The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): The Government want powerful, innovative cities that shape their economic destinies-engines of growth that will boost entire regions. We have already created 38 local enterprise partnerships, invested £2.4 billion in the regional growth fund and created enterprise zones in 24 cities and their wider local enterprise partnership areas. We are working with cities and their surrounding areas to agree bespoke city deals, supporting innovative local strategies to deliver growth.
Baroness Quin: My Lords, while I agree that cities can do much to drive our economy, there are other areas that do not fit well into city regions and that need economic development. I am thinking, for example, of parts of the former northern coal-field areas which, geographically, are not close to cities and which are not well linked with effective public transport, even though they include areas of high youth unemployment hotspots as identified in today's ACEVO report. Given that, and given that regional development agencies which were able to address the needs of such areas have been abolished, will the Government give a firm commitment that areas on the fringe, or, indeed, outside city regions, will not be overlooked in their policies?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, we are currently developing city regions which will be within the local enterprise partnerships and will cover most of that. We are aware, of course, of the problems that the noble Baroness identified. I am sure that there will be further discussion on that in due course.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, while I strongly support what the Minister said about the Government's approach to city regions, perhaps I may draw her attention to the fact that public expenditure per head is higher in Northern Ireland, London, Scotland and Wales than in any English region. Might not one possibility be for the Government to look again at rebalancing public spending and consider what the Lyons report said about decentralising Civil Service jobs from Whitehall to the English regions?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as I am sure the House knows, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has been appointed as a government adviser on cities, and so will speak with authority. I want to look further at the matters he has raised and, if necessary, I will write to him.
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: I welcome the noble Baroness's creation particularly of the Birmingham-Solihull local enterprise partnership under the chairmanship of Andy Street, of John Lewis Partnership, with whom I am having a fruitful discussion about social inclusion. Will the Minister comment on the importance of social well-being for the achievement of the LEPs' goals and indicate to which areas of social policy we should give priority in achieving a high quality of life for all?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the first thing that we must do is to get growth in the cities and get our economy moving. Without that we will not be able to do what the right reverend Prelate is suggesting. Social well-being is part of the life that we hope to lead in the cities and their regions and I know that that will be taken into account. As I say, however, first we must ensure that we get the economy moving. That is what the cities programme is about.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is all very well for the Minister to say that we must get growth in the cities, but she will be all too well aware that the distribution of resources from central government is to the disfavour of our northern cities, in particular, in favour of southern shire counties. Is she not greatly concerned that northern cities are not only losing out on the devolution settlement, which helps Wales and Scotland, but in fact are being disfavoured compared with the rest of England?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there are many northern cities that are involved in the cities programme-the cities deal. I know that consultation discussions are taking place with them on what is required for the future. The distribution of the grant, of course, is done against our formula.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the NHS Confederation report Children and Young People's Health-Where Next? on the impact of the Health and Social Care Bill on children's health.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, last month my right honourable friend Andrew Lansley launched the development of a health outcomes strategy for children and young people. An independent children and young people's health outcomes forum will inform the development of this strategy and will consider the findings of this report alongside the wider views of children, young people, their families and the professionals who support them. It will report back to government by the summer.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, as this report makes clear, under government proposals up to six different commissioning bodies will have responsibility for commissioning child health or child public health services. Will the Minister tell the House how the Government will prevent the fragmentation of those services to ensure that children do not fall through the gaps, and whether the Government will therefore now consider placing a specific duty on all those commissioning bodies to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities in children's and young people's health?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the outcomes framework that I have just referred to should assist in the latter regard. I think the noble Baroness would agree that the system we have at the moment is not sufficiently joined-up, and in that sense does not adequately serve the needs of children. The approach we have taken to the proposed NHS reforms is to promote the importance of the integration of care and service provision for everyone, including children. We believe that strong partnerships at a local level, supported by professionals
6 Feb 2012 : Column 4
Baroness Walmsley:I welcome what my noble friend the Minister has said about getting the views of children, but does he think that giving the commissioning of the excellent Healthy Child programme to local authorities is going to bring about the universal dissemination and delivery of that programme?
Earl Howe: The role of local authorities will be pivotal in this because it is at local-authority level that public health, social care, and indeed the discussions that will go on in the health and well-being board context will bring together policy in a way that informs NHS commissioning. I think that the approach we have taken has been widely welcomed, and we are absolutely determined that all sectors of society, including children, are included in these processes.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, my northern diocese of Blackburn scores heavily on the deprivation indices for children's health outcomes. Does the Minister share my concern that if phase 3 children's centres become self-financing-as I understand they are to-and a children's centre is deemed not viable, surely the health impact on the community and of course on the health services will be immense?
Earl Howe: The right reverend Prelate is right to draw attention to this issue. I simply say to him that the process that I have described at health and well-being board level is specifically designed to enable local people to determine the priorities that they see as most important for their area. It is right that these decisions are taken locally. I do not argue in the slightest with his analysis of the importance of these centres; I think they do a tremendous amount of good. I am sorry to hear that there may be some threat to the one that he mentioned, but I hope he will also tell me that discussions are going on at a local level to try to find a way forward that will suit the needs of local children.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, given the emphasis on local-level decision-making, will the Minister explain how the Government intend to monitor fairness of access for children with less common conditions who at a local level may not appear to have a great need because there is a lack of awareness of the complex nature of their needs but whose outcomes can be greatly improved with highly specialised care?
Earl Howe: The noble Baroness raises an important point. She is right that it is all too easy for children or indeed any patient with a less common condition not to have their voices heard. That is why we are absolutely clear that local healthwatch should be configured in a way that reaches out to hard-to-reach groups. We are looking in particular at patients with specialised conditions to ensure that there is a mechanism for them to have their voices heard at the local level.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, first I will say how much I welcome the new outcomes framework for children. Will the Minister say which proposed structures in the Health and Social Care Bill will benefit children, and who will have overall responsibility for child health?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the Secretary of State will retain ultimate accountability for children's health services. Under the Bill, as the noble Baroness knows, the functions will be conferred directly by Parliament on specific organisations. That will strengthen accountability. In answer to the first part of her question, the reform of the health system offers a real opportunity to address some of the well documented challenges that the current system presents. We are moving, through the Bill and through our reforms, to a system that will focus on promoting good health, which we see as important as delivering good care. Informed and expert knowledge will underpin the commissioning of integrated services, where we will measure success on improvements in the outcomes that are achieved. Treatment will be evidence-based and children will be involved in decisions about their care. All these things are embodied in the Bill.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, recent research at Bristol indicated that as many as one in 100 children who are absent from school long-term suffers from CFS/ME. There is a dearth of centres for the treatment and diagnosis of children with CFS/ME. Does the Minister envisage this improving under the new proposals?
Earl Howe: My Lords, it is yet to be decided finally which services will be commissioned at a national level. I cannot give the noble Countess a definitive answer on where services for CFS/ME will be commissioned. However, we are sure that the arrangements will provide much better, more locally responsive ways of commissioning services generally. Whether clinical commissioning groups join together in commissioning services, whether lead commissioners do that or whether commissioning takes place at a higher level, we are clear that in all services this needs to improve.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Will the Minister tell me what the position is with accident and emergency services? We have all read in the papers that we should not get sick at weekends and how desperately people are treated in some hospitals. Are children's services as adversely affected as those of adults, or are no figures kept on the difference? What does the Minister propose to do to increase cover, because misdiagnosis is a major worry in some cases?
Earl Howe: My Lords, accident and emergency services will be commissioned at a local level. I am afraid that I do not have in front of me detailed information on the split between adult and children's services in an emergency context. If I can get the information, I will be happy to write to my noble friend.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, given that responsibility for commissioning for 0 to five year-olds will be at a national level, and commissioning for six to 19 year-olds will be the responsibility of local arrangements, as the
6 Feb 2012 : Column 6
Earl Howe: My Lords, the two main outcomes frameworks relevant to this are the NHS and the public health outcomes frameworks, which we are trying to align as far as possible. They set a clear direction for the health and healthcare of children and young people, but there is more to do. As our data improve, we need to ensure that the outcomes measured are the ones that matter most to children and young people. That is why we are developing a health outcomes strategy for children. This will be the first example of an outcomes strategy as part of the health reforms model.
Earl Howe: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, it will be the legal responsibility of clinical commissioning groups to commission care on behalf of all patients living in their geographic area, whether or not they are registered with a GP. That means that arrangements have to be made to ensure that those patients are treated when needed.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the UK Border Agency's activities on the ability of non-European Union students to study at United Kingdom universities.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the latest figures published by UCAS show an increase of 13 per cent in the number of university applications from students resident outside the European Union. Our original impact assessment forecasts no impact on universities.
Viscount Hanworth: I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he not recognise that the measures designed to combat bogus institutions are also having a severe effect on reputable institutions in the higher education sector? Would he not agree that, if the Government wish to reduce the headline figure of net immigration, it is inappropriate to include non-EU students in these figures? Under normal circumstances, without the impediments created by the Government, their numbers would be expected to follow a steeply upward trend, which would be highly profitable for the UK.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I thought that was exactly what I just said in announcing a 13 per cent increase in those applying for universities. That strikes me as a very good thing indeed. It is quite right that we should stamp down on what the noble Viscount refers to as
6 Feb 2012 : Column 7
Lord Taverne: My Lords, is it not true that there has been some decline in the market share of overseas students, particularly from India, who are a very important section? If students were not treated as migrants for the purposes of immigration policy, as happens in Australia and the United States, would this not be of great benefit to industry and to our universities; make it possible for the Government to meet their immigration targets comfortably; and make a difference of billions of pounds to the Treasury? Is this not a no-brainer?
Lord Henley: My Lords, it is right that we should stamp down on those institutions which are trying to get round immigration by means of the bogus college route. My noble friend is also right to draw attention to the fact that there are some areas, such as the Indian sub-continent, where we are losing market share. There are, however, areas where there have been significant rises, particularly from Australasia where there has been an increase of some 20 per cent and from Hong Kong of some 37 per cent. We wish to continue to see those students coming in, but I also think they should be treated as part of the migration statistics. It is important that we get to grips with those, but we want to see them because they are a valuable export for this country.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, the Government have recognised the considerable economic and wider benefits that international students bring to this country and that is enormously welcome. However, in a speech on 2 February, the Immigration Minister, Damian Green, suggested that,
Can the Minister explain what is meant by "selectivity" in relation to student migration and reassure the House that, on the basis of what he has said previously, it does not herald a further tightening of visa arrangements for international students in bona fide institutions?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I welcome the intervention from the noble Baroness, particularly as she used to chair Universities UK. I will remind her that Universities UK said recently that our reforms will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment. We want that to continue, and that is what my honourable friend was making clear in his remarks. I want to underline again why we have seen an increase in the number of undergraduates coming in, but at the same time, we think it is right to tighten up on those coming in for other reasons and trying to get around the immigration rules.
Baroness Coussins: My Lords, will the Government support student mobility in the opposite direction and extend the fee waiver to students who want to spend a year studying or working abroad in a non-EU country in the way that is available now under the Erasmus scheme only to students spending their year abroad within the EU?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Baroness will appreciate that that is a completely different question from the Question on the Order Paper. We are discussing the actions of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency and the effect they are having on students coming in. If the noble Baroness wishes to put down a Question on that subject, I am sure that one of my noble friends will be more than happy to answer it.
Lord Flight: My Lords, when talking to the Cambridge Vice-Chancellor's office a few months ago, it raised with me a problem about senior research students aged 28 or 30 who it wanted to attract from India, but who were mostly married. The problem was about their spouses coming in and I encountered the same issue in India. Has this issue been resolved?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the restriction on bringing family members applies to undergraduates. The sort of senior research students who my noble friend refers to would be allowed to bring partners or members of their family with them, so I think I can say to my noble friend that that issue has been resolved.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, is the Minister aware that contrary to what he has said some bona fide institutions-universities-have lost as many as 20 per cent of their overseas students, particularly from India? Is he aware that the restrictions on employment when graduating will put us in a very unfortunate position compared with our main competitors, the United States and Australia, which have much more generous arrangements for students who wish to work in the UK, for a temporary period, when they graduate?
Lord Henley: My Lords, as I said, the overall figures show an increase, particularly in undergraduates. It might be that some particular institutions are losing out, and particularly on those from the Indian subcontinent, but we have seen proportionate increases elsewhere. I do not know whether the noble Baroness is old enough to remember the changes we announced back in the early 1980s when, again, there were cries that they would cause fatal damage to all the universities for ever. However, as the noble Baroness might be able to remember, on that occasion we saw an increase in the numbers of those attending universities, just as we will see one now.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government take very seriously their obligations as a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The convention encourages parties to take a comprehensive approach to tobacco control to improve public health. The United Kingdom is a recognised leader for tobacco control internationally. The Government's tobacco control plan sets out a government-wide approach to tobacco control, as well as what will be done to support local authorities to reduce rates of tobacco use.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the reason that the United Kingdom Government and 173 other Governments have become parties to the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco control is because the tobacco industry has had a uniquely malign influence on health policy in all countries where tobacco is sold. Does he agree that its record in the United Kingdom since the 1950s has consisted of first denying the link between tobacco smoking and ill health, then suppressing the results of its own research on the addictive properties of nicotine, then denying the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and now funding front organisations to oppose tobacco control legislation such as the point-of-sale restrictions, which I am delighted that the Government have embraced? Are not all these powerful reasons for sticking to the framework convention and ensuring that the tobacco industry has no influence whatever over the formulation of health policy relating to tobacco?
Earl Howe: My Lords, yes, the vested interests of the tobacco companies are well recognised. The Department of Health is careful to ensure that the Government's obligations under the framework convention are met, including the treaty obligation to protect public health policies from the vested interests that he referred to. For example, I hasten to reassure him that the tobacco industry was not involved in the development of the Government's tobacco control plan, which was published last year.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, it was as a direct result of the evidence of the underhand tactics of the tobacco industry that the UK very wisely adopted Article 5(3) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In 2008-09, the noble Earl's noble friend Lady Northover successfully asked the then Secretary of State Alan Johnson to write to all his ministerial colleagues drawing attention to and outlining the importance of Article 5(3) and asking for their assurance that they were abiding by the article in their dealings with the tobacco industry. I invite the Minister to agree to ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to do the same with this Government.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and indeed all Ministers in the department, have had no direct dealings-or indeed indirect dealings-with the tobacco industry since coming to office. However, I am sure that the noble Baroness's message will be very warmly received by my colleagues.
Baroness Hussein-Ece: Is my noble friend aware that almost 50 per cent of loose tobacco sold in the UK comes from illicit and illegal traders on the streets, which makes it more affordable for children and young people? What progress is being made in cracking down on the illicit tobacco trade? As my noble friend will know, it is an industry controlled and funded by an international network of organised crime gangs.
Earl Howe: My Lords, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Agency published a renewed strategy in April last year to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products. Our tobacco control plan complemented that strategy by stressing the importance of cracking down on illicit tobacco sales, which will in turn reduce tobacco consumption and organised crime, and support legitimate retailers. In fact, the latest figures show that fewer and fewer people are using illicit tobacco. The market for illicit cigarettes was down to 10 per cent in 2010 from 21 per cent in 2000.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, some years ago I was given a statutory instrument, the Sheep Scab Order, which was dated about 1914 and had an excellent recipe for sheep dip made from tobacco. I wonder whether the current tobacco problem could be relieved by diverting tobacco from smoking to sheep dip.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, the Minister says that the control of illegal importation of tobacco is showing progress. Is it not the reality that the vast majority of illegally imported tobacco and cigarettes is being consumed by young people, and that while the official statistics may show one thing, all the evidence, when I inquired of the tobacco industry on this particular aspect, is that this is still the major problem in terms of young people taking up smoking?
Earl Howe: My noble friend is absolutely right that that is where the problem principally lies: 320,000 young people experiment with smoking or take it up every year. That is a very serious rate of incidence and it must be tackled at every possible level. The tobacco control plan sets out a concerted programme of action to try to do just that.
"we will make sure that we publish details of policy-related meetings between the tobacco industry and government departments and we are currently exploring the most effective and appropriate mechanism for doing that".-[Official Report, 11/7/11; col. 560.]
Earl Howe: My Lords, since 2010 the Government have published details of hospitality and gifts received by Ministers and special advisers, ministerial meetings with external organisations, and all overseas trips by Ministers across government. These details are published on each department's website. The information is published quarterly to promote transparency and to provide the public with up-to-date information.
"(3) A further safeguard shall be that, unless explicitly provided for in the statute providing for the power of entry, all powers of entry shall be exercised by agreement with the premises occupier or by warrant."
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for circulating to us all on Thursday the Home Office view on my amendments. Normally one learns of objections only in the winding-up speech of the Minister, but this useful form of pre-debate negotiation has enabled me to meet at least two of the Home Office points with changes to my amendments. However, I did notice one rather surprising statement in the Home Office brief, and in fact if it were not in both the summary and the main argument I would have been tempted to see it as a misprint. The brief states:
That is not what I seek. It is perhaps rather sad to note that the Home Office retains its historic belief in its own omniscience, which I well remember from my days in Whitehall, but it seems to be losing its reputation for accuracy.
The first amendment makes the main point that powers of entry should be used only by agreement with the occupier of premises or with a magistrate's warrant. The second amendment allows for exceptions where it is obviously necessary to continue with routine inspections and checks without notice being given. The third spells out specific areas where I am not seeking to change existing practice in the use of powers of entry: trading standards, the police and security services, protection of children and vulnerable adults.
The Trading Standards Institute explained to me why it needs its existing powers for its job of protecting consumers; for example, by checking goods in shops or the accuracy of a petrol pump at the petrol station, and so on. I am glad that the institute has been able to assure me and the Official Opposition that it is now content with the amendment, which would enable it to continue with its important and valuable work.
Although the essence of my argument is that powers of entry should be subject to the same constraints as the police who normally and traditionally have to have a warrant, the Home Office has helpfully pointed out to me that the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 has given constables certain new powers to enter without a warrant. That is why I have added Amendment 37ZC to cover the police and security services.
It is also, of course, necessary to continue to allow unannounced entry to those charged with responsibility for the protection of children or vulnerable adults. Thus inspecting old people's homes, checking on children at risk or similar crucial monitoring functions must be allowed to continue without either warrant or agreement. However, I feel I must emphasise the principle underlying my amendments and why I am doing this at all.
In our country, the right to privacy and to enjoy property or conduct legitimate businesses without state intrusion has been a long-standing freedom. Indeed, it has echoes going back 800 years to Magna Carta, which sought to protect individuals from the Crown and from officials of the Crown. The fact that the police cannot, in general, enter people's homes or businesses without a magistrate's warrant is a cherished freedom well-known to the public and has given rise to the ancient phrase, "An Englishman's home is his castle", which was coined by the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke, who was responsible for the Petition of Right in 1628.
The law should protect the individual and must never be defied. In 1977, that great icon Lord Denning quoted Thomas Fuller's 1732 dictum, "Be you ever so high, the law is above you". The lesson in that, of course, is the huge responsibility that legislators have to ensure that the laws they make enhance and enshrine liberty rather than erode freedom. This, of course, is what this Protection of Freedoms Bill should be seeking to do.
I was disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, that the Minister should have so completely rejected my first two amendments on powers of entry when they were debated, with support from all sides, in Grand Committee, but I am well aware that the Home Office expects to have the monopoly of any improvements to its legislation. However, it is a pity that Ministers in this coalition Government should not have seen their prime duty when this Bill was drafted as being to extend real freedom rather than seeking to protect the territorial rights of the bureaucracy.
For years legislation has surged liked a tidal wave. No Government seem to have the power or even the will to stem it. More and more laws have been passed which give officials of every rank and type the right to enter premises without so much as a by your leave to inspect, check, observe, search or test whatever perfectly
6 Feb 2012 : Column 13
The real hero behind my small attempt to reinforce our ancient liberties is my noble friend Lord Selsdon. Over a period of more than a decade he has been accumulating details of the legislation which justifies my amendment. In spite of starting with some obstruction rather than co-operation from Whitehall, he has succeeded in producing a dossier in which there are more than 1,200 separate pieces of legislation giving powers of entry, in most cases without the safeguards we have the right to expect and indeed demand. They cover every sort of issue, right down to demanding entry to a private house to see whether a TV is switched on or, where a person has left a child with the people next door while they go to the cinema, to check whether those people have got a child minder's licence. I hope that my noble friend will tell us something more about the legislative background to this debate.
Most of these provisions are in secondary legislation-statutory instruments-and it is only recently that Parliament has had the power to examine the merits rather than just the vires of statutory instruments. It does so through the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which was established in 2003. This supplements the Statutory Instruments Joint Committee of both Houses. The Merits Committee is doing an excellent job and, interestingly, it has had cause to draw the attention of the House to proposals for fresh powers several times during the past few months.
With more than 1,200 pieces of legislation, noble Lords will realise how little progress would be made. Indeed, I anticipate that the bureaucrats would find a reason why powers should be retained in their existing form in nearly every case. There has been widespread support for my amendments from Liberty, which I much welcome.
My amendments seek to support and implement that commitment. I would have expected my noble Lib Dem friends, with their proud commitment to civil liberties, to be chasing the Government on this issue.
Following the principles of the 18th century Whig statesman Edmund Burke, I fervently believe in the role of the state to hold the ring: to protect the population from ill treatment or exploitation. Those who may need such protection include the old and the infirm, children, employees, consumers, savers, investors and many other groups. I would never deny to the
6 Feb 2012 : Column 14
As this will probably be the last occasion for a decade or so that we have a Bill which is tailor-made for this reform, I shall, if necessary, ask your Lordships to support me in the Lobby on what I hope we can all agree would be a significant step forward for the right of privacy, individual freedom and democracy. As always, the wording of my amendments may not be precisely what the Home Office needs, but provided I can get a commitment from the Minister to do so, I will be happy for the Government to tidy them up at Third Reading. I beg to move.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, first, I declare an interest as having been honorary president of the Trading Standards Institute, the trading standards officers' professional body, for a period of five years, since which I have also been one of several vice-presidents.
Secondly, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on two things. The first is his persistence, both through the work on this Bill and earlier, in questioning the rights and powers of entry by numerous public officials. He has correctly congratulated his noble friend Lord Selsdon on the massive amount of work that he put in over the years in working out how many powers of entry exist. The second thing I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on is his evident willingness, both in Committee, which I regret I was not able to attend, and at this stage, to compromise, especially by reference to trading standards officers, whose powers of entry are obviously in the public interest. The powers of entry of trading standards officers are, to my mind, a necessary complement to powers to prosecute traders of all kinds, big and small, for misleading claims and descriptions, including pricing and the selling of unsafe and counterfeit goods. Trading standards officers could hardly do a decent job for the consumer unless they were able to make unannounced visits. However, local authority trading standards officers are undoubtedly proud of the fact that good relations with traders in their locality enables them to make, by agreement, many visits and changes in the descriptions and so on of goods being sold. The power of entry-unannounced, from time to time-is a necessary complement to those occasions. I hope that trading standards officers' need to enter premises without previous agreement would be on a minority of occasions.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was willing to say that trading standards officers should not need the agreement of the occupier of the premises or a warrant if they could demonstrate that that would frustrate their powers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, also spoke in Committee, and I hope that we will hear from him in the debate this afternoon. He was rather less amenable to compromise than was the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and seemed to suggest that it was so easy to get a magistrate's warrant that there should never be any real problem-warrants would be forthcoming as and when they were needed. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, realised that trading standards officers would still be weakened
6 Feb 2012 : Column 15
There is a slightly odd reference to a "Constable", with a capital letter. The noble Lord probably meant any police officer, not just someone with the honorific title "Constable of Dover Castle" or those who have capital letters to describe their particular job. If he meant a trading standards officer and any member of the police force or Security Service acting under legislation that permits a person to exercise power of entry, then that would have no restriction. My worry here is why trading standards officers have been picked out. As I explained in my declaration, I have a special interest in their consumer protection powers and so on. Most of us know that local authorities also have, for example, environmental health officers concerned with health and safety in their area. They have powers of entry and they are not specially mentioned.
I understand and value the real willingness of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to compromise, but reference to the Home Office to tidy things up before Third Reading does seem to have some merit. From what I know of trading standards officers-and I know them quite well-I have no doubt that they have been assiduous in discussing matters with the noble Lord. However, that does not necessarily suggest that they ought to be picked and others, thereby, just as obviously left out. I welcome what the noble Lord is doing but would not wish to support him in any vote that we might have today on the unamended, or not fully amended, version of what he has concerned himself with.
Lord Borrie: One has to examine the word need. Trading standards officers are given powers by various statutes for the public benefit-usually consumer protection-and the benefit of other legitimate traders who are not engaging in what appears to be illegal conduct. The trading standards officer wants to examine that. He needs to do it to fulfil his duty.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, has suggested that because magistrates are available literally night and day in order to get warrants when needed, there is no problem. However, the trading standards officer still has to prove something. No magistrate worth his salt is going to accept what a public official says without question in all circumstances. Therefore the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, seeks to introduce is good for trading standards. It might also be good for other equally legitimate work done by other public officials.
Lord Scott of Foscote: My Lords, this is an important series of amendments. In particular, the first proposed amendment seems essential to a country that believes itself to be governed by the rule of law. Your Lordships have heard 1,200 mentioned as the figure of the separate
6 Feb 2012 : Column 16
The 1,200 separate powers of entry were conferred by 580-odd pieces of primary or secondary legislation. The powers of entry are not simply powers of entry. They almost invariably include powers of search so those who enter can rummage through the premises in question. The powers apply not only to business premises where they may very well be needed, but also to homes-to domestic premises. The law of this country has developed so that it is well recognised that the police may sometimes need, without notice to the owner of the premises, to enter private premises to enforce the law and for the purposes of search and removal of material from the premises in question.
However, the powers of entry in the Bill are not the powers of the police; they are powers of officials and regulators in numerous areas of public life, conferred by various instruments of public law. The notion that officials can be given power to enter the premises of private people, search those premises and remove what they believe to be relevant to their regulatory function without any authority from a judicial body seems quite contrary to how the rule of law ought to operate. For that reason, I particularly welcome the first amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.
I believe that the public will understand the need of the police to exercise powers of entry without warrant. Less well understood and certainly less acceptable to the public at large is the need for general regulatory officials to have those powers. My noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson said judicially in a case that was heard in 1991:
In my respectful opinion, those are incontestable statements of opinion. It follows that proper safeguards to be associated with the exercise of these powers of entry, search and seizure are essential if the rule of law is to be available to retain the respect that a healthy society requires.
Clause 40 has the heading, "Adding safeguards to powers of entry". For my part, I very much welcome that clause in that it addresses, I believe for the first time in comprehensive legislation, the need for there to be safeguards attached to powers of entry. Subsection (1) states:
Therefore, the provision of safeguards is discretionary only; it says not "must" but "may". The proposed discretionary safeguards are listed in subsection (2). Paragraph (d) lists as one of the discretionary safeguards,
What the "or other authorisation" is supposed to comprehend, goodness knows, but that the requirement for a judicial authorisation is recognised is clearly correct. But why should that be simply a discretionary safeguard? Why should it not be an essential, invariable safeguard, except in the rare circumstance where the time to go and get the judicial authorisation is simply not present, given the urgency of the situation?
Your Lordships have heard remarks about the obtaining of warrants. A warrant to enter premises to search and remove material found there of an incriminating character can be obtained ex parte-that is, without notice to the owner of the premises from a magistrate or, in some cases, a judge. There is no alerting the believed miscreant to the imminent entry and search. That seems a situation that ought to cater for any reasonable contingency other than the very rare contingency whereby the need for immediate steps is apparent. It is difficult to envisage a situation whereby the police would not in any event have the right to make an immediate search-with the pursuit of criminals, for example, or when life and limb was in imminent danger. In those situations, no one could object to a right for the police or any other well meaning people, regulators or otherwise, to enter premises for the purpose of saving the situation that would appear to have arisen.
Subject to that exception, I can see no case for not requiring a judicial authorisation always to be obtained. The notion that notice to the owner or occupier of the premises would alert the individual to what was afoot and lead to the removal of incriminating material is unreal. The warrant can be obtained from the magistrate without notice. In civil law, procedures have been evolved-and I think that their evolution is of relatively modern origin-under which a so-called search and seizure order, which used to be called Anton Piller orders, can be obtained from a judge enabling an applicant who believes that he has some civil cause of action against the owner of a premises to have a search of those premises for incriminating material to support his or her case-or its, if it is a company. The entry without notice is well understood in civil law, but only with judicial authorisation. Why on earth should that not also be the case in the criminal law? I cannot see the argument to the contrary, except in the very rare case to which I have already referred, namely where the imminent emergency and risk is so great that an immediate entry is required. Where that is the case, I cannot concede that the police would not have the right to enter anyway.
The indignation that people might feel, to have faceless regulators demanding entry and rummaging through their cupboards and papers without any judicial authorisation, would be huge, and justifiably so. That is not the way in which the law ought to operate. For those reasons, it seems to me that the first amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is thoroughly deserving of support and I would submit that the House ought to support it.
As to the second amendment, I am not so clear about that, because, as I say, I can see very little scope for the need for any other requirement than judicial authorisation, except in a case where the emergency is so acute that there would not be time to get to a
6 Feb 2012 : Column 18
As to the sense behind the first amendment, I am wholeheartedly in favour of it. I support it and submit that the House should do likewise. The "may" in Clause 40(2)(d) ought in my opinion to be a "must". It is quite inadequate for the requirement to obtain judicial authorisation to be simply discretionary. For all those reasons, I wholeheartedly support these amendments.
Baroness Eaton: My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Trading Standards Institute and of the Local Government Association. I wish to raise some concerns regarding Amendment 37ZC, which is in the name of my noble friend Lord Marlesford.
I share the anxieties of my noble friend and many others of your Lordships about the perception that is held by many people that too many officials have access to the homes of private individuals. I welcome the fact that he has amended his original amendment to try to deal with one of my key concerns, which was that trading standards officers could no longer enter premises unless they had a warrant. Unfortunately, this area of the law is remarkably complex. I am not a lawyer, but the proposed amendment would not be feasible, as trading standards officers are not defined in the law and therefore could not legally be made exempt. Technically, in the law, they do not exist.
Even if they did, the problem itself also relates to environmental health officers, who equally need access to premises for the same reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has said, councils use powers of entry to protect the public across a range of statutory activities. Powers of entry are essential in order for councils to carry out their responsibilities and to seek evidence to prosecute offenders, thereby protecting individuals and local businesses from harm. Without a routine power of entry on to business premises, council officers would not be able to carry out their basic day-to-day functions, protecting the public and their local communities. Officers would also not be able to act in a swift manner where necessary.
Councils cannot enter premises used solely as a private residence without a court order or the owner's permission, and only routinely have the power to enter business premises to collect evidence. Most existing legislation already contains safeguards to ensure that the existing powers of entry are not used inappropriately: for example, where premises are used solely as a private dwelling place, council officers can enter those domestic premises only with the consent of the occupier or when a warrant to enter has been obtained from a justice of the peace to do so. Council officers do not currently have, and have never had, a routine power of entry into premises used solely as a private dwelling place. Equally, should the premises owner refuse entry, the council must leave and seek a warrant before returning. In instances where the business premises are also a personal residence, councils will often obtain a warrant to ensure privacy is protected.
It might be helpful if your Lordships had some examples of just how these investigations take place. I should like to refer to events in North Yorkshire
6 Feb 2012 : Column 19
When a call is received by the rapid response unit to attend such an incident, officers will often want to carry out a search of the vehicle being used by the offenders. In such circumstances, a vehicle is defined as "premises". A search will be conducted to identify and seize evidence relating to the business or to other potential victims, et cetera. Officers are solely reliant on their powers to enter the suspect's vehicle as "premises" to do this. The need to attend such incidents immediately is very clear; if suspects were aware that a report had been made to the police or trading standards, they would just disappear.
There is no time in these situations or in a situation where a vehicle has been stopped to consider an application for a warrant. It is also extremely unlikely where suspects often deny any connection to the alleged offence that any permission would be given to carry out a search with consent. Removing the powers of entry for enforcement staff in such situations would thus be seriously detrimental to their ability to tackle such offences, which often involve elderly and vulnerable victims being targeted for their life savings, often on a repeat basis.
Multiple complaints were received by the trading standards team over a number of months from consumers regarding a business that operates a council tax refund service. The complainants alleged that they had not been provided with copies of any paperwork by the firm; they were not told what percentage of any rebate recovered would be taken by the company, or that VAT would also be charged by the company. Repeated efforts were made by the council's business advice team to get the company to comply with its legal obligations. However, complaints continued to be received. Action under the Enterprise Act was then commenced, but that did not prevent numerous further complaints being issued.
A decision was taken to institute an investigation into the company, and the files were passed to the fraud and financial investigation team. Warrants for the registered offices of the business were obtained to facilitate the seizure of paperwork and because it was anticipated that the company would obstruct any investigations. During the warrant executions, it became apparent that the firm was also making use of a further unit in the same building. Officers therefore
6 Feb 2012 : Column 20
The evidence seized during the use of powers and the warrant application has substantiated the claims made by consumers regarding the companies' failure to comply with their statutory duties and proved that multiple offences have been committed. This would not have been possible without the use of these powers. I welcome the wish of my noble friend Lord Marlesford to address the needs of these services by this amendment but, regrettably, it would not solve the problem. I hope that he and the Minister will be able to reach an accommodation and understanding of his concerns and find a solution.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We reported on this Bill last October. I do not know to what extent Members of the House have had a chance to read that report. I do not think that it has been referred to in previous debates on this subject, but we dealt with this issue in chapter five of the report. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, have reminded us of my next point. It is ancient common law that there should be effective protection of our right against arbitrary search and seizure. For me it goes back at least to Entick v Carrington in the days of George III and the famous statement of principle by Lord Camden, which was adopted last week by the American Supreme Court in interpreting the Fourth Amendment to its constitution. Everyone knows that the sanctity of the home and the right to be protected against arbitrary search and seizure is enshrined in our common law. It is also enshrined in our constitutional law through the Human Rights Act and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 guarantees the fundamental right to be protected in respect of one's private life, one's home and one's correspondence. That has been repeatedly interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights as giving effective safeguards against abuse of the powers of search and seizure. Section 3 of the Human Rights Act requires all statutes, including this one, to be read and given effect, if possible, so as to comply with that convention right. Therefore, we are not legislating in a vacuum.
The Human Rights Act ensures that anything in this Bill which becomes law is subject to the right of protection in Article 8 of the convention. In addition, Section 6 of the Human Rights Act requires every public authority-this would apply to a police officer,
6 Feb 2012 : Column 21
"We welcome the recognition in the Bill that powers of entry should be strictly limited to those circumstances in which such a power is justified, necessary and accompanied by appropriate safeguards. The decision to review all existing powers of entry is a welcome one ... We consider that a review of existing powers of entry offers a clear opportunity to identify where powers of entry continue to be justified, proportionate and necessary".
That, of course, would be a way of giving more concrete support to what is already in the Human Rights Act and the convention. I should be grateful if the Minister were able, even though I have not given him notice, to deal with this in his reply. We regretted,
It would be helpful to know, if possible, the Government's response to that review. Nothing that I have said leads me to support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, even though I understand his reasons, which I fully respect, for tabling them. I do not think that they are very well drafted or necessary. I think that the safeguards referred to are sufficient but I would be grateful to know more about the review that we asked for as long ago as last October. If the House were asked to divide on this, I would have to vote against the amendment.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, I would have wanted to vote for the noble Lord's first amendment, but I can see that there are difficulties and that maybe more time for thought is required. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, that a report has been produced that emphasises the sovereignty, as it were, of the human rights convention, which intrudes-I mean that in a good sense-into earlier legislation and the rights and the protection that are not visible there.
My concern is that the ordinary man or woman in the street does not understand the scope of the Human Rights Act and would be outraged to hear that there are 1,200 instances when officials can enter your house-your home-and certainly your business and would wonder how that could have arisen over the years. In the absence of a ministerial explanation, I would be inclined to infer that it would become a habit that if you wanted a power that might be useful one of these days for some of your officials, you stick in a power of
6 Feb 2012 : Column 22
Something clearly has to happen as a result of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the research by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, which has produced the figure of 1,200, and 500 separate pieces of legislation, as I understand it, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. My present state of mind is that I am very anxious to hear what the Minister has to say and what amelioration of the situation can be produced. It is not satisfactory at the moment and some quite sweeping amendments will be required, no doubt making due reference to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I, too, have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Marlesford's amendment in principle. At the same time, I also observe that the review to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred a few moments ago is not required by statute until after this Bill is passed. It is in Clause 42 of the Bill, and Secretaries of State then have two years in which to review the 1,200 powers or however many it turns out to be. It would be helpful to your Lordships' House if my noble friend the Minister could tell us whether the review is already in progress and how many of the 1,200 powers have so far been reviewed in addition to the 15 that are due to be knocked out by Schedule 2. Clearly, the review has reached 15 of the 1,200 in a negative sense, but how many of the others have so far been reviewed?
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am sorry not to be able to support what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has described as his package. Reference has been made to individual amendments, but he rightly put them forward as a composite. I know the effort that he has applied over a long period, along with the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. I have been privileged to observe him in the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, conducting with great assiduousness what I can only describe as a campaign against rights of entry that continue to crop up in statutory instruments on which we are asked to comment.
I wrote down "presumption" in the non-legal sense; I agree that every power of entry should require a warrant, and my noble friend has reminded us of both the common law and the Human Rights Act. I welcome what is in the Bill, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to it, because I think we have rather tended to overlook what is proposed for our consideration.
I welcome Clauses 39 and 40. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, may not be a veteran, as some of us are, of the continuing debate over "must" and "may". I also welcome Clause 42. To pick up the terminology used by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I am certainly one who would normally chase the Government-I tend to be on the rather cynical wing. However, I take the two years for the completion of the review at face value, particularly as we can assume that the reports required of Ministers-a duty under Clause 42-will
6 Feb 2012 : Column 23
I am not entirely sure that I know what is meant by "demonstrate", but I suspect that we could be heading down a road to judicial review, which would mean that the High Court rather than magistrates became involved in many of these instances.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has mentioned environmental health officers; I think we have the Environment Agency. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, that like her I found the examples from the Local Government Association very powerful and helpful. However, I must agree with other noble Lords that this work cannot be allowed to rest.
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I want to add only a small footnote. I begin by expressing our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for the diligence that he has shown, not only on this occasion and in this context but because he is constantly on the lookout for failures or delays by government departments or other public bodies. He has made rather a specialisation of taking the opportunity to raise these in this forum. Currently, as always, it is an interesting and not entirely straightforward problem that comes before us.
My noble friend Lord Henley circulated a note last week on a possible exception to the requirement to demonstrate that entry would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought. He argued that the Home Office considered that such an exception would be unworkable. I would be very grateful for more explanation of what "unworkable" means in this context.
Lord Vinson: My Lords, first I apologise to the House for arriving late; my train was very late. I was particularly anxious to come to what I regard as an extremely important debate on fundamental freedoms. I join those who congratulated my noble friend Lord Marlesford on what he has done. It is apparent that the Minister, too, is sympathetic. However, his solution of a review carried out by the departments that have these powers is rather like asking a druggie to prescribe his own dose. Knowing the Civil Service, I predict that it will simply perpetuate the status quo. Frankly, that is not good enough. I suggest to the Minister that when he sums up, he should promise to strengthen the review mechanism so that other eyes, outside the quangos and departments concerned, can look at the necessity of the rights of entry and bring fresh thinking to the matter.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I hope that I may be able to help the House. This has been a 10-year journey for me. Three Private Member's Bills have gone through the House. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Having
6 Feb 2012 : Column 24
Those who work in trading standards are great people. I have written to them many times. A few days ago they sent me an e-mail at 4.13 pm. When I rang back at 4.30 pm they had gone home. However, we are good friends now and I am inviting them all to tea. If a trading standards officer goes into a restaurant or food shop, they go in either as themselves to buy something or, if they are going in to inspect, they have to be completely schizophrenic.
I wanted to see if I could help. As a Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, knows well, and will probably let us know in his response, exactly how many powers of entry his department has at this time. There was a problem when Ministers did not know what their powers of entry were and numerous Parliamentary Questions failed to get an answer. Finally, with the great help of the party opposite, we got the final part of the Bill through. It was difficult because no one really knew what it was about. I then thought we should have a period of consultation. I had not raised the matter before. I wrote to the LGA, every local authority in the land, every bishop and vicar and everybody at a local level, saying that we had a new private website and that if they wanted to know what the powers were they could contact the website. We did that with considerable difficulty. I also got in touch with Citizens Advice.
I kept coming back to try to give advice to people. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, does not accept advice willingly because he sees the end game very quickly. He has a very quick mind and found me rather a nuisance. Therefore, I introduced a few amendments in Grand Committee but have decided not to introduce any now.
The main objective of the three Bills was to promote the introduction of legislation after the election that would prevent officials from entering people's homes, land or places of work without permission or a warrant, and would introduce a suitable code of practice. We drafted such a code; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, will remember it. The Minister does not seem to want a code of practice at the moment. He just says, "We'll put one in". If we do not have a code of practice now, we will have a problem with powers of entry.
The second thing I asked for was a list. The Home Office stated that it could not put this into the Bill because by the time it was put in, a piece of secondary legislation might have changed it. I said, "Can we not have a list?". We could not really have a list, so I thought of another solution. In preparing the Bills I had great help from a professor at Lincoln University. With Oxford University Press, he regularly publishes the laws of search, seizure and entry. A new edition is coming out. They have agreed to co-operate with the Home Office, which has already been in touch with them. Naturally, I am not necessary in the loop. However, we will have an official publication that will be updated from time to time, and a website. I would like to be able to put that in the Library. It is, however, extraordinarily difficult, as a Back-Bencher is not allowed to put anything in the Library. The only
6 Feb 2012 : Column 25
This has been a most interesting time. I have bored to death not everyone-because there were not a lot of people around-but I have certainly bored Hansard. Again and again one has to re-type every Bill. Being on the Information Committee, I have the benefit of PICT. In the latest list I managed to transpose three Bills, but the Home Office has not picked up which ones they were.
I am very grateful to all those who have helped on this. I support my noble friend Lord Marlesford because I support him on almost everything he does. I am extraordinarily grateful to the party opposite for raising some serious problems. They looked at me with a certain cynicism to begin with, but I think we are good friends.
The Earl of Erroll: The point about passing at least two of these amendments is that at least we can come back and tidy them up at Third Reading, because certain people have criticised their wording. If you do not pass them now there is no pressure to put anything in at Third Reading. This happens quite frequently and stalls the whole thing.
The whole point is that householders need to know what their rights are. They cannot possibly begin to know if there are thousands of different powers of entry, so there need to be some very simple rules that apply universally, which is what we have to come up with eventually. I support the first two amendments in particular.
The first amendment is about giving permission for entry, which I fear slightly because there is always a danger of people being bamboozled on the doorstep or being threatened by "If you don't let us in we know you are guilty" and letting them in out of fear. Amendment 37ZB is therefore particularly important. It states what we understand the position to be in common law and in other things, but why not restate it? These are the things that must be taken into account when powers of entry are being examined and there is no harm in restating something when people have clearly forgotten. People expect a warrant unless there is a very good reason why not. To my mind that is quite reasonable and I cannot see why it is a problem.
I was most intrigued by the third amendment because it reserves certain powers and I could not understand why the noble Baroness started off by saying that trading standards officers did not exist, then said what a good job they did and then said that she disapproved of this amendment as it reserved powers to these non-existent people. I could not understand why the amendment was not a good idea because it would keep the powers of these people-whoever they might be-as they were. Although the amendments have defects, we should pass them and the Government can tidy them up at Third Reading.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who raises a very important issue in relation to the use of these powers. I
6 Feb 2012 : Column 26
It is important to recognise the rights of premises owners and occupiers when it comes to the use of these powers and to ensure that they are exercised, in the absence of the consent of the owner or a warrant, only when truly necessary. The noble Lord has introduced very important safeguards into his amendments. Last week, I was extremely anxious about the amendments that had been tabled because, like many other noble Lords, I had been contacted by the Trading Standards Institute, for whose work I have long-standing admiration, and was very worried about its concerns. The amendments which have been retabled by the noble Lord have assuaged many of my fears and the Trading Standards Institute clearly now feels comfortable with them.
The amendments leave a number of outstanding issues, the first being, as I believe the noble Lord himself said, as did the noble Baroness, that "trading standards officers" is not a recognised term. Therefore, the amendments would have to come back to the House at Third Reading because there would have to be some sort of tidying-up exercise.
I am also concerned about whether the amendments would hamper the legitimate use of these powers by local authority officers who are not currently provided with an exemption by the amendment, such as environmental health officers. I listened very carefully to the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Having said that, I believe that the noble Lord includes important safeguards in his amendment which specifically allow for the use of those powers when it can be demonstrated that the purpose of their use would be frustrated by having to seek permission from the premises owner or to apply for a warrant, which is a jolly important safeguard.
I am therefore in a bit of a difficult position here. I heard the discussion about the review. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, was right to say that the review mechanism must be strengthened. I wonder why the review is taking so long, and I would like to hear from the Minister. I will be interested to hear the Government's response to these amendments and, specifically, whether the Minister believes that the amendments provide sufficient safeguards to enable, for example, environmental health officers to undertake their work. I have to say that I am inclined to support these amendments, especially as it is clear that they will have to come back to the House at Third Reading in order to be technically correct. That would give Members of the House another opportunity, if necessary, to bring forward another amendment in order to safeguard the powers of, for example, environmental health officers.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Is the noble Baroness not satisfied that the Human Rights Act, which her Government introduced, ensures that all these powers have to be prescribed by law in a legally certain way and that they must be exercised in a proportionate way in order to protect our rights of personal privacy, home and correspondence? Why is that not good enough as a general standard which applies to future legislation as well as to past legislation?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Human Rights Act is an extremely important Act which provides the safeguards that the noble Lord suggests. However, I think that when some of these powers are being exercised, they are not always exercised according to the standards that should be imposed by the Human Rights Act. I also know that the very fact that there are these countless powers gives a lot of people concern that their very rights are being infringed. We have to look at all these things in the round.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, we return to an issue that my noble friend discussed in some detail in Committee. He has brought forward his two amendments, Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB, marginally amended in that he has, I think, changed from "owner" to "occupier", which is probably an improvement in the amendment, and has added Amendment 37ZC, which disapplies the restrictions imposed by Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB in particular circumstances; I will get to that in due course.
I made it quite clear to my noble friend in Committee that I have some sympathy with what he is trying to achieve in dealing with the 1,200 or so powers of entry that we have. We agree-my noble friend and I, and others-that there is a need to add further safeguards to the exercise of those powers of entry. That is why, as part of our coalition agreement-I emphasise that this is part of that; this is a coalition desire-we brought in Clauses 39 to 53 to provide some safeguards relating to the exercise of powers of entry. Where I differ from my noble friend is over his general approach; in particular, we continue to question the wisdom of adopting what would be a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach, which is what he is seeking to do.
I believe that the provisions already in the Bill offer a better way forward. Clause 42 places a duty-I stress that this is a duty-on the responsible Ministers to review each and every power of entry within two years of Royal Assent. I appreciate that there were some complaints from my noble friends Lord Cope and Lord Vinson about just how long that was going to take, but I have to make the point that there are some 1,200 of these powers of entry-of which getting on for half were introduced by the party opposite, the party in which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was such a luminary, and therefore I find her remarks on this subject somewhat interesting.
It is important that we review those powers of entry carefully and go through them and we have given ourselves the job to do that within two years of Royal Assent. Clause 40 enables new safeguards to be added to particular powers of entry by order. Again, I make no apology for that, but I remind the House that many
6 Feb 2012 : Column 28
My noble friend Lord Lester also worried about the fact that we were bringing in various Henry VIII powers to make amendments, and felt that that was not in line with what the Joint Committee on Human Rights had asked for. I should make it clear to my noble friend that we responded to the Joint Committee's report in November last year, and in that reply we pointed out that the Delegated Powers Committee had made no recommendation in respect of those delegated powers that we are assuming. Clause 40 allows us to add safeguards, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, in appropriate cases, and we will certainly do that.
I will focus my detailed remarks on Amendment 37ZB, as it was in respect of this amendment that my noble friend's arguments were, on the face of it, the most seductive. This amendment offers persons exercising a power of entry three options: first, they can obtain the consent of the occupier; secondly, they can obtain a warrant, usually from a magistrates' court; thirdly, the power may be exercised without a warrant or the agreement of the occupier in any case where it can be shown that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought.
I hope that there is general agreement that we cannot, in every case, demand that entry is effected only with the consent of the occupier or on the authority of a warrant. To illustrate that point, the House will recall the outbreak of foot and mouth disease where, had requirements such as these applied, I fear the consequences for livestock may have been much greater. Obviously, consent could have been withdrawn, and that carries its own risks.
To take another more recent example, the new Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act contains a number of powers that grant constables the right to enter and search premises without warrant. For instance, there is a power to enter and search premises if a constable has a reasonable suspicion that the individual who is subject to a TPIM has absconded. In such circumstances, the police clearly must act quickly to check whether the individual has absconded, and if he has, to try to find evidence to help locate him. The law is designed to protect our national interest and provide security to the public but could very well be frustrated by these amendments.
We must also consider the very serious questions of delay, where the exercise of overcaution or prolonged deliberation by the authorities might place at risk the health of animals, individuals or the wider public. Similarly, the need to obtain a warrant or, for instance, locate the occupier of the premises in question in order to get their permission to enter could lead to the loss of valuable time in some cases.
That is not to say, as I made clear at the beginning, that we do not support the use of warrants and seeking consent where that is appropriate. However, as we are all aware, there are a large number of powers of entry that exist today, and operational imperatives differ widely. We do not want to impede an authority's ability to respond to matters effectively and to take decisive action, and so we consider that such operational decisions are best taken by the relevant authorities.
However, I do not accept that this provides the answer. It is not entirely clear to whom any urgent or unannounced need to enter premises should be demonstrated and proven. The approach taken in this amendment could lead to endless, time-consuming and expensive litigation, with aggrieved persons challenging the lawfulness of the exercise of a power of entry in a particular case, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee made clear. Such a challenge could be mounted on the grounds that the public authority in question had not demonstrated that the given exercise of the power of entry would have been frustrated if the agreement of the occupier had been sought or a warrant obtained. I hope that was not what my noble friend was intending when he drafted his amendments, but I fear that it could be the likely outcome.
I appreciate that there have been concerns, expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and my noble friend Lady Eaton, relating to the Trading Standards Institute and the Local Government Association, which raised some concerns about Amendment 37ZA and 37ZB along the lines that I have set out. I appreciate also that my noble friend Lord Marlesford was trying to deal with those concerns by tabling Amendment 37ZC. In a sense his amendment makes my case for me, because at its heart is an acknowledgment that one size does not fit all, and that there must be exceptions to the blanket restrictions that my noble friend is seeking to impose by means of his Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB.
However, in providing exceptions purely for trading standards officers-undefined, as my noble friend Lady Eaton said-constables and members of the Security Service, or in pursuance of the protection of a child or a vulnerable adult, Amendment 37ZC simply highlights the fact that there will be other circumstances where the exception should apply. What about the powers of entry under the Gas Safety (Rights of Entry) Regulations 1996? I carefully took an example from a previous Conservative Government rather than from the previous Labour Government. These regulations offer powers of entry to premises for the purposes of preventing gas escapes, surely something that is very important-it would be necessary to move very quickly and there might not be time to obtain a warrant.
What about the powers to enter and search for evidence on premises occupied or controlled by a person who is under arrest for an indictable offence? Such powers are not just exercisable by constables but also by customs officers, immigration officers and
6 Feb 2012 : Column 30
I could provide more examples-I am sure there will be others-but until we have conducted the review I have promised, and which the statute makes clear will happen, it will be impossible to say with confidence that these amendments would not seriously inhibit the ability of law enforcement officers and others to protect the public.
As I have indicated, we wish to achieve an aim similar to the one my noble friend suggests. The new Home Office gateway has already removed in some cases-I can give this assurance to my noble friend Lord Cope-the right to enter private homes unless accompanied by a warrant. These include regulations relating to forestry law enforcement, wine manufacture and inspecting animals for disease. We have said that notice must be provided where it is reasonable to do so and appointments must be made with home owners and businesses before powers are exercised.
As I have mentioned, we will be reviewing all 1,200 or so powers of entry, and Clause 40 allows us to add necessary new safeguards on a case-by-case basis. The new code of practice, about which my noble friend Lord Selsdon was cynical, will be introduced under Clause 47 and will govern the exercise of powers of entry and set out further safeguards to protect the rights and civil liberties of individuals and businesses.
I put it to my noble friend that this is a preferable approach which provides greater legal certainty. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment. However, if he should seek the opinion of the House, I would encourage your Lordships to reject the amendment.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this interesting and useful debate. I was drawn to the clarity with which the legal mind of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, approached the issue; there is much attraction in it. However, the concessions I have made, which have been referred to, were intended to meet some of the points raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, was able to produce many arguments about why, in some way or other, the proposal had not gone far enough-even in the case of trading standards officers, who have expressed complete satisfaction with what I have done.
I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lady Eaton, who gave a full account of a case in Yorkshire. I am sure it was an important, useful and maybe typical case, but I found myself thinking that had the people involved needed to get a warrant they would have been able to execute the case every bit as effectively as they did without one because the timescale she described would have made it perfectly possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, made a good point. The tendency at the moment, which has grown up over the years, is that if you want an extra power of entry you just stick it in. That has been the culture which, in a sense, we are trying to counter.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, produced, as he so often does, the human rights legislation as being the solution to it all. I would remind him-well, not remind him because he knows it as well as I do, as do most of your Lordships-that human rights legislation, although desirable in theory, is about the slowest and most expensive route for correcting wrongs as can be imagined. The European Court of Human Rights is absolutely bunged full and is years and years behind. I would strongly recommend that we find a better route for anything which depended on using it. I see that the noble Lord is about to make a further defence of the Human Rights Act. I give way to him.
Lord Marlesford: Of course, if people do not like what our courts say, they go to the European Court of Human Rights. Most astonishingly trivial cases have been put to it. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister had some phrase for the multitude of cases going to the European Court of Human Rights. With the greatest respect and affection for my noble friend Lord Lester, I suggest that we do not use the European Court of Human Rights as a solution to these particular problems.
The Minister produced the same arguments as last time. He expressed a degree of sympathy but he did not answer in any detail the concerns of my noble friends over the progress of this review. All this debate has done, in a sense, is illustrate the way in which people will always find some ingenious argument or other to support a position. I remember my noble friend Lord Hurd, when he was a junior diplomat in Beijing-I think it was his first posting-writing a letter, which I was shown, to a certain noble Lord about a visit to Beijing of a senior politician who he described as being inclined to take up an impossible position and then cast around for clever ways of supporting it. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, saw this as the sure mark of a second-class mind. I thought that was pretty damning but there is a danger of trying to find arguments against this. I do not feel that any substantial argument has been put forward.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, got it right when he said that if we do not pass this now, nothing will happen. We have had years of nothing happening. I was grateful for the support of the Leader of the Opposition when she said that we must at least get the Government to come back at Third Reading with something. Otherwise, this whole issue will clearly go to sleep again. Over the past few years we have had a surfeit of ill prepared legislation. It is our duty to improve it, whatever the Whips may say. Otherwise, it is hard to justify the survival of your Lordships' House. I would like to test the opinion of the House.
"(4) A further safeguard shall be that, notwithstanding the statute providing for the power of entry, a power of entry may only be used without warrant, or without agreement with the occupier of the premises to be entered, in cases where the authority using the power can demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought."
(a) a Trading Standards Officer acting under any legislation which permits the Officer to exercise such a power;
(b) a Constable or a member of the Security Service acting under any legislation which permits such a person to exercise such a power; or
(c) doing so in pursuance of the protection of a child or a vulnerable adult."
"Mr Speaker, the whole House will be appalled by the bloodshed and repression which continues at this very moment. Over the last 11 months, more than 6,000 people have been killed. The Syrian regime has deployed snipers, tanks, artillery and mortars against civilian protestors and population centres, particularly in the cities of Homs, Idlib, Hama and Deraa. Thousands of Syrians have endured imprisonment, torture and sexual violence, including instances of the alleged rape of children, and the humanitarian position is deteriorating. This is an utterly unacceptable situation, which demands a united international response.
Last Tuesday, I attended the UN Security Council debate in New York, along with Secretary Clinton, the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and other Ministers. We all spoke in strong support of a draft UN Security Council resolution proposed by the Kingdom of Morocco on behalf of the Arab League. The resolution called for the implementation of the Arab League plan to stop all the violence in Syria from all sides, and to begin a political transition.
There was nothing in this draft resolution that could not be supported by any country seeking a peaceful end to the tragedy unfolding in Syria. It demanded an end to all violence; it called for a Syrian-led political process to allow the Syrians to determine their future; and it set out a path to a national unity Government and internationally supervised elections. It did not call for military intervention, and could not have been used to authorise any such action under any circumstances. It did not impose sanctions. It proposed putting the weight and authority of the United Nations Security Council behind a plan to achieve a lasting and sustainable peace in Syria.
As I said at the Security Council, this was the Arab League's plan; it was not a plan imposed by Western nations. It was co-sponsored by a large number of nations from the region, including Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Oman. Their leadership, and their strong understanding of their region, deserved our support. I pay particular tribute to the Secretary-General of the Arab League and to the Prime Minister of Qatar, who travelled to New York to brief the council and played a vital role in the extensive negotiations that followed.
On Saturday, the resolution was put to the vote. Thirteen of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council voted in favour. Two did not; Russia
6 Feb 2012 : Column 36
We regard this veto as a grave error of judgment by the Governments of China and Russia. There is no need to mince words about this. Russia and China have twice vetoed reasonable and necessary action by the United Nations Security Council. Such vetoes are a betrayal of the Syrian people. In deploying them, they have let down the Arab League; they have increased the likelihood of what they wish to avoid in Syria-civil war-and they have placed themselves on the wrong side of Arab and international opinion.
By contrast, I thank the other members of the Security Council for the principled stand they took, in particular the non-permanent members of the council-Morocco, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, India, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Togo-all of which voted in favour of the resolution. Pakistan's representative to the UN Security Council spoke for all of us when he said:
The Syrian regime may have drawn comfort from events at the United Nations Security Council, but we will do everything that we can to make sure that that comfort is short-lived. This is a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime. There is no way it can get its credibility back internationally or with its own people. The UN Security Council's failure to agree a resolution does not signal the end of our efforts to end the violence in Syria, and I want to set out how we will now proceed.
First, we will continue our strong support for the Arab League. Earlier this afternoon I spoke to the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, as well as the Foreign Minister of Jordan. I welcomed and encouraged the proposal to appoint a special envoy of the Arab League, and I commended the Arab League's leadership and action so far. Arab Foreign Ministers will meet this weekend to consider their options. The Secretary-General was very clear about the urgency of the situation, the continued determination of the Arab world to act and the need to step up their efforts. I told the Secretary-General that the Arab League will have our complete support.
Secondly, we will seek to widen the international coalition of nations seeking a peaceful and lasting resolution for Syria. We welcome the concept of a new Arab-led group of Friends of Syria, which I discussed with the Prime Minister of Qatar last Tuesday. The aim of such a group will be to demonstrate the strength of international support for the people of Syria and their legitimate demands, to co-ordinate intensified diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime and to engage with Syrian opposition groups committed
6 Feb 2012 : Column 37
Thirdly, we will intensify our contact with members of the Syrian opposition. The House will recall that in November I announced the appointment of an ambassador-level envoy, Frances Guy, to lead our discussions with them. We will continue to urge the Syrian opposition to come together and to agree a common statement of commitment to democracy, to human rights and to the protection of all Syria's minorities.
Fourthly, we will maintain our strong focus at the United Nations, undeterred by Saturday's vote. We will continue to raise Syria at the UN Security Council and we will consider with other nations a resolution of the UN General Assembly. Despite our disagreement with Russia and China we will continue to discuss with them any possibility of an agreed but meaningful way forward.
Fifthly, we will increase pressure through the European Union, following the discussions I had in New York with Ministers from France, Portugal and Germany. We have already agreed 11 rounds of EU sanctions and will hope to agree further measures by the Foreign Affairs Council on 27 February.
Sixthly, we will work with others to ensure that those responsible for crimes in Syria are held to account. At the UN Human Rights Council meeting in March in Geneva we will work to ensure the strongest possible mandate to scrutinise human rights violations in Syria, so that those responsible know that there will be a day of reckoning and that they will be held to account.
Seventhly, we will use our remaining channels to the Syrian regime to make clear our abhorrence at violence that is utterly unacceptable to the civilised world. The Syrian ambassador to London was today summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to receive this message. Despite our deteriorating relations with the Syrian Government we remain committed to ensuring the safety of their embassy and staff in London. We expect that the Syrian authorities will provide the same protection to our embassy in Damascus.
In parallel, I have today recalled to London our ambassador from Damascus for consultations. He and his team work in extremely difficult conditions to ensure that we have an accurate picture of what is happening in Syria. I hope the House will join me in paying fulsome tribute to them and their families. Their safety and security is always prominent in our considerations.
The human suffering in Syria is already unimaginable and is in grave danger of escalating further. The position taken by Russia and China has regrettably made this more likely. However this Government, this House, our country and our allies will not forget the people of Syria. We will redouble our efforts to put pressure on this appalling regime and to stop this indefensible violence".
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement that was made by the Foreign Secretary. There is clear agreement right across this
6 Feb 2012 : Column 38
President Assad is, plainly, not the ruler who is wanted by the people of his country and that is because of a history of brutal and murderous dictatorship. Between him and his father there are 40 years of dictatorship backed, for the larger part, by another dictatorship-in particular, the Soviet Union. All of us will have seen on our televisions horrific scenes, in many ways alike to those when Gaddafi made his push on Benghazi. Does the Minister have any firm knowledge of the numbers of deaths and injuries inflicted on the Syrian people? Estimates that I have seen run from between 6,000 and 15,000 deaths, and if there was just one week like yesterday that would add 1,400 deaths. How confident are the Government of the information that they have?
I welcome the efforts made by the Foreign Secretary at the United Nations Security Council and the coming together of 13 democratic nations in their expression of outrage. It is wholly disgraceful, in the view of the Opposition, that Russia and China vetoed the resolution. It is shameful that even when extensive efforts had been made to reflect and resolve their anxieties, they could not back a resolution which instigated no further sanctions, and certainly no use of force. In Russia's case, it had circulated a draft resolution last December which described the regime's concerted violence as no different from the protests on the street of the Syrian people-protests which have remained overwhelmingly peaceful. That draft resolution was of course inadequate to the needs of the situation and could not command support among leading western states in the Security Council.
Russia and China have now shown their hand. They have prioritised their own interests over any fundamental duty to the world community. They have ignored the vital participation of the Arab League, critical to any potential for success in the region. It was, as the Foreign Secretary said in the Statement, an Arab League initiative and the Government are right to pursue all of their work with the league. The Arab League, deploying a relatively small number of observers-far smaller than was really needed because of Syrian objections to the proper delegation-took its decisions when it had made an assessment on the ground. It was painfully aware that it could not provide physical or political protection to the citizens, or even soften the brutality of the regime.
We are under no illusion. The consequence of this veto is to sanction greater violence and more blood-spilling. Yesterday's events were the first instalment of the liberty granted to President Assad to murder more of his own people. I note that the Foreign Secretary used the word "betrayal" of the Syrian people. That is the right word. I take the Russian and Chinese decision
6 Feb 2012 : Column 39
The international community must plainly plan a co-ordinated and coherent response. It may be unlikely but efforts to bring Russia and China onside, as the Statement says, must continue. They cannot sidestep their obligations and duties. Do the Government have a view on how to engage with these two recalcitrant powers? Does the Minister agree with me that whatever the obvious shortcomings of the United Nations machinery, the United Nations remains the major theatre for diplomatic effort and international co-ordination? Does he also agree that the EU continues to have a vital role? Will the Government consider seeking a joint EU/Arab League summit to get a greater degree of co-ordination? If the Minister does agree, how will Her Majesty's Government now approach the work at the UN, recognising that there has obviously been a significant set-back?
We support the extension of sanctions by the EU regarding travel bans and asset freezes so long as they can bring into scope a wider group of individuals and organisations. The EU is to be congratulated, as are the Government of the United Kingdom. We are keen to know what potential anybody feels there is to draw the Russians into the application of these sanctions. Are there elements of the Danish presidency programme in the EU which the Minister believes might assist?
I appreciate the difficulties of embarking on such a course but it may well be that the evidence of crimes against humanity or, to use the wider generic expression, crimes of concern to humanity has so obviously placed President Assad outside and beyond international law that other steps may become possible. Has the Minister a view on how Her Majesty's Government might obtain international support, if possible, for international warrants against those named in the EU sanctions list? In the event that they travelled outside Syria in those circumstances, it might be possible in due course to seek their arrest and their trial at The Hague for international crimes. What scope is there for one of the clearer courses of actions that may be available to us-detailed investigation of all of the assets held here or, as I understand it in one or two cases, on the Côte d'Azur?
As regards the assessment the Government make of the issues inside Syria, I understand that the Syrian air force has not flown missions since the start of the conflict. Were it to do so and use military airplanes against the Syrian people, would the Government consider seeking the support of the Arab League for a no-fly zone? It is sometimes said that the Syrian opposition are not in the same state of readiness as was the case with the opposition in Libya. It is not entirely clear to me-perhaps it is not clear to everybody in your Lordships' House-that the new Government of Libya are entirely united in all their purposes. I make no criticism of that; they are a new Government operating in difficult circumstances. However, it certainly seems to me that the Libyan opposition were united in
6 Feb 2012 : Column 40
What is the United Kingdom Government's assessment of the cohesion or otherwise of the Syrian opposition? Has Frances Guy formed even a preliminary view at this stage? The opposition, through the Syrian National Council, have also called for safe zones to be created. I have read of the potential for that, with several regions being named. I claim no knowledge of the practicality of this proposal. I make no pretence of knowledge in that regard. However, have the Government considered possible non-interventionist methods of securing the safety of Syrians on the ground where they are being pursued to their deaths?
President Assad has no future. He has lost the legitimacy to rule and he cannot reassert it through the barrel of a gun indefinitely. He is backed internationally at present by nations which should know better. Although I suspect that on balance it remains better to have a Syrian ambassador in London, under what circumstances would Her Majesty's Government consider the issue of that ambassador's future? As regards that ambassador, from these Benches I congratulate the Metropolitan Police on their efforts at the Syrian embassy-never an easy undertaking but conducted with typical professionalism, as we would all expect.
As this crisis matures-and it certainly will-I hope that the Minister will feel that it is appropriate to report back to this House on appropriate occasions. I do not ask for a running commentary, of course, but a chance to review matters if they deteriorate. Once again, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I thank the noble Lord for his very robust support and expert analysis of the overview of the situation, which is very welcome. To take his last point first, I would be very prepared to keep the House as fully informed as possible, as I know my colleagues would in both Houses, on the unfolding tragedy and situation. I will, if I may, take his questions in order. On the number of those who have been killed, we have the figure of 6,000, which seems to be a fairly widely accepted estimate, but of course I cannot possibly guarantee that that is the precise number in the blood, smoke and horror of what is going on. There may be many more; there may be cover-ups or hideous atrocities going on at this moment that are not recorded. We just have to accept that as the figure for the moment, but it could be larger.
The noble Lord's next question was about how we engage with Russia and China and bring home to those great powers and to the policy-makers in Moscow and Beijing that they have misjudged the situation. It is now a global order, brought together by the miracle of modern communication-a transformed world in which the upkeep of certain basic standards must be supported by all responsible nations. If they want to be in that category they must take a responsible position. We know that Russia has its interests, such as its huge naval base at Tartus, and its long-standing commitment
6 Feb 2012 : Column 41
Meanwhile, given that opposition, we have to operate outside the United Nations. We have to look for every possible means of mobilising pressure outside the UN framework for the time being in the hope of getting the process back there some day. The noble Lord raised the question of a joint summit with the Arab League and the European Union. Our thinking is that any such summit should be wider than that. I repeat that this is a global issue and that all responsible nations are ready to step up to the plate, as it were, and voice their views in favour of increased pressure on the Syrian regime and the need for the present killer authorities to go. My right honourable friend would certainly look for wider participation than just the Arab League and the European Union.
The next meeting on 27 February, mentioned in the Statement, is an opportunity to turn the screws further. Of course, an enormous range of sanctions has already been introduced. There are targeted sanctions and every kind of detailed sanction on the Syrian regime. There is a ban on imports of Syrian oil, of course, and on any investment in the Syrian oil industry; a ban on European Union investment construction of new power stations in Syria; and a whole range of other financial and detailed embargos on the export of Syrian banknotes, coinage, and so on. It is possible that there could be more, and we will constantly search for more, and tighter, sanctions, but we must bear in mind the enormous range already in place. A no-fly zone is possibly a read-across from Libya, which may not be entirely relevant at this point because the Syrian air force is not flying. These horrors are being conducted without aircraft overhead adding to the strafing and the killing. There are no operations in the sky to be checked at this stage.
On the Syrian opposition, my right honourable friend met leaders of the Syrian oppositions-in the plural-in November. We are in touch with them, and we are constantly urging them to become more united and to formulate a coherent position, but we are not yet there. The opposition in Syria is many sided and does not yet have the coherence and organisational power to give it the semblance of an alternative, replacement Government. However, we shall continue to work on that.
On safe zones, this would be difficult given that it is not the policy to work for any kind of detailed military intervention. Of course, our Turkish colleagues and allies have considered that idea in view of their position right up against the Syrian border. However, that is not in our catalogue at the moment.
My right honourable friend described how the Syrian ambassador had been brought into the Foreign Office to see officials very recently-this morning, I think. His status is something we keep under review. On the
6 Feb 2012 : Column 42
Finally, the noble Lord rightly praised the Metropolitan Police for their action in protecting the Syrian embassy. I make it absolutely clear that it is our policy always to protect foreign embassies in accordance with the highest diplomatic standards, and of course-as my right honourable friend said in his Statement-we expect that the Syrian authorities will do the same. I think that that covers all his points. I thank him again for his and Her Majesty's Opposition's strong and reassuring support in reaching a point at which we are all united.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, this is a serious, sensitive and solemn Statement from my noble friend, and I welcome it very strongly. As we have seen the standing of the Arab League rising in recent times, it is particularly disappointing that the standing of the UN Security Council has fallen because of the actions of Russia and China. Can my noble friend reassure me that while we cannot depend on the United Nations for the present, we will use our good offices within the General Assembly to help Russia and China understand the gravity of their mistake?
My noble friend mentioned co-operation with other European countries and with the Arab League, and I welcome that. However, we of course have our ally in Turkey right on the front line-as he has said. While I do not advocate any military adventures from us at this stage, can I be reassured that we will co-operate, in whatever way we can, with our allies in Turkey, directly as well as perhaps through the auspices of NATO? Can I also be reassured that members of President al-Assad's family will not be permitted to use their close relationship with this country either to protect themselves or their assets at this time, or indeed for anything they might plan for the future? This is something for which our own Government can perhaps take some responsibility, and on which they can act.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend made three points. First, on how we can help to make the UN more effective, we are of course living with the legacy of the Second World War and a UN structure that is frozen in time. Many people, including many of your Lordships, have worked hard over the years to try to break the deadlock on UN reform to get a more effective regime that is not vulnerable to the kind of vetoes that we have seen over this affair. However, it is very difficult, and every time we have tried, people have disagreed with each other and no progress has been made. None the less, we will certainly keep trying.
Thirdly, President Bashar al-Assad's family will get no special protection. There will be no special relationship, despite the fact that some of them have direct origins in this country. The matter will be kept under very careful review. However, there will be no special favours for the families of any members of the regime who are guilty of the kind of atrocities that are now occurring.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a former British ambassador to Syria and a member of the British/Syrian council. When the Minister responded to my intervention last Thursday, in which I talked about the precedents of Libya and Egypt, he rightly said that the cases of Syria, Libya and Egypt were very different. I will draw attention briefly to the precedent of Iraq. Before there is any question of intervening in Syrian internal affairs-I accept with gratitude the statement that there is no present intention to do so, and the fact that the resolution in the Security Council did not argue for military intervention-the matter needs very careful thought.
The precedent of Iraq is nasty. We did not take adequate account of what the outcome was likely to be. One outcome that is very relevant to Syria was the decimation of the Christian population of northern Iraq, where some of the oldest Christian communities existed. Half a million Christians are now refugees in Syria. Will the Minister assure the House that we have enough intelligence to know not just the figures for those who have died but the situation of the opposition? There are reports that the opposition in Syria is severely dysfunctional and that there is strong disagreement between its various parts. Do we have enough intelligence to work out what the consequence of the action against Syria will be? I ask the Minister to consider in particular the situation of the minorities there, including the Christian population, who are extremely nervous about the prospects of a change of regime, and the very small remaining Jewish minority.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is absolutely right to cast his expert eye over the internal complexities of Syria and the uncertainties of the outcome of the immense turmoil that is gripping its society. He is right to say that although there is no question of military intervention, the outside world is putting pressure on Syria for the very good reason that an imploded Syria, or a Syria turning one way or another politically, or into a rogue state, would have major implications for the entire region and would affect us all. There is a responsibility to put on pressure, but no one at this stage is proposing military intervention, although some members of the Arab League have certainly talked about assisting opposition groups.
It is a very delicate scene. I wish I could stand here and predict exactly how things will unfold. The noble Lord is absolutely correct that among the many minorities is a very large Christian minority. The numbers vary. I have heard a figure of 250,000; the noble Lord mentioned 500,000. We are encouraging Syrian opposition groups to reach out, engage with minority communities and maintain a clear commitment to a peaceful and non-sectarian approach. They should reassure all Syrians that they are working towards a Syrian state that is
6 Feb 2012 : Column 44
Lord Anderson of Swansea: Does the Minister agree that Russia and China have put themselves on the wrong side of history by vetoing a very diluted UN Security Council resolution and that it must be very difficult for them now to retreat? I welcome the Minister's six points on the way forward but these are, essentially, further diplomatic pressures at the United Nations and at the European Union and further potential sanctions. There is, however, great urgency in the situation. Delay surely means further carnage, particularly among the civilian population. What is the evidence of any intervention by Iran with military matériel or personnel to assist the Syrian regime? Where does its supply come from, or does it have sufficient stocks? The reality is that the rebels are massively outgunned. Will Turkey or the Arab League have on the agenda at their meeting this weekend the possibility of assisting in this disparity of weaponry? The Minister has said that a no-fly zone is not in the catalogue at the moment. May I express the hope that, if it is not in the catalogue at the moment, there is contingency planning in case the Syrians use their air power against the rebels?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Information about Iranian supplies of weaponry to the Syrian regime is difficult to pin down precisely. There are certainly fairly substantial reports of such a supply of weapons. He asks whether, on the side of the allies, Turkey, Qatar or even Saudi Arabia, although he did not mention that country, could supply weapons to the opposition groups. They have said publicly that they are considering such moves. This is, however, a matter that the Arab League will have to deliberate on very carefully and reach their decisions on as soon as possible. As the noble Lord says, there is not much time. That is the position and I fully take the point that, as every day goes by, with delay more people are dying. This is an horrific pattern and although it is very hard to see how it can be stopped we have to find the best possible ways of doing so.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the robust and measured Statement of the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons. As these appalling events are unfolded by the Syrian Government on the civilian population of that country, is it not remarkable the extent to which people are prepared to go, even at the risk of their own life, to make sure that their cry, their voice, their opinion, is heeded and heard throughout the world? Can my noble friend give any further information to the House about the attitude of Russia and China? Was it indicated, in their representatives' comments in the United Nations-both in session and in the corridors-what, if anything, their end game might be? What are their objectives, or are they just making mayhem wherever the opportunity occurs?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend makes two points. First, he drew attention to something that we are inclined sometimes to forget, with the tumult of pictures on the television and so on-the staggering courage of people who are prepared to go into the streets, knowing that bullets will be flying, knowing that murder and mayhem will take place. That staggering courage is something that we should all salute and brings hope that the Syrian people-as opposed to the regime that is oppressing them-have got a strength and endurance which will see them through in the end. It is indeed a remarkable thing.
As to the Russian agenda, Mr Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is going to Damascus, I think either late today or tomorrow, and he is going to see Bashar al-Assad. He is going with his secret service chief, I see. There appears to be a view in Moscow that they have their agenda and their own path that they want to pursue for bringing some amelioration to this horrific situation. I think that they are mistaken. I think that that is a complete misjudgment, but that is what they are doing and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be speaking to Mr Lavrov as soon as he returns from Damascus.
Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, I join others in paying tribute to our ambassador and his staff and their families in Damascus who are doing an extraordinarily good job in very difficult circumstances. In that context, will the Minister confirm that our ambassador has been withdrawn only for consultations and will soon be back in Damascus? It has always struck me as a curious diplomatic convention to withdraw ambassadors from post when situations get bad, which is precisely the moment when they can be the most use.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I fully share the noble Lord's remarks about Simon Collis, our excellent ambassador. He is recalled here for consultation. We are not closing the embassy at this stage. Obviously it is a matter under complete review, as is the question of the security of embassy staff and everyone concerned. I can confirm what my right honourable friend said in his Statement-that the ambassador has been recalled for consultation. We are not closing the embassy at this stage.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister also accept congratulations on the work of the UK mission in New York? To have got 13 people to vote for this resolution is no simple matter, particularly since some of the countries that voted for it are very careful not to get involved in "undue interference" in other countries' business-so that gives the lie, frankly, to the Russians and the Chinese, who regard this as being that. Could the Minister perhaps say whether the Government are contemplating providing any humanitarian assistance to the rebels and to those who are wounded in this fighting, and also whether any thought is being given to the application of the convention on torture to people who are involved in the regime?
Lord Howell of Guildford: On the first point, the noble Lord speaks with experience, because he has done that job himself and knows exactly how difficult
6 Feb 2012 : Column 46
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I asked whether the Government are giving any consideration to the application of the convention against torture to those in the regime who are undoubtedly using that practice.
Lord Howell of Guildford: This is obviously one of the many matters under consideration. Of course, it is related to the broader matter of whether there will be a UN resolution in relation to the reference to the International Criminal Court. It requires a UN resolution because Syria is not a signatory to the ICC. As I have raised that matter, I should just make it clear that the commission of inquiry quite clearly stated its concern that crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria, which may be a matter for the International Criminal Court. The UK would not rule out referral to the ICC, as suggested by Mrs Pillay. The commission of inquiry report does not specifically recommend referral to the ICC, nor does the Human Rights Council have the power to refer cases. It would be for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC prosecutor. I would add that I am absolutely sure that issues about torture and other gross human rights abuses would certainly arise in that context.
Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, perhaps I can ask my noble friend the Minister for some further clarification. In his response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on safe zones, I think he said that these had not yet been agreed or discussed. After the statement Turkey made over the weekend that its borders would now be open for people fleeing persecution, for refugees wanting to go across into Turkey for sanctuary, have there been any further discussions and deliberations on the creation of the buffer zone that was being discussed a few months ago?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I do not think there have. This is a matter that appeared in the public press some weeks ago but I am not aware of it coming up in the agenda of our discussions with the Turkish Government. I may be wrong about that, but I certainly have no reports in my briefing on that particular issue.
Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a major motivation for the Russian and Chinese vetoes is their fear of internal dissent in their own countries and of international eyes being cast upon their own misdeeds?
Lord Howell of Guildford: That is absolutely true. My noble friend is completely correct that both Governments have problems-shall we put it like that-with certain areas that are seeking either secession or a degree of autonomy that they do not want to accept, and they have this fear of fragmentation of their own
6 Feb 2012 : Column 47
Lord Stirrup: My Lords, the terrible events in Syria may have consequences well beyond the borders of that country. Can the Minister say what discussions the UK has had, both internally and with its international partners, on the potential implications for the Lebanon, and how these might be mitigated?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, we keep in very close touch with partners, and indeed the Lebanese authorities and the Lebanese Prime Minister, Mr Najib Mikati, over the situation. It is a delicate and very difficult one for the Lebanese Government, who have problems internally with Hezbollah and with their relationship with Syria, which is complex and has been in the past extremely difficult. These matters are under very close review at all times.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|