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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, following the violence that was perpetrated on residents of Camp Ashraf, Members of the House of Lords met the Minister, Ivan Lewis, who promised to make representations when he visited Iraq and to convey our concern. The Minister has given the answer in relation to making representations, but what was the response of the Iraqi Government?
Lord Brett: The Iraqi Government agreed to put in place an inquiry, the results of which we do not know. My ministerial colleague Ivan Lewis will visit Iraq in December and will no doubt keep the promise that he made to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and colleagues to raise this issue at the highest level.
Lord Elton: My Lords, there are many settlements around the world of people who are unwelcome in the country from which they have fled and unwelcome in the country to which they have fled. The United Nations does a considerable job in getting them settled in third countries. What steps are we taking to assist that effort in this case?
Lord Brett: The United Nations is seeking a solution to the problem but, as I hope I have explained, it is not easy when the country of origin sees the individuals as people who attack them and the country that they are in sees them as people who attack them. In that sense, we are protecting the humanitarian support for these individuals where they are and trying to ensure that they are humanely treated and not transported to other countries. But we have a very limited locus in this matter.
Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and take this opportunity to remind colleagues of my interest as the chair of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit.
Lord Brett: Rwanda has made progress towards meeting the Commonwealth's core values, in the areas of democratic process; rule of law; good governance; protection of human rights and equality of opportunity; and economic policies aimed at improving the welfare of the public. While much remains to be done in all these areas, the Government assess that this progress is sufficient for the UK to support Rwanda's bid to join the Commonwealth.
Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Have the Government had any discussions with their Rwandan counterparts about implementing
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Lord Brett: My Lords, we are concerned about and anxious to discuss with our colleagues the outcome of the observer review of the 2008 elections and the lessons to be learnt for the 2010 presidential elections. The question of Rwanda's access to the Commonwealth will be based on a report from the Secretary-General and will be discussed towards the end of this week. We cannot predict the result because it is a decision for all the Commonwealth nations, except to say that at this stage we know of no opposition. We want to see Rwanda in the Commonwealth so that we can carry on encouraging the Government there. Membership will help Rwanda to overcome its weaknesses in areas such as press freedom and political space. The Commonwealth and its values will be of help in those terms.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, undoubtedly Rwanda has made great strides since the genocide of 1994, but it was a Belgian colony and mainly Francophone. I understand the President of Mozambique, but is it still relevant to have to have had some form of historic connection with this country before becoming part of the Commonwealth?
Lord Brett: My Lords, in 2007, the Commonwealth amended the status of its application requirements from being an historical part of the Commonwealth to include countries that are in close association with Commonwealth countries. In Rwanda, that is the case with at least three other countries that are part of the east African economic area and therefore there is a clear relationship which can be encouraged. These issues are judged on a case-by-case basis against the same criteria that we apply to every other nation in the Commonwealth, and those embrace the values of the Commonwealth and all they imply.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may come to the support of the Minister in his heavy workload at the Dispatch Box this afternoon by agreeing with him that while obviously each applicant for membership of the Commonwealth must be evaluated and judged strictly on the standards set by the Commonwealth, and that that must apply to Rwanda as it does to everywhere else, is it not interesting that Rwanda is one of four or five countries now applying to join, which indicates that the Commonwealth is a most attractive platform in modern, 21st century conditions? Does that not confirm and indeed strengthen the view that HMG should pay as much attention as possible to a full, lively and active membership of the Commonwealth in promoting the interests and foreign policy of this nation?
Lord Brett: I thank the noble Lord for his support. I concur that the Commonwealth is quite possibly the most popular international body that other countries are seeking to join, and that we should encourage that where it is appropriate to do so. I would not accept that the Government are not doing everything they can to support and encourage the Commonwealth. Indeed, it has to be said that one of the attractions of the Commonwealth may well be that, unlike the European Union, SADC and Mercosur, covering the horn of South America, it is not an economic trading body, which can cause certain problems in other circumstances.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the Minister agree that bringing Cyprus into the EU before any agreement was reached between the northern and southern parts of the island was rather premature? Are there not some parallels here? In the light of, for example, the report of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, is it not right that Rwanda should make far more progress in terms of human rights, press freedom and the actions being taken by Rwandans in the neighbouring DRC? Should not all those issues be addressed before Rwanda is admitted to the Commonwealth?
Lord Brett: My Lords, I believe that those issues will be considered as part of the Secretary-General's report to CHOGM. The report referred to by the noble Baroness was rather sweeping, and I personally did not think it took sufficient account of the tremendous progress that has been made, such as the abolition of the death penalty. Uniquely in the world, the Rwandan parliament has a majority of women members. More needs to be done, but a lot has already happened, and the genuine criticisms made in that report about press freedom and political space could be better addressed by Rwanda's admission to the Commonwealth than by its exclusion.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, do the Government agree that to exclude Rwanda from the Commonwealth at this point in its development might exacerbate the aggression that is coming from eastern Congo, not only from the RPF but from other militia groups?
Lord Brett: My Lords, I listen to the noble Baroness's wise words in the knowledge that she has visited that country as part of a parliamentary delegation and has seen it at first hand. I am sure that she is right: if there is a great value in the Commonwealth, as has been indicated from opposition Benches and supported around the House, it is that it brings people together in dialogue without necessarily some of the other constraining features. I am sure that Rwanda's accession to the Commonwealth, if it happens this week, will be a boost both for that country and other countries in the region.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Minister may well be aware that Mr William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary in another place, has given his support for countries interested in joining the Commonwealth, including Algeria and Yemen. Have Her Majesty's
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Lord Brett: My Lords, I can either dodge that question by saying it is rather a long way from Rwanda; I could avoid it by saying-accurately-that it is not in my brief; or I could say that I think that they have a way to go.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, notwithstanding some of the shortcomings in Rwanda, 1 million people died there during the course of the genocide. Should we not do all that we possibly can to help Rwanda make progress for the future? Is not one practical thing that we could do now to bring to justice those genocidaires living in this country who are now eligible for prosecution as a result of the amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill moved by my noble friend Lady D'Souza, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, me and others? Can the Minister give an assurance that he will report back to the House, as soon as is convenient, on what progress we have made in bringing to justice those living in this country who are responsible for many of the deaths in Rwanda?
Lord Brett: My Lords, I must be very careful in what I say. There are cases which are subject to appeal and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to make any individual reference. Justice and reconciliation are essential parts of bringing together countries which have been torn apart by ethnic, religious or other issues. I shall take note of the noble Lord's question and consider it.
A Bill to impose duties upon certain persons and bodies in respect of disabled persons, to confer certain rights upon disabled persons for independent living, to amend the Mental Health Act 1983, to amend the Health and Social Care Act 2008 and for connected purposes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, immediately after the three opening speakers in the debate on the Address, I will repeat a Statement on the flooding in Cumbria. There are 45 speakers signed up for today's debate. If Back-Bench contributions are kept to seven minutes, the House should be able to rise this evening at around the target rising time of 10 pm.
"Most Gracious Sovereign-We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, it is a great privilege to be opening today's debate on Her Majesty's gracious Speech, not least since it is usually the lot of Ministry of Justice Ministers to close this debate. Today, we discuss the Government's proposals on home affairs, justice and constitutional affairs for the final Session of the Parliament.
Such Sessions can often seem to generate more heat than light. Our contention is that the Bills we are debating today show that the Government remain as committed as ever to delivering a fair and just society.
Noble Lords will recall the series of books by the late, great journalist, Mr Anthony Sampson, entitled The Anatomy of Britain. This series was periodically updated and the last edition, published in 2004, was
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Today, we are considering two major pieces of legislation: the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and the Crime and Security Bill. In addition, we are looking at two other Bills, less contentious perhaps but none the less valuable for that: the Bribery Bill and the Third Party (Rights against Insurers) Bill. In another Bill, the Children, Schools and Families Bill, there will be clauses dealing with the transparency of family proceedings in court.
If the House agrees, the Third Party (Rights against Insurers) Bill will follow the new procedure for uncontroversial but worthy Law Commission Bills. It has already been used successfully on one such Bill.
I turn to the Crime and Security Bill. I am proud to be part of a Government who have had such a positive impact on the criminal justice system. Crime is down by more than a third since 1997. The chances of being a victim are at their lowest since records began in 1981. Reoffending is down by 20 per cent since 1981 and youth reoffending is down by nearly 24 per cent.
We have reformed the penal system, with 75 per cent more serious and violent offenders in prison and a modernised prison estate with nearly 25,000 more places. We have continued to put the needs of victims at the centre of the criminal justice system. We have trebled the money that we provide to Victim Support, introduced new protection for victims of forced marriage, appointed Sara Payne as the first independent Victims' Champion and published her report, which we are studying carefully. We have also announced proposals for a new national victims' service. Eighty-three per cent of witnesses and victims have expressed satisfaction with the criminal justice system.
We are better engaging communities in criminal justice by giving them a say in the types of community payback projects that offenders carry out and allowing them to see justice being done through the use of high-visibility jackets. In 2008, 8.4 million hours of free labour were provided to benefit communities by offenders sentenced to unpaid work. Such work was valued at £48.7 million.
The Crime and Security Bill builds on these reforms. It will protect communities by making parents take responsibility for their child's anti-social behaviour. The Bill will introduce new powers to help victims break the cycle of domestic violence.
It may assist the House if I summarise the main provisions of the Bill. It will help to make our communities safer, first, by making families take responsibility for their children's anti-social behaviour by assessing parenting needs for young people aged 10 to 15 years and imposing parenting orders where they have breached their ASBOs. Secondly, gang injunctions for under-18s will make our communities safer and prevent young people from being sucked into a life of crime. Furthermore, it will prevent crimes against vulnerable people by tackling domestic violence with orders issued by police
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It will also provide for criminal and exploitative markets to be closed down by preventing the use of unauthorised mobile phones in prison and so stopping organised criminals and terrorists from being able sometimes to continue their criminal enterprises from behind bars, as well as having licensed wheel clampers to prevent unscrupulous companies from exploiting their position by imposing exorbitant fines. Moreover, it will ensure justice for victims and families by protecting the public by making sure the right people are on our DNA database by indefinitely retaining the DNA records of convicted offenders and holding the DNA of those who are acquitted for a proportionate amount of time. Furthermore, we will retrospectively collect DNA from serious violent and sexual offenders, allowing us to take DNA samples from sex offenders returning to the UK following conviction overseas and to collect DNA from convicted offenders who are back in our communities.
I turn to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, already progressing in the other place and carried over from the previous Session. The Bill is a key package of measures designed to rebuild trust in our democratic and constitutional settlement by reinforcing the principles of transparency, accountability and probity across government. Noble Lords will hardly need to be reminded that a draft Bill was scrutinised in depth by a Joint Committee of both Houses and other Select Committees. I put on record again the Government's gratitude to the members of the Joint Committee for their work, especially Mr Michael Jabez Foster MP, the chair, and the Members of the other place and this House who took part in the committee. We look forward to hearing the contributions this evening from the noble Lords who served on it.
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill continues the process of constitutional reform and further strengthens the role of Parliament in relation to the Executive. The Bill will do this by enshrining in statute the key principles by which the Civil Service must function: integrity, impartiality, objectivity and honesty. Secondly, it will provide greater clarity in how the Government conduct international relations by placing in statute the process by which Parliament has its say about the ratification of international treaties. Part 6 of the Bill will provide protection for the salaries of judicial office holders in certain tribunals and make provisions for a new method of obtaining medical assessments for candidates for judicial office. The Bill will also provide Parliament with more consistent and transparent information about public spending.
Your Lordships will no doubt take a particular interest in the important measures to ensure that there is a robust disciplinary regime in the House of Lords. The Bill will allow Peers to resign, or to be expelled from this place. It will also allow Peers to disclaim their peerage after resigning or being removed from the House. I also underline the Government's firm commitment to abolish the hereditary by-election process
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As the gracious Speech made clear, we will be publishing draft provisions on comprehensive reform of your Lordships' House. It seems self-evident that as we move towards a second Chamber more aligned with a modern democracy, it is unacceptable that one House should be supplemented with further hereditary Peers, however much we value-and we do-the contribution that the elected hereditary Peers continue to make to this place. The publication of a draft will also maintain the momentum towards comprehensive reform, to which the Government are as committed as ever.
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