Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blatch: I should like, first, to say how grateful I am for the amazingly detailed and carefully thought-through reply that the Minister has given to the point. I shall repeat what I said in my opening remarks when I expressed my opposition to the fact that these clauses should stand part of the Bill. I agree with almost 70 per cent., 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of what the Minister said about the importance of improving the skills, education and training of this group of young people. They are people who already have a right to stay in education; they have a right to stay on at school; and they have a right to move into further and higher education.

I should like to narrow down my concerns about the clauses. They relate to the unfairness of the sharing of the burden of cost. It is interesting to note that the burden of cost is much less on the Government. For example, the Government, who already have an obligation to meet the financial costs of any young person staying in sixth form education or moving into further education, are bearing only £40 million of those costs for the education and training provision, with £12 million for the careers service and--Heaven forfend!--£700,000 for industrial tribunals to come down on those employers who do not conform. On the other hand, £60 million to £130 million represent the compliance costs if only 50 per cent. of young people take up the places. Therefore, I make no apologies for going to the upper end of that figure because when 60 per cent., 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of young people discover that they can get a full-time job with pay for five days a week, together with a day out, it may well become an attractive option.

As I said, I am concerned about the whole matter for different reasons. I am sorry that neither the Minister nor the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, are concerned about a most important point that I made in my opening remarks. What worries me is the following: an employer may be faced with the possibility of a young person coming to him with a bounty paid for by the Government; he could also be approached by a young person with all the qualifications, certainly beyond the minimum qualifications which will be set out in the regulations; but he could also be confronted by a young person with an obligation not only to pay him full time but also to give him time off at the company's expense, with the proviso that if the company does not comply it will be breaking the law. I believe that that would act against the best interests of 16 and 17 year-olds.

Neither the Minister nor the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, referred to the sadness of these young people, probably among the most difficult, who have not seen the benefits of staying on at school in education; the ones who are the most recalcitrant when it comes to going into any kind of formal scheme; and indeed the ones who will be the most difficult to handle. Employers will be required to give them paid time off. However, what do they do if these young people end up, as is so

26 Jan 1998 : Column 37

often the case, wandering the streets of the local town? There is nothing in the Bill which confers anything other than a right to the young person; in other words, there is no responsibility imposed upon him in that respect.

Moreover, there is no ending to the time off for these young people taking such a course. In fact, it says in the paper, Investing in Young People, that they can even go into their 18th year as regards such courses if the stated level of education has not been achieved. Therefore, it could actually be a very long-term commitment for an employer. I have already mentioned that 97 per cent. of employers in this country employ fewer than 20 people and that 2.7 million of 4 million employers employ no one; indeed, they are self-employed, sole traders, and so on. We are talking about putting a very considerable burden on small businesses.

The Minister made a most important point and one which I actually support; namely, that what is needed is a change of culture. However, I believe that that is already coming about. I was very heartened both in my time at the education department and during my time at the Home Office by just how much businesses are now working with "Business in the Community", and taking part in many voluntary schemes. They are also introducing mentoring schemes and allowing people from their companies to twin with other young people in the community who have difficulties either in the mainstream education system or as they leave it. Indeed, they are doing so much to improve the lot of the group of people who are the subject of these clauses. As I said, I believe that that change in culture is already taking place. It is a great pity that the Government have chosen this time to use the strong arm of the law to enforce this particular proposal.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made a point earlier with which I absolutely agree. He said that there will be difficulties for small companies but that it is only right to encourage them. I entirely agree with that view. However, this is not encouraging them: it is using the law to make them comply. There is no flexibility and no allowance for understanding the difficulties of small companies. If the small company does not comply, it will find itself before a tribunal. That is another of my concerns.

As I said, I do not disagree with the issue which needs to be addressed here, but why should the cost of education and training for the most difficult of our young people be a responsibility predominantly placed upon the employer? Whenever the Government talk about business, commerce and consultations they refer only to the CBI. Indeed, the Minister did so today, as she has on many previous occasions. However, I have to tell the noble Baroness that the Institute of Directors is decidedly unhappy about these proposals. Moreover, I spoke only this morning to the Federation of Small Businesses which is most concerned about the matter. They have said what I have been saying; namely, they want to co-operate with the Government and they understand that there is a problem. They believe that the more young people who are better equipped, better trained and better skilled to enter the workforce the better it will be for everyone-- for companies, for families, for communities and

26 Jan 1998 : Column 38

for the country. But they are worried about the circumscription and compulsory nature of the clause. It may well be that some bureaucrat's interpretation of what is equivalent to NVQ Level 2 is not complied with.

I shall watch the end of the consultations. Some reputable, large companies in this country are in consultation at present with the Government on welfare-to-work schemes. Those companies have good in-house training schemes which serve the company and employee well and send young people out as well adjusted, trained young people. However, the training by those companies does not confirm specifically with the bureaucratic interpretation. In other words, external assessors will be allowed to insist on a change of those programmes in order to secure the co-operation of those companies with the welfare-to-work schemes. It would be deeply unfortunate if the outcome of these well intentioned proposals is that employers refuse to take on 16 to 17 year-olds simply because they come not only with an obligation but with a retinue of bureaucrats who will crawl all over the training and employment systems and job programmes. Those employers are doing a thunderingly good job in creating work and trade for this country and for the young employees.

I refer to the compulsory nature of this scheme and the unfair spread of costs to the employer, in particular as regards small employers. The proposal will surely promote discrimination against young people. Three young people come before an employer, one with no obligations other than for the employer to employ and pay him; one comes with a bounty from the Government; and one comes with a real obligation to the employer and, if it is not fulfilled, the employer will find himself on the wrong side of the law.

I conclude with these two questions. How many long-term unemployed 18 to 24 year-olds are there at present? How many 16 to 17 year-olds have a training or education level comparable with or below NVQ Level 2?

I take seriously the constitutional arguments put forward by the noble Baroness about this House removing a provision from the Bill which will mean that another place cannot debate the issue. It is right that the other place should debate it. It is right that the Government continue to justify this heavy-handed approach to small businesses in this country. The same ends could be achieved by working with industry and commerce, so that they co-operate with the Government on what we agree is an important policy.

I hope that the points are well made. The arguments relate to unfairness and discrimination against young people aged 16 and 17.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 39


4.53 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to a Private Notice Question which has been asked in another place on Iraq. The Statement is as follows:

    "The present regime of weapons inspections was put in place in Iraq following the Gulf War as part of the ceasefire agreement. Its objectives are to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and to prevent Iraq reviving the capacity to develop, produce, stockpile and deploy such weapons of mass destruction. Despite repeated obstruction from the Iraqi regime, UNSCOM's achievements have been significant. Since its inception, UNSCOM has destroyed 38,000 weapons with the capability to deliver chemical and biological agents; it has also destroyed significant quantities of production equipment and associated facilities. But serious gaps remain in Iraq's Full, Final and Complete Declarations, particularly in the field of biological weapons. Were UNSCOM's work to be halted now, Iraq would be able to generate biological weapons within a matter of weeks, and could achieve a chemical capability within months. It is vital for the continuing security of the region and more widely that UNSCOM be allowed full and unrestricted access to all sites that it wishes to inspect and as much time as it needs to complete its task.

    "On 12th January UNSCOM began a new inspection aimed at uncovering concealed activities. The Iraqi regime blocked the inspection on the specious grounds of an alleged US bias on inspection teams. This particular inspection, led by Mr. Scott Ritter, a US citizen with a distinguished record of work for UNSCOM, consisted of 44 personnel from 17 different countries. UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler was in Baghdad last week for talks with Tariq Aziz aimed at resolving the crisis. The results were disappointing. Ambassador Butler's briefing to the Security Council on 23rd January immediately after his visit made clear that the Iraqis are determined to persist with their policy of obstruction. Iraq's attempt to impose a moratorium on inspections of so-called "Presidential" sites pending the outcome of technical evaluation meetings, announced during Ambassador Butler's visit, is unacceptable, as is the deadline given by Saddam Hussein for UNSCOM to complete its work. It is not for Iraq to dictate terms and conditions to the Security Council. Unrestricted access to all sites is essential for UNSCOM's work both now and for longer-term monitoring. The technical evaluation meetings, which will look at Iraq's declarations on its past programmes, are an entirely separate issue.

    "We are actively pursuing a diplomatic solution to Iraq's latest attempts to obstruct the vital work of UNSCOM. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and others are in regular contact with colleagues on the Security Council, in an effort to defuse the situation. But we cannot rule out military action if the diplomatic

26 Jan 1998 : Column 40

    approach fails to shift Saddam Hussein's stance. As a precautionary measure, HMS "Invincible" arrived in the Gulf on 25th January, and is engaged in work-up training with allied naval forces off the coast of Bahrain. We are keeping the situation under close review and have not ruled out further deployments should the crisis continue. There are no immediate plans to deploy extra forces. HMS "Illustrious", which is at present in Gibraltar, will embark a detachment of RAF Harriers tomorrow and will then commence work-up training in the Mediterranean.

    "Iraq is fully aware of its international obligations and what it needs to do for the process of relaxing sanctions to begin: relevant Security Council resolutions make this perfectly clear. The Security Council is united in its demand for Iraqi compliance. There is no question of entering into negotiations with Iraq. Security Council resolutions are non-negotiable.

    "The Government remain very conscious of the sufferings of the Iraqi people, with whom we have no quarrel. The UK has provided £94 million in aid to the Iraqi people since 1991. Much of this money has been used to fund projects by UK NGOs, including Mines Advisory Group, which is also involved in a major mine-clearing operation, and Save The Children Fund, which is focusing on water and sanitation projects aimed at helping children. The UK has also co-sponsored successive UNSC resolutions, allowing Iraq to export oil in exchange for humanitarian aid. For several years, Saddam chose not to avail himself of the opportunity to provide for his people under this scheme; since its implementation in 1996, oil-for-food has faced a number of cynical obstructive tactics by the Iraqi regime. For the sake of the people of Iraq, we remain prepared to discuss with Iraq ways of improving the scheme's effectiveness."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, the Opposition share the Government's deep concern about the current situation in Iraq. Likewise, we, too, deplore this latest attempt by Saddam Hussein to seek to defy the will of the international community by refusing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. In government and now in opposition we supported the UN efforts to end President Saddam Hussein's programmes for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and to enforce the UN no fly zones over Iraq. These were the conditions laid down by the UN if international sanctions on Iraq were to be lifted.

The position is straightforward. The international community has guaranteed to lift sanctions when Iraq has been given a clean bill of weapons health; when a monitoring process is in place to stop such weapons being rebuilt; and when Saddam Hussein is no longer able to threaten his neighbours with germ warfare or with chemical and nuclear weapons. If Saddam Hussein wants sanctions to be lifted, the key to achieving this lies in his own hands; namely, full compliance with Security Council resolutions, including as a first step

26 Jan 1998 : Column 41

unrestricted and unconditional access for UNSCOM inspectors, and an acceptance that it is for the chairman of UNSCOM to determine the composition of inspection teams, and not Saddam Hussein.

Faced with the current unacceptable situation, the Opposition welcome the Statement made today and welcome the statement made by the Security Council on 14th January. The latter deplored Iraq's decision to halt the work of UNSCOM's inspection team and determined that such a failure by Iraq to fulfil its obligations under Security Council resolutions was unacceptable and a clear violation. The Opposition also welcome the Government's policy to stand firm with the United States in taking whatever action is necessary to ensure that the Security Council's decisions are respected, and to make it clear that Saddam Hussein has no choice but to comply with UN weapons inspections in Iraq.

I take this opportunity to ask the Minister six short questions in connection with the Statement. First, given that Foreign Minister Primakov acted as an intermediary in the previous crisis, has the Security Council asked the Russians to take any action to help to resolve this present crisis, given their special relationship with Iraq? What indications have France, China and Russia given that, together with the United Kingdom and the United States, they too will not rule out any option to ensure that Saddam Hussein respects the will of the international community? Have any other members of the Gulf coalition taken the sensible precautionary defence measures of the United Kingdom? Does the Minister agree that one of the reasons we are able to play such an important role is because of our ability to project forces into the region at short notice, such as the deployment of the aircraft carrier HMS "Invincible"? Can the Minister confirm that the foreign policy based line of the strategic defence review recommends the retention of Britain's aircraft carrier capability?

In another place this afternoon the Minister indicated that he would consider a relaxation of the oil-for-food programme if used for humanitarian purposes. Can the Minister provide the House with details of what the Foreign Secretary might have in mind? Do the Government agree that the success of the Gulf operation in 1991 depended greatly on the support of Kuwait and Iraq's neighbours? In the event of military action against Iraq, does the Minister believe that such similar support would be forthcoming?

On the subject of the Arab League, does the Minister agree that there is a dangerous perception of an anti-American backlash among Arab states, some of whose views are based on the belief that the US will never lift sanctions while Saddam Hussein is in power, therefore giving him no incentive to comply; that sanctions have caused the Iraqis to suffer disproportionately; that the Americans operate a double standard in respect of the treatment of Israel and Iraq; and their fear that a severely weakened American President facing a domestic crisis might look to enhance his reputation on the international stage? What impact do the Government think the refusal of Arab states to endorse a military solution to the Iraqi crisis has had on US/Arab relations? What implications does this have for

26 Jan 1998 : Column 42

the future security of the region and the influence and credibility of the United States to negotiate in a future crisis? From these Benches I assure the Government of our committed and unconditional support in the action they take to ensure that Iraq co-operates fully with the United Nations.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I rise to pledge the support of my noble friends on these Benches for the sombre statement the Minister has repeated to the House. Will the Minister remind the House that one of the reasons we have to press for completion of UNSCOM's mission is that Saddam Hussein has clearly demonstrated in the past that he is not to be trusted on the matter of weapons manufacture? Indeed, there have been several occasions when Iraq has declared that all has been revealed when we have discovered subsequently that all has not been revealed. That was particularly the case after General Hussein Kamal had fled to Amman and produced further information. That lack of trustworthiness is to be noted in the fact that when Hussein Kamal returned to Iraq under promise of amnesty he and his family were brutally murdered in Baghdad.

If anyone is in doubt about the nature of the regime they should note that only last week some eight people were brutally murdered in Amman--five of them Iraqi citizens and three of them not--presumably by agents of Saddam Hussein. It is because we are dealing with someone who is not open to the normal diplomatic niceties that we have to insist that UNSCOM is able to complete its mission.

On the question of humanitarian aid, as the Minister knows, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and I went to Baghdad a couple of years ago to study the situation. We were convinced of the dire need of the Iraqi people to receive more help in terms of medicine in particular but also food and other supplies. We have found our advocacy of the easing of sanctions positively frustrated by the attitude of Saddam Hussein and by his general behaviour. We also noted that while the Iraqi Government claim to be short of cash as regards the essential needs of their citizens, there appears to be no shortage of cash for the continued building of presidential palaces and monuments.

I refer to a point made by the Opposition spokesman. Will the Minister consider carefully whether there are ways to improve the somewhat bureaucratic process of delivering the oil-for-food programme to the people of Iraq? As the statement mentioned, we have no quarrel with the people of Iraq, but there is a need to use every possible avenue to help them while not helping their unfortunate ruler.

5.7 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank both the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Steel, for their support. I regret that it was a sombre statement that I had to repeat to the House this afternoon, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said. It is reassuring that the House is so united on these points. I thank both noble Lords for their comments.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 43

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked a number of detailed questions which I shall now try to answer as best I can. He asked in particular about the role of Mr. Primakov as an intermediary. The Statement mentioned that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is in touch with our colleagues on the Security Council both collectively and bilaterally. As I understand it, all attempts will be made to resolve this crisis through diplomatic channels. I am sure that Mr. Primakov will take part in the discussions about the most suitable way of approaching such diplomatic channels.

As regards our colleagues in France, China and elsewhere, it is worth noting that the Security Council presidential statement of 14th January reiterates its demand that Iraq co-operates fully, immediately and unconditionally with the special commission. The council is determined that Iraq's failure to do so would be seen as a clear violation of the SCRs. The noble Lord also asked about other countries in the area. Of course other countries in the area have a part to play here. As we have seen before, Saddam's aggression to other countries in that part of the world has put them at times in a difficult position. We shall of course, through diplomatic channels, do everything we can to discuss the current difficult position with them.

The noble Lord also asked about the implications of the current crisis in terms of the Strategic Defence Review. I have had occasion previously to tell the House that the Strategic Defence Review will bear in mind the absolute necessity to safeguard the security of the people of this country. That is the obligation of all governments; it is one which Her Majesty's Government take quite as seriously as any of their predecessors.

The noble Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, asked about possible negotiations around "oil-for-food". We are not ruling out an increase in the amount of oil sold, but first we need first to ensure that the present scheme is operating effectively. Benon-Sevan, the head of the UN 986 1111 and 1143 implementation unit is working on a report of that nature. We look forward to receiving that report--at which time we shall discuss the expansion with Security Council partners. The matter will come under active consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also talked about an anti-American backlash. I hope that we have made clear on other occasions in discussing the problems of the Middle East that these matters have to be addressed in a way that brings into play a number of different countries in that part of the world. It is essential to remember what we are dealing with in Saddam Hussein, who is attempting to dictate to the Security Council. Once again, the Government of Iraq have shown their utter contempt for the will of the whole international community. We must not lose sight of that point.

The questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about the capability of Saddam Hussein to build up his arsenal of weapons must be matters for your Lordships' House to keep in constant view. UNSCOM has repeatedly stated that we do not as yet have the full picture. Iraq's declarations on its weapons of mass

26 Jan 1998 : Column 44

destruction leave many questions unanswered. Particular concern ranges around the questions of biological and chemical warfare programmes. Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq produced enough chemical and biological weapons material to kill the world's population several times over. It continues to try to procure weapons technology. UNSCOM has destroyed more weapons than were destroyed in the course of the Gulf War. Its achievement should not be under-estimated. That is why the continuation of its work at this time is a matter of international importance.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, it must be very gratifying for the Government to have the support of both the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Party. I must confess that I do not feel quite so happy. I do not under-rate the difficulties facing the Security Council, and indeed leading members of the Security Council such as the United States and ourselves, in dealing with a dictator whose actions we know, which we deplore deeply and whom we would wish to see removed. But we may be about to embark on military action.

I have no difficulty with military action when I am quite clear that the cause is just and the objective is clear, but I am not yet certain about that. Is the purpose of military action, if it has to come about, to teach Saddam Hussein a lesson? Is it to re-open the means of inspection? Or is it to remove Saddam Hussein? We need some guidance about that if doubts are to be removed. In my judgment there is little doubt that military action of this sort will not only unite his people behind him but will also turn a certain number of Middle East countries which are not very happy about western Security Council policy at the present time towards moral support for him, with more consequences perhaps for the Middle East talks in which Israel and the other Middle East countries are now having a quite difficult time. I am sure that both countries will think very deeply before they embark on military action. However, as it is in the Government's mind, I should like to be a little clearer as to the objective.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page