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Lord Brett: I doubt that I can go as far as my noble friend in his allusion to the Taliban being an independent judge of affairs in their state. I believe that it is on the
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Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I was in southern Israel when we had only 15 seconds to rush into air-raid shelters as rocket bombs from Gaza rained down on us. The destruction and loss of life caused by Operation Cast Lead is, indeed, truly regrettable, but does the precedent set by the Goldstone report, in accusing Israel of crimes against humanity in its targeted response to terrorist attacks, take into account the possible implications for our own British security in response to terrorism directed at us?
Lord Brett: I think that that question deviates considerably from the Question on the Order Paper. While I may have sympathy with the question, I have no intention of seeking to provide the answer, because we are discussing a very serious situation where, as recently as yesterday, interventions by the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, offer some hope that things might move forward. As I have said, my previous experience has told me that the harsher the opinions issued within 24 hours of an announcement, the more that you can repent at your leisure.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, a few minutes ago the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made a very balanced point. I think that everyone agrees that terrible things occurred on both sides during the Gaza conflict, as tend to be the case in such situations. However, when the United Nations comes to debate this matter later in the week, would the Minister agree that the reports of the UN authorities, and its Human Rights Council, would carry more authority if they gave the same attention to abuses of human rights by, say, China in Tibet or Russia in Chechnya-or even by the United States in Iraq-rather than becoming solely focused on the Israeli question, serious though that is?
Lord Brett: I thank the noble Lord for that travelogue. The truth is that the UN will be debating a specific issue, and from my experience it is better to relate to that than to extend it to other circumstances, because if you do so it tends to make the solution to the issue on the paper even less possible.
Lord Brett: My Lords, everyone in the House will join with me in wishing the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, a successful recovery from his broken leg and a speedy return to the House. He demonstrates great wisdom and experience on the Liberal Democrat Benches and great wisdom and effectiveness in debates in the Chamber.
The Southern African Development Community, as sponsor and guarantor of the global political agreement-GPA-has a key role to play in this matter. We regularly discuss Zimbabwe with SADC Governments and a SADC troika visited Harare on 29 October to discuss developments. We will closely monitor the outcome of that and continue to make our priority working with the region to promote reform in Zimbabwe.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, while recognising the difficulties the British Government face in openly criticising the Zimbabwean Government and attracting ire from Mr Mugabe in return, what channels do the British Government find most useful in pressing SADC to act to bring the parties back together again in the rapidly deteriorating political, and therefore economic and security, situation within Zimbabwe?
Lord Brett: My Lords, the Government use all channels available, including, of course, bilateral channels with countries in SADC. My noble friend Lady Kinnock is in South Africa this week and I have no doubt that Zimbabwe will not be without note in her discussions with the South African Government. We also work with our European Union colleagues, who have a major part to play in bringing that country back to normality. We support the Unity Government, particularly those parts which favour reform. However, we cannot but condemn the henchmen within that Government who seek to continue what went before and to avoid returning to a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, the current chair of SADC, President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, relies on Zimbabwean guards for his personal safety. Do the Government agree that this compromises his authority in dealing with the current upsurge in human rights violations in Zimbabwe? What diplomatic pressure will the Government exert on this issue?
Lord Brett: My Lords, I listened with care to the noble Baroness but I am not sure that I agree with her. SADC is a major geographical and regional power with lots of member Governments with considerable reason to hope that Zimbabwe will return to its prosperity of yesteryear. I do not think that the provision the noble Baroness asks about, though it might cast doubt in people's eyes, is likely to be a major feature within SADC's decisions. However, I take her question on board.
Lord Elton: My Lords, given the power and spread of SADC to which the noble Lord has just referred, and the fact that it is meeting in Mozambique on Thursday to consider this issue, how does he interpret the fact that Mugabe has already said that the SADC tribunal ruling on land reform was of no consequence, that land issues are not subject to the SADC tribunal, and that he is already ignoring, and has long ignored, the undertaking he gave to swear in MDC district
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Lord Brett: My Lords, I have every sympathy with the noble Lord's points. The issues that President Mugabe seeks to deny are part of the global political agreement, which SADC produced in 2008. Therefore, we should ask SADC how it will implement the GPA and persuade and advise those in breach of it. I am sure that my noble friend and other Ministers in the Foreign Office are doing everything possible through all channels earnestly to advise SADC member states. One hopes that Thursday's meeting and the troika's efforts will pressure Zimbabwe to achieve what the Unity Government should be about; namely, to restore democracy, bring forward development and rescue the Zimbabwean people from a decade of desperate mismanagement.
Lord Acton: My Lords, my noble friend said that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, was going to South Africa. We wish her very well in her diplomatic efforts. What is the current position of South Africa on the Zimbabwean situation? I do not ask this just to monitor how good the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, is at diplomacy.
Lord Brett: My Lords, we will have to see the outcome of the discussions that are taking place in Mozambique on Thursday to know that. Certainly, President Zuma has made clear his rather more urgent requirements of the Government of Zimbabwe, more than perhaps his predecessor has done. There are those in SADC-Botswana is one and there are many others- who can see why a solution to Zimbabwe is in everybody's interests in the region. I am pretty sure that my noble friend Lady Kinnock has arrived in South Africa by now-if she has not, she is on the longest flight that has ever taken place from the United Kingdom-and I hope that she will be using her influence in all quarters to ensure that we bring about the policy, not that we want to see, or that Europe wants to see, but that the world wants to see.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the UN torture expert Mr Nowak said that, when he was denied entry into Zimbabwe the other day, he was going to complain to the UN Commissioner on Human Rights. Can the commissioner do anything about it? Are we backing his complaint? Is anything going to happen at all?
Lord Brett: My Lords, those who listened to the rapporteur's interview on Radio 4 will have no doubt how badly he was treated in contravention of international law and in contravention to the invitation already issued. In that sense, we are totally supportive that international law has to be applied. We have heard nothing since from the UN about how the rapporteur will take that forward, but clearly it will be an issue and not one on which we are likely to find ourselves in sympathy with the Zimbabwean Government.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that members of government scientific advisory committees can freely communicate to the Government and the public their conclusions about scientific evidence.
Lord Brett: My Lords, the Government Office for Science has a published code of practice for science advisory committees. This lays out how committees should communicate their advice and working practices and concludes that, as a minimum, committees should publish a programme of work, meeting agendas, minutes, final advice and an annual report.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am sure that everyone will agree that Ministers must finally decide policy. However, has this episode not destroyed the claim that policy would be based on evidence? Does not the dismissal of Professor Nutt suggest that advice, on the whole, should be kept private, and that the findings about the influence of alcohol as compared with cannabis should not be communicated to the public domain-not in front of the children? What can the Government do to reassure the scientific community and to counteract the rather dispiriting message which they have given its members that they may not contradict government policy, and that if they do they will be sacked?
Lord Brett: My Lords, that is a total misreading of the situation. The issue is not about what the advice was. The Government, at the end of the day, cannot delegate to any advisory committee the decisions that belong to the Secretary of State and to this Parliament. It is and has been the case in the past that some committee advisers have resigned and subsequently disagreed with government policy; that is one issue. It is quite a different issue to make a statement effectively arguing that the decision of the Secretary of State whom you advise is totally wrong, while continuing in office and continuing to campaign against the Government you are advising. The issue is not about scientific advice on this occasion. It is about the role of the person, the code of conduct and how he continued a campaign that is not within the code and is not within what I would expect of advisers. The day that Ministers are no longer responsible for making decisions and Parliament is no longer responsible for ratifying those decisions, we are in the hands of non-elected democracies-democratic in the sense only of science and not in the wider world.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that Ministers must take into account not just expert advice but wider issues of public policy when making decisions? Advisers should respect that.
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Lord Brett: The noble Baroness is absolutely right that, at the end of the day, the decision belongs to Ministers. If there are consistent, cavalier rejections by a Minister of recommendations by a committee, one might ask what the point of the committee is. However, they are not consistently rejected. On cannabis, out of 21 recommendations only one was not accepted. On ecstasy, of 13 recommendations, 11 were accepted and only two were not. The Home Secretary agreed a structured programme with the ACMD, covering illegal high poly-drug use, early warning mechanisms and cognitive enhancers. Basically, the science has been taken on board where the science makes sense. Where the wider political judgments come in, we had to take account of everything from law enforcement to public opinion. The buck stops with the Secretary of State.
Lord Kinnock: Does my noble friend agree that, in these complex and vexatious areas, we are still best guided by the view that distinguished advisers should advise and be listened to, but it is accountable Ministers who must decide?
Lord Brett: I am sure my noble friend is correct. If, for example, every recommendation irrespective of whether it was in the wider interest were accepted by Ministers on almost every subject, you would find the country at large wondering what the point of Ministers was. They would wonder, "What is the point of Members of Parliament? What is the point of Parliament? Why not have a series of expert opinions?". Expert opinion is valid. Science is valid. We are not arguing here about the science. We are arguing about the responsibility of Ministers in the final analysis, and I totally agree with my noble friend.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, the matters which this Question addresses have focused on an academic lecture given at King's College, London, in July and the publication of a report of that lecture. Had the Home Secretary expected to vet in advance the contents of that lecture? If not, what is the ground for protest now? Was Professor Nutt's mistake to express the views which he held, or to be heard doing so?
Lord Brett: I am sorry, but I am going to insist on the view; other Members may disagree. It went beyond that point, to the point of campaigning for his view. He is perfectly entitled to do so, but not as an adviser to the Government.
Baroness Meacher: Does the Minister accept that the classification of drugs is a matter of science? Is a particular drug more or less dangerous to the public than another drug? The matter for politics is surely
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Lord Brett: The good news is that the noble Baroness is right on both counts. However, she misses the point slightly; we have a combination of the two. Those with the knowledge will advise; but classification, the use of the drugs, how it is perceived in local communities and how it is experienced by law enforcement officers on the streets of Carlisle, where I live, come down to a political judgment. There is no gainsaying that.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the results of the decision may well be that the Government attract only those scientists who, to quote Sir Humphrey, are "one of us"? What implications does that have for the recruitment of scientists to government advisory bodies?
Lord Brett: My Lords, I gave evidence in terms of the number of times that Ministers in the Home Office have rejected advice from this committee. I have to say that, as someone who was the general-secretary of a trade union for some 40,000 scientists, I never felt that I was in the company of those who would kow-tow to government or anyone else. Defence of their science was their priority. They are proud of it, and I am rightly proud of them. That does not override ministerial responsibility and the responsibility of Parliament.
Lord Brett: In our democracy, we have elected Members of the other place and Members here with great expertise in science and almost all aspects of British life so that they can combine their experiences, to help arrive at the democratic decisions that the public support because they are confident in them. This decision was reached from a combination of the science, perception and law and order, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made the right decision.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: No one disagrees with the proposition that it is scientists who advise and Ministers who decide. Having been a Minister with scientists, I entirely accept that. However, I spent the morning studying the code of practice for scientists and scientific advisory committees and I cannot find a single paragraph that could be relied on to justify the sacking of Professor Nutt. Is it not time that that code was revised? The
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Lord Brett: One suspects that there might have been something about that in the letter that the Secretary of State wrote to Professor Nutt on Friday of last week. On the major point, I agree that scientific advice is important. Political analysis is important. Civil service advice is important. We cannot isolate these into single compartments and claim that we do not like the decision when a Minister chooses to take some advice and reject other advice. Therefore, I am absolutely clear that it remains a decision for Ministers and Parliament, and Professor Nutt is now clear and free to express whatever opinions he wants. However, he will not be able to do that successfully in his own defence, or in the defence of the Government, while being chief adviser to them and at the same time campaigning against government policy.
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