Foreign Policy — Debate (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 3:08 pm, 26th February 2009

My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on obtaining this debate, on his masterly and tone-setting opening speech and on including the word "challenge" in the title, which has allowed so many subjects to be considered in a debate in which, as my noble friend Lord Wright rightly said, it is a privilege to take part.

As a fellow member of the Rifles, I join my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall and the noble Lord, Lord King, in expressing condolences to the families of the three members of the regiment who lost their lives yesterday in Afghanistan.

I should like to cover two totally different subjects: Trident and prisoners. I was flattered that both the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, should quote from a letter that my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall, General Sir Hugh Beach and I wrote to the Times earlier in the year on the subject of Trident replacement. We did that not to try to suggest precipitate unilateral disarmament but rather to encourage a debate about whether this weapon system, and the capability that it represents, is a vital part of securing national self-defence, or whether there is an alternative. Four questions have to be answered if that debate is to be held. While taking part in a debate on the World Service, I was disturbed to be told by a senior Member of the other place that such a debate was unnecessary because a vote in the House of Commons had already decreed that Trident should be replaced. I told that Member that that was not the point, as many wider issues had to be considered.

Is Trident independent? The answer is strictly no, because the D-11 missile belongs to the United States. I have always thought it unthinkable that we should consider launching the Trident system without the backing and support of the United States. What is its current utility? Can we really see a weapon of this magnitude being used in wars or in an anti-terrorist situation? That is not to say, of course, that we do not have to consider threats that we cannot predict at the moment. It used to be said that possession of this weapon guaranteed you a seat at the top table. I do not believe that that applies anymore, because the place at the top table is now much more related to economics than to possession of a strategic nuclear deterrent.

My final point—there are others—concerns affordability. There are two definitions of "affordability": can you afford it or can you afford to give up what you have to give up in order to afford it? As many noble Lords have said, the fact that our conventional arsenal is not equipped with all that we need to carry out what we have to do must raise questions about whether the cost of Trident is affordable in terms of what we cannot have because of it. The climate is right for such a debate. First, Trident has a limited shelf life. Secondly, President Obama has already announced where he is heading in this direction. An Australian-Japanese commission is examining the whole subject of multilateral disarmament. SALT and the nuclear proliferation treaties are coming up for renewal. Therefore, it seems to me that we would be wise to have a proper debate on this to make certain that all those taking part in the discussions are equipped with the relevant information.

On costs, the letter that we wrote states that our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics. In that context, I wonder therefore whether the time has come to remove it from the defence budget so that it is no longer weighed against conventional forces in the examination of that budget, and either put into another budget, such as the Foreign Office's, or ring-fenced within the Ministry of Defence budget so that it is no longer an either/or with our required conventional force.

On my second subject, the Foreign Office is closely connected with two groups of prisoners. One group comprises foreign national prisoners in prison in this country. Fourteen per cent of our current prison population comprises people from foreign countries; that is, 10,300 men and 960 women. They come from 160 nations. However, half of them come from 10 countries, which seem to be the main offenders, as it were. Most are involved with drugs. Four out of 10 men and eight out of 10 women in prison are there for drugs offences. Six out of the 10 are sentenced to more than four expensive years. One-fifth of all the women in prison are foreign nationals.

In addition to that vast number of prison spaces being taken up by foreign nationals, the Prison Service requires 1,100 beds in our immigration hostels. A further 400 to 500 detainees are held in prisons while their deportation is processed after their sentence has been completed. I question whether the Foreign Office could not do more to help in this situation because, in a large number of cases, the deportation of foreign national criminals is written into the sentence.

Slightly different rules apply to people coming from non-European countries. A non-European is given automatic deportation after a one-year sentence or an aggregation of a one-year sentence. If he commits a drug or gun offence, he is automatically deported, or the court can recommend deportation. If deportation is recommended by the court, why does that not occur so that, at the end of the sentence, the prisoner does not go to a detention centre, where they cause problems because they are not immigration detainees? Why are they not processed so that they go straight from prison to the airport and are then deported? One of the reasons is inefficient bureaucracy within the Prison Service. That is not a matter for the Foreign Office. However, what is a matter for the Foreign Office, which I believe should be pursued with greater vigour, is obtaining the deportation and the travel documents, sorting out all the international complications and making certain that the prisoner is deported. We have agreements on unilateral deportation with 69 countries. A European framework document will be issued in 2011, which will make deportation happen automatically for European national prisoners.

I draw the following fact to the attention of the Foreign Office. Quite apart from the fact that prison is extremely expensive, it will not do its job of protecting the public unless it includes a period of resettlement to prepare people to live a useful and law-abiding life in their own country. Why, then, should not the Foreign Office make certain that our prisoners abroad are brought back in time to be resettled in this country before they go back to their community instead of arriving at the airport after their sentence with nothing—no benefits, no clothing, nothing? Without a charity called Prisoners Abroad, there they would be. Urgency by the Foreign Office could improve this. Similarly, urgency is needed to resettle foreign prisoners back in their own countries, rather than using up vast amounts of our money taking part—or not taking part—in programmes that have nothing to do with them, because they are not going to be resettled in this country.

This is a challenge to the Foreign Office to which speed should be given, due to the fact that we have a hugely overcrowded and vastly expensive prison system in this country. If 14 per cent of prisoners could reduce the contribution to that, I recommend that the Foreign Office at least do something to help.