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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, following on from the Minister's reply, the confidential intelligence contents of the MDA have never been disclosed to Parliament. Does the Minister agree that this long-established practice should continue?

Lord Bach: My Lords, yes, I agree that that practice should continue because of the necessity for great confidentiality and because of the use that such
 
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information would be to other would-be nuclear states. In other words, it might well assist proliferation.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Bosnia-Herzegovina has made significant progress in meeting the military conditions for Partnership for Peace, but lack of co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia means that Bosnia-Herzegovina has not yet met the political criteria for membership. Progress in the 16 priority areas identified by the European Commission's Stabilisation and Association Agreement feasibility study in November 2003 has also been mixed, with good progress in some areas but not in others. The European Commission will review progress in the 16 areas in the autumn.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. Does she agree that it is crucial for Republika Srpska to co-operate with the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague on the arrest of Radovan Karadzic and other indictees? Does she also agree that the High Representative, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, has achieved excellent results in rebuilding the institutions and encouraging appropriate legislation? Will she confirm that he has the full support of her Majesty's Government? Will my noble friend further agree that for a self-sustainable state, more power and fiscal authority has to be transferred to the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the two entities?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I largely agree with my noble friend Lord Ahmed. The Republika Srpska authorities have indeed failed to take decisive action to locate and detain fugitive indictees, most notably Mr Karadzic, or to tackle their extensive support networks. Of course, we support all the action that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is taking in this respect. I understand that he and others in the international community have delivered firm messages about the inaction over Mr Karadzic and others, which is jeopardising Bosnia's Partnership for Peace prospects. I also agree with my noble friend's comments about moving towards an economic entity.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is considerable disappointment among the Bosnian leadership that they have been told so definitely that their candidacy for Partnership for Peace in NATO has been turned down for the time being? As the Minister says, that is
 
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largely due to the failure of a single suspect being handed over, especially by Republika Srpska. Is it entirely fair that the Bosnians, who were doing their best to move forward and become candidates both for the European Union and for the NATO partnership, should be punished because of backsliding by Republika Srpska? Will she suggest ways in which additional pressure can be put on the government of Republika Srpska and their officials to move forward a little and make real efforts to find the suspects?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making those points so well. It is important to say that Her Majesty's Government fully support Bosnia-Herzegovina's NATO aspirations. We welcome the progress that Bosnia-Herzegovina has made in implementing wide-ranging defence reforms, especially by appointing the first ever state-level defence minister, whom I met only 10 days ago. He and I had the opportunity to discuss problems relating to Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. One of the main reasons for having a state-level defence minister is to make an effort to pull these issues together.

However, it is important that the noble Lord does not concentrate only on Mr Karadzic. Although he is the highest-level person that we want to see detained, as I mentioned a moment ago, there are others and we are not happy about the way in which the networks that support them are allowed to continue to exist.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, under the terms of the stability pact for south-eastern Europe, Bosnia and also Albania, Macedonia and Serbia Montenegro are on the path to join the European Union when they fulfil the full range of conditions that apply, and that it is important that the full range of conditions is applied to all of those candidates as they progress?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is important to recognise that all these countries are at slightly different points in developing their relationships, certainly with the European Union. Albania has begun negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Those negotiations began in 2003. Macedonia has submitted its official application to join the EU on 22 March 2004. We have not had an application from Bosnia-Herzegovina because it has not yet reached the point at which that would be appropriate.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the European Union remains committed to the cause of Bosnia-Herzegovina? Will she further agree with Commissioner Patten, who, when speaking to the German Bundestag European Union committee
 
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in April, blamed political failure in Bosnia-Herzegovina for not making progress on the 16 items specified as part of the stabilisation and association process? Is my noble friend therefore in a position to spell out to the House quite clearly where the elements of failure in those 16 conditions are and how imperative it is that they are all met?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords. Not only has the EU made it clear that Bosnia and all other countries in the region are potential candidates for EU membership, but, on behalf of the UK Government, I also say that we support Bosnia's EU aspirations. However, Bosnia-Herzegovina is not at that point yet. My noble friend Lord Tomlinson is right to remind us that there are some very specific areas where it is falling down. The problem for the EU is not only in respect of the non-co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, but with a wide area of fiscal and economic areas such as customs and taxation reform, budget legislation, budget practices including the recording of all income accruing to public authorities and the whole question of having reliable statistics. There is a range of issues on the economic front that urgently need to be addressed.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Government do everything that they can to encourage inward investment into Bosnia and the rest of south-eastern Europe because a rising economy will provide favourable conditions both for peace and general progress?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the best encouragement to inward investment in any country—bearing in mind that inward investment is a highly competitive area, and I speak as a former trade Minister—is for that country to have transparency in its economy. A country must also have effective public administration. Bosnia-Herzegovina still has to make further efforts towards creating not only an economic climate that is right but an effective public administration which would encourage that inward investment.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the very high esteem in which the British forces are held in Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially because of their role in the peacekeeping process?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am indeed aware of that high esteem, particularly because at the end of my time as a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, I visited Bosnia-Herzegovina with General Jackson. As a British soldier who had served there, he was held in the highest possible esteem, as were all the serving officers I met. I witnessed that for myself.
 
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Bichard Report

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the Bichard inquiry report.

"Last December, following Ian Huntley's conviction, I asked Sir Michael Bichard to conduct an inquiry into the events leading up to the murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. I am today publishing his report in full. The families have shown great courage and dignity. We extend again today our most heartfelt sympathy to them.

"I am grateful to Sir Michael for the speed and thoroughness of his inquiry. We accept his critique. In doing so we must not forget, as he states, that,

"His report uncovers serious failures in recording and managing information.

"These failures include local systems for recording, retaining and accessing data. They include national frameworks for inspection and information exchange, and the systems that underpin them.

"As a consequence, the report is wide-ranging in its recommendations. These apply to a range of public services and government departments. I am therefore responding on behalf of the Government as a whole.

"We are, in principle, accepting Sir Michael's main recommendations and will act on them immediately.

"It is the Government's task to ensure clear national standards as well as providing strong leadership. But other national bodies and local agencies also have a key role in strengthening the system.

"Let me turn to the specific recommendations.

"Sir Michael recommends the introduction of a national intelligence system. Information collected should be shared and acted upon before an individual is employed in a sensitive post. Let me describe how this will operate.

"The police national computer is the cornerstone of police information systems, but its task is to register recorded crime. It holds basic information—for example, names and addresses of offenders. We are working with forces to improve the quality and timeliness of data. It is necessary for them to keep up with the growing and changing demands on the police service.

"But the police national computer does not hold intelligence information—for example, where someone has been questioned in relation to repeated allegations of sexual assault.
 
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"Until now, all 43 forces in England and Wales have operated individual systems for handling this kind of information. This should no longer be the case. As Sir Michael puts it, we cannot have a situation where, and I quote,

"This report marks a watershed in how police forces and authorities will work together to procure intelligence and information systems needed to do the job. No longer can the historic justification of operational independence take precedence over the imperative of being able to track and deal with offenders effectively.

"We are therefore now introducing the first national police intelligence computer system—entitled 'Impact'.

"'Impact' will ensure that all forces use the same system to manage and share intelligence information.

"As an interim measure, we are bringing forward the nationwide introduction of the police local exchange. It will begin this autumn and be complete by next spring. It will provide an easily searchable index of all those on whom any police force holds information. Sir Michael commends this.

"But systems are only as good as the information they hold. In this case, because records were handled so badly and deleted, a national intelligence system could not have identified the concerns. Sir Michael therefore concludes that the police need clearer, more soundly based rules, for recording, retaining and reviewing, as well as deleting information.

"Before the inquiry was established, the Data Protection Act was criticised as a contributory factor. While it is no doubt complex, it embodies important principles. Sir Michael concludes that the loss of intelligence cannot be blamed on the Act. He does not believe that radical revisions are necessary.

"It is crucial that rules on managing information are clearly understood.

"I am therefore introducing, by the end of this year, a statutory code of practice on police information handling. All 43 forces will deal with intelligence information in the same way. This will be backed up by detailed operational guidance. Effective training, management and inspection will ensure that it is fully understood and consistently applied.

"This will link closely to the police national intelligence model. This sets out how forces should collect and handle intelligence. It is already providing a more consistent structure. The code will ensure that all forces are required to make the most effective use of this structure. Those few forces still not operating this model must now do so.

"But these recommendations apply substantially beyond policing. The report recommends social services should routinely notify the police when a crime against a child is committed or suspected. Sir Michael concludes that this is not always done.
 
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"The social services database needs to hold details of all alleged sexual offenders involved with named children and should be easily searchable.

"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is working urgently on this. The department will shortly receive a serious case review report from Sir Christopher Kelly on other specific lessons for social services.

"Sir Michael has highlighted the importance of robust selection and recruitment. He has recommended that those recruiting staff in schools must be properly trained in safeguarding children. My right honourable friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for Children have agreed that selection panels should contain at least one panel member properly trained in this work.

"He also calls for stronger, more consistent vetting, and a new system for registering those working with children and vulnerable adults.

"We will therefore urgently consider his recommendation that a register be created to bring together all the relevant information held on individuals in a way which is easily accessible.

"We need to consider how this fits with and enhances the service already provided by the Criminal Records Bureau. We will also need to make the link to proposals for identity cards.

"Let me now turn to concerns about the two forces involved.

"Sir Michael highlights deficiencies by Cambridgeshire on the checks into Ian Huntley's suitability. Sir Ronnie Flanagan's parallel report for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary into the investigation, which is being published today, also highlights concerns about processes and the actions of individuals.

"However, Ian Huntley is behind bars. Cambridgeshire acted effectively to achieve this. It also asked the Metropolitan Police to review its procedures at the time of the investigation.

"Failings were neither systemic nor corporate. I should also add that mistakes have been fully acknowledged and actions have been taken to ensure they do not recur.

"But much graver concerns are raised about the senior management of Humberside. There were, and I quote, 'very serious failings', some of which the Chief Constable became aware of only when hearing evidence to the inquiry. Sir Michael finds the lack of awareness of the scale of these failings over such a long period of time to be 'deeply shocking'.

"It is Sir Michael's view that the,

It is difficult to disagree with this.

"Paragraph 2.94 could not be clearer. It says of Mr Westwood, and I quote,

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"The role of any Chief Constable has to be one in which the public have confidence. In the face of serious criticism, it is my responsibility as Home Secretary to question whether people in Humberside can continue to have that confidence. Mindful of our duty of care, I asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Keith Povey, to discuss Sir Michael's findings with the Chief Constable yesterday.

"The strength of the report's criticism of him has led me to conclude that, using the powers available to me under the Police Act 1996, as amended by the Police Reform Act 2002, I should require Humberside police authority to suspend Mr Westwood as Chief Constable forthwith.

"I have also invited the police authority to consider what steps it should take, having regard to its statutory duty under Section 6 of the 1996 Act to maintain an efficient and effective force. I have asked it to report to me by 6 July.

"I have also asked Sir Keith to ensure that the professional judgment of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is available to the police authority. When I receive the authority's report I will then decide whether to initiate the process which could lead to the retirement or resignation of the Chief Constable.

"Finally, let me repeat my thanks to Sir Michael for his work. I believe that he is right to suggest the discipline of reconvening his inquiry in six months.

"We know that this must be yet another unbearable day for the families of Jessica and Holly. We owe it to them to make substantial progress, as rapidly as possible, in ensuring that these failures are not repeated.

"I commend the report to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


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