Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page



6 Dec 2007 : Column 1812

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the word “British” is, in fact, a multinational description, and that the Scottish heraldic motto, “Nemo me impune lacessit”, which can be translated as “Do not sit on a thistle”, is more than adequate?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I feel the Barnett formula coming upon us very quickly.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, what is wrong with the excellent words which face us daily, “Dieu et mon droit”, and “Honi soit qui mal y pense”?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, that represents the divine right of kings. While it is of course a well known phrase, one would need to reflect on whether that would be entirely relevant to a motto that we are not going to have.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, is there not something intrinsically wrong with the Question? It is not a motto for one nation. Are we not four nations? Is it not time that we said to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies—I do not know who would represent England in this matter—that they must sort out their own mottos? It is not for us to decide on.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the importance of the union will be a major factor in all we do in this area.

UK-US Mutual Legal Assistance

11.29 am

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, I can confirm that the Home Office has received a request for assistance from the United States of America in respect of corruption allegations concerning BAE Systems. The request is being dealt with in accordance with the bilateral treaty on mutual legal assistance between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, considering that after five months’ procrastination on this request the Government have now finally refused to give the US Department of Justice the information it sought, and also bearing in mind the comments of Lord Justice Moses in the case for judicial review of the decision to halt the SFO investigation, that the case involved,

and that the challenge,



6 Dec 2007 : Column 1813

do not the same arguments apply to the refusal of a reasonable request for information by the Department of Justice? Is not the refusal a breach of our obligations under the OECD convention on bribery, notwithstanding the fact that the requests were made under mutual legal assistance of the bilateral treaty? Do not the arguments of the convention apply pari passu to requests made under the bilateral treaty?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am somewhat confused by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The Home Secretary has not refused this. She is in the process of giving this request the detailed consideration that it requires. About 5,000 of these requests come in annually and some of them are highly complicated and have complex investigative and criminal aspects to them. It is not unusual for one to take this long; many take longer than this.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that rather than being a bilateral agreement it is a unilateral agreement? It seems—and I think President Bush confirmed this the other day—that the United States believes that it has the right to go into any country and remove anybody it believes has committed a crime in the US. Is it not about time we got equal balance both ways?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend raises an issue but we have these mutual legal assistance treaties with many countries, not just the United States, so it is not a one-way street. These things are very sensitive; we have to be very careful when talking about them. It is highly unusual for the fact that one has been requested to come into the public arena. This is an extremely unusual circumstance.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the OECD convention is a convention which we ratified in 1998 for combating the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. That requires this country to the fullest extent possible under its laws and relevant treaties and arrangements to provide prompt and effective legal assistance to another party for the purpose of criminal investigations. How is it that this request has been hanging around for six months in the Home Office without being properly replied to? Why has the Home Office objected to the Americans taking evidence from a Mr Peter Gardner, who has taken the invoices relating to these transactions over to America for their purposes?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thought I had already answered the noble Lord’s question. As I said, there are about 5,000 of these requests annually. Some of them are highly complicated and they very often take a very long time to deal with. This one is very complicated. There are a number of issues. The Home Secretary is in the process of giving very detailed consideration to this request and looking at all the ramifications and complications.



6 Dec 2007 : Column 1814

Lord Avebury: My Lords, this is not a mundane day-to-day request such as the 5,000 that are received, as the noble Lord has explained. It is a matter of vital importance, not only because of the presence of BAE in the United States and its recent multibillion takeover of the Armor Corporation but of the right of BAE to continue doing business in the United States and not to be under the cloud of investigation that it is in breach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is US law? Does not the noble Lord consider that it is a matter of importance to give a prompt reply to the Department of Justice?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we are in no doubt about how important this is, and there are a number of issues and a number of complications within it. That is why the Home Secretary is considering it so carefully. As I said, it is not unusual for something like this to take a length of time. Many such requests have taken much longer than this. We are looking at it very closely. It is a very important issue and the fact that it is taking time, if anything, shows how important we believe it is.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, have the Government given any assistance to the American authorities? Has anything happened as a result of that, or is it just going to be quietly thought about for the next 12 months in the Home Office? Cannot the Home Office give the issue some priority?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the fact that this has taken time does not mean that the Home Office has not given it priority. I am unable to talk in any detail about the matter because of the need for confidentiality. As with all treaties with nations to do with mutual legal assistance, it is part of the treaty that we do not talk about it. It is very unusual that this matter has come to light. It came to light because of a Statement made in another place. It is very unusual and something that we cannot talk about in detail because it involves criminal action.

Terrorism: Detention of Suspects

11.35 am

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice. The Question is as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government have already consulted widely on the proposals for the Counter-Terrorism Bill, including those on pre-charge detention. We have made it clear that discussions on the revised proposal will continue both inside and outside Parliament.



6 Dec 2007 : Column 1815

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. How can the Government’s proclaimed aim of seeking genuine consensus before advancing a proposal be reconciled with the statements the Government have issued today, which appear to cut short party consultation and which are not the basis for a consensus? Secondly, it would be helpful to understand from the Minister how the Government rationalise the argument that they have either too much or too little power. The desire for a Goldilocks outcome does not by itself warrant an extension of the powers of the state, which still does not seem justified by the arguments advanced today by the Government. The dramatic scenario is covered by the Civil Contingencies Act. Will the Minister explain why, in situations falling short of that combination, the ability to continue post-charge questioning and the ability to surveil people if they have been released do not constitute adequate power to protect the nation?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am fairly new to the House. I have looked in some detail at how much consultation there has been in the past on various proposed Bills, and am absolutely amazed at how much consultation has gone on already. It is quite remarkable how open we have been about our plans for what is to be in the Counter-Terrorism Bill. We have talked broadly, both in this House and in the other place, with various Members. I understand that the noble Baroness has had two consultations with my colleague the Home Secretary in conjunction with the right honourable David Davis. In fact, that week she saw more of the Home Secretary than I did. There has been quite a lot of discussion and debate. I am proud to be part of a Government who are doing that, and I am sure that the House is pleased that we have gone in for so much consultation; my goodness me, I am scarred by parts of it. Consultation is important, and I think that we have done a great deal of it.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister think that the publication of a few draft clauses and a couple of bilateral meetings constitutes wide consultation? Would not it be better to continue building the cross-party consensus on the use of intercept evidence and post-charge questioning rather than pursue this “number of days” game, about which he is on the record as having serious doubts?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I say again that we have had considerable consultation. I have talked with a large number of people about a number of these issues. There is a group looking, under Privy Council rules, at intercept evidence, and we await its report with great interest. There is no doubt that this is a very complex and difficult issue. The approach now put forward is significantly different from the one originally proposed.

As the noble Baroness rightly suggests, I feel scarred by this. As an aside, there was some very unfortunate press reporting about me, which gave the

6 Dec 2007 : Column 1816

wrong impression. What it means is that there is a firm of chauffeurs that refers to a U-turn as an Admiral West, which I find rather difficult. It was not a U-turn. I believe that we have had a real amount of detailed debate. This is important for the nation; it is important for all of us. I know from all those I have spoken to that it is important to everyone in this House, and I believe that we are moving forward in the right way. This is a very different approach from that which was originally put forward.

Just to make the matter absolutely clear, from detailed trend analysis I have no doubt that some cases will require more than 28 days. What matters is how we protect ourselves from that small number of cases. I have no doubt that the trend analysis shows that. I want to look at all the other safeguards. That is so important for this nation and for the freedom of the individual.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I admit that I have not seen the Statement or what the plans are, but have the Government—and I hope not—yet gone firm on post-charge questioning, which raises in my mind very great difficulties?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, post-charge questioning is still within the proposed Counter-Terrorism Bill, and there will be ample opportunity within both Houses of Parliament to discuss the details of the Bill and go into depth on those various points. I believe that post-charge questioning will be a useful addendum and will help us, again, to protect the British public.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, is the Government’s priority to have wide-ranging consultations and then do whatever they decide to do, using their majority in the other place to drive it through, or is their priority to seek consensus?

Lord West of Spithead: No, my Lords, our intention is not just to drive something through. We have had a great deal of discussion with people and have sought consensus. We knew that there were difficulties here; we have taken advice from people and we have incorporated that in a considerable number of ways. As with everyone in this House, our prime aim is to protect the British public. That is what we are trying to do; that is what is important for all of us.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, some weeks ago the noble Lord was unsure about the extension of the 28-day limit. Since then he has obviously changed his mind. One is not concerned about this trend, but on what evidential basis is the change necessary?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I had hoped that I had clarified the issue of my uncertainty about timings. I have no doubt at all that trends were showing that there would be a requirement at some stage—and possibly very soon—to have longer than 28 days to continue our questioning and look at the evidence needed to bring a proper charge against

6 Dec 2007 : Column 1817

people in these very complex cases. That is because there is no doubt that the terrorists are getting cuter and cuter at learning the way we do these things and making it more and more complex—that trend is there. I was uncertain of the best way forward. I now believe that our proposal is significantly different from before and covers a lot of the concerns I had.

I also wanted to look at whether we could throw money at getting more computer experts and other people in to look at how we could crack these cases quicker. Again, that evidence has now been presented for me. We did not just charge through and say, “We are going to get more days—bang”; we were looking at the details and complexities of these matters. I will be very happy when I have the full information—I have enough now to convince me that I can put this down on paper and share the trend analysis with noble Lords—to show why it is quite clear that it will happen in the future.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I apologise for arriving late, but I ask this question because—

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Richard: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, we have to take this very carefully. The noble Earl is explaining something, but I think that there is an issue about his arrival which my noble friend wishes to challenge. Is that correct?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I have to say I was not going to ask a question of the Minister. I was going to object to the fact that somebody who had just come into the Chamber had got to his feet, not having heard the Answer or the Question. As I understand it, that is not in accordance with the rules of order and customs of the House.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I am on the Joint Committee of Human Rights. Yesterday, the Crown Prosecution Service said that it could see no need for 28 days. Can the Minister explain?

Noble Lords: Move on.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the House is making its view known. My interpretation is that in this House it is customary that, if we are unable to be there at the beginning, we take the opportunity to talk to the Minister directly outside the Chamber. I know that he would have wished to have been here, but the noble Earl sadly missed the important part of this debate, which was the Question from his own Front Bench and the response of my noble friend. I think that courtesy to the House demands that we behave in that way. The noble Earl will forgive me, but if he would take the matter up outside, I think that that would be better.



6 Dec 2007 : Column 1818

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, despite all the consultation about which the Minister has talked, there has been not a shred of consensus on the further extension. Why has the process stopped now? Why do we not further seek consensus on such a divisive issue?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, when one looks at the totality of the Counter-Terrorism Bill, I find it remarkable how much consensus there is. That is wonderful, because I know that all of us believe that the security of our people is so important. In that one area, there has certainly been a lot of debate. As I said, I believe now that the proposals put forward are significantly different. There are lots more opportunities to talk it through. Today, we have released a number of documents, all of which are available for people to see what comments have been made and what discussion there has been. There will be opportunities during the next few weeks to discuss the new model with various people, and of course we will have the opportunity in the other place and in this House to debate more fully. I do not think that we could have done more, and I am rather proud of being part of a Government who have done that. I cannot think of any other case where that has happened.

Employment Bill [HL]

11.45 am

Lord Bach: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about the procedure for the resolution of employment disputes; to provide for compensation for financial loss in cases of unlawful underpayment or non-payment; to make provision about the enforcement of minimum wages legislation and the application of the national minimum wage to Cadet Force adult volunteers; to make provision about the enforcement of offences under the Employment Agencies Act 1973; to make provision about the right of trade unions to expel or exclude members on the grounds of membership of a political party; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page