Of course, I accept that some of those with tariffs of less than two years will be more serious cases than others, but there is one thing that they all have in common. We know for certain the sentence that they would have been given if the IPP sentence, now abolished,

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had never been invented: they would have been given determinate sentences equal to twice the length of their tariffs. We know that, because that is how the judges fix the tariff in the first place; that is, at half the appropriate determinate sentence. Indeed, one way of dealing with the backlog would be, in the case of short and medium-tariff prisoners, simply to substitute determinate sentences of twice the length of their tariff.

5.30 pm

It follows from what I have said that, if they had been given determinate sentences, they would have been out long ago. No doubt some of them would have committed further offences; perhaps some of them would have been a cause of harm to the public. That is surely a risk which we must take; it is inherent in the whole idea of determinate sentences. The risk involved in releasing these 773 prisoners now is no greater than it would have been if they had been given determinate sentences instead of indeterminate sentences. Indeed, the risk would be less if they were released now in the way that I am suggesting, because they would be released on licence, so that, if they showed any signs of reoffending, they could be recalled.

The prison system depends on punishment being seen to be fair as between different prisoners. That is definitely not the case with those prisoners who, with very short tariffs, are still in prison. I know this from the many letters that I and others have received, both from them and their families. I shall read something in that connection which was said in the report prepared for the Prison Reform Trust in 2010. At page 49 appear these words:

“It strikes us as fundamentally unfair to have two groups of prisoners with identical criminal histories, one group sentenced prior to July 2008, subject to indeterminate preventative sentences, and the other sentenced thereafter, and serving relatively short determinate sentences. The former group will watch the latter leave prison whilst they remain subject to indeterminate preventative detention—detention that was imposed in relation to offences which, by any measure, were of relatively low levels of seriousness”.

I agree with that comment, as I hope will the Committee. I even dare to hope that the Minister may agree with it, or at least give us some reason why he does not. I beg to move.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, most of what needs to be said on this amendment has already been said and said eloquently by my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who has championed the cause of this desperately unfortunate cohort of prisoners for some time past.

I have added my name to the amendment, however, and speak as one of five Members of this House sitting in an appellate capacity in May 2009 in the case of James, Wells and Lee before those prisoners took their case to Strasbourg. Although in this House we felt obliged to dismiss their appeals, all of us were fiercely critical of the way in which the IPP regime had been introduced in 2004 by the 2003 Act. I observed that it was a most regrettable thing that the Secretary of State had been found to be, indeed had admitted by then to having been, in systemic breach of his public law duty at least for the first two or three years of the

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regime. That was in the period prior to the 2008 amendments, so it was in respect of the period from 4 April 2005 to 14 July 2008.

The European Court of Human Rights, as is well known, went further than we had felt able to do. In the case of those three applicants, whose tariffs were respectively two years, one year, and nine months, all having been sentenced in 2005, the European Court concluded that,

“following the expiry of the applicants’ tariff periods and until steps were taken to progress them through the prison system with a view to providing them with access to appropriate rehabilitative courses”,

their detention had been arbitrary and therefore in breach of Article 5.1 of the convention. In so holding, the Strasbourg court emphasised, at paragraphs 203 and 204 of its judgment, that those three prisoners had been sentenced during the initial phase of the regime when the sentence was mandatory, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has explained, with the judges required to assume dangerousness—in their case—and leaving no room for the exercise of any judicial discretion. It is precisely that cohort of prisoners to whom our proposed amendment is directed and to whom it would apply.

In 2012, at much the same time as Strasbourg was deliberating on those cases, LASPO was enacted here, abolishing the IPP regime from 2012 for all time. Importantly for present purposes, as again the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has explained, it introduced a means of improving the lot of those unhappy prisoners who had earlier been sentenced under it. It did this by Section 128, enabling the Secretary of State by order in effect to relax the usual criteria by which the Parole Board decides whether to direct a prisoner’s release.

It is at this stage that I want to make brief mention of a celebrated case, already touched on by the noble and learned Lord and well known to all who are ever interested or concerned in public or administrative law. I refer to the case of Padfield v Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, decided by this House nearly 50 years ago in 1968. There, as here, a discretion had been conferred by legislation on the Minister. There, as here, the Minister had declined to exercise that discretion. I do not pretend that the factual context there was remotely analogous to that here, but I believe that the following, frequently cited passage from Lord Reid’s judgment has a real relevance in the present context, too. This I quote from the report in 1968 appeal cases at page 1030:

“Parliament must have conferred the discretion with the intention that it should be used to promote the policy and objects of the Act; the policy and objects of the Act must be determined by construing the Act as a whole and construction is always a matter of law for the court. In a matter of this kind it is not possible to draw a hard and fast line, but if the Minister, by reason of his having misconstrued the Act or for any other reason, so uses his discretion as to thwart or run counter to the policy and objects of the Act, then our law would be very defective if persons aggrieved were not entitled to the protection of the court”.

If one now asks, “What are the policies and objects of LASPO?”, the 2012 Act, there can surely be no doubt. Parliament was at one and the same time abolishing what by then had become recognised to be an unfair and unsustainable penal scheme, essentially providing as it had for preventive detention, and allowing

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the Secretary of State by order to abate or at any rate ameliorate the injustices that had arisen from the scheme and which remained from earlier years. The amendment would cut the Gordian knot with regard to the most unfairly treated group of IPP prisoners: those who must by definition have served at least three times—quite possibly, up to 20 times—the length of their tariff sentences. I say at least three times because, by definition, their tariffs were less than two years and they were sentenced before July 2008, which is now six years ago.

For my part, I urge in addition that the Secretary of State should now, at long last, exercise his Section 128 discretion in respect not only of that cohort but of others lucklessly left over from the IPP regime, for example, others sentenced in the earlier years when the court had no option but to pass indeterminate sentences. At the very least, surely the Secretary of State should now direct the Parole Board to reverse the burden of proof. At the moment, prisoners are required to prove that they would constitute no threat to the public on release. Surely that burden should now be placed on the Secretary of State for Justice.

However, for the 773 prisoners who would benefit from the amendment, we suggest that enough is enough. They should simply be freed. No doubt some will reoffend following release, but at least we shall have placed some limit on the ever-growing length of their preventive detention, and that stain will have been removed from our criminal justice system.

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, this is my first contribution on the Bill; I apologise that I could not participate at Second Reading. The amendment deals with a matter about which I feel very strongly. I speak as a layman, not as a lawyer; we have heard excellent analysis from the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd and Lord Brown.

At present, on figures I have received today, there are still 5,206 prisoners in the UK serving IPP sentences—sentences that were, as we have heard, abolished in 2012. Of those, 3,575 prisoners have already passed their tariff. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, mentioned, the Parole Board releases about 400 inmates every year at the present rate of release. That means it would take nine years to clear the backlog.

In March this year, I led a debate in your Lordships’ House calling for a rapid assessment of those serving those sentences. I argued that priority should be given to those who were originally given tariffs of two years or less. I will not repeat all the arguments today, but noble Lords may remember that in that debate, I mentioned that when the sentences were first introduced, courts had little discretion in choosing whether to impose an IPP sentence, and many were handed out for offences such as burglary and robbery. One tariff was set as low as 28 days.

I am therefore very glad to lend my support to Amendment 17. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd and Lord Brown, for tabling it. I warmly support the initiative. I ask the Minister whether he can sleep at night when he thinks of people who

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have been so long in prison—way beyond the period for which they expected to be there.

5.45 pm

I should say that that argument is particularly potent on account of the Supreme Court’s ruling in October that oral hearings for prisoners should be available in more circumstances than at present. Indeed, the need for extra resources for the Parole Board is even more pressing as a result of that ruling, as has been mentioned on other occasions in this Chamber. Whereas previously, oral hearings were generally granted in cases where it was deemed that that would affect the final outcome of the case, the Supreme Court’s ruling will mean that there will be no such restriction, as I understand it.

It is estimated that the number of hearings before the Parole Board every year will increase from 4,500 to 16,000. That will put further pressure on an already stretched service and add millions to the cost. That is at a time when the number of prison officers has fallen by more than 30% over the past three years.

I do not in theory find contention with the Supreme Court’s ruling, but surely the board will need more resources than the extra £3 million that I understand has been earmarked by the Government. When we consider that each prison place costs £40,000 a year, it would surely make all economic sense to speed up the rate of those prisoners’ reassessments.

It is also likely, in the light of the judgment mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, a moment ago—that of the European Court of Human Rights in James, Wells and Lee v United Kingdom in favour of the plaintiffs—that more and more prisoners will be taking the Government to court. Noble Lords will remember that the ECJ ruled that detaining individuals serving IPPs beyond their tariff without progressing those individuals’ rehabilitation was “arbitrary and unlawful” and that the Government’s appeal against the decision was rejected in February 2013. Surely the Government are not going to continue behaving in an arbitrary and unlawful manner in this regard. Surely we as a Chamber cannot accept that as a way in which Governments should behave.

The provisions in Amendment 17 would certainly be a step in the right direction, and I urge the Government to respond positively to it.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers: My Lords, I had the good fortune a week ago to enjoy a superb production of “Fidelio” at Garsington. “Fidelio” is an unusual opera, as it has a happy ending, when miserable prisoners, unjustly detained, are released on the orders of the minister of state. Many have been waiting for the Secretary of State for Justice to procure the release of a relatively small category of prisoners whose continued detention is a flagrant violation of the demands of justice. They are the IPP prisoners who, despite having received relatively modest tariff sentences, were deemed to be dangerous under a statutory presumption that has since been discredited and abolished. Years ago, they completed the terms of imprisonment that were appropriate for their offences. Their continued detention

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today is shameful. The amendment should not be necessary, and one hopes that the Lord Chancellor will take the necessary action to demonstrate that it is not.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, in supporting my noble and learned friend Lord Brown and saluting my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd on his determined and tenacious momentum on this issue, I want to say just one thing. I am amazed that the Government are not tabling this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, mentioned, £40,000 a year for 773 prisoners is £35 million per year. If you have an overstretched and underresourced Prison Service, surely it makes sense to examine where you could make savings to put the money to better effect, rather than spend it on prisoners who should not be there. I fail to understand why, in the face of all the arguments, all the legal statements and all the evidence, plus the legislation passed in 2012, the Government have not taken the common-sense step of approaching this forcefully themselves.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for his campaign to achieve justice for IPP prisoners. I remember well the debate on 27 March secured by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who raised this issue on that occasion.

The continued imprisonment of those who are serving tariff sentences of less than two years for so long after those tariff sentences were completed, and now long after IPP sentences were abolished by the LASPO Act, is nothing short of disgraceful. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, mentioned “Fidelio”. In that opera, it took the courage of Florestan’s wife Leonore, who, dressed as Fidelio, risked her life to save her husband from unjust imprisonment, to secure his release. All that is necessary for this Government now is for the Secretary of State to exercise his power—given to him, as has been pointed out, by the second limb of Section 128 of the LASPO Act—to introduce a simple presumption in favour of release unless the continued imprisonment of any such prisoner on an IPP can be positively and clearly justified. It is a simple presumption. It meets the justice of the case. It answers any need that remains for the protection of the public. I suggest that this unfairness must be ended, and now.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, it is ironic that the Committee meets today, on Bastille Day, as the French Revolution effectively broke out with the release of a number of prisoners on what were presumably indeterminate sentences. I suppose that they might have been lettres de cachet. The House and the Committee are indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, who has constantly raised this matter.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to “Fidelio”. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State would find himself comfortable in the position of the Minister in that opera; perhaps he would be more comfortable in another opera as Gilbert and Sullivan’s Lord High Executioner. Be that as it may, the noble and learned Lord raised a series of questions,

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implicitly or explicitly, to which we have had no reply thus far. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some indication of the Government’s thinking, if they have got that far, on the issues raised this afternoon.

The first question has already been asked but I will repeat it: why include a provision in legislation and then completely ignore it? Have the Government or, more particularly, the Secretary of State considered using the provision that this Government included in the LASPO Act? If they have, on what basis has that consideration taken place? Has the Secretary of State looked at any cases of the kind to which the noble and learned Lord referred—I would hardly expect him to look at them all—to come to a view about whether it would be right to exercise the discretion that was deliberately placed in his hands? If he has not, why not? What is the Government’s intention in relation to this section of LASPO? Is it to be ignored or is it at all to be used? If it is not to be used, why do the Government not have the courage of their apparent convictions and delete it? If it is to be used, when and under what circumstances will that be?

Questions have repeatedly been asked today about the resources available to the Parole Board to deal with matters of this kind. I asked the general question before to which others, including the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, have now alluded about the increased burden on the Parole Board as a result of recent decisions and the growing number of cases that it will be asked to look at in oral hearings. However, has any specific consideration been given to the resources required to deal with the cases of people who have been in prison for the length of time to which noble Lords have referred? Again, if not, why not?

There may be a concern in respect of some of these defendants as to what would happen if they were released and whether they might to some degree be a risk to the public. What investigations have been carried out to assess the need for investigation and inquiry by the Parole Board in support of those potential candidates for release who have served such a length of time? The overriding question is really therefore: what was the purpose of incorporating the Secretary of State’s discretion in the 2012 Act if it is to be treated as redundant? If it is not to be so treated and there is an intention to do it at some time, why the delay? As we have heard, many cases have been running for an unacceptable length of time. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurances that this matter will be seriously addressed and not simply left on the shelf in a way that does no credit to our system.

I think that the previous Government were rightly criticised on matters of this sort, in many respects, particularly in also failing to provide sufficient support for the Parole Board. However, their failure is relatively minimal compared to the looming failure which is likely to affect not only this category of prisoner but others who require the Parole Board’s intervention. I hope that the Minister can indicate, today of all days, that some movement will be made and that the Secretary of State will address himself to the plight of these people, and thereby avoid a further stain on the reputation of the Government in this respect.

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Lord Faulks: My Lords, we are debating once again the position of current IPP prisoners. The Government abolished that sentence in the LASPO Act 2012, for reasons I need not rehearse. We replaced them with immediate effect so that no further IPPs can now be imposed on offenders convicted after December 2012, regardless of the date of offending. That, as I think noble Lords would agree, is a major step forward. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said in the course of his address to your Lordships that the Government who preceded ours had not given the Parole Board sufficient resources. What he failed to do was to acknowledge that it was his Government who brought in this scheme, which has been so much criticised. That scheme has resulted in a number of people being imprisoned and still being in prison; this Government repealed that provision.

However, in respect of IPP sentences already imposed, our position remains that it would not be right or appropriate retrospectively to alter sentences that had been lawfully imposed prior to the abolition of IPPs, particularly because in this case those sentences were imposed with public protection issues in mind. Consequently, prisoners serving IPP sentences are not released unless the Parole Board authorises it.

A number of questions were posed about the Parole Board’s resources, including those from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. In answer to an earlier amendment, when I think the noble Lord was not in his place, I set out to the Committee the fact that the Government were well aware of the demands, temporary and in future, being presented to them. They had given further resources and were intending to be nimble in responding to the demands that were and would be placed upon them.

Lord Beecham: I am sorry to intervene at this point but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was not in the Chamber when this matter was discussed before, would the Minister care to address the point that I made to him that the Parole Board’s estimate of the increased demand was £10 million a year, which is equivalent to the total budget, while the Government’s provision is proposed to be £3 million? How does that square with the assurance that he is trying to give to the noble Lord?

Lord Faulks: The Government and the Parole Board, as the noble Lord would expect, are in frequent communication. It is difficult to be precise about these figures; an estimate is simply that. I assure the noble Lord that the figures in so far as they can be reached are the result of a number of conversations that have taken place regarding predictions about the demand. It is the Government’s position that we are providing the appropriate support for the Parole Board now and its estimate of what will be required in future. I also said—

Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords—

6 pm

Lord Faulks: Perhaps I might finish this sentence before I sit down. It is of course our intention to respond as appropriate if there are increasing demands.

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Lord Davies of Stamford: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. It is clear that the Parole Board has a serious backlog in this matter. In considering the appropriate budget for the board, have the Government been looking at this matter completely by itself in vacuo or have they been looking at it in connection with the very relevant point made just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that there would be considerable savings to public funds if these prisoners were released, to the order of about £40,000 a year? Is it not the case that the interests of financial rationality and justice are aligned in this matter but that the Government are running counter to both of them?

Lord Faulks: I am very surprised that the noble Lord thinks that somehow the Ministry of Justice has failed to notice that it costs the Government a great deal of money to keep prisoners in custody. It is painfully aware of that, and of the cost. However, the ministry is also aware of its obligation for the protection of the public, and it is in balancing these issues that it comes to the very difficult decisions that it has to reach.

It is right that offenders serving indeterminate sentences—IPPs—should continue to be detained post tariff if their detention is necessary for the protection of the public and they are therefore not safe to release. There is evidence that IPP prisoners who take the opportunities presented to them to reduce their risk are beginning to achieve release in greater numbers. Since 2010 the number of IPP releases has grown, and we have seen over 400 IPP releases in 2012 and 2013. The percentage of IPP cases considered where release was ordered was 6% in the 2010-11 report, whereas in the 2012-13 report the figure was 16%.

Of course, we keep the matter under review. The amendment, as I understand it, would effectively lead to the prisoners who are within the scope of the amendment being automatically released, as it would mean that there was no discretion for the Parole Board to do other than to direct release. That is not the Government’s policy, as noble Lords are aware, and I will be unable to accept the amendment on those grounds.

I should also say that there would be difficulties with the amendment as it stands, regardless of the acceptability of the principle. The amendment would add a subsection to Section 128 of the LASPO Act directing the Parole Board to release IPP prisoners who had a tariff of less than two years. Section 128 is not about the duty to release indeterminate sentence prisoners but, rather, gives the Secretary of State the power to change the Parole Board’s release test by order. The amendment, however, appears to direct the Parole Board to release certain prisoners without any consideration of a test whatsoever.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, to whom I pay tribute, as others have, for his tenacity and his great concern for these prisoners—indeed, concern has been expressed for them all around the House—suggests that the amendment would be a gentle push. With very great respect to the noble and learned Lord, as it is currently expressed the amendment would be a very firm shove indeed. However, I understand that

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the intention is that these particular prisoners would be released at the point at which they would naturally fall due for Parole Board review, thus phasing their release. Presumably, the retention of the Parole Board’s role in the process is designed to align as much as possible with the current statutory arrangement. However, it would be problematic to give the duty to release to the Parole Board if in fact there was no discretion for the board under this proposal. For these reasons, I do not think that the amendment is the right way to achieve the noble Lords’ objectives.

However, in turning away and facing the principle rather than the detail, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has chosen to concentrate on those with tariffs of under two years, who he suggests have been particularly disadvantaged as they could not have received an IPP after the 2008 changes to the IPP statute. In fact, it remained possible to receive an IPP with a tariff of lower than two years until IPPs were abolished, where the offender had a serious previous conviction, and a fair number continued to do so. While between 2005 and 2008 courts were obliged to impose IPPs in certain circumstances, this was only where they found the offender to meet the dangerousness threshold. The statute, however, did not oblige courts to find the offender dangerous if he had a previous Schedule 15 conviction and it was clear that the court need not conclude that a previous conviction made the offender dangerous if it would be unreasonable to do so.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and some other noble Lords have seen an analysis of the management information that was put together last year relating to the situation of IPP prisoners who were sentenced before July 2008 with tariffs of under two years who remained in prisons and whose tariff had expired. It is the Government’s view that this analysis supports that position in respect of the group. It provided clear evidence that the continued detention of short-tariff IPP prisoners remains justified and that the Parole Board still considers that in many cases they pose an unacceptable risk to the general public and to themselves. The majority—80 prisoner cases of the 100 sampled—were assessed as at high risk of serious harm, whereas none was assessed as being at no risk of serious harm. Almost all of that sample had had recent parole hearings and were deemed unsuitable for release. However, the fact that 11% of the sample were in fact approved for release clearly also demonstrates that, where risk has been reduced enough to be safely managed in the community, short-tariff IPP prisoners are being approved for release by the Parole Board using the current release test.

I know that many noble Lords keep themselves closely informed of the National Offender Management Service’s ongoing work to enhance support for this group of prisoners, but a brief reprise of those efforts bears repeating. We have come a long way in terms of management and support since the introduction of the sentence. For example, NOMS has made substantial improvements to the waiting times for IPP and other indeterminate-sentence prisoners. Once they have been approved for open prisons, in addition IPP prisoners have improved access to accredited programmes and they remain a priority group for interventions. Sentence

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planning instructions have been overhauled to emphasise that there are a range of interventions, not just accredited programmes, that can provide useful evidence for parole hearings. This has also been emphasised in discussions with Parole Board members. Measures have been taken to ensure that programmes can be delivered more flexibly, supporting greater access and the inclusion of offenders with more complex needs, such as learning difficulties. NOMS will continue to oversee positive changes to the management of IPP prisoners. As I said earlier, the reality is that IPP prisoners are now achieving release in greater numbers under the current arrangements.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Before the Minister moves on, regulations were passed to permit lie detector tests to be carried out in respect of prisoners who are subject to IPP provisions. Are those tests carried out and, if so, what is the result? I have been informed by an experienced organisation that it is necessary to pass a lie detector test in order to establish that the particular offender is not at risk.

Lord Faulks: I am not aware of the question of lie detectors and whether or not they are used. I will write to the noble Lord when I have some information about it.

Measures have been taken to ensure that programmes can be delivered more flexibly, supporting greater access and inclusion, including offenders with complex needs, as I was indicating. I was asked about the case of James, Wells and Lee. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, pointed out that the decision was that the retention of those prisoners was contrary to Article 5.1 and was therefore an arbitrary detention. I dare say that he will know, from having studied the decision, that the European Court of Human Rights did not hold that the sentence itself was unlawful. It was the unavailability of courses that was considered to be a breach of Article 5.1. I am sure the noble Lord would accept that it is simplistic to suppose that attendance at a course would automatically result in someone being appropriate for release. Clearly, it is carefully managed to ensure that so far as is possible those courses are reached. Those who attend the courses will not necessarily be eligible for or suitable for release. Equally, some who do not will be. However, I accept it is a matter of considerable assistance.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, the construction of a statutory duty is a matter of the purpose as construed on examination of the relevant statute. In response to a debate about this section, the Lord Chancellor’s predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, said that he would look at progress after the LASPO changes had taken effect. I mentioned earlier that the rate had increased. The position is—I am afraid this is more or less the same answer that I gave in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley—that there are no current plans to review the release test for prisoners serving IPP sentences whose minimum term has expired, although we continue to use a range of measures to improve their progression and reduce the risk that they pose. The Government’s position is that it is right that IPP prisoners continue to serve their sentence until they are assessed as safe to be released into the community by the Parole Board. The Government were left with this rather crude device

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by the previous Government. They repealed it, but none the less they have to be extremely mindful of what lay behind the introduction of this provision; namely, the protection of the public. I accept that there is great concern that those who would have received a lower tariff sentence might seem on the face of it to be languishing in prison for far too long. However, there are factors which I have attempted to draw to the Committee’s attention which do not, in the view of the Lord Chancellor and the Government, warrant a change of approach to that discretion.

Of course, it is a matter of anxiety. While others are attending the opera, I am—as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, would have it—having sleepless nights. However, the duty of the Government remains to protect the public, notwithstanding the persuasive arguments that have been put forward by noble Lords. I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: Will the Minister explain why releasing these people now would present any greater risk than that they would have presented if they had been given determinate sentences back in 2005?

Lord Faulks: They did not receive determinate sentences. With great respect to the noble and learned Lord, it is a hypothetical question because the sentence they received was not a determinate sentence; it was a sentence for the protection of the public. It is therefore the Government’s case that they have to proceed with caution using the processes which exist via the Parole Board to ensure that, before somebody in that position is released, the public are safe so far as reasonable precautions can be taken.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick:First, I must thank those who have supported this amendment so effectively, as it seems to me, and say a particular word of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. How good and refreshing it is to hear from a layman, especially one who is able to speak with a certain passion, which we lawyers try to keep in control. It was a very effective contribution.

6.15 pm

I find the Minister’s response wholly unsatisfactory. He has given no answer to the basic question: if there is no intention to use Section 128, why was it included in the LASPO Act 2012? If there really is no intention to use it, would it not be more honourable to have deleted Section 128 in this Bill? It is intolerable to have a power which has been given for a certain purpose which is not being used for that purpose. I will unquestionably bring this back on Report. I hope that between now and then the Government will provide me with further particulars for each of the 773 prisoners serving this sentence with tariffs of less than two years. I want to know what they did, what their tariff was and when they were sentenced. We owe it to these people to take at least that interest in what they are going through at the moment. I hope the Minister will do that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed.

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Clause 10: Offence of remaining unlawfully at large after recall

Amendment 18

Moved by Lord Beecham

18: Clause 10, page 10, line 29, after “fails,” insert “deliberately and”

Lord Beecham: Clause 10 creates a new offence of remaining unlawfully at large after recall. When he replies, will the Minister indicate the likely incidence of this offence or at least the basis on which the Government have seen fit to create an offence? How many offenders have broken their conditions and have remained unlawfully at large? That would be a material consideration.

The amendment does not necessarily challenge the creation of the offence, but it seeks to incorporate within the definition of the offence in Clause 10(1) and thereby insert into the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 a factor which would render a person guilty of an offence if he, while unlawfully at large fails, deliberately and without reasonable excuse, to take all necessary steps to return to prison as soon as possible. The point of the amendment is to address the significant number of offenders, to whom I have already referred in another context, who have mental health or learning disabilities which may well impair their capacity to understand and comply with requirements in relation to recall.

It is important to bear in mind the significant numbers that I have already mentioned. I shall give a little more detail of the percentages involved: 20% to 30% of offenders have learning disabilities or disabilities that interfere with their ability to cope with the criminal justice system; 23% of young offenders have learning difficulties—that is to say, IQs of below 70—and a further 36% have borderline learning difficulties. That is a clear majority of young offenders. More than half of prison staff believe that prisoners with learning disabilities or difficulties are more likely to be victimised or bullied than other prisoners. They are also more likely to have broken a prison rule by several times the number of other prisoners. This is a group of damaged people, largely as a result of learning disabilities.

We know in any event that a very high proportion of prisoners suffer from one or more learning disabilities. Some 70% of adults suffer from one or more of such disabilities, while 80% of young offenders suffer from them. With that will often go problems in communication and comprehension skills, and perhaps even memory problems. Given that, we are dealing with a group of people of whom at least quite a significant proportion will struggle anyway out in the community, whether they are on licence or have ultimately served their sentence. To create a criminal offence that does not take into account those limitations is, in my submission, to veer towards injustice. What is needed is for those factors to be taken into account before bringing these people within the ambit of an offence. This amendment seeks to do that because deliberation assumes the capacity to take a decision which most noble Lords and perhaps most of the population would be able to take without the encumbrance of conditions which might limit that capacity.

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The thrust of the amendment is to provide a safeguard. I hope that the Minister will look at it sympathetically. His colleague in another place, Jeremy Wright, seemed to think that the word “deliberately” did not add anything to the question of a “reasonable excuse”, but I suggest that potentially it does. It strengthens the position of those who would find it difficult to cope with the requirements, but it would not exclude those who are capable of deciding on what is required of them and who then make a deliberate decision not to comply. I hope that, either today or by the time we reach the Report stage, the Minister will be able to indicate the number of people who are remaining at large unlawfully at any one time. That would be useful background information to inform the debate at a later stage. I beg to move.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I understand totally the sentiment behind the amendment, but the offence is about making sure that, in the most serious cases where offenders have been recalled from licence and have run off to avoid serving their sentence, the courts have the necessary powers to deal with them. I assure the Committee that this is not about locking up as many people as possible or indeed prosecuting them unnecessarily. The offence will not apply to the vast majority of recalled offenders, who are returned to custody within a few days, some of whom are unaware that their licence has been revoked until they are arrested. I understand the aim of making sure that the new offence does not penalise offenders who may remain unlawfully at large through no fault of their own. Clause 10 is carefully framed so that an offender who is recalled to prison will be guilty of committing the offence only if they have been notified of the recall, either orally or in writing, or they can be treated as having been notified of the recall in light of repeated failures to keep in touch with probation as required. If they fail without reasonable excuse to take all necessary steps, they can be returned to custody.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has rightly raised the issue of safeguards. Not all licence breaches lead to recall and there are a number of stages that must be passed before the offence will bite. These provide important safeguards which ensure that the vulnerable offenders whom he mentioned quite specifically are not set up to fail. He will know, as will most noble Lords, that in all circumstances the probation officer and the National Offender Management Service must consider whether the offender’s licence should be revoked and, if so, whether they should refer the offender to the Secretary of State to make the final decision. That judgment is and will rightly remain a matter for the discretion of the professionals who know the offender and the particular circumstances.

The noble Lord also asked how many offenders are currently unlawfully at large. The provision is about those who remain unlawfully at large following a recall to custody from licence. Information on licence recalls and returns to custody is published quarterly and the most recent publication was on 24 April this year. The total number of offenders recalled to prison for the period 1984 to December 2013 who had not been apprehended by 31 March 2014 was 1,050, which represents around 0.6% of the offenders who were

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recalled during that period. I hope that this information is helpful and I would reiterate that I understand the intent behind the amendment. I hope that the safeguards which the Government have sought to put in place in framing this clause reassure the noble Lord and I trust that he will be minded to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Beecham: I am grateful to the Minister for his response and I note the very small percentage of those who fail to respond. Of course, the noble Lord is not in a position to say who among them would fall into the category I have described, and it may be that that is a matter which is worth looking into. However, I presume that it would be for the Parole Board or some other body. In the circumstances, and certainly at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed.

Clauses 11 to 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Drugs for which prisoners etc may be tested

Amendment 19

Moved by Lord Patel of Bradford

19: Clause 14, page 15, line 24, at end insert—

“(4) Before this section comes into force, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report describing his plans to ensure that safe and supervised places are provided in which prisoners can take medication which has been prescribed to them.”

Lord Patel of Bradford (Lab): My Lords, in moving Amendment 19 I shall speak also to Amendment 20. Amendment 19 should have been tabled in my name, but unfortunately due to an administrative error my name was not added to sit alongside those of my noble friends Lord Beecham and Lord Kennedy.

Clause 14 enables the Secretary of State to specify in prison rules and rules for other places of detention non-controlled drugs which can be tested for under the existing mandatory drug-testing programme. I generally support the intention behind Clause 14, but I would like to see greater clarity on two aspects: first, on what plans are being made to ensure that suitable provision is in place for people in prison to be able to take prescription drugs safely and so limit the scope for abuse; and secondly, on the incidence of drugs in prison and in particular the effectiveness of drug testing.

In tabling both of these amendments I should declare an interest as the former chair of the independent cross-ministerial committee on the review of drug treatment in prisons which resulted in the publication some years ago of ThePatel Report. At the time we were very much focused on the development of the integrated drug treatment system in prisons which commenced in 2006. It has had a considerable and positive impact on reducing the use of heroin and illegal drugs in prison. However, we know that since that time, the demand for prescription and over-the-counter medication in prisons has been increasing, and we have also seen an increase in the use of

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psychoactive substances, the so-called “legal highs”. We need to consider the use of legal highs alongside the problems around prescription drugs in our attempts to deal adequately with these issues. For that reason, I intend to address both issues together.

Amendment 19 requires the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament,

“describing his plans to ensure that safe and supervised places are provided in which prisoners can take medication which has been prescribed to them”.

Amendment 20 requires the Secretary of State:

“Within 12 months of section 14 coming into force … report to Parliament on the incidence of drugs in prisons and the effectiveness of drugs testing of prisoners in prisons”.

Let me first explain why these two amendments are important. Although accurate prescribing data for analgesics are unavailable, a report entitled Managing Persistent Pain in Secure Settings, published by Public Health England last year, gives some startling figures on the scale of analgesic prescribing. A snapshot of just two institutions with populations of 751 and 859 respectively suggested that between 55,000 and more than 350,000 analgesic tablets, excluding paracetamol and ibuprofen, were prescribed in just one month. The Chief Inspector of Prisons highlighted in his annual report last year that the diversion of prescription drugs, such as Tramadol, Gabapentin and Pregabalin was taking place in high security and vulnerable prisoner populations. I know from my own work with NHS England on conducting health needs assessments in a wide range of prisons just how serious an issue this is, and that the growing demand for and diversion of prescription drugs is viewed by both prison staff and the prisoners themselves as a major problem.

6.30 pm

We are also hearing more about the use of psychoactive substances in prisons. This is a serious problem because there are no data at the present time on these legal highs in prisons, as they do not show up on mandatory drug tests and so are difficult to detect and identify. Both these issues—the increasing demand for and potential abuse of prescription drugs and the use of psychoactive substances—present considerable challenges to the prison system and, in particular, to the safety and well-being of prisoners.

It is important that we understand why this is happening. Prisoners are likely to suffer from conditions such as insomnia, anxiety and pain that lead them to seek medicines that can lead to dependence. Some prisons have reported that part of the problem is that prisoners come into prison with prescribed medication that may be considered unnecessary by the prison GPs but has been prescribed by GPs in the community. In these cases, prisoners can be very reluctant to give up or to consider a reduction programme to bring them off these medications. We also have many more people coming into the prison system who are older and more likely to suffer from conditions that require complex medications, including adequate management for pain relief. There is no doubt that managing persistent pain in secure environments presents clinicians with a number of challenges surrounding diagnosis and the management of treatment.

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The difficulty faced by GPs in prisons is to distinguish patients who need medication for pain from those who want to misuse it or trade it as a commodity, as diverted medication can result in problems such as drug debts, bullying and the risk of overdose. Some prisons have reported that prisoners can be demanding, and in some cases bullying of doctors and nurses can take place in their requests for painkillers. I was told in one prison that a GP had to press the alarm three times in the past 12 months due to prisoners bullying him for medication that he had refused, as he felt it was not clinically necessary. We also know that nursing staff have to spend large amounts of their time dispensing medications, many of which are controlled or deemed to be a high risk for abuse and/or diversion. Some of the measures they have to take involve random checking of prisoners’ mouths to make sure that they are swallowing their drugs and not holding or concealing them in their cheeks. To avoid this, in some cases, liquid medication, such as liquid Pregabalin, is dispensed instead of tablets. However, this is not always sufficient as we have heard examples of prisoners concealing sponges in their cheeks to absorb the liquid medication. In some prisons, crushed tablets are dispensed to prisoners to prevent them from trading them. Prison officers will also remain with nurses to ensure that medication that is dispensed is taken appropriately. However, in some prisons simply not enough staff are available during the dispensing of medication to prevent diversion and bullying of prisoners.

Noble Lords can understand how dispensing medication is time-consuming and can be stressful for the nurses, prison officers and prisoners. Of course, an easy solution would be to allow more prisoners to have their medication in possession, which means that they keep it in their cells in lockable cupboards. But unfortunately this too can leave them open to bullying. We have examples of greater use of technology to assist security of prescribing, such as the Methasoft iris recognition system, which is currently used to ensure that prescribed drugs are dispensed to the correct prisoner. But again, all these measures take time and resources, and many prisons are not equipped to deal sufficiently well with this increasing problem.

I hope that I have demonstrated just how important it is to have safe and supervised places with sufficient staff cover to ensure that prisoners can take medication that has been prescribed to them. However, having a safe space for the dispensing of medication alone will not resolve the problem. A number of prisons do not have a clear policy on this issue as yet. Some are starting to establish multidisciplinary team meetings to review and address the needs of people on long-term medication and to discuss how to deal with potentially difficult prisoners, and that should be acknowledged. Some prisons are commencing pain clinics in order to reduce the need and consequently the amount of painkillers prescribed. For example, I know of one prison where healthcare staff, including the GP, lead nurses, and the pharmacist, are working together with local hospital anaesthetists and physiotherapists to review all pain medication that is being prescribed and identify alternative ways by which prisoners may be helped to come off or reduce the need for this type of

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medication. This is excellent work and we need to support more prisons in developing appropriate policies and approaches. That is the intention behind Amendment 19, which will require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament, setting out clearly the plans for ensuring that prisons have sufficient safe places for providing prisoners with medications that have been prescribed for them.

As I hope I have made clear, extending the use of mandatory drug testing will go only part of the way to providing a solution. Many of the drugs that I have described as causing problems are prescribed in prison, so of course will show up on testing—but the use of psychoactive substances, or legal highs, will not, as many of these substances will not show up. Therefore, Amendment 20 seeks to ensure that we have sufficient information not only about the use of drugs in prison but about the effectiveness of the mandatory drug-testing system. Taken together, this review of effectiveness of mandatory testing and the scale of the problem of drug use in prisons, alongside clarification about the plans for provision on safe places for ensuring that prisoners can receive drugs that they need without the potential for abuse, will, I believe, provide us with greater confidence in the likely impact of Clause 14. The clause needs to address the range of complexities and potential solutions to these very challenging issues, and I very much hope much that the Minister will consider these amendments seriously. I beg to move.

Lord Mancroft (Con): My Lords, I listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, in moving his amendment, and he laid out very accurately for your Lordships the perceived problem of misadministration of various sorts of drugs, particularly prescription drugs, in prison, and the manner in which they are prescribed and taken. The problem that the noble Lord describes to the House is probably entirely right. However, it may not have come over that it is merely an extension of the problem of prescription drugs outside prison. Often in your Lordships’ House we discuss drugs and drug-related crime, but we rarely get around to talking about the fact that, however many people may be taking illegal drugs, many more are addicted to prescription drugs, which causes immense problems for them and their families, as well as for society as a whole. Whether or not that addiction to prescription drugs is causing crime or is related to crime in some way, it is an enormous problem. All those drugs are prescription drugs, which means that they have already been prescribed by a doctor—and probably, as a consequence, misprescribed, or they would not be resulting in addiction and all the problems that stem from it.

We are not dealing with that problem outside prison, with the ordinary population—we are dealing with it incredibly badly. The Department of Health is wrestling with it in a rather inadequate way, and it is bouncing backwards and forwards between the Home Office and the Department of Health, as it has been for many years. I am not entirely sure why, if we cannot deal with it outside prison, we should dump that problem into prison and say to the prison authorities that we cannot deal with it when prisoners are ordinary citizens living in our society, but now that they have

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been convicted of a crime and are going to go to prison we expect the prison authorities to deal with a problem that we cannot deal with outside.

The noble Lord has accurately identified a problem, but I have some concern over whether Amendments 19 and 20 contain the solution. Perhaps it is the start of a solution—but if we cannot deal with it outside, asking the Secretary of State to lay a report, the results of which we can all guess, even if we do not know the details, does not seem even to get to the start of resolving this problem. I look forward to what my noble friend says in response, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Patel, would like to respond before then. However, although I accept the problem, I cannot see that this even remotely touches on a solution.

Lord Patel of Bradford: I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, about the issue of prescription drugs out in the community, given the ludicrous figure of literally 50 million prescriptions—I think—having been issued last year. However, there is a clear distinction between that situation and the situation in prisons. Mandatory drug testing was introduced to test prisoners for heroin in particular. However, following the introduction of mandatory drug testing, many prisoners who had been using cannabis, which stayed in the system for longer, started to use heroin, which stayed in the system for a shorter time. We got over that problem through introducing into the prison estate a very good integrated drug system, which has worked exceptionally well.

However, the drug abuse problem has shifted to prescription drugs. In prison after prison, prescription drugs are used as a commodity. People are being bullied on account of these drugs and violence is associated with them. We do not have the measure of this problem or know the extent of prescription drug abuse. Indeed, we have no idea about the problem of the so-called legal highs, which is clearly a problem in prisons, because the mandatory drug testing simply does not pick up those drugs. Merely to say that we will conduct mandatory drug testing for all drugs will not solve the problem. We need to analyse further how prisoners can safely take the prescription medicines they are prescribed and what policies need to be put in place to provide safe places for them to do so. We need data on prisoners’ prescription medicines and on the incidence of abuse to enable us to move forward on this issue. The intention behind the amendment is to obtain that data and for the Secretary of State to present them to Parliament in a report. That would give us the opportunity to improve the situation.

Lord Beecham: I should like to add a further thought and thank my noble friend for putting the case for these amendments so capably. The responsibility for providing medical services in prisons belongs ultimately to NHS England as the commissioners. Therefore, it is not a matter solely for the Ministry of Justice. It seems to me that some interdepartmental discussions on this issue would be timely, if they have not already taken place. There is the sheer cost, of course, of providing prescription drugs for prisoners as, indeed, for anyone else, which, obviously, will be a factor in the mind of

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NHS England. As regards the general health problems of prisoners, particularly mental health problems, it seems to me that the involvement of the Department of Health and NHS England in looking at the aspects to which our amendments refer would be very helpful. I am not asking for any response on that tonight except perhaps for a nod in the direction that some discussions will be held with NHS England and the department to see whether a more holistic approach can be adopted across the relevant agencies. It would be helpful if such an indication could be given.

6.45 pm

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for tabling these amendments. I must admit I was somewhat surprised that he was confused that the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, was added to the amendments rather than his. Perhaps it would have been more palatable had he said he had been confused by my good self but, accents aside, there may be more similarities there. The noble Lord raised some very pertinent issues, as did my noble friend Lord Mancroft, in talking about drug issues more generally in society. I have often spoken about this issue at the Dispatch Box in responding to Questions. We also heard briefly about legal highs.

Amendments 19 and 20 both relate to the use of drugs in prisons, although from two different perspectives. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has laid Amendment 19 in good faith to support the well-being and security of prisoners. However, in all prisons where prisoners are being supplied medicines for the management of either long-term conditions or for the treatment of acute clinical conditions, the safe use of medicines is taken extremely seriously. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, rightly talked about the role of the NHS. Clinical governance of this process in England and Wales is undertaken by qualified pharmacists commissioned by the National Health Service not the National Offender Management Service or Her Majesty’s Prison Service. I assure all noble Lords that dispensing complies to national guidelines and is risk assessed by pharmacists on a case-by-case basis to ensure that medicines are dispensed in a manner that is safe and appropriate to a custodial environment, including the risks of the diversion of medicines and decisions over whether appropriate medicines can be “held in possession”. These processes are subject to routine audit and assurance in line with guidelines for the management of medicines in the wider community.

Moreover, prison staff are very much aware of prisoners attempting to take medication without swallowing in order to sell or pass on that medication to other prisoners. This is sometimes done in reaction to bullying from other prisoners. Every effort is made to prevent this. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, gave several examples of good practice. I give him the assurance that I will share that with my honourable friend the Prisons Minister and perhaps we can arrange a meeting to explore how this issue can best be addressed across the board. The Government have always held the opinion that where good practice can be shared across the prison estate it should be taken on board. I hope that, given that reassurance, the noble Lord will be minded to withdraw Amendment 19.

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Amendment 20 would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the incidence of drugs in prison and the effectiveness of drug taking. I assure noble Lords that the Government take the issue of drugs in prison extremely seriously. Therefore, Clause 14 represents an immediate step to address the challenges facing the Prison Service with the different types of drugs that are being abused by prisoners. I totally take on board the fact that legislation alone, either drafting it or applying it, will not deal with the issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, but it is the way forward.

In regard to the incidence of drugs in prisons and the effectiveness of drug testing of prisoners, it is assumed that the question refers to the number of positives for drug abuse found by the mandatory drug testing programme across the prison estate. The effectiveness of the MDT programme is kept under constant internal review, including the range of drugs tested, which will be extended as appropriate. The number of prisoners being tested under the MDT programme and the percentage found to be positive are already published in the NOMS management information addendum. All this information is available on the government website.

As noble Lords are aware, the Ministry of Justice is ultimately accountable to Parliament for the discharge of its responsibilities, including those on the prison estate. Bearing in mind that the information is publicly available, and that noble Lords and honourable Members in the other place can hold the Government and the Ministry of Justice to account, we do not believe that the addition of further reporting requirements is necessary. Given the assurances and the explanations I have provided and the offer of a discussion on how we can introduce best practice, I hope that the noble Lord will be minded to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Patel of Bradford: I thank the noble Lord for his response. I agree that he and I are slightly more similar than I am to my noble friend Lord Beecham as we both have hair.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Patel of Bradford: I assume that was what the noble Lord meant. There was a reason why I grouped together Amendments 19 and 20. One has to have a safe place where prescription drugs can be taken. I accept that there is no problem with qualified pharmacists or GPs giving out the medication; I do not question that at all. What I question is the number of safe places that exist across the prison estate in which that medication can be given out. I still think that there is a major issue with prisoners being able to take prescription drugs safely without facing intimidation and the prospect of being bullied to pass them to others as a commodity.

I understand that the provision on mandatory drug testing was taken from a Private Member’s Bill and, therefore, no impact assessment was undertaken. It would be really helpful, now or at a later stage, to hear whether the impact assessment will take place, especially in relation to MDT. We do not know whether the testing is driving people to use other drugs, and it would therefore be important to have some kind of impact assessment on the use of MDT.

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I welcome the meeting with the Prisons Minister to share a number of examples of good practice across the country, but I also ask whether the noble Lord will speak to his colleagues in the Department of Health, as my noble friend Lord Beecham said. This is a major health issue because the doctors and nurses are constantly saying that it is they who have to put up with bullying and are unable to prescribe effectively.

It would therefore be helpful if we could take this to the next level. The wording of these amendments may be improved and demands may be high, but there is some scope for looking further at the level and impact of mandatory drug testing. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed.

Amendment 20 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.15 pm.



6.51 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat the Foreign Secretary’s Statement made earlier in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I will make a Statement to the House on Gaza. The House is aware that, despite intense efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry, talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down at the end of April and are currently paused.

Since then there have been several horrific incidents, including the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager. We utterly condemn these barbaric crimes. There can never be any justification for the deliberate murder of innocent civilians.

These rising tensions have been followed by sustained barrages of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Between 14 June and 7 July, 270 rockets were fired by militants into Israel, which Israel responded to with air strikes. Rockets are fired indiscriminately against the civilian population, including against major Israeli cities.

Israel then launched Operation Protective Edge on 7 July. The Israel Defense Forces have struck over 1,470 targets in Gaza, and over 970 more rockets have been fired towards Israel; 240 Israelis have been injured. In Gaza, as of today, at least 173 Palestinians have been killed, and 1,230 injured. The UN estimates that 80% of those killed have been civilians, of which a third are children.

We have acted swiftly to ensure the safe departure of British nationals wanting to leave Gaza. Late last night we successfully assisted the departure of 27 British nationals and Palestinian dependants from Gaza, through Israel to Jordan for onward travel. I am grateful to the UN and FCO staff from London, Gaza, Jerusalem,

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Tel Aviv and Amman, and to the Israeli and Jordanian authorities, for their work to ensure the success of this operation.

The whole House will share our deep concern at these events. This is the third major military operation in Gaza in six years. It underlines the terrible human cost to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it comes at a time when the security situation in the Middle East is the worst it has been in decades.

The people of Israel have the right to live without fear for their security, and the people of Gaza also have the fundamental right to live in peace and security. There are hundreds of thousands of extremely vulnerable civilians in Gaza who bear no responsibility for the rocket fire and are suffering acutely from this crisis. And the Israel Defense Forces estimate that 5 million Israeli civilians live within range of rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks. But it is vital that Gaza’s civilian population is protected. International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and enable unhindered humanitarian access.

The UK has three objectives—to secure a ceasefire, to alleviate humanitarian suffering, and to keep alive the prospects for peace negotiations, which are the only hope of breaking this cycle of violence and devastation once and for all. I will take each of these in turn.

First, there is an urgent need for a ceasefire agreed by both sides that ends both the rocket fire and the Israeli operations against Gaza, based on the ceasefire agreement that ended the conflict in November 2012. Reinstating that agreement will require a concerted effort between Israelis, Palestinians and the authorities in Egypt, with the support of the international community. All those with influence over Hamas must use it.

We are in close contact with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, our partners and allies. The Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 9 July, and I have spoken to President Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman and Strategic Affairs Minister Steinitz, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shukri. As Arab Foreign Ministers meet tonight, I have just discussed the situation with the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Qatar.

On 10 July, the UN Secretary-General told the Security Council that there was a risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza and appealed for maximum restraint. He had been in contact with leaders on both sides and other international leaders, underlining his concern about the plight of civilians and calling for bold thinking and creative ideas. On Saturday we joined the rest of the Security Council in calling for de-escalation of the crisis, the restoration of calm and reinstatement of the November 2012 ceasefire. We are ready to consider further action in the Security Council if that can help secure the urgent ceasefire that we all want to see. Yesterday, I held discussions in the margins of the Iran Vienna talks with Secretary Kerry and my French and German counterparts to consider how to bring about this objective.

Once a ceasefire is agreed, it will be vitally important that its terms are implemented in full by both sides, including a permanent end to rocket attacks and all

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other forms of violence. Implementation of that ceasefire agreement must only be part of a wider effort to improve conditions in Gaza. Without that, we are likely to see further such cycles of violence. This should include the restoration of Palestinian Authority control in Gaza, the opening up of legitimate movement and access, and a permanent end to the unacceptable threat of rocket attacks and other forms of violence from Gazan militants against Israel.

Secondly, we will do all we can to help alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza. At least 17,000 Gazans are seeking shelter with the UN. Hundreds of thousands are suffering shortages of water, sanitation and electricity; and stocks of fuel and medical supplies are running dangerously low. Over half of Gaza’s population was already living without adequate access to food before the crisis, the large majority reliant on aid and many unemployed. The UK is providing £349 million for humanitarian relief, state-building and economic development up to 2015, and providing around £30 million a year to help the people of Gaza.

The UK is the third biggest donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency general fund. Our support has enabled UNRWA to respond to the crisis by continuing to provide crucial health services to 70% of the population by sheltering 17,000 displaced people, and by distributing almost 30,000 litres of fuel to ensure that emergency water and sewerage infrastructure can operate. DfID is helping to fund the World Food Programme, the ICRC and the UN Access Co-ordination Unit. With our support, these organisations are providing food to insecure people, helping to repair damaged infrastructure, getting essential supplies into Gaza, getting medical cases out and delivering emergency medical care. My right honourable friend the Minister for International Development has spoken to Prime Minister Hamdallah, and DfID stands ready to do more, as necessary.

Thirdly, a negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all, and to achieve a sustainable peace so that Israeli and Palestinian families can live without fear of violence. No other option exists that guarantees peace and security for both peoples. I once again pay tribute to Secretary Kerry’s efforts to secure a permanent peace. The prospects for negotiations of course look bleak in the middle of another crisis in which civilians are paying the heaviest price. But it has never been more important for leaders on both sides to take the bold steps necessary for peace. For Israel, this must mean a commitment to return to dialogue and to avoid all actions which undermine the prospects for peace, including settlement activity which does so much to undermine confidence in negotiations. For Hamas, it faces a fundamental decision about whether it is prepared to accept the quartet principles and join efforts for peace, or whether it will continue to use violence and terror with all the terrible consequences for the people of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority must also show leadership, recommitting itself to dialogue with Israel and making progress on governance and security for Palestinians in Gaza as well as the West Bank.

In all of these areas, the UK will play its role, working closely with the US and European colleagues, encouraging both sides back to dialogue, supporting

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the Palestinian Authority, keeping pressure on Hamas and alleviating the humanitarian consequences of conflict. There can be no substitute for leadership and political will from the parties. The world looks on in horror once again, as Israel suffers from rocket attacks and Palestinian civilians die. Only a real peace, with a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable Palestinian state, can end this cycle of violence and it is only the parties themselves, with our support, who can make that peace”.

That concludes the Statement.

7.01 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement of her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place. The spiral of violence that has engulfed Gaza, southern Israel and the West Bank in recent days is bringing terrible suffering to innocent people. Of course the firing of rockets into Israel by Gaza-based militants is rightly condemned by all people of good will. No Government on earth would tolerate such attacks on their citizens, and we recognise Israel’s right to defend itself. In recent days, nearly 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel. At least three Israelis have been seriously injured and there have been other injuries as well.

However, the Foreign Secretary was right to point out that since the start of the Israeli military operation in Gaza only seven days ago, more than 170 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured. As the Statement said, the United Nations has reported that a large number of those killed, over 80%, were civilians, and a third of those killed were children.

Although this conflict cannot and must not be reduced simply to a ledger of casualties, the scale of the suffering in Gaza today must be fully and frankly acknowledged by all sides. The truth is, of course, that the life of a Palestinian child is worth no less than the life of an Israeli child. Every life is equal, irrespective of religion and nationality. The Foreign Secretary has rightly condemned the horrific kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager. These were truly shocking events but, while those barbaric acts seem the proximate cause of the latest spiral of violence, the underlying cause for this latest crisis is surely the failure over decades to achieve a two-state solution for the two peoples. Does the Minister agree?

The House will remember our debates in 2008-09 and 2012 on what today seems grimly familiar: in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. The same pattern seems to be repeating itself. In 2008-09, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire; in 2012 the Egyptians brokered one. On both occasions it was clear that the conflict between Israel and Hamas cannot be solved through force of arms alone. I am sure that Her Majesty’s Government recognise that there can be no military solution to this conflict. Does the Minister agree that the scale of the suffering in Gaza, adding to the effects of the continuing blockade, only serves to fuel hatred and embolden Israel’s enemies?

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The further isolation of the Palestinian Authority in the face of military action weakens its own domestic legitimacy. Surely that ultimately makes negotiations harder and peace more difficult to achieve. Today, the risk of all-out escalation in the conflict and the threat of a ground offensive action are very real indeed. However, of course—and this should constantly be said—they are preventable if Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel. As Her Majesty’s Opposition, we are clear not only on the need for an immediate ceasefire but that a full-scale ground invasion would be both a disaster for the people of Gaza and a strategic error for Israel. It is vital that our Government, along with allies, now make that position clear to the Israeli Government in the crucial hours and days ahead. I am sure that the Minister agrees with that.

We of course welcome the statements made by the United Nations Security Council on Saturday calling for a ceasefire. The Foreign Secretary spoke of Her Majesty’s Government being willing to consider further action at the UN Security Council if a ceasefire was not agreed. Can the Minister set out what sort of further action might be involved? I am sure that we are all agreed that the United Nations has to take a forthright role in seeking to bring the recent violence to an end.

There have been calls for the United Nations Secretary-General to travel to the region as a mediator between the two sides. Do Her Majesty’s Government support such a call? We all know from bitter experience over many years that a spiral of violence that reinforces the insecurity of the Israelis and the humiliation of the Palestinians leads only to further suffering. For Israel, permanent occupation, blockades and repeated incursions into occupied lands will make peace and ultimately security much harder, not easier, to achieve. Alas, it appears to be not a strategy for peace, more a recipe for conflict.

Of course we welcome all the humanitarian efforts that the Foreign Secretary has set out and that are being made by the Government on behalf of this country. It is very good that Britain plays such a major role. We also welcome the good news concerning the departure of British nationals and Palestinian dependants from Gaza. However, do we not all know after all these years that a humanitarian response, while absolutely vital, is not sufficient? That is obvious from the past few days, and from Israel’s overwhelming military might. I repeat: Hamas, weakened today by al-Sisi’s rise in Egypt and differences with Iran over Syria, can itself revert the risk of an imminent ground invasion by stopping the rocket attacks.

Israel needs more than just tactics for winning the next round of war. It needs a strategy for building peace. This is a time and a crisis that demands not revenge but statesmanship motivated by justice. Only politics and a negotiated solution offer a way forward to peace.

7.08 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support at what is an incredibly difficult time. He speaks with a sombre tone; I speak with a heavy heart. There is no doubt that, as long as the cycle of

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violence goes on, the prospects of peace recede. That is why we have called for an immediate de-escalation and a restoration of the November 2012 ceasefire, to avoid further civilian injuries and the loss of innocent life.

The noble Lord referred specifically to the fact that there was no military solution. I agree with him on that. Even as it stands, it is vital that we ensure that all military actions are proportionate, in line with international humanitarian law and calibrated in a way to avoid further civilian casualties.

On the inability to resolve this conflict, the noble Lord spoke about what more could be done. I have stood at this Dispatch Box on many occasions and talked about how the window of opportunity is slowly closing. I quote Philip Gordon, the White House Middle East chief, who said the inability to resolve this conflict—we all carry the responsibility of that—

“inevitably means more tension, more resentment, more injustice, more insecurity, more tragedy, and more grief”.

We have seen that over the past few days. However, I once again return to the fact that only the US can truly move this forward and, among other things, deliver Israel into an agreement. Secretary Kerry is on his way to the region but the noble Lord quite rightly identifies that the situation has now changed, even from 2012. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been in discussions with a number of Foreign Ministers from the Arab League, discussing how we can ensure that the different parties to this dispute can be brought to the table, because—I go back to saying what I have always said—only a negotiated solution will bring this matter to an end.

7.11 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton (Con): My Lords, I declare my interests as president of Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Prime Minister’s trade envoy for the Palestinian territories. Even before the current hostilities began, health services in Gaza were in steady decline, with drugs running dangerously low and 300 pieces of essential equipment not functioning. That was before the horrendous lifetime disabilities that have been suffered by hundreds of Palestinians, many of them children. Will the Government do all they can to ensure the necessary medical supplies reach Gaza? MAP is one of only three NGOs to have contributed to dealing with the drug shortage so far, so there is quite a worrying lack of take-up. Will the Government put all the pressure that they possibly can on the relevant authorities to ensure that the patients who need skilled reconstructive surgery outside Gaza are able to leave Gaza? At the moment, only a trickle of patients are getting out.

Baroness Warsi: I thank my noble friend for that update. She comes to these matters with great expertise and understanding of the region. On a number of occasions, including before the current situation arose, I have said that it is only right that we work together to ease the restrictions on Gaza. We continue to urge Israel to ease the restrictions, including the movement of goods and persons from and to the Gaza Strip. However, my noble friend will be aware that the United Kingdom is one of the largest donors to the region and we will ensure we continue that support.

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Lord Pannick (CB): I thank the Minister for all the work she and the Foreign Secretary are doing to seek to alleviate this truly tragic situation. She referred to a cycle of violence. In addressing this problem, would she agree that it is vitally important not to lose sight of the fundamental point that Hamas is a terrorist group that applauds the killing of Israeli students and which is seeking to kill by missiles as many Israeli civilians as possible? By contrast, the state of Israel pulled out of Gaza and is now trying to protect its population from intolerable missile attacks, which are launched from bases in civilian locations. Israel is doings its best to give warnings. This fundamental distinction between the two parties is symbolised by the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who telephoned the father of the Palestinian boy who was savagely and inexcusably murdered—that is the incident to which the Minister referred—to express the outrage and condolences of the Israeli Government and their people. That action is quite inconceivable from the leaders of Hamas in relation to Israeli citizens.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I agree that the actions of Hamas in no way add towards bringing this matter to an end. Nor, indeed, do they add to the peace. In fact, the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel means this matter is prolonged and made much worse. However, it is important for us to hold on to positive moments, such as the one the noble Lord referred to: the moment when Prime Minister Netanyahu rang the father of the boy who was tragically burnt. We should also hold on to the positive moment when President Abbas said he would give all the support he could to ensure Israel found the kidnappers and killers of the three teenagers. It is important that we hold on to those small positive moments, even in these difficult times.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (LD): My Lords, the question I ask may be provocative to some, as I take a diametrically different view to that of, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Therefore, I first make absolutely clear my total commitment to the right of Israel to exist in peace behind its borders, and make clear that the rights in this convoluted and awful area of the world are not all on one side—not by a long chalk. At the same time, I have been to the West Bank and Gaza four times in the past 12 years, and I have seen for myself the quite appalling circumstance in which the Gazans live. It is not just the Gazans; the people of the West Bank live in a state of permanent humiliation, with the occupying army of Israel, the check-points and all the rest of it.

I ask my noble friend this question. Nowhere in the Statement—it was quite a long one—does one find any reference to the overriding strategic injustice in the region. Israel is not content to exist within the borders set by the United Nations, not forgetting that no one asked the Palestinians; vast numbers of them were pushed out. As I say, I support totally the right of Israel to exist peacefully, but the truth of the matter is, for the last—

A noble Lord: Question!

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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: The question will come soon. Does she not agree that the constant, tenacious determination of Israel to colonise the West Bank—one is told that nearly half a million colonists live in that country and often take the greater part of the resources, water and so on—is the casus belli in this situation? I know from speaking to its leader, Dr Haniyeh, that Hamas withheld any rocket attacks and violence at all for several years, but the extremists in Gaza had to put up with provocation that the Israelis, if the positions were reversed, would not contemplate. Is it not time we said to Israel that we will not go on countenancing this colonisation and, unless they stop it, we, in conjunction with other members of the European Union, will have to apply sanctions to them?

Baroness Warsi: I suppose the issue that I take with my noble friend is this: it is important we do not draw parallels between Hamas and the Israeli Government, or indeed try to describe them in a way where we treat them as having equal responsibility. On the one hand, we are dealing with an organisation that is considered to be a terrorist organisation, on the other a state that is a liberal democracy. Israel would be horrified to feel it was being judged by the standards of Hamas.

On the specific issue of settlements that my noble friend raises, we have repeatedly condemned Israel’s announcement to expand settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including in east Jerusalem. We have consistently said that, as well as being illegal under international law, settlements undermine the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those who are working for a sustainable peace.

Lord Ahmed (Non-Afl): My Lords, the Minister mentioned that 80% of those killed have been civilians and that a third of those have been children. How many children have been killed in the three Israeli offensives in 2008, 2012 and 2014? How many Israeli children and how many Palestinian children have been killed?

Baroness Warsi: I concur with the noble Lord opposite who said that the life of a Palestinian child is worth no less than the life of an Israeli child and that the life of an Israeli child is worth no less than the life of a Palestinian child. Every child is equal, irrespective of race, religion or nationality. In relation to civilian deaths, I can inform the House that during the 2008-09 Cast Lead operation there were nine Israeli civilian casualties and 759 Palestinian civilian casualties, of which 344 were children. In relation to the 2012 Pillar of Defense operation, there were four Israeli civilian casualties and 90 Palestinian civilian casualties, of which 30 were children. In the current 2014 Protective Edge operation, there have so far been no Israeli civilian casualties and 133 Palestinian civilian casualties, of which 36 were children.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The Foreign Secretary was right to talk of the mounting horror of the watchers at what is going on. Israeli friends often accuse one of double standards. They say that we hold them to a higher standard than their neighbours, and

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that atrocities perpetrated by Israelis are condemned more loudly than those from around. They are completely right: we do hold Israel to a higher standard. Respect for Israeli civilisation, values, culture and history is widespread in this country and that raises the bar, so we take more seriously the behaviour of the Israeli armed forces in recent days. What new action will the Government take to bring home to Mr Netanyahu our abhorrence of the barbarities being perpetrated by a great civilisation?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord is probably referring to what I said in response to my noble friend—that Israel is a liberal democracy and we therefore hold it to account against liberal democratic standards. There is no doubt that Israel would like to be held accountable against liberal democratic standards because those are the values that it upholds and stands for. It would be wrong for us to try to compare the conduct of Israel as a liberal democratic state with that of a potentially designated terrorist organisation.

Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): Does my noble friend not agree that the tragedy of Gaza is that, following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, there was a golden opportunity to give Israel the confidence that she could subsequently withdraw from the West Bank but, instead, Hamas took over from Fatah? Rather than building infrastructure and creating a tolerant society, Hamas acquired and fired some 11,000 rockets from 2005, mainly, as my noble friend Lord Pannick said, from densely populated civilian areas, which led to terrible human tragedy. Because they were fired from densely populated human centres, the inevitable action, which had to be taken, led to those terrible deaths, whether they were of Israelis or Palestinians. I do not think it is meaningful to compare one with another; any death in that area is a tragedy. Does the Minister not agree that international pressure on Iran is now needed to stop it supplying these rockets and to stop it supplying funding to the terrorist organisation that Hamas now is?

Baroness Warsi: My noble friend makes an important point. This is a matter that has border connotations. The discussion that we are currently having with Iran about its nuclear ambitions and its wish to be part of the international family will also involve discussions with it in relation to its support for terrorist organisations.

Lord Mitchell (Lab): My Lords, we have had 2008, 2012 and 2014, and no doubt when this little incident finishes there will be a 2016 and a 2018. It is very clear that action needs to be taken to solve this problem once and for all. We all have to make a distinction: this is not a Palestinian issue per se; it is also a Hamas issue, and Hamas is a terrorist organisation as every member of NATO would agree. Does the Minister agree that we have to continue making the differentiation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as a terrorist organisation?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord will of course be aware that one of the challenges to the Middle East peace process has always been about making sure that the partners for peace on both sides are those who

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represent everybody—that is, part of the Israeli state and of the Palestinian people. That is why the Government felt that the technocratic Government who were committed to the quartet principles were a step in the right direction and provided an opportunity for real discussions to take place. We sincerely hope that the current matter is de-escalated and that we get to a point of ceasefire so that we can get back to the negotiating table.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I draw to the Minister’s attention the first two sentences of the editorial in today’s Times:

“When Hamas fires rockets into Israel, it is attempting to kill ordinary Israeli citizens. When Israel assaults Gaza, it is attempting not to kill ordinary Palestinian citizens”.

That is perhaps the difference that we ought to emphasise. I am sure that everybody wants an immediate ceasefire. Bearing in mind what the Minister said earlier, is that immediate ceasefire of any real benefit if Hamas, as well as Fatah and the PA, refuses to accept the quartet conditions? Finally, does my noble friend agree that the strategic objective of Israel is to halt the rocket fire? Can she tell the House what she believes Hamas’s strategic objective to be in firing rockets into Israel?

Baroness Warsi: Of course, I cannot say what Hamas’s strategic objective is; I speak on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. In relation to the important point that my noble friend raises, intent is significant. What Hamas is intending by targeting civilians is a matter that we must take into consideration, and of course intent is important so far as concerns the Government of Israel. However, I think that my noble friend will agree that output is also important. Although you may not intend to kill children, if dozens of children are being killed then it is time for a ceasefire.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that this is a time for recognition of certain realities and for magnanimity? One reality is that 170 people have been killed in Gaza and that is an unspeakable humanitarian tragedy. Another reality is that Israel is surrounded by many enemies who are sworn to bring about its total destruction and elimination. As concerns the hundreds, if not thousands, of rockets that have been fired into southern Israel over the past years, each one was fired in the hope, desire and expectation that it would claim life or bring about maiming. It may be said that rockets have been fired from Israel into Gaza. I ask the House to accept that that is by way of counterbattery fire to try to eliminate the sites that bring about death and destruction in Israel.

What would we do if we were in that situation? During the war, when we were fighting for our existence, we had to bomb Brest and Lorient, the U-boat pens, and we killed thousands of French people. Does the Minister accept that situation? They were not our enemies but our allies. It was part of total war, and part of our defence and the position that we were occupying. Is this not a situation where there must be magnanimity and a complete ceasefire? There must be magnanimity on the part of Israel too as regards the siege of Gaza.

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Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord makes an important point. It would be almost impossible for us to predict what it would feel like for us to be in that position. I can honestly say that I would not want to envisage being Israeli or Palestinian right now.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab): My Lords, the Statement clearly says:

“International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets and enable unhindered humanitarian access”.

The fact is that there has been indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel but, at the same time, the fact is also that Israeli fire has killed 173 Palestinians. Will the noble Baroness tell us what is being done to apply the international humanitarian law to which the Statement refers? She said that there has been contact with Egypt, Jordan and Qatar over what is happening in Palestine. Has there been any contact with some of the very powerful Arab states which also clearly have a very strong influence over Hamas and the Palestinians?

Baroness Warsi: I think I said at the beginning that it is important that those who exercise influence in relation to both parties use that influence to make sure that we bring both parties back to the negotiating table. The situation is different from what it was in 2012. The situation in Egypt has changed. The number of people who seek to have, or have, any influence over Hamas is much reduced. It is therefore important that we keep open our discussions with our allies and partners in the Arab world to make sure that they do all that they can to bring this matter to a ceasefire. Certainly, we will do all that we can with our allies and partners to do the same.

Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, the Statement recognises the grotesque—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): I am afraid that we are past 20 minutes and we are out of time.

Republic of Sudan: Human Rights

Question for Short Debate

7.32 pm

Asked by Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of human rights in the Republic of Sudan.

Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I am deeply grateful to all noble Lords contributing to this debate. As I have visited South Kordofan and Blue Nile State, which are currently suffering Government of Sudan genocidal military offensives, I speak with a heavy heart from first-hand evidence. These two areas will be my primary focus. I must also mention ongoing atrocities in Darfur, violations of human rights elsewhere in Sudan and the problems of the Beja people, whom I have visited several times.

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First, in Darfur, President al-Bashir continues his assaults unabated and now, alarmingly, supports the notorious Janjaweed. The widely respected Enough Project claims:

“The U.N. Security Council mandated that the Sudanese government disarm its Janjaweed militias a decade ago. This never happened. Now, many of those same men are moving across the country on government command, burning civilian areas to the ground, raping women, and displacing non-Arab civilians from their homes … Unlike the Janjaweed fighters from the past, however, Sudan is not keeping the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) at arm’s length. Instead, these fighters boast full government backing and formal immunity from prosecution due to their new status as members of the National Intelligence and Security Services … the Sudanese government’s continued support of Janjaweed groups has become much more clear … Sudanese diplomats have thrown their political capital behind the group and boast that they successfully blocked the U.N. Security Council from issuing a statement criticizing the RSF … these forces have not restricted their crimes against humanity to … Darfur … their first act was to lethally suppress peaceful protesters during the September 2013 demonstrations in Khartoum”.

The Government of Sudan’s brutal suppression of freedom of speech, the press and civil society is documented in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders and illustrated by the recent closure of Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre. Will the Minister say what representations have been made by Her Majesty’s Government concerning increasing violations of freedom of speech, the press and civil society?

Another grave concern is the Government of Sudan’s denial of freedom of religion and belief. The notorious barbaric sentences and treatment meted out to Meriam Ibrahim, with the death penalty for alleged apostasy, 100 lashes for adultery and her treatment in prison, where she gave birth in shackles, may be heralding more widespread persecution of non-Muslims that does not hit the headlines and may be carried out with impunity.

For example, there are reports of another apostasy case in El Gadarif against another Christian woman, Faiza Abdalla, whose family had converted to Christianity from Islam before she was born but kept their former Muslim name. When she told authorities that she was a Christian, she was arrested and incarcerated under suspicion of having left Islam. A court has terminated her marriage to her husband, a lifelong Christian from South Sudan, on grounds of adultery. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Government of Sudan concerning this case and other gross contraventions of the right of freedom of religion and belief?

I turn to the horrendous situation in South Kordofan, especially the Nuba mountains, and Blue Nile State. I visited these areas with my small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust. We witnessed Antonov aircraft targeting schools, clinics, markets and people working on their crops and we saw the terror that drove them to hide in deadly snake-infested caves in the Nuba mountains or desperately to seek shelter in river beds and under trees in Blue Nile. We visited villages where hundreds of people had died of starvation. They are now deserted because of recent bombings. We saw the fresh craters. This ruthless killing of civilians reflects al-Bashir’s commitment to turn the Republic

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of Sudan into an Arabic, Islamic state through ethnic and religious eradication of black Africans and non-Muslims.

A report by the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency on 7 July documents this genocide. It is entitled, “Sudan Government offensive drives 1.1 million civilians to brink of starvation”. The report states:

“A carefully conducted survey, carried out at great risk by workers in the field, has revealed the scale of the looming catastrophe … in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States … The dry season offensive—launched by the Sudanese Armed Forces in January this year—has driven civilians away from their homes and their farms”,

with the Government’s deliberate strategy,

“to use of starvation as a weapon of warfare … In many locations food has been all but exhausted, water is scarce and essential medications are nowhere to be found. Nearly one million civilians in South Kordofan and around 100,000 in Blue Nile states have fled from the areas of conflict. A further 400,000 people in South Kordofan are now internally displaced, hiding in the caves … President Omar al-Bashir … launched an operation called ‘Decisive Summer’ in January 2014 … The Sudanese Armed Forces were reinforced by the Rapid Support Force, which included members of the notorious Janjaweed … Schools and homes were destroyed. On 1 May the Mother of Mercy Hospital in … Southern Kordofan, was damaged after six bombs were dropped in the hospital compound from a Sukhoi-24 fighter … The African Union, led by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, has been attempting to mediate … His efforts have been backed by the African Union, the United Nations and the wider international community. But the intransigence of the Government of President Omar al-Bashir has resulted in an impasse … The Sudanese government has also refused to allow President Mbeki to make a visit to South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur, so that he can see for himself the scale of the devastation the Government military and their associated militia have inflicted on ordinary people”.

An aid organisation that cannot be named has sent me the following message:

“Between the dates of June 7th to 16th of 2014, our staff compound, food convoys, and warehouses were bombed in 8 intentional attacks over the course of 9 days by approximately 37 bombs and 73 rockets … unmanned surveillance drones were sighted prior to the majority of the attacks ... The organization strongly believes that these attacks are further evidence of the GoS’s clear, sustained, and unapologetic attack against humanitarian actors .... A country ... should not use the withholding of food and medicine as weapons of war to kill its own people”.

The Government of Sudan refuse to allow aid organisations access to these regions. However, HART has very responsible partners who have delivered food with funds that we have been able to provide. We met communities in those remote areas, some of whose people had already died from starvation and bombardment. They were poignantly grateful, saying, “Thank you for the food. This means we can stay in our own land. Even if we die from bombs we prefer to die in our own country than to have to flee to exile abroad because we have no food”. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider cross-border aid operations to the people in these states? There are reliable partners who will account for funds provided and ensure that they reach the civilians who are now dying from starvation and lack of any medical care.

The Islamist guru in Khartoum, al-Turabi, has declared his intention to take his militant Islamist ideology through Africa from Sudan to Cape Town. The international community continues to allow Khartoum to fulfil its ethnic and religious cleansing with impunity. There is a real danger that those seeking to resist militant Islamism will fail, leaving the way

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wide open for the expansion of this lethal ideology far beyond the confines of Sudan. Many of those currently dying are Muslims as well as Christians and traditional believers.

There are clear national and international legal obligations to act. The SRRA appeals to the UN Security Council and the international community to: declare the situation in the two areas a humanitarian emergency requiring an urgent response from all actors; demand that SAF immediately halts its aerial bombardment and air strikes against civilians; require the Government of Sudan to lift restrictions on the delivery of food and other humanitarian items and to permit UN agencies and other independent international organisations immediate free and unhindered access to needy civilians to stave off mass starvation and provide medical care; to press the Government of Sudan to agree a cessation of hostilities with regional and international monitoring mechanisms; to consider the most effective means, including air drops, to access those civilians trapped by ground attacks and lack of roads; and to urge national and international authorities to conduct independent investigations into allegations of summary executions, detentions and torture inflicted on the basis of ethnic and political affiliations of individuals in the two areas.

Whenever I and other noble Lords have raised these issues in debates, and the question of sanctions, which could have an impact on the culture of impunity, we have been told that Her Majesty’s Government wish to continue to talk to Khartoum. While we appreciate the importance of dialogue, it has been apparent over two decades that al-Bashir’s Government are very happy to talk—and to continue killing while they talk. The people of Sudan have suffered far too much for far too long. They look to the United Kingdom for help, believing, as I do, that we have a particular historical responsibility. We are also members of the troika with continuing responsibility for the implementation of the CPA. They will read this debate with acute interest and deep concern. I sincerely hope that they will not be disappointed by the Minister’s reply.

7.43 pm

Lord Cope of Berkeley (Con): My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is remarkable for her vigour and tenacity in standing up for so many of the most oppressed people in the world. I congratulate her on it. Some years ago, it was my duty to withdraw the Conservative Whip from her. Some might take that as a hostile act, but she never seems to mind.

My interest in this debate stems from a small charity called Kids for Kids, of which I am a patron. It is a highly focused UK charity, which works only in Darfur to help people to stay in their villages rather than be forced to flee into the vast camps as refugees. Its first programmes, which still continue, were about lending goats to starving families, hence the name. I hear about Darfur in particular through this charity. It has a big enough task because Darfur is the size of Spain.

To be driven from one’s home and livelihood is to be deprived of a most basic human right. The camps do amazing work, but nobody wants to leave their

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homes and land in order to be dependent day by day and year by year on food handouts. Over the years, drought and sheer poverty have been powerful drivers, creating refugees as well as waves of sickening violence, particularly from militias. NGOs such as Kids for Kids can and do help to fight drought with wells; they can fight poverty and malnutrition with goats, donkeys and agricultural advice; but NGOs cannot fight violence. That has to be done with politics. The international agencies have worked to bring about agreement and find solutions, but have not succeeded and the situation keeps getting worse.

This year so far, another 250,000 Darfur people have become refugees. Some say it is more like 500,000—the figures are not clear. They are added to the 2 million to 3 million Darfuri residents already displaced and in camps as refugees, many for some years. That is out of a total population of 7.5 million in Darfur in 2008. The Abuja agreement of 2005 and the Darfur peace agreement of 2006 have not brought peace. The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, signed in 2011, might still provide a basis for a settlement, but it simply has not worked so far or been implemented properly.

The Sudanese Government have to take primary responsibility, but the UN and other states like ourselves have, as the noble Baroness made clear, an important role to play and we must recognise that we have not yet been effective. Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made since the Security Council resolution was adopted in April? Can the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur be given new vigour and impetus to make a difference to this appalling situation?

After more than a decade of violence, the whole area seems to be getting stuck in a permanent state of violence, with millions of permanent refugees. It is getting like Palestine, which we were discussing a few minutes ago, where UNRWA does its best for millions of refugees from half a century ago but who are still refugees, where UN resolutions are flouted with impunity and where violence is seen as the only way forward.

Violence is no solution in Palestine or, for that matter, in Darfur. Agreement must be found by negotiation. The bitterness does not deteriorate over time; it festers and feeds on itself. It leads to appalling inhumanities and the crushing of all human rights. As the noble Baroness indicated, it exaggerates religious and tribal differences to lethal degrees over a short time. Peace efforts must be redoubled in Darfur and the whole of Sudan to bring about more inclusive government and more equal treatment.

7.48 pm

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who relentlessly and courageously supports those denied fundamental freedoms, who are excluded and marginalised, and who are too often forgotten. The noble Baroness earns the respect of us all.

The first six months of 2014 have brought devastation, death and destruction to Sudan on a scale not seen since the height of the genocide in Darfur from 2003 to 2005. In 2013, violence caused a further 460,000 new internally displaced people. So far in 2014, another 215,000 people have been forced to flee their homes

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and 3.5 million people in Darfur—half the population—are in need of humanitarian assistance. There are still 300,000 Darfuri refugees in camps in Chad.

Sudan faces a terrible humanitarian disaster but, tragically, it has slipped off the international agenda. Political freedoms, religious freedom and freedom of speech are under attack, newspapers are censored and banned. Access to justice is rare. There is evidence that torture, beatings, rape and other inhuman punishments are routinely used. Sudan, as the FCO report says, is the country that makes most use of the death penalty. In Darfur, reports of human rights abuses have considerably increased. Sexual, gender-based violence almost doubled in the last quarter of last year. The chief prosecutor of the ICC has described reports of “disturbing” abuses in Darfur to the Security Council. There are also very grave concerns about the denial of children’s rights to education, to nutrition and to the freedom to be children and not to be forced into the army. LGBT rights are routinely denied. Anyone identified by the authorities is fined, flogged, stoned or imprisoned, and can even face the death penalty. Human Rights Watch says that human rights abuses,

“are intensifying in Darfur, making accurate, timely public reporting on human rights abuses more important than ever”.

Does the Minister agree that it is shocking to learn that, in Darfur, public reporting of abuse has all but ceased and that the latest report by the UN human rights commission was as long ago as in January 2009? In 2004, the United Nations Security Council mandated the Sudanese Government to disarm their Janjaweed militias. They never did, denying any close connection with the violent Arab militia. Now, in 2014, as the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has said, the Janjaweed have been trained and rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces and are attacking unarmed civilians in Darfur, and North and South Kordofan, with impunity.

Far from distancing themselves from the destruction caused by the RSF, the Sudanese Government admit that it is a vital part of their campaign to eliminate what they describe as a “rebellion” or “insurgency” in the marginalised areas of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The behaviour of the Sudanese RSF has been so ruthless that several Sudanese politicians who usually in the past have supported the regime obediently have spoken out and been jailed as a consequence. At the start of the year, President Bashir warned that 2014 would witness,

“the end of all tribal and ethnic conflicts and insurgency”,

through a military campaign called the “Decisive Summer” mobilisation. He meant it, and he has pursued that objective remorselessly.

Recently, the UN Secretary-General ordered a commission of inquiry into the poor performance of UNAMID, the peacekeeping force in Darfur, following evidence that human rights abuses are extraordinarily frequent and that it is sending misleading reports to the United Nations and to the African Union. In addition, UNAMID is failing to protect vulnerable civilians, which leads to serious abuses of human rights as women who face violence and rape are denied protection, as has been the case in Darfur, and more

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generally in Sudan, for far too many years. Meanwhile, the Sudanese authorities continue to place daily restrictions on the activities and movements of UNAMID, other UN agencies and humanitarian aid groups.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported that Sudan is among the least free and tolerant countries on earth, ranking it with Iran, North Korea, Burma and Saudi Arabia. Freedom House gives Sudan its worst ranking, as does Transparency International. None of this augurs well for a genuine national dialogue. For these reasons, the UK must surely not fund any part of the forthcoming 2015 election process due to take place in Sudan, because there is absolutely no basis for us to believe that those elections will be free, fair or credible.

Meanwhile, the Doha peace process has stalled, lacking credibility in the eyes of many in Darfur. The UK has invested time and effort in Doha, but most civil society groups are calling for a more comprehensive dialogue that includes all marginalised areas, considers devolution of power to the regions and provides a fully revised constitution that guarantees the rights of minorities.

Against that background, I must ask the Minister what the UK’s position is on demands being made by civil society organisations. Is she aware that 60 of Sudan’s laws violate its own constitution? Will the Minister assure the House that the UK is strongly pressing Sudan to respect the many international and regional conventions and treaties it has signed guaranteeing the human rights of its citizens irrespective of ethnic background or faith?

My final point relates to the engagement of the UK in the negotiations taking place on dropping Sudan’s external debts. Will the Minister confirm that UK officials participated in the technical working group on Sudan’s external debt, which met most recently in Washington in April? Will she agree that, as long as these talks go on, Sudan will have no pressing reason to respect its obligations under international human rights law or, indeed, its own promises to the African Union and the UN? Surely the Minister will recognise and agree that UK actions count for much more than our occasional words of condemnation of the regime in Khartoum.

It is almost 10 years since the UN Security Council first reported the situation in Darfur to the chief prosecutor of the ICC. Last month, the ICC urged the Security Council to support efforts to ensure that the individuals indicted in war crimes cases in Sudan’s Darfur region are delivered to The Hague for prosecution. What has been the Government’s and the Security Council’s reaction to this ICC demand for urgent support at this time? Does the Minister agree with the chief prosecutor that there has now to be a dramatic shift in the council’s approach to arresting Darfur suspects? Is it not starkly clear that the regime in Khartoum will change only when our pressure includes the enforcement of outstanding Security Council resolutions imposing targeted smart sanctions on the architects of the continuing suffering and misery of the people of Sudan? If we delay, they prevail—and millions suffer horrifically.

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7.57 pm

The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Unlike her, I cannot claim to be an expert on Sudan, but some of my colleagues who would normally speak on this issue have been unavoidably detained today in another debate of some importance to the church at the General Synod in York. I am very grateful for this opportunity to contribute to this debate because the human rights issues it raises are of such enormous significance, not only for the individuals directly concerned but for the way in which we direct our foreign aid and conduct our foreign policy.

With regard to foreign aid, there is clearly a real humanitarian crisis in Darfur, as we have heard, especially in the mountainous northern part of Sudan which borders Egypt. We have already heard about the thousands of refugees, but famine is also endemic there. One colleague who visited recently talked to people who were reduced to eating leaves off the trees. The population of that bit of the country is still predominantly Christian, and government help or support is virtually non-existent. What is more, aid agencies are able to offer little assistance due to the dangerous conditions, the poor infrastructure and, as we heard earlier, the periodic refusal of the Government to let them in. This means that the local Christian diocese has to shoulder most of the burden of caring for people who are in desperate need, and of attempting to feed them when its own resources are pitifully small. Have Her Majesty’s Government given any consideration to providing aid, and so helping to meet people’s basic human rights to food and drink, through the church in that part of Sudan? Heroic efforts are being made to alleviate desperate need, but funding is urgently required.

Where foreign policy is concerned, that leads on to the way in which human rights, and religious freedoms in particular, are being flouted in Sudan. The recent case involving Meriam Ibrahim, which has already been mentioned, and the closure of the Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre, illustrate this all too graphically. In theory, Sudan has ratified the optional protocols of the UN human rights conventions but, in practice, increasingly Sharia interpretations of the 1991 criminal code are having a devastating effect on many lives.

For instance, Lubna Hussein was sentenced to a lashing for allegedly dressing indecently in public by wearing trousers. Intisar Sharif was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Indeed, offences such as adultery, apostasy and armed robbery all have fixed sentences that include death by hanging, stoning, crucifixion or whipping. These penalties are clearly at odds with the basic freedom from physical harm which the Human Rights Act entails.

I would therefore be most grateful for some indication from the Minister as to any pressure that is being or could be applied to the Government of Sudan to ensure that they begin to respect their religious and cultural minority groups. In particular, I wonder what we are doing at and through the United Nations to press the Sudanese Government to honour the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including and especially Article 18, which relates to religious observance.

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8.01 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, the foreign affairs teams in the Lords and the Commons have been extremely busy lately with increasing problems all over the globe. From the invasion of Ukraine to chaos in Iraq to the crisis in Syria—and today we have been discussing the latest crisis in Gaza—the international community has to consider and act on many serious conflict and human rights situations, which occupy its time, energy and commitments, so I am grateful to the noble Baroness for ensuring that our focus has been brought back to the topic of human rights in the Republic of Sudan. As my noble friend Lady Kinnock suggested, Sudan seems to have fallen off the radar recently. It is not a new topic—although it has perhaps been overshadowed by other recent conflicts—but it does need our urgent attention.

The hope for a lasting peace in the region that was felt when South Sudan split off from Sudan and became an independent nation has sadly not been translated into reality. Sudan remains politically fragile, it has a heavy debt burden and the economy is in a dire situation. On top of this, serious internal conflicts continue, particularly in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, as has been mentioned. In recent months there has been a serious and deeply troubling escalation of violence in Darfur and with South Sudan, and there have been access restrictions for major aid agencies, many of which are critical for food distribution. In fact, my own brother has recently been stopped from carrying out humanitarian aid in Sudan.

There is an urgent need to create a favourable environment within which Sudan can address the underlying and long-term causes of its internal conflicts. This necessitates upholding human rights, including the freedom of expression, and a cessation of hostilities, both of which are essential for this process to be successful. Regrettably, we have not seen these essential elements for building peace and maintaining the rights of the people of Sudan in the actions of the Sudanese Government.

The Government continue to arrest human rights defenders, journalists and political leaders. The recent case of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian mother who was sentenced to death by hanging for “apostasy” and flogging for “adultery” while eight months pregnant, was brought to international attention. Along with others in the House, I welcome her release from prison. However, she is still unable to leave Sudan because further charges remain against her. We must remember, however, that this is just one case which has captured the international community’s attention. Religious persecution remains widespread within the country, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the right reverend Prelate.

In June, Amnesty International highlighted the fact that family members of three Sudanese activists who remain in detention without charge in Khartoum have reported that they show signs of torture and ill treatment. Human Rights Watch has raised concerns that:

“Despite the secession of South Sudan and the end of the transition period in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, during which Sudan adopted an Interim National Constitution, the government has yet to pass a new permanent constitution”.

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There are grave concerns about widespread impunity for serious human rights violations because Sudanese law grants immunity to law enforcement, military and security agents—and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and my noble friend Lady Kinnock, said, the Janjaweed militia. Will the Government use all available channels to push for a review of the Sudanese criminal code, which currently permits torture and human rights abuses?

The implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur has been slow and the main armed groups are mistrustful of the process. The process for a lasting peace necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, from civil society to armed groups, and there are concerns that President Bashir’s “national dialogue” is associated with traditional elites and is not inclusive. I ask the Minister: what will the Government do to ensure that President Bashir’s national dialogue initiative becomes a process capable of reaching a more comprehensive solution?

The humanitarian situation in areas of conflict within Sudan is cause for significant concern and, with the disruption to planting and future harvests under threat, is likely to rapidly deteriorate. The violations of human rights by the Sudanese Government, pro-government militia groups and anti-government armed groups include indiscriminate aerial bombardments, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill treatment of detainees, extrajudicial executions and the forced displacement of civilians.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been huge numbers of newly displaced persons. In Darfur, 500,000 people were displaced in 2013, a significant increase on previous years. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, more than 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes, while at least 230,000 live in refugee camps in South Sudan or Ethiopia. In total, about 2.3 million people have been displaced. On top of this, in the past few weeks there has been increasing evidence of the forcible removal of Eritrean refugees and other asylum seekers to home countries, which the UNHCR has labelled “an act of repression”. Is the Minister aware of this, and have representations been made to the Sudanese Government on this issue?

There are serious problems with restrictions on access for international humanitarian agencies such as the ICRC and the UNHCR due to the introduction of administrative obstacles, including travel permits. The suspension of the ICRC’s operations in Sudan, as of February 2014, is particularly worrying. What more can be done by Her Majesty’s Government to increase pressure on the Sudanese Government to allow access for humanitarian agencies?

Although the international community has for years expressed concern about human rights abuses in Sudan, it continues to deal with Sudanese leaders who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court on counts of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Will the Minister therefore clarify whether assistance is still being given to British trade missions in Sudan? Does she agree that we should warn British companies of the corruption and other serious problems that they face when trading in the country?

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The Sudanese Government’s systemic violations of the freedom of the press and civil society are of great concern. It is imperative that the British Government unite with their allies around the globe to put pressure on the nation’s leaders to seek a resolution to the conflict and underline the fact that the country’s economic, social and political development is at stake.

So many innocent people are being affected by the political games and military manoeuvres directed by the leaders of the country. The Sudanese conflicts are having an unbearable impact on basic human rights, including the right to food, shelter, life and education.

8.10 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for raising the important issue of human rights in Sudan. The dire human rights situation in Sudan is central to our engagement in that country both through our embassy and through the joint FCO/DfID Sudan Unit in London.

Let me respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and other noble Lords on how we tackle these challenging circumstances. First, we lobby the Government of Sudan on human rights abuses and demand greater transparency and accountability. We also provide tangible support to specific projects. This year, for example, our embassy is offering support to the establishment of a human rights law centre in Khartoum. Our support will also help strengthen human rights monitoring within the country and develop the capability of civil society organisations within Sudan, a point to which the right reverend Prelate referred. In so doing, we are able not only to make a difference on the ground but to maintain contact with a wide network of human rights defenders, who are essential to our work. We also speak out on issues of concern through both ministerial and ambassadorial statements and through social media. We have become involved in cases of huge concern such as that of Meriam Ibrahim, the woman who was recently sentenced to death for apostasy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, referred to a whole spectrum of human rights abuses. Another way in which we challenge such abuses is by supporting the work of the UN independent expert on human rights in Sudan. We welcomed his statement on human rights during his recent visit to Khartoum and look forward to seeing his final report at the Human Rights Council in September as it will provide us with an opportunity to highlight our concerns and debate some of the issues that were raised.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, referred to the ICC. We continue to make it clear to the Government of Sudan that the international community expects compliance with the arrest warrants for the ICC indictees. We equally expect other Governments who are parties to the Rome statute to comply with their legal obligations. In common with other EU countries, we have a policy of having no contact with fugitives from the ICC.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred in some detail to Darfur. She deserves huge credit for her work to keep in the public eye this appalling conflict in the two areas in Darfur, often displaying great personal

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courage in finding the latest information. The turn of events in Darfur is heartbreaking. Only this afternoon, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa has been discussing the conflict there with Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of UNAMID and the AU-UN Joint Special Representative for Darfur. The most recent report of the UN Secretary-General made it quite clear that it was the Government of Sudan and their rapid support forces who bore primary responsibility for the widespread abuses against civilians, including horrific sexual violence against women and girls and the looting and burning of houses. We have made it clear to the Sudanese Government in the strongest terms that such actions are not only wholly unacceptable but undermine their apparent aspiration for a national dialogue. The Secretary-General’s report also made it clear that the armed opposition, in particular the Sudanese Liberation Army’s Minni Minnawi faction, bears heavy responsibility for civilian displacement.

The escalation of aerial bombardment and the apparent targeting of hospitals by the Sudanese armed forces are appalling and we condemn them in the strongest terms. Ultimately, the conflict will be resolved only if both the Government and the SPLM- North can approach negotiations convened by President Mbeki and his high-level panel with serious intent, as they are required to do by UN Resolution 2046.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred also to cross-border aid. We do not believe that going down the route of providing cross-border aid is the right thing to do at this stage, given the sensitivities, risks and difficulties involved in monitoring where it goes, but we genuinely keep these policies under review and are always open to further discussion. I am sorry that that is not the news the noble Baroness wanted to hear today.

My noble friend Lord Cope referred to the Darfur refugees. We have raised this matter repeatedly with the Government of Sudan, calling for humanitarian access to those refugees, and the Minister for Africa spoke to the Foreign Minister of Sudan on 28 April. Lynne Featherstone from DfID again raised the situation on 20 May. At every opportunity, both within the Security Council and directly with the Sudanese Government, we press for compliance with all UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions regimes. It is important that UN Security Council follow up its decision to refer the situation in Darfur to the ICC. We have consistently raised this point in the Security Council and will continue to do so.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and other noble Lords raised the truly appalling case of Meriam Ibrahim, which has quite rightly inspired worldwide condemnation. I am proud that the UK led the way in calling for her release through statements by the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers. It is a great relief that Meriam Ibrahim has now been released, but we are concerned that she is still unable to travel. As the right reverend Prelate will know, the issue of freedom of religion or belief is one of the six key priorities in my human rights brief and is a personal priority for me. I have been at pains to detail what we mean by freedom of religion or belief, which includes the freedom to have a belief, to manifest that belief, to change that belief and not to have a belief. It

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is important that we make sure that that is detailed in that way when we have those discussions. The right reverend Prelate will also be aware that we now have a sub-group on freedom of religion or belief as an advisory group within the Foreign Office. The work of that group will also inform our responses to cases such as that of Meriam Ibrahim.

We are also aware of the case involving Faiza Abdalla and other apostasy cases before the Sudanese court. Although the full extent of those cases is not documented, it is clear that Meriam Ibrahim’s case is not an isolated occurrence and the broader issues of religious freedom still need to be addressed in detail. We are working with local Sudanese partners to investigate those cases and continue to call on the Sudanese Government to abide by their international obligations to uphold every citizen’s right to freedom of religion or belief. Of course, those obligations are enshrined in Sudan’s constitution and, indeed, in the very religion which Sudan purports to follow.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, spoke about the freedom of the press. Of course, that is a vital component of a genuinely open and transparent national dialogue process. Our embassy in Khartoum regularly raises that in discussions with the Sudanese authorities. During his visit to Sudan in January, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa met Sudanese journalists and editors and stressed to senior members of the Sudanese Government the importance of open, democratic space and respect for fundamental freedoms. Our embassy, with the British Council, is jointly funding the Thomson Foundation programme to build capacity for Sudanese journalism, including media training and a sponsored visit to London by Sudanese newspaper editors.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, also raised the issue of women’s rights and the PSVI. She will be aware both of the work that we are doing in the build-up to the Girls Summit, where we are encouraging Sudan to be represented, and in relation to the Ending Sexual Violence initiative, where we are pressing the Sudanese Government to take forward some of the summit’s recommendations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, raised the issue of torture. Of course we are deeply concerned at the reports of individuals being tortured while in detention. The visit by the UN independent expert has highlighted the urgent need for those claims to be fully investigated by the Sudanese authorities. Although we welcome the release on Friday of Mohammed Saleh, whose case was specifically raised by the independent expert with the Government, we still feel that more needs to be done by the authorities fully to investigate all claims of torture.

The right reverend Prelate spoke specifically about delivering aid through churches. Aid is given directly to NGOs in Sudan. However, access is limited by the Government of Sudan to certain areas and it may well be that using faith communities could be a way forward. I know that those matters were raised directly with the Foreign Minister of Sudan on 20 May this year.

My noble friend Lord Cope spoke about the strategic review of UNAMID. That review is already showing signs of improved efficiency. We are currently in internal discussions on the mandate renewal, which is due in

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August next year. The Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, met the head of UNAMID only today to discuss that. If anything has come out of that I will certainly write to my noble friend to update him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, spoke about access for humanitarian agencies, of which ICRC’s suspension is part of our concern. We have made clear to the Government of Sudan that ICRC is an independent organisation with a distinct mandate conferred by the international community, including Sudan, and thus plays a unique role in helping victims of armed conflict and other violence. As a party to the Geneva Convention, Sudan is obliged to allow the ICRC to implement its international mandate. Lynne Featherstone, the DfID Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, reiterated that when she met Foreign Minister Karti on 20 May.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, asked about debt relief. We are not negotiating debt relief with the Government of Sudan. We have been clear that the Government of Sudan can achieve debt relief only through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries process, which includes making serious attempts to reduce poverty, including by ending internal conflict. Sudan cannot realistically expect to achieve debt relief until it makes serious efforts to end its internal conflicts.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of sanctions. We would not rule anything out. The suggestion of sanctions is of course interesting, and I will certainly read Hansard as to the specific suggestions that she made, but a number of international mechanisms are in place that we should focus on: UNAMID and the strategic review ensuring that it is efficient and working is one; Sudan at the Human Rights Council is another; the African Union high-level implementation panel calling on both sides to engage in serious mediation over the two areas is another. So there are various levers that we can use.

In conclusion, at face value, the national dialogue launched by President Bashir earlier this year is to be welcomed, but it is clear, not least from the examples raised in this debate, that the Government’s recent actions are undermining their stated intentions. National dialogue leading to real reform is what Sudan desperately needs, so we should continue to remind the Government of Sudan of that commitment; to welcome positive steps such as the release of three political detainees last week; and to support those moderate voices within the Sudanese Government and society who are pushing for reform.

We can do that only by remaining engaged but, at the same time, we should continue to condemn the appalling actions of the Government whenever we see them, from South Kordofan to Darfur. We must ensure freedom of religion, freedom of the press and the protection of other human rights. The case of Meriam Ibrahim shows that the weight of UK and international pressure can make a real difference, but the challenge for all of us now is to ensure that that pressure leads to a fundamental change in attitude and approach from the Sudanese authorities. We must get to a point where there will no longer be a need to raise individual cases because the Government have come to understand that respect for human rights is vital for their own good governance. We will continue to push that.

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I was asked a number of questions in today’s debate. I hope that I have covered most of them. If I have not, I am sure that noble Lords will write to me and I will answer them more fully. Once again, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for providing an opportunity to discuss this important issue.

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

Committee (1st Day)(Continued)

8.23 pm

Clause 15: Restrictions on use of cautions

Amendment 21

Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

21: Clause 15, page 15, line 30, leave out from “except” to end of line 32 and insert “where the regional Chief Crown Prosecutor certifies that, in his or her opinion—

(a) prosecution would not be in the public interest, or

(b) prosecution for the offence would be inappropriate having regard to the circumstances of either the offender or the offence.”

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD): My Lords, the purpose of these amendments is twofold. The first purpose is to widen the discretion to give the cautions allowed by Clause 15, which, as your Lordships will know, is headed, “Restrictions on use of cautions”. I preface what I say by making it clear that I fully accept that it is desirable to be reasonably restrictive about giving cautions where normally a prosecution would be the proper response to an admission of guilt. That is of course particularly important where the offence concerned is a serious one. Yet the scheme of the Bill is to permit a caution only if there are exceptional circumstances relating to the person or the offence in three categories of cases.

The first category is in the case of indictable-only offences, where,

“a constable may not give the person a caution”,

unless it is,

“in exceptional circumstances relating to the person or the offence”—

I will call that the “exceptional circumstances” test—and,

“with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

The second category of offences is of those triable either way which appear on a list of what one would expect to be the more serious offences. That would meet the “exceptional circumstances” test but it would be the constable who gave the caution and there would be no need for the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The third category would deal with all other triable either-way offences—that is, those not on the serious list—and to offences triable summarily. The “exceptional circumstances” test would apply in those cases only to repeat offences: that is, offences that are similar to an offence for which the offender has been convicted in the previous two years. That leaves cautions available on an unrestrictive basis only in respect of those less serious either-way or summary offences which are, effectively, first offences of their type.

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I suggest that the “exceptional circumstances” test is too restrictive; “exceptional” is a very strong word. An offence is not exceptional, for example, where it is a minor offence of its class or because the circumstances in which it was committed are otherwise such that a prosecutor might reasonably take the view that more harm than good would be done by prosecution. Dealing with the circumstances of the person, such circumstances would not be exceptional if a former recidivist is well on the way to rehabilitation and a repeat minor offence can be seen as an isolated lapse, where a prosecutor can reasonably and responsibly—and presently often may—take the view that a prosecution would serve no public purpose.

I start on these amendments from the position that there is no reason to undermine the traditional test for prosecutors and not to respect that test. That test requires, first, a likelihood of conviction and it is generally satisfied where there is an admission, as it is a precondition to giving a caution set out in this clause. However, the test also requires the prosecutor to be satisfied that a prosecution is in the public interest. I cannot see why, if that second-limb test is not met—so that a prosecutor does not think a prosecution is in the public interest—even in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the right to administer a caution should be removed and a caution should not remain within the range of possible actions to be taken where there is to be no prosecution. I suggest that there may be many cases—perhaps fewer, I concede, in the indictable-only category—where there has been an admission and a prosecution is inappropriate, and where a caution would nevertheless remain a sensible disposal. In such cases, I see no reason why a caution, which is often an effective disposal, should be available only in first-time summary offences unless the very high hurdle of exceptional circumstances can be surmounted.

The second reason for these amendments is that the decision-maker being provided for is, I suggest, wrong. The Bill provides, first, that the decision-maker in any indictable-only offence is to be the Director of Public Prosecutions, and that in any other case the decision-maker is to be the constable giving the caution. I suggest that the Bill has this wrong in both categories. Surely cautions should not generally be a matter for the DPP, even in indictable-only cases. It is of course likely that, even in indictable-only cases, a decision to caution instead of to prosecute will be taken in cases at the less serious end of the spectrum for that class of offence. It is surely not necessary that the DPP should be involved in a decision to caution in that case, wherever it occurs.

8.30 pm

The amendment suggests that the decision-maker should be the regional chief prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service in any case. This, I suggest, is right on two bases: first, that the decision-maker should be a prosecutor, not the constable administering the caution; and, secondly, that the decision should be made at a regional level, even in cases of indictable-only offences. It is my suggestion that the last or only word should not be that of the constable who is to administer the caution, and I invite the Committee to take the view that the CPS is best placed to take the decision—in

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consultation with the police as appropriate, of course, where they take the view that a prosecution is inappropriate.

Our amendments set out the same tests throughout, and the tests would be that the regional chief crown prosecutor certifies that, in his or her opinion, either that prosecution would not be in the public interest or that prosecution for the offence would be inappropriate, having regard to the circumstances either of the offender or of the offence. Those tests applied uniformly would mean that more serious offences were no doubt far less likely to be thought suitable for a caution, but it is right that the test either way should have regard to the public interest.

The code that we suggest in all three types of offences is a logical one. It would preserve the distinction between first and subsequent offences for minor offences that were either summary or not on the list of more serious offences that were triable either way. I commend Amendments 21 to 23 to the House. I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, this group of amendments applies to Clause 15, which concerns the use of cautions. Cautions have been used for many years as an effective tool in the toolbox of the police officer and the criminal justice system in general, to give a proportionate response to low-level offending where the offender has admitted the offence. There have been issues where it looks as though cautions have been used for offences that look to warrant a more serious response. The public rightly get concerned about reports of cautions being used in cases of serious violence or sexual offences.

I should say first that the Opposition support the sentiments behind the clause. Our amendments in this group, and our intention to oppose that the clause stand part of the Bill, are just to ensure that there is a debate in your Lordships’ House and to probe and test the Government’s thinking on these matters at this stage. Depending on their response, we may want to bring some of this back on Report.

The amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, were interesting and may prove to be a better way of dealing with the issues at hand. However, I do not want to come to a conclusion on that matter just yet; I want the issue probed much more in your Lordships’ House.

It would be helpful, certainly to me and perhaps to the whole House, if the Minister could set out in responding what he thinks the exceptional circumstances are. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, about the public interest, I need to know what the difference is and where both noble Lords are on this question. If the Minister could give us some indication of that, I would be very grateful.

Will the Minister help me further? Clause 15(2)(b) talks about,

“the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

Will it be the DPP or his staff who decide these matters? If that is the case, is the noble Lord, Lord Marks, not correct that the regional prosecutor may be the right person to go to? His amendment may have some merit on this issue.

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The amendment in the group tabled in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Ponsonby and Lord Beecham would insert the word “senior” before “police officer” in Clause 15(5). We still leave it as the decision of the Secretary of State to specify the rank by order, but putting the word “senior” in the Bill makes it clear that Parliament’s intention is that these important decisions to create an exception—to determine whether exceptional circumstances have to merit this decision—need to involve a senior officer.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab): My Lords, I understand that I am speaking after my Front Bench friend, but I want to make a couple of points. I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that the general intent of this group is to lower the hurdles by which cautions would be administered as a whole. He set out very clearly a different approach, but I think it is right to say that it is a lowering of the hurdles as a whole. As he said in his introduction to the amendments, we have seen a reduction in the number of cautions which have been administered in recent years.