21 Jan 2013 : Column 933

House of Lords

Monday, 21 January 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Introduction: Lord Nash

2.39 pm

John Alfred Stoddard Nash, Esquire, having been created Baron Nash, of Ewelme in the County of Oxfordshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Saatchi and Lord Hill of Oareford, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Global Hunger


2.43 pm

Asked By Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the opportunities for tackling global hunger in 2013 and beyond, including at this year’s G8 summit.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, by 2015 the UK should reach 20 million pregnant women and young children with nutrition programmes and ensure that another 4 million people have sufficient food throughout the year. The UK will continue to tackle global hunger in 2013, including through a food and nutrition event just before the G8 summit. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for DfID will also take forward the G8 new alliance on food security and nutrition as co-chair of its leadership council.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I am grateful to the Minister for her response. Millions of children whose diet lacks essential vitamins and minerals endure long-term malnutrition and consequent diseases, stunting and premature death. Does the Minister therefore agree that the G8 at County Fermanagh should offer clear support to the global Scaling Up Nutrition movement, which provides an excellent framework for donors and, indeed, for developing countries, calls for support for a global target to reduce stunting and offers solutions to combat the lifelong physical and cognitive impairment caused by poor nutrition?

Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness is right to highlight again the importance of good nutrition and the problems of stunting and malnutrition. The G8 is an opportunity to focus on these issues, but this needs to be taken throughout the year. I am glad, therefore, to be able to reiterate the United Kingdom’s commitment, throughout the year and right on through, to this very important challenge.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, around a fifth of farmland in Senegal and Sierra Leone, nearly a third in Liberia and about a half in Cambodia have

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been acquired by companies. Does my noble friend agree that it is vital that we ensure that the growing phenomenon of large-scale land deals is not undermining food production in these and other countries? In this context, can she say what provision the Government have made as a first step actively to champion and push the UN voluntary guidelines on land tenure?

Baroness Northover: We are very supportive of moves in this regard on voluntary guidelines on the management of land and other natural resources. It is extremely important that there is transparency here, that the governance of land tenure is addressed, and that when countries consider the position on tenure in their countries they consider food security, the impact on the environment and consultation with those involved. We are very actively pushing that forward.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that 14% of men, women and children around the globe go to bed hungry each night, including tonight, and that 28% of children in the developing world are undernourished or stunted? In the welcome investment that the Government are making this year to achieve their 0.7% target, will they look at investment in small-scale agriculture and nutrition, and encourage their G8 partners to follow their lead in this area?

Baroness Northover: Again, the noble Earl is right to concentrate on this area. It has been a diminishing problem, but it is still there on a massive scale. That is what we have to tackle. We have to welcome the fact that in many parts of the world now undernutrition has now reduced, but he is quite right: it is still a major problem, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We are very supportive of smallholders. We are helping in 13 countries. Some 500 million farmers are smallholders, with less than two hectares of land, and they are at the margin in their ability to feed their families.

Lord Judd: Does not the noble Baroness agree that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, put it so well the last time this was before us, it is obscene that almost half the food available to us in the West and the north is thrown away, while desperate people utterly dependent on food production are seeing their land bought up by multinational companies to service that greed? Must that not be a priority at the G8, and is it not intimately related to the whole question of security, not only in food security sense but in building stable societies less prone to abuse by extremists?

Baroness Northover: I think we see how we are all interlinked when we look at the situation in Mali right now. The Foreign Secretary is quite right to emphasise that it is important that we are supporting those in Mali through aid programmes. The noble Lord is right to emphasise the problem of waste of food, but there is also a lot of wastage among those smallholders simply because they do not have the right storage for their crops, and so on. It has to be a very high priority to ensure that, wherever it is in the world, food, which is so important to relieve this problem, is not wasted.

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The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, does the Minister accept that part of the solution for our broken food system lies in taking steps internationally to ensure that companies pay tax appropriately in developing countries and to help those countries to use their own resources in the fight against hunger? Can she assure us that the Government’s G8 tax reform agenda addresses the problems of tax avoidance faced by developing countries?

Baroness Northover: The right reverend Prelate is quite right and I am sure he has noted that transparency in this regard is going to be on the G8’s agenda. One important development is the risk to companies and banks these days related to what they do in various countries. The spotlight is potentially on them. We have seen the backlash in the United Kingdom about the paying of tax. We need to get across very clearly the need for transparency, to highlight what is happening in different countries and to point out to companies that they incur risks thereby.

Lord Deben: Does my noble friend accept that the urgency of these matters is increasing all the time because of the world food shortage that will clearly be a part of our future? The effect of climate change and the like means that we have to live in a world where, if we are to feed 9 billion people, we really have to get more urgency in this whole issue. What worries me is that there are constant statements about debates, discussions and further targets, when actually this is far too urgent for us not to have it at the top of our agenda.

Baroness Northover: It has been suggested that global food production might decline by 7% by 2050 because of climate change and in some areas of the world by 20%. I emphasise that the United Kingdom takes this extremely seriously. One of the issues that came out of the hunger events that were hosted at the time the Olympics was a focus in the United Kingdom on agritech business. Defra, DfID and BIS are taking that forward because clearly investment in research, in which we have great strengths in the United Kingdom, should and could help to relieve some of these problems.

Energy: Wind Farms


2.51 pm

Asked By Baroness Quin

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are planning changes to their support for onshore wind farms.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting renewable energy as part of a diverse, low-carbon and secure energy mix alongside gas and low-carbon transport fuels, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. Renewable energy brings energy security, the decarbonisation of our economy and green growth. Our ambition for a central scenario of up to 13 gigawatts of onshore wind, as set out in the Renewable Energy Roadmap, of course

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remains. Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective, large-scale renewable technologies, and the Government are committed to ensuring that onshore wind remains part of the UK’s energy mix.

Baroness Quin: My Lords, my Question was prompted by the situation in Northumberland, which has far more onshore wind farms than any other county in England. Is the Minister aware of the concern there that excessive subsidy-driven wind farm development is potentially harming other parts of our regional economy, particularly the tourist industry, which has achieved a great deal in recent years? While being supportive of renewables and, obviously, of achieving a good energy mix, I ask the Government, in their review of the economic and environmental aspects of wind farm development, to look at the situation in Northumberland in particular.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises important points that are relevant to Northumberland. I reassure her that all wind farms must be well designed and well sited to be approved, and applications for onshore wind farms can be turned down because of local concerns. The Government have taken this issue very seriously, which is why we called for evidence. That consultation has recently closed. We are looking at what the response has been to that and we will report back in spring, with a full report in May.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, will my noble friend heed what was said by the noble Baroness opposite? Onshore wind farms are unreliable, uneconomical and unsightly, and Mr John Hayes voiced the views of many people in this country when he said, “Enough is enough”.

Baroness Verma: I reassure noble Lords that we have taken the concerns of local constituencies very seriously, which was why we called for evidence. However, this does not mean that we will be changing our policy. Government policy remains that onshore wind will continue to be part of ensuring that we have a diverse mix of renewable energy sources.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I live in the village of Belford in north Northumberland, where two overseas companies have planned huge wind farms of 150 metre tall turbines in areas of outstanding natural beauty at Middleton Burn and Belford Burn. This is against the wishes of 92% of the local populace. Is it not time that planning authorities took full account of all the relevant factors before approving such exercises, before this country’s most beautiful countryside is irrecoverably scarred?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I do not quite know how to repeat myself, but I will try yet again. The Government did take on board the concerns of some communities, and we did have a call for evidence. That consultation has recently closed. We are looking very

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closely at the responses to that call for evidence, but we need to ensure that onshore is part of the renewable energy mix in order to meet our targets for 2020. Onshore schemes also bring real benefit to the local communities they are set in. I very much take on board the points raised by the noble Lord and others, but we are mindful that this needs to be part of a bigger picture.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, while surely understanding the concern of my noble friend, will the Minister not be deterred by those who stridently demand more and more renewable sources of energy, yet oppose every attempt to provide them? We should therefore stand by the policy of supporting wind farms, and supporting diversity, including the use of nuclear power.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, that was what I hoped and tried to get across; obviously I failed. I would like to reiterate that this Government want to be the greenest Government ever, and in doing that are of course looking at all renewable energies. Onshore wind is only a small part of the renewable energy sector, but it is an important one, one that is very cost effective, and one that will hopefully be part of our energy security for the future.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, one of the issues about onshore wind is that we pay generators to stop generating, so the wind turbines actually stop operating. That costs us money. Would it be a much better solution if we used that energy: if we kept on generating electricity, and we topped up the storage heaters and the hot water tanks of the fuel poor? Instead of paying generators not to generate, we could use that electricity to help fuel poverty. I understand that the technology is already there; why do we not use it?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend raises a number of very important points. The Government recognise that smart electric heating may in future provide a low-carbon solution to a range of energy challenges, including balancing the supply of electricity. DECC’s heat strategy team have had constructive discussions with utilities and manufacturers to discuss this potential further. The Government will publish a document on the strategic framework for heat in the coming months.

Lord Empey: My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that, because of the intermittent nature of wind power, there will be—there can be—no reduction in generating capacity from fossil fuel and nuclear sources? In this country cold weather, such as that we had two years ago, tends to be accompanied by high pressure, which means no wind. The intermittent nature of wind power will therefore not result in a reduction in fossil fuel or nuclear generation.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, that is why we look at onshore as being a part—a small part—of the renewable energy mix.

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Social Care: Funding


3 pm

Asked By Lord Warner

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will announce their decision on the Dilnot Commission’s recommendations on capping the cost of adult social care for individuals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have committed to announcing further details before the Budget on capping the potentially huge costs of long-term care, giving people the certainty that they need to plan for their long-term care needs. The Government have agreed the principles set out by the Dilnot commission. We expect further details shortly.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Progress is being made, albeit a little slower than many of us would like. Will the Government prepare draft clauses on a capping system for consideration alongside the draft Care and Support Bill? Does he agree that, to work effectively and fairly, national capping of individual liability will require the draft Bill to provide for portable national eligibility criteria?

Earl Howe: My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, the draft Care and Support Bill is currently going through pre-legislative scrutiny. Our proposals can be amended to support the cap in law and we would include the appropriate provisions when legislation is introduced. I can tell the noble Lord that work is going on drafting such clauses. We have said that we will build national eligibility criteria into the Bill.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, from what we read in the press, it looks as if the Government’s plans might include a cap of £75,000 and that that will not include accommodation costs. As I understand that 85% of people incur lifetime costs below £75,000, would this not skew the outcomes unfairly?

Earl Howe: My Lords, we have to speak speculatively and hypothetically because I cannot give the noble Baroness any indication of the level at which the Government will finally propose to set the cap. The level of the cap needs to represent an affordable and sustainable relationship between the state and the individual. We will give due regard to the Dilnot recommendations for the cap while taking into account current economic circumstances. We will set out further details in the coming weeks but I am sure that the point that the noble Baroness effectively makes will be closely borne in mind as we approach decision time.

Baroness Jolly: My Lords, with more people needing social care, and with a higher cap than anticipated under Dilnot being probable, what provisions are being made to assist local authorities to cope with managing deferred payments for care?

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Earl Howe: My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, the universal deferred payments scheme will be part of the Care and Support Bill. No doubt, we will debate those provisions when the Bill comes before us. I cannot tell her when that will be, but, clearly, they will be the subject of close scrutiny by the Joint Committee.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is not one of the unfortunate effects of the Dilnot proposals that they protect inherited wealth at a time when the NHS needs money?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the main benefit of the Dilnot proposals is to protect people from unpredictable and catastrophic costs of long-term care. While the noble Lord could interpret the raising of the means test as a way of protecting the rich, I see the combination of the cap and the threshold as a way of giving greater certainty and predictability for all concerned, because none of us, whether we are rich or less rich, can know whether we will be subject to catastrophic care costs at a later stage in our lives. That is the inherent unfairness which Dilnot and the rest of the commission attempted to address.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, following on from that answer, does the Minister accept that uncertainty is the most difficult thing for vulnerable people and their families to cope with? They are uncertain about the level of services that they will have because of problems with local authority budgets and they are absolutely uncertain about what their financial liability will be. Therefore, saying that the Government will accept the Dilnot proposals but not saying when or at what level is only adding to that uncertainty in a most unacceptable way.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I might have hoped that the noble Baroness would welcome my initial Answer, which at least gives her the certainty that an announcement will be made before the Budget. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, that is progress and, I hope, welcome progress. However, I take the point that the noble Baroness makes and the sooner we can introduce the certainty that she desires the better.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, first, is it possible that these clauses will be available during the time that the Joint Committee is still working? Secondly, am I right in thinking that Dilnot has nothing to do with healthcare but has to do with what we usually call social care?

Earl Howe: Yes, my Lords, my noble and learned friend is right. The Dilnot proposals focus primarily on social care although there are always knock-on effects for the health service. In theory, it will be possible for us to produce clauses covering the Dilnot proposals for scrutiny by the Joint Committee but I am not in a position to give that undertaking at present.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I welcome the announcement that has been made and I hope that it will please more of us than seems to be the case at the moment. We shall see. Does the Minister agree

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that the effectiveness of the Dilnot proposals for a cap depends on adequate insurance products being available to cover pre-care costs or costs that arise before that cap is reached? If so, have the Government had any discussions with the insurance industry or are any planned?

Earl Howe: My department is engaging actively with the financial services sector for the very reasons that the noble Lord suggests. As I have said, care needs are very difficult to predict and care costs can be open-ended in the current social care system. At the moment, that makes financial products very expensive to buy and difficult to develop. There are many reasons why people do not consider financial products for their care at present, including a lack of awareness that they have to pay. We very much hope that the introduction of a Dilnot-type solution to this problem will encourage the financial services sector to develop these products and we believe that that will happen.

Iraq: Camp Liberty


3.07 pm

Asked By Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent information they have concerning flooding by sewage and storm water at Camp Liberty, and whether they have made representations to the United Nations and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq about conditions at the camp.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, we are aware that parts of Camp Liberty were flooded during a recent period of heavy rainfall, as were many parts of the Baghdad area. Fortunately, this did not affect residents’ accommodation blocks. We continue to monitor the situation at Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty through the embassy in Baghdad and to raise issues with the Government of Iraq and the United Nations.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, is it not time that the Government made a judgment, based on first-hand evidence such as that produced by the ex-UNAMI chief Tahar Boumedra, and ignored the manipulation and dissembling by Martin Kobler on behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations? If the United Kingdom is to maintain its integrity and influence in the Middle East, we should be pressing for the dismissal of Herr Kobler and, indeed, be asking ourselves, with our allies, whether the present Secretary-General of the United Nations has not outlived his usefulness.

Baroness Warsi: Before I answer the noble Lord’s very important question, I am sure the rest of the House will want to join me in wishing him a very happy birthday.

The noble Lord raises an important point. The Secretary-General, whom I met with last week at the United Nations, is doing a very important job, with the support of the international community, in some

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very difficult circumstances. The specific situation in relation to Camp Liberty is that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission, regularly reports about the situation in Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf. Our own officials visited in July last year and the international community does not, at this stage, find any credible evidence to support the matters that have been raised by Mr Tahar Boumedra.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, considering that many of the complaints that are made by the residents of Camp Liberty and, indeed, Camp Ashraf, against the Iraqi authorities and UNAMI could be easily verified or refuted and that some have been confirmed not only by Mr Tahar Boumedra but by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, will the Government press for an inspector to be appointed by the UN Secretary-General to look into the serious allegations of ill treatment, such as denial of access to urgently needed medical treatment, which has lead to the deaths of two inmates of Camp Liberty? Since we have been aware for some time that 52 residents of Camp Liberty were formerly refugees in the United Kingdom, will my noble friend press for their immediate transfer to the UK?

Baroness Warsi: As my noble friend is aware, the situation in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty is in many ways much better than that of residents in Baghdad. For example, electricity is available for 24 hours a day, as opposed to the three hours for which it is available in some parts of Baghdad. About 200 litres of water are available to residents there, when about 90 litres are available in some parts of Baghdad. My noble friend raises the very important issue of the recent death of a resident there. We share those concerns about the death of Behrooz Rahimian and have made inquiries specifically in relation to the medical assistance that he received. We are aware that there is a doctor and medical facilities on site 24 hours a day; there is also the opportunity to receive medical assistance from doctors in Baghdad. We understand that Mr Rahimian was afforded medical assistance in relation to his illness.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the new Parliament in Baghdad will be built to a British design, that UK parliamentarians, including the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, are out there helping to develop democracy and that the development of a democratic Government in Iraq to deal with the kind of issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, is the number one priority and will be supported fully by the British Government?

Baroness Warsi: I agree with much of what the noble Lord said. He will also be aware that this situation goes back many years. The group that lives in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty is an organisation that originally left Iran after the Iranian revolution. Mujaheddin e Khalq, the group that is predominantly part of Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, has its own history and record, and we must be incredibly careful about which members of that group we readmit to the United Kingdom.

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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the problems we have is that the United Nations has not granted Camp Liberty the status of a refugee camp? It that were granted, would it not be possible to have adequate medical facilities and for water, sewerage et cetera to be resolved? At the same time, the status of Camp Ashraf could be looked at because the property of individuals is systematically being looted there, and the information the Minister has is not the information that we receive from residents of those camps.

Baroness Warsi: I can assure my noble friend that about 3,000 residents of Camp Ashraf have moved to Camp Liberty. It is not a refugee camp as such; it is a place where individuals are being assessed as to the countries to which they could be relocated. Four have already come to the United Kingdom, a fifth who was offered that has decided not to come and about 52 others are being considered for coming to the United Kingdom. In relation to property at Camp Ashraf, I can assure my noble friend that about 100 residents of this group remain in Camp Ashraf specifically to sell off their property.

Antarctic Bill

First Reading

3.14 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill

Third Reading

3.15 pm

Bill passed.

European Union (Approvals) Bill [HL]

Third Reading

3.15 pm

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Public Service Pensions Bill

Public Service Pensions Bil10th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Committee (3rd Day)

3.16 pm

Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Clause 20 : Consultation and report

Amendment 116A

Moved by Lord Eatwell

116A: Clause 20, page 11, line 19, leave out “significant”

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 118ZA, 118B, 118C and 119A in this group, which in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Davidson. Clause 20(1)(b) is about consultation and reporting in the context of the responsible authority proposing,

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“to make scheme regulations containing retrospective provision which appears to the responsible authority to have significant adverse effects in relation to members of the scheme”.

We are particularly concerned that “significant” is not defined and could be open to interpretation. We do not want the responsible authorities to, let us say, be let off the hook when it comes to consulting on changes that might have an adverse effect on members, especially given that the provision relates to that continuous bugbear in this Bill, retrospective changes. In particular, the protections that are present in Clause 20 do not apply to adverse retrospective changes to any of the non-protected elements of public service schemes—they only kick in if the adverse effect is deemed significant. Amendment 116A would ensure that the protections in Clause 20 apply to any proposal to make an adverse retrospective change.

There are only three protected elements in Clause 20(5): the extent to which the scheme is a career average defined benefit scheme—the main purpose of the Bill—members’ contribution rates and benefit accrual rates. However, this means some very important elements of a pension scheme are not protected, most notably the definition of pensionable earnings, early retirement rights and ill-health benefits. If a responsible authority decides to make adverse retrospective changes to something as important as ill-health retirement benefits, or indeed to the definition of pensionable earnings, which will of course knock on to the final pension provision, it is unacceptable for such adverse retrospective changes to be excluded from the protections in Clause 20.

When this issue was addressed in another place the Minister complained that the effect of the amendment would be to make any,

“adverse change to member benefits subject to the additional protections in clause 20, regardless of how minor that change might be”.

He then said that,

“we believe that almost all retrospective changes will either be minor or technical in nature, or beneficial to members”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, Public Service Pensions Bill Committee, 20/11/12; col.407.]

That is a welcome belief but it is not knowledge: it is merely a belief. Having members’ protections over such things as ill health and pensionable earnings hanging on a belief is entirely unsatisfactory. Given that the Minister has already made concessions or, to put it better, positive statements about the way in which he will bring forward amendments to the insidious retrospective measures in the Bill, I ask him whether the measures on retrospection will also apply to this matter.

Amendment 118ZA in my name adds to the definition of the “protected period”, as it is called, to accommodate the different closure date of the local government pension scheme. Clause 16 closes the local government pension scheme on 1 April 2014, but all other schemes are closed on 5 April 2015, one year later. However, Clause 20 defines the protected period as one of 25 years beginning on 1 April 2015. This means that there is a window of a year in which the protections under Clause 20 will not apply to the local government pension scheme. This amendment would correct what seems to be a drafting error by ensuring that there is

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no such peculiar window in which the protected elements of the local government pension scheme are not, in fact, protected, as the Government clearly seem to intend, by Clause 20. By aligning the protected period for the local government pension scheme with the other schemes in the Bill, they will all come to an end and all be dealt with and covered at the same time.

The Minister in the other place was sympathetic to this argument. I am therefore somewhat surprised that the Minister here is not reflecting that sympathy by tabling an appropriate amendment to this oversight in the non-alignment of the two schemes.

Amendment 118B again refers to protection. As we have said, Clause 20 lists various protected elements of the scheme. This amendment would overcome some of the deficiencies that we have already indentified by adding the definition of pensionable earnings, ill-health benefits and retirement rights to the protected list. This overcomes the problem of their being subject to the significant adverse consequences of retrospection. This would be a simpler advantage to dealing with some of the issues to which I have referred.

The Minister in another place argued that his rejection of an amendment like this rested on wishing to maintain flexibility in the arrangements. I do not think that that is a very satisfactory argument. Flexibility is often an attractive characteristic of legislation, but not when it is achieved by undermining the pension rights of members of a pension scheme. Let us remember, these are some of the less well paid members of our community who serve us through a variety of public services. Achieving flexibility by reducing their rights does not seem to me to be a very respectable activity.

Retrospection again rears its ugly head as regards Amendment 118C. The amendment seeks to leave out Clause 20(6), which provides that all the “protected elements” under Clause 20 will not be so protected if a change is required by or as a consequence of a change in the employer cost cap. When we last discussed cost caps, we saw that the definition of the cost cap was entirely in the hands of the Treasury. Therefore, it would be quite possible to place the cost cap at such a position as would lead to a consequential loss of protection under Clause 20.

Once again, the Minister has made a lot of sympathetic noises about the perhaps unfortunate consequences that the current definition and specification of changes in the cost cap bring to this Bill. I hope that his earlier commitment to doing something about the cost cap will carry through to Clause 20 and the various protections that it provides.

Finally, given that we are continuing the same theme into Clause 21, Amendment 119A again refers to the incorporation of “significant” with respect to “adverse effects”. The point is that “significant adverse effects” are designed in the Bill to trigger the use of an affirmative resolution procedure for any changes to scheme regulations. In particular, Clause 21 provides:

“Scheme regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure”,


“if … they amend primary legislation, or … contain”—

and here we go again—

“retrospective provision”,

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which would,

“have significant adverse effects in relation to members of the scheme”.

Given the way that retrospection runs continuously through this Bill, creating major uncertainty among members of these schemes, the very least we can expect is that any adverse effects should be subject to an affirmative procedure.

Returning to Amendment 116A about the use of “significant” in defining “adverse effects”, I beg to move.

Lord Flight: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 117A, which—if I may put it thus—heads somewhat in the other direction from the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. As I understand it, Clause 20 says that for 25 years you will not be able to make any changes other than as a result of consultation and agreement among the various parties. The clause refers to the changes containing a provision which,

“changed the protected elements of the scheme”—

defined as where,

“the scheme is a career average revalued earnings scheme”,

in relation to contribution rates and to “benefit accrual rates”, or where the “responsible authority” proposes to make scheme regulations containing retrospective provision which appears to the “responsible authority” to have “significant adverse effects” in relation to members of that scheme. As I said, the protected period is defined as 25 years. My understanding is that although this clause may not cover every detail, it is in effect saying that other than by agreement, no changes can be made which come under the two defined areas for 25 years.

My amendment to reduce that period to 12 years was not entirely random: it was basically part of a previous amendment suggesting a post-2006 review by the OBR of fiduciary valuations. However, the fundamental point is that whatever Government are in power, they will be obliged to make major amendments. We started off with a cash-flow deficit of £15.4 billion by 2017. However, the ONS has advised that the longevity assumption is six years shorter than it ought to be, so that adds another £7.2 billion; and now that we have the government single pension proposals, the public sector pension schemes will not get the contracted-out NI contributions, which worsens the cash flow by about another £5 billion. So, we are going to have a cash-flow deficit per annum of approaching £30 billion.

If anyone thinks that that is sustainable in the present environment of deficits which are well above maintainable levels, they are not seeing reality. I repeat: whoever is in power in the next five years will be obliged to review the whole aspect of public sector pensions if the cash-flow deficits turn out to be at the sort of levels that now look likely. Limiting the protected period to 12 years is hopeful—not being able to change any of the key elements for 25 years is just unrealistic.

3.30 pm

Lord Newby: My Lords, this is a rather disparate group of amendments. I will start with government Amendment 117. Amendment 117 is part of the wider

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package of amendments that seek to meet the desire of the Northern Ireland Executive to be removed from the provisions of the Bill. The provisions in question would have required a report to be laid in the Northern Ireland Assembly, should the responsible authority have sought to make changes to the protected elements in the schemes for which Northern Ireland has devolved competence. Given that this is consequential and in line with many other amendments relating to Northern Ireland, I hope that that amendment will be uncontroversial.

I will now speak to government Amendment 118 and Amendment 118ZA. Government Amendment 118 recasts the timing of the 25-year period of protection. The amendment will ensure that all schemes made under the Bill benefit from this protection until 31 March 2040. It is currently intended that the new Local Government Pension Scheme will be in place earlier than April 2015. Concern was expressed in another place—which the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, expressed here today—that the scheme would lack the protection in this clause until 1 April 2015 had passed. The amendment seeks to deal with this concern. Although the Government have no intention of making changes to the core elements of the new Local Government Pension Scheme in its first year, we are happy to rectify the situation. The amendment will ensure that all schemes, even those that might be implemented before 1 April 2015, receive the full protection from Clause 20 for 25 years.

Amendments 116A and 119A would increase the required levels of consultation and parliamentary process for all scheme regulations that make adverse retrospective changes to members’ benefits. As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, says, we have debated the issue of retrospection a number of times in your Lordships’ House. As discussed when we were considering the potential amendments laid to Clause 3, the Government are aware of the concerns on this issue and intend to bring forward their own amendments in this area. I plan to have a draft amendment available in advance of Report stage and I hope that it will meet the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell.

Amendment 117A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, would, as he said, end the protection set out in Clause 20 after 12 years. It would require a review of the effectiveness of the cost cap to be conducted by the Office for Budget Responsibility, and that review would determine whether the clause’s protections would be extended beyond 2027.

Although I understand the noble Lord’s reluctance to bind subsequent Administrations for 25 years to a more onerous process, I must reiterate the Government’s position on the new 2015 schemes. First, we believe that if the cost cap is necessary, it will work. If it does not, the solution does not lie in reducing the consultation and reporting requirements that govern fundamental changes to public service pension schemes. To make this amendment would risk causing unjustified concern and uncertainty to scheme members about the commitments that the Government have given in the context of negotiating the important reforms made by this Bill. I am very happy in that respect to repeat the

21 Jan 2013 : Column 947

statements of my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when he described the new schemes as,

“a deal that can endure for at least 25 years and hopefully longer”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 2/11/11; col. 929.]

We have committed that this belief should be enshrined in the primary legislation governing these schemes. We do not share the gloom of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, as to their unaffordabilty. Therefore, I hope that he will not press his amendment.

Amendment 118B was discussed in another place, and there the Government set out their belief that the elements of the new pension scheme designs which have been designated as “protected” are the right ones. It is right that members and their representatives should seek reassurance from the Government over their commitment to the new schemes that have been negotiated. However, these schemes must work in the real world. Public service pension schemes require regular tweaking to keep them in line with all kinds of other legislation, and the processes in Clause 20 are not designed for such changes. The protected elements, which have been included by the Government in Clause 20, are those which form the core of the new schemes. The kind of regular, purely administrative, changes that are made to the regulations of public service pension schemes are unlikely to touch on these aspects of design. If they ever do, it would be right for scheme members to be reassured about the impact of such changes through the procedures in Clause 20. Those elements suggested by the amendment go beyond this. These are aspects of design which are likely to require administrative changes, and so the proper consultation requirements which should apply to them are those set out in Clause 19. It is not as though the changes are not consulted on at all.

It may be of benefit to the House if I give a couple of examples of the kind of changes to the three heads under the noble Lord’s amendment that have been made in a couple of years, which demonstrate the kind of thing that we are talking about. In respect of pensionable earnings, for example, we are about to remove all references to primary care trusts in connection with their role in establishing pensionable earnings for practitioners. That is a small administrative change to reflect the fact that PCTs are on the way out. On ill health benefits, we have made changes that allow scheme medical advisers to determine that a member can satisfy the severe ill health condition for the purposes of the Finance Act 2004. It is a small administrative change. In respect of early retirement, changes made from 1 April 2010 required that an employer should pay the costs of the early payment of a mandatory retirement lump sum, paid to a member retiring on the grounds of redundancy. So, again, it is a small administrative change.

In view of the reassurance that I have, I hope, been able to give the noble Lord, and my attempt to clarify the way in which the clauses work, I hope that he will feel able not to press his amendments.

Having given reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, that we believe that the cost caps will work, I am afraid that I cannot support Amendment 118C.

21 Jan 2013 : Column 948

This amendment cuts across the provisions relating to the cost cap mechanism set out in Clause 11. As discussed in another place, that mechanism already contains a number of its own consultation requirements. Indeed, the arrangements in Clause 11 are actually more stringent than those set out in Clause 20. It may be to the benefit of the House if I read it out. The Bill says that,

“scheme regulations may provide for … a procedure for the responsible authority, the scheme manager … employers and members (or representatives of employers and members) to reach agreement”.

So there is a requirement in the Bill that they have to reach agreement, whereas Clause 20 requires only consultation with a view to reaching agreement.

Lord Eatwell: The noble Lord is very kind to read out that little piece from the earlier clause. However, it uses the word “may”, and “may” is not a requirement.

Lord Newby: My Lords, we are back to the “may” and “must” issue here. Clause 11(6) states:

“For cases where the cost of the scheme would otherwise go beyond the margins, scheme regulations may provide for—”.

It then lists several things that may be provided for. This is one of those cases where in reality the difference between “may” and “must” is not only negligible, it does not exist. The schemes will include those provisions; that is exactly why they are in the Bill. Having another process for consultation, as the noble Lord suggests, is unnecessary. I hope, therefore, that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. I am particularly pleased with government Amendment 118, which achieves what we were attempting to achieve through Amendment 118ZA in a very satisfactory and comprehensive manner. Regarding the other amendments which we have proposed, as I have said on numerous occasions, we look forward to the Minister’s amendments with respect to the retrospective measures in this Bill.

I wish to comment on his rejection of Amendment 118B, which seeks to include the scheme’s definition of pensionable earnings, ill-health benefits and early retirement rights under the so-called protected elements in Clause 20. The examples he gave were indeed administrative, but they were not in the least reassuring. The fact that there was a series of administrative changes does not mean that future changes will also be of such limited significance, because the clause allows for greater changes. It is like saying that it might not be very significant if one player on a football team has a shirt that does not quite match those of the others. It is very significant if he is then not allowed on to the pitch. Giving us these so-called reassuring examples is an exercise in which I hope we will not indulge in the future, because it does not address the nature of the argument. However, at this time I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 116A, which deals with the issues of retrospection that we will discuss on Report.

Amendment 116A withdrawn.

21 Jan 2013 : Column 949

Amendment 117

Moved by Lord Newby

117: Clause 20, page 11, line 40, leave out paragraph (d)

Amendment 117 agreed.

Amendment 117A not moved.

Amendment 118

Moved by Lord Newby

118: Clause 20, page 11, line 42, leave out from second “period” to end of line 43 and insert “beginning with the coming into force of this section and ending with 31 March 2040;”

Amendment 118 agreed.

Amendments 118ZA to 119 not moved.

Clause 20, as amended, agreed.

3.45 pm

Clause 21 : Other procedure

Amendments 119A and 120 not moved.

Clause 21 agreed.

Amendment 120A

Moved by Lord Eatwell

120A: After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—

“Scheme participation

The Treasury shall commission an independent review into the appropriateness of increased pension contributions if, following the full implementation of the increases in employee contributions announced in the Government’s 2010 Spending Review, the number of members opting out of any public service pension scheme increases by more than 5 per cent compared with the drop-out rate in the 12 months immediately before any contribution increases were implemented.”

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, the purpose of this proposed new clause is to evaluate scheme participation. I am sure all of us are very concerned that members should participate fully in the pension scheme that is available with their employment. Some of the new measures which will be introduced this year are complex but it will typically be in members’ best interests to remain in their defined benefit scheme—in this case, their average earnings defined benefit scheme.

The role of the proposed new clause is to require the Government to assess the attrition of membership of public sector pension schemes consequent upon the increase in contributions which will take place following the 2010 spending review. The purpose of the amendment is to determine whether the number of members opting out of any public service pension scheme in consequence of the increase in contributions exceeds by 5%—this is an arbitrary number—the drop-out rate immediately before the contribution increases. Therefore, it seeks to pick up what the consequence of contribution increases and the various changes which the Bill will introduce might be.

21 Jan 2013 : Column 950

The amendment is not a challenge to the appropriateness of the contributions but merely seeks to provide the sort of information that the Government, employers who are members of the various schemes and, indeed, the members themselves need in order to understand the dynamics of what is going on in public sector pensions. Providing that information to all those groups would be beneficial and would lead to a better informed debate and better informed consideration in future of the development of public sector schemes. I beg to move.

Lord Newby: My Lords, it is probably sensible to remind ourselves why the increases in employee contributions were felt to be necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Hutton, was clear when he said in his interim report that,

“there is clear rationale for increasing member contributions to ensure a fairer distribution of costs between taxpayers and members”.

He sets this in the context of the cost of public service pensions having risen by a third over the past decade to £32 billion and of those increases having fallen mostly on the taxpayer. Subsequently, in 2010, the Chancellor announced a proposed increase in member contributions of 3.2 percentage points, to be phased in progressively over three years from April 2012. Let me be clear: the Government stand behind the justification for these increases and fully expect them to be implemented and carried forward into the new schemes. Proposed scheme final agreements clarify this. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, is right to raise the issue of participation, and I welcome the opportunity to set out what we are doing to maximise this.

First, we have protected the lowest earners from the increases. We know that they are those most likely to opt out, so there will be no increases for those earning under £15,000, and limited increases for those earning under £21,000. Secondly, we have split up each year of proposed increases so that we can assess the impact, particularly on opt-out, of year one, before finalising the approach for the next. As a result, I am pleased to be able to say that following the increases in contributions in April 2012, scheme data show that there has been no discernible increase in opt-out. This perhaps should not come as a surprise. Union representatives at the Bill’s evidence session in the other place unanimously stated that they would continue to advocate membership to their members.

We should also remember that the auto-enrolment policy—begun by the Opposition but implemented by this Government last year—will further encourage pension participation more generally. Therefore, given the clear rationale for rebalancing costs fairly, and the specific steps that the Government have taken to minimise opt-out, we do not intend to revisit the contribution increases after their implementation.

Of course, the Government will closely watch what is happening in practice. We monitor opt-out as a matter of course. In the unlikely eventuality that opt-out rates dramatically rise, naturally we will have to consider the best way forward. However, we think that this is highly unlikely, and the evidence bears that out.

We do not, however, believe that a statutory, independent review of the appropriateness of the increases would be right or necessary. We believe that increasing

21 Jan 2013 : Column 951

contributions is appropriate and that it will leave public service workers with pensions which remain the envy of many in the private sector. Introducing a statutory review mechanism would be misleading to members about the intended permanence of these increases.

The Government will continue the implementation of the increases and will continue to monitor opt-outs from schemes, but we cannot agree to this amendment to provide for a formal review, as, in our view, this would set an unrealistic expectation that the increases might be reversed.

Lord Eatwell: It would have been very nice if the Minister had addressed the actual amendment instead of the fictional one that he seems to have been discussing. There is no suggestion in this amendment of looking at the “appropriateness”, as he put it, of higher contributions. The intention is simply an information exercise; we want to know what is happening and we want it to be clearly revealed. The various measures that he described to maximise participation are very appropriate and desirable, but will they work? We are told, “We believe they’re going to work”, but some people believe in fairies.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I suggest to the noble Lord that it is not a question of hoping, thinking or believing; it is a fact that the increases have been implemented and there has not been a discernible increase in the opt-out rate.

Lord Eatwell: The point is that, if there is a proper review available to all—which the noble Lord is not relying on; I presume that he is relying just on the evidence provided by his officials—we will be able to assess the consequences of the increases.

Finally, I think that when the noble Lord was discussing the measures to prevent opt-out, he mis-spoke. It is not correct that somebody earning less than £15,000 a year is not subject to higher contributions. I think he will find that part-time workers earning less than £15,000 per year are subject to higher contributions.

However, given what we heard, which was clearly a misunderstanding of the purpose of the amendment, for the moment I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 120A withdrawn.

Clause 22 : Extension of schemes

Amendments 121 to 125

Moved by Lord Newby

121: Clause 22, page 12, line 24, leave out “in public service” and insert “specified in section 1(2)”

122: Clause 22, page 12, line 26, leave out “that section” and insert “section 1”

123: Clause 22, page 12, line 28, leave out “in public service” and insert “specified in section 1(2)”

124: Clause 22, page 12, line 30, leave out “not in public service” and insert “, not being persons specified in section 1(2),”

21 Jan 2013 : Column 952

125: Clause 22, page 12, line 32, leave out “not in public service” and insert “(other than persons specified in section 1(2))”

Amendments 121 to 125 agreed.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed.

Clause 23 : Non-scheme benefits

Amendment 126 not moved.

Clause 23 agreed.

Clause 24 agreed.

Schedule 8 : Consequential and minor amendments

Amendment 127 not moved.

Amendments 128 to 132

Moved by Lord Newby

128: Schedule 8, page 47, leave out lines 4 to 39

129: Schedule 8, page 48, line 24, leave out from beginning to end of line 8 on page 49

130: Schedule 8, page 49, leave out lines 24 to 30

131: Schedule 8, page 50, line 27, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 on page 51

132: Schedule 8, page 52, leave out lines 1 to 12

Amendments 128 to 132 agreed.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed.

Clause 25 : Existing local government schemes

Amendments 133 and 134

Moved by Lord Newby

133: Clause 25, page 13, line 16, leave out from “Wales” to end of line 18

134: Clause 25, page 13, line 26, leave out “or (as the case may be) Northern Ireland”

Amendments 133 and 134 agreed.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed.

Clause 26 : Existing schemes for civil servants: extension of access

Amendment 135

Moved by Lord Newby

135: Clause 26, page 13, line 31, leave out from “1972” to “(schemes” in line 33 and insert “so as to extend access to schemes under section 1 of that Act”

Amendment 135 agreed.

Clause 26, as amended, agreed.

21 Jan 2013 : Column 953

Schedule 9 : Existing schemes for civil servants: exension of access

Amendment 136

Moved by Lord Newby

136: Schedule 9, page 54, line 15, leave out from beginning to end of line 12 on page 55

Amendment 136 agreed.

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed.

Clause 27 : New public body pension schemes

Amendments 137 to 139

Moved by Lord Newby

137: Clause 27, page 14, line 12, leave out “13 and” and insert “(Information about benefits) to”

138: Clause 27, page 14, line 21, leave out from “Treasury” to end of line 28

139: Clause 27, page 14, line 28, at end insert—

“( ) This section does not apply to a new public body pension scheme which relates to a devolved body or office.”

Amendments 137 to 139 agreed.

Clause 27, as amended, agreed.

Clause 28 : Restriction of certain existing public body pension schemes

Amendments 140 to 143

Moved by Lord Newby

140: Clause 28, page 15, line 2, leave out “the scheme” and insert “a scheme to which subsection (2) applies”

141: Clause 28, page 15, line 10, leave out “the scheme” and insert “a scheme to which subsection (2) applies”

142: Clause 28, page 15, line 14, leave out “this section” and insert “subsection (2)”

143: Clause 28, page 15, line 22, at end insert—

“but may not add a devolved body or office.”

Amendments 140 to 143 agreed.

Amendment 143A

Moved by Lord Eatwell

143A: Clause 28, page 15, line 22, leave out paragraph (b)

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, this amendment refers to Clause 28(10)(b) whereby the Treasury may by order,

“add any body or office to it”—

that is, to Schedule 10, which lists the various schemes that are the subject of the Bill.

The Government have made a couple of amendments to the clause, particularly regarding the provisions dealing with devolved authorities, on which we spoke earlier, but the Treasury is still given the power to amend quite drastically any career average or other defined benefit scheme relating to a public body simply

21 Jan 2013 : Column 954

by adding that body to Schedule 10 at the flick of a pen. That is rather reminiscent of the most notorious part of the Public Bodies Act, which noble Lords will remember, whereby public bodies could just be added to the list of those to be abolished or otherwise changed at will. This House was not willing to accept that position. Similarly, I do not think that the House should be willing to accept this particular situation in which, without any by your leave whatever, public sector schemes or other arrangements in a public body that is not part of our consideration should be simply added at will. Surely there should be a degree of consideration before that is done.

The amendment suggests that paragraph (b), which refers to adding any body or office to Schedule 10, should be left out. The Treasury can remove any body or office from Schedule 10 and the issue relating to devolved authorities will also stand. We cannot rely on a flick of the pen to incorporate bodies into the Bill. We need to know the list that will be incorporated. I appreciate the difficulties that exhaustive lists create but we are dealing with people’s pensions, which is an aspect of life about which people are most nervous and insecure. We cannot say that one day somebody will decide that a fund that was previously not part of these conditions now will be, and that the issue will not be debated—that there is nothing anyone can do and it will just be done by fiat. That is not appropriate. I beg to move.

4 pm

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Government have always been clear that pension reform should extend to all public service pensions. Clause 28 and Schedule 10 are the means by which that work will be continued, even after enactment of the Bill. To date, the Government have focused their resources on reforming the largest public service pension schemes as these affect the vast majority of public service employees. As such, pension reform for the smaller public bodies is not as advanced as the reforms to these major schemes. Noble Lords may be reassured to know that reform of these smaller schemes is anticipated to be completed by 2018, after the reforms to the larger schemes are operational in 2015.

The Government’s policy with regard to these schemes is clear: any public body whose defined benefit pension scheme needs to be reformed is listed in Schedule 10 or may be added to it. Members of these schemes should be well aware that their pensions are in scope of the reforms. However, the arrangements surrounding some of these pension schemes are complex and it may be unnecessary to include them in Schedule 10 if they are able to reform on their own initiative. If so, they will not need to be listed.

To date, we have worked hard to ensure that all the public bodies that operate pension schemes eligible for reform by the powers under Clause 28 have been listed in Schedule 10. However, we are trying to be realistic with this provision: of the more than 400 public bodies that provide pensions to their employees or officeholders, some may not yet have been identified appropriately. That said, I can assure the noble Lord that the vast majority of public bodies that provide pensions through one of the major public service schemes will be reformed

21 Jan 2013 : Column 955

by Clause 1, so the number of public bodies that may have to be added will be extremely low. However, if we need to include such schemes, the Bill needs to provide for the Treasury to add them via Schedule 10.

I note what the noble Lord says about draconian powers but it is worth noting that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not express any concerns whatever about this power as currently drafted. It is a sensible way of dealing with the addition of a small number of public bodies to the universal principles of public sector reform. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will clarify for my edification his reference to schemes reforming themselves and then not needing to be incorporated into Schedule 10. What will be the criteria of satisfactory reform and who will do the judging?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the criteria for satisfactory reform is that we want all public bodies to adopt schemes which are in line with the provisions of the Bill. So, if the schemes do that, that is fine. There are a number of schemes, some of which are listed already and some of which may need to be listed subsequently, when the Government and the Treasury believe that the process will be helped if they are formally listed in the Bill or under the Act.

Lord Eatwell: I thank the Minister but this is unsatisfactory. It leaves an area of uncertainty hovering over smaller schemes, which may be in or may be out. I presume, therefore, that the Treasury will make a judgment as to what it thinks in its wisdom is right. I do not think that is a proper way to go forward and may return to this issue later. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 143A withdrawn.

Amendment 144

Moved by Lord Newby

144: Clause 28, page 15, line 30, leave out “which are closed under this section” and insert “to which subsection (2) applies”

Amendment 144 agreed.

Clause 28, as amended, agreed.

Schedule 10 agreed.

Clause 29 : Existing public body pension schemes: pension age

Amendment 145

Moved by Lord Newby

145: Clause 29, page 15, line 44, at end insert—

“( ) This section does not apply to a public body pension scheme which relates to a devolved body or office.”

21 Jan 2013 : Column 956

Amendment 145 agreed.

Clause 29, as amended, agreed.

Clause 30 agreed.

Schedule 11 agreed.

Clause 31: Parliamentary and other pension schemes: pension age

Amendment 146

Moved by Lord Naseby

146: Clause 31, page 16, line 8, leave out from beginning to end of line 39 and insert—

“(1) Schedule 6 to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (parliamentary and other pensions) is amended as follows.

(2) In paragraph 19, for sub-paragraph (3) substitute—

“(3) Sub-paragraph (2) does not apply if either—

(a) the trustees of the Fund consent to the new scheme making the provision, and the person making the new scheme is satisfied that the consent requirement is met, or

(b) the provision provides for a person’s normal pension age or deferred pension age to change in consequence of a change in state pension age in respect of service after the provision comes into force, but not affecting that person’s right (including a contingent right) or entitlement to or in respect of a pension or future pension payable from the Fund which has accrued in respect of service where that age does not change in consequence of a change in state pension age.”

(3) In paragraph 19, at the end insert—

“(8) In this paragraph—

(a) “normal pension age”, in relation to a person and a scheme, means the earliest age at which a person with relevant service is entitled to receive benefits (without actuarial adjustment) on leaving that service (and disregarding any special provision as to early payment of benefits on the grounds of ill-health or otherwise),

(b) “deferred pension age”, in relation to a person and a scheme, means the earliest age at which a person with relevant service is entitled to receive benefits under the scheme (without actuarial adjustment) after leaving that service at a time before normal pension age (and disregarding any special provision as to early payment of benefits on the grounds of ill-health or otherwise), and

(c) “state pension age”, in relation to a person, means the person’s pensionable age as specified from time to time in Schedule 4 to the Pensions Act 1995.””

Lord Naseby: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I must declare an interest as a trustee of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund and as its only active pensioner within the membership of the fund.

The amendment relates to Clause 31—Parliamentary and other pension schemes: pension age. The clause amends Schedule 6 to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, to which I shall hereafter refer as CRAG, by inserting a new paragraph 29A, “Pension age”, into that schedule. It is an enabling measure, not a requirement, as was made clear in the Commons. It enables IPSA, in relation to MPs and the officeholders within its remit, and the Minister for the Civil Service, in relation to the ministerial scheme, to introduce for future benefits a provision whereby “normal pension age” within these schemes will rise automatically with changes in the state pension age.

21 Jan 2013 : Column 957

The PCPF trustees take no issue with the measure itself. As statutory consultees under CRAG, it will be for the trustees another day to debate with IPSA/the MCS the detail as to how such a provision may be implemented for the future. However, we are concerned that the drafting creates ambiguity in the legislation governing the PCPF such that it potentially undermines existing protections afforded to PCPF members in a way that we doubt Parliament intends.

It is important to understand the background. The legislative framework of the PCPF was overhauled by CRAG and is governed by that Act. There was extensive debate at the time of the passage of CRAG about the need to ensure that the accrued rights of PCPF members were appropriately protected in legislation. That was particularly important given that the setting of MPs’ future pension provision was by that Act being transferred to an independent body in IPSA. The legislation appropriately prescribed the boundaries of its powers.

Those boundaries, set out in Schedule 6 to CRAG, were described as follows:

“My aim is to ensure that the statutory safeguards afforded to members of other occupational pension schemes broadly apply to the parliamentary scheme. As with statutory protection for pension schemes elsewhere, amendment 74”—

the government amendment—

“would put a double lock on any provision adversely changing accrued pension rights. It would first be necessary for the trustees to consent to the scheme making such provision and, secondly, each member would have to give his or her informed consent to any changes to accrued rights”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 2/3/10; col. 854.]

The details of those boundaries can be found in paragraph 19, “Protection of accrued rights” and paragraph 20, “Meaning of accrued right”, in Schedule 6 to CRAG. These provide, at paragraph 19(2), that:

“The new scheme must not make any provision in relation to an accrued right which puts (or might put) a person in a worse position than the person would have been in apart from the provision”.

Paragraph 20(2) says that the term “accrued right” means,

“a right (including a contingent right) or entitlement to or in respect of a pension or future pension payable out of the Fund”—

the PCPF—

“which has accrued in respect of service before the provision comes into force”.

The protection does not apply if the PCPF trustees consent to the making of the provision and informed individual member consent requirements are met.

Our concern, as PCPF trustees, is that the clause as drafted risks going beyond the narrow scope to which the Government referred. It is important that this does not happen because the structure of the clause means that it disapplies the accrued rights protection in CRAG and the so-called “double lock” enshrined in CRAG would not exist at all. At its most simple, the difficulty with the clause is that it will import language into CRAG that is inconsistent with the drafting that is there already. With inconsistency comes ambiguity and that risks undermining the double lock that currently exists. The clause fails, for instance, to speak of the removal of the protection as applying only in respect of service after it comes into force, this being the critical aspect of the existing CRAG protection.

21 Jan 2013 : Column 958

I have two questions for my noble friend on the Front Bench. First, what comfort can he provide that the carve-out will not undermine the existing CRAG protections other than to introduce an enabling provision to allow IPSA or the MCS, as appropriate, to tie future service benefits to an NPA that uprates in line with changes to SPA? Secondly, can he confirm that the wording in Clause 31,

“(as well as other benefits)”,

does not extend the application of the carve-out to any benefits other than relevant accrued benefits? I realise that the second question has some technical dimension to it, to which I shall briefly refer. It arises from the wording currently in Clause 31 by way of proposed new paragraph 29A(1) to Schedule 6 of CRAG. It provides that the carve-out from accrued rights protections, to enable the introduction of an NPA that uprates automatically with changes to SPA, is limited. It will apply only to “relevant accrued benefits”. Defined at the proposed new paragraph 29A(3)(d) to Schedule 6 to CRAG, they are benefits accrued after the coming into force of that SPA link—that is, future service benefits. However, the Bill refers to the carve-out applying to,

“relevant accrued benefits (as well as other benefits)”.

The concern is that the additional words in parenthesis could be read as suggesting that the carve-out applies to all benefits, not just to “relevant accrued benefits”.

Having proposed this quite complicated amendment, I hope that nevertheless the Minister will be able to clarify the position and indeed give comfort to me and the other trustees. I beg to move.

Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I support my noble friend, who has explained this technical area very skilfully. Like him, I have to declare an interest as a member of the parliamentary fund and I was a trustee for several years. The great advantage of that is that one does not come to the details of this sort of provision completely unsighted. However, it is a very complicated Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, mentioned, it contains a lot of areas of uncertainty. The same point about ambiguity in drafting was made by my noble friend Lord Naseby. All I want to do is help support the case made by my noble friend and underline every point at which accrued rights are involved. That is a very sensitive area. When the Bill is finally tidied up, special efforts must be made to ensure that accrued rights are dealt with as if they were sacrosanct. I believe they are, but that must be what happens in practice. With those few words, I support my noble friend and hope that the Committee will be sympathetic to the case he put so clearly.

4.15 pm

Lord Newby: My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Naseby and Lord Stewartby, are concerned that Clause 31 as currently drafted creates ambiguity and could have a wider interpretation than is intended. I will seek to put their minds at rest and in doing so answer the two questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.

I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that the clause as drafted does not provide for a wide power to amend accrued rights under the relevant schemes. The power

21 Jan 2013 : Column 959

provided for in the clause is actually very narrow and the disregard for the accrued rights protections in CRAG applies only to this very narrow provision. The power simply allows those responsible for the schemes to amend them to create a link between normal pension age under the scheme and state pension age, which would apply to benefits accrued from the point the amendment takes place. That is to say, once that link is in place any increase in state pension age will increase the normal pension age, but only for those benefits accrued after the creation of the link. That is the key point. The clause does not allow for changes to the indexation arrangements for deferred members, sweeping changes to the death in service benefits or removal of the final salary link. All these areas will continue to have the same level of protection under Schedule 6 as now.

I believe that the phrase,

“(as well as other benefits)”,

in the clause is of considerable concern, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said. I should like to put on the record the Government’s view that this phrase does not open the door to a wider interpretation of the benefits that could be subject to the state pension age link as a consequence of this clause. It is important to include this phrase, so it is clear that the clause does not reduce the power the scheme already had to change the normal pension age for benefits that accrue after the change. However, it is also clear from the current drafting of the clause that the only accrued benefits that come within the new power are “relevant” accrued benefits, as defined in new paragraph 29A(3)(d). I hope therefore that the noble Lord will find sufficient comfort in what I have said to be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Naseby: I am most grateful to my noble friend for listening to the propositions and concerns that we had. I think his answers were very helpful. Certainly, I would like to study his reply very carefully after Committee stage, and if necessary return on Report, but I hope that will not be necessary. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 146 withdrawn.

Clause 31 agreed.

Clause 32 agreed.

Amendment 147 not moved.

Clause 33 : General interpretation

Amendment 148

Moved by Lord Newby

148: Clause 33, page 18, line 14, at end insert—

““devolved”: a body or office is “devolved” if or to the extent that provision about pensions payable to or in respect of members or staff of the body, or a holder of the office—

(a) would be within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly were that provision contained in an Act of the Assembly, or

(b) is not a reserved matter within the meaning of the Scotland Act 1998;”

Amendment 148 agreed.

21 Jan 2013 : Column 960

Amendments 149 to 153

Moved by Lord Newby

149: Clause 33, page 18, leave out line 15

150: Clause 33, page 18, line 44, at end insert—

““local authority” means—

(a) a local authority in England and Wales within the meaning of Part 1 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989;

(b) a council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994;”

151: Clause 33, page 18, leave out line 49

152: Clause 33, page 18, line 50, at end insert—

““pension board” has the meaning given by section 5(8);”

153: Clause 33, page 19, line 22, at end insert—

““scheme advisory board” has the meaning given by section (Scheme advisory board)(6);”

Amendments 149 to 153 agreed.

Clause 33, as amended, agreed.

Clause 34 : Regulations, orders and directions

Amendments 154 to 156

Moved by Lord Newby

154: Clause 34, page 19, line 46, leave out paragraph (b)

155: Clause 34, page 20, line 10, leave out paragraph (c)

156: Clause 34, page 20, line 22, leave out paragraph (c)

Amendments 154 to 156 agreed.

Clause 34, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 35 to 38 agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments.



4.21 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the despicable terrorist attack in Algeria and the tragic events of the past few days. It is with great sadness that I have to confirm that we now know that three British nationals have been killed and that a further three are believed to be dead, as is a Colombian national who was resident in Britain. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all of those who have lost loved ones.

First, let me update the House on developments over the weekend and the steps that we have taken to get survivors home. Then let me begin to set out how I believe we will work with our allies to overcome the terrorist scourge in this region.

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The Algerian Prime Minister told me on Saturday afternoon that the Algerian military had completed their offensive and that the terrorist incident was over. Since then, Algerian forces have undertaken a further operation to clear the site of potential explosives and booby traps. This is still being completed and it will allow our embassy-led team to access the site.

It is important to put on record the scale of what happened. There is still some uncertainty around the precise facts but we believe that, in total, some 800 employees were working at the In Amenas site at the time of the attack, about 135 of whom were foreign nationals. More than 40 were taken hostage and at least 12 were killed, with at least a further 20 unaccounted for and feared dead. The Algerian Prime Minister has said today that he believes that 37 foreign hostages were killed. The number of terrorists was more than 30. Most were killed during the incident, but a small number are in Algerian custody.

Our immediate priorities have been the safety of the British nationals involved, the evacuation of the wounded and freed hostages, and the repatriation of those who have tragically been killed. Working closely with BP, and side by side with our US, Japanese and Norwegian partners, a swift international evacuation effort has been completed. The last British flights out on Saturday night brought not only the remaining freed Britons but Germans, Americans, New Zealanders, Croats, Romanians and Portuguese. As of yesterday, all 22 British nationals caught up in the attack who either escaped or were freed had been safely returned to Britain to be debriefed by the police and, of course, to be reunited with their families.

Now, our most vital work is bringing home those who died. An international team of British, American and Norwegian experts is in close co-operation with the Algerian Ministry of Justice, undertaking the task of formally identifying their bodies. We want this process to happen as swiftly as possible but it will involve some intensive forensic and policing work and so may take some time.

Throughout the last five days, the British ambassador to Algeria and staff from across government, and beyond, have been working around the clock to support British citizens and their families. I am sure the House would like to join me in thanking them for their efforts. We should also recognise all that the Algerians have done to confront this dreadful attack. I am sure the House will understand the challenges that Algeria faced in dealing with more than 30 terrorists bent on killing innocent people in a large and extremely remote and dangerous industrial complex. This would have been a most demanding task for security forces anywhere in the world and we should acknowledge the resolve shown by the Algerians in undertaking it. Above all, the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists.

Many questions remain about this whole incident, but one thing is clear. This attack underlines the threat that terrorist groups pose to the countries and peoples of that region and to our citizens, our companies and our interests too. Four years ago, the principal threat from Islamist extremism came from the Afghanistan and Pakistan region. A huge amount has been done to

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address and reduce the scale of that threat. Whereas at one point three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against the UK had links to that region, today this has reduced to less than half. At the same time, al-Qaeda franchises have grown in Yemen, Somalia and parts of north Africa.

The changing nature of the threat we face was highlighted in our national security strategy in 2010 and it shaped the decisions that we made. While of course there were difficult decisions to make, we increased our investment in our Special Forces, cybersecurity and key intelligence capabilities while also increasing our investment in fragile and broken states.

In north Africa, as in Somalia, terrorist activity has been fuelled by hostage ransoms and by wider criminality. To date, the threat it poses has been to those north African states themselves and, of course, to western interests in those states. But as it escalates, it is also becoming a magnet for jihadists from other countries who share this poisonous ideology. Indeed, there are already reports of non-Algerian nationals involved in this attack. More than ever, this evolving threat demands an international response. It must be one that is tough, intelligent, patient and based on strong international partnerships.

First, we should be clear that this murderous violence requires a strong security response. We must be realistic and hard-headed about the threats we face. Our role is to support the Governments of the region in their resolve to combat this menace, as many are doing at great cost. So we will work closely with the Algerian Government to learn the lessons of this attack, and to deepen our security co-operation. We will contribute British intelligence and counterterrorism assets to an international effort to find and dismantle the network that planned and ordered the brutal assault at In Amenas.

We must work right across the region. In Nigeria, we will continue our close security partnership with the Government as they confront Islamist-inspired terrorism. In Libya, we will continue to support the new Government on the urgent priority of building new and effective security forces. In Mali, we will work with the Malians themselves, with their neighbours and with our international allies to prevent a new terrorist haven developing on Europe’s doorstep. We support the French intervention that took place at the request of the Malian Government and we are working to ensure that an African-led military force can, with the appropriate training and support, help to ensure Mali's long-term stability. That support will include the EU training mission that was agreed by EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels last week.

Secondly, our tough security response must be matched by an intelligent political response. Al-Qaeda franchises thrive where there are weak political institutions, political instability and the failure to address long-standing political grievances, so we need a political approach that addresses these issues. We must support effective and accountable government, we must back people in their search for a job and a voice, and we must work with the UN and our international partners to solve long-standing political conflicts and grievances. Thirdly, we must be patient and resolute.

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Together with our partners in the region, we are in the midst of a generational struggle against an ideology which is an extreme distortion of the Islamic faith and which holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary. We must tackle this poisonous thinking at home and abroad and resist the ideologues’ attempt to divide the world into a clash of civilisations.

The underlying conflicts and grievances that are exploited by terrorists are in many cases long-standing and deep, and, of course, the building blocks of democracy—the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, the rights of minorities, free media and association and a proper place in society for the army—are a big part of the solution but all take a long time to put in place. Yet this patient, intelligent but tough approach is the best way to defeat terrorism and to ensure our own security. We must pursue it with an iron resolve, and I will use our chairmanship of the G8 this year to make sure this issue of terrorism and how we respond to it is right at the top of the agenda, where it belongs.

In sum, we must frustrate the terrorists with our security, we must beat them militarily, we must address the poisonous narrative they feed on, we must close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive and we must deal with the grievances they use to garner support. We must demonstrate the same resolve and purpose that previous generations have shown when dealing with these issues in this House and in the country. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.31 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating a Statement on Algeria given in the other place by the Prime Minister.

I start by joining the noble Lord and the Prime Minister in expressing my deepest sympathy and condolences to the families who lost loved ones in last week’s terrorist attack. For them, and for all those involved, the past six days have been an unimaginable nightmare. The whole country has been shocked as the horrific details of this unprovoked and violent act of terror have emerged. This was pre-meditated, cold- blooded murder of the most brutal kind, and behind each lost life is a family of loved ones who are in our thoughts today.

I echo the Prime Minister’s unequivocal condemnation of those involved in planning and carrying out this attack. It is they who must bear full responsibility for the dreadful loss of life, and every effort must now be made to bring them to justice. We on this side of the House will give the Government our full support as they seek to achieve this, and we endorse the thanks expressed by the Prime Minister to our embassy staff in Algeria. We will also give the Government our support as they consider how best to respond to the growing threat which al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other violent extremist groups pose.

In particular, the task is to understand the nature of the new threat—more decentralised, more fragmented, taking advantage of the ungoverned spaces and security

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vacuum in parts of north Africa—and at the same time, in its response, for the international community to apply the lessons of the past about the combination of diplomacy, politics and security required to help bring about stability in the region.

First on the attack itself, people will agree with the Prime Minister that the Algerian Government were faced with some extremely difficult judgments about how and when to act. Nevertheless, do the Government believe that there are any lessons to be learnt for Governments handling terrorist incidents on their soil? Secondly, in light of the attack, can the noble Lord the Leader say more about the work that the British Government are doing with British companies operating in the region, and can he tell us whether at this early stage any lessons can be learnt?

Turning to the broader context of what is happening in the region, on Mali we support the actions of the Government to date, and we welcome the confirmation by the Prime Minister that they do not envisage a combat role for British troops. Do the Government agree that the efforts of the French military must be supplemented by the much more rapid deployment of west African forces, and what is the Government’s view about whether this can be achieved? After last year’s coup, the Government of Mali face both a security and a legitimacy crisis. What further steps can be taken by the international community and Governments to use diplomacy and development to stabilise the situation? In particular, which international body should co-ordinate this urgent work? More broadly across the region, countering the emerging threat of terrorism begins with understanding it and talking about it in the right way. The work to deal with this threat will be painstaking—diplomatic and political as much as military; collaborative and multilateral, not unilateral. There is no quick fix.

Do the Government agree that we are talking about a number of distinct regional organisations—some using the banner of al-Qaeda, others not—rather than a single, centrally controlled group? Each of these threats needs to be monitored and countered appropriately. Can the noble Lord the Leader outline what steps might be taken to improve the flow of information and intelligence from the region, and whether it needs to be better shared with key allies? We know that these threats grow where governance is weak, as the noble Lord himself suggested. What longer-term roles do the Government anticipate for the African Union and ECOWAS—the Economic Community of West African States—in securing greater stability in the region, and how can the European Union support this effort? In relation to ready access to arms, can the Leader of the House set out how the international community can better prevent the spread of this weaponry throughout the region, including weapons left over from the Libyan conflict?

Finally, do the Government agree that if we are to meet the challenges we face, we need a much greater focus of our diplomatic, development and political resources on this region? We should also remember the events of the Arab Spring, which demonstrated the desire of people across north Africa to improve their lives through peaceful means, not through violence

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and terror. We should support them. Indeed, I was at a conference in Cairo at the weekend, supporting colleagues from the newly formed Arab Social Democratic Forum, all of whom are committed to meeting the concerns of their citizens and achieving social justice through democratic means and respecting human rights, human dignity and the rule of law.

However, today, above all, we mourn the victims of this terrorist attack. We grieve with the families of those who died. We stand united in seeking to bring the perpetrators to justice and will do everything we can to protect British citizens working and living across the world.

4.36 pm

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition for the support she has given to the Government. I agree very much with her comments and the tone with which she concluded her response. I think all sides of the House would want to align themselves with what she said and the Statement my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made. She was also right, at the beginning of her comments, to emphasise the importance of understanding the nature of this new threat. That is something we very much need to do.

On some of her specific points, it is clear that the Algerian Government found themselves having to deal with an extremely difficult and complicated situation many thousands of miles away from the capital in a very remote part of the world. All of us need to recognise the difficulty they confronted. She asked whether there are lessons we can learn from that. I am sure there are—we always need to learn from events and it is vital that the British Government continue to work closely with the Algerian Government.

With regard to the work of the British Government in the region, all major British companies have now been contacted and have put in place improved security procedures and the consular information has been updated.

The noble Baroness rightly said that we have made clear that there is not a combat role for British troops in Mali but I think we should support the French in taking emergency action. We have, as she knows, already lent them two C-17s and are due to discuss our help to them at the National Security Council tomorrow. In terms of progress on the ground and the involvement of other countries in supporting the effort in Mali, there are some African soldiers on the ground. We hope that more will follow soon. This will be co-ordinated by ECOWAS and the United Nations, but she is absolutely right to say that there is no quick fix for any of this. She said rightly that we believe that this is the work of a number of distinct organisations under the al-Qaeda banner. They are distinct but there are connections between them and we will need to deal with them individually but recognise those commonalities.

In terms of improving the flow of intelligence to the area, the noble Baroness will know that recently, before Christmas, the Prime Minister appointed his own envoy to the Sahel. Discussions at the NSC about the Sahel are continuing. We will need to work with our allies, particularly the French, in making sure that we share all the intelligence that we can.

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On the role of the African Union and ECOWAS, we certainly need to help build capacity for the future to deal with those issues. We have stepped up our help to Libya to try to remove weapons from the region. The noble Baroness rightly raised the issue of security on the borders. One of the priorities of all our work in Libya is to try to address that important issue, and working with other countries and the Libyans to make the region more secure. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness’s concluding remarks on the importance of having a great focus on the region. I agree with her remarks about the Arab spring, and the long-term benefit to which that will give rise. There are obviously difficulties through which we need to work, but we need that focus. It is also worth remembering that, in the past, brutal regimes have not made our world any safer.

I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s remarks. We will continue to work on this.

4.41 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, we support the Prime Minister in the calm and measured response that the Government have given to this crisis. Of course, we join with the Minister, the Prime Minister and the whole House in expressing our sympathy for all those affected, particularly our British families who have lost, or who are still awaiting news of, their loved ones.

We face a serious situation developing in Algeria and throughout the Sahel. The emergence of Islamist groups such as AQIM has been long foreseen. The advent of the Arab spring has unfortunately created an environment, through porous borders and the like, in which extremism can now more readily flourish across the region. What specific measures are the Government taking to ensure that the African nations engaged through the AU, ECOWAS and the UN have full access to effective EU training and support for counterterrorism actions? What measures are the Government taking to develop an international security protocol to protect the personnel and the assets of the companies working in difficult conditions in these remote regions?

Finally, what specific initiatives, and with whom, are the Government taking in the Sahel to enable the underlying economic exclusion—unemployment and poverty— fuelling the unrest to be tackled? I appreciate that at this stage it may be difficult for the Leader to comment in detail, but can he give us some indication of when we might get that sort of specificity?

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chidgey for his support. I will need to follow up some of his specific questions over time. Currently, the broad approach is becoming clear: the need to emphasise the importance of the Sahel and for us to up our efforts in working with a range of interested parties, whether through the EU or with other individual states; to address both the security issue but also the kind of economic issue to which my noble friend refers; and recognising that political and military solutions need to go hand in hand. We must address some of the underlying issues to do with poverty, which act as fuel for people who recruit and feed on those grievances.

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Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Does the Minister accept the endorsement of what the Prime Minister said: it really is shameful that, at a moment like this, after these horrific events, so many attempts are made to look for people who are responsible other than the terrorists themselves? The events that took place were not provoked by the invasion of Mali. They were not provoked by any behaviour that could possibly be regarded as justifying it; it is right to say that.

Will the Minister also address the need to mount a really successful international operation to restore the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Mali and, hopefully, a properly functioning governance system there? This will not be easy or short. Is any thought being given to a recommendation made by two UN panels that, where the UN asks a sub-regional organisation, such as ECOWAS, to undertake a very tough business like this and where keeping the regional powers in the fore must surely be the right thing to do, the costs should be met under the UN assessed contributions and not simply through having to rely on carrying a hat around, invariably, to the European Union? Why should countries such as Japan, Russia or China not contribute?

That proposal has been made on a number of occasions. I do not think that it has ever yet born fruit. Surely, an operation such as this demonstrates the need to provide ECOWAS, which has no any financial resources of its own, with a proper underpinning for the task we are asking it to undertake.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, first, I very much associate myself with the first comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about who was responsible for this attack and with his point about those attempting to say that it is the sensible and appropriate action being taken as regards Mali that has driven this. He is clearly right that there is not that linkage. As far as we can tell, the attack, which was extremely well planned, must have been some time in the making. The idea that it was triggered by recent events in Mali does not seem to make sense.

On his broader point about Mali and how we can take it forward, I listened with great care to what he said. I know that discussions are going on at the UN on precisely those issues. I will follow those points up subsequently.

Lord Howell of Guildford: Does my noble friend accept that the emphasis in the Statement on the resolve of the Algerian authorities and Algerian forces in dealing with this horrific situation is extremely welcome? Is he aware of a point that was not made in the Statement but perhaps should have been; namely, that in recent years and months, Algeria has been seeking to move much more closely to the United Kingdom through trade links, business links, links in relation to prison reform and human rights, and through a whole range of other areas, as well as an interest in associating itself in some way with the Commonwealth? In short, Algeria regards Britain as a strong and growing friend. Therefore, it is fully entitled to expect from us not criticism but support and encouragement in dealing with this very difficult situation.

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Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful for the comments made by my noble friend, to whom I always listen with a great deal of care. His views on these matters are highly respected in this House. It is obviously the case that Algeria over a long time has been dealing with these terrible issues, going back over many years. It is a sovereign country. We should respect the difficult decisions that it had to take. It is also the case that in addressing this horrible situation, Algerians lost their lives and Algeria’s armed forces risked their lives to help free nationals from around the globe. I agree with my noble friend about the importance of us making sure that our relations with Algeria build on the improvements made and become closer, and that people do not rush to condemn it.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure we all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the responsibility for this hideous incident lies entirely with the terrorists concerned. I hope that the Leader of the House also agrees that there is a real problem about regional security in that part of north Africa. I want particularly to raise with him the unresolved issue over the western Sahara. In recent years, Morocco has told us over and over again that because of the disputed territory there, the western Sahara is peculiarly vulnerable to al-Qaeda activity, to training camps for terrorists and to other activity of a really appalling nature. Are the United Kingdom Government now prepared to raise this issue again forcefully in the United Nations in order to try to get some proper security into the western Sahara so that that territory cannot be used as a launching pad for this sort of activity in the region in future?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I take the points that the noble Baroness makes. The Government, the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister have been aware of the growing threat to which she refers. I will certainly pursue those points, as I know she will. Perhaps we might have a word about it.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest as a former non-executive director of BP. I would also like to echo the condolences that have been expressed to the families of all the victims. Does the noble Lord accept that one essential element in confronting Islamic extremism, not only in north Africa but elsewhere, is the unresolved problem of the Middle East peace process? I suggest that we and our partners should make a positive and active attempt to revive the moribund peace process and to work towards—at last—a just and permanent peace settlement for the Palestinians.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, on the noble Lord’s condolences and the role of BP, it has clearly been a very distressing time for BP and all its employees. I think that all noble Lords will endorse the points that were made. On his broader point, yes, that whole issue is one that the Government are very aware of and continue to pursue to try to resolve at every possible opportunity.

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Lord Naseby: The speed with which the Prime Minister moved in calling COBRA meetings and the Government as a whole moved in bringing back our colleagues who survived is greatly to be welcomed. The Prime Minister mentioned in his Statement that priority will now be given to bringing back the remains of those who have died. To that end, I wonder whether it might not be in the interests of all parties if a senior coroner, or a recently retired coroner, was hastily made one of that team to ensure that, if at all possible, this can be done even more quickly than has ever been achieved before.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments both about the way in which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has handled this crisis and also his points about the importance of resolving the problem of repatriating these bodies—which is a deeply distressing thing for all the families concerned—as soon as possible. I know that officials in our embassy and from the police are working closely with the Algerian authorities in the kind of way he describes to resolve it as rapidly as possible.

Lord Lea of Crondall: Perhaps I may ask a couple of related questions about African ownership of the solutions. First, for some years I was the secretary of the All-Party Group on Algeria, after Prime Minister Blair and President Bouteflika were starting a new rapprochement. One of the problems, of course, is that they do not have Westminster-style democracy in Algeria. On the other hand, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that we have to have practical, in-depth parliamentary arrangements with Algeria, as we do with Ethiopia or anywhere else where we may not have perfect arrangements? Secondly, is there not scope for giving more congratulations to the African Union on the string of successes it has had right across the tenth parallel from Somalia through to Chad, South Sudan and right the way across? I base this on a talk that I had in Addis two months ago with the executive director for security of the African Union. I think it is fair to say that they are remarkably able people but very badly resourced. We ought to be a little less schizophrenic about letting the African Union take the lead instead of damning it with faint praise for not being as effective as it should be.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with both the noble Lord’s points—on the importance of working with Algeria, and having African solutions to problems in Africa.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, is the Minister aware that two of the fatalities were men from Liverpool? Paul Morgan, the head of security, originated from Aigburth, and was killed while trying to repel the attackers. Garry Barlow, from Allerton, reportedly had Semtex strapped to his chest. Their deaths left their loved ones and the local community utterly devastated. Will the Minister ensure that every practical help is given to these and the other grieving families as they try to come to terms with their loss? As this jihadist contagion threatens other countries, especially Nigeria, will he look again at the proscribing of Boko Haram, which has been responsible for hundreds of

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deaths, and the need to find political and economic solutions to deter the easy recruitment of the disaffected, as well as the wisdom of supporting militias in places such as Syria, which have links with al-Qaeda, or share jihadist indifference to the slaughter of innocent people?

Lord Hill of Oareford: First, I agree very much with the noble Lord how important it is that these poor families have every support that we can give them. I know that through the police and in other ways through our embassy we have been providing as much of that support as we possibly can.

On his broader point about Nigeria, we strongly condemn the violence that there has been in northern Nigeria. We are working with the Nigerian authorities to try to find lasting solutions to that conflict and, through our High Commission in Abuja, we are supporting counterterrorism work and interfaith projects. In November, the terrorist organisation, Ansaru, was proscribed by Her Majesty’s Government, which I hope sent a clear message that we condemn its terrorist activities.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: First, I associate these Benches with the sympathy with the relatives of those who have died and who have experienced the nightmare of either knowing that their relatives have died or not knowing what has happened to them. We meet in mourning this afternoon. We also associate ourselves with the thanks to the diplomatic staff, who have done such an excellent job in repatriating those who have died and making sure that the hostages who have been freed have returned home.

I welcome the phrase from the Statement where the Prime Minister speaks of these events as a,

“distortion of the Islamic faith”.

Will the Leader of the House express his support for the vast majority of Muslims, in this country and across the world, who express their own bitter opposition to violence? This is sometimes associated, on the part of terrorist organisations, with allegations of western and Christian aggression. Will he also affirm his support for all that interfaith activity in the cause of peace, which is going to be so crucial to the development of a cultural situation across the world where peace is seen as a crucial part of the future of our world?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the support that he expressed from the Bishops’ Benches for the work of our embassy staff and others who have been dealing with this awful situation. I am very happy to associate myself as strongly as I can with both the statements that he made—that these terrorists and extremist Islamist organisations represent a distortion of the faith, and his view that interfaith work has an important part to play in trying to build understanding and putting these aberrations into their proper context.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, I endorse strongly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the United Nations, but can I also ask the Leader of the House about what role the Government see for the European Union’s External

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Action Service in this important region? In addition, in relation to the drug trade, while the weapons that are being used may well be coming from Libya and elsewhere, it is absolutely clear that at least part of the finance is coming from the drug trade that comes up through Guinea-Bissau and other failed states from South America, through the Sahel and the Mediterranean and into Europe. Can we have an assurance from the Government that they see this wider picture as including dealing with that key element, which is part of the source of the problem?

Lord Hill of Oareford: The noble Lord very accurately reflects the interconnections that exist between criminality, terrorism and all the different factors which come together. As he said, we know how criminal activity is used to fund terrorist activity in a horrible nexus in a number of places. He is right to emphasise that we need to find ways of tackling both strands in the solutions that we develop: both security and military, and political. As far as the EU is concerned, it is one of a number of different bodies with which we need to work to find solutions. The support which it is providing for training in Mali is one example, and there are others too. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to do everything that we can to build on that.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: The noble Lord the Leader of the House referred to French intervention in Mali. It is of course accepted that that is not only lawful, but laudable, and historically utterly understandable. Does he agree, however, that in such terrifying circumstances as these, the maximum premium should be placed upon collective responsibility and concerted action? Is he able to say whether the Government of France came to any consideration or discussion on this matter with any country other than Mali, including of course the neighbouring African countries, before sending troops into Mali?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I am afraid that I am not able to add a great amount in response to the noble Lord’s question. I know that it is the case, as he has said, that the Malian Government invited the French to undertake that intervention. It was urgent in the circumstances on the ground. If I can find better particulars I will of course pass them on to the noble Lord with great pleasure.

Korean Peninsula

Question for Short Debate

5.01 pm

Asked By Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the security, humanitarian, and human rights situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank noble Lords from all parts of the House for taking part in today’s short debate. I know that the retiming of the

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debate will deprive us of several contributions, notably that of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, who has to chair a Select Committee.

The Motion before us focuses, as I will, on three things: security, humanitarian needs and human rights concerns in North Korea. Since 2003, when, with my noble friend Lady Cox, I made the first of four visits to North Korea, I have served as chairman of the All-Party Group on North Korea. Last September, while in China, I visited the River Tumen, where many trying to leave the DPRK have lost their lives.

The continuing security challenges posed by North Korea were underlined by its rocket launch in December and reports a week ago that it may be about to conduct its third nuclear test. Last Friday, the Russian ambassador to the UN Security Council, Vitaly Churkin, said:

“Our position is that the North Korean rocket launch is a violation of a UN Security Council resolution, so the council should react”.

Even more significantly, China is also likely to support a new resolution this week—a significant diplomatic blow to Pyongyang, about which the Minister will doubtless say more. We are talking about the most militarised country on earth, with the world’s fourth largest army and biggest special forces. North Korea’s arsenal includes the full array of weapons of mass destruction: a plutonium-based nuclear weapons programme now supplemented by uranium enrichment; the world’s third largest chemical weapons arsenal; possible biological weapons; and a range of ballistic missiles.

A failure to hammer out a long-term political settlement and a conflict triggered by a Sarajevo moment would replicate the horrendous haemorrhaging loss of life that saw the catastrophic deaths of around 3 million people in the Korean War. The 2010 sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island underline North Korea’s capacity to initiate hostility, and, in the cyber domain, interference with the GPS systems of planes using Seoul’s busy airports, all indicate North Korea’s ability to inflict harm, short of invasion.

An isolated rogue state has the power to inflict other miseries, too, including drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting, crimes of abduction and the transfer of nuclear technology, which can be sold to terrorists or to countries such as Iran, and which I hope the Minister will comment upon. Since 1953, North Korea has promoted an ideology based on “military first”. For both sides, it has largely been a case of military first, second and third. In this context, Kim Jong-un was right in his New Year’s Day assertion that,

“past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war”.

In a similar vein, the Republic of Korea’s new President, Park Geun-hye, has called for deeper engagement. She said:

“While we cannot allow the North to develop nuclear weapons ... we must keep open the possibility of dialogue, including humanitarian aid”.

Britain has diplomatic relations with both sides and should build on the successful 2011 visit of Choe Tae Bok, the Speaker of the North Korean Supreme Assembly, who expressed interest in both our Northern Ireland

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peace process and the Hong Kong formula of two systems in one country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan clearly understood, advocating the use of soft power should not be confused with being a soft touch.

President Park made reference to the dire humanitarian situation—my second point. Two million died during the 1990s North Korean famine. Our previous two excellent ambassadors in Pyongyang both issued warnings about the reappearance of malnutrition, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, when she spoke to our all-party group last year. In July in the House I warned of the unacceptable use of food as a “weapon of war”. Food deprivation and malnutrition lead to physical frailty and stunting, long-term intellectual impairment and increased vulnerability to disease. North Korea’s leaders might reflect that the cost of their missile launch—more than £500 million—could have bought 2.5 million tonnes of corn and 1.4 million tonnes of rice. I hope that the Minister will give her assessment of the current food situation and Kim Jong-un’s recent announcements of Chinese-style agricultural reform, as well as her assessment of the welcome brokering by Jang Song-taek—Kim Jong-un’s uncle—of two new joint economic zones with China.

Thirdly, on human rights, according to the United Nations, 200,000 people are languishing in festering prison camps—the kwan-li-so—where 400,000 people have died in the past 30 years. In an evidence session here, Shin Dong Hyok described how he was born and spent 23 years in Camp 14 and was tortured and subjected to forced labour. At 14, he was made to watch the execution of his mother and brother. BBC Radio 4 has broadcast extracts of his harrowing story The evidence given to our committee and described in a House of Commons debate initiated by Mrs Fiona Bruce MP include accounts of executions, torture, detention, forced labour, trafficking, religious persecution and the “guilt by association” policy, which leads to the arrest, imprisonment and punishment of detainees’ families for up to three generations. We have also heard of women impregnated by Chinese men facing forced abortions or infanticide following deportation by China.

When did the British Government last raise with the Government of China the issues of forced repatriation, the absence of a refugee adjudication process, the denial of access by the UNHCR and the other matters to which I referred? A few months ago, I raised in your Lordships’ House the use of capital punishment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said that officials from the Foreign Office would reply to me on that point, but I still have not received a reply.

Just a week ago, describing what she called a “beleaguered, subjugated population”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for an international inquiry into serious crimes, a proposal supported by around 50 human rights organisations. She said that security questions,

“should not be allowed to overshadow the deplorable human rights situation … which in one way or another affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere … in the world”.

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North Korea has never allowed United Nations special rapporteurs on human rights to enter the country, but with 25,000 North Koreans living in the south and an estimated 100,000 living illegally in China, there would be no shortage of evidence for such an inquiry to assess.

Straightforwardly, do Her Majesty’s Government support the creation of a United Nations-sponsored commission of inquiry, and will we vote for it if it comes to a vote? Historians will surely question our generation’s extraordinary indifference to North Korea’s gulag archipelago.

Looking to the future, an approach based on Helsinki-style engagement would surely seek to build on the small advances of recent years. One is in education. Here I make reference to the remarkable story of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, to the first Chevening scholars at Cambridge, and to the use of English as the north’s second official language. This should encourage the BBC World Service to respond positively to the 18 Korean organisations which have requested broadcasts to the Korean peninsula—an issue which Peter Horrocks, the director of BBC Global News, will address at the all-party group on Wednesday of this week.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone has the right … to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

The World Service’s 80th anniversary—and its role in places such as the former Soviet Union and Burma—is a timely reminder of the power of ideas. We know that 14% of defectors say they listened to foreign broadcasts, and 44% of those questioned said that they admired foreign societies. Two weeks ago Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, were in North Korea urging internet freedom.

Not to encourage reform, not to invest in promoting progress and not to break the information blockade would render pointless Britain’s millennium decision to forge diplomatic relations with the DPRK. We owe it to the coming generation, to the Koreans who perish during their hazardous escapes, to those who suffer from a lack of food or medicine, and to those who are the victims of an ideology that has become prisoner of its own rhetoric, to do better than simply offer Cassandra-like predictions of thermonuclear war—predictions which, if they came to pass, would reduce the whole peninsula to an irradiated cemetery.

As today we assess the security, humanitarian and human rights challenges on the Korean peninsula, with the new leadership in the north and south and in China, too, and with today’s second-term inauguration of a United States President, surely there is a moment for change: a time to end the war and to replace it with long overdue peace and prosperity.

5.12 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, one of my favourite political quotations is the famous remark of Edmund Burke that for evil to triumph requires only that good men remain silent. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady

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Cox, are wonderful examples of good men and good women not remaining silent. The courage that was required to visit North Korea time and again in the face of all kinds of discouragements, fears and threats is greatly to the credit of them both, and they stand as Members of this House with every possible right to claim the respect and admiration of us all.

I begin by saying about North Korea that it is, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Alton, implied, a deeply traumatised state. It is a state with a very strong history of being victimised—by the Japanese, by the Chinese and by those in other countries—and one that has never really recovered its balance from that terrible history. The strange thing about North Korea—and in this respect I think it is unlike Iran—is that the idea that one might sacrifice one’s population to a nuclear attack does not seem to cross the minds of the North Korean regime in the way that I think it crosses the minds of all other regimes, including nuclear powers, such as India and Pakistan, and would-be nuclear powers, such as Iran. North Korea has destroyed or allowed the destruction of such a large part of its civilian population that the one great barrier against using a nuclear weapon—the fear of losing one’s own population—probably has less effect in North Korea than in any other country on the face of the earth. That is the most frightening thing about North Korea. It looks like a county whose regime would be capable of using a nuclear weapon because in the end saving the regime is more important than saving the population.

Let us look briefly at the security history, although I wholly take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that that is in many ways secondary to the terrible, indescribably awful human rights regime that has been conducted for so long by this extraordinarily strange dynasty of Kim Il-sung and his successors, which has become a kind of secondary religious heresy demanding the deification of its own leadership. The story in North Korea is one of having walked away altogether from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty—the NPT—to which it originally belonged. It walked away from the NPT in order to breach some of the key provisions, one of the most important being that there would not be a continuation by its members of nuclear testing in the face of what has not been a new treaty, tragically, but what has certainly been a very long period of postponement and delay when no nuclear power, with the single exception of North Korea, has continued to test nuclear weapons. Other countries are frightening in their own way, but this direct breach of this key provision, widely morally accepted, if not legally accepted, is an extremely disturbing fact.

North Korea has about five or six nuclear bombs, based, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly said, on the use of plutonium, ironically originally provided as part of the nuclear materials for peace movement in the United States in the 1970s. It broke the understanding and conditions of that provision of nuclear materials for peace by deliberately saving the plutonium from that programme and using it as the origins of its relatively small nuclear arsenal. The best information we have is that something between six and eight fully realised nuclear weapons are owned by North Korea.

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That is one of the smallest nuclear arsenals in the world but it is still one capable of creating immense and savage destruction.

North Korea went ahead to produce a great many short-range ballistic missiles—we believe that it has some hundreds—and also medium-range ballistic missiles, of which it certainly has scores. What it has failed to do so far, with the exception that I shall come to in a moment, is to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles, which has become a major objective of the regime. By an intercontinental ballistic missile, we mean one with a range of more than 3,000 miles, capable of reaching Japan certainly, but also the west coast of the United States. The first attempt by North Korea in 2009 to develop an ICBM failed rather obviously and conspicuously and was noted with some satisfaction by the rest of the world. Tragically, only a month ago, on 12 December 2012, once again the regime—this time of Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il—was successful and the missile managed to find its way across Japan, flying high above Japan but nevertheless into Japanese airspace, before it crashed some time later into the Pacific. It was clearly a successful intercontinental launch.

At the moment, the belief generally held in the nuclear weapons community is that North Korea has not been able to miniaturise nuclear warheads to the point where the relatively small or low-power ICBMs it may be producing could carry them intercontinentally to a country such as the United States. But even having said that, the fact that it is now capable of launching such a package, although not yet miniaturising it to a point that it becomes effective, is obviously not far away from what could be a fully fledged ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead.

The one piece of relatively good news is that the speech that the new “Young Leader” of North Korea made a few weeks ago to mark his taking over of power—although there was very little in it that was not Orwellian in its terminology and philosophy—contained a small sign of light when he spoke of creating a movement towards some kind of peaceful agreement with South Korea. The possibility therefore arises, which might be worth pursuing, of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula which fits into the pattern of the non-nuclear zones which have now been established from Latin America, by way of Africa, to parts of Asia.

The offer lies on the table, as it has for several years, in the six-plus-one peace talks, of which North Korea is a member, that in return for a decision to end nuclear testing and development and fully to accept the additional protocol of the nuclear peace treaty, North Korea would then have opened to it investment, supplies of food aid and a willingness to allow it to rejoin the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, that is a fairly distant hope at the present time for a country as strange as this one. If anyone deserves such a response and the good will of the rest of the world, then the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, do. They have gone as far as human beings who are not themselves in government can go to try to bring it about.

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5.21 pm

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this short debate. I have been able to attend some of the meetings organised by the all-party group, and particularly welcomed the chance in 2011 to meet the Speaker of the North Korean Assembly, Choe Tae Bok, when he visited the United Kingdom as the guest of that all-party group. Among the questions we touched upon during that discussion were the humanitarian situation and the issue of religious freedom, and today I should like to say something about both.

Forty years ago, North Korea’s gross domestic product was twice that of South Korea. Today, North Korea is among the world’s poorest nations while the south is among the richest. Today, the gross domestic product of South Korea is nearly 30 times that of the north—a 60-fold difference. The situation has been aggravated by famine, a series of natural disasters and the near total collapse of the Soviet economies, once the DPRK’s primary market, all of which have, of course, contributed to the country’s abject poverty.

UNICEF DPRK recently published its national nutritional survey. There was one slight encouragement: that malnutrition had dropped by four percentage points since 2009. However, I go on quickly to say that, nevertheless, malnutrition is over 27%. UNICEF’s representative in North Korea, Desiree Jongsma, reminded us of what that statistic means. She said that,

“more than one in every four children remains stunted, hostage to life-long ill-health and reduced educational and career prospects as a result of a lack of much needed proteins, fruits, vegetables and fats, as well as frequent infections due to a lack of both essential medicines and clean water, as well as poor hygiene”.

On average, boys in North Korea are five inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts and weigh 25 pounds less. Malnutrition, of course, leads not only to physical weakness but to intellectual impairment. It leads to a frail population and makes the people especially vulnerable to disease.

When the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, visited North Korea, I understand that they were told by senior DPRK officials that the average citizen receives only a meagre 350 to 400 grams of rice each day, well short of even the regime’s sparse target of 600 grams. However, I understand that the reality in practice is that many see no rice at all, subsisting instead on husky cornmeal. Two million people are estimated to have died during the famine of the 1990s.

In those circumstances, we need to think very carefully about the morality of food being used as a weapon of war or coercion. Surely it can never be right to withhold food from starving people as a way of punishing their leaders. It was a tragedy that the £126 million food programme which the United States had generously decided to put in place last year was literally blown off the agenda by North Korea’s decision to launch a satellite nine months ago. However, the North Korean leadership should also reflect on the morality of spending vast sums on developing a nuclear capability and on maintaining the world’s fourth largest standing army when they cannot feed their own people. That is surely a scandalous and immoral misuse of resources.

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The former Leader of your Lordships’ House, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said that the situation has been “getting worse year on year”. She continued,

“the most vulnerable people in North Korea are victims of a situation over which they have no control. They are suffering from no fault of their own”.

South Korea’s decision to withhold food aid, supported by the Obama Administration, has inevitably put innocent lives at risk while doing nothing to bring about the end of the conflict between north and south. You cannot starve people into submission and you should never try.

In May 2012, two organisations, Sant’Egidio and Caritas Korea, delivered 25 tonnes of food aid to the DPRK. That was done at the request of Han Tae-song, North Korea’s former ambassador to Rome. That is but a small contribution; nevertheless, it is an act on which we must build. It is not coincidental that those organisations which have been taking in food and medicine have often been inspired to do so by their Christian faith. I think, for instance, of the remarkable American priest, Father Jerry Hammond, who has made more than 40 visits to North Korea, taking in medicines to combat tuberculosis.

Paradoxically, despite that outpouring of practical love, since the 18th century Korea has been the scene of much persecution of Christians. In 1846, Korea’s first ordained Catholic priest, Andrew Kim, was at the age of 25 taken to the Han sands, where he was stripped naked and decapitated; there have been more than 8,000 Catholic martyrs. In 1866, Robert Jermain Thomas, a Welsh missionary, travelled on behalf of the Bible Society to Pyongyang and to the Taedong river, where he was executed. The latest Open Doors World Watch List, published less than two weeks ago, ranks North Korea as the country where Christians are persecuted the most, as has been the case every year since the list was first published in 2002.