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House of Lords

Monday, 22 March 2010.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

Introduction: Lord Hall of Birkenhead

2.38 pm

Anthony William Hall CBE, having been created Baron Hall of Birkenhead, of Birkenhead in the County of Cheshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Puttnam and Lord Moser.

Introduction: Lord Kakkar

2.44 pm

Ajay Kumar Kakkar, having been created Baron Kakkar, of Loxbeare in the County of Devon, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Higgins and Lord Patel.

Egypt

Question

2.49 pm

Asked By Baroness Cox

Lord Brett: My Lords, the United Kingdom Government condemn all instances of discrimination and persecution against individuals and groups because of their religion or belief. In January, my honourable friend Ivan Lewis, Foreign Office Minister for North Africa and the Middle East, raised the subject of the fatal shooting in Nag Hammadi with the Egyptian Minister of the Interior. In February, during the United Nations Human Rights Council universal periodic review of Egypt, we encouraged further Egyptian efforts to reduce and prevent discrimination in society on the grounds of an individual's religion or belief. The protection of human rights is a central component of Egypt's ongoing dialogue with the European Union.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply, but is he aware that, while welcome concessions have recently been made with regard to the Baha'i community, great concern remains among the Coptic Christians, who have recently, on 12 March, suffered more violent attacks? Is he also aware that the recent report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom claims that the Egyptian Government's,

Will Her Majesty's Government therefore urge the Egyptian Government to do much more to protect the security and fundamental religious freedoms of all their citizens, as they are obliged to do under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?



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Lord Brett: My Lords, in 2008 we welcomed the decision of the Egyptian courts to allow the Baha'i to have identification documents that give no indication of their religious affiliation. We are encouraging further efforts and we welcome the pursuit and subsequent arrests in respect of the fatal shootings at Nag Hammadi. While the Egyptian Government have accepted some 111 of the 165 recommendations made in the universal periodic review, we continue to press our concerns and stand ready to support Egypt and its Government in taking forward any of the UPR recommendations.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that Muslims in Egypt who convert to another religion are routinely subjected to arrest and torture and are prevented from taking refuge in any other country? While I recognise the work that the Government have done on this matter, would they consider inviting our colleagues in Europe to discuss joint action?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I cannot confirm the detail on my noble and learned friend's question, but I know that there is an issue. The European Union has an ongoing dialogue with the Government of Egypt on human rights; the European Neighbourhood Policy discusses human rights and there was a meeting on 10 and 11 March. I will certainly take up his points and respond to him.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the EU's dialogue with Egypt on democracy and human rights, but what is Britain doing to promote democracy and human rights in that country? Egypt is clearly stuck-in many ways, it has gone backwards in the past 10 years-on these issues. Are we working actively with the EU? Are we providing aid and technical assistance ourselves to help to strengthen civil institutions in Egypt?

Lord Brett: My Lords, as I said, the European Union has an ongoing dialogue with the Government of Egypt, as do the United Kingdom Government. The European Neighbourhood Policy action plan creates a political sub-committee to take forward and provide a framework for dialogue on human rights. We were active in the universal periodic review of Egypt in February. We called for the Egyptian Government to review and amend legislation on freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and religion, and to ensure full compatibility with Egypt's international obligations-which we share-as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of reports that, since 1981, no fewer than 400 Christians have been assassinated in Egypt, at an average of 13 a year. How many convictions have there been of those committing such atrocities? He will have seen the report that, as recently as 22 February in Dayrut, a Christian was shot 30 times and his head was paraded around the village. Four Muslims were in court about that incident. The result is in-acquittal. What comments does the Minister make on those facts?

Lord Brett: My Lords, my first comment is that I am not aware of the detail of the case that the noble Lord raises, but I shall certainly look into it. It is true

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that in the Coptic Christian community there is a sense of being under greater and greater threat. I am told that this has come about in the past few years and that some years ago relations were much better between the Sunni Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority. The situation has been exacerbated by some of the issues raised by noble Lords. We continue to press the Government of Egypt on all occasions, both through the European Union and individually, to recognise human rights and the need to promote democracy. That is in the interests of that country and it is the acknowledged wish of that country. We must help Egypt to achieve it in a way that saves rather than squanders lives.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Will my noble friend confirm that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy has been active over the past few years in working with the Egyptian Parliament on programmes to promote democracy? Will he discuss with his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development ways in which the work of the WFD can be expanded and developed?

Lord Brett: My noble friend makes an important point. It is at the level of parliamentary exchanges that we have had an influence. One of the great problems in dealing with any country is that many problems are not at parliamentary level but at rural or village level, where understanding and tolerance are in shorter rather than greater supply. However, I take on board the suggestion that my noble friend makes and will raise it with my colleagues in the Foreign Office.

Lord Howell of Guildford: Will the Minister accept that we on our side associate ourselves strongly with the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox? He will know that there are more than 10 million Christians with Coptic connections in Egypt, so we are dealing with a major problem. Will he comment on the report that one reason why the tensions rose so rapidly in Nag Hammadi was incitement by a sheikh in a nearby mosque? If so, that is a serious matter. Could he comment on it?

Lord Brett: Alas, I feel somewhat naked in your Lordships' Chamber, inasmuch as I have no particular knowledge of that incident either. I shall investigate and respond. In general, what we wish to see is a greater willingness on all sides not to inflame situations that already have enough tension in them. I am not aware of the case that the noble Lord raises, but I shall investigate and respond as soon as possible.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords-

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: Would the Minister consider using the European Mediterranean union more effectively-

Noble Lords: Bishop.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, could Her Majesty's Government encourage the Egyptian Government to be both proactive and positive in affirming the citizenship of all citizens, by which the security of minorities can be assured?



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Lord Brett: My Lords, I would love to be able to give the right reverend Prelate the assurance that he seeks. We do press the Egyptian Government, who have taken the matter seriously and offered assurances as recently as January, in a meeting with my honourable friend Ivan Lewis, about protection of the Christian community. We have to translate those commitments into action on the ground and we continue to make that endeavour on all occasions.

Defence: Nimrod Crash

Question

2.58 pm

Asked By Lord Ramsbotham

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, first I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Captain Martin Driver, who died in Selly Oak Hospital last week from wounds sustained in Afghanistan, and of Lance Corporal Scott Hardy and Private James Grigg, who were killed in operations in Afghanistan recently. All were from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

Before I answer the Question, I declare a past interest as a non-executive director of the DLO, the DPA and subsequently of Defence Equipment and Support. I assure noble Lords that in those roles I was not personally involved in any decisions relating to the matter before us, and that I have no interest, pecuniary or otherwise, to declare.

I turn now to the Question. The answer is no. The report was published last autumn. The Government are implementing its recommendations, but do not intend to make any further comment on Mr Haddon-Cave's analysis of the roles of individuals.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that extremely disappointing reply and of course add my condolences in relation to the three people killed in Afghanistan whom he mentioned. The military covenant is the tangible expression of the nation's loyalty to its Armed Forces in return for their loyalty to the nation. In his report on the tragic loss of Nimrod XV230, Mr Haddon-Cave QC publicly condemned two distinguished senior officers, General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger, for imposing the defence cuts that were held partly to blame. Ministers, not senior officers, impose defence cuts, so can the Minister tell the House when the Government will heal this clear breach of the military covenant and demonstrate their loyalty to these now-retired officers by publicly refuting their unwarranted traduction for implementing ministerial direction?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I have nothing to add on the case of the two individuals. The Minister of Defence accepted his responsibility. He also accepted

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the direct recommendations of the report and the wider criticism, and we are acting to implement that report. As I said, we have nothing to add on the case of the individuals.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches send our condolences to the families and friends of Captain Driver, Corporal Hardy and Private Grigg of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment. During the Nimrod Statement, the noble Lord said that he could not comment on these two officers because of a separate police investigation into two senior serving Royal Air Force officers. What is happening to this police investigation and what is the connection with the officers mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I did indeed say that I could not comment for that reason. It is perfectly true that there is a general connection and that that could become a problem. However, on reflection, I think we have to say that quite honestly it is not appropriate to elaborate on the Haddon-Cave report, and we do not think it useful to second-guess that inquiry. I cannot comment on what will happen with these cases. They are in the hands of the Royal Air Force Police, to which they were directed following consultation with the Director of Service Prosecutions. I can say no more until the cases come to court or are dropped.

Lord Addington: My Lords, first, I associate myself and these Benches with the condolences that have been expressed to the families and friends of the soldiers of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment who were killed in action. Will the Minister confirm that these officers were carrying out government policy when they were serving? If not, why were they still allowed to serve?

Lord Tunnicliffe: I assume we are talking about the two officers who have retired. It is true that the DLO was required to make these savings. It was expected that efficiencies would be made as a result of restructuring the Defence Logistics Organisation, merging three organisations into one, so it was indeed a government policy for which the Government were responsible. We have commented elsewhere that we have to see whether our systems can be improved to make sure that financial pressures never come into safety decisions. Indeed, we have affirmed that we are putting safety first.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who was Defence Secretary at the time, says that he accepts full responsibility for the efficiency targets that he set for the Defence Logistics Organisation. He went on to say that Haddon-Cave made no attempt to interview Ministers, so,

Do Her Majesty's Government agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and, if not, why not?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government accept the position that my noble friend Lord Robertson set out about responsibility for the cuts. He was clear that it was the intention of the Government of the day that

22 Mar 2010 : Column 752

efficiencies should be achieved. However, we will not comment on what my noble friend said about the individuals concerned. He offers a view from the evidence, and that is the only evidence that we have. We do not believe that it makes sense to second-guess the inquiry and we will not do so.

Taxation: Personal Residence

Question

3.04 pm

Asked By Lord Barnett

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, the Government reformed the rules governing the taxation of individuals who are resident but not domiciled in the United Kingdom in 2008. The Government have also introduced legislation to deem that all MPs and Members of the House of Lords be resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled in the UK for tax purposes.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. I am sure that he is aware that the issue of residence, or rather non-residence, remains very unclear. That of domicile is even more complex. I note what he says about Members of both Houses, which I assume has all-party agreement. If that does not go through in the current legislation, I assume it will go through in what is called "the wash-up". More importantly, why do we not abolish the concept of non-domicile for everyone, leaving the question of residence as the only form of legislation on this matter on the statute book?

Lord Myners: My Lords, my noble friend, as always, asks several questions. I believe that the proposal in respect of domicile and membership of Parliament, and particularly of the House of Lords, has all-party support. The concept of non-domiciles brings great benefit to the UK economy. It allows people to come here to work for a time, supporting the UK economy-particularly, but not exclusively, our service and cultural sectors, which are considerable beneficiaries of the non-domicile approach-but it does not subject them to taxation in the UK on their non-UK income, unless they have remained here for more than seven out of the past nine years.

On residency, my honourable friend the Financial Secretary in the other place has spoken about the desirability of putting the residency test on a statutory basis and consideration continues to be given to that subject.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay:My Lords, as so often, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and we on these Benches speak with one voice. Does the Minister agree with Cathy Newman's first-class FactCheck analysis on Channel 4 that there are clouds of uncertainty about how much money a non-dom tax would raise? Instead of a non-dom tax, a poll tax of £25,000 or

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£30,000 a year-a flea bite for the super-rich-why not charge everyone who has lived here for seven years full British tax? If you are in the club, why should you not pay the subscription?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I think the noble Lord misdirects himself and the House as regards the amount of money raised from non-domiciled individuals. More people have registered under the remittance tax basis for non-domicile treatment than we anticipated and our estimate is that the UK revenue achieves something in excess of £6 billion a year from non-domiciles. There are real advantages to the UK economy of allowing that status to continue. We have no current plans, either for the lifetime of this Parliament or for the duration of the next Parliament, to revisit the remittance basis of taxation.

Diamond Jubilee

Question

3.08 pm

Asked By Baroness Trumpington

The First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council (Lord Mandelson): My Lords, planning for Her Majesty the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is still in the early stages, but the British horseracing industry is considering ideas to celebrate this great event. They include a special new race, themed race meetings across the UK, or moving the Derby-which will coincide with the 2012 Diamond Jubilee weekend-to one of the Jubilee Bank holidays.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I cannot thank the Minister enough for that amazingly decent reply. I owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, who initiated this idea in the first place. Does he agree that this offers Parliament the chance to unite in wishing Her Majesty good health, long life and the happiness that she deserves for a lifetime of service? Has any thought been given to a trophy for this race, to which I am sure we would all, including the rich Minister, be delighted to contribute and to it continuing in perpetuity?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness is so delighted with my Answer; delighted and relieved, I think. All those with a love for horseracing, and for Her Majesty the Queen, which I suspect is the overwhelming mass of the British people, will be delighted to hear of the noble Baroness's suggestion of raising a public subscription for such a trophy. I suspect that it will be oversubscribed. I will be very pleased to go arm-in-arm with the noble Baroness, flourishing our chequebooks, making sure that we are at the head of the queue.


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