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We should of course give praise where it is due to operational successes in dealing with drug traffickers, and acknowledge progress-for example the progress that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, described-in treatment. However, we should also recognise that we are considering here an area of colossal policy failure since the orthodoxies of policy were established across the world in the UN's Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, and President Nixon's declaration of a war on drugs in 1971.
Worldwide, there are 210 million users of narcotics, vast numbers of whom are criminalised. There are some 2.8 million drug users suffering from HIV and AIDS. The Count the Costs website counts the costs of drugs across the world in terms of health, crime, the economy, development, the environment, security and human rights. There is a useful paragraph in the Select Committee's report alluding to the situation in Iran as reported by Amnesty International, where the human rights of drug users or suspected drug users have been violated in a programme of activity actually supported by European Union aid.
The United Nations calculated the cost of the global drugs problem in 2003 as $321.6 billion. SOCA in this country has estimated the social and economic cost in the UK to be £17.7 billion a year. The Government tell us that more than 50% of perpetrators of property crime are users of heroin and cocaine. Great swathes of Latin America have been devastated by crime, military repression, corruption and the atrocities of gang conflict-all associated with drugs. In Mexico, between 2006 and 2011, there were 47,000 deaths. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, told us, the displacement as a result of reasonably successful interdiction of drug trafficking in some parts of the world has wrought havoc in Equatorial Guinea in west Africa.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, of which I am a member, held a conference last autumn. Our group is chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and I pay tribute to her for her remarkable work in this field. I know how very much she regrets that, because she is engaged in other public service duties this afternoon, she is unable to join your Lordships' debate. Our conference was attended by eminent people from across the world, including members of the global commission, and politicians and officials from Latin America and Europe. Unfortunately, no Minister of the United Kingdom was able to attend. We agreed at that conference, just as the Select Committee has agreed, on the need for evidence-based, rational and proportionate policies to reduce harm and protect those who are susceptible to drugs.
Let me emphasise, in case there should be any misunderstanding, that I strongly believe that policy and enforcement should be implacable in relation to organised crime and systematic drug trafficking. We should give all the support we can to Europol, for instance, to enable it to perform as it needs to do on money laundering-the revelations about HSBC underscore the importance of that-and to seize the proceeds of drug trafficking and the drug themselves. Given that there is subsidiarity in this policy field in the European Union, let us at least learn from the diversity of policies among the member states. We need more research. The committee found that the work of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is a bright spot. It is important that in the next European Union drugs strategy there should be sufficient funding for the monitoring centre to enable it to develop its excellent work so that it can produce better data sets and more effective comparative data, which does not imply that we need to discard the longitudinal series of data that have been built up within the member states. The centre needs a capacity to evaluate and to make cost-benefit analysis, for example of the Portuguese experience, which should be done, of course, on a factual and dispassionate basis. I am glad that the Government agree that that would be useful.
The experience of the Czech Republic is an excellent example of evidence-based policy. In 1998, the Czech Republic decided to criminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. However, it wisely followed that enactment by a two-year cost-benefit analysis of the effect in practice-what we call in this House post-legislative scrutiny. They found that the availability of drugs had increased, that the use of drugs had increased, that the numbers of new users of drugs had increased, and that social costs had increased. Very rationally, in 2010, it decriminalised the possession of drugs for personal use. Some 35 countries have decriminalised, including Spain, and a number of states of the United States of America. Within the European Union, Germany, Estonia and Lithuania are tiptoeing in that direction. I would like to emphasise, just as the report does, that:
"Decriminalisation needs to be distinguished from legalisation, which is prohibited under the UN Conventions. Drugs are not legalised; instead, criminal penalties associated with the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use, and the use of those drugs, are replaced by civil penalties such as requirements to attend treatment programmes".
The experience of Portugal should be instructive to us, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, explained to us, and other noble Lords. It took the decision in 2001 to decriminalise drugs for personal use. Instead, there were to be civil penalties, and of course the work of the dissuasion committees; it made a commitment, on a large scale, to treatment and harm reduction. Mr Goulão, who gave evidence to the committee, and also gave evidence at our conference, said,
Very importantly, the experience in Portugal has been that the commitment to treatment and harm reduction is cheaper. This matters at any time, but particularly in a period of austerity. The costs of treatment were,
In Switzerland-outside the European Union, of course-there has been a programme of injecting heroin users with diamorphine, leading to improvements in health, less drug usage and less crime; and those findings are endorsed by studies here by King's College London of differential treatments for chaotic heroin users.
One of the difficulties in this country is that policy has gone to and fro, and sent out conflicting signals; for example, with the regrading of cannabis: first as a class B drug, then as a class C drug, and then again as a class B drug. I am encouraged by the evidence given by the Home Office to the committee that for every £1 we invest in drug treatment, at least £2.50 is saved in reductions in crime and other costs. My noble friend Lady Massey suggested that the savings were even larger; so the question is, are we investing enough? We are doing well, I understand, but could we do significantly better? We do need rational public debate. Policy-making is made very difficult by the attitude of certain elements of the media. The editor of the Daily Mail declined to meet the All-Party Group on Drug Policy Reform. It may make it easier to sell papers, but it is not constructive to demonise drug users. I very much endorse the finding of your Lordships' committee that,
The committee noted that tobacco kills 5 million people a year; alcohol 2.5 million people a year. These are huge problems, but nobody is suggesting that we should criminalise the consumption of tobacco or alcohol. They noted that drugs kill about 500,000 people a year. The consumption of drugs in this country is criminalised.
It seems to me that the benefits of decriminalising possession and using regulation would be to release users from the embrace of the criminals and cut the ground from under this vast and murderous criminal industry. It would make it much more possible to increase advice and help for users and get more of them into
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The issue of new psychoactive substances, "legal highs" as they are popularly known, is an immensely difficult, complex and important challenge. The New Psychoactive Substances Action Plan produced by the Government sketches elements of a sensible strategy and has good features such as temporary bans while not criminalising users and only banning where the harms are established. But this is a dangerous and massive challenge. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform is holding an inquiry at the present time, and I hope that our conclusions will in due course be helpful.
I want to ask the Minister whether he considers that we might do better if the Department of Health in this country and the directorate of the European Commission that leads on health were to lead on drugs policy, because drugs are, after all, primarily a health issue. There are signs of movement in international thinking. The UK's own drug strategy lays considerable emphasis on treatment and education. At the March meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs there was an Australian resolution calling for the UN to consider a wide variety of evidence-based control measures to tackle the emergence of new psychoactive substances and increase the use of consumer protection. It was agreed that all options should be on the table for addressing new psychoactive substances. UNODC Executive Director Fedotov said:
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on this report, which, given the number of people who are involved in this debate, shows how vital this issue is. During my short time as a practising economist, one of the things I learnt about markets was that while states can regulate them, they certainly cannot abolish them; where there is demand, there is always supply. That applies to the area of drugs probably more than anywhere else. It is an irony that the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs signed in 1961 and the subsequent war on drugs have been pushed particularly strongly by the United States, the country we see as the bastion of capitalism and markets, but there is an absolute contradiction here. The convention was implemented in 1964 and in theory there should be no global drugs market at all because the convention was signed by the vast majority of the members of the United Nations.
As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has said, the drugs market was worth $320 billion back in 2003, but perhaps what is more important-and I suspect that I am underestimating it-is that it represented 1% of GDP. In 2009 the market for cocaine was estimated to be worth around $85 billion, which can be compared with the income of Andean farmers at around $1 billion. There is a huge market in South America. Of that laundered money, which at today's value is something in excess of half a trillion dollars, under 1% is actually seized during its transit by authorities, so 99% of it is recycled into organised crime. The report is very clear-and it has been mentioned by a number of other noble Lords-that, in terms of supply and demand, the existing EU strategy has had no noticeable effect whatever.
I was also interested in the statistics at the beginning of the report that suggest that almost one-quarter of EU citizens have admitted to using drugs, and one in 20 on an ongoing, annual basis. That suggests that whether we like it or not, drug taking-I suspect mainly so-called soft drugs-is a part of our culture and of life. However, simply because the law is transgressed, does not mean that we should endorse drug taking. I am sure many of us break the speeding limit, but that does not mean that we should not have speed limits as part of the rules of driving. However, there is an issue there about what we make legal and illegal.
One of the results of this policy, and the area that I will concentrate on, concerns consumer countries. We have black markets and we have health risks-because there is no quality control, taking drugs is more dangerous under a prohibition regime. There is no consumer advice. The activity produces criminals-in the United States it is estimated that one in four imprisonments is drugs-related and in the UK maybe up to 50% of crimes have some relation to drugs. We also have organised crime as part of our infrastructure. Perhaps more importantly, in producer countries we have already mentioned the 47,000 or 48,000 Mexicans who have been murdered during the presidency of President Calderón over the past six years, and 95% of all murders in Mexico are drugs related.
I very much welcome the comments of my noble friend Lord Mancroft about transit countries. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. I chair the all-party group of a country that is not well known-Guinea-Bissau, an ex-Portuguese colony in west Africa. It is a state that has failed in many ways and has become a main route for drugs from South America into Europe. As a result, that society has disintegrated even more; corruption is strong and the military within the country has become a state within a state and is largely financed through the drugs trade. In those countries, we have not only drug habits but much greater corruption.
This issue of displacement-I welcome its emphasis in this report-shows the great difficulty of this policy.
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I would probably disagree with noble Lords so far-I disagree with the report in this regard-about one area, which comes back to practical economics. One cannot decriminalise the consumption of drugs and keep the criminalisation of the supply chain. What happens in that circumstance is that one sits slightly more smugly as a consumer in your population, but you still lay waste to the developing world and the transit countries through which those supply chains operate, because no difference is made to the way the system operates there.
That is why this issue is particularly difficult and there are no easy answers. There are huge political risks -the newspaper issue in the UK has been mentioned by the noble Lord many times-but the system has failed, and now we have an international network of organised crime.
Lord Judd: I am impressed by what the noble Lord is saying, but could he help us by clarifying this issue? If he does not accept that you can decriminalise the taking of drugs while keeping the criminalisation of the trade in drugs, how does he compare that with the situation in which the illicit black market in tobacco is criminalised?
Lord Teverson: You will never completely take away criminalisation, but perhaps the least damaging solution-again, I am not pretending that there are any easy answers regarding the supply chain-is to have pharmaceutical companies becoming distributors of drugs like any other prescription drugs. Will you ever completely decriminalise something where there is high taxation or smuggling? The taxation-hedging that takes place is perhaps more the issue than the question of VAT on drugs like alcohol or tobacco, and is perhaps the area where you have to be more careful.
There is an international network of organised crime involving money-laundering; corruption; human misery, of course; and a very large black economy. More than that, though, we have reduced liquidity within that black market which allows arms trafficking, people trafficking and terrorism. You can regulate markets but you cannot abolish them. I agree very much with the report's conclusions in general but I would very much like to see the EU lead this debate internationally into much more realistic waters for the future. I particularly agree with this part of the Government's response, which reads:
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I join those who welcome the European Union Committee's 26th report of Session 2010-12. It is an excellent document and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the members of the committee on its creation. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and her team on the
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The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is to be applauded for the steering this inquiry through challenging territory and for ensuring that the report says so many useful things. I hope very much that the Minister will feel able to respond positively to the report, with some concrete proposals for action within the UK. It is helpful that the Hannay report proposes that most aspects of drug policy should remain within the competence of member states, rather than at this time attempting a pan-European reform strategy. European states like Portugal, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Spain have shown the way to the rest of the world in developing and evaluating more health-orientated and cost-effective drug policies that seek to avoid criminalising problematic drug users. Individual member states could learn from those countries and take action. This would no doubt be more difficult at the EU level. Having said that, it would be most helpful if the EU would undertake a review of the best drug policies across Europe, with a view to drawing up a scientific document setting out the evidence of what works.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform agrees with the Hannay report that the EU's early warning system on newly developed psychoactive substances within member states and beyond is of considerable importance. In our inquiry into possible regulatory controls over these substances, it has become apparent that speedy access to information about new substances is a vital prerequisite to taking any appropriate action. Our inquiry has highlighted the importance of information for potential users of the new psychoactive substances, and for their parents, teachers and other influential adults, in reducing use. We particularly welcome the support from the Hannay committee for,
Our report, in the autumn, will be considering very carefully the pros and cons of different regulatory systems, as well as their implications for use of these substances among young people. An important issue for all EU countries is whether banning the supply of specified new psychoactive substances should be linked to the banning of use, with all the negative consequences that that entails.
Again, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform warmly welcomes the positive comments of the Hannay report on the Portuguese public-health orientated national drug strategy and the encouragement to member states to study each other's policies and to be more willing to learn from one another. It also welcomes the committee's support for prioritising the evaluation of drug strategies. At this time of austerity,
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Will the Minister agree to an evaluation of the possible decriminalisation of drug use in the UK-which is of course quite different from legalisation-as a possible response to the growing evidence of the cost effectiveness of such policies? The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly raises the issue of the location of responsibility for drug policy within Europe. The report goes further and says that the EU strategy,
These are most valuable observations. The same issues apply to individual member states. Again, it would be most helpful if the UK Government would establish an independent review committee to consider the appropriateness of the Home Office as the lead department for drug policy in this country. There are alternative models within Europe and an evaluation of these would be helpful. Following the reasoning of the Hannay report, it would of course be wise to incorporate this matter within a wider review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Again, I offer our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and his committee.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I speak as a member of Sub-Committee F of the European Union Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I would like to pay tribute to his leadership and chairmanship, which is always outstanding. Indeed, I think that the way in which the report has been welcomed, and the plaudits that it has received, indicate how much appreciation there is for what he has done.
I hope that those who are interested in this subject will not only read the report but will read the evidence that was submitted to the committee. A lot of work went into much of that evidence and it should not just be cast to one side. It contains some very interesting reflections of experience. I, for one-and it is not only in this sphere that I have noticed it-found an interesting difference of perspective between those dealing with the issue at a global policy level and those dealing with it at the front line of people affected by drugs. I think that your Lordships would find it refreshing to read the evidence given by the Reverend Eric Blakebrough, who is at the forefront of working with drug addicts. What he had to say was extremely illuminating.
As has come across in this debate, a review of global drug policy is clearly overdue. As some noble Lords have emphasised, the Global Commission on Drug Policies has said this, too. It is significant, and we would be remiss not to take it seriously, that states such as Guatemala, Colombia and Uruguay, which face many of the consequences of what we are debating, are calling for an urgent debate of this kind. If there is to be a debate, the European Union should certainly take a lead in it.
Our report is an absolute reflection of the consensus that was reached. I attach great significance to those sentences where we talk about the health dimension being at least as important as the enforcement dimension.
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As my noble friend Lord Howarth was sharing his thoughts on decriminalisation, my thoughts immediately turned to the report. There in chapter 1-I hope that the House will forgive me if I quote from it-we deal with exactly that, stating:
"It is instructive to compare illegal narcotic drugs with two psychoactive drugs which are legal and openly commercially available: alcohol and tobacco. Worldwide, one person in three uses alcohol, one in four uses tobacco, whereas fewer than 5% of people declare themselves as using drugs at least once a year, and fewer than 1% use drugs on a continuing basis. Tobacco kills five million people a year, alcohol 2.5 million people a year, and drugs about 500,000 a year. These are figures that need to be borne in mind when considering why some potentially harmful addictive substances are licit and some illicit. Prescribed drugs, whether or not mixed with narcotic drugs, also lead to acute cases of addiction and withdrawal, but they too are outside the scope of our inquiry and are not examined in this report".
Perhaps I may say on a purely personal note that, after undergoing an operation for which I had to take painkillers afterwards, I had a hell of a job coming off one of the painkillers that was prescribed. My GP told me, "You do realise you are taking an addictive drug and you are going to have a tough job throwing it". The interfaces in this area are very important to face.
A further issue is how we toughen up our approach to money-laundering. We have to take very seriously what has become clear in a big case in the United States at the moment. One of the difficulties in facing up to this is that it is sometimes very difficult to establish where the dividing line is exactly, if there is such an absolute dividing line, between illegal and legal business activity. This greatly complicates the tasks of the enforcement agencies.
I referred to the urgent need for a review. It is fair to say that, after 50 years of the current enforcement-led international drugs control system, the so-called war on drugs is coming under unparalleled scrutiny. The goal was, of course, to create a drug-free world. Instead, despite more than $1 trillion, according to the UNODC, having been spent fighting the war, illegal drugs are used by an estimated 270 million people and organised crime profits from a trade with an estimated turnover of $330 billion a year-the world's largest illegal commodity market. The UNODC has acknowledged that choosing an enforcement-based approach was having a range of negative unintended consequences, including the creation of a vast criminal market, displacement of the illegal drug trade to new areas, diversion of funding from health and the stigmatisation of users. The noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Teverson, dealt with that point. What concerned us in our deliberations in Sub-Committee F was not only this displacement and the drawing of third countries into the whole affair but the human rights dimensions. Sometimes, what was being done by the enforcement
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I shall conclude my brief intervention by saying that I have been impressed, in the context of the urgent need for a review, by a recent report produced by Count the Costs, which is a coalition of NGOs working in this area. It is a very interesting coalition that has produced an alternative report. The headings in that report include:
"Wasting billions and undermining economies ... Undermining development and security, and fuelling conflict ... Threatening public health, spreading disease and causing death ... Undermining human rights ... Promoting stigma and discrimination ... Creating crime and enriching criminals ... Causing deforestation and pollution".
The report also examines other options for controlling drugs, including health-led approaches-hence the significance of Portugal-and legal state regulation and control. It ends with a call to UN member states to count the cost of the war on drugs and properly explore all the alternatives that might deliver better outcomes. In the report, we hear the voice of people very often giving their lives to work in the front line of the consequences of this very serious issue. In our deliberations, we should take seriously what they are saying.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I recall in my early days in this House the noble Lord, Lord Judd, telling me that just because I was sitting on the Bench for the first of a trio of debates, I did not have to speak in all three of them. I admire his stamina.
This is indeed a useful and realistic piece of work-to repeat just two of the plaudits that have been given. EU or UK? As the chairman of the committee said, it is subsidiarity in action: it is not either/or. The two are complementary, just as it is not a matter of the Home Office or the Department of Health-though, of course, if one is in the lead it affects both perceptions and actions. This involves health, law enforcement, education and, if you are Dutch, tourism. When I looked for information about the new restriction on cannabis in Holland-the ban on foreigners visiting cannabis cafes-I did not expect to see quite so much about the tourist industry. It is too soon to see the impact on the use of other drugs there, including alcohol, but I hope that the UK is keeping an eye on that.
The Dutch have not criminalised-or, perhaps, recriminalized-cannabis, but I agree with the conclusion of the report that the debate would benefit from a clearer understanding of what it would mean if we decriminalised certain drugs. It seems to me that different people mean different things by this. I also agree with the report that member states should be more willing to learn from one another.
The combination of the EU and drugs seems a particularly easy target for the-how can I put it?-less thoughtful media. Some months ago I attended a seminar that attempted to promote a sensible, measured debate on drugs. The politicians there blamed the media. I have to say that the media blamed the politicians
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Like other noble Lords, I was pleased to see the importance the committee placed on human rights. When the EU provides assistance to other countries in anti-trafficking measures, it must make clear that resources must be used in a way compatible with human rights, and programmes must be monitored to ensure that they do not bring about human rights violations, in particular the application of the death penalty.
The issue of displacement-or, perhaps, replacement -is very much to the fore of the inquiry into new psychoactive substances by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drugs Policy Reform, which has already been mentioned. It is chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, from whom, I have to say, I am learning an enormous amount. The ingenuity of manufacturers is staggering: for instance, using research undertaken years ago to make substances that were not then developed. In an age when science and manufacturing are so well developed there will always be another new substance available to take the place of the one made illegal. We talk about the rate at which new substances come on to the market; the issue seems to be more about replacement, as one is banned and another takes its place, than variety. Suppliers, of course, are responding to demand. With modern communications and information, it does not seem to take very much effort to access the new drug.
I hope that there will be an opportunity at some point to discuss new psychoactive substances when the group has finished its work. Like my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, I am a novice in this area, but the inquiry is making me think hard about the need to unpackage drugs: there are so many different substances within that heading. We need to understand markets and fashions: different legal highs, it seems, are the highs of choice in different parts of the country.
We need to understand the impact of a ban; it seems that the use of mephedrone may have increased since it was banned. We need to understand the harms of criminalising young people. We need to understand the psychology of recreational drug use; it seems that people grow out of it very largely as they grow into their mid-20s and their lives change. We need to put all this in the context of how society deals with alcohol and much more.
It is also making me think about what we mean by drugs education. Frankly-no pun is intended here; the point does not come from the Frank website, although I have looked at it-I wonder whether "education" is even the right term. It might say more about me than about its content, but it seems to have unhelpful tones of authoritarianism. What does it take to persuade a young person-because they all think that they are immortal-that it is dangerous to take a white powder or tablet the ingredients of which are unknown or unregulated?
I mentioned this work to a friend who told me that some years ago her daughter told her that she had taken an ecstasy tablet at a club. Her mother's reaction was to say, "Whenever you come food shopping with me, you scrutinise every label for the e-numbers and other contents that you disapprove of. How could you possibly take a tablet when you have no idea what is in it?". I believe that she has not taken any drugs since.
Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his instructive contribution and leadership. I welcome this report on the EU drugs strategy. It is a comprehensive effort and will afford us an opportunity for further debate on the points relevant to the UK. The report enhances our current knowledge and enlivens us to the common challenges we all face. Mostly, it reinforces the need for co-operation within and between countries in order for us to deal with matters of trafficking, supply and money laundering as stated in Chapter 4, as well as sharing examples of good practice in Europe.
With your Lordships' indulgence, I will concentrate on the situation closer to home in the UK, more specifically the experiences of those on the front line in Tower Hamlets. As the committee is aware, according to the NTA there about 306,000 heroin and crack users in England. We have high numbers who receive drugs treatment in the community or in prison, suggesting a considerable impact on addiction. Although the UK is leading internationally on drug treatment, findings indicate that drug-related deaths are higher in England than in most other European countries. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the NTA under the leadership of my noble friend Lady Massey, and bow to her and others' experience, and that of those who have contributed to today's debate.
Nationally, in the UK, a number of well respected voluntary organisations are providing a variety of programmes, although there is clearly a need for greater co-operation between voluntary and statutory agencies to minimise the risk of services and care provided being patchy or inconsistent. I declare an interest as I was privileged to have led the "Breaking the Cycle" three-year pilot project initiated by Addaction in partnership with the Zurich Community Trust. It provided 400 families with a holistic response where families from Derby, Tower Hamlets and Cumbria were supported. This service was based on the principle that most individuals want to change if support is available to them. It targeted the needs of the whole family, providing a range of motivational and individual interventions. These included counselling, family mediation and therapies, with regular monitoring and home visits, working in collaboration with partner agencies including schools and others. So successful was the outcome for significant numbers of the families, that this model has since been implemented across many parts of the UK by Addaction.
The work was begun in Tower Hamlets more than three decades ago by a handful of brave individuals when most of us felt that this was a taboo subject-while, in some quarters it remains prohibitive, as more families face the anguish, frustration, stigma, pain and isolation which characterises the experience of many families
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The total number of people accessing structured drugs treatment in Tower Hamlets at the end of March 2012 was 1,853 and 545 were Bangladeshis. There are growing concerns among the community about the use of cannabis by the under 20s, as has already been alluded to; and a rise in alcohol and drugs use among girls, who are sometimes coerced into prostitution to support their habit. Organisations such as NAFAS, which has built up 20 years of expertise, say that there is a need for further research as well as specialist provision to work with families where stigma is still a deterring factor in seeking initial services. A website called londonstreetgangs describes Tower Hamlets as a "heroin capital", though that is not my personal experience. A film made by Rageh Omar, of Al-Jazeera, refers to £300 million of deals being done in a few days. This was a staggering sum. The total funding for both drugs and alcohol treatment and drugs intervention projects in Tower Hamlets is a mere £8.7 million. It is a frightening reality and the value of the fight we have on our hands.
The cost of family grief, suffering and loss is beyond words. Every parent whom I have spoken to has shared their fear, hopelessness, helplessness, trauma as well as shame. While there are no apparent London-wide targets to tackle drugs dealing on our streets, Tower Hamlets Council has led a local campaign, responding to the community's demands, called "Dealer a Day". The programme successfully involved the community and last year secured 400 arrests for drugs supply offences. Despite the efforts made by these and other organisations, significant gaps remain in services, which need further consideration by your Lordships' House. Frequently those seeking help have hidden their addiction from their families for years before seeking services, as is also known with survivors of domestic violence and child abuse. There is little or no sympathy for addicts seeking help, because drugs addiction is seen as a lifestyle choice.
There is clearly an enormous amount of progress and information available, but there is still a long way to go in creating awareness of addiction and identifying potential drugs use, particularly among family members. Many families that I have spoken to will testify that this is their initial barrier. Work by Addaction also suggests that addicts cannot just be treated medically, but require a holistic intervention involving a range of therapies, support, counselling, housing, and family involvement. Funding should and must be targeted to working with families of addicts to educate them, although I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about education. However, it gives families the necessary tools to cope. During the work with Addaction, it became evident that many involved in this field are the least skilled professionals. Therefore professional training needs to be strengthened to equip those who deal with the most vulnerable in our society. They also need to be enabled to work in a multifaceted and multidisciplinary way, which is now required by social workers and police officers when dealing with crimes of domestic violence and child protection cases.
The role of GPs is also critical. They are in an ideal position to promote and embrace a holistic approach, including controlling and limiting substitution drugs, to which many become further dependant, as has been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others. There ought to be consistency in practices, so that someone living in Rochdale can access similar standards of care as those available to people living in Redbridge. I understand that this is not the case. For example, some authorities in the south-west operate a system of "dry house", which promotes total abstinence and independent recovery. This support system means a higher rate of recovery. It seems logical that this should be considered by other local authorities, if necessary by pooling resources, yet this is not the case in many parts of London. Why the success rate of programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART recovery is higher than that of standard treatments should also be looked into.
I could go on listing the countless great services that have done amazing work over a long period and others that sell families short and leave them crumbling. I speak from personal experience of watching a family member with a severe dependency on drugs. I witnessed drug-induced psychosis, the cycle of recovery and relapse, hospital admissions and that family member being systematically and repeatedly failed by institutions as their choice of drug was simply replaced by an ongoing high dosage of anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs. These surely create another, equally dangerous addiction, to which several noble Lords have alluded.
Drugs are the fifth column in many communities. At a time of austerity, this may be the last priority for funding. Given that resources are shrinking, we need a more co-ordinated response to the devastating impact on families and society in general. Currently, very few structured daycare programmes address challenging addictive behaviour. Some have referred to structured daycare programmes as being almost like babysitting. I apologise; I do not intend to offend any particular organisations or methods of work.
that addicts pose as criminals and to ensure that they are not simply put on methadone programmes for years at a time, which leaves them written off on the sidelines of society. The harm to individuals, families, communities and society at large is all-encompassing. The examination of drugs cannot be conducted dispassionately, as is suggested by the report. Collective responsibility to tackle this issue is a must so that generations of families are not destroyed in the process, leaving society to pick up the burden of our failures. Mitch Winehouse recently said that he needed help to speak about the death of his daughter. This is borne out by parents to whom I have spoken. I can say only that I am glad that he has done so and agree entirely with his assertion that a grass-roots response is required.
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Drugs have permeated our young and their social culture. The graveyards of our country claim many of the talented and those children whose names we will never come to know. Surely it is time that we looked at the suggestions detailed in the report, which refers to the Swedish experience in paragraph 30. Here, I note that I am perhaps alone in this; none the less, I shall pursue the point. The report says that Sweden has long been viewed as operating a relatively tough national drug policy. The approach is one of zero tolerance, in an effort to achieve the national aim of a drug-free society. While I acknowledge that there is no consensus on this, I ask the Minister how he views the suggestions of zero tolerance and abstinence-based programmes. Also, will he undertake further work to establish greater understanding of the plight and drug habits of girls and young women in inner-city areas?
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I also speak as a member of the sub-committee of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Can I start by thanking him for his chairmanship and for securing this very important and interesting debate?
Some 12 years ago I made a speech early in my membership of this House. It was on cannabis. I felt in a lonely position. I fear tonight that I might repeat the experience. My short speech will be informed by a 35-year career in policing, part of which was in the drugs squad of Durham Constabulary-which was then and I might add remains one of the finest police forces in the country.
Illegal drugs are a scourge in modern society. I think that we all agree on that. I have seen at first hand the misery, psychological damage and, yes, death, caused to young, old, rich and poor by improper drug use. Only last week we read in the press of two tragic but different cases. One was that of a psychologically damaged 26 year-old woman, Hannah Bonser, allegedly addicted to cannabis, who for no apparent reason attacked and stabbed Casey Kearney, a 13 year-old stranger. It was for no other reason, it appeared, than that she was being told in her head to do it. This case illustrates the damage that newer, more powerful cannabis can inflict on the mind and should be compulsory reading for those who would relax controls on this mind-altering substance. Bonser was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The other case is totally different. It is of two people of mind-boggling wealth, Hans and Eva Rausing, living in a wealthy part of London in a £50 million house. They lived in squalor to indulge their addiction to hard drugs and it resulted in the death of Eva, who was only in her late 40s.
I mention these two cases to illustrate that the drug problem affects all classes, professions and ages. If allowed to flourish it can eat away at the very fabric of a normal, healthy society. As responsible parliamentarians in a nation state or in a European union of states, we have a duty to get right our strategy for dealing with
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In this short debate I would like to discuss two areas and base my comments on many years' experience of dealing not just with drugs but criminal activity generally. The main thrust of illegal drug control should be the task of individual states, each with different problems and cultures. Subsidiarity in this area is the correct approach. How can the European Union assist? Clearly, the fight against drug trafficking goes wider than state boundaries. The various countries of the EU should work together, pooling resources and experience in the fight to prevent the movement of illegal drugs within and outside the Union.
One of the key weapons in the fight against drug trafficking is good intelligence. It is essential. Rather like prostitution and pornography, drug crime is often described as victimless. You rarely have a complainant reporting the matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, mentioned, the victim does not always come forward. There are victims, of course: the child in the pornographic film, the trafficked girl now working as a prostitute, the drug addict and his family, and the society that has to fund his treatment. They are all victims. Good intelligence is critical.
The difficulty is getting police officers, police forces and countries to share that intelligence. Before computerised databases we kept information on cards. The problem was getting detectives to put the information on the cards. Officers had a tendency to keep the information to themselves. When they were on leave or away sick, that valuable information was lost. Now that we have computerisation there is no excuse for that.
We saw from the inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, into the Soham murders in Cambridgeshire, that one of the main problems for the police was a lack of sharing intelligence. For that reason, one of the most important recommendations in our report before noble Lords today is paragraph 72. It states:
Trafficking of course is the supply side of the problem. What about reducing demand? The criminal law has a part to play, as has education. Treatment, of course, is also essential, but it is a little late to go down that road when we should be trying to stop it happening in the first place. In our inquiry, the evidence from the Home Office was interesting in that our UK policies seem to be working. We were told by the drugs director that,
It made me smile when I put to witnesses who had perhaps a more liberal view than I that we must be doing something right in Britain. I got the response that we should treat the data with caution. Yet these are the very data used by that same lobby when drug offences were increasing. Of course, it then criticised the use of criminal sanctions. It is a classic case of shooting the messenger and using statistics rather like a drunk uses a lamp-post-more for support than illumination.
In conclusion, we need to change the culture of society. It is not impossible; we have done it before. We did it with drink-driving. Those who were convicted were punished and ostracised, and we increased the detection methods with roadside breath testing. I am very pleased that we are going to do the same with drug- driving, which is the cause of a relatively unknown number of deaths in this country. We also did it with smoking. We made it illegal to smoke in pubs and restaurants, and, I am pleased to say, in your Lordships' House.
Most people do not like to be seen infringing the law and, over time, the culture of society changes. Peer pressure starts to have an effect, and this is living proof that there is a place for criminal sanctions, which can change society for the better. The European Union can assist in that endeavour. I commend the report to the House.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, this is another admirable report from our European Union Select Committee. I would like to praise the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his very forceful introduction, with which I think from this side of the House we wholly agree. I also thank the Home Office for a very detailed response to the committee's report. We do not always get that but this was an example of a department doing its job properly.
Most noble Lords in this debate have focused on drugs policy generally. We have had a lot of excellent expert contributions. As someone who is not an expert in this field, I have learnt an awful lot. This is the sort of debate that the House of Lords should have where, I hope, we can contribute to more intelligent public debate on these issues. In my brief remarks, I shall focus on the role of the European Union in drugs policy and the Government's view of what that role should be. It strikes me that this is an entirely proper question to ask when, last week, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, William Hague, launched a review of the balance of competences between Britain and the European Union.
I suppose that there is general agreement that one good thing about the EU is that it is a laboratory for policy experiment. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that there are major cultural differences between the member states, there are also a lot of socio-economic similarities. We are all post-industrial societies. Europe is quite unlike the United States, in that trends towards social liberalism, secularism and individualism are very much the social trend in Europe. Some of the problems that lead to drug use are very common across our societies, such as the polarisation of skills that lead to a lack of prospects for young people, which is where some of the most tragic instances of drug use arise.
There is a role for comparing national policies and practices as a contribution to evidence-based policy, but in order to do this properly the role of an agency, such as the highly praised EMCDDA, is very important. Therefore, the first question I ask the Minister is to seek an assurance that the Government will continue to support the work of this agency and that Britain backs its continued existence, and will support it in future budget negotiations.
More than that, there is an EU competence in this area. One would hope that the Government would endorse that. A lot of people think of Europe as simply a free trade area or a common market, but of course one of the features of a common market with its free movement is that a lot of things cross borders that we do not necessarily like. Drugs are the classic example. It is a very proper issue for a union that is about promoting free movement also to be about trying to deal with some of the adverse consequences of free movement, of which drugs, cross-border criminality and drug trafficking are good examples.
Most of the member states of the EU have accepted that logic. It is a logic that is not driven by some mystical dream of a federalist project, but by the facts of life, and the need for co-operation to tackle these problems. During my time as an adviser in Government, I always thought of the Home Office as one of the most sovereigntist of the Government departments in terms of clinging on to national sovereignty. It is interesting that its response to the report shows an acceptance of the need for an EU role which is welcome.
The justice and home affairs agenda has grown enormously. In 1992 it was simply a question of intergovernmental co-operation and a separate pillar. All member states agreed at the time of the Lisbon treaty that it should be properly brought into the community system of decision-making. Do the Government agree that there is a proper role for the EU in drugs policy? Will that be one of the outcomes of the review of its competences? When we are thinking about the balance of competences, it is not a question of whether they are for the nation state or for Europe. In most cases, as in this case, the primary responsibility will rest with the nation state, but there is a useful and important European Union supporting role. I should therefore like the Minister to confirm that he agrees that the European Union adds value in this area, and that this is not an area where the Government would seek to repatriate powers, if indeed they are seeking to repatriate powers at all. The question is not one of competence but of whether powers are exercised in conformity with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
Will the Government, in response, endorse their support for institutions such as Europol? Will they agree that there is a possible role for minimum legislative standards? I see that the Home Office response offers a pragmatic judgment on that, which is that it depends on whether or not they work. Will the Government support that view? What is the Government's position on measures to deal with the proceeds of drug trafficking and to deal more firmly with money laundering?
Today is possibly an important day in the history of Britain's troubled relationships with the European Union because, when we woke up this morning to read our
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Do the Government agree that the EU's role in helping to tackle cross-border crime and drug trafficking is one of those modern cases for the European Union in the 21st century that this Government wholly endorse?
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, like all other speakers in this debate, I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on producing this report and on the work of all the members of the committee. If I may single out just one at this stage, it would be the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, particularly for his remarks on the proper use of statistics, for which I was very grateful. If you accept the statistics when they go one way and then denigrate them when they are going the other, it is not a proper way to behave. My estimation of the noble Lord, which was always high, has gone considerably higher as a result of those remarks.
As always on occasions such as this, I ought to start with an apology. Yet again, as with earlier remarks I made in evidence to the noble Lord's committee, I confess that we cannot answer what I will call the Warsaw Convention question. I still hope that we will be able to produce something within the next 12 months, but I have to repeat that it requires quite a lot of legal and policy analysis. We are confident that we are compliant with the convention. In fact, in some areas we go further. We will comply when we can, but more work needs to be done on that in due course.
I singled out the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, but I should say that the speakers' list has attracted a great many experts, and we are grateful for the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, with her experience as chairman of the NTA, could come forward. Other noble Lords who have taken part in all-party groups and served on committees have brought their thoughts to this debate.
Bearing in mind the hour and the fact that there is another debate to come, noble Lords would not want me to repeat the entire response of the Government to the report because, as they will know-I have a copy of the letter I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with the Government's response-it goes on for some pages. Some of the questions, particularly those put by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, are answered in that response. They are there on the record and deal with the points he made.
I believe, as always, that the report was particularly timely because it has the potential to be influential in relation to the drafting of the new EU drugs strategy, which is taking place under the Cypriot presidency that ends in December this year. I welcome the contribution that it will make to those discussions, and I can give an assurance to my noble friend Lord Avebury that officials have already discussed the United Kingdom priorities for the strategy bilaterally, with the Cypriot national drugs coordinator, and jointly with other member states at the horizontal drugs
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As is obvious from the Government's response, we agree in large measure with the committee's analysis and findings. Looking forward, there are a number of key areas that we would like to see the new EU drugs strategy address. We are keen to ensure that the next iteration of the EU drugs strategy maintains its balanced approach, encompassing public health approaches and enforcement measures, working together to reduce demand and restrict supply. It is important that there is a clear and consistent approach to prevent drug use and minimise drug misuse, and that there is a strong focus on moving individuals with a dependency into sustainable recovery. It is important for the new strategy to highlight the importance of reducing health harms-as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, I think-while supporting people to recover, such as preventing the transmission of blood-borne viruses and other infections, if the prospects for recovery by drug users are to be maximised.
The new strategy needs to describe how pan-European work will support and dovetail with activities which are best taken forward by member states, or their localities. Drugs policy-as I think everyone agrees-should, and does, remain mainly the competence of member states. National strategies should continue to have primacy on approaches to domestic drugs issues. The EU drugs strategy should seek to complement the delivery of national strategies, particularly through focusing on enhancing co-operation rather than on developing legislation. Similarly, it should produce a framework within which statutory agencies and civil society can work together.
Like the committee, the Government believe that the EU drugs strategy can add real value in tackling drug trafficking. We believe that in order to tackle the supply side effectively, we need to employ both traditional and innovative tools. By intelligence sharing-this brings us on to Europol; I refer the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, to our response-by raising policing and law-enforcement standards, and by promoting best practice among external partners, we will help to destroy the criminal networks that target Europe and its member states.
The strategy should also continue to build on lessons learnt to date across the EU from our joint approaches on the new psychoactive substances mentioned by a number of noble Lords. We should use the objectives and commitments in the UN resolution, led by the UK, with Australia and Japan, on promoting international co-operation in responding to the challenges posed by new psychoactive substances, as a useful starting point. I should say that we have made considerable progress in this country by speeding up the legislative machinery that allows us to deal with these so-called legal highs in that we can now refer them to the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs for a rapid response. We can
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Lord Howarth of Newport: I am very grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. In the Government's response to the committee's report and in the report itself, a favourable view is taken of analogue legislation whereby the Government would take powers to ban new psychoactive substances that they consider to be analogous to substances that are already banned. Perhaps I may counsel some caution before the Government go down this road. The American experience seems to show that analogue legislation provides a field day for lawyers who spend a great deal of time and money arguing over whether the precise molecular composition of a new substance is analogous to the already banned substance, and of course it would be a wholesale extension of prohibition, with all the difficulties involved.
Lord Henley: We will certainly look at the American experience. We are aware that there are a great many more lawyers in America than there are in this country, and that the Americans are keen on making use of lawyers. However, obviously we would want to learn from their experience. While I am on the subject of the ACMD, I should also say to my noble friend Lord Avebury, who asked about khat, that the advisory committee is currently reviewing the harms associated with it. We will not prejudge that advice, but we will look at it in due course.
Lord Avebury: I am most grateful to my noble friend. I also mentioned, in the context of the examination of khat, the possibility of applying regulation. The committee looked at regulation although it did not express a firm opinion on it. However, it is another way of tackling harmful drugs, and it may particularly apply to the use of khat. I would be grateful, given that the advisory committee is looking at khat, if it would also examine the possibility of using regulation to control it.
Lord Henley: I think that that must be a matter for the advisory committee to decide. I want to make it clear that we will not prejudge its advice. We will look at it when it comes and then make an appropriate decision. I understand that that is likely to be later this year.
I want to try to make progress because the House wishes to get on to the next debate. One of our key priorities for the next iteration of the drug strategy is to ensure that we agree a principle of transparency that would allow greater oversight of the available EU funding streams and the actions they are driving. It is vital that we ensure that EU funding for counternarcotics
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The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Liddle, and others mentioned the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon, which is rather inelegantly known as the EMCDDA. I will refer to it as the European monitoring centre. I was asked what our view is of this body. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about its valuable work. We accept that it should continue and that we should make increased use of it where possible, and similarly of its early-warning system through the use of intelligence gathering and forensic analysis via Europol and Interpol. This will also help with our collective understanding of the current EU drugs market.
There were those who took the debate further and asked that we look at alternative approaches. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that he was somewhat constrained because he was worried that the Daily Mail might be listening. I looked up at the Gallery and I do not think that anyone from that paper was there at that stage. We fully respect the fact that different ideas and policies will be put forward in the ongoing debate. We believe that policies should be discussed, challenged and reviewed. That is what we are doing in the United Kingdom through our annual review of the drugs strategy that we produced back in 2010, and the development of our evaluation framework. We continue to discuss efforts to tackle the drugs trade with our international partners.
Similarly, within this country, the noble Lord mentioned a conference that my right honourable friend Oliver Letwin will be addressing in November on these matters. My right honourable friend, as a Minister in the Cabinet Office, is also part of the inter-ministerial group on drugs that I chair on behalf of the Home Office. There were those who said that it should not be the Home Office that led on this subject and that this matter should be transferred to the Department of Health. However, we in government think it should cover all the Government but be led by the Home Office. The inter-ministerial group that I chair also has representatives from Health, Education, the Cabinet Office, Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice, Communities and Local Government and, last-one should never say least-Her Majesty's Treasury. Meetings of the inter-ministerial group are roughly once a month and all those Ministers regularly attend. I think that it is a very fine example of the Government being non-siloised-if I can put it in those terms-and thinking across the board in these matters.
I will say a word or two about Portugal and decriminalisation. Again, we will continue to look at what happens in all countries and we are determined to study the effects of the work they have done in Portugal. There is an excellent policy review by the EMCDDA of what Portugal is doing, which I commend to noble Lords. We will look at what it does and make our decisions in due course. Lastly on the subject of decriminalisation, I do not think that this is the time
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As noble Lords will be aware, government officials are closely involved in the development of the new EU drugs strategy. It is currently on course to be adopted at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in December. I can assure the noble Lord and his committee that officials from the Home Office will keep the committee informed of progress with the new document as appropriate.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response to the debate, which was helpful in many respects. I can assure him that I was not the slightest bit worried that the Daily Mail might be up in the Gallery; I was merely worried that its recording of anything I said might not be all that accurate. If that paper is not there, the problem will not arise.
The one point I still regret a bit is the Warsaw convention. At the risk of banging on about this, I point out that it is not that we believe that the British Government's money-laundering arrangements are not consistent with the Warsaw convention-I accept what the noble Lord says, that they almost certainly are-it is the example that we set by not signing and ratifying an international convention that deals with a matter of great importance to us, and where we want to encourage others to see that we take it seriously and to take it equally seriously themselves. That is the basis on which I continue to urge him to find the one or two man hours necessary to achieve this, particularly in the light of the not very pleasant story about HSBC. I do not want to go into that as it is not proper to do so here, but one can see that we would not want the impression that we are a bit sloppy about these things to get around. I am sure that he does not want that, and neither do I.
I shall not reply to the debate. I thank all noble Lords who have participated; it has been extremely gratifying that so many people participated from outside the narrow limits of the EU Select Committee and the sub-committee that I chair. It was not, as these debates, alas, quite often are, simply the usual suspects, and for that I am extremely grateful. We had a debate that can best be summarised in the single word "thoughtful", and that is as it should be. It was a thoughtful debate with a lot of different views being expressed, and I hope that it will help the Government among others in their formulation of policy.
I conclude with a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in her contribution; she has a lot of expertise and of course a specific role in this matter. I think that I understood her to say that she was not quite sure that there was that much difference between what we did here and what the Portuguese now did
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Baroness Northover: My Lords, the previous item of business took longer than was originally anticipated, and we have now reached our usual rising time for Thursday. The Question for Short Debate from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is time-limited to one hour and a half, with Back-Bench contributions of seven minutes each. If Back-Bench Members were to restrict their contributions to four minutes, we would rise in one hour. There is of course no obligation to do so, though I remind noble Lords who decide to take seven minutes that when the clock hits seven, they have already had seven minutes.
Lord Bach: My Lords, it is an honour to be opening this debate today. I am delighted that, after not a little difficulty and with the gratefully received help of the government Chief Whip, we have managed to secure this debate before the long Recess. I only hope that all the other noble Lords who are to speak in this debate agree with that. I am delighted at the quality of the speakers who have been good enough to stay late on a Thursday evening to speak in this debate, particularly the Minister, to whom I am grateful for answering this Question.
I declare my interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Council, a position that I am delighted to hold, not just because in my view the British Council is one of our country's greatest institutions, a jewel in our crown, but also because many years ago I grew up as a British Council child. My father, having left the Army at the end of the war, joined up and had a distinguished and happy career with the council both at home and abroad, working with such council legends as Dame Nancy Parkinson and Sir Paul Sinker. Abroad he served in Madras, now Chennai, and Tehran, and at home in Glasgow, Oxford and, as a senior officer, in the famous Home Division.
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It is not as though life has ever been easy for the British Council. Anyone who has read about the long, drawn out beginning of the council itself, way back in 1934, will know that, if it had not been for the persistence and will power shown by some, particularly Sir Reginald Leeper and Lord Lloyd, the council might never have come into existence. The French and the Germans in particular had years of experience of cultural diplomacy, stretching back to the second half of the 19th century. Now, nearly 80 years after the British Council's foundation, I believe that those great countries sometimes envy its success and influence in performing its soft power role of cultural diplomacy.
Having survived the enmity over many years of Lord Beaverbrook and other powerful forces, the constant internal departmental battles within Whitehall and innumerable reviews and reports, some of them recommending summary execution, the British Council has emerged alive and flourishing as it nears its 80th anniversary. Of course, other obstacles have emerged, some of them serious, but the British Council has learnt to adapt. It was born in an age of empire and has successfully moved into an age of proudly independent countries, many in the Commonwealth, many outside. For example, it has learnt to engage well with the development agenda, which it does to great effect. By way of brief example, the programme run for DfID to strengthen civil society in Burma-a crucial programme -was evaluated as "outstanding", and the British Council has won a £12.8 million contract to deliver the second phase of that project.
However, the British Council remains true to its core purposes: the English language, education and the arts. The main obstacle, as I rather feebly described it, is the question of money, or rather, the lack of it.
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The settlement was indeed severe, and it is much to the credit of both the chief executive, Martin Davidson, and-if I may say so without unduly embarrassing him-the previous chairman of the British Council, my noble friend Lord Kinnock, that difficult economic times were anticipated, and a decision made to expand greatly the amount of what is described as earned income in relation to grant in aid.
This has been done successfully so that, by 2015, only one pound in five that the council receives will be from grant in aid. We should commend this achievement but, at the same time, it is vital to sound a warning voice. The British Council is a public body; it belongs to all of us; it represents our country very successfully around the world. In my view, therefore, the present chairman, Sir Vernon Ellis, is surely right when he says in his introduction to the annual report for 2011-12, published earlier this week, that,
I hope that the message will come loud and clear from this debate that enough is enough. All Governments -and this Government, I am afraid, in particular-are guilty of not always seeing the treasures before their very eyes. There is an official blindness to what is palpably obvious to everyone else. There are some services and institutions that make Britain a more civilised and more respected country. A failure to support those services and institutions sufficiently by government demeans us both in our own eyes and in those of the world beyond. This Government have had to face issues of this kind a number of times. On one, the forests of this country, they backed away; on another, to which I am almost embarrassed to draw reference, legal aid, they did not and they took it on. That is an excellent example of how short-sighted Governments can be. I urge the Minister and the Government not to make the same mistake that they made in abolishing legal aid for social welfare law, in a very different context.
The British Council is a great institution and, as I have said, a jewel in our crown. It is incumbent on any Government, and this one at the present time, to protect it, to cherish it and to ensure that it continues to serve our country well.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, not only for introducing this debate so comprehensively but for his work as chair of British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group,
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Apart from its job in educating Members of Parliament, the work of the British Council in the area of education exchanges at university and other levels, in the dissemination of British arts and culture and in the teaching of English is an invaluable asset to this country. It increases knowledge and know-how, and helps to develop trade and investment links and opportunities. Certainly, whenever I travel abroad with parliamentary delegations, it is good to know that we can visit not just the British embassy but the offices of the British Council to get its particular slant on the country that we are visiting.
The Cultural Olympiad and the World Shakespeare Festival are also vehicles for important British Council input. Most recently, the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi underlined the part that the British Council can play in a country such as Burma, which is emerging from the shadows. I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in what he said about future funding and, while recognising the need to find savings and efficiencies in all areas of government policy, I hope that the future activities and expansion of the British Council will not be unnecessarily curtailed.
In an earlier debate this afternoon on the role and performance of the UK Border Agency, I was able to refer to the British Council and its campaign to improve and make more flexible the visa application system for overseas students coming to this country. I cited Mexico as a prime example, since every year more than 3,000 students come to our prestigious UK universities. They are paid for by the Mexican Government and, in some cases, by their own families, who are then faced with all the hurdles and costs of the visa application procedure. It is not exactly a welcoming way for these young people to start the education experience, and they are likely to be the future movers and shakers in their own country once they have finished their studies here.
I take advantage of this debate to raise a pet theme of mine, about the welcome and hospitality that is extended to overseas students coming to this country, because the British Council has a special role in this respect. In the old days, the British Council had houses throughout the United Kingdom, usually in university cities, that provided centres for overseas students to gather and meet local British people interested in things international. I remember going along to some of these occasions as a child with my mother, brother and sister, and forming lasting friendships with students from all over the world. Nowadays, a lot of overseas students, particularly at postgraduate level, find themselves surrounded by other international students and with very little opportunity to meet British people, learn about the British way of life and practise their English with people who speak it as their mother tongue.
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There are ways in which this issue could be tackled with the British Council in a co-ordinating and leading role. There are organisations, such as the English-Speaking Union and Rotary International to name but two, that have a network of branches and clubs throughout the country and already take an interest in educational exchanges and in giving hospitality and a welcome to overseas visitors. I believe that something useful and beneficial could be done with these organisations and, indeed, the universities themselves. The British Council could have the pivotal role of co-ordinating something, which hopefully would not tax future budgets too heavily. I look forward to my noble friend's reply.
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, in warmly thanking my noble friend Lord Bach for securing this timely but unfortunately short debate. I thank him too for his very kind remarks.
As a former chairman, I say with pride that the British Council has brilliantly undertaken its public diplomacy mission of international cultural and educational relations for 78 years. It continues to do so with unmatched innovation and skill in an age in which change in the world has greater breadth, depth, penetration and velocity than ever before. The chief executive, Martin Davidson, and the people who work for the council would never, of course, claim perfection. But I have to say that, if there was ever a league table of international public diplomacy institutions, the council would, as the late Mr Brian Clough might put it, be "among the top one". The history proves that, but I have time only to refer to recent years.
By 2004, when I succeeded my noble friend Lady Kennedy in the chair, British Council turnover was £482 million, grant in aid was 36%, 4,800 overseas staff and 1,800 teachers were active in 110 countries, and the audience reach was 35 million people. In 2008, as my noble friend indicated, after several years in which the council had consistently met the Gershon efficiency target of 3% per annum, we designed and began to implement a strategic change programme for maintaining excellence in tumultuously changing global conditions. Our aim, among other things, was to double turnover, reduce grant in aid as a proportion of that rising income to 20%, significantly extend face-to-face contact with users of council provision and hugely expand audience reach, all, of course, without losing quality or compromising values. That "scale of ambition" programme is working. This year, turnover is £740 million, the world audience, through IT and the massive diversity of educational and cultural activities, is over 500 million people and about 12.5 million people have direct physical contact with the council. By 2015, the British Council will have a turnover of about £1 billion with commensurate increases in reach and contact.
The advance has been made possible by winning international competitive contracts, making partnerships with global giants such as HSBC, Microsoft and the
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That could have been a £50 million hammer blow to the work of the council had it not been for the changes already under way. As it was, the council and its people did not engage in public protest; they simply got on with their task. I emphasise heavily to the Minister, however, that their creditable ability to sustain success in spite of sudden and profound losses does not signify an infinite capacity to withstand further grievous bodily harm. The grim reality is that any more cuts would be seriously disabling. Because such funding is spent in areas and on activities which have no foreseeable prospect of generating revenues, the vital breadth of the council would be severely curtailed. That would gravely injure the council's ability to serve Britain by attracting positive perceptions and, crucially, earning trust. In a world in which communication has never been easier but understanding has never been more fragile, that would directly contradict our country's strategic need to foster security and stability.
To underline that: a weakened British Council would not have been in Tunisia or Libya at the coming of the Arab spring or in Syria now. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Burma and many other places, the council would be confined, at best, to formalities of provision. The massive potential of growth in China, India and Brazil would be stunted.
The council has invested in what I call digital public diplomacy and that could continue in just about all conditions, but durable influence and opportunity often require presence. Building trust needs people-to-people contact. Since further shortage of non-earning resources would unavoidably mean contraction and withdrawal, the consequences would be deeply negative.
In recent years lessons have been arduously learnt about the necessity of developing convincing and effective public diplomacy-so-called soft power. In the wise words of a US general, international strategy which neglects that is,
But soft power is not a soft option. It requires investment, long-term patience and consistency, candour and transparency in relationships. It must have esoteric and practical usefulness to those who are the objects of soft power. It must manifest mutuality in the development of understanding-the ability to be good listeners as well as trustworthy communicators.
The British Council, with its enlightened and emancipating values, its professionalism and its independence, has those qualities in abundance. They are now irreplaceable and literally priceless. If they were jeopardised or diminished by cuts, it would betray the national interest. That cannot be allowed.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, earlier today, like my noble friend Lady Hooper, I participated in the debate on the UK Border Agency secured by my noble friend Lord Avebury. Much of what I want to say is simply an extension of this subject, but within the context of the important work of the British Council.
I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for securing this debate. The noble Lord and I have co-operated on many criminal justice matters, particularly when he served as the Minister in the previous Administration. He is absolutely right that the British Council is the acceptable face of the British Government abroad. Few countries across the world command the respect that the British Council enjoys. It is an international organisation that promotes our cultural and educational values. These values are essential in building trust and confidence worldwide, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, mentioned.
Some time ago, I promoted a debate in your Lordships' House about the migrant integration policy index. This research, produced by the British Council, was designed to compare legal provision across Europe on the integration of non-EU migrants. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, contributed to that debate. It was a remarkable piece of work at a time when there was an often confused debate about a cohesive society in which issues of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism surfaced. There is a kind of schizophrenia on matters of immigration on one hand, and community cohesion and the pluralist society on the other. This is often backed up by the perception of the majority population that, despite all our history and all our pride in our tolerance, the majority are somehow not able to live as part of a community of communities.
It is here that MIPEX provides consistent and reliable stock-taking, with the ability to track policy advances and reversals. Over the years, commentators, both politicians and press, have pointed to the impact of globalisation and devolution as relevant to the process of migration. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the matter of education. I commend the excellent report on the global skills gap produced by the British Council. A survey of senior business leaders conducted by ICM Research gauged the extent to which business leaders see global thinking as an important skill among employees and potential recruits to their companies. The key finding, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, is that the UK is in danger of being left behind by fast-growing emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil, unless young people start to think globally.
We should be proud that the British Council has a presence in 110 countries and has maintained its global reach. No delegation of British parliamentarians is complete without briefings and visits to the British Council's offices abroad. I know of no other organisation that engages over 30 million people worldwide-the figure mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock-and reaches over 600 million through digital media, radio and television. Britain, the world's oldest democracy, can be proud that freedom, fairness and tolerance are at the heart of what the British Council promotes.
In this context, I note with increasing concern the control on admissions of overseas students to British universities. I have seen students from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and a number of countries in that part of the world opting to go to Australia, the USA and Germany because of the severe restrictions on their entry to Britain. In the context of globalisation, this will be our loss. Britain's economy is shrinking by at least 11% and deficit reduction is the top priority of the coalition Government. However, the impact of cuts weigh heavily against the service provided by the British Council. We are talking of a 26% cut in real terms to the government grant for the British Council. It is often forgotten that the British Council generates its own income, and the FCO contribution is just about 16% of the total turnover. I am seriously concerned about the impact of cuts on staffing and on the structure of the British Council.
I am also concerned that this may affect some of its key activities, for example teaching English and administering examinations. This would be a retrograde step at a time when we need international partners in building a strong economy. English is an international language and the language of the digital age. The council has set out some very good plans for the future. The objective is to expand in key emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. This is in our economic interest. The British Council is well placed to meet this objective, which should help and not hinder its progress.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for securing the debate this afternoon. It is very apt, considering the area that I wish to cover: the British Council's contribution to the International Inspiration programme, which arose out of a promise in the Olympic Games bid. This was to reach out to young people around the world through sport and to connect them to the inspirational power of the Games. Well, the Games start in just seven days and 29 minutes and the success of the International Inspiration programme is considerable and we should celebrate it. I declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Group on the British Council; I have taken part in a See Britain Through My Eyes campaign; and I am also an ambassador for International Inspiration. The British Council is one of its partners, alongside UK Sport and UNICEF. All are experts in their respective fields.
I feel privileged to have seen the Council's work at first hand on many occasions. Its success in soft politics should not be underestimated. On a visit to one country with my daughter, it helped me to meet local decision-makers, and I was able to challenge their views on disability, motherhood and girls in lifelong physical activity. The council's knowledge of the local landscape, customs, and language has contributed to its success and, we should also not forget, to the world's understanding of the UK. The British Council is involved in many projects, such as rebuilding education in Iraq, English teaching in Sudan and south Sudan, science without borders and now, I am glad to say, in sport and physical activity.
The International Inspiration programme enriches the lives of young people in 20 countries, from Azerbaijan to Zambia, plus the UK. It also links 272 British schools to 292 schools outside the UK. It helps to broaden the aspirations of British children, their parents and their teachers by encouraging them and the wider community to look beyond our shores, learn from people around the globe and share knowledge and experiences. Let me give an example of this: the programme recently brought to the UK a young man from Brazil who was part of the leadership programme. He took part in the Olympic torch relay. All 20 countries who were involved in the programme were able to select a young person to come and also take part in the Olympic torch relay. This is probably not widely known. It also brought over leaders to the UK School Games, which is an important part of the Government's sports strategy. These young people worked at the games with teams from all over the UK, learning about our food, our culture, and unfortunately also about our weather.
The International Inspiration programme has reached many more people than that: 12.9 million children, far above the original expectation. Young people have actively participated in sport, physical education and play, many for the first time in their lives. The project in Pakistan, where monsoons claim tens of thousands of lives every year, has taught survival techniques to 80,000 young people. They have been taught to swim and how to save other young people's lives. More than 113,000 teachers, coaches and young leaders have been trained to lead in sport, physical activity and play in their schools. It is also important that we have learnt from them. I have a great interest in the inclusion of disabled children in PE in schools. Some of the best inclusion I have seen was not in this country, but in Jordan.
I went to a school where two young men, both of whom were wheelchair users, were completely integrated into their school programme, both in academic lessons and physical education. The International Inspiration programme made this happen; it had created it. One young man had a wheelchair, the other, whose family could not afford to buy him one, used to be pushed around in an old pram. However, the lives of these two boys had changed because they were accepted in school. Because of that, they were then accepted in their local community and the lives of their families changed. I spoke to the mum of the young boy with a wheelchair, who told me that people had stopped avoiding her in the street. They had been ostracised in the community, but had been brought back because of their acceptance in school. These are the things that the British Council and the partners have achieved. Also, 36 policies, strategies or legislative changes have been influenced or implemented because of the work of the British Council with this programme.
One of the reasons for its success is having that knowledge on the ground. I recently went to Egypt to speak at a conference where International Inspiration is in its early stages. Again, through local knowledge and the work of the programme, we were able to talk very openly about how disabled people and girls-two groups who are more traditionally excluded from sport and physical activity-can be included in lifelong physical
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The work that has been achieved by the programme with its partners is substantial. However, it is essential to ensure that we leave a lasting legacy beyond its final year in 2014. To make that happen, we need to ensure that partners such as the British Council are able to function in the environment that they work in and that they have the resources to do this.
In conclusion, and bearing in mind recent cuts, I ask the Minister how the council will be able to carry on its work. The work of the British Council has contributed to Britain's standing in the world. We should not forget this important work or allow it to slip away.
Last month, in a debate on the voluntary sector, I proposed to Her Majesty's Government that they may wish to create a hub in the United Kingdom that would encourage and support other established British charities and social enterprises to internationalise themselves. The Government have not yet responded. In that debate, I mentioned the British Council, which has for decades promoted our language, education, arts and culture. I said that this was good for Britain and good for the world. Perhaps I was addressing the Government too vaguely and this debate is a more appropriate forum for my suggestion.
What I suggest is a way of expanding and infusing new activities and eventually more funding into the British Council. Here is the suggestion: across the UK many excellent charities and voluntary organisations have already successfully internationalised themselves, but others are struggling to create organisations that spread worldwide with the right disciplines and standards, and many as yet have not realised the vast potential and advantages of becoming international. Imagine if we were to encourage British charities and social enterprises-large, medium-sized and small-to consider researching the issues that they address here in other countries and linking with groups in those other countries to form international organisations.
Were the British Council to decide that it might be a good thing to add the voluntary sector of the United Kingdom to its remit, it might start with a trial of, say, 10 charities, then 100 and then 1,000. There are 162,000 charities registered in the UK and thousands of social enterprises. If 2.5% of them-that is, 5,000 charities with an average income of around £250,000 a year-were to internationalise over time, we would have created in the UK an enlightened centre, spreading good works around the world, with a turnover of more than £1 billion.
To start, perhaps 100 charities could be encouraged to come forward over the first year to internationalise themselves. The British Council hub would then give them access to international legal structures and the ability to set global standards and resources for branding, marketing and website publishing. Even if it cost an
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Let me cite DIPEx as an example. I am not asking for help here: we will internationalise ourselves with our own resources. This is what we decided to do. DIPEx is a charity that has worked closely with the University of Oxford. With the support of the Department of Health, it has raised £10 million and created www.healthtalkonline.org. We publish people's personal experience of health conditions online so that other patients can learn from them. So far, over 10 years, we have covered 70 health conditions, including cancers, heart diseases and neurological conditions, and life issues such as bereavement, pregnancy menopause and the like. This year, our website will receive 1 million hits a week and 3 million unique visitors.
Now, based on training and support from DIPEx UK, organisations in other countries are setting up parallel projects in universities and hospitals in Spain, Germany, Holland, Japan, South Korea, China, Israel and Palestine, Canada and Australia. Together, we will establish DIPEx International to co-ordinate the activities of the group, to collect and publish health experiences worldwide and, combinedly, to help with fundraising.
We have decided to use £50,000 of our DIPEx charitable reserves to do this. Oxford would then become the international centre for the highest quality worldwide health charity. As a result of our activity, Green Templeton College, where we are based in Oxford, plans to create a health experiences institute, a centre for research into patients' experiences worldwide. DIPEx is just one example of a charity doing this. I am suggesting that a conversation may be arranged by the British Council with people involved in this sector to see whether this programme to help the charity and social enterprise field from Britain should be added to its mission, and to see if we could make connections and create new ways to spread aid and services to countries with which we wish to have relations.
Perhaps a conference could be held, to which we would invite 30 or 40 people from this field who would be interested in helping to take the idea forward. The participants might include five charities, five social enterprises, small, medium and large, the Social Enterprise coalition, the Social Investment Consultancy, Prism, the gift fund with which I am involved, Global Philanthropic, Global Tolerance, some experienced lawyers in the field, some big UK-based international businesses to help with advice on internationalisation and perhaps funding, and the Charity Commission.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for securing this debate. He is a very distinguished chair of the APPG and I am
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That is where I would like to start. There has been a lot of discussion about how the British Council's activities display our culture in other parts of the world and how beneficial that is outside the United Kingdom. It became clear to me as the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly that it was easy to involve nationalist people and politicians in the work of the British Council despite people's fears sometimes that it might be otherwise. The British Council is not the English Council. It presents all the cultures, Welsh, Scottish, English, Northern Irish-and not just pro-British Northern Irish, but Irish culture of all kinds. People from the nationalist community, including politicians, were happy to become involved in the British Council's work. It was a helpful facility in binding people together.
There is a great deal that we have to give. Culture-I do not use the word lightly-is not just music, art, drama and literature. There are important aspects of our culture in the way that we conduct parliamentary democracy: that is part of our culture. Our adherence to human rights and the way that we implement them, policing and the administration of justice are also aspects of our culture. That is why I am proud that the British Council takes up those things too. It involves all sorts of people projecting important elements of British culture of all kinds and making a profound contribution to the rest of the world as well as to ourselves.
It has always astonished me that this remarkable organisation is so little known at home and so widely respected abroad. If it has one flaw it is perhaps a classic British flaw. It does not tend to blow its own trumpet at home, even though it is so well known abroad. My advice to it is to recognise that at home it is important that people understand more of its work. Like my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Hooper I participated earlier today in the debate on the UK Border Agency. In a sense the two organisations are at opposite extremes. One sullies the reputation of the United Kingdom in the way it functions. It costs us a huge amount of money to annoy almost everyone who comes in contact with it and brings us no benefits to our reputation, whatever other good things it might do. The other, the British Council, is a remarkable organisation, which improves the reputation of the United Kingdom. Quite extraordinarily, we can get other people in the rest of the world to pay us to develop the British Council and to teach them our language, which benefits us and is absolutely remarkable.
It is a very long time since a rather dismissive military leader questioned how many legions the Vatican had-how many legions the Pope had. In doing that, he was dismissing the lack of power of the Vatican. That military leader is now dead, gone and largely forgotten, and the power of the Vatican continues. Increasingly one might ask how many legions we have in the United Kingdom. The answer is less and less. But there is no reason why we cannot have more and
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What is the hindrance? The hindrance is any lack of vision and appreciation that we might have at government level and, to some extent, a sense that promoting ourselves, our language and our culture is something we are a little less happy to do than our American cousins. We should be proud of it and we should promote it. It is not just in our interests. If we really believe in it, our culture has a contribution to make to the rest of the world and no one does it better than the British Council.
Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on securing this debate, and I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said. I must declare an interest: as Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, I was a trustee of the British Council, serving on the board under-I often used to think that that was the right word exactly-the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. I also worked closely with the British Council as ambassador in France, where I saw clearly the contribution that the council can and does make even in an advanced, developed country. It contributed to English language teaching, to handling subjects such as racism in sport, which are more easily handled at arm's length, and to sponsoring avant-garde British culture. I well remember at least one play the title of which I do not think that I can decently mention in your Lordships' House.
I am therefore very glad that, despite its funding problems, the British Council is determined to maintain its global reach. As other noble Lords said, the role of the council in establishing and developing links between peoples, between cultural, educational and social institutions, and between different religions and languages, particularly in a complex, unpredictable and changing world, really is important. That is not something which you can just turn on and off at will.
That the British Council was in Burma in the difficult days will give it real strength when things get better. The same is true of Russia where, of course, things are still difficult. It is also true of China, where the desire to learn English is huge and the role of the council is equally important. I stress that it is equally important that the British learn Mandarin and other foreign languages. It is something at which we as a nation are not good. We tend to think of the council's role as spreading English and English culture abroad. But its role in encouraging, through its language assistance schemes, for example, in British schools, the teaching of foreign languages here, is just as important in my view as the work it does in getting others to speak our language.
However, the expansion and spread of the council's activities comes at a cost, and, as we know, funds are scarce. As I understand it, the FCO grant to the council is to be more than halved in the 10 years between 2004 and 2014. That is pretty brutal even by today's standards. I commend the way in which the council has responded by taking tough and radical reforming measures, by cutting UK staff, by outsourcing to India and by developing
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Furthermore-this is, perhaps, in parentheses-I note that whereas in 2008, 22% of the Government's grant was classified as overseas development assistance, and therefore, presumably, came from DfID's budget rather than that of the Foreign Office, the figure rises to 66% in 2014-15. I congratulate the Foreign Office on this rather clever wheeze, and I rather wish I had thought of it myself when I was responsible for the Foreign Office budget. However, could the Minister assure us that this shift from the FCO's budget to DfID's is a consequence of decisions taken by the British Council to focus more on the developing world-which is indeed a sensible thing to do-and is not a desire to shift funding from the Foreign Office budget to the DfID budget, which is distorting the allocation of British Council funds?
Finally, the maintenance of the British Council's charitable status is key to its financial well-being. Could the Minister assure us, too, that the increase in revenue-earning activities and partnerships with private companies does not in any way jeopardise the continuation of that charitable status?
To conclude, the role of the British Council really is crucial, and as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, not at all well enough understood in this country. It would be a huge mistake if that role were to be jeopardised by funding cuts.
Lord Judd: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bach is certainly to be congratulated on having initiated this debate. Furthermore, it was very interesting to hear about his background in the British Council. It must have been a very special experience.
We live, as I said in an earlier debate, in a totally interdependent world. That is the first reality of life for all of us. We will be judged, as a generation, and certainly as politicians, by the success we make of belonging to that world, and of finding a positive role for Britain within it. What are the things that are at our disposal in finding that role? We have the British Council, with its unrivalled reputation. I have done international work all my life and I have travelled all over the world. I know the esteem in which it is held across quite a wide spectrum of people right across the world. That is important. We also have the BBC overseas service. I am still fearful of what is happening to the BBC in that area. We must resist any further cuts, because that is one of our richest assets.
It also seems to me that we have the English language. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said about the importance of the work of the council on languages in both directions. However, in this interdependent world, English is a predominant language. Therefore, to allow people across the world to play their part in that world, having the English language in their hands and within their power is also crucial. We are making a great contribution there.
I have also worked most of my life on issues relating to development. The thing that is often underestimated in sustaining development is the quality of leadership that is available to a country. That involves learning, scholarship, wisdom, enhanced judgment, and the rest. In that, cultural exchange is incalculably important. In Britain, we are particularly good at universities and higher education. We are particularly good in our cultural and creative activities. We are the envy of the world in theatre, film, and the rest. I believe the council has done terribly important work in making our cultural richness available to the world.
It is also important to remember that if we want a secure world in which to live, we want to enable the poorest countries of the world to have the kind of leadership and experience that are necessary to make a success of their place in the world. They are far less likely to be prone to extremism and terrorism if they have good, effective leadership. The council is making a crucial contribution there. What seems to be absolutely self-evident is that if we make cuts, we are undermining the work in some of the most important parts of the world where the council cannot possibly expect to win back the cost of its operations from the services it is able to sell.
This debate seems rightly to involve a fan club of the council, and it is a real delight for me to sit next to my noble friend Lord Kinnock, who, as its chair, led the council with much enthusiasm and commitment. However, I have one cautionary remark that I would want to make. My reservation is that in an anxiety to pay its way, the British Council must not lose its vision. It must not lose its commitment to the creative arts-the cultural dimension that is so important. It must not forgo its work in the most challenging and demanding parts of the world, where perhaps the input is disproportionately good, as compared with other parts of the world where it is easier to operate.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, this short debate has involved many excellent speeches and I only wish that the whole Cabinet and the mandarins of the Treasury were here to listen to it. It was opened by my noble friend Lord Bach with the unique moral authority that he conveys in this House. Personally, I am proud of the fact that in happier economic times the previous Government were able to expand the work of the British Council because it is vital as a jewel of British influence, as many have said, an instrument of soft power, a celebration of British diversity and a multiplier of the creative strengths that are so important to our economic future.
However, we all accept that we live in difficult economic times, and the British Council has responded with boldness that is typical of the kind of leadership that my noble friend Lord Kinnock has offered-boldness in terms of facing adversity. The only point that I would make relates to the fear that my noble friend Lord Judd expressed. Yes, a mixed-economy model is a very good thing for the British Council, but it must never become a privatised model. If there is a privatised model, the British Council will not be, as my noble friend Lord Judd said, where it needs to be. It will not be offering opportunities to the people who need them.
It is said that we face a period of prolonged austerity, and that may be the case. The assurance that I seek from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is this simple one: that the present Government do not see the British Council as a frill that can be cut in the future but as an essential investment in our future. That is what it has been and that is how it should be. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure us on that.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for introducing this important topic. Like others, I am only sorry that the debate has come at the end of the day and that we have not had greater opportunities, which we may have in the future, for discussing the whole broad canvas of soft power and smart power, and the new techniques in this internet age for developing the promotion of our interests, cultures and values, of which the British Council is a central part.
In fact, I will begin at the end and say simply to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that I can certainly give that assurance. Certainly we see the British Council, as many of us have done for decades, as a central part of the promotion of the interests of this nation and, indeed, the promotion of all that we can contribute to world peace and stability. I totally agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said. In fact, a good deal of it was in the speech I was thinking of making, so I do not need to repeat it. I balk only at his point about blindness. That hurts a little, because some of us have for decades been pointing this out, from the days of the famous House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report of the 1980s, when I think the phrase "cultural diplomacy" first began to circulate.
As a result of that report, which I had the honour of participating in-although not as chairman of the committee-we have increasingly been pointing out that in the world we are moving into, cultural diplomacy, the promotion of values and attitudes, will be as powerful if not more powerful than ranges of carrier fleets, rockets and heavy military equipment-as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, rightly reminded us. This is the pattern for the future, where hard and soft power must be brought together in an agile use of smart power within our resources and in a highly effective way. I agree with much of that.
I pay tribute to the work of the council and its staff, operating sometimes in extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances. This especially applies to its work in recent years in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.
I agree with those of your Lordships who said that the council has a global reputation. It has, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, reminded us, 191 offices in 110 countries, and many millions of people have passed through the doors of the British Council to learn English or to make use of the other services that are offered. It is therefore a key opinion former and shaper. When people think of the United Kingdom, of Great Britain-of what it stands for and what it seeks to do-the picture the British Council paints is part of the important work that we all seek to do. The council is the cultural relations arm of the United Kingdom-of our country.
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The UK has a remarkable set of soft-power assets. Years ago, in the report I mentioned, we looked particularly at the BBC World Service and the British Council, but of course the whole range of soft-power instruments is far greater. It is the central purpose, or aim, or set of tools, in the ability to influence the actions of others through attraction rather than coercion. It is working to exert this influence in order to achieve our national interests in an interdependent world, and to maximise our contribution to the stability, balance and prosperity of that world. In one of his first speeches when he took office, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary talked of a networked world where connections between groups and individuals across the globe are a key part of the relations between nations. It is not just a matter of government to government, diplomat to diplomat, but of engaging fully with all sectors of society on a basis of mutual respect.
In the United Kingdom we seek to foster and strengthen these connections, and it is in this that the British Council can play such a key role. The message of the debate this evening has been perfectly clear; it is certainly one that I am well aware of and will carry back to all my colleagues in the Government. We see the immense value of the British Council, and obviously there is a wish that its funding and support is not attenuated.
People know that talking to the British Council is not the same as talking to the British Government, and that this opens up new avenues for engagement. Some who engage with the council will obviously be less willing to engage with the British Government; that is inevitable. So I will highlight that essential role and, incidentally, highlight one particular aspect of it, and that is the role of the Commonwealth network and how the British Council interrelates with it.
We have talked about linkages and common values, and of course the Commonwealth is an exemplar par excellence of that. It gives this country a unique advantage which many other countries envy. The British Council works in the majority of Commonwealth countries to reinforce the bond of trust through education, the arts, English language programmes and many other aspects. In fact, the British Council ran the Connecting Classrooms programme which led up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth last autumn. It works closely all the time with Commonwealth institutions and expects to be active in the UK in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow in 2014.
There is no question but that this Government, like the previous Government, see the British Council's main objective as building trust between countries and peoples and cultural relations between countries, and to improve the level of understanding between their peoples as well as provide a common space in which to meet and engage with each other. This in turn increases the level of trust between them. As the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, pointed out in his eloquent intervention, the council states in its annual report that it has worked face to face with 12.5 million people in the calendar year up to 2011-12, which is an increase of 2 million compared with the year before. Overall, as the noble Lord again pointed out, the council has engaged with 35 million people world-wide. These are achievements that it can be proud of and they go hand in hand with a tribute that I am glad to pay to the noble Lord and to the previous chairmen of the British Council, and of course to those who are now operating with it. I concur with the remarks made about Mr Davidson, who has been extremely effective. I have more than once had the privilege of meeting him and discussing the council's work.
The council's work in promoting Britain has brought more and more visitors to these shores. They come to study here, to invest here, and to understand and embrace our culture. It has also helped countless others to build enduring links with this country. Something which I do not think is always understood outside-the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, was right to say that its work and its nature is not as widely understood as it should be-is that, unlike many of its international counterparts, the British Council has two sections: there is the work that is funded by the FCO through the grant in aid, about which I shall say more in a moment, and there is the work which is directly tied to cultural relations. By far the lion's share of the council's present income comes from its commercial work. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and others have described how that has been built up with immense success. Its English language teaching, its examination services and, increasingly, its work in managing contracts have all been areas of growth. However, I should emphasise that there is a firm division between the two sorts of work, and each year the council's auditors certify that their full cost recovery work is not subsidised by the Government.
Like all publicly funded bodies, the council has had to play its part in helping achieve the Government's fiscal consolidation plans. I know that there is endless debate and challenge about the nature of those plans. I have to say that when the council's grant in aid was cut under the 2010 spending review, that was not done with enthusiasm by someone wishing to make cuts, but under the dictate of the grim necessity of sharing
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The British Council has committed itself to ambitious expansion plans, increasing the turnover from £707 million in 2009-10 to £969 million by 2014-15. That naturally means that the grant in aid will fall as a percentage of the total from 26% to 16%. That sounds dramatic, but overall this is the language not of contraction but of expansion. The budget is set until the end of 2014-15.
We have not started on the process of discussing the next spending review, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will ensure that the British Council is kept engaged throughout the process. As your Lordships will recognise, it is impossible to say what any new budget levels will be. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, that designating part of the FCO expenditure as ODA-able does not make any difference to the size of the expenditure or where the money comes from; it merely, as I say, designates part of our expenditure on the grant in aid as contributing towards the total overseas development assistance of the nation. We believe that the current restructuring of the British Council will provide a firm basis for its future expanding operations. We are confident that the council is maintaining the right balance between its work in English, arts and education and society, and that all of its activities contribute to its charitable purposes.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, after her very moving speech, that the British Council will not merely carry on but can be a more dynamic and effective partner in our national endeavour-as it has already been over the past 78 years. Its first charitable objective states, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, reminded us, that it shall,
Therefore, I congratulate the British Council on the immense success it has had so far. We believe that this success can be built upon despite the economic difficulties that we face at the moment as a nation. We believe that its work can adapt to the changing world in which we live. I am confident that the council will continue to spread through the world the values that we hold so dear. I once again reassure your Lordships that the Government are fully apprised of the value of this spearhead of our reputation, our soft power, in a dangerous and difficult world.
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