The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, Algeria is an important partner. The visit by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in October and the annual political dialogue between the Under-Secretary of State, Mr Burt, and his counterpart, Mr Messahel, have strengthened our links. I visited in November to discuss trade, energy and foreign policy, and the visit in January by my noble friend Lord Marland focused on our commercial and energy relationships. UK exports to Algeria were up 67 per cent last year. British businesses are the largest in Algeria's hydrocarbon sector, and we are actively pursuing opportunities in education, pharmaceuticals and finance. Algeria has also shown a strong interest in closer links with the Commonwealth.
Lord Risby: My Lords, there can be few countries that have suffered more violence and destruction in the past than Algeria, but more latterly there has been stability in a very turbulent region. Will the Minister welcome the moves towards political reform that are now under way, culminating in elections later this year and a substantial number of women parliamentarians? Given this and the enormous levels of natural gas that exist in the country, does my noble friend agree that, with the extraordinary and exceptional friendship currently being shown to us by the Algerians, we should readily react to this in view of the important strategic, political and commercial opportunities that arise?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, we fully recognise the points that my noble friend has rightly made. I congratulate him on the very successful visit that he and some colleagues recently made to Algeria. This is a country that has emerged from a very dark period. It has some way to go in some crucial areas but it is, in resource terms, immensely rich. It has a determination to move back into the comity of nations in an effective way and I believe that we should work closely with it. I think that the frequent visits that Ministers from my department have paid reflect that reality.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the trade and energy links are indeed important but so, too, are human rights. The noble Lord must be aware of a growing tide of Islamism creeping over Algeria. It is
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Lord Howell of Guildford: There has. The noble Lord is right to raise questions of human rights, which are obviously our central concern. So far as concerns jihadism and more extreme versions of Islamism, while in the south of Algeria and to the south of Algeria there are continuing difficulties which need to be watched and addressed very carefully, in the north the situation is much better controlled. The general tendency which was feared a decade or so ago-of extreme jihadism taking over-has been checked and resisted. In fact, I think that Algeria is moving on from that phase.
As to the question of religious discrimination, there has been a constant exchange, and the noble Lord mentioned Mr Burt's dialogue with Ministers. The laws that control where churches or other religious institutions can be built apply to all faiths-this is not just discrimination against Christians. We have discussed this very carefully with Ministers in Algiers. They have assured us that the laws are applied in a relatively light-handed way and that discrimination is not against one faith. It governs all building, including of mosques. Therefore, it is a matter that we are watching. I cannot promise that immediate results have been achieved but we are working at it.
Lord Chidgey: Is my noble friend aware that, according to the UKTI report, Doing Business in Algeria, for every £1 worth of goods that we export to Algeria, Algeria exports £2 worth of goods to us? That is resulting in a significant trade deficit, which, according to the current facts, is set to double every two years? According to UKTI, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Does this not smack somewhat of complacency as far as our exports are concerned?
Lord Howell of Guildford: No, I do not think it does because the big export from Algeria to us is liquid natural gas. Algeria is a major exporter to Europe of LNG. It is developing that capacity vigorously. There are further huge areas to be licensed, explored and developed in Algeria and we hope that British firms will have a major involvement in that as the licensing system unfolds and improves. I do not think that my noble friend's figures fully reflect the fact that I have just pointed out to him, that for our daily energy and for keeping the lights on we need good supplies of liquid natural gas as well as the natural gas that we get from the North Sea, Norway and other places.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the Minister has clearly articulated the fact that AQ of the Maghreb are now concentrated in the south. Have we had success in convincing European nations that the paying of ransoms has been one of the reasons for AQM increasing its power and that we really must not do that?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I hesitate to tick the box marked "success", but this matter is certainly very much on our minds and it is being discussed. In fact, I think it is being discussed this week at the United Nations, among other places, and it has certainly been discussed with our European colleagues. The noble Lord is quite right to draw attention to this. The ransom is the Danegeld. It will never solve the problem but will make it worse. As a government, we are totally against any paying of ransom in all such circumstances.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned educational links in his first Answer. He will be aware of the restrictions on overseas students coming to the UK as a result of actions by the Government. Is he able to comment on the impact that that has had on students from Algeria coming to the UK as education is a very important export earner for this country?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Of course, we welcome bona fide students to our universities and a healthy student exchange. The matter was not raised with me during quite an extensive stay in Algeria a few months ago, but it is a matter that I shall look at again and check whether the Algerians have any particular problems to raise with us.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, the Government wish to see greater diversity in financial services, and credit unions have an important role to play. The recent credit union legislative reform order has opened up membership to different groups such as housing association tenants and employees of national companies working in credit union areas. A feasibility study has looked at how the Government could support credit unions. The study reported to Ministers in December and an announcement will be made in due course.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: Although progress is moving in the right direction, I think it is extremely sluggish. If I asked a question about nurses, I would expect a Health Minister to reply; if I asked about teachers, I would expect an Education Minister to reply. I ask a question about credit unions and three departments could reply in this House. I contend that that is not joined-up government. My question for the Minister is: who is the driver?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I am the driver. I commissioned a report on credit unions last year. The DWP is the paymaster for the credit union movement. We have spent £113 million in the past six years. We are determined to go on funding this really important element of
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Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, what limit is there on individual credit union loans? Will the Minister say what figure the credit unions are restricted to? I am very keen that self-employed trades men and women who want to start off with a small quantity of tools and equipment are able to go to a credit union in their locality rather than a bank, because banks at the moment are not very helpful to self-employed people.
Lord Freud: My Lords, there are various restrictions on credit unions at the moment. I am not aware of an absolute limit on loans. Clearly, the unions need a financially viable business structure. They do not have one at the moment. A typical loan from a credit union is about £500. It costs the union more than £75 to make the loan and it earns less than £63, so getting a new mix of business is vital.
Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the next big step required to increase the volume of credit union activity is to make credit union accounts accessible via post office counters? Will he assure the House that this option is under active consideration as part of the wider review that he described?
Lord Borrie: The Minister referred to the growing significance of credit unions, and of consumer credit provided by the unions. What proportion of outstanding consumer credit at the present time is owed to credit unions? What proportion of the totality of consumer credit do they cover?
Lord Freud: The proportion is disappointingly small; it is 2 per cent. That compares with a figure of 44 per cent in the United States and 75 per cent in Ireland. It is a very small industry here. Our ambition is to double its size in the next five to seven years. Nevertheless, we need to look at various other financial instruments, particularly as we introduce universal credit.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I am sure that the House is delighted that the report that the Minister asked for is coming. Should not part of the report state that local authorities should be encouraged to help with the start-up costs of credit unions, in particular with the very high council taxes that are levied on premises? I speak with experience of a very successful credit union in St Albans of which I am a member. Start-up costs are very difficult and local authorities could play a good part in helping to create these unions.
Lord Freud: Yes, my Lords, credit unions are local organisations. It is very important that social units in the locality help them. Just as important as local
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Lord Elystan-Morgan: Does the Minister agree that the situation is acute because needy people must be kept out of the clutches of loan sharks? I appreciate that successive Governments have shown great good will in this matter. Will he study the situation in the Republic of Ireland, where, as he said, some 50 per cent of personal credit is represented by credit unions? In New Zealand and Canada the figure is between 20 and 22 per cent. Will he take those systems very much into account and do something that involves a substantial injection of public money into this investment?
Lord Freud: My Lords, we have made clear that we are prepared to support this industry, but we are determined to support it in such a way that it becomes viable in the long term. We are attacking illegal loans, which are coming down a bit. There are various supports for poorer people, such as payday loans, rent-to-buy and home credit. It is a very complicated picture, but we are determined to push this new factor as hard as we can.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, my noble friend said that the aim is to double from 2 per cent to 4 per cent in between five and seven years. Can we not do better than that? Can we not have a more ambitious aim?
Lord Freud: My Lords, it is very difficult to grow an industry from an organisational base that is not yet viable. We need to make sure that individual institutions are able to handle the growth that we want them to take on. That is not just about money; that is about trying to make the right changes to management and organisation. It is not an easy thing to do.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, we will set out the Government's approach to tackling alcohol-related harm in the forthcoming alcohol strategy. It will address the full range of harm from alcohol, both health and social impacts, and will describe the respective future roles of central and local government, the third sector, other agencies and people.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff:Today's British Liver Trust report shows that 28 per cent of deaths in 16 to 24 year-olds and almost 9,000 deaths a year in this country are alcohol-related. Do the Government recognise that there is now a need for social strategies that look at issues such as minimum pricing and licensing controls
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Earl Howe: My Lords, the Government fully recognise the adverse effects on society of alcohol misuse and the devastating consequences that it can bring to individuals. That is why we feel it is so important to issue the alcohol strategy that I mentioned in my initial Answer. I understand that there are no plans in government to widen the use of breathalysers, but we are clear that irresponsible sales of alcohol need to be controlled, and that area will be covered in the strategy. On the noble Baroness's particular question on pricing, we recognise that the irresponsible sale of alcohol at a loss to gain wider trade can lead to binge drinking. That is clearly undesirable for all sorts of reasons. We are committed to ending the sale of heavily discounted alcohol, and that will send a message to retailers and, indeed, the public that we take the issue very seriously.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, has the Minister seen the letter today from the churches and charities to the Prime Minister asking that there should be a minimum price on alcohol? Will he agree with that recommendation and do that rather than rely on the industry in this case?
Earl Howe: My Lords, as I have already said, we recognise that the irresponsible sale of alcohol at a loss or heavy discount is undesirable. We know that price is important in this equation but we also know that it is not the only factor that affects demand for alcohol. We need to find ways to change people's relationship and behaviours with alcohol. We do not believe that the only way to do this is by more rules and regulations but the issue of price will be addressed in the forthcoming alcohol strategy.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, the Sheffield University report to NICE in 2010 pointed out the extreme importance of price rises. It came to the conclusion that a 10 per cent price rise would, among other
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Earl Howe: My noble friend makes a very good point, which is why the Government have taken action on tax. We will be raising alcohol duty by 2 per cent above inflation every year to 2014-15. We introduced a new additional duty on high-strength beers to address the consumption of cheap super-strength lagers and a reduced rate of duty on low-strength beers to encourage consumers to switch to those brands.
Lord Imbert: In the light of the 60,000 alcohol-related calls answered by the London Ambulance Service alone and the 18,500 alcohol-related crimes of violence in London alone in one year, does that not mean that we should introduce a compulsory alcohol sobriety testing scheme which magistrates can use to sentence in order to reduce this awful number of offences?
Earl Howe: The noble Lord is right to point that out. Proposals of the kind he suggests should be considered. As I am sure he will recognise, there is no single solution to the complex challenge of alcohol misuse. We need to look at licensing, pricing, health promotion, the criminal justice system, the role of local authorities, early engagement by the NHS and labelling, and the list goes on. But I am very happy to feed in the noble Lord's ideas to my department in the work that it is doing.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, what impact does the Minister think rising unemployment may have on alcohol consumption? He has not mentioned unemployment, which is an important issue. I declare an interest as the chairman of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the evidence is that the population's overall consumption of alcohol tends to fall if incomes are depressed. Particular groups in the population, including some who are unemployed, may consume more alcohol as a result of being unemployed but the evidence does not enable us to quantify this effect. This is one aspect of health inequalities which we are determined to reduce, as we stated in Healthy Lives, Healthy People, a document we published last year.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to reports from Amnesty International about alleged torture and other brutalities in Libya, and what action they are taking to address the situation.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, United Kingdom Ministers have regularly raised concerns over the treatment of detainees since the liberation of Libya. Following recent reports, my honourable friends and fellow Foreign Office Ministers Mr Jeremy Browne and Mr Alistair Burt have raised the issue with the Libyan Interior Minister, Mr Abdilal, and the Deputy Foreign Minister. We welcome the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister's recent commitment to investigate all violations of human rights and to bring all detainees under central government control.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that it is going to take more than words to deal with this situation? Does he not also agree that, just as our highly effective and professional armed services played such a key part in bringing about the downfall of Gaddafi and his regime, we must be as rigorous in our resolve to secure the standards of justice, human rights and freedom which were the rationalisation and reason for the rebellion against the existing regime?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I would certainly agree with that, and it is reflected in the discussions that Ministers have had in reiterating these concerns. The Libyan Interior Minister is actually visiting this country at this moment and Ministers are in close touch with him. Our ambassador in Tripoli has raised the matter with members of the transitional Government. The noble Lord is absolutely right: words are not enough; actions are required to gain control of the very disparate bodies and groups on the Libyan scene, which is the first problem, and to establish an orderly path towards a strong and democratic system of governance. All this is part of the pattern of tackling what is completely unacceptable behaviour.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister accept that these appalling reports from Libya, along with the distressing reports of incidents in Port Said yesterday, argue for perhaps rather greater caution on joining other people's calls for a change of regime in Syria?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord touches on a difficult issue. The situations in the countries he has mentioned-Egypt, Libya and Syria-are completely different. We can see the horrors of Syria, including what are apparently child murders and other appalling atrocities, and we are pressing this matter as hard as we can at the United Nations-my right honourable
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Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Does my noble friend accept that in countries which are emerging from conflict, the building of institutions takes its time and is quite problematic? Can he tell the House whether the ample resources of the Stabilisation Unit and the Conflict Pool might be available to help train Libyan judges and the country's police force so that they can comply with due process and improve their judicial standards?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend is quite right to draw attention to the fact that it takes time and that these are early days. It is just about a year since the Libyan liberation drama began to unfold. We must be patient but, in addition to what we are doing already, we will examine further means of supporting the training of judges and so forth. I have before me a long list of activities where the UK is supporting the Libyan democratic process and trying to ensure that it rolls forward smoothly. I could delay the House with the details, but I will not do so. However, my noble friend has certainly touched on one very important aspect.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, some time ago when we were intervening in Libya, I asked the noble Lord about the occurrence of tribalism. Can he now say whether the brutalities that are taking place in Libya are as a result of tribalism out there?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord a detailed and informed answer because it is very hard to get all the information. There are tribal enclaves and there have been problems, as demonstrated by the continuing support of some villages and towns for the now totally discredited and removed Gaddafi regime. This support may well be linked to tribal and ancestral loyalties, and everyone recognises that the Libyan scene remains problematically influenced by many tribal traditions and rivalries. I can say no more than that for now and, while I shall look into it, I do not think that we are going to find very much more at the moment.
Baroness Berridge: My Lords, is the situation in Libya improving or deteriorating for sub-Saharan migrant workers who were caught up in the initial wave of imprisonment? What efforts is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office making to communicate with Britain's diaspora communities, who are very concerned about this matter?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We are concerned about the matter as well. There is some evidence that some relief is being organised, but the situation remains far from satisfactory and we will keep a very close eye on it.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, following on from the excellent question of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, can the Minister tell us what direct support the Foreign Office is able to give through financing the work that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy was doing in Libya, as well as that of the Law Society, which was engaging on some of the very points that the noble Baroness raised, on judge training and establishing the rule of law and functioning courts?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We support all these aspects. As I think the noble Baroness knows, although there was a dip in the funding for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, there has been a modest but welcome increase for the current year. That reflects our belief, which we share with her, that its work is an extremely valuable part of the scene. As to the Law Society and other non-governmental but very important operations of the kind that she has mentioned, these are things that we encourage. We should certainly look at and develop judge training. We are looking at projects in civil society, electoral preparations, prison reform, asset tracking and public financial management. We are supporting the role of women through funding the first women's convention in November; we are helping the Libyans strengthen their institutions and restore public services. There is a whole list of other areas in which we are involved. All these are very important. We want to see Libya emerge as a stable, democratic country, bringing peace and prosperity to its much benighted citizens.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, will the Leader of the House make a Statement to the House on Monday, first, on when the Welfare Reform Bill will return to this House following Commons consideration of Lords amendments yesterday and,
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The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I accept the invitation that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has made. First, the decision on when we will take Lords consideration of Commons amendments on the Welfare Reform Bill will be made in the usual channels in due course and will then appear on the Order Paper, which I hope will be for the benefit of the House. We will have the discussions in the usual channels as soon as possible.
Secondly, the clerks of the House stand ready give any noble Lord procedural advice, but perhaps I may repeat something that I said yesterday afternoon: namely, that privilege is nothing new, having existed for nearly 350 years, and that any amendment with implications for public expenditure might involve privilege, but that it is a matter for another place, not for me or us. As the previous Clerk of the Parliaments stated in a recently published memorandum,
There is nothing new in any of this. The Commons asserts its privilege in almost every Session. It has done so already this Session and did so regularly in the previous Parliament. Indeed, the previous Department of Work and Pensions Bill that attracted financial privilege was in the Session 2006-07 when the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, himself was the Minister.
"If the Commons have disagreed to Lords Amendments on grounds of financial privilege, it is contrary to convention for the Lords to send back Amendments in lieu which clearly invite the same response".
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I do not know whether this is in order, but if it is I would like to do it. My noble friend should know that concern about this matter is not confined to the other side of the House. I also think that, notwithstanding what has just been said or what the previous Government may or may not have done in 2006, this raises real questions about the relationship in practice as it has existed over many years between the two Houses of Parliament. I think that we are entitled to an opportunity to hear a Statement and ask questions about just where that relationship is now going.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am prompted to stand because of the reference to the Cunningham committee on conventions. I simply put this serious question to the Leader of the House. I recognise the great difficulty
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His position in trying to justify and hold that line would be quite impossible. Clause 2 of the draft Bill as it stands, which still insists that there will be no change in the conventions between the two Houses in the event of an elected House, is absolute nonsense. I therefore just put it to him as I did in perhaps less impassioned terms yesterday, that this is really an issue that the committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Richard must examine before it reports and advises the two Houses of Parliament.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, I support very strongly my noble friend Lord Newton's point. While the House of Commons is perfectly entitled to claim privilege, it is not compelled to do so. The constitution of this country operates by conventions. It is one of the conventions of the constitution that this is evoked very sparingly and on rare occasions. For it to be invoked promiscuously is completely contrary to the conventions of the constitution. This raises serious issues and the House of Commons would be wise to think again.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, has just said and revert to the Cunningham committee report, which was very clear on the question of conventions developing and changing over a period of time. It specifically addressed whether the conventions should be codified and decided that that was not helpful to the way in which Parliament operates, but that conventions could develop. The Leader of the House quoted only part of the Cunningham report and not the point in its entirety.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, when my noble friend makes the Statement that he indicates he wishes to make, I wonder if he could possibly indicate to your Lordships which provisions of the Welfare Reform Bill prevented it from being a money Bill.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I noticed that when my noble and learned friend made his point a second or two ago, my noble friend on the Bench shook his head as the reference was made to a Statement. I implore my noble friend the Leader of the House to make a detailed Statement, because the relationship between the two Houses is fundamental to the working of our constitution. There is a fear among many Members on this side of the House that there is an overassertion of
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Lord Alderdice: My Lords, apart from the question of the rights and conventions, there may also be a question of communication. The Reasons Committee of the House of Commons could perhaps be a little more forthcoming as to precisely why it feels that it is important to exercise privilege. It is not an absolute requirement. Perhaps it might be possible-without in any way encroaching on the rights of the other place-to explore whether a little more full communication might be possible, particularly in these areas of contention.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I had no intention to come in yesterday and I had no intention to come in today. I rise only to try and be helpful, if that is possible. I took the bother to find out in Hansard what the Speaker said. He said:
He was not saying any more than that it would be put in the Journal-in other words, it would be put in the minutes of the meeting. I think we are making heavy weather of this matter, if you do not mind me saying so. The House down the other end rejected the amendments. Those amendments then come back to us for consideration; and when they do, each and every one of us can go and seek advice from the Clerk of the Parliament and we can also get a Statement from the Leader of the House-it is a tall order.
It has been hinted again that there might have been influence from the Government on what the Speaker had to say. Let me say that it was like penance every week having to listen to both the opposition and government Chief Whips because they were always complaining and moaning. However, the one thing when it comes to privilege is that it is the Speaker and his advisers alone who decide. The worst thing that a government Whip-or an opposition Whip, if he feels it is to his advantage-can do is to come to the Speaker and seek to influence matters like this. It would be counterproductive. I ask noble Lords to wait until the amendments come. I hope I have not given the Clerk of the Parliaments too onerous a task.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I wonder if the Minister will agree that the letter of the law has been absolutely clear for three centuries-any money element can give rise to a situation where privilege can be successfully claimed. However, it is not entirely clear, from looking at Erskine May, whether it turns on some discretion vested in the Speaker or in interpretation, although it may very well be that the same result is achieved in the end. One either has a liberal view of the situation or a much narrower one. Looking at it legalistically, there is a world of difference between a range of interpretation and a range of discretion.
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, may I just add to that point made by the noble Lord? I respectfully suggest to my noble friend the Leader of the House that he has a duty to the House as a whole, as well as to the Government's interests. There have been a series of events that give the impression that the other place, which increasingly sends legislation up here that is not properly considered and debated, is treating this place with some contempt, not least of which is the suggestion that the Parliament Act might be used in respect of the reform of this place. I suggest to my noble friend that the time may have come for him to assert his authority as Leader of the House and have a frank chat with some of his colleagues.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I note all that has been said and the wisdom that has come from many Members of this House. I have two questions for the noble Lord. First, could he confirm that if the Government so wished they could waive financial privilege? Secondly, in the light of all that has been said in this very short debate and the importance of the work being undertaken by the Joint Committee in relation to conventions, I think that the House as a whole would welcome a Statement from the noble Lord on Monday to further discuss these issues.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, that was a useful tour around the House on this matter of privilege. From time to time there are debases on privilege in this House, and it is entirely right that we should have them. But as I have explained, the matter of privilege is nothing to do with the Government, although the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is entirely right that in certain instances the Government can waive financial privilege-if, for instance, they were to agree with an amendment made in the House of Lords or to part of an amendment. As I understand it, neither of those occurred on this occasion.
As the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, explained yesterday and again today, financial privilege is a matter for the House of Commons alone and, within the House of Commons, it is a matter for the Speaker on advice from the Clerks, not from the Government. I do not think that it would be useful for this House to debate endlessly or take a view of procedures in another place, any more than we would like another place to have a view about the procedures in this House. Both Houses have a longstanding convention that we do not debate the other's practice, and I think that that is entirely right.
What I sense underlies much of this angst is what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, talked about, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth-about the possibility of a reform. I am the first to defend the rights and privileges of this House, as I have done continually since I have been Leader. It is perfectly true that in the scenario of an elected House over time, the procedures and powers
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My noble friend Lord Lawson was such a distinguished Chancellor of Exchequer for many years. I do not have the statistics, but I cannot believe that when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer he cheered every time the House of Lords spent more money.
My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay asked whether I was going to make a Statement on whether or why this was not a money Bill. I must say that I have not the faintest idea why this was not a money Bill. I am sure there are very good, practical and well precedented reasons why social security legislation is not deemed to be a money Bill.
A number of noble Lords have suggested that I should make a Statement at some stage next week on privilege. Let me consider that. There is no point making a Statement if we do not add very much more to the amount of knowledge that we already have. We will have an opportunity to debate the Bill when it returns from the House of Commons and when we have decided on a date, but if I can shed any extra light then I will do so. It might be better to have a Question for Short Debate, where we can discuss these matters in the round.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have to crave the indulgence of the House once more to quote something back at the noble Lord the Leader from when I was a transgressor on financial privilege. This is a very enlightening piece from Hansard. The noble Lord the Leader said:
"The Government therefore did not seek to debate the substance of my noble friend's amendment in another place last night; they simply declared it unconstitutional and cited privilege. I do not think that that is good enough. The Government should not hide behind the principle of privilege as a matter of course, because what is constitutional should be a matter for the whole of Parliament. Parliament should not accept the use of the privilege amendment in cases of doubt simply to stifle debate, which is the impression that the Government have given in dealing with my noble friend's amendments. After all, if the amendments of your Lordships' House are not to be discussed, what is the point of this House ever agreeing to any amendments? I ask the noble Baroness"-
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is always nice to have my speeches quoted and of course we could do this all day. The noble Baroness could quote my rather good speeches and I could quote her equally good ones. In fact, I will requote what I also said to the noble Baroness in that same speech: that she had,
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I speak Amendments 18 and 20 in my name and that of my noble and learned friend. Clause 11 devolves legislative competence to the Scottish Parliament in relation to the regulation of some of the powers on air weapons, as recommended by the Calman commission. The purpose of our amendment is, again, to probe the rationale behind the Government's selective implementation of the Calman commission recommendations. Amendment 18 seeks to remove the exception that the Government make to the devolution of powers to license air weapons in the case of those weapons designated as "specially dangerous" by the Secretary of State.
The Minister will forgive any deficiencies in the amendment itself. It seeks to improve a definition in an area of law that is fraught with confusion and in serious need of rationalisation. It is a continuing disappointment that the Government-and I think that the previous Government were in the same position about this-have not yet heeded the calls from the Home Affairs Select Committee, among others, on firearms control that call on the Government to rationalise
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Grouped with our amendments in Amendment 19 is in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, who generously shared with me the argument and some of the points that he intends to make in support of it. I do not intend to steal his thunder, but in general terms they test and explore the practicalities of two separate regulatory regimes on this one island. His points are germane to the workability of what is proposed. I look forward to his contribution and, more eagerly, to the Minister's responses to his contribution and the questions that he will pose.
It will be known to many noble Lords that air weapons are an issue of particular importance to the people of Scotland. There have been too many cases in recent years when misuse has led to terrible consequences, such as the tragedy of two year-old Andrew Morton's death. The people of Scotland demand action from their politicians and we on this side of the House wholeheartedly support the devolution of powers to Scotland to regulate or, if the Scottish people choose to do so, to ban air weapons, but that is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. We are not blind to the practical consequences of such a change.
We are concerned, however, that the Bill as it stands does not go far enough in granting Scotland the powers that it needs if there is to be a change, and does not faithfully reflect the Calman commission's recommendations, despite noting from the Calman commission that,
and therefore recommended that the regulation of airguns should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The commission explicitly rejected the Scottish National Party's call for the devolution of firearms regulation in its totality, something that we on this side of the House do not support, on the basis that Calman found no evidence that Scotland had a particularly acute problem that demanded distinct legislation as opposed to any other part of Great Britain. However, the commission concluded that there was sufficient reason to discriminate between firearms because of a genuine appetite on the part of Scotland to deal differently with these particular air weapons, and this clear demand outweighed the possible disadvantages of a differentiated system.
It is important that the reason the commission did not recommend the devolution of legislative competence over all firearms was not the cross-border problems of
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However, the Government have decided to exempt those "specially dangerous" air weapons that are subject to special licensing or prohibition by the Secretary of State from devolution. This is clearly contrary to the commission's recommendations and, in my submission, will only add to the confusion and fragmentation of an already confused and fragmented area of the law-firearms regulation across the UK. Noble Lords will note that this amendment does not remove the exception to air weapons which are prohibited under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, and Section 1(4) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. However, I would still like to probe the Government's logic here; to me it seems unclear.
The devolution of legislative competence over air weapons currently banned in the UK would, indeed, create a differentiated system of regulation across the UK, with all the associated cross-border problems. However, the Government must anticipate that the devolution of competence over most air weapons, which is what they propose, is still likely to produce such a result; the only difference being that the prohibition or the regulation of the other air weapons will exist in Scotland and not in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I regret that when this clause was debated in another place, the focus of the debate was largely on the Scottish nationalist obsession with the devolution of powers over all firearms and this issue, although presented to the other place, was not debated or properly answered. I hope that today we will have an opportunity to focus debate on the specific settlement proposed in the Bill and to ensure that the Scottish Parliament is granted the powers it needs properly to address the issue of air weapons in Scotland.
The format of this amendment is not without recent persuasive precedent. The Firearms (Electronic Communications) Order 2011 was made under the authority of Section 8 of the Electronic Communications Act 2000 and provides for the Secretary of State to direct forms of electronic communication that may be used for sending statutory notices under the various firearms Acts. Before giving any such direction, the Secretary of State is required to consult Scottish Ministers, the Associations of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and in England and Wales and "such other persons" as he "feels should be consulted"-a term which the Home Office suggests in its circular must include the main shooting organisations as well.
Clause 11 of the Bill contains no indication of the type of changes to the law concerning low-powered air guns that are envisaged by those who have sought to have controls devolved to the Scottish Government.
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The imposition of restrictive legislation on air guns will have cross-border implications on those who travel with firearms to Scotland from other parts of the United Kingdom, from within Europe and from the wider world; or from Scotland to such places. Air guns are generally excluded from most aspects of firearms legislation and are outside the definition of "firearm" for the purposes of the European directive, Article 1(1). Only where the control of firearms has had a particularly troubled history in countries such as Ireland and Northern Ireland are air guns treated in the same way as firearms.
As we all know, the border between Scotland and England is entirely open. Different legislation on each side of an unpoliced border will create major problems in terms of movement of individuals and of air guns themselves. For the trade there will be serious issues in respect of mail order and face-to-face transfers in either direction. Direct sales, either by way of trade or between individuals, will be completely unpoliceable. It seems right that police on both sides of the border should be consulted about potential policing problems, and that the trade on both sides of the border should be consulted about the effects on its businesses.
The burden on the police of a licensing system for air guns will be enormous. Initially, some 500,000 air gun owners in Scotland may be affected but it seems probable that a proportion of owners will not take up the licensing scheme and will either dispose of their air guns or retain them without a licence. There is little chance of the greater proportion of non-compliance being discovered, since there is no record of those who now own air guns. Your Lordships may well be aware that a considerable percentage of air weapons carry no serial numbers, in particular the less expensive and therefore far more common weapons, and are therefore untraceable.
The initial take-up of licensing may be by 500,000 or fewer people. Existing holders of firearm and shotgun certificates total some 67,000 individuals. If a system akin to that for licensing firearms and shotguns were to be imposed on air guns, the burden on the police firearms licensing departments would increase eightfold, at a time when firearms licensing departments are cutting staff and slippage in turnaround of applications is becoming far worse.
According to a 2009 survey by ACPO in England and Wales, the grant of a firearm or shotgun certificate involves six or seven hours of police time. That may be overstated, but if a licence for an air gun involved only three hours of police time, more than 1.5 million additional hours would be required in the first year. Perhaps exemptions would be made for existing firearm and shotgun certificate holders, or perhaps further
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It may be argued that the cost of all this could be recovered from the air gun owner, but Treasury guidelines demand that fees reflect only the actual cost of issuing the licence or certificate in question, and these recover only a small part of the cost to the firearms licensing department. They do not include enforcement measures or costs not directly linked to the grant of the individual licence.
Police in other parts of the United Kingdom would be involved in costs-probably large costs-related to the enforcement of any new laws in Scotland. An air gun sent by a dealer in England to a customer in Scotland might well involve a contravention of Scottish but not English law. However, inquiries would have to be made by English police about the actions of the English dealer.
Sporting shooting is an important factor in the economics of Scotland. According to VisitScotland, those living outside Scotland who visit Scotland for sporting shooting generate some £50 million per year for the Scottish economy. It is not unusual for the visitor to take an air gun with him for use against pests or in recreation. Such people will either continue to do so in ignorance of a new law, or they may be deterred from visiting at all if bureaucratic controls are in place. Major international target-shooting events are staged in various parts of the United Kingdom. Large numbers of competitors travel from Scotland to compete in events at world-famous venues such as Bisley, while the major Scottish meetings attract members from England and further afield. Shooters are likely to be inhibited from travelling to such events by bureaucratic controls, and many will simply stay away. Organisations representing field and target shooters on both sides of the border should be consulted.
Finally, while Clause 11 relates only to the potential for laws to license or otherwise restrict air guns in Scotland, such laws will impact on the rest of the United Kingdom, and it is right that proper consultation with those inside and outside Scotland should be required, so that those who may be affected at least have a statutory right to have their views heard.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury for giving us an opportunity to look at this part of the Bill that specifically relates to devolution in respect of air weapons.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, seeks to remove the exception the Government have made in the Scotland Bill to the devolution of powers to license air weapons. Clause 11 provides that the Secretary of State retains the powers to make rules under Section 53 of the Firearms Act 1968 to specify weapons as "specially dangerous" and so require a firearms certificate, and also to make orders under Section 1(4) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 to prohibit specially dangerous weapons.
The contributions of the noble Lord and my noble friend indicated that this is a complex issue and I take the general point about the legislation being in different Acts. I therefore fully recognise why the noble Lord wishes to explore fully why the Government are not devolving the powers that are part of the exception in Clause 11. This was discussed in another place. In many respects, the issue turns on the way in which the Firearms Acts are drafted and the need to ensure that all specially dangerous weapons are dealt with on a consistent basis across the United Kingdom. Like the noble Lord, we should perhaps go back to the report of the Calman commission, which recommended that only air weapons should be devolved-although we know that there are those who would wish devolution to be extended to all firearms. I know that other members of the Calman commission are present. I do not remember us having any particular discussion of subcategories of air weapons that might be described as specially dangerous.
The Government believe that it would be confusing and potentially damaging to create a situation in which much of the body of firearms legislation in Scotland could differ substantially from that in England and Wales. Calman, too, said that there could be,
and therefore does not recommend devolving generally the subject of the Firearms Acts. That being so, we need to ensure that there is a common framework for the most lethal weapons across Great Britain, and this will include what are known as Section 1 firearms, such as hunting rifles, which require a firearms certificate issued by the local police.
In accepting the Calman recommendation that air weapons should be devolved, we looked to do that by adding an exception to Section B4 in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, which currently reserves firearms by reference to the subject matter of the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997. Those Acts cover regulation of the manufacture, possession, handling, purchase or acquisition, sale, distribution and transfer of firearms. They distinguish between different types of firearms in certain respects and make different provision for different types, including air weapons. Air weapons are defined in the current legislation in accordance with Section 1(3)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968. This refers to an air rifle, air gun or air pistol which has not been declared to be specially dangerous by rules made by the Secretary of State under Section 53 of the Act, and is not a prohibited weapon.
I claim no expertise or experience whatever in firearms, but I understand that currently, air pistols generating a muzzle energy in excess of six foot pounds and other air weapons generating a muzzle energy in excess of 12 foot pounds have been declared to be specially dangerous for these purposes. This means in practice that an air weapon which has been declared as specially dangerous becomes subject to the requirement to hold and abide by a firearms certificate. It therefore ceases in practical terms to be treated as an air weapon under Section 1(3)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968. Control of these types of weapon need to remain reserved, which is why the power to make rules under Section 53 of the 1968 Act will remain those of the Secretary of State.
I reassure noble Lords that we are not looking to restrict the way in which the Scottish Parliament exercises its legislative competence in respect of air weapons. I acknowledge that there is a drafting complexity in Clause 11, but in practice the Scottish Parliament will be able to regulate air weapons in the way in which it chooses.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Because that takes them into a category for which licensing is required. We took the view, as did Calman, that there are categories of firearms which should not be devolved, those which might be described as more powerful, more dangerous, and that the particular air weapons which are the subject of our debate fall into that category and have more in common with firearms covered by other parts of the Firearms Acts than they do with other air weapons. It is because of their potential lethality. That is why there seemed to be a distinction between them and air weapons which are the subject of devolution.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am genuinely trying to understand this. If the Scottish Parliament was to have power to regulate those "less dangerous" air weapons, how would it do that without having a licensing scheme? If my noble and learned friend's argument is that they are required to be part of a licensing scheme, I do not understand the logic of it. If the Government's view is that the Scottish Parliament ought to have this responsibility, is the Minister saying that it can only have responsibility for weapons if they are not very dangerous? It seems to be a little illogical to me.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: With respect, it is not illogical at all. A point I will raise when I respond to my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury is that this is devolution of a power. How the Scottish Parliament chooses to exercise that power, if at all, is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. I am trying to find the relevant part of the Calman commission report, which dealt not with the point about especially dangerous air weapons but with the more general point about firearms.
The Calman commission did not think that the case had been made for the devolution of firearms generally. The point is that especially dangerous air weapons are, in effect, firearms, licensed across Britain on the basis of what I think is widely recognised as a strict, world-leading regime. The Government do not wish to undermine that strict framework for the most dangerous weapons. Air guns that are the subject of devolution in this clause are not subject, at the moment, to what might be described as that strict licensing regime. That distinction is made, which is why the exception to the devolution of air weapons is being made in this clause.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am grateful to my noble friend. Perhaps it might be better if I made a speech rather than asked questions, but I am struggling to understand the logic here. The Minister has read from the report by the Calman commission, which was chaired by Ken Calman, for whom I have considerable respect; he was my Chief Medical Officer for Scotland. I am not sure that he is actually an expert on firearms regulation. The Minister's quotation from the report seems to be saying that this would be very difficult to administer and very expensive. That is not an argument against giving Scotland the power, because it might not use it. However, not giving it the power creates the kind of uncertainty that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury talked about.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The noble Lord, Lord Browne, quoted other parts of the report, which said that, notwithstanding that, there would be cases where devolution would be appropriate. Indeed, the commission identified particularly Scottish circumstances as to why air weapons should be devolved. That was the commission's recommendation, which not only the present Government accept and are trying to implement through the Bill; the previous Government also agreed to the principle of devolving the power to regulate air weapons to the Scottish Parliament in the White Paper that they published in response to the Calman commission.
I am trying to make the point that some categories of air weapons are currently subject to a licensing regime because of their power. We still seek to maintain that reservation for that category, subject to the Secretary of State's powers under Section 53 of the Firearms Act.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Indeed, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who, in one simple question, encapsulated what it probably took me seven minutes to say. The purpose of this devolution is to respond to an obvious desire in Scotland for the greater regulation of air weapons generally. Regulating them more means licensing, at the very minimum. It is inconceivable that if the Scottish Parliament is given this power, it will not make all air weapons subject to a licensing regime. The distinction, therefore, between an air weapon of lesser capacity, force or power not being regulated and one of more power being regulated disappears. There will be two licensing regimes for air weapons when, in my submission, there should be one. If there is to be a distinction between, or a subdivision
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I see the point that the noble Lord is making but I do not necessarily follow him down that route. For a start, this is the devolution of a power. It is a prescription as to how that power might or should be used and, even if it is licensing scheme, it may well be very different. We seem to be getting weapons that are not subject to the kind of strict licensing regime that we have at the moment. Therefore, I think that a distinction can be made, which we wish to keep, for weapons of greater power so that we can maintain consistency across the United Kingdom. As I have already quoted from Calman-it might even be the passage that the noble Lord read out-there seem to be advantages in maintaining that consistency.
The Earl of Shrewsbury: Although my noble friend says that this is enabling legislation which the Scottish Parliament may or may not put in place, does he not agree that the Scottish Parliament is already doing it when the Act has not yet been passed? It is already investigating my people from the Gun Trade Association who have been up there to give evidence to it.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My noble friend made a very powerful speech. However, we cannot make presumptions in that regard; nor can we presume what the shape of any licensing regime would be. The points that his colleagues in the gun trade are making may well help to determine the shape of that legislation.
Perhaps I may turn to my noble friend's amendment. He has set out very clearly what he sees as the consequences of imposing restrictions on air guns in Scotland, if indeed the Scottish Parliament chooses to go down that route. He has highlighted how any changes will have implications for the trade and for the police not just with regard to licences but with regard to the financial burden that he has outlined, and he has suggested that they are consulted by the Scottish Government before any new legislation is introduced.
The Duke of Montrose: Perhaps my noble and learned friend could clarify one of the points introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. The power in the Bill would presumably prevent the Scottish Parliament making any legislation on powerful weapons-it would be able to bring in regulation only on the non-powerful weapons-whereas what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said might have been interpreted as meaning that it would try to regulate both.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am not sure that that is the case. However, I think my noble friend is right that the power in the Bill does not relate to more powerful weapons. Especially dangerous air weapons are already licensed. We are providing Scottish Ministers with a power to put in place a licensing regime, as the noble Lord suggested, for air weapons, which are not regulated under the current GB framework. A very
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am sorry; it is very bad to interrupt my noble and learned friend so often but I just do not understand this. I can understand the concept-the wish-to devolve to the Scottish Parliament the power to regulate firearms, and the wish to give to the Scottish Parliament the power to regulate air weapons. However, I do not understand the concept that the Scottish Parliament should be able to deal with only some air weapons and not others. That will create monumental confusion and we could end up with a system where the less dangerous weapons are subject to more control than the most dangerous weapons, which would be absolutely absurd. How would we avoid that?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I think that my noble friend is seeing difficulties where they do not really exist. The clear view was taken by the Calman commission, by the previous Labour Administration and by the present Government that firearms as a whole should not be devolved. We are trying to explain-and I apologise to your Lordships if I am not doing so sufficiently well-that the weapons that under Clause 11 are not being devolved fall more closely into the category of firearms than unregulated air weapons, which are being devolved. Therefore, we are maintaining a consistency with regard to weapons that are currently the subject of a licensing regime vis-à-vis weapons that are not currently the subject of a strict licensing regime.
My noble friend says that that could lead to a stricter licensing regime. I have to concede that that is technically possible if the Scottish Parliament sees fit to do that, although I would have thought that some of the compelling arguments made by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury may well mean that a bit of common sense will prevail when it shapes these powers. That is the essence of devolution. If a power relating to air weapons is devolved, as long as it is consistent within the confines of the Scotland Act it is a question of how that power is exercised.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, in a past life, I, with others, was able to experiment at some length with the possible advantage of an air gun for military use. On the market at the moment there are air guns that are lethal and really dangerous. There are air guns that some people say are less dangerous but, in the wrong hands, all air guns kill or maim to such an extent that you might perhaps wish you were dead. Has not the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, put his finger on it? There seems to be a muddle. If you let the civil servants of both nations loose, you will have a much bigger muddle; you will have a catastrophe. Surely the noble Earl is right that before ruling on this, the proper government officials of both nations-I say nations now because everyone wants to be different
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the noble Viscount makes a wider case about a general review of firearms at the UK level. The question of air weapons goes considerably further than the scope of this Bill, although I am sure the important points that he makes will be noted. This also covers the point made by the noble Lord. My noble friend pointed out that a licensing scheme would impose significant and costly burdens on firearms licensing departments and he expressed concern that shooters might be deterred from visiting Scotland by what might become overly bureaucratic controls. Taking these factors together, he proposes a statutory right for those affected by any changes to have their views heard.
As I have said in the context of the debate of what is and is not devolved, it is not for this Government to gainsay any of the reasons he has adduced in relation to the licensing of air weapons. Indeed, I recognise that sports shooting is a valuable contributor to the Scottish economy and that any change to firearms legislation is rarely straightforward.
That said, the nature of devolution is that a power is devolved and it is then up to the devolved body to determine how it wishes to exercise that power, as always, within the constraints of the law. This amendment, moved by my noble friend, would fetter the Scottish Government's and Scottish Parliament's discretion as to how they might go about the task of regulating air weapons. That was not the recommendation from the Calman commission.
However, while this is not a matter for the statute, I would say to my noble friend and to the Committee that one should fully expect the Scottish Government to consult appropriately before it proposes any new legislation on this matter in the same way that it would normally do with other Bills submitted to the Scottish Parliament. Indeed, it is worth reminding the Committee that the standing orders of the Scottish Parliament, at rule 9.3.3, require a policy memorandum to accompany any executive Bill setting out,
Certainly the categories of consultation that have been suggested by my noble friend would appear to be eminently sensible. It is also important to point out that over a range of issues there is regular contact between the Scottish Government and the UK Government with regard to proposals that are coming forward for legislation in the Scottish Parliament. The UK Government will, of course, continue to work with the Scottish Government once the power is devolved to ensure that all who own air weapons and use them legitimately are clear on what the legal requirements would be north and south of the border and will indeed flag up to interested bodies that are not in Scotland that there may be some relevance here, not least ACPO, which may wish to make representations.
Ultimately, the Scottish Parliament will be the final arbiter but where there are issues to be resolved it would be hoped that the Scottish Government will wish to listen to the arguments. It would appear that already there is engagement with some of the interest groups and stakeholders in this area. My understanding is that they have already set up a consultative group to advise on proposals to introduce a system to license air weapons in Scotland and I assume it will continue to meet if Parliament agrees that this clause should be enacted.
I hope I have indicated that there is a distinction between what is being devolved and the categories of air guns which are not being devolved and that in fact there are adequate procedures in the standing orders of the Scottish Parliament, both for extensive consultation and for the financial burdens to be properly aired and presented to the Parliament. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, perhaps my noble and learned friend can help me on the use of air weapons. Would it be possible for there to be two sets of regulations north and south of the border? In those regulations, would it be possible to prohibit the use of a weapon from England, say, in Scotland where it does not have to be licensed, whereas in England it has to be licensed? Would it be possible for the Scottish Government, within regulations, to make an order that that weapon could not be brought into Scotland and used?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I seem to recall going over some details during the Calman commission. It must happen already when shooting parties come from other parts of the European Union. The trouble is that I cannot remember what answer the Calman commission got. I had better not mislead my noble friend and I shall write to him giving him chapter and verse.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I am still not persuaded by my noble and learned friend. Perhaps I am getting old and cynical. He served on the Calman commission and it is interesting that none of the other members of the Calman commission has felt able to contribute to this interesting debate and explain how they came to this conclusion.
One remembers the genesis of the Calman commission. It was an initiative led by the Labour Party, which the other unionist parties joined in with in order to prevent the case for independence and the nationalists being able to gain control of the Scottish Parliament. In that sense, it fell at the first fence. The idea was to look at what further powers beyond this Scotland Act could be devolved to Scotland. If I may address my noble and learned friend as a member of the Calman commission, one has the sense that he was scrambling around trying to think of things which could be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Something that worried me about my noble and learned friend's response to my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury was that he kept relying on what the Calman commission recommended. The commission made recommendations to the Government. It was the responsibility of the Government to consider them, decide what made sense and put forward their proposals. We are not talking here about the Calman commission's proposals; this is a government proposal. I respectfully suggest to my noble and learned friend that as a Minister in the Government he should be able to defend it.
I cannot for the life of me understand why it would be desirable to have another licensing system for air guns in parallel with the one that exists south of the border. I can see the argument. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly pointed to some horrible and tragic cases that occurred in Scotland. However, there is nothing unique about Scotland that means that these cases could not also happen in England. The corollary is that the Government should look at the licensing of air weapons throughout the United Kingdom. If one is going to pass laws-as my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury pointed out-one ought to be conscious of how one is going to enforce them. If we get to a position where air weapons are either illegal in Scotland or are subject to a different regulatory regime from that which exists in England, how will that be enforced at the border? Will we have guys on the A74 checking whether the precise nature of a weapon meets the regulations that have been passed by the Scottish Parliament?
Faced with these challenges, my noble and learned friend resorted to the argument that, "We are only devolving the power. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is putting forward arguments about what might occur if the Parliament chose to exercise that power". However, this Parliament should not create the legislative possibility of creating great confusion and difficulty in the administration of firearms legislation. The clause would be better if it gave the Scottish Parliament the power to deal with all weapons. If my noble and learned friend's argument is that some of these weapons are firearms, it becomes very difficult to see as one goes down this road how one would defend not giving the Scottish Parliament complete authority over all firearms, in which case we would have different regimes on different sides of the border-and that would make controlling firearms almost impossible. We seem to be creating a difficulty.
My noble and learned friend accused me of seeing problems where they did not exist. I do not see why the current regime would not be capable of dealing with
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I urge my noble and learned friend to look at this again. It is a very serious matter and I do not believe that the Bill addresses the practicalities involved. I support the noble Earl's very modest amendment, which does not seek to attack-as I have just done-the basis of the legislation in the clause.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in what developed into a debate that was much more interesting than my introduction. From my experience in your Lordships' House, that did not surprise me. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who in one of his early interventions brought a degree of clarity that I had not managed to achieve to a point I had tried to make. I disagreed with some of his other interventions, but we will have an opportunity to debate the genesis and value of Calman at a later stage and in proper circumstances. However, in his most recent intervention he may well have pointed out where the problem lies in relation to a coherent approach to this. It is a matter of regret that we do not have a Home Office Minister at the Dispatch Box to respond to the debate.
The story that lies behind this is that repeated incidents in Scotland of the nature of the tragic death that I referred to generated a desire to regulate air weapons. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, pointed out very wisely from his informed background that air weapons are all potentially lethal. There was a discussion between those who represented the Scots, including Members of Parliament and the Home Office, which moved toward the possibility of regulation on a UK level, but then stopped. The frustration generated by the Home Office's unwillingness to proceed exacerbated the discontent in Scotland. An indication that something would be done was snatched away. The key difference is between weapons that are regulated and those that are not, because those that are not have the potential to be lethal and have been proven to be lethal in a number of cases. This has caused the Scottish people to say, "We want our Parliament to have the power to do something about unregulated weapons and to regulate them". That is the set of circumstances to which Calman responded. Far from having to look around for powers to devolve, the significant cross-party lobby for the regulation of air weapons in Scotland was waiting for the opportunity of Calman or something similar to articulate its arguments.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I apologise if I gave the impression that the regulation of air weapons was not an issue. When I said that they were looking around
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Lord Browne of Ladyton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I understood the rhetorical point that he made. In relation to the issue that we are debating, there is a very strong desire in Scotland to have air weapons regulated. The Scottish people would have been happy if there had been a prospect of a system of regulation that would have been applied to the whole of the United Kingdom. In the absence of that prospect, the Scottish people say-and I agree with them-that if the power can be given to the Scottish Parliament, this should at least have the opportunity to regulate air weapons and to deal in some way with the obvious menace of their misuse. I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to make that point in this context. Otherwise, what may appear to some to be a trivial piece of devolution, or to others to be something that is delivering unnecessary complications, will not be seen in its proper context.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the care he took in responding to my probing amendment on these matters. Characteristically, he engaged with the issue and articulated what I thought was the Government's argument for this exception to the devolution of responsibility for all air weapons. He will appreciate that I need to study his response, because I am not familiar with this area of law and I know how complicated it is. I incline to the view that if the distinction is caused by the existing licensing regime for some weapons-when I anticipate that there will be a licensing regime for all weapons-I may not be satisfied and may have to return to the matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I approach the Dispatch Box to probe again the distinctions between what Calman recommended and what the Government have chosen to do. On this occasion, the Government have gone beyond the Calman recommendations.
Clause 12 has the backing of respected bodies, such as the Law Society of Scotland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. During the many evidence sessions throughout the Calman process, it
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Calman went on to recommend that this could be achieved by UK legislation to which the Scottish Parliament would consent by a legislative consent Motion under the Sewel convention-I think those are the exact words of the recommendation. I understand that technically-a word I do not like to use-this is exactly what the Government have done in the sense that this Bill is UK legislation that has to be consented to by a legislative consent Motion by the Scottish Parliament. However, that appears to be a pedantic argument, and I do not expect that the noble and learned Lord will resort to it.
The clause does not appear to be in keeping with the spirit of the original Calman recommendations. Does the Minister believe that this is the correct implementation of Calman, or does he agree that it goes beyond Calman? It goes beyond the reservation of the power for the Insolvency Service to lay down the rules to be applied by insolvency practitioners on both sides of the border and reserves the whole body of law on corporate insolvency. If the Minister agrees that this goes beyond the Calman recommendation, will he outline the reasons for so doing?
The report of the Scotland Bill Committee of the Scottish Parliament, which was overwhelmingly approved by the earlier legislative consent Motion of the Scottish Parliament-as I have said before, it was supported by Alex Salmond-approved Clause 12, subject to provisions being drafted that will secure capacity for devolved legislation to effect the winding-up of registered social landlords. Does the Minister believe that this condition has been satisfactorily met? If so, can he explain why that is the case; and, if not, can he justify to this House why he has decided to pursue an alternative path to that sought by the Scotland Bill Committee?
During the debate on this clause in the other place, the Scottish nationalists asserted that there were concerns about the process of amending existing provisions on winding up registered social landlords. One concern is that future amendments, they say, would be easier to come by if this policy area were devolved rather than reserved. As is often the case with Scottish nationalists, this was asserted as though it were fact, and, as is also often the case with them, the assertion was not backed up by any evidence to suggest that that would be the case. No examples were given to support this theory, for that is all it is. It appears simply to be a continuation of their argument that everything would be better if it were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Minister in the other place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, argued that this is not a cause for real concern, and I support that position.
However, the Minister went on to say that there was a problem and that there were ongoing discussions between the Insolvency Service and the Scottish Federation
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There is an identified issue here about circumstances that may arise in the winding-up or potential insolvency of a particular vehicle for delivering important housing in Scotland or a housing association. It is recognised that this needs to be resolved by discussion or perhaps by a change in regulation. Before we agree to this clause standing part of the Bill as drafted, your Lordships' House is entitled to know whether that issue has been addressed and satisfactorily resolved, or at least to have the confidence that a resolution is on its way.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for giving us an opportunity to look at this clause. Schedule 2 is also relevant to insolvency. As he indicated, there was a recommendation from the Calman commission that the UK Insolvency Service should be made responsible for laying down rules to be applied by insolvency practitioners on both sides of the border. The noble Lord asked a very pertinent question about why the Bill goes beyond the specific terms of the Calman commission's recommendation.
The commission was persuaded by evidence from stakeholders, such as the Law Society of Scotland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, that a consistent approach to winding up would bring significant benefits to creditors, companies, insolvency practitioners and others dealing with insolvent companies in both England and Wales and Scotland. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland said:
Certainly in the present environment, that is an important consideration. Many winding-ups involve groups of companies that operate on both sides of the border. We believe that it will be more efficient in time and money if the same winding-up rules, other than where Scottish common law requires something else, are applied to each insolvent company in the group.
These amendments will make reorganisations more efficient and increase returns to creditors and shareholders. Group reorganisations may involve subsidiaries being wound up, and a common approach to winding-up rules should help to reduce the cost and complexity of group restructurings whose constituent companies operate both in Scotland and in England and Wales.
Indeed, in its evidence to the Calman commission, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, which regulates most of the insolvency office-holders working in Scotland, highlighted the benefit of consistent rules in promoting a more stable environment for corporate recovery and turnaround. Further, the Law Society of Scotland reported in its evidence to the commission that, because of the increased number of insolvencies of groups of companies, practitioners have for a number of years been having difficulties where parts of the group are subject to the rules for England and Wales and parts to the Scottish rules. The Calman commission was persuaded that there should be a consistent approach to winding-up rules, and the UK Government agree with that position.
The commission recognised that its first option for implementing its recommendation that the UK Insolvency Service, with appropriate input from the relevant departments of the Scottish Government, should be made responsible for laying down insolvency rules for England and Wales and Scotland might not be achievable for technical reasons. It therefore acknowledged that the devolution settlement might need to be amended to secure the desired effect.
Perhaps I may explain to the noble Lord and the Committee why the Bill is somewhat different from the recommendation. The Insolvency Service has no powers to make rules. It is an executive agency of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Its officials advise Ministers. However, even if the commission had recommended that UK Ministers, in place of the Insolvency Service, be responsible for laying down rules in England and Wales and in Scotland, the first option would not be viable. With such an approach, legislative and executive competence in this area would remain with the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers under the 1998 Act, who could thus overwrite rules made by the UK Parliament. That could lead to continued divergence and possibly more confusion, which is just what the commission was seeking to avoid. That is why we are adopting the second of the commission's options-amending the 1998 Act-and re-reserving the winding-up of business associations in its entirety.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of housing associations. I am well aware that there have been concerns about the effect of this clause on the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 and on registered social landlords caused by the removal of the specific exception to the insolvency reservation relating to such bodies. This removal is a logical consequence of re-reserving legislative competence for the winding-up of business associations generally to ensure the coherence of corporate insolvency legislation.
The provisions in this Bill relating to insolvency should therefore not be read as implying that we consider that the housing regulation regime should be changed. That is quite rightly a matter for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. We want to ensure that provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 that rely on the exceptions are not undermined by the change to legislative competence in this area. This Bill
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As for the future, we appreciate that there may be particular types of business association for which there is good justification for additional rules, and we think that those rules need to be considered and put in place by the UK Government to ensure coherence with the overall insolvency regime. I assure the Committee that we will be receptive to requests from the Scottish Government in relation to this sort of issue, as we always are when the Scottish Government need changes to be made to a reserved area in order to give full effect to their policy. Should it be appropriate, we would consider bringing forward Section 104 orders or UK legislation where necessary to bring this about.
Both the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Scotland Office and I had meetings separately last year with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to hear and to try to ensure that we fully understood their concerns and to provide reassurances that we will preserve the effect of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, which will in turn protect the independence of the housing regulator. I am not sure of the date of the written representations to which the noble Lord referred from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. However, my officials have also met representatives from the SFHA, the Scottish housing regulator and the Scottish Government's housing directorate to work through those reassurances in detail. We certainly believe that we had addressed the concerns of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. Clearly, if these concerns are still current, I would wish to have an opportunity to see them again because we thought that we had addressed them.
Schedule 2 is introduced by Clause 12. We believe that having just one Parliament responsible for the rules relating to winding up in Scotland will aid flexibility and responsiveness, and will address problems that have been reported by insolvency office-holders when the law changed in one jurisdiction but not the other. In fact, we are taking the opportunity provided by the Bill to deliver for Scotland the benefits of modernisation changes, some of which have been in place in England and Wales, and for the existing reserved insolvency procedures in Scotland, for nearly three years now.
These changes lift administrative burdens by allowing insolvency office-holders to make full use of advances in information technology made over the past quarter of a century to communicate with creditors, thus reducing the costs for the benefit of those creditors. The changes were made to reserved insolvency procedures in Scotland in 2009 and 2010 by a combination of legislative reform orders and subordinate legislation, but because of the present division of responsibility for rules between the UK and Scottish Parliaments the changes could not at that time be extended to windings-up in Scotland.
That is an example of some of the unnecessary and confusing divergences that have developed between the two jurisdictions and that were brought to the attention of the Calman commission, which prompted the recommendations, the spirit of which the Government accept and are seeking to address in this legislation.
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Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his comprehensive response. I had hoped that he would lay out clearly why the Government have chosen to go beyond the Calman recommendations, which he has done, and I found his arguments persuasive.
(a) any profession regulated by that Act by virtue of any subordinate legislation (whenever made) which is or could be made under the Act, and
(b) any profession regulated by any Act of the Scottish Parliament so far as it re-enacts that Act (including any profession regulated by virtue of subordinate legislation under any such Act);
and the references to that Act are to that Act as it has effect on the date on which this paragraph comes into force.""
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, this amendment is minor and technical in nature and has been laid following work undertaken with the Scottish Government to clarify the scope of Clause 13. The United Kingdom's intended policy remains unchanged; we have always said that while we intend to re-reserve the regulation of health professions to Westminster, the regulation of social care professions should remain a devolved matter within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Likewise, the Scottish Government's position on Clause 13 remains unchanged. They remain opposed in principle to the re-reservation of the regulation of health professions.
To give some background, health profession regulation is currently reserved by reference to specific Acts of Parliament, all of which were obviously in place when the 1998 legislation went through. Other health professions have been subject to regulation under subsequent statutes. Under the architecture of the 1998 Act they would not have been caught up in this. A considerable number of bodies made representations to the Calman commission that this was an unsatisfactory position, which is what we sought to address.
Despite the differing policy positions of the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments on the clause generally, this amendment clarifies the intent behind the clause and is an example of where we have listened
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This minor and technical amendment makes it explicit that regulation of the social care professions is, and will remain, a matter that is devolved to Scotland. I hope that that clarifies this amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, we welcome the clarification that this amendment gives to this clause. It was never the Calman commission's intention that the regulation of residential care workers should be reserved as opposed to health professionals. Perhaps I may add to the background. The Calman commission received evidence from the royal colleges, which are concerned at the possible fragmentation of standards as a result of the Scottish Parliament on the one hand and the UK Parliament on the other having responsibility for the regulation of health professionals. Common standards for health professionals are of evident benefit to the UK as a whole, and the Government's implementation of this recommendation is to be welcomed.
On a final point, the re-reservation of powers to the UK Parliament in this case is a signal that devolution is about finding the right balance between the powers that sit with the UK Parliament and those that sit properly with the Scottish Parliament. It is important that we get a system that works well not only for the people of Scotland but for the people of the UK as a whole.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, in opening this debate on what is presently something of a probing Motion, I want just to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that this and the two previous amendments have broached the subject of Westminster reserving powers that were originally part of the general devolution under the Scotland Act. This is certainly an area to which the original convention on legislative consent Motions applies. Not unexpectedly, this has caused a few ripples at Holyrood because it was beginning to look like there was something of a precedent that devolution could go only one way, and that was for it to be increased. The power being proposed is an implicit rather than an explicit power that is to remain with Westminster. There may of course be other powers in the 1998 Act that have yet to be explored, but in these proposals it is now obvious to everyone that new reservations are possible. At the same time, we need to
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The question of Antarctica is particularly interesting because one Scotland Bill committee of the Scottish Parliament felt that it could agree to this being included in the Bill, but the next committee came out and said that it would not agree. We still await the final outcome. Another reason for visiting Antarctica in our discussions is that 15 days ago it was the 100th anniversary of the arrival of a certain Captain Scott at the South Pole, and we want to pay tribute to him and to his colleagues on their efforts and their role in the influence that we have in that part of the world.
On a slightly lighter note, I should declare my interest in Antarctica, although it is not pecuniary in any way. As the chief of Clan Graham, I follow eagerly the influence of Grahams. We have Graham Streets, Graham's Dyke and Grahamstown, but Antarctica is the only place in the world with territory known as Graham Land. Unfortunately, it was not named for an achievement on the part of any Graham himself, but is the result of the commissioning in 1832 by Sir James Graham, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, of an expedition led by John Biscoe.
Neither the United Kingdom nor Scotland would pretend that there was any territorial claim involved, but we are really dealing with a power of governance and administration. I note in passing that there has been a consultation on a new Antarctic Bill that ended on 12 February 2010 but which does not seem to have produced any follow-up. Perhaps it has fallen foul of the uncertainty about the various devolution proposals. Can my noble and learned friend the Minister tell us what interest the Scottish Government showed in the consultation, and does it appear that this is a power that the Scottish Parliament has ignored? In the first instance, it might appear to centre on the right to license expeditions and scientific research in the area. I would suggest that my noble friend Lord Forsyth knows a little more about this, having recently completed an expedition there.
British Antarctica covers a large area, being the area of ocean and land south of 60 degrees south latitude of the whole Antarctic area. I think that noble Lords will agree that there are great pressures currently facing the Scottish fishing industry with the endless red tape and restrictions under the revised common fisheries policy. When driven to it, fishermen might consider turning their attention to just such an area, where there is a potential commercial fishery for the Patagonian toothfish. There are of course other interests that might wish to expand their activities in Antarctica.
Of course, what we have heard is that the Scottish Parliament has not got around to discussing its committee's recommendations, and unless the Minister can enlighten us, we do not know whether the Scottish Government consider that they have any interest in their current power in the area. A factor on which I am tempted to speculate is that their interest might be dampened by the consideration that, if they were required to act in the administration of the area, their current plans for a defence capability, the scope of which is supposed to be based on that of some of our
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I welcome this clause, and indeed when discussing the Scotland Bill offstage with my noble friend, he has tried to persuade me that it is a great Bill because it would bring back control of Antarctica to the Westminster Government, although "control of Antarctica" is perhaps putting it too strongly. Of course, another week has gone by and the Scottish Parliament has still not debated the report of its own committee, which suggests that legislative consent should not be given to this clause. So as my noble friend the Duke of Montrose has pointed out, it is difficult to surmise why the committee might now wish to retain responsibilities in respect of Antarctica, and the previous committee quite sensibly took the view that Antarctica should be a matter for the Westminster Government and the Foreign Office. As far as I know, Donald Trump has no plans to build a leisure facility in Antarctica, so I cannot imagine why the First Minister would think that his writ should run to Antarctica.
As my noble friend indicated, I had the pleasure of going to Antarctica a year ago, and it really is a spiritual experience. It is quite amazing. It is the only part of the planet that is completely unspoiled and the only example of an international treaty that I can think of which has actually worked. I think that that treaty is now up for renegotiation and renewal and it is absolutely clear that this clause is required because it should be obvious to everyone involved in those negotiations what the British interest is. I hope that the British interest will rest with ensuring that Antarctica remains a place where scientific endeavour and experiment can be carried out and which is protected from exploitation.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, the noble Lord is being far too modest in saying that he went on an expedition to Antarctica. He climbed Mount Vinson, the highest mountain there, and he sent many of us dispatches which we received with great interest. He
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I think that he and I need to be careful because we will soon be appearing in the nat blogs as an example of an unholy alliance. I have suggested to my noble friend that we should form a roadshow and go around Scotland extolling the virtues of the union. The only other explanation I could think of for why the Scottish Government are now pressing for some control over Antarctica is that perhaps they think it might be a good idea to pass regulations keeping me there on ice for the winter in order to avoid open debate. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, and I thank him for the cheque he sent towards the fund for Marie Curie Cancer Care.
I support this clause because it is entirely sensible. I suspect that it was an oversight because there is a very serious job to be done. While I was in Antarctica I met some scientists who were drilling holes in order to measure movement in the ice-cap, but one of the problems they faced was that they kept on hitting gas and oil. There are considerable mineral resources in Antarctica and I hope that they will stay there for a long time so that Antarctica is preserved. I hope that the British Government will take very seriously their responsibilities in this regard.
My noble friend the Duke of Montrose also mentioned the Scott expedition and the centenary of Scott's arrival at the South Pole-only to discover that Amundsen had beaten him there. We all celebrate the courage that Scott and his party showed in their disastrous attempt to get back to safety from the South Pole.
So I welcome the clause. Of all the clauses in the Bill, it is the one that I can endorse with most enthusiasm. I am most grateful to my noble friend for ensuring that the interests of Antarctica are in good hands.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, does the clause in any way inhibit Scottish universities' polar research? My noble friend has been to the Antarctic. In 1902, William Speirs Bruce led the Scottish national Antarctic expedition in the steam yacht, "Scotia", its research ship. The "Discovery" was built in Dundee. Speirs Bruce also explored the Arctic, and one can still find the remains of Brucehaven in Spitsbergen. Perhaps I may ask a question that is vaguely similar to one asked by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Are we trying to prevent Scots universities exploring or researching in Antarctica but not in the Arctic?
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, we support the inclusion of the clause, which seems sensible. Antarctica is obviously an important international resource. It is regulated by a treaty which, as we have heard, is now up for renewal, and it is clearly important that environmental protections are put in place to preserve Antarctica as a pristine part of the planet. Perhaps I should declare an interest as having acted
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As a Scottish Minister, I was not aware that we had any responsibility for Antarctica. I see my noble friend Lord McConnell nodding, so I do not think that he was aware of his responsibility. Clearly, that was a dereliction of duty.
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, I can confirm that I was aware of my responsibilities as First Minister of Scotland, but I can also confirm in response to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, that at no time in the five-and-a-half years that I served as First Minister of Scotland was I ever asked a parliamentary question on this subject, was a parliamentary debate on it ever suggested or, for that matter, did we ever receive any correspondence on it.
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: The question that I was going to pose was why we did not extend the ban on smoking in public places to Antarctica. Clearly, that was an oversight on our part. We could also have extended the scheme for insulation of older persons' homes, which was one of the then Scottish Executive's schemes. Of course, we are now spared the question as to whether the referendum on independence should also extend to Antarctica. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, has pointed out that if independence was ever to come, the First Minister would not have to consider whether to expand his navy by adding an ice-breaker to it. We fully support the clause.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter and to all those who have welcomed this clause. I join my noble friends the Duke of Montrose and Lord Forsyth in saluting Captain Scott and his four fellow adventurers who on 17 January 1912 reached the South Pole. We are all conscious that theirs was a long struggle that ended very sadly, but, nevertheless, 100 years on, we remember the extraordinary feat of those explorers. I also join those who have paid tribute to and saluted my noble friend Lord Forsyth for climbing Mount Vinson last year. We all remember getting the reports and his managing to raise substantial funds both for Marie Curie Cancer Care and Children in Need India.
If the former First Minister knew that he had responsibilities for Antarctica, it is clear that he was not advised on it by his senior law officer, and he certainly did not share the fact with his Deputy First Minister.
My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked about the draft Antarctic Bill. It was in the context of preparing for that draft Bill that it became apparent that, while outer space had been reserved, Antarctica had not. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will tell us why that was the case.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: It was oversight, I suspect, but it is important that we now address it. Following completion of the consultation, the Antarctic Bill is drafted subject to minor amendments and is awaiting parliamentary time. There would have been a clause in that Bill seeking to resolve the devolution issues, but, as this Bill is now before Parliament, we thought that it was more appropriate to deal with it here.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I hesitate, because I recall seeing a definition of Antarctica as being all seas and islands below 60 degrees south. I was assigned to an Antarctic Bill in the House of Commons because I represented islands north of 60 degrees north, which seemed to be interesting logic. I think that, because South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are British Overseas Territories, they are not included in the definition-perhaps I will receive some clarification on that.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: As I understand it, the Falklands are a dependent territory of the United Kingdom and the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia are dependencies of the Falklands. I presume that they are not included because of that. That is important given recent statements in Argentina and the importance of those two island groups as well as the Falklands.
Lord Lyell: Perhaps I may make my first intervention-I am sure that the Minister will be delighted. I have an interest very similar to that of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose in that in the first week, even before events gravitated to the Falkland Islands, great events took place on the island of South Georgia. In the communications with the Royal Marines and the forces there, there was considerable discussion about the Lyell Glacier, named, definitely, after my great-great-great uncle, one of the fathers of modern geology. As far as I am aware, there is no mineral wealth under the Lyell Glacier or anything that I or anybody in Scotland would be able to claim, but the charts and accounts will give us some assistance. It would be very helpful if my noble friend Minister could give us clarification as to what is classified as "Antarctica" for the purposes of the Bill.
The important point is that these are the areas to which the international obligations, many of which are of an environmental nature, apply. As I have indicated, that became apparent in considering the draft Antarctic Bill.
My noble friend Lord Mar and Kelly asked about the position of Scottish universities. The important point is that we take our responsibilities for compliance with our obligations under the Antarctic Treaty very seriously. As my noble friend said, Antarctica is the last unspoiled wilderness and has been the subject of many successful international treaties. The United Kingdom Government certainly take their obligations under these treaties very seriously. We want to ensure a strong treaty system which also protects our sovereignty in relation to the British Antarctic Territory. Therefore, we want the position to be completely clear and without any dubiety.
Updating Schedule 5, therefore, to include Antarctica retrospectively, will validate any legislative and executive Acts that the United Kingdom Government have passed since devolution that make provisions for Scotland in relation to Antarctica. It will also ensure that any organisations or institutions based in Scotland, including academic research institutions such as the University of Edinburgh, are then able to go to Antarctica and carry out their work in full compliance with the treaty. The Arctic is somewhat different in that the Arctic states themselves have sovereignty over their domestic territories. Issues over responsibility for regulation of activities that arise in the Antarctic do not arise in the Arctic. The Antarctic Treaty and related documents have to be implemented by the United Kingdom. As I have indicated, this particular clause corrects an oversight and makes retrospective provision to cover any Acts passed.
I was also asked about the position of the Scottish Government. It is certainly my understanding that the Scottish Government have expressed no direct interest in Antarctic affairs and have no expertise to engage with future international negotiations in that respect. I therefore very much hope that by passing this clause we can regularise an important issue.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I thank all those who have contributed to this discussion. It has been some time since Antarctica has been before your Lordships' House and covered in so much detail. It is particularly interesting to hear former Scottish Ministers voicing what the perspective was when they were holding office north of the border. I am glad to think that my noble and learned friend did not think that the Scottish Parliament would be less assiduous in maintaining the pristine nature of Antarctica because I am sure that they will have looked at that with great care.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I remind your Lordships that this is a timed debate and a lot of speakers are down to speak. With the exception of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and my noble friend Lord Attlee, all speeches are limited to two minutes. As your Lordships know, I have a responsibility to everyone who wants to speak so I ask noble Lords to keep to time. If anyone is still speaking after the clock strikes two it will be necessary for me to intervene so that we can be in Committee again at 2.33 pm.
Lord Eames: My Lords, my purpose in introducing this short debate in your Lordships' House is to rectify something that, in normal circumstances, is quite understandable. Spasmodically, our attention is drawn to cases involving human trafficking but the media centres on individual cases. With our preoccupation with such crimes and issues as drug trafficking, we are inclined at times to forget the constant nature of this trafficking disease affecting men, women and little children.
Slavery was abolished in this very House 200 years ago; a fact for which we can be justly proud and grateful. But the harsh reality as we meet is that slavery under different headings has grown 10 times in size and complexity since 1807. No longer is human slavery visible, acceptable and legal as it was in Wilberforce's time. Today it is invisible, hidden and so hard to detect. According to the United Nations, it is the second largest criminal activity in the world after drug smuggling, netting $36 billion annually to traffickers.
Statistics highlight the scale in the United Kingdom with people from 40 different countries arriving here in the past six months. Yet that is only the tip of the iceberg as only a small percentage of those trafficked are in fact referred to the national referral mechanism which keeps these figures, a procedure that is run by the Immigration Service. This determines whether victims can remain legally in the UK for be permitted 45-day reflection period.
The Government established the UK Border Agency to give clearer control over, among other things, trafficking through our airports and ports. Despite this, we continue to read in the press of trafficked women incarcerated in brothels, of young boys forcibly brought here from Vietnam to work in such places as cannabis farms, of men brought in as victims of debt bondage and turning up in East Anglia, of internal trafficking of men in Bedfordshire, or of Taiwanese fishermen ending up as victims of trafficking on trawlers off the Irish coast. Then there are children, just like Fagin's children, being caught pickpocketing, shoplifting or stealing from ATMs, earning thousands of pounds each year
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The right honourable Prime Minister has stated on many occasions that his Government will be tough on traffickers and compassionate towards victims. He said just that in Downing Street last October to mark Anti-Slavery Day. I do not doubt the good intentions of the Government in this regard, but I fear that much remains to be done if we are to be freed of modern-day slavery.
Let me make some suggestions to the noble Earl who will respond to this debate. In doing so, I thank him for the concern that he has shown in my preparation for this discussion. First, can the Prime Minister give the lead in better co-ordinating the seven major government departments that share responsibility for different aspects of anti-slavery policy? An interdepartmental ministerial group used to meet monthly, but in the past 18 months it has met twice only. What message does that send out of a Government really taking slavery seriously? Surely greater co-operation and co-ordination are essential at that level.
Secondly, 2012 is surely a wonderful opportunity to use the advent of the Olympic Games to make a monumental effort in the spirit of the Games to make another attempt at ending slavery within our shores in the United Kingdom.
Traffickers are astute, sophisticated and ruthless. They use the most advanced technology, and their networks spread beyond frontiers. Pickpocketing and ATM thefts by Roma gangs in Westminster can overnight be moved to another part of Europe. Sex slaves destined for the United Kingdom can be redirected to the Gulf states. The use of forged passports, fictitious uncles accompanying equally fictitious nephews and nieces, and the use of different routes-particularly in our own case the United Kingdom border with the Republic of Ireland-involving road, rail, air and sea all mean that traffickers will continue to find gaps in the border and the entry points.
Are the Government satisfied with the levels of identity checks at our points of entry, particularly in relation to the so-called domestic-yet international-flights from the Republic of Ireland? Then there are the numbers of child asylum seekers who arrive on our doorstep every year, many without passports, which have been destroyed in transit on planes or even eaten and digested on lorries and trains prior to arrival. A report by the Children's Commissioner for England has recently drawn our attention to the urgent needs in this respect. Aftercare of victims in this country raises serious questions. What is being done about those children who disappear from refuge institutions and homes? Between 2007 and February 2010, 942 children trafficked into the United Kingdom were rescued; but no less than 301 went missing from so-called safe homes. Is this nothing less than a disgrace?
Under the previous Administration, the Pentameter 1 strategy was introduced, whereby each police force was required to give greater priority to combating trafficking. What has happened since? The number of successful prosecutions in the UK is low, even compared to no less a country than Romania, where over
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NGOs are very active in the aftercare of victims, but I believe from what I have learnt that there is a need for greater co-operation and sharing between many of those NGOs. It was encouraging that the present Government agreed to sign up to the EU directive, but this does not have to be implemented until 2012. The government strategy document published last July has made little progress with its implementation.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to Anthony Steen, the former MP, for establishing the most effective all-party parliamentary group, of which my colleague in this House, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is joint chairman.
With the time available, it has only been possible to scale the tip of this iceberg. However, I hope that by debating it even for this short time, we will do something to keep this human tragedy before our attention.
Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, on 12 January, the Government announced that they were making the UK compliant with the European human trafficking directive by introducing two amendments via the Protection of Freedoms Bill. I warmly welcomed this, but although I fully appreciate that Britain was already compliant with much of the directive even before we chose to opt in, I was struggling to see how all the remaining areas of non-compliance could be addressed by secondary legislation. I asked the Minister whether he would write to me, setting out all the planned secondary legislative changes to make us fully compliant. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Henley for the very detailed letter that he sent me yesterday.
I am pleased that the Government are looking at how they can make victims automatically eligible for special measures to ensure they are supported and protected during criminal proceedings against traffickers. I am also pleased that they are considering whether the need for effective investigative tools needs to be transposed into legislation and whether more is required beyond the national referral mechanism on assistance and support for victims.
However, I am still disappointed by the Government's position on the lack of civil legal aid for trafficking victims to claim compensation, other than through the exceptional funding route. It seems that by signing up to the directive, the UK has, by definition, committed to funding legal aid for trafficking victims as part of the routine victim assistance and support, not as something exceptional. Having said all this, I stress that my horizon is not defined by the directive. I want to see the UK regarded as a beacon of good practice in this area, not as simply doing the minimum to toe the line. Thus, I could not agree to the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, when responding to the Second Reading of my Bill, that those aspects of it that were not required by the directive could be dispensed with, as if its ambitions were defined by the directive. To that end, I very much look forward next week to
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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I wish to thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for instigating this very important short debate. I shall focus on child trafficking, possibly the most horrendous form of this evil, as children are so vulnerable to abuse and to legal ramifications that are too puzzling for them to follow. That is why they need help, support and advocacy.
Along with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, I ask the Minister about the co-ordination of services at a national and local level. Children are clearly slipping through nets and many do not get the support they need. The very useful ECPAT booklet, Top Ten Questions on Child Trafficking, sets out very clearly many of those problems. A report from CARE argues, as does ECPAT, that although there is an inter-departmental ministerial group on trafficking, what is needed is an independent monitor, or a national rapporteur, who would assess policy and practice. We have no systematic collection and analysis of data. I believe that the Netherlands and Finland do have rapporteurs and that this has facilitated better analysis and reporting.
I know that there is good practice at a local level. I hope that it is being shared. I will give two brief examples. The Community Partnership Project was set up in 2006 by the London Safeguarding Children Board to improve the safeguarding of children through collaboration between statutory services and communities and faith groups in eight boroughs. One issue was child trafficking, and the board has been very successful in engaging those groups. One recommendation is that partnership with local communities and faith groups should be maintained across London. Such an initiative would surely be effective in other areas of the country.
The same safeguarding board has produced a best practice multiagency toolkit, bringing together council services and the police. Is anyone collecting and disseminating all the examples of good practice? I return to my concerns that we need systems to deal with child trafficking that are co-ordinated across agencies, and that the Government must provide a strong and sympathetic lead. I submit that a national rapporteur and child advocates for children would be a great help, and that we ought to take account of this debate today.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, as the co-chairman of the parliamentary group on trafficking and a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation, I am also delighted that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has introduced this debate. I also congratulate the Government on opting into the European Union directive and on their excellent strategy policy. I do not doubt the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Government to working to combat the evil of human trafficking, but the issue-as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has already said-is
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A central requirement of the directive is to have a place where information from different sources and actors is systematically gathered and analysed, to be provided by a national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism. The requirements include the collection of data; independent status; a clear mandate to have access to all involved agencies, including law enforcement; and competency to report directly to the Government and/or Parliament. In this country, the agencies include the NRM process, which does not take in all victims, so its statistics are incomplete; the human trafficking centre at Birmingham, which has incomplete statistics; the police, who are involved mainly through SOCA, and there will be the National Crime Agency; the UKBA and, in due course, the UK Border Police; the Salvation Army, which has a contract to help adult victims; and local authority social services, which help child victims, but there are no accurate statistics on how many missing children are actually trafficked.
There are, of course, a considerable number of dedicated NGOs filling many gaps, but there is no data collection and analysis agency independent of government. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has already referred to the inadequacy of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, but I would like to add to the two meetings to which he referred. In February, five Ministers attended, with nine apologies; in October, six Ministers attended, with 11 apologies. That is not compliance with the directive, or indeed an adequate equivalent mechanism. If we are to be seen as in the vanguard of fighting effectively the horrors of trafficked adults and children and denying to traffickers some part of the huge financial rewards of their appalling trade, the obvious answer is a national rapporteur.
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