Saturday, October 28, 2006

JW & friends about to go out 23.00

David Ramsbotham's debate on SLT and young offenders

27 Oct 2006 : Column 1451

2.35 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, when the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, Rob Morgan, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, and the Children’s Commissioner for England, Professor Al Ainsley-Green, visited Feltham Young Offender Institution last Tuesday, they jointly called for an honest debate about alternative ways of dealing with young offenders who commit low-level and less serious crime. They said that more than 3,350 children and young people are being held in custody today. The youth justice system has just a handful of bed spaces left. We simply cannot put up a sign saying “No Vacancies”. Action is urgently needed to stop custody for young people going into meltdown.

As with adults, but even more so with children, the courts ought to consider whether, by awarding custodial sentences, they may be increasing criminality by exposing vulnerable people to bad influences, particularly when they know that the places to which these offenders are sent are bursting at the seams. They also know that in those circumstances it becomes increasingly difficult for prison and YOI governors and staff to give adequate attention to those who get into trouble because they are suffering from a range of mental health, substance abuse and communications problems and disabilities.

In the case of speech, language and communication, they have not even got as far as systematically assessing the problem, six years after it was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, as he described, he visited HM YOI Swinfen Hall in November 2000. He told your Lordships how he brought in Professor Karen Bryan of the University of Surrey to assist him, and her survey revealed alarming rates of disability in speech, language and communications among the young offenders in every test that was applied. The noble Lord—the Chief Inspector, as he was then—recommended that further research should be conducted to establish the extent of these problems more generally and their impact on prison careers and re-offending.

It stood to reason that prisoners with those impairments were more likely to leave prison with unresolved problems that could lead to re-offending. Professor Bryan suggested—and the noble Lord endorsed this—that appropriate screening should be developed, validated and included with educational entry tests throughout the prison system. The noble Lord then commended Dr Bryan’s analysis to the Director-General, and said that the DfES needed to think about remedial education for these disadvantaged young men.

In a debate on prisons in July the following year I asked whether the matter was being pursued. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, did not make any comment in his winding-up speech, I wrote to him the following day asking him about taking the recommendations further. Beverley Hughes MP, who was then Minister for Prisons, replied that there was no standard approach to screening for these impairments, but that Professor Bryan’s findings had been incorporated in something she called “the health needs assessment toolkit”. A principal education officer had been

27 Oct 2006 : Column 1452

appointed to survey education and training at YOIs with a remit to look at learning disabilities.

Four years on from the original recommendations, however, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, told me on 12 January 2005 that they had still to study Professor Bryan’s report, and would then consider any action that might be appropriate. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and I had both tried to prompt the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in Questions on 27 March, but he then wrote to say that there was no money in the Prison Service health budget up to 2003 for speech and language posts, and that since then it was entirely a matter for PCTs, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has explained, to decide how the available money should be spent. There were no plans to fund these posts centrally.

As the noble Lord also explained, no provision had been made to replace the speech therapy funding provided by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, which ceased in July 2005. I wrote again to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, saying that we seemed to be back to square one, with every PCT deciding its own policy on speech and language problems, in spite of the evidence of the prevalence of these difficulties and the bearing they were likely to have on the propensity to reoffend. The noble Baroness replied that no screening was undertaken of young offenders for speech and communication difficulties per se, but that the Government preferred a general learning needs assessment to identify all learning difficulties or disabilities. This process, a key part of the learning and skills delivery arrangements for all offenders, would lead to referrals to appropriate health or education professionals.

I wrote again to the noble Baroness on 18 June asking her how, as part of the general assessment, speech and language difficulties would be assessed and by whom—bearing in mind that there was no funding for those posts, as the noble Lord explained—and how, if PCTs were unwilling to fund SLT services, as we heard, they would be provided for offenders identified by the general screening as needing them. I also sent her an account of research by David Moseley et al on behalf of the Learning and Skills Development Agency—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—which showed that training in oral communication for prisoners in general cut reconviction rates within the first year after release from 44 per cent to 21 per cent. It is surely reasonable to suppose that for inmates with speech and language difficulties the benefits could be even more spectacular.

As the noble Lord said, unfortunately, while PCTs have to pay for SLT as part of health services, in the current climate of cuts and reorganisation it is bound to have a low priority. Werrington now has a part-time speech and language therapist and at Brinsford the local PCT has carried out a needs analysis but as yet they have no service. Managers are making out a business case for SLT in their local YOI, but I am not aware of any instances where this process has led to the delivery of a service. Why, in any case, should it be necessary to reinvent the wheel in each of the 15 PCTs which serve the 11 male and

27 Oct 2006 : Column 1453

four female YOIs? If there is an overwhelming case—there is no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made out such a case—it applies throughout the estate and management effort ought not to be spent on proving it 15 times over.

I simply do not understand why the Home Office, which, one would think, must be desperate to find effective ways of lowering reconviction rates, has dithered and procrastinated for the past five years over an approach which would certainly produce immediate and possibly very substantial benefits to the prisoners concerned and to society as a whole. Up to 90 per cent of juvenile offenders have below-average language skills and two-thirds are below level 1 literacy. These young people do not have the skills to cope with verbal interventions aimed at reducing reoffending. Therefore, all juvenile offenders should be assessed, using known techniques, and remedial SLT provided for those who need it, using ring-fenced money, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, demanded. It is partly because of the failure to apply the lessons of six years ago, and of the other work reinforcing the pioneering study by Professor Bryan and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that our adult prisons are overflowing today.


Friday, October 27, 2006

G6 Ministerial meeting at Stratford

'Behind closed doors': what were the interior ministers of the 6 largest EU member states cooking up at Stratford, without informing the other 19 - or the public?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Susanna Gregorian, Michael Katz programme

The Sinfonietta of Oxted
“Dramatic! A Wonder to behold” – Surrey Mirror
5th season

A Festival Concert
With international prize winning soloist

Susanna Gregorian – Violin

Cherubini – Overture to Medea

Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, KV219

Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 55 Eroica

Johan Michael Katz – Conductor
Iva Fleischhansova - Leader

Thursday 26th October 2006 7:30pm St.James’s Church, 197 Piccadilly, London W1


With Susanna Gregorian

Partial success on breastfeeding mothers

Separation of detained mothers from breastfed babies to stop

Matt Weaver
Wednesday October 25, 2006
Guardian Unlimited
Immigration officials are to be ordered to stop separating breastfeeding mothers from their babies in the drive to deport failed asylum seekers after the government was told that the practice flouts UN conventions.
In August, Guardian Unlimited revealed that in at least two cases earlier this year mothers had been detained in immigration and removal centres away from their pre-weaned children.
The cases involved Mrs N, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, and her six-month-old baby, and Mrs P, a Turkish asylum seeker, and her 15-month-old infant who she was still breastfeeding on medical advice.
Article continues

Ministers were warned that the cases, which campaigners fear are not the only ones, "fly in the face of a number of UN resolutions and conventions".
The government has now said that it accepts the need for new guidance instructing immigration officials not to separate any young children from their mothers unless there are "compelling and exceptional circumstances".
The immigration minister Liam Byrne previously denied that immigration officials knew Mrs P had been breastfeeding her child.
But in a letter to the human rights campaigner and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury, Mr Byrne said records of the case had been re-examined.
The letter written on Monday said: "I can advise you that the interview record does show that Mrs P informed the immigration officer that she was 'feeding baby'. The immigration officer has said she did not consider that this clearly indicated that Mrs P was breastfeeding her child."
The immigration officer, from Communications House, in central London, had since been retrained, Mr Byrne said.
He also revealed that new instructions were to be sent out by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND).
"Specific guidance should be developed in relation to breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children," he said.
"This should include a requirement that breastfeeding children should not be separated from their mothers unless there are compelling and exceptional circumstances which indicate that this may be appropriate."
He added that the same approach should be taken to the separation of any young children from their mothers, regardless of whether they were breastfeeding.
The guidance will state that any decision to separate young children from mothers can only be taken at the level of IND assistant director.
But Lord Avebury said the government should go further.
"There should be an outright ban on separating breastfeeding mothers from their children. I don't see why they should ever have to do it," he said.
He also urged the chief inspector of prison, Anne Owers, and the children's commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley Green, to monitor immigration officials to ensure it did not happen again.
In the meantime, Lord Avebury has written to Ms Owers and Sir Al asking them to investigate how many other women have been separated from young children in the drive to deport failed asylum seekers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Breastfeeding mothers separated from infants

Letter in today's Guardian

Your article (Comment, October 23) misrepresents the House of Lords. Of the 72 new peers appointed since the beginning of this parliament, only 23 take the Labour whip and the rest are Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or crossbenchers. Twenty of them are women, adding to the previous total of 116 women members, including the Lords speaker and the leader of the house.

The ideal member is not one who can pop in from time to time, as he or she might to the board of a cultural institution. The member needs to be able to attend regularly, to deal with legislation in their area of interest and to extract information from the government at question time. We don't want anybody who is looking for "the perfect eventide home".

Yarl's Wood

Question on Yarl's Wood, and in particular on the separation of breastfeeding mothers from their infants:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

South China Morning Post

South China Morning Post
Monday, October 23, 2006


There is still a deafening silence from the UK consulate on the position of the many children in Hong Kong who continue to wait for British citizenship certificates after Home Office officials agreed their original applications had been wrongly refused.

There was a time, sadly, when Britain encouraged Indian British National (Overseas) passport holders to look to India to resolve their nationality difficulties. On July 25, 1991, in a debate on the statelessness faced by these people, India's former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told the Indian Parliament that "the attitude of the British government is wrong and is based on apartheid". In the same debate, the Indian minister of external affairs said that "the government has time and again represented to the British government, saying that these people are your citizens and you must take care of them and protect their rights".

The British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997 was enacted only after expressions of concern in both houses of parliament and representations from the governor of Hong Kong, two former incumbents, the Hong Kong Legislative Council, the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and a former minister with responsibility for the colony. At the time, Britain's prime minister said that the ethnic minorities "were potentially stateless" and that they would "now have a nationality".

After being wrongly refused nine years ago, why have so many applicants been waiting up to eight months, when the Home Office has agreed to process their reconsiderations in five weeks? Why does the British consulate not respond to the many e-mails, telephone calls and letters from affected applicants? What is it doing to help those who have received citizenship certificates which contain errors?

Every six months, Britain's foreign secretary issues a report to Parliament on Hong Kong. The report of February 2003 stated that the British government "regularly raises the lack of racial discrimination legislation as an issue with the Hong Kong government". Perhaps our Foreign Office should take a closer look at our own treatment of Hong Kong's solely British ethnic minorities before trying to preach to others.

LORD AVEBURY, House of Lords, and TAMEEM A. EBRAHIM, London

Bulgaria and Romania

Rights of migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania to come here after accession in January 2007: Reid is getting ready to put up the shutters.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Festival of Lights

Lindsay's Festival of Lights on Friday in the Park was a great success, attended by lots of people, including, here, the Mayor Cllr Liz Atkinson and her husband. There was music, dancing, light shows and fireworks.

Saturday we went to Bromley for Mike Steele's 70th birthday party, a happy occasion, with some old friends including Leo Abse who I think I last saw in 1970. We met his two daughters and grandchildren.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Population growth - a threat to development in Africa

7.59 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I echo the congratulations expressed to my noble friend Lord Taverne on his brilliant speech, in which he argued most effectively that a reduction in the rate of population growth is an effective means of promoting development in Africa. That sentiment has been echoed by every other noble Lord who has spoken.

Last year, the UN report on population challenges and development goals concluded that reduction of birth rates led to a “demographic bonus” whereby the number of people of working age increased relative to those of the children and the elderly, contributing significantly to economic growth and poverty reduction. But the UN study of world population prospects in 2004 showed that, over the last 30 years, the lowest reductions in fertility occurred in 12 African high-fertility countries, as has been mentioned. These countries are forecast to have the highest population growth, coupled with the lowest chance of reaching the millennium development goals, particularly as regards infant and maternal mortality and universal primary education.

The Africa Commission said that Africa's population is exploding and that millions are migrating to the slums of cities, where the young are unemployed and disaffected. Yet it fails to link the population explosion with Africa’s underdevelopment or to emphasise the negative feedback between high rates of growth and the acute environmental risks affecting the continent. That point was mentioned by several noble Lords. The commission recommends that donors should do all that they can to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive services, including the provision of an extra $300 million in commodity requirements. But it offers no suggestions about how to overcome the inertia or obstruction by Governments and religious organisations to these programmes, a matter to which my noble friend Lord Taverne referred.

There have been shortages of condoms in Africa. Last year, there was a particular shortage in Uganda, to which my noble friend referred. I think that that shortage was partly caused by the American plan for AIDS relief driven by the religious right, which emphasises abstinence. The DfID profile on Uganda rightly praises the Government of President Museveni for reducing the prevalence of HIV and AIDS from 18 per cent to 6 per cent in a decade. But many women are still unable to exercise freedom of choice over their own fertility. One-third of Ugandan women say that they would like to stop or postpone having children if they could. They are among the100 million to 200 million whom the noble Viscount,

18 Oct 2006 : Column 855

Lord Craigavon, referred to who want to control their fertility but who do not have the means of doing so.

According to UN estimates—and this was also referred to by my noble friend—Uganda's population may treble from 42 million in 2005 to 127 million in 2050. With similar increases in other countries in that region, climate change—which is linked to population increase, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, remarked and is likely to reduce agricultural production because of extended desertification, lack of water, loss of soil fertility and reduction of crop yields—could bring about conflicts over resources, mass starvation and large-scale emigration long before the mid-century arrives. Droughts have increased in frequency in the Horn from one in eight years to one in three, and there are too many cattle for the carrying capacity of the people, but too few to feed the increasing number of mouths. In Somalia, the desperation of people living on the edge of survival is already reinforcing the growth of radical Islam. Even war-torn Somalia, without a functioning Government or health service, is estimated to have a population increase from8 million in 2005 to 21 million in 2050, while the combined populations of Kenya and Tanzania will double over the same period to 150 million. It is inconceivable that east Africa can sustain increases of this order.

The question is: what can the countries themselves and the donor community do to avert the looming catastrophe? A far greater emphasis on the MDG of promoting gender equality and empowering women would be an essential part of any strategy, because if women controlled their own fertility they would not have very large families. Bill Gates wrote in the Independent the other day:

“Abstinence is not an option for some poor men and girls who have no choice but to marry at an early age...And using condoms is not a decision that a woman can make by herself; it depends on a man”.

I would argue that abstinence is in any case an unworkable policy and contrary to human nature, but if women themselves decided when to get married and could decide on whether contraceptives should be used, both population growth and HIV/AIDS infections would be reduced, as has been remarked, and women liberated from the burden and health risks of constant childbearing would be able to make a far greater contribution to the economy, especially in agriculture.

In fact, 120 million women in sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate and most African women have less access to land and education than ever before. Elizabeth Chacko of George Washington University points out that Kerala in India has a low fertility rate compared with that of India as a whole because the women of Kerala have a relatively high status, are well educated and are integrated into the workforce. She says that whether a woman can read, can understand what methods of contraception are available to her and is empowered to use them can have a great impact on fertility rates.

DfID says that one of its key priorities is to get more girls into school, leading to greater economic growth, less poverty and reduced fertility, and that is

18 Oct 2006 : Column 856

an important contribution towards attaining the MDG of promoting gender equality. But six years ago DfID also said in an excellent report on poverty and women's empowerment that education alone would not be enough—inequalities needed to be tackled across the board in economic, political, social and cultural life. The Beijing World Conference on Women of 1995 identified 12 critical areas of concern, of which one was unequal access to education and training—one very important one, but not the only one. So I suggest to the Minister that it is time for DfID to review the strategy for poverty elimination and the empowerment of women and to upgrade accordingly its country programmes for Africa. That is not only the right policy for its own sake, but the best way to harness the talent and energies of half the population of Africa and to prevent a Malthusian catastrophe from overwhelming the continent within two generations.
8.7 pm

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Opting out of school religion at 16

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is a pity that the Minister’s amendment was not grouped separately so that we could have a discussion on these matters without becoming involved in all the other weighty discussions which have preceded it. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, is distinct from all the others in that it is concerned with a fundamental issue of human rights, whereas whether you have 25 per cent of the places at a faith school allocated to people who do not belong to that religion is a matter of expediency. However, I agree with all those who have said that we need to consider very carefully how to avoid the divisiveness that may arise in our society through exclusive attendance at faith schools of only members of that religion. However, that is another argument. We are concerned here with the human rights of pupils whether to attend acts of collective worship or lessons of religious education.

I am delighted to see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth back with us, although I, too, beg to differ with him on this matter. I say to him that it is not a question of having no religious education at all. That is not what the amendment says. It is proposed that only when the child reaches 16, or attains the sixth form, should he or she have a right to opt out of religious education. My youngest son took his GCSEs at 15. He took religious education as part of that course. If this amendment had been in force at the time, it would have made no difference whatever to his appreciation of the religious education which that school offered because he would already have received, in his opinion, all that was necessary of such education by the time he took his GCSEs. He did not go on to study RE at A-level, which was his absolute right. It should be the right of any child, as the noble Baroness said.

The noble Baroness is to be particularly congratulated on her deployment of the case to which the JCHR alerted us only at the end of last week. That in turn involved some very rapid footwork by

17 Oct 2006 : Column 725

the committee working during the Recess to pick up the fact that the Government’s amendment, giving a sixth-form pupil the right to be excused attendance at religious worship, is only a quarter of a human rights loaf, as the noble Baroness has explained.

Following amendments by my noble friend Lady Walmsley in Committee, the Government sent out a consultation document on 10 August asking recipients to respond by 25 August, breaking the normal rule of consultations that six weeks are allowed for reply. An explanation should have been given for the shorter timescale, but was not, although I understand from the Government that this was not a normal consultation at all but simply a request for views to be expressed by those immediately concerned. I should like to know who was immediately concerned. On the previous amendment my noble friend mentioned the right of children to express opinions. Did the Minister obtain the opinions of any children, or of organisations representing children? We should hear what they had to say.

It was even more unfortunate that although the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said in response to my noble friend in Committee on 18 July that he would encapsulate “most of the spirit” of my noble friend’s amendments in the amendment that he would propose, the consultation document referred only to half of it, limiting itself to the question of attendance at collective acts of worship and leaving out altogether any reference to religious education. The noble Lord’s explanation for that in a letter to the executive director of the National Secular Society was,

“that there is a proper distinction to be drawn between participation in religious worship and attendance at religious education lessons on the grounds of the nature of those activities”.

He did not go on to explain the difference in the nature of those two activities. Even if there is such a distinction, as the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has explained, the rights of parents to opt out of both on behalf of their children are the same, or they are similar if not identical. If there is a proper distinction to be drawn in this legislation, would it not have been right to explain in the consultation document how the Government saw it and get the views of the consultees rather than giving the impression that only the attendance at religious worship had been entered into in Committee, and that there had been no reference to the question of attendance at RE lessons?
8 pm

I think that the Government were at fault in not expanding the consultation to include all the matters dealt with in the amendments in that group in Committee. The Minister’s excuse for not doing so was that my noble friend did not actually refer to this issue in Committee. That is disingenuous. As my noble friend explained, that was a monster group of amendments, and she would have been unpopular if she had spoken to every single one.

In tabling their amendments, the Government concede that a sixth-form pupil of whatever age is competent to decide whether to attend collective worship. As the noble Baroness has explained, the

17 Oct 2006 : Column 726

JCHR says that it is a denial of the rights of the child under both the ECHR and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to say that she can withdraw from collective worship but not from compulsory RE if she is of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding. If she is accepted as having reached that standard for the first, it follows that she is for the second purpose as well. The Government’s position is illogical in arguing that the parents ought to step aside on worship but to continue to decide for the child on RE. The two must go together, and the test for both must be the same.

The JCHR suggests that schools should apply the Gillick test, under which the High Court ruled that a girl of whatever age had the legal capacity to consent to medical examination and treatment, including contraceptives, if she had sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand the nature and implications of the proposed treatment. It says that schools are familiar with this concept and could be provided with guidance on how to apply it in the case of religious worship and RE. However, to avoid what I see as being unnecessary bureaucracy, and because the attainment of the age of 16 and reaching sixth form are objective tests that the Government recognise in their own amendment, it is appropriate to apply them in this context but with the difference that if either of them is satisfied the exercise of choice is triggered. Otherwise, 16 year-olds will be divided into sheep and goats; those who go to a decent school will qualify because they have reached sixth form by that time, while the 44 per cent of pupils who do not achieve five good GCSEs by age 16, as the noble Lord writes in an article in today’s Guardian, will be disqualified.

I agree with the JCHR that it is valuable for children to learn about spiritual and moral issues but, as it adds, there is no guarantee that in a particular school the way RE is taught may not infringe the pupil’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. With the growth of faith schools, about which our Prime Minister is so enthusiastic even though it is an intrinsically divisive idea which is likely to cause untold harm, it is vital that children should be able to protect themselves. My noble friend and others have referred to the UK Government’s obligation to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007. They will be asked on that occasion whether they have sought the views of children on these proposals and why, if that is the case, they did not accept the weighty advice of the JCHR.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

BandarGate continued

Last week I chaired a press conference for Dr Salah al-Bandar, who had published a report on a secret $2.6 million dirty tricks organisation in Bahrain. Now, 100 prominent leaders of Bahraini society have petitioned the King Of Bahrain
regarding the sectarian plan and its ramifications, see
To Cambridge yesterday, to speak to the University Liberal Democrats, with Bob Russell MP for Colchester and Dr David Howarth, MP for Cambridge. We each had quarter of an hour, with half an hour for questions, and after the meeting there was a reception. The atmosphere was upbeat, and its good to see that the Party is doing well at the university. I walked back to the station via streets where boisterous crowds were spilling out of pubs and clubs already at 22.00, and couldn't help reflecting on the Government's supine attitude to the alcohol barons who are making huge profits out of poisoning a whole generation. The drinks 'industry' cynically targets the universities in particular, diverting students from the acquisition of knowledge and the power of reason, and pushing many of them further into debt.

This evening we had dinner with Phil Krone and two ladies from Chicago at Rules. Phil's wife Joan has just been elected as a judge, a well-deserved honour.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Back to school

Not much time to post this week, Parliament having reassembled on Monday.

Monday I had a meeting with the head of NDI Bangladesh on the forthcoming elections in January 2007. With 14 million phantom voters on the register, the police and election officials packed with government supporters, the prospects for free and fair elections don't look too good. At least the political parties are belatedly in discussions.

Yesterday morning, Subcommittee F took evidence from Home Office officials on our current inquiry, on Schengen Information System II, an EU database that will cover a set of immigration and criminal information. The system has been delayed by 15 months because of contractor problems and will not go live until June 2008 - assuming there are no further slippages, and the UK will sign on to parts of it in 2009. No detailed explanation of the reasons for the delay have been published.

I had a question on Somalia yesterday, see below, and also fielded Caroline Cox's question on Sudan.

Today I had a meeting with counsel to discuss my appeal to the Tribunal against the Information Commissioner's ruling, that the Prime Minister should disclose only his 'official' meetings with Murdoch and Desmond, and not those concerned with party political or private matters.

Somalia question yesterday

Somalia: Peacekeeping
3.15 pm

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of Somalia concerning the possible deployment of peacekeeping forces by the African Union or a coalition of African states, and what is their assessment of the legality of such a force.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, the African Union has approved a proposal by members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—IGAD—to deploy a peace-support mission to Somalia. On 13 July 2006, the UN Security Council confirmed its willingness to consider whether a peace-support mission would contribute to peace and stability in Somalia on receipt of a detailed plan from IGAD. We will participate actively in this consideration. I have had discussions with the transitional federal government representatives on this subject and the subject of trying to sustain current peace negotiations.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has not the situation changed since the Islamic Courts Union declared a jihad against any foreign forces entering Somalian territory, including the deployment of IGADSOM, as has been decided by the African Union Peace and Security Council? Does the Minister consider there to be any scope for a discussion between the AU and the Islamic Courts Union on a variation of the proposal that would be acceptable to them, either in terms of the states that are providing forces or the terms of reference of the mission? Will it be explained clearly to the Islamic Courts Union that if it does not agree to such a mission, the likelihood is that President Abdullahi Yusuf will call on the Ethiopian forces to help to protect him?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the peace discussions in Khartoum are about to enter a third phase, and there have also been useful contacts in the past couple of weeks in Nairobi. The aim of the peace discussions is to provide the conditions under which a peace-support operation would work successfully with the agreement of all parties in Somalia. It remains quite

11 Oct 2006 : Column 255

clear to me that if the Islamic Courts Union cannot accept peace proposals, the Security Council will have to consider very urgently the decisions taken by the frontline states on security in the region.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, are the Americans supporting the warlords in Somalia? If so, will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to them to stop? The trouble in Somalia was caused by gangs of warlords shooting people up and engaging in total mayhem. Even a strongly Muslim government would be more peaceful and more preferable to what has gone before.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I think the noble Earl is referring to an allegation some while ago that the United States had supported several warlords and their armed militias. Whether or not people think that this is the best outcome for Somalia, the move of the Islamic Courts Union against the warlords has more or less taken them out of any part of the equation, as matters stand. The problems now lie principally between the transitional federal government of President Yusuf—the only government who are supported by the United Nations as the legitimate government—and the Islamic Courts Union.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, what is the Minister’s assessment of the Islamic Courts Union and its medium-term aims? It has been suggested that it wants to create an Islamic state, and that it has links with various fundamentalist extremist groups, including al-Qaeda. Is that a danger? Are we seeing the emergence of yet another failed state and source of terrorism, or could the Islamic Courts Union provide the stability that my noble friends have suggested?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I do not think that the Islamic Courts Union is a homogenous body in any sense. It contains some elements which are moderate and plainly disposed towards the peace negotiations that I have described. It contains some elements—they may be in the ascendancy at the moment—which I would describe as being on the end of the politics of al-Qaeda and very dangerous. The reality is that we must make sure that moderate parties on both sides—the transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union—engage in discussions and try to get to a new balance between the different forces. It would be of no benefit to this country to see the kind of takeover of Somalia which would create a further serious international security problem.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, is the mandate of the African Union in such a situation solely to observe, as it has been in Darfur where it has not been able to protect the people at all? Is it in any way likely that either it or any subsequent force would have any power of intervention? Is it only to observe and report what we are constantly hearing?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there are two important questions in the noble Baroness’s supplementary question. First, the precise purpose of an IGAD force, were it to be introduced in Somalia, would have

11 Oct 2006 : Column 256

to be agreed with the Security Council. Its mandate could include anything that the Security Council deemed appropriate. If it is introduced, I would hope that it would be sufficiently robust to do the job properly. On the second question, which requires some comment, the mandate that the AMIS force has in Darfur could and should have been used far more extensively than observation. At the beginning it was.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Lord Avebury, vice-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, chairing a press conference given by Dr Salah al-Bandar, a British citizen who was expelled from Bahrain on September 13, in Committee Room 3A, House of Lords, at 11.00 on Thursday October 5, said:

Dr al-Bandar, a British citizen who had lived in Bahrain for 16 years was expelled from Bahrain for blowing the whistle on a dirty tricks gang run by the Minister of Cabinet Affairs and head of the Central Information Organisation, Sheikh Ahmed bin Attiyatallah al-Khalifa.

According to Dr al-Bandar, the Minister paid five main operatives a total of more than $2.7 million to run:

1. a secret intelligence cell spying on Shi’as
2. ‘GONGOS’ – government operated bogus NGOs like the ‘Bahraini Jurists Society’ and the ‘Bahraini Human Rights Watch Society’
3. internet forums and websites that foment sectarian hatred
4. subsidisation of ‘new converts’
5. payments for election rigging

Under the heading ‘Bandargate’, The Gulf Daily News has verified the signatures on some of the many documents published by Dr al-Bandar, and the Bahrain Tribune says the report contains hundreds of pages of supporting material, apparently authentic.

There have been no challenges to the authenticity of the documents, and the Minister himself has made no response other than personal attacks on the author. This week, the public prosecutor has announced Dr al-Bandar is being charged with theft and illegal possession of state documents, and will be tried in absentia. This is an admission that Dr al-Bandar’s evidence is genuine.

We can’t say, as Palmerston did in 1850, that “a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong”. But we can give a voice to our citizens when they suffer injustice and wrong, especially when they are being punished for upholding high standards of governance and exposing serious misconduct.

Dr al-Bandar is a brave man who deserves the support of his fellow-citizens, and especially at a time when the government of Bahrain – ie the royal family, of which this Minister is a member – is busy silencing its critics. The Public Gatherings, Processions and Assembly Code, ratified on July 20, is the latest attack on freedom of expression, but it is part of a steady erosion of people’s rights. The Foreign Office say that ‘democracy, good governance and human rights are major objectives’ of their policy, and we shall see what they have to say when one of our own citizens is a victim of oppression.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sally, Mischa and the boys this morning

Heiligendamm Two

Lord Avebury, speaking at the Joint Parliamentary Meeting on EU developments in the area of freedom, security and justice at the European Parliament at 11.00 on October 2, said:

After Madrid, the European Council issued a Declaration on combating terroriem, which called for the simplification of exchanges of information and intelligence between law enforcement agencies of Member states, and in June 2004 the Commission proposal for enhancing access to information, including ‘European information systems’ by those agencies. The impetus for these developments was the need to combat terrorism, but the scope had widened by then to cover not just organised crime but crime in general .

By September 2004, at the JHA meeting under the Netherlands Presidency, the principle of availability had emerged in its present form. It appeared in the first draft of the Hague Programme in October, and the whole package including the principle of availability went through without debate at the Summit in November

Under these proposals, from the start of 2008 a law enforcement officer in any Member state who wants information held by a law enforcement agency in another Member state is to be given it, subject to a few conditions. The data to be covered is:

DNA profiles; fingerprints; ballistics; vehicle registration; telephone numbers and other communication data, and data in civil registers.

That, in a nutshell, is the principle of availability. At the time, Commissioner Frattini, addressing the Joint Supervisory Authorities under the Third Pillar, called for the involvement of data protection agencies from the outset. He warned, that linking the adoption of new forms of police and judicial cooperation with the adoption of data protection guidelines was still to be hammered out, and there was no deadline for this in the Hague Programme .

The Commission were invited to bring forward proposals for implementing the principle of availability in which ‘key conditions should be strictly observed’. These would include a guarantee of the integrity of the data; confidentiality of the data; common standards for access; respect for data protection; protection of the individual from abuse of the data, and the right of the individual to seek correction of incorrect data. The Commission produced a draft Data Protection Framework Decision , at the same time as the draft on the principle of availability, thus emphasising themselves the importance of the two going forward together. The DPFD would ensure that information had been processed legitimately, in accordance with privacy rights and data quality standards. It would see that exchanges between competent authorities were not prejudiced by different levels of data protection.

Unfortunately, the Ministers of the 6 largest EU countries – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and UK, the G6 – decided to go ahead with availability without data protection. At their meeting at Heiligendamm last March, they jettisoned the principle that the two decisions should proceed in parallel, and decided to implement data exchange on DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration, irrespective of whether the DPFD had come into force or not.

The existence of informal groups of Member states is not objectionable or indeed avoidable, and there are quite a few of them, either based on regional interests such as the Nordic Cooperation Group, or particular characteristics, such as the Common Law Group. What is peculiar about the G6 Group and the Prüm Group, which gave birth to the Prüm Convention , is that they seek to preempt EU decision-making processes, by making arrangements of their own, and offering them to other Member states on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Thus the Prüm Convention, agreed by Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany Austria, France and Spain, which concerns transfers of the same types of data that were later considered by the G6, provides that other Member states may accede to it, and says the aim of the signatories is to incorporate the Convention into the legal framework of the EU. When the principle of availability is implemented in the domestic law of the Prüm states, therefore, it will have to be a superset of the Prüm Convention, to avoid any incompatibility with their existing obligations. The other 18 EU Member states, which had no part in the discussions on the Convention or the technical work of drafting it, will have no choice but to accept it as part of the EU justice and home affairs acquis.

In the case of Heiligendamm, other Member states were to be fully informed about the proposals after they had been decided, and were condescendingly told they could take part in their implementation. But, like members of the public in general, they were not to be given the agenda or papers for G6 meetings, let alone to be consulted about the proposals to be made. Our Committee said it would be desirable to publish agendas and working documents, though we stopped short of criticising the failure to do so. This could be explored further with the Parliaments of non-G6 Member states, if we could find a web-based mechanism for doing so.

At the very least, we said that the results of future G6 meetings should be fully publicised, rather than merely being put on the website of the Interior Ministry of the host country. This month we will see whether the UK Government have complied with that recommendation, since they are hosting the next meeting of the Group at Stratford-upon-Avon in three weeks’ time. So far, the Home Office have posted no information about the meeting on their website.

The Heiligendamm meeting decided that the police should have access to Eurodac, the fingerprint database established under the first pillar to help determine which country is responsible for considering asylum applications, and to the Visa Information System, which gives states common knowledge of visas granted by each other to third country nationals. In the case of the VIS there is a separate Commission proposal for access by law enforcement agencies, with safeguards. In particular, the DPFD applies to the data, and access will not commence until the DPFD has entered into force. On Eurodac, however, there is a problem, because the legal basis on which its Regulation stands would not allow access for purposes other than vetting asylum applications. Presumably there could be a new proposal relying on Article 66 TEC as the VIS does, but the Commission has no such proposal on the table.

The European Commission says that implementation of the principle of availability will change the quality and intensity of personal data exchanges between Member states, and greatly affect the right to data protection. Direct automated access, in particular, will increase the risk of transferring illegitimate, inaccurate or out-of-date information, and the data controller will not be able to verify the legitimacy of a transmission or the accuracy of the data in each individual case. For these reasons the DPFD must be developed hand in hand with availability . For the G6 to undermine the Commission, and even worse, to do it as our report says, behind closed doors, and behind the backs of the other 19 Member states, is insufferable and must be opposed.

But if the Finnish Presidency is getting on with the drafting of the DPFD, especially in the light of the comments by the European Data Protection Supervisor in his Opinion last February , do we need to worry?

There used to be a Council Working Party on Data Protection, but it last reported in April 2001 and was then abolished. The task of polishing up the DPFD has been given to the Multidisciplinary Group on Organised Crime (MDG), whose primary interest is to make life difficult for criminals, not to have regard to the interests of data subjects. The membership of the Group is not published, so we cannot say whether it includes anyone with expertise on data protection. But not surprisingly with a title like that, the MDG had actively watered down the DPFD by the time they finished their first reading on September 21. The Presidency tabled an Issues Paper at that meeting, and in the light of the discussion they have weakened the first three chapters of the document still further in a second reading draft presented at the MDG meeting on Wednesday and Thursday this week. That document and Issues Paper were inaccessible on the Council’s website last week, but they have since been posted on the site of Statewatch, whose valuable evidence greatly helped our Committee in its inquiry on Heiligendamm.

The Issues discussed are of course only those which concern EU governments, and not their civil societies. However, the European Parliament does have the power to give civil society a voice, by requiring the Commission to resubmit the Council’s final text if it differs substantially from the original, as it already does . That will cause a delay beyond the end of 2006, and it may be objected that the DPFD is required for SIS II, due to go live in 2007. But since there has been an unannounced slippage, and SIS II, now being scrutinised by the Lords EU Committee, will not be operational until some time in June 2008 , there is no need for urgency. We as national Parliamentarians, as well as our MEP colleagues have a responsibility to examine the DPFD in its final shape, and particularly of looking at the answers to the ten major questions now addressed to the MDG by the Presidency . In the original version, for instance, data subjects were to be told when information about them was processed or transferred, subject to exceptions on grounds of security. In the latest draft, there is no right to notification, and Member states are being asked by the Presidency whether they wish to retain some form of obligation to tell a person when data relating to her is being processed. The subject can still get certain information held, which the Presidency say should be as limited as possible, on request, but this means she has to know or suspect that she is under surveillance.

In his mid-term review of Finland’s Presidency last Thursday, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen did not mention these questions, but he did say (and I quote):

“Parliamentary accountability in EU affairs is a strong constitutional obligation - and living practice - in the Finnish political system. Parliamentary scrutiny is an inseparable part of all Finnish EU policy”.

There has been no scrutiny of the whittling away by the Council and the shadowy MDG of the data protection safeguards that will apply to the millions of exchanges of personal information that will ultimately be dealt with under the principle of availability, but as Parliamentarians we still have a chance to remedy the omission.