Majesty's prisons, where it is reckoned that at least 70 per cent suffer from some form of identifiable personality disorder-and some a great deal worse.

For the past four years, the centre has been concentrating on two aspects of work-the treatment of those who are mentally disordered in prisons, and the problems faced by those with mental disorders in obtaining employment. The employment issue is linked with prisons, but the centre has more generally been looking closely at the employment of people with mental health problems in the community. It has become abundantly clear that the key area for achieving independent living for the mentally disabled is employment, and that the best way of achieving that is through individualised support based on their sort of sustainable lifestyle and what they can actually do.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC66

That requires careful identification and then placement. The Centre for Mental Health is currently supporting nine centres of excellence, which are using an individual placement and support model across the country. That model is based carefully on this business of finding out what each individual needs. What also applies to it is having people trained as individual placement and support workers who have been attached to user-led and other organisations because they can advise those organisations on how best to look after people who come and work with them.

One problem in prisons at the moment is that no structured mental health treatment is available for this vast number. I was much heartened by the Government's paper, Breaking the Cycle, in which the Justice Secretary said that they were at last going to tackle this problem. Indeed, I have had discussions with the Department of Health as to how this might be done. However, having heard what the centre had come across, particularly about the user-led organisations, one idea that struck me was: what better thing to do than to localise this by employing local user-led organisations to go into prisons and help people who, after all, will come out of prison and whose employment will be out of prison. I was therefore very concerned when I heard that there were threats to the user-led organisations, which looked like being one of the key tools in resolving a problem.

I was encouraged to speak because one of the great messages that I got from the Sainsbury centre was that my noble friend Lady Campbell was challenging the Government on the cuts that were being imposed and asking them to spell out the impact that they might have on user-led organisations. Always being happy to support my noble friend, I felt that I would add this other area, which I would be most grateful if the Minister could look into-not least to alert the Ministry of Justice that there is a potential problem here, which could be solved before causing more problems than it deserves.

6.22 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Wheeler for securing this debate today. I did write out a bit of a script, but having just listened to some powerful contributions I think I will discard most of it. My noble friend says that this is her first Question for Short Debate; I feel sure and hope that it will not be the last. I was particularly pleased when she referred to Nasa Begum and the work that she has done, because when we talk about social workers it is all too often when there is a problem and somebody is being challenged. There are many people in that field who do fantastic work, day in day out. They are unsung heroes and it is nice to have an opportunity, even given the circumstances, to be able to join in the praise for somebody who has achieved a great deal.

When I saw that the list of speakers contained the usual suspects, I knew it was going to be a powerful debate. If there is any benefit in not being a Minister, it is that I am not responsible for answering such questions these days. Picking up on a couple of points in the contributions so far, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that it is generally not about lack of good

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC67

will. Government policymakers and local government do not set about their task to get it wrong or to damage and hurt people. It is about understanding. The noble Lord talked about the need to encourage an interface. If he was looking to me for pearls of wisdom on that, I may disappoint him but there is no overall prescription for how you deal with it. You have to work at it hard and recognise the need for that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has an effective way of chiding politicians to remind us that we came in at the end of this process and that people had been engaged many years before we even woke up to the issue. I accept that, while the mantra of "nothing without us" carries through from the 1980s until today. The issue about ULOs challenging stigma is particularly pertinent. We all agree that ULOs need to be properly understood, resourced and supported.

There are issues about infrastructure funding and I turn now to the £3 million fund that has been announced recently. The noble Baroness referred to the Localism Bill and the opportunities it presents.

6.25 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

6.37 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I was going on to localism but, before I do so, perhaps I may recap. I walked out to vote with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I think that what he was seeking for me to say earlier was not to report some success I had had with working with colleagues from dyslexia groups but to report the failure; that however much one had tried, it had not succeeded. So perhaps I can clarify that.

Before I get to localism perhaps I should refer to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, which I found fascinating. I went to a seminar at the Centre for Mental Health earlier in the week. The seminar was about getting people into employment, although not necessarily through user-led organisations. It emphasised the key importance of having a mentor who stays with a person and how the one-to-one relationship makes an important difference. One can see the added benefit if that person comes from a user-led organisation as well.

My noble friend Lady Wilkins made the incredibly telling point that if you are not disabled you cannot understand the daily living reality of being disabled. That is why it is so important that we have user-led organisations. She expanded on some of the difficulties of getting funding and winning contracts. I have seen that locally in Luton in relation to a case where, although the process is not yet complete, small organisations have already missed out because they are competing against big organisations which are used, on a national basis, to getting the process right; they know exactly what is required and smaller organisations are therefore missing out.

This actually ties in with issues around localism because if localism is about empowering individuals, local communities and local groups to have a greater say over their lives, the rights in legislation have to be real for people and not just nominal rights. Some are

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC68

fettered by quite a few powers held at the centre by the Secretary of State, but that is for another debate. People must be supported in being able to take up and make real use of those rights and funding should be attached to doing that.

Briefly, and to reiterate points other noble Lords have made, questions were put about the commitment that the previous Government made. The Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People report said that,

I am right to ask the Minister whether that is still part of this Government's approach to these matters-is that still a commitment they would wish to take forward? Putting People First talked about the transformation of adult social care and stated that,

Is the noble Lord, Lord Freud, able to say anything further on that matter? Reference has been made to the £3 million-worth of funding that has been made available. I join others in supporting and congratulating the Government on doing that. But that funding is spread over four years and it has to cover things such as a new national head and somebody to be seconded to the Office for Disability Issues from a ULO, and the document talks about ambassadors and experts to provide skills and training support. It also refers to there being a facilitation fund for ULOs. Does all of that have to come out of the £3 million over that four-year period? Specifically, is that fund part of the £3 million? The press release that accompanied the announcement said that the facilitation fund would be,

Might the noble Lord, Lord Freud, let us have his interpretation of what "small and moderate" might mean in these circumstances? I conclude on localism by referring to the community right to challenge. There is an opportunity there for ULOs but it must be a real opportunity. They must have the capacity to be able to do that, and perhaps the noble Lord might be able to say something further about that.

6.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for the opportunity to discuss disabled people's user-led organisations and the broader personalisation agenda. I would also like to thank those who have contributed to this short debate this afternoon. It is a crucial area of work and I know that for many noble Lords-many more than are here-it is an area of utmost importance. I also join in the tributes that have been paid to Nasa Begum.

Let me begin by agreeing with everyone who has spoken in support of disabled people's user-led organisations and of their importance. I will use "the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC69

organisations" as shorthand, otherwise I shall use up much more time than I have available. These organisations have a unique insight and are a powerful voice for disabled people, and the Government recognise their important role in shaping future service provision. We want to secure their continued involvement by developing their skills and building on their experience. With the current need to reduce the deficit and rein in public spending, budgets everywhere are tight.

We know that many local authorities have decided to reduce grant funding for these organisations, leaving them to rely on other means of generating income, such as the supply of services. However, with a new emphasis on personalisation and localised delivery of services, there are opportunities for these organisations to develop alternative sources of income and continue to be involved on the ground in support of disabled people.

This Government have to spend wisely. We are not in a position to throw money at these organisations, and the investment we are making in cash and time must be targeted so that a little will go a long way. Working closely with these organisations, we have devised a package of support designed to get the most out of the money we have put in. I will outline the details of the package in a moment, but let me just put this approach into a wider context.

The work that organisations such as these have been doing-bringing people together, volunteering their expertise and influencing policy-is exactly the kind of thing that the Prime Minister means when he talks about the big society, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. For groups such as these, the big society is already a reality. We want to use the limited funding available to build on this good work and develop an even bigger society, acting professionally, delivering services and working alongside local and national government to deliver more for disabled people.

The advantages of working with organisations such as these are clear. They are the experts in their own disabilities; they are organised, knowledgeable and in many cases already provide support and services alongside those provided by the public sector. Often those services are more innovative, work better for their users and cost less to provide than the public sector alternative. Essentially, these organisations already know what works and they have clear ideas about what does not. The Government want to tap into that knowledge.

However, our experience of working with these organisations has also demonstrated that some groups are lacking the professional, business and leadership skills they need to drive their organisations forward and to weather the current economic climate. That is why we have devised a package, working closely with representative organisations, to deliver £3 million of support designed to build capability, communicate best practice and bring in voluntary expertise. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, the £3 million encompasses the full support package. It is doing what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, called for-making sure that we have a way of dragging in the expertise of these organisations to help disabled people.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC70

The money will fund a national lead role shared by a civil servant and a disabled people's representative, and link government and disabled people's organisations at a high level. This will create a central, national focus for these organisations and cement their national presence. Beneath the national lead there will be a network of around 12 ambassadors, broadly spread out geographically. This will be complemented by a range of expert volunteers matched to organisations in their area that need their skills. All too often these organisations have told us that they lack the specific skills needed to run a successful organisation-skills ranging from accountancy and financial management to human resources support and business planning.

Finally, there will be a facilitation fund providing small grants for these organisations to address specific needs. This cash-limited fund will be managed by the national lead and a group of ambassadors, and be used to pay for things that support the sustainability of these organisations. Recruitment for these posts closed last week and we have received a great deal of interest, with around 10 applications for the lead role and 81 applications for the ambassador positions. The package will formally be launched next month, when we will announce who has been appointed. It will help these organisations to develop their skills and expertise.

Let me pick up on some of the points raised. The noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Wilkins, both asked how we will encourage local authorities to commission through these organisations. We are looking to the ambassadors to work with local authorities and to help local authority commissioners understand the added value that can be gained from working with these organisations. That support will allow the organisations to compete more effectively. We will emphasise through the ambassador network the added value that they can bring above and beyond what more commercial entities can offer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, asked what plans the Government had to crank up the delivery of the personalisation agenda. Our figures show that in September last year 248,000 people were receiving a personal budget. That is a good increase of 100,000 on the previous April, but it is still pretty patchy and we are determined to boost what is happening on that front.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, I can confirm that we want disabled people to have access to a good, strong organisation in their area. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, asked what local authorities might do to compensate for the extra costs. I shall write to the Minister at the department with that question.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made an interesting point about mental health. This is an enormous and very complicated area. I am extremely conscious that we have not got this right, particularly in prisons. We are talking to the MoJ. I take very seriously mental health issues in this area, but I find it very hard to find a coherent set of solutions. However, I am conscious that this is something that we need to get on with in the months and years to come. I take the noble Lord's point.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC71

I know that many noble Lords are champions of disabled people's user-led organisations. I leave the Committee with the simple message that so are this Government. This is an area that we want to champion. We will continue to support and encourage those organisations' involvement and help them develop into the professional operations that we know they can be.


Question for Short Debate

6.55 pm

Asked By Lord Boswell of Aynho

Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, some noble Lords may be aware that in another place I participated in the all-party inquiry on anti-Semitism which sat in 2005 and reported in 2006. I should make it clear that I did so neither as a member of the Jewish faith nor as a Member of Parliament who had then taken much interest in, or at least shown overt commitment to, the political affairs of the Middle East. It would be fair to say that that degree of detachment was not confined to me; among the 14 members of the committee there was that general pattern. It informed the nature-I hope dispassionate nature-of the conclusions of our work.

I should begin with a confession to the Committee. After waiting six months for this debate, I booked the date when offered it without realising that it fell on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which has precluded a number of noble Lords who are religiously observant, including the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, from participation. All I can say in mitigation is that I still felt that it was right in the circumstances to proceed because these issues needed airing. I also realised that if I could be so careless in my respect for others when I trusted my motivation was impeccable, how easy it is for us to neglect cross-cultural issues and the sensitivities that there are; and how easy also it is, for example, for a university academic, who might be less benignly disposed, to overlook the legitimate claims of Jewish or other students in the setting of exam dates and somehow finding that they coincided with a religious festival and created difficulties for the students. We all need to sharpen our act, and I shall be one of those. My overwhelming message to the Committee is that we need to be alert in these issues.

Beyond the strict remit of my Question, I do not feel that any views that Members may have on the Middle East situation or on the position of the Israeli Government-and I do have some of my own-should in any sense condone issues around anti-Semitism, although they are often used as a proxy.

Our concern here should primarily be with our domestic situation within the United Kingdom. This is rightly the concern of Members across the House. It is also important, and perhaps a useful piece of symbolism, that I speak as a Christian. My noble friend the

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC72

Minister happens to be a Muslim and there will be others who participate who may have no act of faith at the moment. And so it should be. We should all engage on issues of intolerance involving our Jewish population because such acts and attitudes tarnish and diminish our society as a whole-and, of course, they are easily transferrable, in one nexus of intolerance, from one community to another, and that is intolerable too.

I am a member of the British delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I should early on in the debate draw the Committee's attention to a worrying upward trend in anti-Semitism internationally. As with our own British situation, this may from time to time burst out overtly into the public gaze. I remember going past synagogues in Vienna and seeing the police guard and so on and finding it depressing.

I am concerned equally by the Holocaust deniers, who tend to be rather noisy, and by what I might call the anti-Semitism deniers, who tend to be less open about it. We in Britain, at least in our Committee's work, were honest enough to confess to our problems, but I become concerned when I hear other countries deny that contemporary problems exist or perhaps define them as merely extensive with those who happen to hold views that are critical of the Israeli political system or policies. With perhaps the exception of Germany because of its own ghastly history, accepted by nearly all those in responsible positions in Germany, too many other European countries turned a blind eye to pressure on their resident Jewish populations. This is perhaps partly because those populations-sadly, but it needs saying-have been reduced by the Holocaust, and they are now often by no means the largest faith minority. Nor in many cases do they have direct political clout.

I turn now to the specific issues raised in our 2006 inquiry and the government response. I have to say that there is much to celebrate and commend here. Under both the previous Government and the current coalition Government there has been a determined and positive response at both ministerial and official level. This has spanned a wide range of government departments, through the cross-government working group, and has drawn in partners from the agencies of the Jewish community. This dialogue has already led to three successive government responses, reporting to parliamentarians of all kinds in the light of that inquiry. One benefit of the occasion is to be seen when you revisit the latest White Paper that came out last December; for a government document it is, dare I say, quite a meaty response, with a lot of facts in it as to what has been achieved and what still needs to be achieved. Parliamentarians across the House and in the other place have maintained focus on that area and, in certain cases-and I include myself in relation to Holland-have taken the example of our work to a number of other Parliaments. This culminated in the first international conference on the subject in London, in February 2009.

I shall now comment briefly on a number of outstanding issues. First, hate crime itself-and these are crimes, whether they are attacks on individuals,

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC73

buildings or cemeteries-continues in Britain at historically high levels. However, there is now better public articulation of the policing and other issues around them, and there is valuable co-operation with the community support trusts. Having as part of our inquiry visited a Jewish school in a Paris suburb which had been burnt out before we were there-and which, I found to my distress, was burnt out again after we visited-I welcome the money that the present Government have been able to find for school security. I hope that that will continue. It is appropriate at this point to mention, in difficult times, the money that the Government have recently made available to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation-a good international lead.

Secondly, we know that there is an outstanding issue in higher education. I am sure that others will want to comment on this. As a former Minister in that field myself, I cannot remain silent. Universities are one of our glories, and they flourish through the pursuit of light and liberty. We can never be content for them to act as agents for academic boycotts or the denial of free speech on any reasonable or sensible arrangements, let alone the fostering or condoning of violent attacks. Of course, I know that most academics would take exactly the same view as I do. Very valuable work is being actioned through the Equality Challenge Unit and the vice-chancellors themselves, but there are still cases where individual Jewish academics are targeted, and Jewish students may feel chilled or deterred from attending particular institutions. Universities have a public sector equality duty, and they should follow it.

At a more demotic level, I welcome the work of community leaders such as Gary Lineker and what is being done in sport. There is identification of some clubs with the Jewish population, not just in Britain, and we need role models. Political parties also have a job to discharge at election time, and to criticise those who do not.

To summarise, I hope that, as a result of our work, parliamentarians and the Government are now engaged in an integrated approach to pushing intolerance in this country to the margins where it deserves to be. There cannot be any complacency or let-up in the process of reviewing this and there is no amnesia for the lessons of the Holocaust. Old hatreds may be buried but they have not gone forever. Our task is to create opportunities to tackle specific abuses while setting a moral tone which is wholly intolerant to extremism. We need to express respect for individuals and to meet their problems but, above all, we need to be ready at any time to take a stand on this.

7.06 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, as a fellow Christian I am delighted to follow my noble friend. I can call the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, my noble friend as he has a proud record in the other place and here-and, I may say, in the Council of Europe, which takes hate crime very seriously. I follow him and I congratulate him. Indeed, in terms of the Council of Europe it may well be that one of the priorities of this Government when we assume the presidency later this year will be to raise the issue of hate crime to a high profile. I hope that the Minister will note that.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC74

I confess from the beginning that I had been somewhat complacent on this issue. From my background, which I perhaps romanticise, during my schooldays in my native south Wales, not one of a number of Jewish friends mentioned having in any way suffered forms of anti-Semitism. That complacency was punctured when I noted a few years ago that the synagogue in my home city of Swansea was damaged. Indeed, last December I noted that among the cities where groups had been arrested because of their targeting of rabbis and synagogues was Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, so that complacency is no longer.

It is obviously easy to target or mention the BNP but we delude ourselves if we do not recognise the role of Muslim extremists, certainly in my part of south Wales, who have been responsible for the change in atmosphere. It is surprising in a way, given that hate crimes affect mainly ordinary Muslims and Jews. Rationally, one would hope that there would be some form of co-operation between the victims. Much of the hatred is directed at Jews indirectly because of Israel. The Community Security Trust shows a correlation between, for example, the Gaza incident last year and the incidence of attacks on the Jewish population, where attacks on Israel are often a proxy for attacks on Jews.

It is interesting to read the valedictory article by Ron Prosor, the outgoing Israeli ambassador, in the Daily Telegraphlast weekend. He stated that as an Israeli ambassador-and indirectly, no doubt, as a Jew-he was barred from many campuses, which is wholly contrary to the tolerant traditions of our universities. That must be in part because of the weakness or unwillingness of vice-chancellors to confront this problem. What is clear when university academics and trade unions criticise Israel is that they fail to notice that the Israeli universities are by far the freest in their region and that the Israeli trade unionists are by far the most vocal and free in that whole region. It is absurd that Israel should be singled out in that way.

Returning to the UK, obviously the problems include hatred on the internet, which is extremely difficult to regulate. It is not the time today to go into the Preventstrategy, published yesterday, but I am sure that there will be another debate on that.

We end on good news. The all-party report of 2006, to which the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, made a good contribution, received a positive response from both the Labour and coalition Governments. All its recommendations have been taken seriously, including the cross-government working group which has built up expertise and has ensured that there is a joined-up government response. Both Governments have given an important lead. I noticed when we prayed this afternoon that one of the phrases that we often use is "the tranquillity of the realm", which is highly relevant to the attacks on hate crime. I hope that the Government's work on hate crime will continue in the Council of Europe, and that we can try to promote greater understanding between Jews and Muslims. The law and central government can only go so far. The battle must be fought in hearts and minds; it must be fought among churches working at a local level and among community groups. We must be ready as individuals to confront examples of anti-Semitism in particular and

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC75

hate crimes in general. I applaud the initiative, I applaud the response of the Government and I look forward to hearing an update on the current position when the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, speaks.

7.11 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Boswell on obtaining this debate and so helping us in this House to keep to the forefront of our minds the scourge of anti-Semitism. It is very important that we do not let it be pushed to the side when there are many other pressures on our time and thoughts.

Growing up, I was, like many others, very aware of the question of anti-Semitism. I learned as a schoolboy about the Holocaust but also read about the Dreyfus case in France and other such events. I came from a community that always felt an instinctive sympathy with Jewish people. Irish Presbyterians, particularly in the north, always felt quite an identification with Jewish people and felt a little bit beleaguered at times, as often they do. Then I started my work in psychoanalysis and very many of my friends were of course from Jewish backgrounds. I became aware of the difficulties of their experiences-indeed the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud himself, wrote about his difficult experiences at the hands of Christians. That was one of the distressing things: the recognition that throughout the millennia, not just the centuries, much anti-Semitism actually came from the Christian community. More recently we have tended to associate it with other communities but we must not forget that historically that is where much of the anti-Semitism has come from. All sorts of rationalisations were given for it but it was just prejudice and bigotry.

What became clear when I talked to my colleagues was the range of views, not about faith so much-of course, that was the case as it is in every faith community-but the attitudes to the state of Israel. There were some who were not actually very supportive of it. Freud himself, when he was asked to give support, refused and said it would be a very troublesome business. He was not supportive of the idea of a state of Israel at all. The vast majority are supportive of the notion of a state of Israel, a place where Jewish people can feel at home and comfortable, safe in their own culture and community. Then there are those within that community who support the state of Israel but have from time to time very serious questions about the particular policies of particular Governments.

My old friend Amartya Sen has pointed out that when the pressure comes on, the important differences between people tend to be squeezed out and we see them all as a single bloc. It seems to me that under the pressure of prejudice and bigotry-or of economic crisis, which is always a bad time for tolerance-there has been a tendency to see all Jewish people as falling into one group. That is unfair and inappropriate and justifies, in the minds of some people at least, a critique against Jewish people as a whole, when it is quite clear there is a very healthy diversity within that community, not only within Israel but within Jewish communities right across the world.

It is extremely important that we do not allow people inside or outside the Israeli community to portray it as inappropriate that Jewish people should

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC76

have a range of views. It is also extremely important to keep being clear that Jewish people have a range of views on every subject under the sun, not only because those views are often eloquently written about and enrich our culture, understanding and science but because politically it is the best detoxification of the notion that if you do not agree with the current policies of the Israeli Government, that in some way justifies an anti-Semitic attitude. Whatever the Government do, we must continually point out that not agreeing with the current policies of the Israeli Government is not a justification for anti-Semitism and does not go along in any way with the notion of it being justified. It is a very important distinction that we must keep hammering away at, because in times of crisis these differences tend to be squeezed out.

That is one of my anxieties at present. In the past few years, we have seen a rightward shift in the politics of Europe. You can see it in almost every election in almost every country. When you see that shift, you see more intolerance, a lack of pluralism and, almost inevitably, a resurgence in anti-Semitism. I say resurgence because it has always hovered there under the surface. I even noticed that there were nasty phrases and words during the financial crisis-"It's all about money and the banks and you know who is at the back of that". Sometimes it was even said, "It's the Jews, you know". You got that horrible, sinking feeling that we were experiencing a serious and dreadful rise of anti-Semitism. We must be clear that this is completely unacceptable and I welcome the fact that our Government are coming back, as have previous Governments, to remind us of that problem.

Apart from pointing out that anti-Semitism is wrong in principle and does not recognise the extraordinary richness that the Jewish community in this country has brought to us all, in almost every field of human endeavour-culture, science, medicine, the law, Parliament, and everywhere-I wish to make one other remark on this subject. My wife and I love to get away for as much time as we can down in the south of Burgundy. We love it very much there, and we love the vineyards. Some of you will know that every so often at the end of a row of vines a rose is planted. I was a little puzzled about this in my ignorance, in the early days when I started going down there many years ago. Then I discovered what it was. The rose is much more susceptible to mildew than the vines, so if the mildew starts to appear on the rose the vigneron knows that he must get out and spray the vines. The rose is the canary in the mine, as it were. The Jewish community is the rose in the vineyard because you can be sure that when you see the rise of anti-Semitism, it is merely the first sign of a dreadful prejudice and intolerance in our community. Never forget that the Jews are the rose in our vineyard and that when we see anti-Semitism arising, it will call for all our minorities and damage our country.

7.18 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, this is the first time that I have used this technology, so it had better work.

I have never been described as a rose before and I quite like it, actually.

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC77

The inclusion of this debate today is very timely, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for introducing it this evening. I have the privilege of being the chair of the Coexistence Trust, whose principal remit is to engage with Jewish and Muslim students on UK campuses, with a view to lessening the undoubted tensions that exist between the two student communities.

I thank my noble friend Lord Janner, who founded the trust and whom I succeeded three years ago. He is our co-president; the other co-president is His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan, whom I must also thank.

Right from the beginning, it has been important to our trust that we strike a balance between Jewish and Muslim participants. Our employees are both Jewish and Muslim and so too are our donors and trustees. In particular, I am pleased to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who will speak later, is one of our trustees. I must also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who has been hugely supportive of everything that we have done since our early days.

There can be little doubt that our university campuses have allowed many forms of extremism to take hold. This week's announcement by the Home Secretary on the successor to the Prevent agenda bears witness to the seriousness that this Government attach to the problem. The fact that international terrorists with murderous intent have been students at our own British universities is chilling. At the Coexistence Trust, we seek to bring Jewish and Muslim students together. Social engagement is the best way to dispel preconceived views. In January, we launched our campus ambassadors programme. These are students, one Muslim and the other Jewish, from both communities who operate at each of 12 pilot campuses. Their job is to engage students from both communities and encourage them to begin dialogues and work on joint programmes. For example, we look at issues that are common to both communities, including mutual threats. We discuss the BNP, which sees Jews and Muslims in much the same light as does the English Defence League. Most of all, we seek to encourage students to realise that we are none of us all that different from one another and have much to learn from each other. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism exist on campus; they emanate from certain students and certain faculties which are neither Jewish nor Muslim. But, sadly, they come, respectively, from Jews towards Muslims and Muslims towards Jews.

Fortunately, during the three years that I have been chair of the Coexistence Trust, I have noticed an improvement on campuses. For example, in the immediate Gaza aftermath, we were encouraged not to be present at the universities of Manchester and Nottingham. It was judged that the situation was too inflammatory and that we would only worsen it. Today, I am pleased to say, we are welcomed and work closely with them. Manchester in particular has issued a powerful code of conduct instructing administrators and faculty how to deal with the conflict. The issue is clear: universities are places to learn and experience new thoughts and ideas. Free speech is an integral part of our national life, and students must expect to hear views and opinions that may make them uncomfortable. Equally, universities

8 Jun 2011 : Column GC78

have a duty of care to their students and they, too, must abide by the laws that this Parliament has passed to protect everyone from hate, speech and racism.

I should like to quote from the all-party report:

"The Government expects universities to have measures in place to ensure that their students are not subject to threatening or abusive behaviour".

Recently, two Jewish protesters went to SOAS to protest against Israeli Apartheid Week, where they were set upon. One of them was bitten on the cheek and was told that the best thing that the Jews had ever done was to go into the gas chambers. This behaviour is simply unacceptable and the universities need to be much more robust in preventing its repetition.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page