HL Deb 13 May 2004 vol 661 cc434-45

2.6 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to accept the first Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights so as to enable individual complaints about breaches of the covenant by the United Kingdom to be considered by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for participating in this brief, but I hope influential, debate. It seeks to discover whether the Government will at long last accept the first Optional Protocol to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That would enable British citizens, like the other citizens of Europe and of the democratic Commonwealth, to complain to the UN Human Rights Committee of breaches of the covenant.

Almost 30 years ago, when I was special adviser to Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, the Foreign Secretary, Tony Crosland, proposed that the UK should ratify the covenant. Whitehall officials were distinctly unenthusiastic, but Tony Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey and other internationally minded heavyweights in Harold Wilson's Cabinet were sympathetic. A detailed list of reservations was agreed to meet any legitimate concerns of the various home departments, and in May 1976, the covenant was duly ratified.

Most of the covenant's rights and freedoms are also protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. To that extent, the covenant adds nothing since victims of breaches have effective remedies in British courts and in the European Court of Human Rights.

But in several important respects, the covenant is wider. For example, under the covenant, the guarantee of equality before the law and non-discrimination is free-standing. The rights of detained persons to humane and dignified treatment is stronger. The rights of political participation in the conduct of public affairs and public service are broader than in the European convention.

The Human Rights Committee is the guardian of the covenant. It is a body of high calibre, consisting of 18 eminent jurists. British members have included Dame Rosalyn Higgins, now the British judge on the International Court of Justice, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. The current British member is Sir Nigel Rodley. Others include the former Chief Justices of India and Mauritius—Bhagwati and Lallah, as well as one of President Bush's senior legal advisers, Professor Ruth Wedgwood. I think I can say that all the British serving and former members of the committee would support the acceptance of the Optional Protocol. I know that at least two have written to the Government to say so.

The committee may deal with a complaint only after all effective domestic and international remedies have been exhausted. It does not sit in public. It ensures that member states have the fullest opportunity to state their case before making findings and recommendations. Its recommendations are not binding in the way that judgments at the European Court of Human Rights must be complied with. It relies on voluntary compliance. Its opinions are not radical or overly intrusive; they strike a fair balance between individual rights and the general interest. They provide an important source of guidance on civil and political rights and obligations.

Acceptance of the competence of the UN Human Rights Committee is optional. Every member state of the European Union except the United Kingdom has accepted that option, as have the democracies of the rest of the Commonwealth, including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Thirty-nine of the 45 countries of the Council of Europe have also done so. The remaining six are Moldova, which is not a member of the United Nations, Andorra, Albania, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Many countries that have accepted the protocol, including those in central and eastern Europe, have incorporated the covenant rights directly into their constitutions or ordinary legislation, but acceptance would not require the United Kingdom to take that step.

The keynote address made by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, on 4 July 1997—I emphasise the date—explained that, given the Government's support of human rights, they would not wish limitations on their international commitments to remain unless they were strictly necessary. Seven years ago the noble and learned Lord went on to refer to a review which would include whether to accept the right of individual petition under the covenant and under UN human rights treaties.

When I had the privilege of chairing the United Nations Association 50th Anniversary Committee in 1998, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it placed particular importance on this matter in relation to the Optional Protocol.

In December 2001 the UN Human Rights Committee itself stated that the UK, should consider as a matter of priority"— again, I emphasise the words "matter of priority"— how persons subject to its jurisdiction may be guaranteed effective and consistent protection to the full range of Covenant rights. It should consider, as a priority, accession to the first Optional Protocol".

On 7 March 2002 the Government at last announced a review of the UK's position. That review was meant to report in the spring of last year. In a Written Answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, on 21 October 2002, the noble Baroness explained to me that the review was on schedule to report to Ministers by the spring of 2003: I would expect to be able to report the outcome shortly thereafter".—[Official Report, 21/10/02; col. WA 75.]

The Written Answer given by her on 6 May 2003 was that, recommendations will be made to Ministers shortly".—[Official Report; 6/5/03; col. WA 131.] The Written Answer given on 18 July 2003 by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin—who I am glad to see is to reply to this debate, even though I have a certain sympathy for the position in which he finds himself—stated: We will report the outcome of the review as soon as reasonably possible".—[Official Report, 18/7/03: col. WA 195.] We are still awaiting the outcome of that review.

On 8 December 2003, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, I pointed to the fact that we are in unsplendid isolation compared with the rest of Europe and the democratic Commonwealth. The noble and learned Lord undertook to consider the matter. I also wrote to him and to the Foreign Secretary in January of this year, but I have not even received the courtesy of a formal reply. I cannot think of any cogent reason for refusing to take this step, and I would be glad to be told—not in generalities but in the particular—of any legitimate objection which any government department has come up with.

I await the Minister's reply with keen interest in the hope that he will be able to inform the House today that the Government have at last decided to give British citizens the same right of petition to the Human Rights Committee as is enjoyed by the other citizens of Europe and the democratic Commonwealth. That would greatly enhance the credibility of the Government, here and across the world, in supporting the protection of human rights.

I want to make two further points before I finish. The first is that I am delighted to see that our proceedings are enriched by the presence of the former Lord Chancellor, to whom I have just referred. He hinted at this move as long ago as 4 July 1997 in his speech at University College, London, which I commend to the House. Secondly, I have already indicated informally to the Minister that I would be perfectly willing to meet all the officials in Whitehall who can think of any possible reason not to take this step, to listen to their objections and seek to reply to them in front of any Minister the noble Lord cares to nominate who can adjudicate on the matter because, with the utmost moderation, I have to say that the present situation is wholly unacceptable.

2.16 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill on introducing this subject, one that he has pursued with great assiduity over the years. It was interesting to listen to his resumé of the history of our accession to the UN ICCPR and the discussions that took place in the Cabinet of 30 years ago. One would have thought that with this Government. committed as they are to human rights, we should have moved on. I certainly welcome both the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and the announcement that every government department is to review its own activities to ensure that human rights are mainstreamed throughout all their activities.

However, as my noble friend has explained, the question of whether we should accede to the Optional Protocol has been around for many years. I had always understood that governments of every complexion were against the idea on the grounds that it would overlap with the ECHR. I may be wrong about that, and I hope that the Minister will correct me if that is the ease. However, my noble friend has pointed out that almost every other country in the Council of Europe which subscribes to the ECHR has also accepted the Optional Protocol. Moreover, my noble friend could have added that in Latin America, which has a similar system under the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, most if not all of the states which are parties to that procedure have also signed up to the Optional Protocol.

It is not argued that the number of cases would be very large. I note that in November 2003 the committee had before it 253 communications from the whole spectrum of signatory states, some of which had been carried over from previous years. The rules of procedure allow for the joint examination of admissibility and merits in most cases, and the committee may adopt views or decisions declaring the communications admissible or inadmissible. As my noble friend has explained, the committee has no power to enforce its decisions, and it has to rely almost entirely on publicity for implementation. If the United Kingdom did sign up to the protocol, it is almost inconceivable that the Government would not comply with any views that the committee might express.

The UN International Covenant is the most authoritative expression of what is meant by human rights, one to which almost every country in the world subscribes, even if most of them do not live up to it. The UK should do everything it can to consolidate respect for the covenant and universal observance of its provisions. By continuing to hold back from acceding to the Optional Protocol we appear to be saying to the rest of the world that we are not fully committed to the additional rights which appear in the covenant, but not in the ECHR.

When he appeared before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that Mr David Laming was ensuring that the Audit Commission saw to it that local authorities were mainstreaming human rights activity. He gave that as just one example of a general process taking place throughout government. Reference was made to a letter which has gone out to all departments on the process of mainstreaming, but the noble and learned Lord confirmed that when the departments dealt with the public authorities within their remit, such as the Audit Commission, their attention would be directed only towards the Human Rights Act, which covers the ECHR, and thus, by implication, not to the ICCPR.

When the noble and learned Lord said that he would concentrate entirely on the Human Rights Act because it was part of our law he was giving the game away that we did not intend to enforce the rights in the ICCPR through the process that has been described as mainstreaming. But the discussion between the JCHR and the Lord Chancellor also touched on our other treaty obligations, which are binding even if they have not been enacted. The courts can refer to them, as they did to the ECHR before the Human Rights Act.

Both the courts and the public authorities had to consider that if they did not satisfy the provisions of the ECHR before it was enacted in the Human Rights Act, the matter would be dealt with in Strasbourg. That was the incentive to comply with the ECHR, for which there is no equivalent in the case of the ICCPR unless we sign up to the Optional Protocol.

Where the new Equality Commission appears to be a longstop for ICCPR issues—though not individual complaints—is that it will have a general power to conduct free-standing human rights inquiries not specifically related to equality issues. That was stated by the Lord Chancellor when he appeared before the Joint Committee.

The inquiries would clearly need to look at any matters covered by the ICCPR hut not by the ECHR, as also on other human rights issues such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Those investigations could throw up questions that could not be directly addressed under our domestic law.

The only other country that has signed up to the optional protocol recently of which I know and have been able to look at in the short time available is Australia, which acceded to the Optional Protocol in 1991. Since it came into force in December of that year there have been 14 individual communications against Australia, four of which were declared inadmissible and seven of which have yet to be considered by the Human Rights Committee. Of the remaining three cases, only one was upheld on its merits, which was a case involving Article 2 on the prohibition of discrimination coupled with Article 17 on the right to privacy.

Those articles have equivalents in the ECHR, so one might assume that if the same circumstances had arisen in the UK the complainant would have had a remedy under the Human Rights Act. However, it has also to be observed that the language of the two instruments is not identical. In general, we could take it that fewer complaints would arise proportionally in the UK than in Australia because of the existence here of the ECHR remedies.

Where the ICCPR rights are to all intents and purposes identical to those in the ECHR, the Human Rights Committee would have to declare inadmissible any complaint that had already been considered by the European Court. It would be useful to know what the experiences in that regard have been in other European countries.

I considered the case of a Swedish citizen, Mr Asbjeörn Skjoldager. It was said that the Swedes had entered into a reservation on the Optional Protocol that the Human Rights Committee would not consider any communication from an individual unless it had ascertained that the same matter was not or had not been examined under another procedure of international investigation or settlement. In that case Mr Skjoldager had already been before the ECHR.

If the noble and learned Lord was concerned about the possible duplication of cases under the ECHR and the ICCPR he could deal with that issue by entering a similar reservation to that used by Sweden. If there was any fear that cases might be disposed of at Strasbourg and then started over again in the Human Rights Committee we could deal with it in that manner.

The Government have been seized by the matter for many years. My noble friend Lord Lester mentioned the review by the Lord Chancellor in 1977 and the second review by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, in 2003, neither of which have led to any Statement to Parliament. It is time for the Government to come before Parliament and state plainly what matters they are taking into consideration and why they are of such a nature as to require lengthy deliberation behind closed doors.

Would it not be in accordance with the principle of open government of which they claim to be such ardent champions if the Minister now put their cards on the table and opened up the subject to parliamentary and public scrutiny rather than presenting us with a decision that would be difficult to vary, whatever the merits of the arguments put from outside Whitehall?

2.25 p.m.

Lord Slynn of Hadley

My Lords, it is obvious that there are limits on what and how much can be done by the United Nations Human Rights Committee under the procedures available to it. I do not want to repeat the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, but I fully share his view that it has long been time that we should have adopted the optional protocol. It seems to be entirely consistent with the attitudes this country has shown in adopting the Human Rights Act and in our support for the UN Universal Charter of Human Rights at the Nice conference. The Government should he urged at this stage to adopt the additional protocol.

2.26 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we all know that committees take minutes and years, but it seems to us and certainly to me having looked through the series of Answers to Questions we have had since 1997 that it is not unreasonable to ask the Government now either to decide or to set a clear time-scale during which they will decide whether Britain is going to ratify the first optional protocol.

I know that when Lord Williams of Mostyn was Minister in the Home Office he said in a reply to my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill in December 1998: I expect the review to be completed by the end of 1998".—[Official Report, 9/12/98; col. WA 91.] I note that some months later, in a general reply to another Written Question from my dogged noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, he said: We shall announce the results of this review shortly". —[Official Report, 1/2/99: col. WA 186.] In a reply in another place by Mr Rammell to a question from Adam Price MP, we were told: We will announce the outcomes of the Review to Parliament as soon as is reasonably possible".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/4/04; col. 1352W.] It seems that "reasonably possible" does not entirely cover a full seven years and I am not sure that it would cover eight, nine or 10 years without beginning to verge strongly on the level of unreasonableness. I hope that the Minister in his answer will give us a slightly tighter time-scale than we have had in response to those inquiries.

I am conscious that there is a question about the overlap and occasional inconsistency between European and global obligations on human rights. I was chair of the Lords sub-committee that considered amendment 13 to the Amsterdam treaty that extended European Community law on anti-discrimination to a wide new area. The Government may feel that our European obligations are the ones that count and that we therefore do not have to join the optional protocol, although it seems odd that all other member governments of the European Union have thought it appropriate nevertheless to ratify the optional protocol. If Her Majesty's Government are following different advice from that given to all other member governments of the EU we should be told and given an explanation.

We are also conscious that the global regime on human rights is weak. There is a great deal wrong with the UN system and most member states of the UN pay little attention to their human rights obligations. We have been deeply embarrassed to see Libya elected as chair of the UN Human Rights Commission. We see a range of other regimes around the world simply sweeping aside their concern with human rights.

There is also the question of example. It is very important that the states of this world which wish to show that they adhere to the highest possible standards, demonstrate that they do so. In the past three years, the United States has had an Administration which has not thought it necessary to do so and a Secretary of Defense who has not thought it necessary to observe the Geneva Convention. We are now beginning to see where that has led the United States.

Now is therefore not the time for Her Majesty's Government to signal in any way that they do not wish to sign up to the fullest level of obligations in terms of international law. I find it difficult to understand why the Government have spent so much time considering whether they wish to ratify the Optional Protocol. I also find it difficult to understand why they have not yet been able to agree that they should ratify it.

2.31 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for introducing this important and worthwhile debate. I commend the noble Lord for his determination in pursuing on so many occasions the question as to whether Her Majesty's Government will accept the first Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The noble Lord has continually held the Government to account for their delay in concluding this matter and his resolve should be applauded. He has certainly received strong support from his two noble colleagues and from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, today.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has been told time and again by the Government that they are reviewing the issue of the first Optional Protocol and that they will report their findings in due course. However, we remain no closer to any firm response. When the noble Lord last questioned the Government on this matter, in a Written Answer the Minister stated: The very wide scope of the review, and the number of government departments involved, have caused the review to take longer than expected".—[Official Report, 2/2/04; col. WA 71] That was more than three months ago and we still have no answer.

Her Majesty's Government are beginning to run out of realistic excuses for any further delay. Will the Minister explain when we are likely to have a definite conclusion and what that conclusion might be? With their ethical foreign policy objectives, why is it so difficult for Her Majesty's Government to come to a decision about the Optional Protocol, one way or the other? Given that the Government have long proclaimed their support for human rights, it seems strange that they are unwilling even to account for their lack of enthusiasm to sign up to this Optional Protocol.

It also seems that Government Ministers have been remiss in continually refusing to provide the noble Lord, Lord Lester, with answers to his questions on this matter. They have been saying that the review of the first Optional Protocol will be made available to Ministers "shortly" since March 2002. The word "shortly" is certainly being used in a curious way. The noble Lord has already told the House that he took up the matter with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in December last year; he then wrote to the Lord Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary in January but is yet to receive an answer. I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation as to exactly what is now happening.

2.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, despite the fact that he has put us in a challenged position by introducing the debate, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for doing so and for his unstinting contribution, along with others, to the cause of human rights in our society.

As noble Lords will know, the first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is one of the many instruments being considered in the interdepartmental review of human rights instruments announced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, as long ago as 7 March 2002. I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and others have been patient—perhaps that patience is wearing thinner—in waiting for the outcome of this review. I am apologetic for the time that it has taken to reach a conclusion.

As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, the review has a very wide scope and the number of government departments involved has caused it to take longer than we had hoped. The review has considered a huge number of instruments—some 67 reservations, interpretative declarations and treaties, unsigned and unratified—from the most wide-ranging, such as Protocol 12 to the ECHR, to the most local and specific, such as the United Kingdom's reservation to Article 23(3) of the ICCPR concerning marriages on the Solomon Islands.

We clearly want to get the review right. This is one instance where perhaps there has been a need to take time to have discussions across government on these issues. We are taking on new international obligations and we must be 100 per cent clear about the implications, benefits and burdens that will flow from them.

I can assure the House that we are now very near to completion. That impression has perhaps been received previously, but we hope to announce the outcomes of the review to Parliament very shortly. In an attempt to forestall too many interruptions at this point, I should perhaps be a little sharper and indicate that I will be personally deeply embarrassed if I or my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer do not do so before the Summer Recess. Clearly these matters will benefit from coming to a conclusion and no doubt we will have a good debate on them. However, the review is not concluded; it is not public and at this stage obviously we cannot pre-empt its conclusions.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the concern that people in Britain should be granted the widest possible spectrum of civil and political rights consistent with a society that also values the virtues of community spirit and social responsibility. I also share his concern that the citizens of the United Kingdom should enjoy the fullest possible protection of those civil and political rights.

It was for that reason that, in 1998, we introduced the Human Rights Act so that UK citizens could uphold their rights under the European convention. I believe that most thoughtful people celebrate the benefits that we as a society have achieved as a consequence of that. It has by no means been otiose.

As has been mentioned, the majority of the rights contained in the ICCPR are already protected in the United Kingdom under the Human Rights Act. Without in any way wishing to underrate the significance of the UNHRC, it is a fact that the Human Rights Act gives UK citizens a far greater level of protection and redress for their rights than the more limited protection provided by petition to the committee. Nevertheless, I would not pretend that there is an exact synchronicity between the two jurisdictions and that therefore there is a wider scope in some respects for the UNHRC than for our own ECHR.

We have not been passive on human rights since 1998. We have signed up to several important international human rights treaties. In doing so, we have continued to show the way to the world at large. On 3 May 2002, as soon as it was opened for signature, we signed Protocol 13 to the ECHR, finally abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances. We ratified Protocol 13 on 10 October 2003 and only yesterday, 12 May, we took before the Commons Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation an amendment to the Human Rights Act which incorporates Protocol 13 into UK law. We intend to bring that amendment before your Lordships in the very near future.

On 10 December 2003 we ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture. We were one of the first countries to sign the protocol and to date we are one of only three countries to have ratified it. This protocol enables the establishment of a system of regular visits by independent national and international bodies to places of detention. Its ratification by the UK shows three things: first, that we are not standing still on human rights; secondly, that we are not afraid to subject our actions and policies to international scrutiny; and, thirdly, that we respect the United Nations and take positive action to support its measures.

I turn to a number of the questions or points that were raised in debate. I was grateful for the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the Government's commitment to human rights, while he was clearly not implying satisfaction with all that we had done or not done. Clearly, the Commission for Equality in Human Rights, announced yesterday, is a significant move forward. It is right that the commission will be responsible for challenging discrimination across society and, for the first time, promoting human rights. The White Paper which my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer published jointly with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made it clear that the new body will be expected to promote and give guidance on human rights beyond the ECHR. While that is not a total answer to the point being raised in this debate, it is relevant to it. Clearly, that would include the issues in ICCPR.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I thank the Minister and I fear that I may have to ask another question a little later, but I cannot find any reference to that in the White Paper. Will his advisers tell him where one finds it? My reading of the White Paper suggests that the new commission will be confined to the Human Rights Act 1998 and the ECHR in its human rights mode. I may be mistaken, but I cannot find reference to any further remit in the White Paper. If I am wrong about that. I would be grateful to be told.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord is wrong or I shall have to apologise. I hope to give that answer shortly. If not, I shall respond to him in writing.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, signalled that he thought that the volume of references to the United Nations was likely to be small. He is right in that respect, as evidenced by the experience of other countries. He further suggested that for those countries that were signed up to ECHR, he expected it to be smaller still. The evidence bears him out on that. I shall not spend a lot of time quoting the evidence from New Zealand, Canada, Sweden or Denmark over reasonable periods of time. I accept that point.

On the question of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the White Paper, I am advised that I shall write to him rather than give him the answer now. I hope to come back to him before the weekend on that point.

In conclusion, I hope that the House will bear with the fact that the Government have taken their time on this measure. As I have indicated, we shall put before the House our response to the review by the Summer Recess. No doubt we shall have a further debate on those issues at that stage. However, at this point. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for reminding us of the importance of these issues and for holding the Government to account for them.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I thank him for what he has told us so far. On the point about the Equality in Human Rights Commission, when his advisers re-read the White Paper, they will find not even a reference to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in it. I think that the only human rights international instrument to which reference is made is the European Convention on Human Rights incorporated by the Human Rights Act. That is clearly an important matter on which further thought will be required.

However, what troubles me about the Minister's reply is not the further delay—I would be willing to wait for a further six months if I thought that the result would be the right one—but the process. I ask the Minister the following question. If the Government will not publish a Green Paper, will they give those of us who regard ourselves as knowing a bit about it, and those who know a lot about it like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shinn, the opportunity at least to know what sticking points, objections and problems the Government perceive as preventing them doing what the rest of the democratic world has done? It would not be satisfactory to wait for a fait accompli. Can we not, please, in some way —it does not matter if it is in private or in public—know what are the issues so that we can help the Government to be well informed when they take this important decision?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I noted with interest the noble Lord's suggestion of a discussion with officials. As he would expect, I affirm that Ministers carry the responsibility for decisions and therefore they are to be held to account for these issues. Without doubt, when we bring forward for debate our response to the review, I expect that either I or my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton will put into the clear public domain our reasoning for whatever decisions we come to.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, that was not my experience when I was in government with Roy Jenkins as my boss. If outside expert bodies or NGOs had something to say, they would come and see him and me and his civil servants in order to thrash it out. I remember well people such as Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt from the NCCL doing precisely that. Surely a better decision would be made if Ministers had the benefit of a dialogue. Surely that would help them to come to right conclusion.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, it depends on how it is done. As a Minister, I spend most of my time trying to bring outside organisations into my room for discussion, because that best informs me in my judgment about what are the issues in the real world. Unless I misinterpreted him, that is different from the position of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that it was officials who deal with the issue and that he therefore needed to have a discussion with them. I shall take away and reflect on his point with the clarification that he has given to it.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3.5 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 2.46 to 3.5 p.m.]