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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the Minister has been good enough to say that the Government will not support this new defence initiative. Will she be so good as to enhance the clarity with which she addressed the Question by informing your Lordships whether the Government will be prepared to veto it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as regards enhancing the clarity of the Answer, "No, we do not", it is a rather unequivocal view. Let me be clear. We welcome the proposals on defence to develop a capabilities agency. The EU has to spend more—and certainly more effectively—and to look at the tools available for ESDP. We support updating the Petersberg tasks and creating a solidarity clause to reflect the desire of member states to support each other when dealing with disasters or terrorist attacks.

What we do not and cannot support is the introduction of a common defence either at 25 or through enhanced co-operation. We believe that that would be divisive and would undermine NATO—

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indeed, it would be a duplication of NATO. Therefore, we do not support the creation of any standing inner groups or inner core—call it what you will—for ESDP.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that NATO and not the EU is providing planning and mission control for the Polish contribution in Iraq?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I understand it, the ESDP has come into operation only in relation to the Congo—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—in relation to some civilian operations in Bosnia; and now in relation to Operation Concordia in Macedonia. That will be another military operation. Those are the three theatres where I understand that at the moment ESDP is operating.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the Minister was clear in her Answer to the Question. Is she able to be equally clear about which other countries in the EU are likely to be on the same side of this argument as Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Not entirely, my Lords, no. What I can say is that the four countries which got together on this basis were Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. The positions of others of our colleagues in the EU may be similar to ours. I understand, for example, that many of the accession countries take a similar view on the matter to Her Majesty's Government. However, at this moment I cannot give the noble and gallant Lord a full readout of who supports what over this.

Inflation: Measurement

2.59 p.m.

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to adopt the harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP), used by the European Central Bank as a measure of the level of inflation; and, if so, what are the purposes for which such a measure might be used.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget Statement that the Treasury would continue to examine the detailed implications of changing the inflation target to a harmonised index of consumer prices basis. That is being examined from a monetary policy perspective only. The Government made a commitment to raise the full basic state pension by the higher of the September retail prices index or 2.5 per cent. Social security benefits will rise in the normal way and gilts too will continue to be treated in the current way.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, at a time of crisis in pensions provision, the Government have not

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provided time in either House to debate the Green Paper? The pensions Minister has been placed in a Labour Party job and a month later has still not been replaced. Pensioners will be very alarmed by any suggestion that pensions increases may be cut because of a change in the measure of inflation. In the light of all that, I thank the Minister for his reply which will give people reassurance, although it will do little to help the overall problem that pensioners face.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my understanding is that the only suggestion that pensions could be cut came from Mr Oliver Heald of the Conservative Party. That suggestion has never been made by the Government.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, would my noble friend like to take this opportunity to reiterate the answer that he gave me last week in the debate on the monetary policy committee in relation to the growth and stability pact; namely, that the pragmatic use of the European harmonised index would in no way displace the RPI or RPI"—the index without the mortgage component—but that from the word go there would be the fullest consultation with all the stakeholders on all the moves towards the use of the European index? It is absolutely vital that confidence is maintained, including among those involved in wage bargaining as well as those involved in pensions issues, in relation to there being no problem in using that other index side by side with the RPI and RPI".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lea has just confirmed what I originally said to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. There is no question of pensioners suffering as a result of any change that may be made to the harmonised index of consumer prices for monetary policy purposes. Not only have I said that this afternoon, but as he reminds the House, I also said it last week.

Lord Newby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in 1999—some four years ago—the House of Lords Select Committee on the monetary policy of the Bank of England recommended that the Government give urgent consideration to the implications of using the harmonised index of consumer prices? Is not the failure of the Government to do anything about that until the past few weeks typical of a more general failure by the Chancellor to give any systematic thought to euro preparations over the past four years?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords. There has been no significant demand, other than from your Lordships' committee, for a change in the basis of measuring inflation from a monetary policy point of view. Any suggestion that it would be to the detriment of pensioners or social security payment recipients has not come from the Government and is entirely mischievous.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the HICP will not be adopted in

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the United Kingdom until the Treasury gives a better indication of the cost of living in the United Kingdom? I refer particularly to the inclusion of council tax and housing depreciation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are two differences between HICP and RPI measures. The first difference—it is one in which HICP is the same in virtually all countries outside the United Kingdom except Japan—is that it uses a geometric average of the basket of prices. That is widely accepted to be a better measure than using an arithmetical mean. The second is that, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, says, there are differences in the actual basket; there are more differences than that which he selected. Clearly, which is more relevant for monetary policy purposes is a matter of great importance that the Treasury is still considering.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, is there any reason why the Government should not have confidence in those who are preparing the HICP?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I see no reason why we should not have confidence in them. Constructing such indices is a highly specialised business.

Business

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am sure that no one will be surprised to hear me say that at a convenient time after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will repeat a Statement made in another place on economic and monetary union.

Sexual Offences Bill [HL]

3.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 25 [Positions of trust: interpretation]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 88:


    Page 12, line 8, leave out "regularly"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 88 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 standing in my name and to Amendments Nos. 135, 139 and 140 standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes to which my name is added.

Clause 25 stipulates that a person is in a position of trust only if he is regularly involved in the care or supervision of under 18s. That restriction creates a defence for the abuser who can demonstrate that his

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involvement is irregular. If the abuser works only on an occasional basis in a detention centre, he may be able successfully to defend himself against a prosecution for abuse of trust if he is sexually involved with one of the children there. If the abuser works on a peripatetic basis in different local authority homes, and is brought in to work with under 18s from time to time, he too may be able to rely on that in his defence.

On the first day of Report, the Minister said at col. 1301 that removing the word "regular" would prohibit sexual relationships between a 17 year-old and a supply teacher who covers for only one day while the regular teacher is off. But requiring regularity markedly limits the protection offered by this offence. It is a mistake to limit the level of protection to be given to all children by relying on such unlikely scenarios. In any event, ultimately the responsibility falls on the person in a position of trust to ensure that he is not engaging in sexual relationships with those in his care.

A nurse who takes a shine to a patient should certainly not have sexual relations with that patient during his stay in hospital. The situation is similar with a supply teacher. So long as a relationship of trust subsists between him and the pupil there should be no sexual relationship. Once the person has reached the age of 18 or the position of trust has lapsed we must accept that the offence no longer applies. But while the position of trust exists the protection of the child should be paramount.

If the Government's primary concern is the protection of young people, they ought to agree that the protection of those who are abused by occasional, irregular carers is of greater priority than the freedom of those carers to have sex with those in their charge. If the Minister continues to cite cases of reductio ad absurdum, such as the once-only supply teacher, then let the noble and learned Lord bring forward an alternative form of words that does not impose the requirement of regularity but instead simply has a cut-off point—a de minimis provision. But I hope that the noble and learned Lord will not reject my arguments out of hand.

Similar arguments apply in support of my noble friend's amendments to Clause 47 in respect of care workers. Why should the law create a defence for those care workers who take sexual advantage of their patients but who work only occasionally with them? It makes no sense. The Minister will no doubt quote further examples of care workers whose sexual relationships he does not want to criminalise. But I say again, the onus really should be on the person in the position of trust to control himself.

Finally I put this scenario to the noble and learned Lord. What if prosecutors bring a case before the courts of a care worker who takes sexual advantage of several patients in his care? He works occasionally in a home where they live, but the work is intermittent, covering for staff who are sick. Sometimes he may go for months without working there. Will the word

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"regularly" in the clause mean that he could escape conviction? If there is any risk that that would happen, the word must be removed. I beg to move.


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