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Baroness Stern (Crossbench)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress they have made with their Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in October 2010.

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Baroness Stern (Crossbench)

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing I declare an interest as I chair the All-Party Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty.

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

My Lords, the Government's Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty was indeed launched in October 2010. We have made considerable progress and today the updated strategy has been laid in Parliament and published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. We have raised the issue of the death penalty at all levels bilaterally and through the European Union, including in specific cases of British nationals and others. We continue to fund a range of projects, including in China, Nigeria and the Middle East as well as in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa.

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Baroness Stern (Crossbench)

I thank the Minister for that positive reply and for the excellent efforts that the Government are making on this subject. Can he confirm that 21 out of 58 Commonwealth countries are still using the death penalty and that there are over 11,000 people on death row in the Commonwealth? Does he expect any progress to be made at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth this month on raising the question of abolition or, failing that, the question of minimum standards, so that people are not condemned to death without a fair trial?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for chairing the All-Party Group and for her thanks. I have to be realistic about the prospective pattern at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. It is going to be difficult to get this issue on to the agenda and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. HMG's focus is going to be on pressing for the introduction of a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as recommended by the Eminent Persons Group and supported by a number of Commonwealth countries, as a force who would be in a good position to promote this cause. If I promised anything more than that, I would be misleading the noble Baroness.

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Lord Thomas of Gresford (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I declare an interest as representing a number of people on death row in Trinidad and Tobago. Is the Minister aware of the Government of that country's attempt to amend the constitution to reintroduce hanging earlier this year and of the concerns expressed by Amnesty International? What steps are this Government taking to monitor any deterioration in human rights in Trinidad and Tobago since the declaration of the state of emergency in August 2010?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

My Lords, Trinidad and Tobago has just been through the UN universal periodic review process, looking at human rights across the board. It has also announced the abolition of the death penalty for felony murders, although that does not meet the problem that my noble friend rightly raised. The United Kingdom raised the issue of the death penalty during that UN review process. I observe that the debate over the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago is closely linked to problems of serious crime and a related state of emergency, as my noble friend indicated. The UK has seconded a criminal justice adviser to work alongside the Trinidad and Tobago Government. That is all I can tell my noble friend at the moment.

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Labour)

My Lords, one of the most repellent aspects of this issue is when the death penalty is used against young people under the age of 18. The Minister spoke of progress in his initial answer. Can he tell us whether any progress has been made in respect of approaches to Iran over its use of the death penalty for crimes of a so-called moral nature, particularly for young women under the age of 18?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

I must confess to the noble Baroness that I find it difficult almost to find the words to express my disgust and contempt at the news coming out of Iran, in this case relating to the execution not of a young girl but of a young boy. I was appalled to hear of that execution, which was conducted in the most revolting way. He was subjected to the worst form of execution-suspension and strangulation-in front of a public crowd. The president of Iran has said that Iran does not execute children under the age of 18, but that appears to be contradicted by that horrific event, which contravenes the international obligations to which Iran has signed up. We have of course raised this case with the Iranian authorities and will work extremely hard to secure a strong resolution on human rights in Iran at the UN, which will include language on the use of the death penalty in Iran. However, I feel that the words that I am uttering are hardly adequate to express the horror that we all feel.

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The Bishop of Wakefield (Bishop)

My Lords, I was grateful for the Written Ministerial Statement that we received today from the Government on the death penalty. Will the Government also give particular attention to the death penalty being used in Iran in cases of blasphemy and apostasy? I bear in mind the case of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor who faces execution for failing to renounce his Christian faith.

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

The right reverend Prelate is quite right to raise this case. We are deeply concerned for the fate of Pastor Nadarkhani. In a statement on 28 September, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary deplored reports that the pastor was being forced to recant his faith or face the death penalty. Alongside my right honourable friend, I pay tribute to Pastor Nadarkhani's bravery in the face of such threats. We will continue to work closely with our EU partners to try to ensure that the pastor's legitimate rights to freedom of religion and belief are met.