Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday 15 November by the Lord Giddens—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is right that we consider foreign affairs, defence and international development in the same debate today. The challenges that we face around the world do not fit neatly into separate boxes, nor should this Government’s responses. Instead, we have committed ourselves to a comprehensive approach that relies on a co-ordinated and integrated joint effort across government by the FCO, the MoD and DfID. I shall focus on the UK’s comprehensive approach.
Globalisation is creating enormous economic opportunity, but with it substantial insecurity. The global economy is undergoing radical transformation in technology, production and trading patterns. Natural resources and global climate are under pressure. Technological change has led to the proliferation of weapons of mass effect. The threat from Islamist terrorism is now genuinely international, operating across borders and using the characteristics of a globalised world—such as the freer flow of people, capital and information—to undermine and attack democratic, open societies across the planet. Our security environment, hence our foreign policy, changed fundamentally after 9/11.
These challenges cannot be met by military means or security measures alone, or even primarily by them. We need to apply a comprehensive approach which is based on a genuine desire to help others, even-handedness and fairness—based on our values—and sometimes, where necessary, based on a willingness to fight to defend those values against those who would seek to destroy them. We also need a will and a capacity to use force as part of this comprehensive approach to deter, to prevent conflict and to establish security where necessary. Parts of the world are highly dangerous. Our military must be able to deal with extremes of violence and win in order to create the environment where democratic governance, the rule of law and economic progress can take root and flourish.
Our comprehensive approach is most necessary in Afghanistan and Iraq, to which I will come shortly, but it extends far beyond. We have learnt to our cost that poverty, poor governance and conflict, if neglected, can spread hatred and regional instability, which in turn foster terrorism across the world. We are systematically addressing these interconnected problems—above all through close co-operation with allies and friends—to promote joint action for common values and interests in a safe, just and prosperous world.
Since 1997, this Government have more than doubled aid to developing countries. Last summer at Gleneagles, G8 Governments pledged increases of $50 billion a year by 2010 and debt cancellations worth another $50 billion. So we continue to work to encourage the good governance which is indispensable for poverty reduction and sustainable development. This includes assisting security sector reform so that judiciaries, police and Armed Forces protect rather than menace their people.
The comprehensive approach recognises that success requires us to address all key areas. To facilitate this we have created the global conflict prevention pools, which are funded and run jointly by DfID, the FCO and the MoD. They are relatively new and will undoubtedly evolve further, but they stimulate essential cross-government planning, evaluation and learning. Close interdepartmental work has furthered the UK’s leading role in gathering international support for an arms trade treaty, restricting flows of irresponsibly traded conventional arms, especially into conflict areas, reducing instability and saving lives.
There are many unsung successes in the field of non-proliferation, but we must be realistic about the concern which continuing North Korean and Iranian nuclear activities are causing the international community. It is against developments of this kind that officials are studying options for Trident replacement. All the issues will be set out fully in the forthcoming White Paper on the future of the deterrent, but no decisions have yet been taken. Just as the United Kingdom is adapting to today's world, the major international organisations must also reform. NATO, the EU, and even the United Nations are relatively young—striplings compared to nation states, but they need to mature fast to meet the pace of change and become more effective.
NATO, in particular, must successfully complete its transformation into an operationally focused alliance, capable of engaging well beyond its own borders. It must enhance capabilities and ensure that burdens and risks are fairly and efficiently shared among members. As Europeans we will continue to support the progress of the European Security and Defence Policy. The EU must become an effective partner for NATO, but must also be able to act in its own right where NATO chooses not to become collectively engaged.
The UN, NATO and the EU all have important roles in promoting world security, either individually or in partnership. As a leading member, the UK will remain active in working to ensure that they each develop and combine their strengths as flexibly and effectively as possible. The UK's military capability has a clear role within the comprehensive approach as a force for good, with the will and the means to prevent conflict and deal with violence. Where violence is endemic, which has been described as “war amongst the people”, military capability becomes a crucial factor in conflict resolution and reducing sectarian violence. In such circumstances the military role can then be best understood as the muscle in a form of muscular international development.
Today, our forces all too often face murderously unconstrained enemies hiding among the very people they are trying to help and protect. That situation can involve us simultaneously in combat and peacekeeping operations within the same small area, which is sometimes described as the three-block war. While, a century ago, British troops might have been fighting to gain territory, today they often risk their lives to create the security conditions that will allow their responsible withdrawal. This requires multiple skills and the ability to counter very different threats. Military operations will remain inherently dangerous, and in some cases have to deal with the fullest extremes of violence unconstrained by any legal or moral code. No one should pretend otherwise.
Before turning to Afghanistan and Iraq, I wish, therefore, to pay tribute to all the men and women in our Armed Forces. I have seen the difficulty of their task in both theatres and the tremendous determination and courage with which they carry it out. No one matches their ability to turn from intense combat to development, peace-building and reconstruction. Nor could we hope for success in the comprehensive approach if we could not count on that bravery, professionalism and flexibility.
We recently marked Remembrance Sunday, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in remembering all those killed or injured in operations during the previous parliamentary Session.
Afghanistan has been much discussed in this House, but it is probably the best example of the comprehensive approach in action. All our actions there are aimed at the overall goal, shared by Prime Minister Karzai's democratically elected Government and all their allies, of creating a stable, secure, and self-sustainable country, free from terrorism and the opium industry.
In the long term, it is essential that Afghanistan develops satisfactory and sustainable basic institutions and infrastructure. Effective governance and alternative livelihood programmes must underpin poppy elimination and advance the Afghan Government’s counter-narcotics efforts. I pay tribute to all the work being carried out by DfID, the various aid organisations and the Afghans themselves, but in the short term the Afghan people need to see more improvements in their everyday conditions if they are to continue to reject the insurgents. Where local insecurity still keeps out civilian aid specialists, our Armed Forces will have to shoulder the burden of undertaking essential reconstruction work when under fire or until the environment is safe enough for the civilians to take over.
Helping reconstruction is not a new concept for the British Army. The Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg and the prosperity of that town owe their survival after the Second World War to a British army officer from Lancashire, Ivan Hirst, who put the bombed-out Volkswagen Beetle factory back on its feet in 1945. Reconstruction under fire is not easy, but we always recognised that the task in Helmand was going to be difficult. That is why we sent in such a strong and well supported task force. It now includes an engineer regiment to maintain the momentum of development until there is sufficient security for civilian aid experts.
There is already encouraging progress in Helmand, where work is under way on roads, schools, clinics, wells and irrigation. At the national level, there have been significant improvements since 2001: the economy grew by 14 per cent last year, more than 4 million refugees have returned and 6 million children, including 2 million girls, are at school. What had been a medieval pariah state is now a fledgling democracy.
In Iraq the continuing sectarian bloodshed is clearly appalling and seriously threatens its progress. However, let us not forget that at any time the Iraqi people are permitted the chance to embrace democracy, they do so. A national constitution has been ratified by a referendum, and a national unity Government are in power. The people have shown that they do not want sectarianism and the rule of the bomb. Despite the difficult security situation, progress is being made on the ground. Access to water has improved, sewage and waste water treatment plants are operating again, and healthcare spending is approaching 30 times its pre-war level.
Crucially, we should remember that the continuing coalition military assistance programme has now trained 312,000 members of the Iraqi security forces. This has allowed us to hand over the first two provinces to Iraqi control, and others will follow. The Iraqi authorities showed that they could handle recent violence in Al Amara without our assistance. However, we must also be realistic about the existence of elements of sectarian extremism in the ISF, and work with the Iraqi Government to root out those who use the cover of an ISF uniform to perpetrate their violent criminal activity.
In Basra, Operation Sinbad continues to make progress, although it is far too early for more than cautious optimism. We have had to learn some difficult lessons since 2003, and Operation Sinbad is an example of where we are putting those lessons into practice. I do not deny that considerable challenges lie ahead, both for the coalition and for the Iraqi Government.
The operational lessons we are learning in Iraq and Afghanistan are leading to an important evolution in our Armed Forces and the support arrangements for them, in both personnel and equipment, to ensure that they remain effective in meeting the challenges the world presents, now and in the future. We have just passed the Armed Forces Act, and I need not repeat our discussion on it. Recently, with Treasury co-operation, we introduced a new tax-free allowance of over £2,250 for each six-month operational tour. This now leaves our troops among the best paid, as well as the most determined and professional, in the world. We are determined to ensure that our forces remain in the first division of military effectiveness.
Turning to a subject close to my heart, over the past year we have published the defence industrial strategy, the defence technology strategy and the Enabling Acquisition Change report. These clearly set out the Government’s approach to defence acquisition, in which the needs of our Armed Forces come first. They also list those areas where we judge it crucial to maintain a strong UK industry to maintain sovereign capability.
We have driven forward implementation over the past year. Good progress has been achieved in helicopters, complex weapons and armoured fighting vehicles. The FRES programme now has a clear path to give the Army its essential future medium-weight capability. FRES will see competitions for the systems integrator, the vehicle integrator and the vehicle designer over the next year, and the latter will include field trials for the utility vehicles proposed. Progress has been slower in other sectors, such as the maritime industry, but the same principles are being applied, and I am determined to see them take effect.
Just as industry must change, so must the Ministry of Defence. This year we announced the merger of the DPA and the DLO to provide a more effective and efficient through-life service building on the best of the two previous organisations. It will emphasise the swift response to emerging operational requirements that allowed us to announce a package of new protected patrol vehicles earlier this year. The first Bulldog armoured fighting vehicles are already on the streets of Basra, and the new Mastiff vehicle will be delivered to theatre less than a year after the requirement was identified. That is a truly impressive performance by the MoD and industry.
Today’s complex challenges and the speed of change require a willingness to evolve, adapt and innovate in the Armed Forces, ministry processes and international organisations. The Government will continue to press for them all and for the success of integrated efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Current difficulties are widely reported, and no one would claim that all decisions emerging from a turbulent international environment have been perfect. However, we are making progress by diagnosing difficulties, adapting to them and learning what works and what does not. I remain convinced that our aims are right, and I see no realistic alternative to our systematic method. I believe that time will show how far that method will eventually benefit not only the people of this country but also the wider global community, including those countries where our forces are playing their brave part in implementing the comprehensive approach.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting analysis of “a turbulent international environment”. The international environment is not only turbulent; it is also extremely dangerous and people are looking for clarity and leadership. I feel that my role today should mainly be that of a herald. When I look at the galaxy of distinguished talent and expertise lined up to speak, I think that I should merely tell of the oratorical wonders that I am sure will come. The questions of security and military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq will be the subject of a later debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, reminded the House earlier, and I shall leave my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever to comment on the military aspects, as he is an expert in that field.
I begin by saying a few words of welcome and, I hope, encouragement, to distinguished noble Lords who are to make their maiden speeches today. There are no fewer than four of them. The first on the list is the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, who is a colossal authority in the field of ethnicity and mental health; I shall be fascinated to see how he brings his huge expertise to bear on our debates.
My noble friend Lord Leach of Fairford is a renowned figure in the worlds of finance and European affairs. He played a major and very distinguished role in helping to protect our country from becoming involved in the euro. Most sensible people now agree that that was a good thing. There is more investment in Britain than in any other European country, and that investment continues to grow, which is the proof of the pudding.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, hails from a place that I love and greatly admire, which is Ulster. I think that I am right in saying that he is one of the first Members, of your Lordships’s House, but not the only one, who has been—and, no doubt, still is—a member of the Democratic Unionist Party. I think back 30 years ago to the violence, extremism and polarity of Northern Ireland politics. I never thought that I would be standing at any Dispatch Box with the real prospect, not very far ahead, of Dr Paisley and Mr Martin McGuinness presumably sitting side by side administering, we hope—and our fingers are crossed—a more peaceful, prosperous and vigorous Province. The vigour has always been there, and I know that, given the chance, the Province will blossom nicely.
The fourth maiden speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who is a former most distinguished ambassador in various key posts and who, as the Permanent Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, presided over difficult times. We all look forward enormously to his valuable contribution both to this and future debates.
The idea of a day such as this is for your Lordships' House to debate all aspects of foreign policy—and of course there are too many to be covered in a single speech by any of us. But I have to laugh a bit when pollsters and focus group experts, who tend to boss us around and tell us what we should speak about in politics, inform us that the public are not very interested in foreign policy. They say that because they have made a little list of things and told the public to tick a whole lot of boxes, and it turns out that the main interests are schools, hospitals, health, crime, immigration and so on, and that foreign policy comes down the list.
Those of us who are interested in foreign policy—and the enormous attendance of noble Lords at this debate shows that it is of considerable interest—are entitled to ask: if foreign policy is so unimportant to the pollsters, how is it that both the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain are facing their biggest challenges on foreign policy issues? How have foreign policy issues suddenly come to dominate the entire debate, and why in the United States did they dominate the recent elections for the Congress and the Senate?
Of course the answer is that foreign policy is not just an issue like schools, hospitals and all the other things that pollsters write down. It is not a category to be ticked or crossed; it really is a view of ourselves and our purposes. Our foreign policy tells us not merely about what we should do in the world; it tells us about ourselves. It tells us where we stand, what kind of society we live or want to live in, who—to be controversial—we do or do not admit to this society, and what shape it should take, whether multicultural, multi-faith, or whatever. And people need a country to love. So to put foreign policy at the bottom of the list is not wise. I think that your Lordships recognise that.
De Gaulle said that the people of France should have a certain idea of their country. You do not have to buy the whole of the Gaullist agenda to realise that Charles de Gaulle had the right thought as a leader. In a sense, the issue is even more acute today. People feel buffeted by global issues over which they know that their national Governments have no control, so it becomes all the more important for national leaders to be able to illuminate, clarify and make sense of an extremely dangerous and problematical world, in which some very frightening threats are hanging over us all. That may be called foreign policy, but it is not remote at all—it affects us immediately. Our national political leaders have to provide that clarity, and they must be, as President George Bush said in one of his happier moments,
“the calcium in the backbone”,
of the nation. That is what we expect and are entitled to expect of our leaders.
I have to move to more specific points but I say straightaway that, by that standard, United Kingdom foreign policy at present does not reach a very high level. It is in fact, as one kindly commentator put it the other day, a foreign policy in limbo. We are waiting on others. At the moment, we are all waiting to see what Mr James Baker and Mr Lee Hamilton have to say in their Iraq Study Group. When they say something, no doubt we will respond in some way or another.
I know what foreign policy is supposed to be. The Minister set out an interesting and perfectly fair analysis of what one would like to think our policy was. It is meant to be partnership with the United States in dealing with the quagmire and morass of the Middle East and so on, and it is meant to be being at the heart of Europe. Your Lordships will remember the various metaphors used to describe that. We were going to be a bridge between the United States and Europe. Then, at one point, we were going to be a pivot. But today, there is no bridge and no pivot.
Instead, we find ourselves in vast difficulties. In effect, we are chained to the chariot wheel of United States policy in Iraq and waiting for a change in the wind there, if one is coming. In Europe, we held the presidency, but everyone you talk to throughout European capitals knows that our presidency was a flop and that we failed to take the lead. At the moment, the European Union is in a great debate between those who think that another constitution should be resurrected and that integration and more Europe should go forward and those, like the rest of us, who think that, although we love Europe and want to play a part in it, there must be a more flexible, reformed and modern structure than anything that we have today.
Let no one accuse me or anyone else of being anti-American. We love and admire America as the home of liberty, enterprise and independence, but that is not the same as being a dutiful lapdog or poodle of the United States. We do not need to tick all the boxes. True friends of America should be candid friends, not just compliant and obedient friends. Many of us—this goes beyond party—feel that we could be a little more clarifying and bold in our critique and attitude to the latest utterances from Washington and the latest shifts of policy when they come.
We could do better than just having our Prime Minister operating on a video link giving an input to the Iraq Study Group survey, as he did the other day. I do not feel proud when that happens. It may be that we should be thinking about creating our own Iraq study group. The other place held a debate on that the other day and a number of Members, including those from my party, argued that in due course there should be some kind of inquiry or study group. In the mean time, it does not leave a good taste that it is the Congress of the United States conducting the study and our Ministers and Prime Minister who are giving an input to that. Let us in your Lordships' House at least have a full debate on some aspects of this, without in any way getting in the way of the immense determination and bravery of our military forces on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else.
Let us consider the prospects for what President Bush has called the new Middle East that he wants. The Prime Minister made a speech on that at the Mansion House last week. When he talked about the need for a “whole Middle East” strategy, he was right. We need to think not just of Iraq but of its neighbours and, more than that, the entire galère of regional powers in the Middle East. However, the Prime Minister was completely off-beam when he went on to say that it is simple: that we need this whole new Middle East policy and that it is simple. I do not understand that at all; far from being simple, it is immensely complex.
It does not stop simply with our saying that we should bring in Iran and Syria if only they would be more co-operative. If only. The truth is that involving Iran more constructively in the Iraq morass and involving Syria in turn involves a whole sequence of changes of policy and of immensely skilled diplomacy to try to turn what at the moment is very negative into something positive. How will we involve Iran? Obviously Iran has military nuclear ambitions, or it would not be so keen on enriching its own uranium. It also wants to eliminate Israel; that is its official policy. Syria and Iran want to go on feeding Hezbollah to agitate and to make war on Israel more effectively. Syria still wants to dominate Lebanon; it still hankers after colonising it, although it was forced to leave a year or so ago. All these matters must be negotiated and skirted around. All right, let us have a whole Middle East, but that means not only bringing in Syria and Iran but involving Turkey constructively and untangling the Kurdistan problem. It also means bringing in Egypt, which has the best army in the region, as well as the Saudis, who have been very constructive with the Abdullah plan and now with another plan for Palestine. It means bringing in Jordan and involving the whole Arab League. All this is required if we are to have a whole Middle East strategy.
All roads lead back to the Israel/Palestine conflict. We should be more of a candid friend to America and say that it is the Americans who must look at themselves and decide which lobbies they will stare down and how they will become totally committed, as they and the powers in the region must be, to securing a resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine on the road map. Obviously the Israelis’ security must be guaranteed. They have a right to believe that they should be able to sleep in their beds without being murdered, but they will have to face the fact that at some stage and in a phased way they will have to withdraw from the West Bank completely, and that on the West Bank there will have to be replacement forces—possibly largely non-European or even non-American—that can guarantee some security and begin to bring Palestine together as a unity instead of a near civil-war country so that it can negotiate effectively with the Israelis.
I do not want to trespass further on your Lordships’ time, but there is much to say about Europe. Just as we are pro-American, we are good Europeans. We believe in a more flexible Europe. The Movement for European Reform is the key to that, and no doubt we will hear much more about it in the debate. One cannot help noticing that, for all the EU’s aspirations to be a world superpower and to strut on the world stage, at the moment it is succeeding merely in losing Turkey. Turkish opinion is turning away from membership of the EU, and the consequences of that could be quite disastrous for those of us in this region.
The basic flaw in much of the thinking out of Washington, London and Brussels on the Middle East is that somehow the Atlantic countries are the centre of the game. They are not. Of course we play a crucial part, but the answers for the Middle East lie just as much in Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo and Moscow as they do in Washington and Brussels. We need the Asian powers—the rising powers—both for security in the Middle East and for our energy security and climate security if we are to solve the carbon problems of the future, which the Foreign Secretary Mrs Beckett and the Prime Minister are rightly so keen to do. We will need China and India to be on side just as much on those matters as on security matters.
I apologise for trespassing too long on your Lordships’ time, but there is so much to say and so much left unsaid. Britain needs to be good friends with America. Yes, we need to be good Europeans, and we cannot be anything other than totally interdependent in an interdependent world, but we may need other partners just as much. Those partners may be the rising powers of Asia, and a network such as that offered by the Commonwealth might be just as good a vehicle for the future promotion of our foreign policy as relying on our sometimes rather unreliable European partners or our American allies.
I end by noting that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not even mention the Commonwealth in its last report, which is a great pity. It indicates that there is a gap in the thinking about foreign policy in this nation which needs to be filled quickly, otherwise we will be in even greater difficulties.
My Lords, it is good to follow the thoughtful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, much of which I agreed with. I suspect that I agree with rather more of it—in particular his critical view of the United States—than one or two people on the Conservative Benches. I think I also heard him criticise the Government for not providing a sufficiently positive European leadership. It is good to hear a Conservative make that criticism of the Government. Furthermore, I agree strongly with what he said about the links between foreign policy and national identity. I recall Gordon Brown saying, in a thoughtful speech about Britishness the summer before last, that we cannot resolve the long agonies of Britain’s relations with continental Europe until we define more clearly what we understand by British identity. As I have pointed out before, that has to be resolved in a debate across the parties. The Conservatives have a slightly different view of Britishness than the Liberals or the Labour Party; we need to have a broader discussion, one for which this House is entirely appropriate, about how to improve the consensus on our diverse society’s nationhood. That has to involve the teaching of history and citizenship in schools, and clearly it relates to foreign policy.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I shall not cover the full remit of foreign policy, defence and international development. I am happy to leave a number of defence issues to my noble friend Lord Garden in his closing speech and those on development to my noble friend Lady Northover. I used to think that the nightmare for me as a Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman would be to turn around at the beginning of a debate and see behind me my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Ashdown sitting together and to wonder what on earth they would say, because they will say something far more intelligent than I. I look forward to their contributions. I want to focus on one of the closing phrases of the Queen’s Speech:
“My Government will work to foster a strong partnership between Europe and the United States of America”.
I note that the phrase does not refer to two partnerships, one between Britain and the United States and the other between Britain and continental Europe, but one partnership between a coherent Europe and the United States. It has been a core principle of my party’s approach to foreign policy since the 1960s that British interests were best served by such a balanced transatlantic partnership, in which Britain worked closely with its European partners and, with them, built a more equal partnership with the United States. We have held to that view as first Labour and then the Conservatives have gone through violently anti-European phases. We have held to that view as the present Government have tied themselves so closely to the Bush Administration that they have virtually handed over major decisions on British foreign and defence policy in the Middle East to the United States. If the Queen’s Speech commitment really means what it says, we welcome it wholeheartedly, but we remain to be convinced.
British foreign policy since the Second World War has attempted to strike a balance between close relations with our neighbours—France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the other continental states of western Europe—and the transatlantic relationship with the economic and military superpower, the United States. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, remarked, Tony Blair has been fond of referring to Britain as the transatlantic bridge, the link between continental Europe and the United States and thus a country which wields greater influence in world politics because not only does it help to shape European policy, but also on its own has a reputation and voice in Washington. Year after year in the Mansion House speech he has used the same analogy, until this year. Perhaps he has at last understood that Britain cannot on its own claim a special privilege in interpreting, for example, between the German Government and the US Administration, or between the Spanish and the US Administration, or the Dutch, the Italian or the French; they, too, have their special relationships with Washington. But we have most influence in Washington together, when we manage to speak as a group. Britain on its own, loyally following the twists and turns of American policy, has little influence, as the Prime Minister has sadly and bitterly discovered.
Fifty years ago, in pursuing the Suez intervention together with France, without securing American support or informing his own Cabinet or Parliament of the full reasons for the intervention, the British Prime Minister first alienated our American ally, then abandoned his French partners and finally had to resign. Three years ago, our current Prime Minister fell off the transatlantic bridge in the opposite direction. It is now clear that he committed Britain to war in Iraq in closer consultation with the White House than with many members of his own Cabinet.
My party opposed the moves towards war in Iraq then. We were not convinced by the flimsy evidence offered in successive dossiers. We knew how strongly lobbyists and ideologues in Washington were pressing for regime change. We saw how expert advice on Middle-Eastern politics had been pushed aside in the neo-conservative drive to impose democracy on the region. Yet the British Prime Minister committed himself to follow the Bush Administration.
From that commitment has followed a series of setbacks which still shape British foreign and defence policy. The United States, and Britain as its ally, neglected the reconstruction of Afghanistan once the Taliban had been overthrown. Four years later, our troops are struggling with a task that would have been far easier to carry out with local support in 2002-03 had we not followed the Bush Administration instead into Iraq.
We went into Iraq alongside the Americans, although without any influence on American strategy or tactics. British representatives were then deliberately excluded from influence over the conduct of the post-war occupation. I regret that we are not able yet to read Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s account of how we attempted, but failed, to gain a voice over the Pentagon nominees who imposed their simple assumptions on the complexities of post-conflict Iraq. British troops, again, are now struggling to cope with the consequences of mistakes made by officials of another Government three and a half years ago.
We are now waiting for the Iraq study group in Washington to tell us what American policy—and, therefore, British policy—will be. It was kind of it, at least, to hear evidence from our Prime Minister by video. I hope it will give British views a mention, at least, in its proposals.
To his credit, the Prime Minister attempted to extract from the Bush Administration a commitment to return to the Middle East peace process and, in particular, to revive the quartet in pursuit of a two-state solution. Like many other British friends of Israel, I am convinced that the only secure basis for long-term security for that country is through a negotiated peace settlement for a viable Palestinian state. The ambiguity of Israeli policy towards settlements in the Jordan valley, the incursions which the wall, or the fence, is making into Palestinian land, the continuing destruction by Israeli troops of houses, orange and olive groves can only fuel further resistance from an embittered and impoverished Palestinian population.
My noble friend Lady Williams will be arguing later in the debate that we need a more active European approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than waiting for the United States to move. Sadly, the American domestic debate on Israel and Palestine is twisted as much by fundamentalist Christians as by an unrepresentative but superbly organised Jewish lobby. These fundamentalists support Israeli annexation of the whole of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, implicitly involving the ethnic cleansing of much of the Palestinian population.
We recognise, uncomfortably, that any substantial progress towards peace will call for a large number of peace-keeping forces from dependable states to provide reassurance to both sides as they disengage from conflict.
The US Administration brought strong pressure on European Governments to provide troops for the expanded UN force in southern Lebanon. I regret that British forces were already far too overstretched to provide significant numbers for this force, but welcome the response from other European Governments. This is, after all, our neighbourhood. Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to our future relations with the Arab and Muslim world. The state of denial by the Bush Administration that their policy and rhetoric have fuelled antagonism to the West and offered a cause for radical clerics to foment and for alienated but misguided young men to follow is a threat to British and European security.
That is why our party has welcomed and supported the initiatives the Government have taken towards Iran and Syria. Neither regime is easy to deal with; neither is in any way friendly to European, or western, interests. But “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”, as Winston Churchill famously said. It serves no useful purpose for the Bush Administration to label them as evil and to refuse to engage. We have to find a way, if we can, to persuade the Iranian regime that the outside world is not unremittingly hostile. We need Iranian co-operation, after all, in Afghanistan and in Iraq if we are to succeed in stabilising either of those countries.
The Prime Minister said in his Mansion House speech that there was no halfway house in choosing to be an ally of America; either you are an ally or you are not. But as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, strongly remarked, a good ally is at times a critical ally. I regret that Tony Blair did not use the reputation he acquired within the United States to explain in public where British—and European—interests and values differ from those of the United States, at least as defined by the current Republican Administration. That applies not only on policy towards the Middle East but on climate change, where concerted European efforts are needed to persuade Washington and the US public. I agree with the Government’s chief scientist that climate change is in many ways a greater long-term threat to global order than terrorism; I only wish I had heard our Prime Minister say this clearly to American audiences. I welcome the signs that American opinion is moving in the right direction, with California and other states beginning to take action on their own. Here British interests are identical to those of other European states; we need more Europe if we are to have more effective action to limit global warning.
We need more Europe, too, if we are to manage relations with Russia. President Putin’s regime is suffering all the status anxieties of lost empire, compounded by an apparent willingness to use gas supplies as a political weapon. But more than half of Russia’s overseas trade is now with the European Union; the Russians need us as much as we need them, if not more. Here, as in other areas of European co-operation, we have suffered from President Chirac’s idiosyncratic views of international politics in his efforts to undermine European and western solidarity. Thankfully, he is reaching the end of his long period of office, and the British Government should be actively pursuing a more coherent European strategy.
We need more European co-operation, too, in political relations with the rising Asian powers, China and India. When I was in Beijing last week, I was impressed by the degree of interest that Communist Party officials showed in the potential differences between a Blair Government foreign policy and a Brown Government foreign policy. However, in most of the discussions I held there, it was difficult to discover any substantial differences in political and security interests among the European Governments represented there, whatever the economic competition between them. The Chinese Government are interested in strong relations with Europe as a whole, rather than with individual European states.
I hope that the Government will now follow through on the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to ground British policy in a partnership between Europe and America rather than to pursue the illusion of a special relationship with the United States Administration somewhere on a bridge between the United States and Europe.
I hope, too, that the Government will start to tell Parliament and the British public about the benefits of European integration and about Britain's contribution to it. I am constantly surprised to be told by officials in other Governments, for example, about the positive contributions that Britain is making towards the development of European security and defence policy when we hear so little about it at Westminster. It is almost as if the Government are ashamed of what they are doing, or perhaps they have agreed with Rupert Murdoch, as the conspiracy theorists suggest, to downplay our European commitment to avoid upsetting this American-owned newspaper conglomerate.
I welcome the words of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on the transformation of NATO and the creation of a more effective relationship between the European Union and NATO. We all agree on the goal of transforming European forces into a format that is capable of deploying at long range and sustaining operations for extended periods, but I have some reservations about those in Washington who want to transform NATO into a kind of global, white man’s alliance, with Australia and Japan as closer associates. I have some reservations, too, about the pace of further NATO enlargement. Russian anxieties stem from the fact that early membership for Ukraine and Georgia, together with American bases in central Asia and the Middle East, look like hostile encirclement. It is not entirely irrational, therefore, for the Russians to feel hostile towards them. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, what position Her Majesty's Government will take on these issues at the forthcoming Riga summit.
We on these Benches believe in a strong partnership with the United States, but we believe, as the Queen's Speech states, that it should be a partnership of equals between Europe and the United States, not of leadership and followers. We look forward hopefully to the change of course in government policy that, this suggests, may now develop.
My Lords, I hope that the House will not consider it an abuse if I use the few minutes allotted to me today to talk about the significance of religion in international politics. I was encouraged to do so by some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on which I shall comment in a moment.
I have one London borough in my diocese where 110 languages are spoken; we have an international community in this country; I am part of an international church; and I chair the board of Christian Aid. So these matters are very close to home. I noticed that Kofi Annan made the following remark in a recent address in Istanbul:
“Today, at the very time when international migration has brought unprecedented numbers of people of different creed or culture to live as fellow-citizens, the misconceptions and stereotypes underlying the idea of a ‘clash of civilizations’ have come to be more and more widely shared. Some groups seem eager to foment a new war of religion, this time on a global scale—and the insensitivity, or even cavalier disregard, of others towards their beliefs or sacred symbols makes it easier for them to do so”.
I was very grateful to hear in the gracious Speech that the Government remain committed to their African agenda. I was sorry that none of the opening speakers mentioned this issue, and I hope that those who make closing speeches on behalf of their various Benches will come to it. As chair of the board of Christian Aid, I say to the Government: please hold on to this priority. If we are to tackle the issues of poverty, this is a major priority in our international world.
We are hugely grateful for what has been achieved across the political spectrum on increasing the percentage of GDP given over to international development and aid, on debt relief and so forth. However, if we are to roll back poverty in our world, we must come to terms with the importance of religious institutions.
In this country and places such as Africa, we could say that we live in a post-secular world and that religious communities have an absolutely basic role to play in the task of building for the future. If DfID does not use as effectively as it might the faith-based agencies such as Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund in this country, it will miss an opportunity. When I went to South Africa a few years ago, on Ash Wednesday I stood in a church with a thousand other people. In Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere, religion is a very important feature of people’s lives. If we want to deal with HIV/AIDS and from the bottom up to tackle poverty, we must enter into a conversation about how better to use those networks in their specificity. If there is anything I, as chair of the board of Christian Aid, can do to assist those conversations, I shall gladly do it.
My second point is on Iraq. I have recently read Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, because it is very good to know what the opposition thinks. He starts by listing the wars which he thinks are caused by religion. That is far too simplistic a way in which to think about things; we need a much more sophisticated understanding. The issues in Iraq are political and rooted in history—and one of my problems with policy at the moment is that it seems to have forgotten 20th century history in Iraq—and feed religious sentiments. My debate with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, with regard to fundamentalism in America would be that political traditions can shape how religious people respond to events. If you go to the United States and talk to black-majority churches, which might be equally fundamentalist, you would get a different set of political responses. So we need to deal with the complexities of this matter and not to dump on religions issues that actually belong in politics. We need to be aware that some of our political leaders historically can use religious traditions, even cynically, for political purposes. So there is an important policy conversation to be opened up among us, and Iraq is a very good centre for it.
Iraq is a 21st-century nation: it is multicultural and multifaith; there are Christians as well as Sunni and Shia Muslims; there are secular-minded people, religious-minded people and people of different cultural traditions. It is vital, therefore, that if policy is to be shaped in the contemporary world it takes account of those complex cultures. My message this afternoon is that if we are in the business of reshaping policy in the Middle East, we should have a more serious and informed conversation about people’s cultures, beliefs and complex traditions.
I am glad that we shall have another debate on this matter in December. War feeds the very worst things in its impact on human communities. If you want communities that are fed by important religious sentiments to end up fighting each other and destroying each other, create a climate of war and disorder. In the reshaping of policy that is no doubt going on in the United States, in our own Government and among the allies at the moment, I hope that due account is being taken of the impact of these things on people’s cultures. In Iraq there is chaos in those spheres. There is much that we need to be doing together—and if there are things that most of us with a religious tradition behind us can do to help, that is what we are here for. The day in which politics goes in one direction and those in religion go in another is long past, and we need to work together.
My Lords, the gracious Speech touched upon a number of foreign policy issues, and rightly put the Government’s commitment to peace in the Middle East at the top of the list of priorities. That commitment repeated and re-emphasised the Prime Minister’s address to the Labour Party conference in September and his Mansion House speech last week.
The recent changes in the American political landscape, the near certainty of foreign policy recalibration on Capitol Hill and the work of James Baker and the Iraq Survey Group, together with the departure of Donald Rumsfeld, give the Prime Minister a real opportunity, probably his best since 2001, to persuade our American colleagues of the changes that are needed in Middle East policy and to become that “candid friend” that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, spoke of.
The list of separate but related conflicts and explosive pressure points in the Middle East is daunting. Most days we have terrible news reports from Iraq: civilian casualties, sectarian barbarism and, all too often, the loss of our own brave troops. Iran has become a new test bed for the strength of the international community on controlling nuclear capability. Syria is at best unhelpful, and at worst probably very menacing. Its borders with Iraq are porous, and its encouragement of Hezbollah in Palestine and Lebanon threatens peace and stability throughout the region. Lebanon, despite its brave Prime Minister’s efforts, is fragile, afraid of the possibility of civil war or of renewed Syrian occupation. Palestine, of course, is split between Hamas and Fatah, with no obvious interlocutor to begin serious dialogue with Israel about Gaza, let alone about the West Bank and a possible return to the road map.
That is perhaps a grim analysis, and, to be fair, it is only a partial one. There is much to give us some hope and some optimism about developments elsewhere in the Middle East. The countries of the Gulf—Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar—are all developing their economies and investing in their future. They are all different, and they are all adjusting their own constitutions to accommodate increased democracy and the growth of civil society. There are elections to bring different voices into the majlis shuras, as well as arrangements for women to be brought into government in Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates. Elections are scheduled in Qatar and in the Emirates. Perhaps most significantly, there is a promise of the vote for women in Saudi Arabia. These countries’ economies are all expanding rapidly by between 6 and 12 per cent, and they are all investing in their own people’s futures through education, health, science and technology.
In the Maghreb countries there is more open discussion of human rights, and of the difficult balance between the security of the state and the rights of the citizen to enjoy civil liberty. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, each in different ways but all facing in the same direction, are engaged in a sustained effort to encourage better relations with Europe across an agenda of transparency and exchanges on trade, human rights and indeed on terrorism. Egypt is changing too. At the conference of its ruling party two months ago I heard delegates cross-examine Ministers about policies on the economy and rural development. There was aggressive questioning on human rights and Egypt’s policy on its relationship with Israel—the sort of exchanges that would have been quite unthinkable even a decade ago.
Our support, even our advice and encouragement, are wanted and welcomed. However, when that support becomes lecturing or patronising, it is regarded with real and intense distaste. We have to guard against undermining the position of the real reformers—and there are many of them in the Middle East—by claiming that their reform is somehow the result of western pressure, rather than of their own hard work at home.
We also have to guard against being perceived as fostering double standards. If we encourage democracy, we have to live with its outcome. We have to talk to those who have been elected to represent the views of their people, even if that means opening channels of communication to organisations once considered beyond the pale—by that, I mean Hamas and Hezbollah. By the same token, dialogue with Syria and Iran is vital; not just dialogue, but the active encouragement of the constructive involvement of both countries in the problems of Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.
I am very glad that Sir Nigel Sheinwald visited Damascus a couple of weeks ago, and I hope that he goes again, and soon, because diplomatic relationships do not spring up overnight; they take wisdom, expertise and, above all, endless patience. Nowhere is that truer than in the Arab world. We need Syria to control its borders, its relationships with Hezbollah and its ambitions in Lebanon, and we must be prepared to discuss how we can help Syria into a genuinely constructive relationship in terms of international recognition, security and trade.
Iran, too, is coupled with Syria, not because of common beliefs but because of common isolation from international dialogue about the Middle East. It is an ancient and important country that is often at loggerheads with its Arab neighbours, and it is feared and mistrusted in Washington. But Iran is a player in Iraq. Like it or not, one of the objectives that we must have is to persuade the Iranians that a peaceful Iraq is in their best interests, and we must provide the incentive that makes their co-operation worthwhile. In Iraq, I hope that there will be a strong central Government that will survive; but the emergence of semi-autonomous or devolved regions, along the lines already developed in Kurdistan, deserves to be explored. I had some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on his notion of a British Iraq survey group. I hope the United States Iraq survey group will look at all these options when it gives advice to the president; and like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I just hope that our own advice will not only have been sought but will be listened to and acted on. Nowhere is that more important than in relation to Palestine and Israel.
Whenever I travel in the Middle East, the one visceral issue is not Iraq; it is not terrorism; it is not Lebanon; it is not even fears of Iran. It is that deep-rooted, gut-wrenching conflict, which has lain at the heart of so much international tension for so many years. It is not the only important issue, but without peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians the prospect of real peace and security elsewhere in the region and beyond is very low. The Israelis and the Palestinians are unlikely to find the solutions without international help, and here real American commitment is vital. It is the bedrock without which there will be no peace. Active European engagement and real support from the major players in the Arab League are vital too in guaranteeing security for Israel and Palestine and the genuine economic viability of both states for the future.
Of course Israel has a right to expect our support for the security of its citizens and for its future as an economically prosperous and respected Middle East state. Israel has recently made some progress in withdrawal from Gaza, but it must now make further progress. It has to safeguard those standards of humanitarian conduct that we all have a right to expect in the way that it treats Palestinians. A Palestinian state which is viable, which is continuous, and which has an economic future is the only way forward. A state that does not sanction attacks on its neighbours, but lives with the support not only of its Arab neighbours but of Europe and the United States, is not only in Israel’s best interests but in the interests of the entire region.
The longer I have been involved with these issues, the more it seems to me that there is one simple and obvious truth—we have to talk to each other; not only to our friends and allies but to those who we fear and mistrust and, indeed, to those who we believe fear and mistrust us. History shows us that even where dialogue breaks down and violence breaks out, the only way for real peace and security to prevail is through discussion and negotiation. I hope that in the coming crucial months, our friends in the region, and particularly our friends across the Atlantic, will listen to that simple, but crucial, message.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. It makes me feel enormously conscious of the fact that her sparky vitality has her looking forward, and my antiquity has me largely looking backwards.
I hope I may be forgiven for reverting as far back as the speech that I made in the debate in this House three days after the savagery of 9/11. I spelt out then four conditions that had to be fulfilled if United States military action against any target which was thought to be responsible could be justified. First, it would have to be founded not on response, but on self-defence clearly stated and established. Secondly, they would need to have robust evidence of the responsibility of any target for the 9/11 brutality. Thirdly, maintenance of the long-term unity of international support would be essential to success. Fourthly, and this is contemporary—the most important proposition in the context of today’s debate—any action would have to be accompanied by a renewed commitment to tackle even-handedly the Middle Eastern conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours.
Today, it is clear that not one of those four conditions has been fulfilled. On the contrary, no attempt was made to suggest that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. Instead, the attempt was made to establish the existence of the entirely unconnected threat of weapons of mass destruction, laced with the entirely different objective, although often undeclared, of regime change. Unsurprisingly, all this was contrary to the instincts of foreign policy and expertise of most Governments on both sides of the Atlantic. Even so the Prime Minister—depending upon very fragile and heavily amplified factual evidence and anxiously tenuous threads of legal advice squeezed out of an increasingly lonely Attorney-General—went ahead with war.
What have been the results? For Iraq, there has been the hugely destructive collapse of state and society. It is now the disruptive epicentre of an already disrupted region. For the misconceived and misguided war on terrorism, predictably, terrorist attacks have escalated around the world. For the wider world, the mutual confidence of NATO partners in each other has been gravely damaged. So too, although fortunately to a lesser extent, has the capacity and will of European Union member states to formulate and pursue concerted and constructive foreign policies. Saddest of all perhaps, for the United States, the initial worldwide reservoir of sympathy and good will has almost entirely drained away. So too, alas—for the United Kingdom—has much of the long-standing respect for the wisdom of this nation’s policy towards the Middle East which once prevailed almost throughout the region.
To put it bluntly, we have witnessed the collapse of British foreign policy—worse even than, as my noble friend Lord Howell said, its consignment to limbo. The need now is for nothing short of the re-creation of British foreign policy. For that to be possible, one crucial lesson has to be relearnt. In a frightening, shrinking world of resurgent superpowers—China, India, Russia, and perhaps even Persia, if I may use the old-fashioned word—and of course the United States, it is almost impossible to identify a single problem for which British foreign policy on its own can be expected to produce any kind of answer. Most often, we are likely to be sharing fundamental interests with our partners and neighbours in the European Union. Acting alone, not one of us is likely to have much impact upon global diplomacy. As Iraq has clearly demonstrated, a Europe divided is all too likely to emerge as a Europe disregarded—Europe without influence, Britain without influence.
So far from damaging the fundamental, long-standing transatlantic partnership, it would be in the interests of the United States as much as those of the rest of the world for Europe—embracing, of course, our own country—to make a more coherent and positive contribution to global peace and security. We need the “coherent partnership” of which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, spoke and which he encouragingly detected in the gracious Speech.
I have one last point of some importance. It will not be possible to design and implement a foreign policy of the kind and the strength that this country needs and deserves without restoring and supporting the confidence, the standing and the resources of a vigorous and independent Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service under the leadership, if possible, of a strong and confident Foreign Secretary. For me, it is sad that a service that was widely respected around the world—from Bombay to Berlin, from Beijing to I forget where, but in all parts of the globe—has lost a great deal of that respect. We need to do a great deal to put that right.
I close on a rather sombre note. Harold Macmillan, in a book about his predecessors entitled The Past Masters, quotes, rather remarkably, from Neville Chamberlain’s diary, as follows:
“I wrote a letter to Mussolini in friendly terms and this was followed by a very cordial reply from him. I did not show my letter to the Foreign Secretary, for I had the feeling that he would object to it”.
Macmillan goes on to point out that Eden’s subsequent resignation led to his replacement by the,
“charming, urbane and essentially pliable Lord Halifax”,
so that “Chamberlain was able”, says Macmillan,
“to take effective control of foreign policy”.
I conclude by posing the uncomfortable question whether a very strong-willed, misguided and underadvised Prime Minister is capable of inflicting greater damage when he is trying to make peace than when he succeeds in making war.
My Lords, we have listened to two extremely important and significant speeches, from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. Both implied that they believe that there has been a breakdown and failure in British foreign policy. That is not the issue to which I wish to address my short remarks. There has been a second and equally troubling breakdown; that is, in the entire strategy followed by the Anglo-American coalition in the Middle East.
In the recent meeting between General Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, and our Prime Minister, General Musharraf said:
“War cannot be won by military action alone. You have to come up with a broader strategy”.
We share the huge respect expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, for the gallantry of British troops. One of our great concerns is that British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other coalition troops, are being flung into increasingly hopeless situations because there has been no effective reconstruction and no effective winning of hearts and minds. It is not in any way unhelpful to our troops to raise issues about what they cannot be asked to deal with—they cannot be asked to hold the line against the growing disillusionment in the Middle East.
In the next few weeks, there will be a major switch by the new Democratic Congress towards pursuing inquiries into what happened in Iraq, what is still happening and what may yet happen. I assure the House that those Congressional inquiries will be very fierce indeed. I take only one example. The committee headed by California Representative Henry Waxman is one of the most significant in the United States Congress, and it is addressing whether there was any truth in the so-called purchase of yellowcake from Niger—the French west African country—which was one of the key factors in President Bush’s arguments for going to war in Iraq. That information came from the United Kingdom, as did certain other key pieces of intelligence. Our own Government and our own people will have some rather uncomfortable weeks ahead and we will begin to see more and more of the unravelling of the arguments for the invasion of Iraq.
I completely agree with what my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said about the centrality of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for whom I have huge respect—I know what a crucial part she is playing in the Middle East—that, quite bluntly, the support of the Prime Minister for not bringing about a rapid ceasefire in Lebanon, plus the acceptance only a week ago by the British Government of the continuation of not regulating cluster bombing, undermines the sort of support that we need if we are to be effective in the attempt to bring about some meeting of minds between Israel and Palestine. What we are seeing at the moment in Gaza is so appalling that we should all feel ashamed. Of course, it is wickedly wrong for Gaza to use rockets against the citizens and civilians of Israel. But it is also wickedly wrong for Gaza to have two people out of three with no running water or to have persistent collective punishment directed against them, with children and elderly people among the many victims, and, not least, to see them slowly starved into something close to surrender.
There are 550 permanent checkpoints in Gaza alone and many more in the West Bank therefore to talk about a viable Palestine is rubbish. Yet those of us who care, and I care very deeply, about one of the most gifted peoples on Earth—the Jewish people and the Jewish state—desperately want to see some alternative to the deeply destructive strategy of permanent coercion directed against Palestinians in the Middle East. That is why whatever our Government can do is so important. It is also why it is so sad that no attempt was made to include the United Kingdom in the recent European Union initiative headed by France, Spain and Italy. We did not even know that it was happening. Frankly, the United Kingdom was not regarded as a helpful signatory to the list.
My second point concerns the breakdown of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the remarkable treaty that has somehow stopped the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world until very recently. In the past few days, colleagues in this House will have read about the disturbing resumption of missile tests, first, by Pakistan and then by India. It is a very restless part of the world.
We have to underpin and strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. How can that be done? First, we must strongly support the initiative to try to get a fuel bank which would exchange highly enriched uranium for guaranteed lowly enriched uranium. Sooner or later we must wake up to the fact that the single greatest nuclear danger that we face is not so much the development of yet another nuclear power—although, God knows, most of us would work very hard to ensure that Iran does not move in that direction—it is ensuring that the large amounts of desperately dangerous nuclear material all over the world are secured and held in safe hands, and are not available for any terrorist who has the money and willingness to buy them. We talk so much rubbish about terrorism, but we hardly address at all the crucial act of securing fissionable materials of biological and chemical weapons on the international stage. Yet, bluntly, it is not difficult to find some rogue plant or individual who would sell radioactive materials—and who probably will in the next few years unless we strengthen the situation.
Lastly, the United Kingdom needs that debate about Trident. We are sorry that, to some extent, it has already been pre-empted by the statements from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We should have had a Green Paper and not a White Paper so that there would be a genuine debate. I am not sure where I stand, although there are real difficulties about seeing Trident as a weapon of the future against terrorism rather than a Maginot line directed to the Cold War backwards. Having said that, we must have this debate, which is vital for our democracy. It must be open and lively and, frankly, the Government should not pre-empt it by declaring their position in advance.
My Lords, I am pleased and honoured to make my maiden speech today. I thank your Lordships for the kindness and support that I have received to date. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and my noble friend Lord Adebowale for introducing me to the Floor of the House in July, and all those staff and officials who have helped me to learn about the workings of the House and my role and responsibilities in it. I am especially grateful for their ongoing kindness and friendliness, which has made me feel so welcome.
In the gracious Speech, Her Majesty clearly stated a number of the Government’s continued commitments to meeting their challenges in the United Kingdom and internationally, including a continued focus on Africa and contributing to a modern and inclusive United Nations. It is with this in mind that I have chosen not to focus my maiden speech on illegal drug use, mental health or aspects of the criminal justice system, all subjects in which I am much involved—of course, in an academic capacity.
In September this year I was asked to speak at a UNICEF session on its international development activities on water, sanitation and hygiene, known as its WASH programme. A global task force was created which seeks to increase the participation of children as a key objective in achieving the UN millennium development goals—in particular, the objective on the environment and what that means for children and young people.
The Department for International Development rightly recognises that these goals have a crucial part to play in reducing poverty and encouraging progress in the developing world. Indeed, DfID has made them the main focus of its work. The goals for the environment include targets that will halve the proportion of people who are without safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015. This is vital for children and young people, who make up some 30 per cent of the world's population and who, because of poor water sanitation, often pay the highest price in illness, loss of schooling and death.
As I speak on this subject I am minded of my own history and how I came to be here. I was born in Nairobi, east Africa, and brought up in Yorkshire, although you would not guess by my accent. I am the son of immigrant Indian parents who came to the UK from east Africa in 1961 in response to Britain's call for additional labour. Britain looked to the Commonwealth for help, and here I am today speaking on international development and the urgent need for us to help the children of those countries.
Unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene claim the lives of 1.5 million children under the age of five every year. That tragic statistic means that, now more than ever, we have to act to ensure that the world meets the goals on water and sanitation. More than 125 million children under five live in a household without access to an improved drinking water source, and more than 280 million children under five live in a household without access to improved water sanitation facilities. In eastern and southern Africa, where my parents came from, nearly 40 per cent of the population live without access to adequate sanitation, and the picture is similar across southern Asia.
While much is being done to meet the environment targets for access to safe drinking water, sadly the target for sanitation remains very distant. UNICEF's most recent report card on progress shows that the target for Africa will be missed by some 95 years. To meet that target the world needs to double the current rate of progress. Make no mistake: this is an environmental crisis that we cannot ignore. I am heartened by the UK Government’s response so far, particularly the significant increases in funding for water projects.
While finding is a significant component of what is needed, it is not in itself enough. We must look beneath the funding structures to see how programmes operate. Who is engaged with them, what is their focus and what steps are being taken to ensure their sustainability? UNICEF identified the engagement of children and young people as essential to the sustainability of water and sanitation programmes. UNICEF's WASH programme seeks to do this so that more children and young people become actively involved in sanitation advocacy and policy development. This is very close to my heart, as I have been involved in developing ways to better engage communities for a number of years. It is vital that communities are empowered and involved in development programmes. What better way to start than with the children and young people of those communities? That is how we will ensure sustainability and measurable change.
I am sure that it is hard for us in the UK to imagine what all this means, so let me try to tell you. Let me tell you about Fatima, a nine year-old from Darfur who is forced to walk up to eight miles a day, often with her younger brother on her back, in search of water, or Harriet Jore, aged 14, from Juba in southern Sudan, who says:
“In the past we were polluting the already polluted environment surrounding our school ... We had to use the open area around the school for defecation because there was no latrine. I feel sorry and shameful for that”.
I could relate many similar tragic experiences of children as regards access to water and sanitation. UNICEF's tireless activities have had a positive impact on the lives of many of these children. However, we cannot hope to change these circumstances without the active involvement of young people and their communities. It is on behalf of children like Fatima, Harriet and the millions of others who face that constant struggle every day that I must speak. It is their voices you must hear, not mine: voices that talk about hopelessness, the voices of children who say they cannot imagine having clean water, children without hope of staying free from disease and death. Hopelessness is dangerous in the young. It breeds despair, creates frustration and causes discontent which can be so intense it leaves these young people vulnerable to taking extreme actions. I need not spell out how extremist groups are able to prey on the vulnerabilities of the young.
Although I congratulate the UK Government on their increased commitment to funding water and sanitation programmes, I strongly urge that these programmes are designed, developed and implemented with the active involvement of the children and young people from the communities most affected. Building safe, secure and stable environments would benefit us all. To achieve that benefit, we need to accelerate our current programmes, especially for those who are harder to reach—often the poorest and most vulnerable. We need to focus on community engagement and the delivery of essential services. We must provide support to strengthen the policies, institutional frameworks and government capacities for leadership and responsibility that are needed to support their sustainability.
This should not be beyond our reach. Much of it can be achieved with the application of new, pioneering and often simple technology. It is time for us to recognise that sanitation is in a state of crisis, one that must be addressed urgently. I call on the Government to not only continue their focus on Africa and their contribution to a modern and inclusive United Nations, but also to strengthen their partnerships, in particular with UNICEF, the WASH programme and the global taskforce, as part of their programme of meeting the millennium development goal targets, and their national and regional development frameworks. These programmes can make a real difference to the lives of millions of children and young people, a difference which we cannot and must not fail to make.
I thank noble Lords for allowing me to use my maiden speech to bring these vital issues to the attention of the House.
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, on his excellent, thoughtful and illuminating speech. At the beginning of his remarks, he said that he did not intend to draw on his enormous expertise in ethnic health and social policy, to which I am sure all noble Lords know he has devoted so much distinguished time in his professional career. As we listened to him, however, we heard of the vital importance of understanding the role of ethnic health, community work and, in particular, community development in solving some of the problems of our own communities and how that can be so imaginatively translated into the developing world policy of which he spoke so enthusiastically. I again offer him my congratulations, and warmly welcome him.
I also look forward to the other three maiden speeches that we will hear today. If the House will indulge me, I will say that I particularly look forward to the speech of—I think that I can call him this, in the relaxed tribalism of this House—my noble kinsman, Lord Jay of Ewelme, whom I had the pleasure of introducing to the House a few weeks ago.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Patel, on development, but perhaps take a slightly different and rather broader approach. I declare my usual interest as the chair of the Overseas Development Institute. As the House will recognise, development policy has been a high priority for the Government since this Parliament began. It has been the flagship success of our international policy in a period when, as we have already heard this afternoon, other aspects of our foreign relations have caused controversy and, to use the Minister’s own word, turbulence.
Last year, 2005, optimistically became the year of overseas development. It was energetically led by the Prime Minister and supported by an extraordinary coalition of civil society. By those means, the UK Government succeeded in using our presidency of the G8 to build the important agreements to fight international poverty that were signed at the Gleneagles summit in July 2005. This year, 2006, has been about making those agreements stick. There have been some serious disappointments, notably in the failure so far of the Doha round of trade negotiations. On debt relief and the doubling of aid volumes, however, last year’s momentum has been largely maintained.
At the same time, questions have grown about whether aid on its own is really effective in reducing poverty and whether any type of financial assistance is guaranteed to reach the most poor in the poorest countries. I therefore welcome the new emphasis that the Government are placing on the governance of development—in other words, on trying to devise policies and programmes specifically intended to improve the mechanics of delivery—and on improving national and international transparency and accountability in this area, which is equally important. In the last Session, the Government rightly gave a fair wind to the Private Member’s Bill taken through this House by my noble friend Lady Whitaker to improve parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of our aid programme. We shall see the first parliamentary report on that next year; it will cover not only financial targets but the management of development programmes and attempts to root out corruption in delivering them. It will also assess policy coherence in bilateral and multilateral projects, which is extremely important.
In this area, I also welcome the White Paper that the Government published in July. Again, it emphasised multilateral action, but was called Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor. In his introduction, the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, wrote:
“We need to help governments and citizens make politics work for the poor. And … push for change in the international system”.
The White Paper proposes an extremely ambitious agenda for that reform:
“This means: reform of the UN; a more effective UN-led system to deal with humanitarian crises; more responsive international financial institutions; supporting the growing roles of regional organisations”.
The White Paper is right to put reform at the United Nations at the top of the list. At the moment, there are too many examples of unco-ordinated UN efforts, which often make local situations seem worse rather than better. There are too many examples of different UN agencies tripping over one another on the ground in the developing world. The example that always catches my eye and is perhaps the most notorious is Vietnam, where the 11 UN agencies that are operating manage to deliver only 2 per cent of the aid that that country receives. Across the world as a whole, there are 28 UN agencies working on the problems of water supply. In health—another crucial area—there are more than 90 global funds, not all of which are directly run by the UN, but all of which are independent of one another.
As the amount of aid grows—which we are pleased to see—receiving countries are compelled to set up vastly complicated accounting systems. Uganda and Mozambique each have more than 1,000 separate donor accounts. Ghana has 17 separate donors providing aid to its health sector and Egypt has 22. The World Health Organisation has more than 4,600 accounts that require regular accounting and systematic reports. I am not suggesting that those reports should not happen, and the UN is not the only culprit, but until now it has been part of the problem rather than the solution. In this respect, that organisation is not—to use the current vogue phrase—“fit for purpose”.
The drive for reform has fortunately been given an important boost by the publication this month of the report by the United Nations High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence. That may be an uninspiring bureaucratic title, but the report has been greeted as the best opportunity for a generation to modernise the sprawling development apparatus. The high-level panel included three serving prime ministers, and the United Kingdom was represented by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. Therefore, the UK has an obvious opening to lead a determined charge to translate the report’s strong words into strong action, and I hope that the Government will seize that opportunity.
The prize for achieving some UN coherence is worth fighting for because reformed development institutions could be the foundation for the modern and inclusive United Nations that was mentioned in the gracious Speech and which we would all like to see. It is only through this type of practical political reform that the world will make progress towards the genuine multilateralism and collective action that has already been a recurring theme in today’s debate. The Government have rightly tried to broaden the development debate beyond economic aid to produce an understanding that it should also include broader issues such as pandemic disease, regional conflict and climate change. It is absolutely right to emphasise such interdependence between all aspects of our overseas policy. Coherence is the only way to achieve genuine and long-term results.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on their record in giving development the high-level prominence that it certainly deserves. I hope that in the coming year Ministers will continue to work at the very highest levels to achieve the reforms put forward in our White Paper and by the United Nations. I hope, too, that we can increase the general understanding of the inevitable links between global poverty and global security and approach both issues in a multilateral and collective way.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford for his generous introductory remarks and your Lordships and all the staff of the House for their extraordinary helpfulness to a new Member.
We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, with another treaty on its way. It seems presumptuous to comment on these treaties in the presence of such eminent authorities as your Lordships. I must also observe the convention of avoiding controversy in a maiden speech, which is not easy when the debate is so polarised. I have been involved in that debate for some years, mainly, but not exclusively, on the euro-critical side—to declare a possible interest—and, from my experience, I believe that it is less polarised than it is usually portrayed.
There are certainly some who interpret every event as a reason for more Europe and others who interpret every event as a reason for no Europe at all. But the less vocal and less political majority just want reform. Speeches about reform have been two a penny, as have predictions of life-changing success for each new European initiative. Noble Lords will recall the Cecchini report, which predicted that the single market would raise Europe’s growth rate to 7 per cent and eliminate unemployment. The Lisbon agenda was going to turn Europe into the world’s leading information-based economy. The Laeken declaration even promised to re-examine the division of powers of the member states. But none of these hopes or promises materialised.
Popular disillusion must have been largely responsible for the defeat of the constitution in two recent referendums. Those defeats came as a shock. The European leadership’s first reaction—to call for a period of reflection—was a wise one. For a few months it seemed conceivable that genuine reform might at last prevail and that a revised treaty might frame a looser-limbed structure that would be more user-friendly to voters—perhaps attractive to Norway and Switzerland and better able to accommodate Turkey. But that sort of radical change needs a determined national champion. Sadly, none emerged. The centralisers recovered their confidence and carried on as though the referendums had not happened. The flow of regulations and directives resumed, some of which were highly sensitive, such as blocking the deportation of foreign criminals, and all were expensive. We have Commissioner Verheugen’s word that the administrative cost of EU regulation has reached a staggering €600 billion a year. To put that into perspective, that is equal to the combined Dutch and Austrian economies.
In March next year, the Berlin declaration will relaunch the constitution, which will probably be little changed from the defeated one. It is tempting to succumb to treaty fatigue, to accept that the process is unstoppable and to settle for a few limited negotiating trade-offs. But we cannot go on like this. This is not the 1960s. International tariff cuts have deprived the regional economic blocs of their original purpose. Manufacturing has dispersed geographically and been outstripped by completely globalised services such as finance, communications and design. Massive new national economies have entered the arena.
The qualities of a successful society were identified in a famous speech by Pericles in Athens 2,500 years ago: flexible response to surprise; openness to all comers; and the full engagement of the people. The architects of the constitution cite another part of the same speech with admiration, but they do not seem to have reached that passage—the treaty that they produced would have done nothing to reconnect the Union with voters or to improve its adaptability to change.
The EU has considerable political achievements to its credit, such as the rehabilitation of its former dictatorships and the encouragement of higher legal and environmental standards in the former Soviet satellites—and elsewhere—but centralisation is no answer to the economic challenges of the 21st century. The Commission expects that Europe's share of world GDP on its current course will fall to little more than half its present level in our children's lifetime. We cannot just resign ourselves to failure on that scale. Decline is not inevitable. Look at the City: it has not narrowed its vision to the region; it sees Asia more as an opportunity than a threat. Helped by a light domestic regulatory touch, it has become the financial powerhouse of the world. Few strategic developments should alarm us more than the EU’s misguided action plan to impose a vast and cumbersome regulatory system on London's sophisticated wholesale markets. Nothing could expel them quicker.
The EU’s response to the rise of Asia has been essentially defensive. We had the bra war, then the leather boot war. The farm lobby played a large part in the failure of the recent world trade talks. Presumably, those events were privately resisted by British and other liberally minded representatives, but all an outsider sees is the pan-European result: protectionism. Rival visions of the purpose of the customs union—what we used to call the Common Market—are causing concern across Europe. Is it there to promote competition or is it, as France prefers, to shield producers from global forces? Should regulation be cut or proliferated in pursuit of integration as an end in itself? That conflict of ideas is divisive within as well as across countries. It plays into the hands of blocking minorities standing up for special interest groups. Those who suffer the most are those in Africa and the rest of the third world, who are denied access to our markets, together with the least well-off in our society.
In this country, there is now a strong business consensus for reform but there is no consensus about how that could be achieved in the context of the EU structure. That question would definitely take me into controversial territory and I have detained your Lordships enough, so I must leave that to another occasion.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to welcome and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leach of Fairford. I do not have to agree with every word of his speech to recognise none the less that it was a speech of great power. It showed the extraordinary experience that he brings to this House as a partner and director of Rothschild’s, managing director of the Trade Development Bank, chairman of the Open Europe foundation and think tank and author of a book on Europe which, I am told, has run to four reprints, which is remarkable by any standards for a book on that subject. The wealth of experience that he brings here was shown in his speech and it will be very welcome in the House in future.
If we had a longer debate, I would alert the House to the fact that progress is checked in the Balkans and that the delay of the decision on Kosovo was a mistake that will not save us from the irredentism that the Serbs in Belgrade now seem determined to follow. The forthcoming elections there will, I regret, show a shift to the right. The country with which I was involved, Bosnia-Herzegovina, seems to be checked in its progress. Those matters will have to wait for another time.
I want to mention only one other subject today: Iraq. It is clear that there are now no easy routes out of the disaster which the coalition has brought on itself in that country. I suspect that the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s army may well go down as a classic example of how to fight this kind of war, but it is absolutely clear that how we built the peace afterwards will go down as a classic example of how not to conduct these operations. Let us be plain and blunt about this. We have failed in Iraq. That is not to say that nothing positive can now emerge or that ignominious retreat is the only outcome. It is merely stating the obvious to say that the coalition cannot now achieve the ambitious aims that it set for itself four years ago. Iraq is about to be a particularly painful example of the hubris that attends over-ambitious aims in peacemaking and reconstruction.
What should we do now? The question now reverberating on everyone’s lips is not whether we will withdraw but when, how and in what circumstances we will withdraw. Here we have a problem. The coalition no longer controls events in Iraq; it is controlled by them. That applies to the circumstances of our withdrawal, too. We are now in that most dangerous of territories where policy no longer defines outcomes but only gives us the best chance of achieving hopes. In the bonfire of hopes and ambitions that has been the story of Iraq for the past four years, only one ambition remains important and remotely achievable—to do whatever we can to maintain a unitary Iraq and to avoid its dismemberment into chaos.
There can be no other aim for our policy now but this. Only if we can achieve that can we have any hope of an orderly withdrawal and any prospect of leaving behind a relatively stable peace. That means a policy with three ingredients, and cutting and running is not one of them. First, we must continue to strengthen the army and the security forces in Iraq. Let us be blunt: the Iraqi police are a disaster and likely to remain so. The only force in Iraq with the potential to act as the last bulwark against civil war and anarchy is now the army; at least, we must hope that it is.
Secondly, we need to be more proactive in seeking a political solution to the future shape of a unitary Iraq. Everyone knows that that must mean a federal Iraq, but no one can agree what this should look like. The international community’s current policy is to have no part in this debate except to stand aside and leave it to the locals. I suspect this is a luxury that we can no longer afford as, day by bloody day, Iraq is reshaped, not by rational dialogue but by murder, violence and ethnic cleansing. We may not now be able to stop Iraq breaking up, but we should not stand idly by while it happens. The best, and arguably the only, way to prevent this is for the international community to take a proactive role in shaping Iraq’s new federal structure before it is too late. This is a job not for the coalition but for the wider international community, including, crucially, Iraq’s neighbours.
Iraq’s neighbours are the third element in any plan to avoid a deeper catastrophe. Perhaps it is not quite yet too late. Most of Iraq’s neighbours, except perhaps only Iran, do not really want there to be chaos or a power vacuum on their borders. The only plan for a federal unitary Iraq that could succeed would therefore be one underpinned by an international community agreement and to which the neighbours are committed, such as the Dayton agreement for Bosnia and the recent agreement on Afghanistan. Is it possible? Undoubtedly it will be difficult, but this offers what is now perhaps the only solution to avoiding a catastrophe of collapse in Iraq itself. The United States cannot any longer broker such a regional solution because it has lost all leverage in the tragedy of its failed policies in Iraq, but the EU could and should.
There is already a group called the neighbours forum which consists of Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It meets regularly at foreign minister and interior minister level, and it has recently invited the European Union and the United Nations to join it as observers. The EU should urgently use this forum to work towards a wider regional settlement which, as has been said, must include the central question of Palestine and could incorporate an agreement guaranteed by the international community, underpinned by its neighbours, on the future shape of Iraq. There is, I suspect, now no other context within which a reasonable end to the Iraq tragedy might be achieved.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my thanks for the kindness and friendship shown to me in my first two months in this House. Those of us who now represent Northern Ireland in this place deeply appreciate the welcome from so many Members, particularly the encouraging words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I have also greatly appreciated the unobtrusive guidance and advice offered by all the officers and staff whom I have encountered. I assure your Lordships that a word of direction is often welcome for someone of my considerable girth who is attempting to negotiate the narrow nooks and crannies and steep staircases to find the way to the very fine restaurants.
As one of the first three members of the Democratic Unionist Party to sit in your Lordships’ House, I regard it as a great honour and privilege to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the defence measures to be taken, outlined by Her Majesty in her gracious Speech last week. I must confess that my own military experience is limited, being confined to a short period as a lance corporal in the Royal Engineers in the Combined Cadet Force as a schoolboy, when my main duties were transferring baggage from the Heysham ferry to the train on the way to the annual training camp at Halton in Lancaster. Even in those days baggage went astray.
However, more recently I have had the pleasure of meeting and working often with members of the armed services and the Police Service of Northern Ireland throughout my term as the Lord Mayor of Belfast. I also have the privilege to serve as a board member of the Somme Association of Northern Ireland, representing veterans and their interests throughout the Province. I was always moved by the modesty and directness of those whom I met, and especially by the quiet courage of the relatives of those who had suffered injury or who had made the ultimate sacrifice. In particular, I was very proud to officiate when the award of the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary was honoured by its incorporation into its memorial window at Belfast City Hall.
Despite my lack of expertise in defence and military strategy, perhaps the involuntary experience of observing at close quarters for 30 years the implementation of security policy in Northern Ireland has prompted me to think more about terrorism and how to deal with it than the man in the street, although unfortunately he too has become all too familiar with it in recent years. Given the assurance in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech last Wednesday that further action to address the threat of terrorism will be at the heart of her Government’s policy, perhaps your Lordships will bear with me if I venture some thoughts on the subject from a historical perspective which I hope are neither controversial nor vacuous.
Terrorism is not new. Perhaps this may appear to be stating the obvious, but sometimes commentators would lead one to believe that, with the ending of the Cold War, the world is facing a strange and novel threat from what is described as international terrorism. In fact, if we had been sitting in this august Chamber 100 years ago, a major concern of many of us would have been the growth of worldwide anarchist terrorism, which appeared to pose a grave threat to the social order. As the historian Mr Misha Glenny points out, between 1900 and 1913, no fewer than 40 heads of state, politicians and diplomats fell victim to the terrorist bullet or bomb, including four kings, six prime ministers and three presidents. In Britain, the dangers of international terrorism were reinforced in the public imagination when immigrant Latvian revolutionaries opened fire on the police in the famous siege of Sidney Street in 1911. Many of us will remember that the then Home Secretary, Mr Winston Churchill, rushed to the scene and authorised the deployment of the Scots Guards in support of the Metropolitan Police. Yet 10 years later this wave of anarchist violence and political assassination had receded and the threat was soon forgotten. However, this outcome was probably more the consequence of the end of tsarist Russia than of any planned security policy.
The most notorious terrorist outrage of the period, in its consequences—perhaps comparable with 9/11—was the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on 28 June 1914. Since 1906 the Austrians had tried various expedients, including economic sanctions and great power pressure, to bring to heel what they perceived as the rogue state of Serbia, which was sponsoring terrorism in the Slavic provinces of the empire, and in particular among the Serbian community in Bosnia. In fact, most historians agree that the terrorist threat was probably greatly exaggerated. The Black Hand movement, which carried out the assassination—though it received financial and logistical support from senior Serbian military and political figures—was, in fact, poorly organised and inexperienced. Nevertheless, it had succeeded in carrying out a “spectacular” and the Austrians felt compelled to react. The rest, as they say, is history.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to assert that the Austrians should have instead concentrated on intelligence gathering, undercover activities and political organisation and propaganda in their Bosnian province. On the other hand, it might be argued that the Serbian national terrorism would have been eradicated if the Austrians had ultimately been victorious in their “war on terror”. Both these contentions are inevitably speculative, but one fact is incontrovertible: Serbian ethnic nationalism in Bosnia survived not only the defeat of the Serbian army in the Great War but also the brutal German occupation of the Second World War and the unrelenting suppression of separatist movements by Tito’s secret police, only to emerge with renewed vigour in the latter part of the 20th century.
The use of military force as a response to terrorism does not appear to have been decisive in either of the 20th century examples I have mentioned. Nevertheless, to assert that terrorism, particularly where it springs from ethnic divisions, is countered more effectively and efficiently by covert operations would be to rush to an unwarranted conclusion.
Having failed to arrive at any definite conclusion on the broad issues, I should like to refer to the brave men and women on whom we impose the difficult task of implementing our counter-terrorist strategies. I acknowledge the sacrifices made by the men and women of the Army, police and auxiliary services throughout the 30 years of the terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. In particular, I refer to the Royal Irish Regiment, whose home service battalions were recently disbanded and who received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross from Her Majesty the Queen in Belfast on 6 October this year. Indeed, members of the Irish Guards, alongside the Royal Irish Regiment, are now serving with distinction in Iraq. I echo the acknowledgement that we all owe a tremendous debt to all the men and women of the British Crown Forces who are serving today.
I have not sought to discuss military or political policy in Northern Ireland today. However, I conclude by expressing my profound hope that the necessary democratic conditions will come about so that the Government’s aim of restoring devolution in Northern Ireland, as outlined in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, will be achieved.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, and congratulate him warmly on his maiden speech. I understand from a leading member of his party that he comes from a very distinguished family which has made a significant contribution to Northern Ireland politics. I understand that he is not only a councillor on Belfast City Council but an alderman, a Lord Mayor and a High Sheriff of Belfast. So it is perhaps not surprising that there were one or two passing references to Ulster. We look forward to his contributions on the Balkans and the interesting linkage between the Balkans and Ulster politics. We also look forward to his contributions on defence generally and on the exciting developments which we hope to see in Northern Ireland.
World problems are great and time is short, so I will content myself with some reflections on the 50th anniversary of Suez. Many in your Lordships' House will regard the events of Suez in 1956 as a most formative stage in their own political development. It was a time when many of us who were brought up in an age of empire suddenly had to question those assumptions. It is perhaps instructive to ask whether we, as a country, have yet fully absorbed the lessons of Suez.
I joined the Foreign Office in 1960, in the aftermath of Suez. I recall within the Foreign Office the gradual recognition of the need to change which led to those agonised debates in the 1960s on the withdrawal east of Suez and, most importantly, on the most appropriate response of this country to European developments. After Suez, President de Gaulle had been persuaded by Chancellor Adenauer that France’s future lay in Europe. As president, President de Gaulle was probably correct in concluding at the time that Britain had not yet made a sufficient degree of adjustment. We were “ce grand peuple insulaire” and possibly a Trojan horse of the USA, at least potentially.
The history of our development in foreign policy over the past 50 years has been one of crab-like adjustment to that European role. We need to ask ourselves whether that process has gone far enough. What have we learnt from Suez? Are we resting on our major strengths, as members of the key world institutions—the United Nations Security Council, the Commonwealth, the European Union, the G8—and on our centres of excellence in our Armed Forces and our diplomatic service? Key considerations include the fact that it is no longer feasible for us to have a unilateral foreign policy. Possibly the Falklands was the last real opportunity for an almost entirely British operation. We need allies and coalitions.
Never before has there been a greater linkage between foreign and domestic policy. One thinks of the domestic impact of terrorism, the wider problems of climate change, immigration and drugs. What happens in Afghanistan will have its effect on the streets of not only our major cities but also, alas, our rural villages. Pace the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, the Commonwealth is an important asset, but it is not a serious alternative to our major alliances.
Some agree with the theory that Suez exposed our dependence on the US and that we had to continue on that basis. Of course, it is clearly in our interest to seek a close relationship with the remaining superpower, but our interests diverge in many key areas. There are great swathes of policy where they largely coincide with those of our European partners. The European Union recognises that soft power is not enough and that it needs a military component. We should recognise that we gain strength and weight in key areas of the world—for example, in relations with Russia, with the Caucasus and perhaps even now in Iraq—only by working with the European Union, let alone in key areas such as energy security, climate change and terrorism. We do so even in technical areas such as protection of intellectual property, where perhaps the Munich-based European Patent Office needs fully to be brought under the umbrella of the Union.
Fifty years on from Suez, we live in a time of accelerating and fundamental change. Let us think of the headlines over recent weeks. China ended a successful summit with 50 African leaders on 5 November, agreeing trade deals worth £19 billion. The company Arcelor Mittal, led by an Indian entrepreneur, has a greater annual production of steel than the next three producers, two of which are Japanese and one South Korean. Corus, formerly British Steel, faces a takeover from an Indian conglomerate, Tata, with a Brazilian competitor perhaps in the frame. China is now the largest aluminium producer in the world. A Chinese billionaire has invested £800 million in Anglo American. Al Jazeera opened a new English language channel on Wednesday of last week. I could go on. The world is changing and all these recent developments affect our interests and our foreign policy formulation.
Have we made that sea change in policy to reflect those changes as the landscape moves around us? Alas, too much of our media wallows in nostalgia and has an invincible repugnance for closer links with the EU. I hope that I am not being too controversial in saying that some of this prejudice rubs off on the major opposition party.
The proposed European Union constitution was flawed and is dead, but it will certainly return to the agenda under the German presidency, albeit in a more limited form. The debate on this mini-treaty will not be about just the necessary institutional reforms to prepare for enlargement; it will also be about an enhanced role for national parliaments and institutionalising foreign policy formulation and the European diplomatic service. We should also not avoid serious consideration of co-operation in the instruments of foreign policy, co-locating diplomatic premises and so on. Our interests in certain areas of the world, though not in all, will almost certainly converge, save in the commercial field. Now is surely the time for some radical rethinking of our priorities.
Fifty years on from Suez, so much has changed in the world around us. Have we changed sufficiently in our national attitudes and our institutions?
My Lords, I have hesitated a little, because what I want to say about Iraq runs against the convention of this House, which I admire and try to follow; namely, that debate should be cool and courteous in tone, whatever the subject being discussed. However, if Parliament is not angry about what is now happening in Iraq, it is not doing its job.
The Prime Minister said at the Mansion House a few evenings ago that the situation in Iraq was changing and evolving. I am not sure that it is greatly changing in Iraq itself, although perhaps we are more conscious of it. Every day dozens of tortured corpses of Iraqis are discovered in Baghdad; it is as normal as a rubbish collection in a normal city. The American forces make gallant attempts to pacify one town after another, only to find that it lapses out of control when that effort ceases. In the south and elsewhere we continue to train police—only to find that their men, weapons and uniforms turn up at the disposal of some murderous militia. Iraqis of talent and education who can get out of Iraq are pouring out.
This is a country bleeding to death in the presence of 150,000 American and 7,000 British troops. Yet we listen day by day to comforting announcements of progress from Iraqi and British Ministers—and I am afraid that the Minister today yielded somewhat to that temptation. There is nothing new in any of that; what has changed is the attitude across the Atlantic. The American people under their constitution have found a way to turn their anxiety and anger into action: one of the main authors of the war has been dismissed from his post. I have just spent a few days in the company partly of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, in Washington. It is exciting to find that, although there are no new answers yet, there is an intense and open debate based on an assumption that Ministers here were denying until a few days ago—the assumption that the present policy in Iraq has been a failure.
I can understand why with some exceptions there has been no such angry debate in this country since 2003. Many people were misled by the original misinformation about weapons of mass destruction. More important is the strong and good tradition that, once our forces are in the field, they are entitled to support and criticism should be muted and questions put to some extent in private. But that entitlement of our Armed Forces does not protect Ministers who launched them on this misadventure. They must not be allowed to hide, as they sometimes do, their persistent blindness and many miscalculations behind the admiration that we feel for the Armed Forces of the Crown.
None of your Lordships can be unaware of the deep current of unease which is seeping out of our Army at all levels. That is the unease that led the Chief of the General Staff, remarkably, to say what he said the other day. Soldiers do not think that it is for them to judge whether a war is right or wrong—they see that, I am sure, as a matter for government and Parliament—but they do expect a proper plan and credible strategy. They expect Ministers to think things through clearly in a way in which they have clearly failed to do since 2003.
At the right time there must be a proper inquiry. I do not mean that we should trail again through an inquiry into the use or misuse of information about weapons of mass destruction but about the whole question of how with so little thought and so little valid planning for the post-war phase we were led into an invasion which ignored all the lessons of history—as the right reverend Prelate said—all that we knew about Iraqi and Arab nationalism and all that we should know about the limits of military power.
This is a matter not simply of historical analysis but of pressing present interest. What assumptions were made in 2003 about our needs with regard to the turn of events in Afghanistan? Our operation there, as most noble Lords and Ministers would agree, is at a tipping point. Within a short period we will know whether or not we can make a good difference in that country. Some argue that our chances of success would have been greater if we could deploy more than 5,000 men in the south of Afghanistan. But we cannot; the men are not available, because they are in Basra struggling with gangs of criminal kidnappers and a politicised and corrupt police force.
The word “strategy” is used for more or less everything. The Prime Minister uses it constantly for just about every form of public activity. But we have had no military strategy in the Middle East. We have wandered into these policies without regard for the relationship between them. That is the reason for the unease I have mentioned in the Armed Forces, and one reason out of many why I believe an inquiry is required.
Regarding the future, we cannot pull our troops out of Iraq regardless of the Americans. Now we are there, we have to act with them. I support the proposals sketched out in the Washington Post over the weekend by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a wise adviser to this Government. I wish his advice when he was in Baghdad had been more constantly taken. In brief, he suggests an external conference of all Iraq’s neighbours, called by the UN rather than the Americans; internally we should require the Iraqi Government to insist that their state has a monopoly on the use of armed force; and the Iraqi Army, which, as has already been said, is much less corrupted by politics than the police, should be used to disarm the militias. That is a gamble, as Sir Jeremy acknowledges, but the truth is that there is now no tolerable outcome of the Iraq war that is not a gamble.
There is one point the Prime Minister makes that puzzles me. He says we will stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqi Government want us. Any Iraqi Government, whatever happens? Surely that cannot be right. There is an elected Government in Baghdad, but they do not in effect rule the country. Iraqi Ministers are huddled in the Green Zone in which they rely on us for their protection, even survival. We cannot tell who the Government will be in coming weeks or months, or what they will say. In such uncertainty, surely it must be for Her Majesty’s Government, not the Government of Iraq, to decide in the last resort, with our United States ally, how long we stay in that country. I hope the Minister will confirm that. It seems to me an important point.
If we stay with the Americans, as we must, we are entitled to a full voice in their debate. I have huge respect for Jim Baker, who was my colleague and friend in the first Gulf War. Although a study group is difficult to imagine as an instrument of policy, I hope he will come up with wise ideas that may help.
The Prime Minister spoke to the policy group about Palestine. He said what was right: that a new initiative to reinforce the peace process is needed. But he has been saying that to the Americans for three years now without any great effect. The truth is that, although he has gained a lot of respect, particularly in Congress, which supported the war, he has lost the art of acting as a junior partner to the United States. Winston Churchill pioneered that art and I have seen it practised by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. It is a difficult art which relies on having a firm voice and something useful to say, and we have lost it for the moment. We must wait—I hope not for too long—for a leadership that somehow acts as a true partner to the United States, but finds again a British voice.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Government’s White Paper, Active Diplomacy for a Changing World: The UK’s International Priorities, is currently the subject of scrutiny in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in another place. I am sure he is also aware that it has been suffering rather intensive and vicious criticism as part of that process. On the other hand, some may quite like it. Nevertheless, in the face of the criticism, I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify in due course what the Government hope the White Paper will achieve. For example, is it intended to provide benchmarks to measure outcomes against best practice—a sort of monitoring methodology? Is it, as the title suggests, intended to enable the Government to respond more quickly and effectively to events?
That being the case, we are rather spoilt for choice in selecting areas where we would benefit from some active diplomacy in a changing world, in pursuit of our international objectives. The immediate case in point must surely be the impact of the mid-term elections in the United States, which reach far beyond their domestic policies. This I can vouch for, having just spent the weekend at the President Clinton Centre in Little Rock, Arkansas. While my noble friend Lord Ashdown was in Washington, I was in the deep South, listening to a different point of view. Having listened at length to the views of governors, house speakers and representatives from the state legislatures from over 25 states across the Union, it is clear that the mid-term elections have been a wake-up call across America. But the effect goes deeper: right down into the grass roots of local politics, the wholesale defeat of mainly incumbent Republican Party politicians and elected officials down to the lowest level in the smallest towns of America has sent a shock wave through the political establishment. One state governor described the results as a tsunami—a blue wave that swept over the republican political landscape and swept away the party’s political infrastructure.
The impact on our interests is twofold: broadly, cause and effect. In Little Rock, national pollsters, party analysts and campaign directors demonstrated beyond doubt that the cause of this massive swing, in US terms, was the war in Iraq: the manner in which it had been justified, the way it had been conducted and the apparent lack of any clear plan to achieve the goals set out of democracy, security and stability in that country. The post-election studies have shown that those factors unleashed a degree of voter frustration, disbelief, anger and rejection against the incumbents that has rarely, if ever, been witnessed in mid-term elections in America.
In due course, the reaction of the American public to the Iraq war may well have similar parallels in the United Kingdom. In the context of this debate, however, it is the effect of the unpredicted result of these elections on our foreign policy priorities and on the “special relationship” that is at issue. It was always going to be the case that cementing our ties with the United States in a joint approach to the war in Iraq, the war against terrorism and despotic regimes in both Iraq and Afghanistan would have an effect on our influence elsewhere, particularly within the European Union and throughout the Middle East. The Government’s justification for that seems to have been that the special relationship would bring with it extra UK influence on the United States, as a bonus or a sort of reward.
It beggars belief, therefore, that in spite of the Foreign Office’s unique insight, stretching back to the end of the First World War, into the make-up of Iraq and the political and ethnic realities of the region—we are talking about nearly 100 years of experience—the Government failed to persuade their US counterparts of the action needed to prevent a descent into chaos when the Ba’athist regime was removed. It may well be that our counterparts in the US Department of State were persuaded, but were powerless to wrest the initiative from the Pentagon and Department of Defense. All the more reason for the Government to pull back from the brink, instead of plunging on down into what has become a diplomatic and foreign policy disaster.
The outcome of the US mid-term elections puts another twist in the tale of our ambition to deliver active diplomacy in a changing world. After the “thumpin’” received by the Administration, the message from Little Rock was pretty clear. The two years up to the presidential elections in 2008 will be spent concentrating on defending its incumbency—against the odds, it would appear. With disapproval of the Iraq war running so high, some American pundits now believe it unlikely that a significant US military presence will remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2007. Already there are signs of US land forces reducing in scale—“trending down”, as they put it—in Afghanistan, and a greater reliance being placed on air strikes.
It is a political reality that the shock of the mid-term election result is likely to lead to a reduction in exposure of the Bush Administration to further damage from further military setbacks. So where does this leave our foreign policy priorities, which for several years have been locked into US ambitions? However well-meaning Jim Baker and his team may be in setting out a new way forward in the Middle East, the reality is that the aggressive rhetoric aimed at the Iranian leadership, which was also for home consumption, merely played into the hands of the extremist leaders of that country. Applying labels such as “axis of evil” and “rogue state” and publicising options for pre-emptive “surgical strikes” allow the despots to reinforce the claimed threat from the US and her allies, and the need to defend their people from it. It was made very clear to me in Iran not long ago that the collective memory of events in the 1950s—planned, I understand, by United Kingdom agencies, and carried out, I understand, by American agencies—that led to the installation of the Shah in power is still very strong in Iranian minds, and it colours their view of our intentions even today. I doubt very much that they will be receptive to a statement from Baker’s team to the effect of, “Oh, we have changed our minds”.
We are America’s strongest allies, but we need to use our best efforts somehow to persuade the Administration and those that may follow them not to revert to the traditional isolationist view of the world when domestic politics go wrong, but to work with and to accept the various shades of interests that we and western democracies share with them, towards achieving a common good. Perhaps I may put that task in perspective. Five years ago, when I was visiting Washington and New York quite regularly with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and his team, we regularly met Americans in the street. Everyone I met talked of our Prime Minister as if he were a long-lost brother, newly reunited and found by the family. Yesterday in Little Rock, the mention of our Prime Minister’s name was met with silence.
My Lords, it is 25 years almost to the day since, as a young diplomat, I sat in the officials’ Box in your Lordships’ House on the foreign affairs day of the Debate on the Address, pretending to offer expert advice to the then Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. It is a huge privilege to be taking part in that debate today. Having appeared many times before committees of your Lordships’ House in the intervening years, it is a relief to be on this side of the fence. I join others in thanking those officers of the House whose efficiency and friendliness have helped to make my landing on this side less painful than it might otherwise have been. I say that not because it is the tradition, but because it is true.
It was my privilege, after serving as ambassador in Paris for five years, to head the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as its Permanent Under-Secretary for four and a half years, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned. The Foreign Office has changed and is changing and modernising hugely, as I saw in visiting some 80 embassies and high commissions around the world. There is a huge gap between the traditional view of the diplomat and today’s reality. Professional, committed men, and increasingly women, are promoting this country’s interests in 140 countries around the world in just the subjects that are at the heart of the Queen’s Speech: security, counter-terrorism, conflict resolution, migration, climate change, helping British businesses and, most important of all, helping British citizens in distress, in no matter what corner of the globe. They are doing that in conditions that are often difficult, dangerous and unforgiving. All that is done within a budget, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, knows, that is less than one-200th of the total public spending.
Foreign Office staff are also in Afghanistan and Iraq, working alongside our Armed Forces, to whose bravery and professionalism I, too, pay tribute. I do not want to talk now about how we arrived at our current situation in Iraq, nor for one moment do I want to play down the awfulness of the situation as described by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. The key question today is surely what our approach should be for the future, taking into account, and seeking to influence and encourage, the shifting tide in Washington. How do we seek to reconcile the twin aims of a stable, unitary Iraq, realising its economic potential and contributing to regional stability— hugely difficult though those aims are, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said—and the need to draw down our troops as soon as we can?
If we were to judge that our continuing military presence as part of the coalition would set back those aims for Iraq, we should leave at once, but that would be deeply resented by the Iraqi Government, who are, let us remember, democratically elected and who want our support. That would risk even greater turmoil. I do not think, therefore, that would be the right course. It would be better, surely, to work with and to exert influence on the Iraqi Government to maintain a unitary and non-sectarian state. I entirely agree with the importance that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, gave to the maintenance of a unitary state. It would be better to do even more to train and equip the Iraqi police, and in particular the army, to accelerate the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis; and to intensify economic development with a focus on infrastructure that is visible to the Iraqis, and crucially to focus on jobs. We should work with Iraq’s neighbours, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states, and with Syria and Iran, with our eyes open. Engagement need not mean weakness. We should do so as part of a more robust regional approach. We should involve, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said, the UN and other international institutions more actively, with the aim of a regional conference under UN auspices, with a role for the EU. Perhaps most fundamentally of all, we should redouble efforts to resolve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians and persuade the United States that that is as much in its interests as it is in the interests of others.
As many noble Lords have said, there are no easy solutions to Iraq, and all those elements are linked, but an approach on those lines could help to achieve our twin objectives. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq illustrate vividly some of the difficult challenges that this country faces. What is the role of conflict when the enemy is often invisible? What structures do we need here in government for still more effective conflict prevention and resolution? How do we build the international institutions to meet today’s challenges, in particular poverty and climate change? How do we ensure that the great emerging powers of India, China and Brazil play a full part in those international institutions? How do we find the right balance at home between civil liberties and the protection of our citizens? How do we ensure that minority communities here not only keep the cultural traditions of which they are rightly proud but feel part of our society? That is part of the broader question of British identity mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. How do we balance a necessary strong relationship with the United States with an equally necessary strong engagement within the European Union? That is an engagement in which I have, over 20 years, supported three very different Prime Ministers and eight very different Foreign Secretaries. On those and other issues that show the extent to which, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, our foreign policy and our domestic policy are now inextricably intertwined, I look forward to making a contribution in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme. I congratulate him on his thoughtful and expert speech. The noble Lord has had a distinguished career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as a Permanent Under-Secretary of State. He brings a huge experience of the FCO, the IMF and development. We look forward to his expert contribution in your Lordships’ House.
I thank our Government for their efforts and support for Kosovo’s struggle to gain its status as an equal and sovereign republic in the family of nations. We must make sure that the process is concluded successfully, without Kosovans of all ethnicities and religions being left in limbo. An independent, democratic, multi-ethnic and functional Kosovo will make a serious contribution towards the stability of the Balkans.
I also emphasise my delight at the Government’s support for the start of Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. I hope that the Government carry on their determination that talks should continue. It will contribute substantially to the democratic, economic and social improvement of Turkey; however, enthusiasm for joining is fast fading away due to the prejudice of old Europe, as we have seen.
The British Government’s help and support after the earthquake in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir on 8 October 2005 has been warmly welcome. Our rescue teams were the first to arrive in Islamabad and they saved lives. Our helicopters and NATO engineers helped to open the difficult roads and to help with rehabilitation. The Government have committed over £70 million for reconstruction, which is appreciated in Pakistan. I thank the Disasters Emergency Committee for its efforts in saving lives and providing much-needed help. Many Islamic charities and community centres also provided generous financial support.
In 2006, besides the above-mentioned good news, unfortunately the world has witnessed more negative developments. In that regard, I would like also to say a few words on Kashmir and Afghanistan before I comment on the Middle East. After coming to the brink of war in 2002, India and Pakistan announced peace talks in January 2004 on a number of matters, including Kashmir. However, since then, no constructive step has been taken by the two parties to resolve the issue of Kashmir. I welcome the Government’s support for reviving the talks between the two countries and I hope that our Government will continue to encourage the Governments of India and Pakistan to include the Kasmiri leadership in those important talks. Perhaps I may request that we call for demilitarisation of the entire state of Kashmir by both countries.
Similarly, the situation in Afghanistan, as we have heard time after time, also seems far from the peace and stability desperately desired by its citizens and the international community. Although operations have continued the fight against terrorism under the NATO umbrella, security cannot be maintained in that country. In addition to increased unrest, summer droughts and flooding have dealt further damage to the economic and social situation of the Afghani people. This year, the death toll in Afghanistan quadrupled. Since January 2006, some 3,700 have people died; 1,000 of them were civilians. As part of the coalition forces, it is the responsibility of Britain to obtain peace and stability in Afghanistan. Therefore, the continuation of meetings with tribal leaders while obtaining peace is crucial.
The fight against terrorism will not be won without dealing with the causes. Military power alone will not succeed; we must deal with state terrorism as well. We handed over power to the Northern Alliance but ignored the majority of Pashtuns. We have to find ways to encourage the foot soldiers of the Taliban to put down their arms and engage in a political process. The past 12 months have been difficult for the Middle East, whether in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza or Ramallah.
When the Prime Minister talks about young Muslims in this country and around the world as having a false sense of grievance, I wonder whether he really thinks that what we have done in Iraq and Lebanon, and our support—or lack of support—for the peace initiative in the Middle East, has not been considered. In south Lebanon, when two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, we forgot that thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese had been abducted and put in Israeli jails. The Prime Minister was prepared to meet the families of the two soldiers, but I am sorry that he did not meet the young girl whose family was killed on the beach of Gaza. He did not meet the thousands of families whose loved ones are in Israeli prisons. When the United Nations Secretary-General and the rest of the world were calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, I was sorry that we followed the United States and Israel and refused to call for the same. This is not only a matter of concern to the Muslim community in Britain and young Muslims; the majority of the British public was calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
We have been silent over the Israeli incursions that are happening in Gaza and the West Bank as we speak and which have continued for the past five months. Since June 2006, the Israeli army has killed 342 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 64 children and 15 women, and wounded some 1,186 civilians, including 344 children and 49 women.
I wish to make one final point. Unless we involve the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and Muslim countries in rebuilding Iraq, peacekeeping and achieving a final solution, the job will be very difficult.
My Lords, this is as sombre an atmosphere as I can remember in any defence or foreign affairs debate in which I have had the privilege to take part. It is not difficult to understand why that is the case, when one looks at the present times.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, talked about the importance of hope. Hope is in pretty short supply in a number of areas, whether they are the nuclear problems of North Korea and Iran, Israel/Palestine, emerging energy supply conflicts, the issue of climate change leading to mass migration—people talk about that as if we might face it in 10 or 20 years, but I believe that it has already started and could lead to serious problems for us—or the overdue recognition of the threat of Islamic extremism. I shall criticise the Prime Minister for one or two of his remarks, but I agree with him that Islamic extremism took a generation to grow and that it will take a generation to defeat. That echoes the words of Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director-general of the Security Service.
The situation is even more sombre when one considers that our capital city, where this debate is taking place, has now been identified by international observers as the city under arguably the greatest threat from terrorism. Against that background, I echo what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said about the need for the re-creation of a British foreign policy and the re-enlistment of the expertise, skills and abilities of our foreign service, which have been too neglected in our recent subservience, almost, to American leadership—not always in the right direction. On that, I welcome the evidence of a US reappraisal of its approach to these challenging international problems.
Against that background, I wish to say a brief word on Iraq and Afghanistan. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that preserving a unitary state in Iraq is vital if the chaos there is not to spread like a foul virus through the erratic and potentially unstable neighbouring countries in the Middle East. I was not in much doubt about that unity at the end of the day, but what my noble friend Lord Hurd said in his impressive speech about the flight of the middle classes and maybe of the professional classes makes me very worried as to whether Iraq will retain the basic core of nationalism that otherwise would hold it together.
Turning to Afghanistan, I think that it was Colonel Wilkinson, an ex-SAS officer who is a national security adviser in Kabul to the Karzai Government, who said on the “Today” programme this morning that they were all aghast at how few troops we had sent into Helmand. The Minister said very clearly—I listened to his words carefully—that the Government always recognised that Helmand would be difficult. That was not entirely borne out by his Secretary of State, who came back from his visit to Afghanistan and said that he did not realise how tough it would be. That seemed to be an amazingly naive remark. I do not think that anybody with the slightest knowledge of British history would be in any doubt that any engagement in Afghanistan would be very tough indeed.
What actually happened in Iraq and Afghanistan is that, after shock and awe and after a brilliant military campaign, the window of opportunity that opened up for a short period to achieve some real improvement in the condition of the people was lost. We forgot completely about Afghanistan for about three years and we are paying a heavy price for it. The Prime Minister said:
“We begin to win when we start fighting properly. I think we are now fighting properly, but we have to do more”.
When the Minister winds up, I hope that he will tell me what on Earth the Prime Minister meant by that. That is not a remark that I would make to the members of 3 Para, who find themselves firing off 400,000 rounds of ammunition desperately trying to protect a lonely outpost from the Taliban.
Something that worries me—it gives me the emotion of anger that my noble friend Lord Hurd referred to—is that I am not sure how much Ministers really understand the situation. The Prime Minister said that, when the first signs of real trouble in Helmand province come up, “whatever they need they will get”. Did he not know about the shortage of helicopters? Did he not know that there was no strategic reserve that could be brought to bear or that there were no extra forces of any significance—that there were no adequate armoured vehicles although they were necessary? The Minister referred to them and they are now being arranged in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am in exactly the position of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd; we are inhibited. When our forces are out there in harm’s way but are unable to comment, they deserve our bipartisan support. It is no good just saying, “We are in support of our Armed Forces; aren’t they wonderful?”. We must also ensure that we get valid criticisms lodged with the Government and that they are doing something about it.
The Minister was careful to say that we should not use the word “retreat” and others have said that we are not in the business of cutting and running, which we certainly are not; our forces will do their damnedest—we know that they will play an outstanding part and that we will be very proud of them. I worry that we may be doing permanent damage to our Armed Forces. The Government did not create our Armed Forces, or the tradition of the finest army in the world that many of us admire. They are for the moment the trustees of that and they should look after and care for it.
Let me illustrate what I mean. The issue is not simply whether the Army has the armaments. I accept that the Minister may not know about the following situation, but how would he feel if he were in this position? When some of our Armed Forces went out to Afghanistan, and their families moved into new accommodation, they found that it had not been looked after. A family—a wife with young children—going into married quarters may find that there is no boiler or that it does not work. When she says, “Can somebody fix it?”, she is told that there is no money to do so in the Army budget until next summer. That is what I mean about care. When Ministers make fine statements about how proud we are of our Armed Forces, they should not simply make facile statements; pride involves care and consideration.
I am delighted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been out having worthy photo opportunities and showing his support for our Armed Forces. I hope that it was not just a photo opportunity; I hope that he is now going to take a real interest in our Armed Forces and not just make pious statements. He should ensure that they really get the resources they need in the appallingly difficult position in which we have put them; we depend on them so much.
My Lords, in this somewhat sombre debate there is a great richness of contributors and a considerable richness of maiden speeches. At the commencement of my own remarks, I make particular reference to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, and welcome him as another mental health professional to work in your Lordships’ House. I also refer to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont. His territorial designation refers to the townland just beside Knock, which is the territorial designation associated with my own title. He and I were elected representatives for the same multi-member constituency, Victoria, and served on opposite benches in Belfast City Hall for some eight years. During all that time, despite what noble Lords might think of the politics of Northern Ireland, while we differed on many matters of politics, I always found him courteous, proper, conscientious and considerate; he was a model to many of his colleagues. It was no surprise that he became Lord Mayor of Belfast, an office that he served with great distinction, and that he now finds himself in your Lordships’ House; I welcome him. I know that he will share with me the hope that even this week we will take another step along the road and that some of Northern Ireland’s business will move away from your Lordships’ House and the Palace of Westminster and back to Stormont and Parliament Buildings where his colleagues and others with whom they differ enormously may come together to share power and responsibility for the people of Northern Ireland and their affairs.
There are many things in the gracious Speech to which I am tempted to refer. Given my professional background, you will not be surprised to know that I look with some interest and not a little concern to the latest incarnation of the Mental Health Bill, which will come to your Lordships’ House rather soon.
Even in the realm of foreign affairs, on which today’s debate is founded, I find myself initially tempted to speak to a matter that we have discussed before: the withdrawal of Her Majesty’s Government’s real interest and political involvement in Latin America. Offices of the British Council and DfID are closing in a number of countries and our investment there is disappearing at a time when a malign populism—I refer to the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and to many others—is demonstrating that in that region we should be involving, not withdrawing, ourselves. Others—perhaps most notably Beijing—are following the area with great interest and investing political and capital means in order to extend their influence in a part of the world that they know to be significant and important, while we allow our relationships to wither on the vine.
I cannot but focus my attention on matters in the Middle East. Whatever other difficulties there are, the difficulties there are currently poisoning global relationships. It is a matter of the most profound concern to us all. When I found myself at home wondering how we could address our own difficulties, there was much talk of policing, internment without trial—we called it “executive detention” in those days—the use of the Army and so on. After a few years—the noble Lords, Lord Hurd and Lord King of Bridgwater, will remember this very well, as they had responsibilities as Secretaries of State—senior British military officers came out in public and said that there is no military solution to these problems; there is a military contribution but there is no military solution because these are political problems.
I am reminded by the passionate speeches of the two noble Lords that the problems that we are dealing with in the Middle East are not problems of crime, security and terrorist violence; those are there and they are problems, but they are also symptoms of the underlying difficulties and sometimes they are reactions to some of our ill advised military adventures. The problems underlying them are political problems. They are not going to be resolved without being addressed politically. What does politics involve? It involves engaging in difficult meetings, conversations and discussions, sometimes at a distance or at arm’s length and sometimes at close quarters with precisely the people with whom you have the deepest disagreements. Politics is not simply about meeting those you agree with; that is pleasant and proper, but it does not address the problems.
I am very much reminded of my early experiences of going to west Belfast to meet with Mr Gerry Adams and the loyalists at times when it was not fashionable and there was no serious peace process. Recently, I was reminded of it again. Given what I have lived through—we have now come to a later stage of our process—I am convinced that, in a fundamental human sense, we have the same kind of problem in the Middle East and, for the past couple of years, I have made it my business to go there to meet with Hamas, Hezbollah and a number of the politicians in the region. That has almost been nostalgic for me because I felt exactly the same kinds of things. People are talking in a serious way about the difficulties with which their people have to live and the possibilities of some kind of engagement and negotiation. Before the south Lebanon war, Hezbollah was asking, “How do we deal with weapons? How did you decommission weapons in Northern Ireland? What was necessary to achieve that?” Of course, since the recent Lebanese war, all that is kicked into the long grass for the present. Until Hezbollah feels a sense of security, why would it start to decommission its massive number of weapons? But at least it was interested in talking about it.
Hamas was talking about a long-term “hudna”—a ceasefire. Noble Lords will remember how we talked about cessations of violence, what they meant in Northern Ireland and how long they would be for. Hamas was talking about 25 or 30 years of ceasefire in order to give an opportunity for a long-term process of discussion towards peace and finding a way of living together. Of course, there are profound suspicions, and properly so. There are no angels on one side or the other, but there are no devils either. There are human beings with their own fears, ambitions, needs and concerns. Of course, our approach must be to ensure that the people of Israel can live in peace and security in their own place. But that applies not a whit less to the Palestinians.
In that whole region, we need to find a way that does not involve a quartet from outside going in and telling that part of the world how to live. We need to construct an inclusive, semi-permanent conference table at which these issues can be addressed. We heard reference to the European Union. Whatever the European Union is, it was not fundamentally put in place for economics. It was to deal with the aftermath of two world wars. It is and was meant to be a semi-permanent, inclusive conference table, which we sometimes forget. We must work to try to achieve the same thing for the Middle East.
Recently, when I met the Syrian Foreign Minister in Damascus, I found that he is looking for an opportunity to help us to deal with the problems not just in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, but also in Iraq. The solution lies not in finding a cover for our nakedness in retreat militarily, but in taking a step forward to find political ways in which we can construct a process through which we can deal with all these issues—not by coming in as outsiders to threaten, much less by undermining our own allies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan by stoking up the fires of fundamentalism through our foolishness, but by finding an institutional, structured, inclusive, semi-permanent opportunity for people to talk about the problems rather than to kill each other because of the differences.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord’s wise and experienced speech. Granted that a day is to be given in December to the Holy Land, Iraq and Afghanistan, I shall devote the whole of my time to northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But even they are not untouched by the long shadow of our lack of commitment to achieving a just and viable peace in the Holy Land and the still-terrible story of the war in Iraq. Of course, I welcome the note right at the end of the gracious Speech that Her Majesty's Government,
“will continue its focus on Africa”.
Then there is a reference to Darfur.
However, this mention of Africa comes with a great deal less detail than in most recent gracious Speeches. Where is the Government’s commitment to give real priority to Africa as—I think that these were the Prime Minister’s words—a scar on the conscience of the world, which led to the real achievement of his commission on Africa? I fear that it has run into the sands of the Middle East. When have we received in this House any substantial update on progress since the publication of the commission’s report 18 months ago? Who has ever heard of the Africa Partnership Forum through which such reporting should be happening regularly?
Northern Uganda is at least one-third of Uganda, with some 4 million people grievously affected over 20 years and around 1.5 million still living in appallingly destructive displaced-persons camps. It is very good that the peace talks continue between the Ugandan Government and the LRA, facilitated by the southern Sudanese Government, and that the ceasefire largely still holds. I appreciate the substantial contribution to this state of affairs made by Her Majesty's Government over many years. But how do the Government now view the difficult tension between the need on the one hand to bring Joseph Kony and his lieutenants to the talks, and the talks to a lasting solution, and, on the other hand, the warrants of the International Criminal Court against Kony and four or five others? Do the Government support the strongly held judgment not only of President Museveni, but also the Acholi and other religious leaders, and, apparently, 95 per cent of the people of the north, that peace, rather than the ICC’s interest, is the priority?
Will the UK be a strong and persevering partner not only with the Ugandan Government, which has few friends in the north, but also with the peoples of the north and the religious leaders for the long and complex process of reconstruction once peace is achieved? Will we recognise and help others to recognise the need for a paramount commitment to the needs of children across northern Uganda, so many of whom have suffered terribly in every way imaginable, and in many ways that should not be imaginable? Will the Government use whatever good offices they have to ensure that recent reports of hurried and forced removals of people from some of the camps with inadequate support and equipment to unreconstructed or even utterly strange villages are untrue? Will they keep a careful watch over the human rights situation in Uganda and the treatment generally by the Kampala Government of their outlying regions, especially the northern third of the country—not least as we look ahead to Her Majesty’s participation in Kampala next year at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, to which she referred in her speech?
It is natural on many grounds to move from northern Uganda to the DRC, not just because so much in the way of shared languages, cultures, history and trade connects the two countries. The LRA has for many years moved in and out of the north-east of the DRC, as have other groups of Ugandan rebels. In turn, Ugandans—if not Uganda—have armed a succession of rebel groups, illegally extracted huge amounts of gold and other Congolese resources, and fuelled the insecurity and violence that still makes for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in the DRC and for, perhaps, 1,200 deaths a week, half of which are children. That is a good deal more, I fear, than in Iraq. Where is the publicity for Congo?
It is very good that the presidential election appears at last to have produced a clear result in the victory of Joseph Kabila. We now have to pray and work for it to be widely and peacefully accepted. If it is, we can hope that for the DRC the transition out of conflict can at last begin. I hope that we shall hear tonight from the Minister that the UK has heart for what will be a long and difficult course and that we shall encourage the DRC’s other international partners and donors to stay in there with us. Mr Kabila’s Government will need the continuing existence and support of the committee of ambassadors if they are to tackle effectively the forbiddingly vast scale of the task that lies ahead of them. It is imperative that the UN resists any temptation to reduce the strength or the mandate of the UN force in the DRC—the largest though it is. I hope, too, that the EU force, committed to the DRC through the elections, will not be too quickly withdrawn.
There are mountains of work to be done before the Congolese army is at all reliable or competent, its leaders at all honest, and its units no longer a terror to their own people. The process of disarmament and resettlement of fighters of all sorts, or their effective integration into the new army, has so far been painfully slow and disorderly. Is it the UK Government’s intention that this many-faceted process should be placed under a single management to support the new Government, and that the EU security co-ordination mission should be appointed and funded to do the job? Congo’s mineral resources have to be developed for the benefit of the people.
How do HMG, the EU and other partners intend to help the new Government to create and maintain an effective regulatory regime? Will the Minister assure the House that he and his colleagues will continue to strengthen the UK's own processes under the OECD guidelines? On the Government’s performance on that front, there are some very critical words indeed in the recently published sixth report of DfID, Conflict and Development Peacebuilding and Post-conflict Reconstruction.
Lastly, do the Government intend to encourage the ICC both to bring further charges against Thomas Lubanga, the first Congolese warlord to be brought before it, and to pursue others at a very high level whose atrocities are equally well-known? The development of a credible justice system is another of the many priorities facing the new Government. They have to be dissuaded from appointing known villains to new commands and influential positions. I hope that amid so much else, Her Majesty's Government have their eye on the Great Lakes region of Africa.
My Lords, I want to talk about Iraq and Iran and the relationship between the two countries. Before doing that, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests as a director of two companies involved in trading with both those countries. I hope that the House will not think it wrong of me to talk about and draw on my experience of dealing with that region.
Like several noble Lords, I recently had the opportunity to observe and listen to former President Khatami of Iran. As I listened to him, I became more and more surprised that this was the man whose regime was dubbed “the axis of evil”. This was the president of Iran who was the first head of state to condemn the terrorist actions on 9/11, which he condemned as “an act of nihilism” that was totally inconsistent with Islam. It was this president who also gave practical help and strong support to the American invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan, in exchange for which he received continuing sanctions against his country and diplomatic isolation.
From a western point of view since, the situation in Iran has become much worse with a much more extreme Government in power, but the isolation of Iran and the economic difficulties have contributed to the ascent to power of the hardliners. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, I welcome what the Prime Minister said the other day about talking to both Iran and Syria about Iraq, and trying to enlist their help. However, I am not too sure that the Prime Minister's tone in his statement was quite right. He demanded a dialogue; he wanted a dialogue while simultaneously warning those countries of the consequences if they did not participate. There is some suspicion that his words may have been altered slightly at the request of the United States.
The United States has also expressed interest in talks, but to many people it appears to have laid down as conditions for the talks words and terms which most people would have thought were more appropriate in the conclusion of the talks.
From an Iranian point of view, the invitation to talks may prove less than overwhelming. When the West and the United States were in a strong position in Iraq, Iran was told to keep well out of Iraq. It was told not to participate in the reconstruction of the country. But now that the West has problems, Iran is asked to come in and is unlikely to want to be the deus ex machina to solve America's problems.
There is also a danger that the West may overestimate what the Iranians can do in Iraq. Iran is already close to Iraq through the Dawa party, the Sciri party, and the Prime Minister of Iraq is close to Iran—so close that the Americans have warned the Iraqi Government on occasions not to get too close to their neighbour.
We should remember that Iran shares the original objectives of the United States and Britain in Iraq. Iran wants Iraq kept as one country. It has supported a secular Government; it has supported a Sunni as president because it wants to keep the country as one country. It is not often reported in this country that the supreme ruler Khamenei—not often thought of as a moderate—has repeatedly urged the Shias not to retaliate against acts of violence by the Sunnis. It is not often reported in this country that the Iranians actually organised polling stations and ballots for the elections in Iraq.
Looking at the issue more widely, diplomatically Iran has never been in so strong a position as it is today. Its two main enemies have been removed as a result of the war. More profoundly, the whole balance in the Middle East between Shia and Sunni has been dramatically altered. The emergence of a Shia crescent from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon to Iran and Iraq has caused something between unease and panic in the moderate Arab countries—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The issue that is increasingly discussed is how to prevent Iran filling the power vacuum.
Dr Kissinger and Jeremy Greenstock have talked about building up structures around these moderate Arab states. These were the states that initially supported Israeli action against the Lebanon until they were forced into a diplomatic retreat by public opinion in their own countries. Whatever the merits of this idea of getting these countries all together, there is room for scepticism at the extent to which they themselves would act as opposed to talk cohesively. But a restarted peace process, as Dr Kissinger pointed out, would require close co-operation among the moderate Arab states, and involve the EU and United States as well. If a solution to the Palestinian problem were ever arrived at, that would mean that Iran had much less opportunity for mischief.
Under Secretary Burns at the Pentagon the other day criticised Iran because it had ambitions to be a regional power. Surely it is important to keep in touch with reality. Iran already is a very important power in the region. It is a significant oil producer, a country with a population of 60 million people—soon to be 100 million people. It is also a country with its own security concerns, having lost something like 500,000 people in a war within living memory.
Of course there is legitimate and real concern about what President Ahmadinejad has said about Israel. I suspect that those remarks were more aimed at enhancing Iran’s influence among the Arab states—they certainly do not resonate so well in Iran itself. It has been made clear on several occasions that were there to be a Middle East settlement that was acceptable to the Palestinian people, Iran would not, as President Khatami put it, be more Catholic than the Pope, but would accept what the Palestinian people had decided.
Henry Kissinger in an interesting article on Sunday said:
“Iran needs to be encouraged to act as a nation, not a cause”.
That is quite right but treating Iran as a pariah will not encourage Iran in that direction. Many of the actions of the West in recent years have seemed designed to encourage the revolutionary fervour of people like President Ahmadinejad. There is no doubt that the Iranian public are tired of the Government acting as a revolutionary agent rather than one to bring an increased economic prosperity, which is what they desperately want.
I welcome the fact that the Government want talks with Iran, but they must not be just about Iraq and the nuclear issue. They must be about wider issues: Iran’s entry into the WTO and its place in an integrated economic world. The Government must recognise Iran as a respected, but not dominant, power in the region. There are no guarantees, but an approach on that basis is more likely to produce an Iran that is less of a revolutionary agent and more of a responsible regional power, which is what we want.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in this debate. I last addressed this House on the Cyprus issue in July 2005. Since then, our Government have done virtually nothing other than rehearse their good intentions—meaninglessly and without achievement. While one cannot force an agreement if either of the two traditions in Cyprus is unwilling, there are things that the United Kingdom Government could and should do. They can take action on matters within their own competence and influence the policy of other nations within the European Union and the United Nations.
In April 2004, the Annan plan for a Cyprus settlement was endorsed by virtually the whole world as a fair and reasonable compromise. Despite the fact that it contained considerable risks for them, the Turkish Cypriots accepted it. The Greek Cypriots rejected it. They were entitled to reject it but—and this is the crucial point—having rejected it, they should no longer expect the world to assist them to keep the Turkish Cypriots in isolation.
I shall address some of the practical effects of this isolation. It denies Turkish Cypriots the right of representation in almost every international forum. It prevents or restricts the use of ports and airports in Northern Cyprus. It precludes Turkish Cypriots having access to financial markets, curtails trade and tourism, and hampers all cultural and sporting relations between the TRNC and other countries.
Turkish Cypriots have done nothing to deserve this treatment, nor has it ever been authorised by a sanctions resolution under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. Neither did this situation emanate simply from the 2004 Annan plan referendum. Turkish Cypriots have been under isolation from as long ago as 1963, when the Greek Cypriots massacred hundreds of their men, women and children and drove them into defensive enclaves. The Turkish defence of these people in 1974 was necessary and justifiable. In his memoirs, Sir Alec Douglas-Home wrote:
“I was early convinced that if [the Greek Cypriot leader] could not bring himself to treat the Turkish Cypriots as human beings, he was inviting the invasion and partition of the island”.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships what world leaders have said about the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots after they accepted the Annan plan. On 26 April 2004, the European Council said in a statement:
“The Turkish Cypriot community have expressed their clear desire for a future within the European Union. The Council is determined to put an end to the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community and to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community”.
A Foreign Affairs Committee report in another place, dated 1 February 2005, said that,
“undertakings given to Turkish Cypriots by the international community must be honoured. We recommend that the Government do more to turn its words into action”.
One particularly urgent matter is the denial of direct flights to Turkish Cypriot airports. This means that all flights to Ercan have to stop over at a Turkish airport, adding considerably to time, cost and inconvenience, and putting Northern Cyprus at a major competitive disadvantage. On 18 May 2004, Prime Minister Blair had this to say:
“I think it is important…that we end the isolation of northern Cyprus … that means lifting the embargoes in respect of trade, in respect of air travel”.
Again, the Foreign Office Minister told this House that,
“the British Government fully support the agreed EU policy of ending the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. Direct flights to Northern Cyprus could play a useful role in bringing that about”.—[Official Report, 8/7/04; col. 916.]
Yet, when I asked the Foreign Office Minister on 1 February 2005 when direct flights were going to commence, I was told that the Government were considering the legal issues. I accept that the legal issues may be complex, but even the slowest lawyers would have come to a conclusion by now.
The Government have not produced any legal argument as to why direct flights should not be permitted. I therefore conclude that none exists, a conclusion I have had confirmed by two eminent British legal counsel. I understand it is a matter within the United Kingdom Government’s own competence, not a matter for the EU. Therefore, direct flights could commence without further delay. Thereafter, I would also expect our Government to encourage other Governments, within and outside the EU, to follow suit. Turkish Cypriots earned the right to be relieved of their isolation when they voted for the Annan plan. As the United Nations Secretary-General said at the time:
“The Turkish Cypriot vote has undone any rationale for pressuring and isolating them”.
If time had permitted, I would have sought to address the property issue, which is one of the most contentious. Suffice that I should draw attention to the Orams case, where the English judge intimated that property issues in Cyprus are international issues which cannot be settled in the courts. I trust that his judgment will be upheld on appeal. The Turkish Cypriot Government have now, unilaterally, established a claims commission, and Greek Cypriots, despite official disapproval and hindrance by the Greek Cypriot Government, are already applying for reinstatement or compensation. When considering the property issue, however, we must never forget that there is a quid pro quo—those thousands of Turkish Cypriots who lost properties in the south that are now occupied by Greek Cypriots.
In conclusion, I challenge the Government to say whether this farce has not gone on long enough. Are a quarter of a million Turkish Cypriots, living at peace with their neighbours, not as important in human rights terms as Iraqis, Afghans or ourselves? Let us have an end of hypocrisy and mere lip service and ensure that Turkish Cypriots at long last achieve their rightful place in a democratic Europe.
My Lords, I share the anger of my noble friends Lord King and Lord Hurd over the situation confronting us in the Middle East. It is no use crying over spilt milk, but for the record I remind noble Lords that, before the conflict began, some of us opposed it. Pursuing a policy of invading Iraq has turned out to be a total folly.
Shortly after the invasion began, the Egyptian president warned that the action was becoming a recruiting operation for al-Qaeda, Islamic fundamentalism and suicide bombers. How right he was. Three years later, that recruitment continues to gather pace, as the United States as well as Britain become more and more detested by more and more people in the Middle East. We have to ask ourselves whether it is too late to retrieve anything from the disaster that faces us in Iraq as the tide of terror continues to grow.
There are two points from the past that I hope the Government have taken on board. First, it is no good the United States and the United Kingdom attempting to take on Islamic terrorism, or any other terrorism, on a unilateral basis. As I have said to your Lordships before, I remain convinced that if one is going to take terrorism on, one needs to do so in the name of the world community in a wholehearted, multilateral way. In that context, I was pleased to hear the Minister say in his opening speech that the NATO operation in Afghanistan needs to be shared fairly among the alliance. How right he was about that. We cannot have the caveats of certain countries that seem to indicate they are more interested in staffing canteens and hospitals than in filling body bags.
Secondly, I hope that future Governments will listen a great deal more carefully to the military advice they are given. So many distinguished military figures who were free to comment before the Iraq invasion warned that there was a serious lack of planning for the post-conflict period and that there had not been enough thought, particularly in the United States, about what should be done after the immediate conflict was over. Military advice also appears not to have been listened to properly in Afghanistan, where we are clearly suffering from inadequate force levels on the ground and inadequate equipment. Like my noble friend Lord King, I refer to the remarks that Colonel Wilkinson made on the “Today” programme this morning about military planners in Kabul being aghast at the lack of troops on the ground. The United States and our Government are seriously culpable in not having listened properly to the military advice that they have been given.
Turning to the future, I cannot help feeling that the situation in the Middle East may well get worse before it gets better. There is a new situation in Israel following the conflict with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. That conflict showed that what we believed about Israel’s military invincibility is no longer true and Israel now appears to be militarily vulnerable. That must be of great interest to Syria and other countries that have belligerent attitudes towards Israel. Last week, I was at a NATO assembly meeting in Quebec and heard evidence that tension between Syria and Israel has been growing in the past few months.
The second part of the future relates to Iran. I took on board what my noble friend Lord Lamont said, but I hope that the Government are beginning to think privately about how we might all live in the Middle East if Iran becomes a nuclear-weapon state. It is clear that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and has lied endlessly to the IAEA over them. There is no possibility of applying sanctions to Iran on this. I was in Moscow a few weeks ago, and the Russians are absolutely clear that they will not have anything to do with sanctions. In any case, if we look at Iran’s neighbours, can anybody seriously believe that sanctions would work if they were to be applied? If Iran is moving in the direction of becoming a nuclear-weapon state, the only other way to stop it would be to start a third war in the Middle East, and I cannot really think that any of us are so daft as to want to do that.
We need a Middle East strategy. If we are to achieve one, we will have to go to the fundamentals. We can only hope that the Jim Baker/Lee Hamilton report blazes the way to that, but if it only suggests talks with Syria and Iran, I fear that it will not get very far. When one sees and hears of Israel’s disproportionate revenge on Gaza, one can only feel that that sort of approach will have to change as well as there being a withdrawal from lands stolen from Palestinians. That will be essential to get Syria, Iran and others to begin to have talks in a sensible, helpful way. We can only hope that the United States will think and act fundamentally at this critical stage to avoid a major new conflict in the region, which is a distinct possibility.
My Lords, the Queen’s Speech mentioned working for peace in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan; taking forward the WTO Doha round and focusing on Africa, including Darfur; and working together with the UN, NATO, the EU and the US. However, to take the last aspect first, it is frankly appalling to see how much the UK alliance with the Bush Administration has undermined our ability to do any of these things. We were seen as honest brokers in the Middle East, but that is simply no longer the case. It is difficult to say how many years it will be before we can be seen as such again.
After the invasion of Iraq, with its incompetence and lack of a proper plan for reconstruction, we now see the country far from a stable democracy but close to civil war. The millions poured in for reconstruction benefited few but favoured contractors. Now, having alienated Iraq’s neighbours, such as Syria and Iran, we seek to woo them, leaving little room for putting pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Involvement in Iraq has taken from what we could have done in Afghanistan. Reconstruction and development programmes are underfunded in all areas; for example, there is a huge deficit in the Law and Order Trust for Afghanistan, which pays police salaries. There has been a decline in safe access to education for girls in Afghanistan, and there is the humanitarian suffering caused by the fighting in the south, where there are now an additional 80,000 to 90,000 internally displaced persons. Given that displaced people’s camps have traditionally fostered fanaticism, that is especially worrying.
Elsewhere, we saw the disproportionate actions taken this summer in Lebanon, where the UK’s position of a ceasefire, but not yet, was like that of St Augustine on celibacy. Now the US appears to be talking of arming one side against the other in Palestine, while not allowing pay to go through to teachers, doctors, and lawyers. Could we follow the US on that? Just as we have to talk to Iran and Syria about Iraq, surely we must bring Hamas into the peace negotiations; it was, after all, fairly elected. We should not seek to radicalise Palestinians further. Many Palestinian Authority public sector workers have gone unpaid for six months. Over half of Palestinians are now unable adequately to feed their families. There has been a dramatic worsening in the past year.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlement expansion has continued. On 4 September, another 690 housing units were announced for the West Bank and east Jerusalem. We must get it across to the Israeli Government that their future security depends on a negotiated settlement that includes all sides.
We have been playing into the hands of those who wish to condemn everything western. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, I have just returned from Pakistan, where those who wish to see the country move forward, to strengthen the position of women, extend education, and to see the country forge ahead at the rate of India and China, believe that the UK should shoulder some of the blame for the situation they feel they are in—a state from which terrorism emanates. I am sure that this will have been made very clear to the Prime Minister over the past weekend.
Our Government, with others, neglected the Middle East and we count the cost now, both in that region and in our own country. What is happening there deflects us from problems elsewhere. We see neglect in Sudan, where the international community seems incapable of standing up to the Sudanese Government or of properly equipping and financing the AU mission. We see neglect in Uganda, the DRC and in the WTO talks, where the Doha round runs into the dust and bilateral agreements are made with the poorest countries around the world, to their great detriment.
We see neglect to tackle AIDS, where the enormity of what we face has not been properly grasped. We should be aware of the huge social and economic impact this pandemic already has caused, and will surely cause. At Gleneagles it was agreed that all who needed it should be on treatment by 2010, but in many parts of Africa only about 5 per cent of those with AIDS are on treatment. How will that gap be closed? The emphasis used to be on prevention, but it is now recognised that treatment, too, must be part of the equation, not least so that children are not orphaned. You only have to see the enormous increase in the number of street children and child soldiers in the DRC to see that. I note that only 3 to 5 per cent of DfID expenditure on AIDS is on treatment, whereas 32 per cent is spent on prevention.
I welcome the moves the Government made—under pressure and too cautiously—in the Companies Bill in the last Session. Will they now bring forward regulations for directors which make very clear that the alleged actions of, for example, a company such as AngloGold Ashanti, involving environmental and human rights abuses in Ghana, are unacceptable? Will the Government’s proposed Climate Change Bill be tough enough to make a real difference to the poorest countries, which will be hit the hardest?
Britain used to pride itself on playing a role internationally way beyond its size. Its profile internationally is certainly very high, but hardly for the right reasons. I hope that the first steps will now be taken to put the UK, with our European allies, at the forefront of working to resolve conflict. What we do in development policy is undermined by our foreign policy mistakes. Might we see a sea change? We have to hope so.
My Lords, many noble Lords have so ably made the point, with which I agree, that for the past five years we have not really had a coherent strategy in the Middle East, only a drifting forward from crisis to crisis as American actions and political expediency demanded.
Iraq, however it has had to be presented politically, has been the gravest of disappointments, if not largely a predictable disaster. It has exacerbated, not diminished, the problem of terrorism; disrupted the balance of power to the gain of Iran; lost us much good will and trust in the Arab world, to which we might previously have laid claim; above all, it has taken everyone’s eyes off the ball of the one critical issue which more than any other might bring stability to the area—a fair and just solution to the Palestine problem. If that is repetition, it cannot be said often enough.
Most people accept that we should leave Iraq as soon as we decently can—the Prime Minister adding the rider “when the job is done”—but it is not easy to know how the completion of that job, however it is represented, can be assessed in a realistic timeframe. Now the options left to us are few, and all carry high risks. Of course we must try to involve and work with other states in the area, whose interests cannot be served by a chaotic Iraq; but there may not be too many anxious to come forward to sort out a mess made by others, particularly while some continue to be dubbed undiplomatically as being on an “axis of evil”.
On top of that, we have the sad spectacle of a campaign in southern Afghanistan—after a more rational and focused intervention in the north—entered into without sufficient forethought or consideration of the history, make-up and therefore inevitable threats in the area, with inadequate numbers on the ground, helicopter support and logistic backing, and all exacerbated by our preoccupation with Iraq and previous underfunding and cuts. It has been only the outstanding professionalism and valour of our Armed Forces, fighting very properly a ferocious shooting war in the most demanding conditions, which have for the moment prevented any military reverses.
Our Armed Forces will continue to give a good account of themselves. They will no doubt kill many Taliban and win specific engagements, but whether proper pacification by substantial western forces of the whole country under the present Government in Kabul will ever really be possible is open to question. It will certainly be defying history.
I am now hopeful, particularly after this debate, that the Government will spend more time on serious strategic thinking and listen to and heed the advice of the chiefs of staff and those in the Foreign Office who really understand the area, for surely the time for routine political justification has passed. Should we not be asking ourselves, for instance, whether there is not another way of dealing with al-Qaeda, now more or less confined to the border area of Pakistan, than engaging in an open-ended battle against the Taliban and others who over centuries have resisted the presence of foreigners in their country? If this is not handled imaginatively, with full consultation with Pakistan, the elders of the area, perhaps even the Taliban itself, and with Kabul, terrorism may become more firmly planted than ever.
To be as constructive as possible, we must, I believe—I hope that the penny has at last dropped—concentrate on a strategy of firm, intelligent “containment” of clearly identified threats, terrorist or otherwise, rather than on expeditionary interventions involving formed bodies of troops, so often counterproductive, just as we did successfully in the days of the Cold War, when there was also a conflict of ideology and a persistent and insidious subversive intention.
Containment is not appeasement; it is reacting to circumstances and threats as they really are and not as sometimes it is politically expedient to present them. It means standing firm, ready to defend truly vital interests while keeping open opportunities for dialogue, against a background of a realistic balance of power, of which Iran is now a key piece. It involves, with the help of friendly states, building up and improving vital intelligence, so that we can give our security forces all the support to deal with, pre-emptively if possible, any terrorist or criminal activities threatening our national security, just as so far we appear to be doing very successfully in this country.
In the Middle East, when the stigma of Iraq has faded, it means working with friendly Muslim states and others to help them to help themselves against extremism, using the expertise that circumstances have obliged us to acquire over the years. Generally, containment implies a dynamic diplomacy: a co-ordinated foreign and defence policy which shows respect for other nations and their predicament and gives priority, using the influence that we should have accrued with the United States, to solving the crucial issues that both motivate and fuel extremism.
In particular, containment means trying with every sinew in our bodies—as the Prime Minister once put it in a remarkable speech in California—to get a fair, just and lasting solution to the Palestine problem. That must mean the state of Israel, which we helped to create and whose survival is essential, having the incentive which can only be provided by the Americans to sit round the table with all interested parties, militant and otherwise, with an unequivocal readiness to trade land—especially illegal settlements—for peace. That will not be an easy job. It may not work, but the longer it is left, especially after the events in Lebanon and Gaza, the harder it will get. Without an outcome to which a large part of the international community and the Security Council can, with a clear conscience and a glad heart, endorse and guarantee, there can be no peace in the area, no way of controlling extremism, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, just said, a real chance of an inexorable drift to a more general war.
We need a coldly rational rethink of our whole Middle East policy and our relations with Islam. We have many fences to mend, as indeed we had 50 years ago at the time of the Suez crisis, when we also sought regime change and equally drew false conclusions about the real threat to our people and our interests. If we go on getting it wrong, the future, this time, could be grave indeed.
My Lords, inevitably in a Queen's Speech the focus is on forward plans for legislation. It is unusual to have much mention of foreign affairs. In that, this year's Queen's Speech is unusual. As the course of this debate proves—in particular, the comments of my noble friend Lord Howell at the outset—global considerations and developments impinge more than ever on our home policies and on the home departments.
Take the Home Office, where policy-making seems to be dominated by issues of immigration and visas; take education, where the international movement of workers alone brings a need for equivalence of standards and skills. In the field of health, pandemics affect us all and recruitment of overseas staff brings an international aspect to our National Health Service. In energy, we depend on overseas producers; and, in the environment, the challenge of global warming is universal.
Those considerations apart, the goal of world peace remains. People of my generation, born at the outbreak of the last world war, cannot forget the chilling reality of war and its aftermath on our doorstep. Nowadays, in spite of remembrance services and the ongoing establishment of war memorials, that chilling reality and memories of the destruction caused by war become more and more remote. Even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so compellingly referred to in today's debate, seem remote to the vast majority of people. Today, we are faced with different sorts of war—the war against terrorism and the war against poverty—where the enemy is more elusive and the weapons that we use must be different.
Throughout my lifetime, I have had the opportunity and privilege of travelling extensively. The past year has been no exception: I have travelled from South America and the Caribbean to Mongolia and, most recently, to Pakistan, which seems to be becoming a popular destination for politicians. Furthermore, as a delegate from this Parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have the opportunity to work with parliamentarians from 46 European member nations, to observe new trends and to realise how enormously our approach to international relations has had to change.
The United Kingdom, as a group of small offshore islands on the edge of Europe, still punches above its weight. That is because of our history and the respect in which many of our institutions are held worldwide. It is not just because of who we are now and what we say and do now. Of course, we no longer live in the days of Elizabeth I, when our enterprising sailors and adventurers could set off to capture prizes and great riches. We no longer live at a time when our Navy rules the waves or where the red splodges on the map reflect the vast extent of the Empire. Things must be done differently. We must work through global and regional institutions, through partnerships and co-operation.
Enough has already been said about what a disaster it has been when we have ignored the majority voice of the United Nations and embarked on adventures such as the war in Iraq. We have work to do and a role to play in the United Nations and its satellite organs, in the European Union and the Council of Europe, in the OECD and in the many other global organisations—not least the Commonwealth, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford pointed out most forcefully.
That is why the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is so important. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, made a modest reference to its tiny budget. I take it on myself to deplore once again—this time, not only in relation to Latin America—the ongoing tightening of the Foreign Office budget, the closure of embassies and/or their downsizing and downgrading and the reduction in trade promotion that ensues in many parts of the world. It should be the other way round. More than ever in today's world, we need behind-the-scenes skills and diplomacy, which are essential in preparing the ground and patiently building up good relations. I was glad to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, emphasise the need to take time and patience to do just that.
One bright light is the role for us in Parliament of the IPU and CPA in plugging some of the gaps in government policy and geographical spread and providing parliamentarians, at least, with opportunities to have the necessary insight and information.
It is my wont on these occasions to talk almost exclusively about Latin America—largely because no one else does. However, one of the positive developments in your Lordships' House is the number of people who, thanks to the IPU, have been introduced to various countries in central and South America. Some of them will participate in today's debate. In any event, as I look forward to a specialised debate on the region on a Motion already tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, I will not dwell too long on that part of the world—which is not to say that I consider it any less important in world terms or any less dear to my heart.
Indeed, China, with its investment and ever-increasing trade links, proves that the economic and trade impact of giant economies such as those of Brazil and Mexico, as well as Argentina and Chile, remain as significant as ever. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, as the Minister responsible for Latin American affairs, takes all that very seriously. This country would also be wise to take note of the activities of President Chavez of Venezuela as he woos his neighbours and others further afield with the Petrocaribe.
There is also the rise of the indigenous voice—some people may say, “Not soon enough”—in many places, most especially in Bolivia. Fortunately, the re-election of President Lula da Silva for a second term in Brazil, and Chile, with its first woman president, provide an element of stability, as do recent conclusive elections in Costa Rica, Peru and Nicaragua, although we await the result of congressional elections in Venezuela in December. Elections are also due in Ecuador and, next year, in Argentina. Things will not be dull, but the democratic process is certainly well established and in practice. Cuba, too, may well be centre stage if President Castro’s health fails—and, given our interests in the Caribbean, let us not forget that the combined and comparatively huge populations of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico mean that the Spanish language at least dominates there.
An interesting example of the global village and its implications came out of my recent CPA visit to Pakistan. We were taken to a very impressive textile factory close to Lahore. On hearing that it was finding new markets in central and South America, I inquired further. Who would have thought that, because of bilateral agreements between the United States of America and central America and because of the CAFTA agreement between the USA, Brazil and others, some of these countries are turning to faraway Pakistan to fulfil their cotton quotas, at least in the short term?
To sum up this short speech, the lessons to be learnt are that no country—not a vast country such as China, a large and influential country such as Russia, even the all-powerful USA, and certainly not the United Kingdom—can or should go it alone. We must have more consideration, more partnerships and more communication. Then, perhaps, we might see a more harmonious world.
My Lords, I shall take a slightly different approach from the one taken by almost everyone else this evening. Who am I to venture into the field of defence or detailed foreign policy? I can, however, look at Britain’s role in a very changed and different world from the one in which most of us grew up.
Perhaps the Welsh are a race of dreamers; I, at least, am happy to count myself one of them. As a youngster, I used to wonder which nation could provide that moral and humanitarian lead that would open the door so that other nations could follow and build a new world in that way. Surely the opportunity was there for Gandhi in India, but of course that did not materialise. Then we had the state of Israel, whose people had been through such a terrible time in the Holocaust. Some 120 different nations were represented, and I thought that surely the lead could come from there. But it has not. We could look to the Scandinavian countries and to Canada, but why should we not look to the United Kingdom to be one nation that takes a lead and is a beacon of light in humanitarian and other matters?
At the end of the First World War, David Lloyd George wanted a country fit for heroes to live in. Lord Soper, a Member of this House, went further. He said that he did not really want a country fit for heroes to live in; he wanted a world fit for children to live in. That is why I so welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford; it shows what we could do. We could be a beacon of light, the hope and the model. Yet we seem reluctant to lead. We hesitate and we delay.
Only a couple of weeks ago, the Joint Committee on Human Rights estimated that 4,000 women each year are trafficked into the United Kingdom for prostitution. This is one of the most serious human rights issues. Yet we in this Parliament have failed to sign the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. That is something that we could do and that the rest of world would realise that we had done. We could lead with these conventions and these protocols. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which addressed the involvement of children in armed conflict, was ratified in 2003, but, as our debates on the Armed Forces a week or so ago showed, we are still the only country in Europe to enlist youngsters as young as 16 and to allow them to enter fields of battle.
On the rights of the child more widely, we were told in September 2000 that the Government were committed at the earliest opportunity to ratifying provisions in relation to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. That was six years ago, and there has been no such ratification. I could go on and on. I have a list of 300 treaties and conventions—on apartheid, racism in sport and migrant workers—that we have not ratified. They have not been fulfilled according to the commitment that we gave at the beginning. We want to gain the support of so many underprivileged and deprived people, but our reluctance can only breed suspicion and resentment. We are losing the battle for people’s hearts and minds because of our reluctance. There are things that we could do; we could sign and ratify these treaties and protocols.
Last week, we were told that there are 30 terrorist cells ready to create great turmoil in the United Kingdom. They want to harm and destroy. Can we not take a positive attitude and encourage the formation not of 30 but of 30,000 groups of people of all faiths and backgrounds who are committed to being at peace and tolerant of each other to outweigh the influence of the terrorist cells? Could we not take that lead?
I sometimes try to put myself in the shoes of an asylum seeker from, say, a distant land in the East who wants to go to a country that offers some opportunity. They might try to go to Europe, say the UK, and gather every penny that they can get. Their family supports them, and they land themselves perhaps in refrigerated van or some other sort of trap. For days or weeks, they cross country after country because there is hope. They want hope. Imagine the disappointment when they come to a country that says, “Sorry. We used to welcome asylum seekers, and were ready to make the most of those who arrived here”.
Take these figures. Her Majesty’s Government say that a family of four needs £279 a week to survive. That is the rate. Even UK people on benefits receive £197 a week, which is £82 short of that figure. Asylum seekers, however, receive £153 for a family of four. They are disadvantaged. People then say that they are scrounging and begging, but these people must live. The New Statesman gave me those figures only last week. A family from Malawi had young kids who were going to die anyway because they were suffering from AIDS. They were sent back to their own country.
Surely we need a different approach, because those whose dignity and hope are undermined are easy recruits for those who thrive on the conviction that they are being ill treated. This is a recruiting ground. We need to give people not only material support, but so often emotional and psychological support. Many of us have grandchildren. The loveliest thing about having a grandchild is that you can cuddle them. You can share love and hope with that child. Surely by having a closed attitude and an unresponsive Government and people, we are making it difficult for those who only want to live with dignity in this life.
The Statue of Liberty bears these words:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door”.
Cannot the UK be a country that can change attitudes and be a beacon of hope, not the darkness of rejection and despair?
My Lords, I am not sure that I will be a beacon of hope. May I start by saying how much I agree with those who have said that we need to rethink the strategy for the Middle East and beyond? I am talking not of military means but about involving the great departments of state and really thinking across government, as we used to be able to do. I have a real sense that we do not have government that is as well joined up as it should be. I am not going to deal with that, however; I shall concentrate on the Armed Forces. I am concerned that the pressure on them is not fully recognised. There is a danger of their becoming a fringe activity. Many people admire them and what they do, but I sense that people do not understand the pressures on them at the moment. I shall talk a little about operations, over-commitment and cuts in training and equipment, and I shall make some points about welfare.
As many noble Lords have made clear, the pressure on the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is considerable at the moment. Indeed, when we look back at the changes made to the Armed Forces under Options for Change, it is clear that they did not recognise the intensity of operational service that we now expect from our forces. I have to say that the sense I had from the speech of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, was rather more optimistic than I believe is justified. Noble Lords will remember that before the Battle of Trafalgar Lord Nelson said:
“England expects every man to do his duty”.
I think that the service men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq can expect the same from their Government, and I am not sure whether in certain areas they are getting that help and service.
I shall talk first about overstretch. The gaps between operational tours were laid down in harmony guidelines that were not produced with the intensity of conflict that we are talking about in Afghanistan and Iraq; they are based more on the sort of commitment that we had in Northern Ireland. Moreover, we are already breaking those harmony guidelines. It is also true to say that, without the help of the Territorial Army, the Regular Army could not have coped. I pay huge tribute to what the Territorials have done to help the Regular Army, but that should not hide the major problem.
I know that there have always been problems with manning, equipment and so forth, but I sense that the difficulties at the moment are much more intense than was the case in the past. It is strange that no actual mention was made of the Armed Forces in the gracious Speech. No special point was made about them, although the speech did manage to talk about regulating estate agents. That seems to put things in a rather strange order of priority.
Many noble Lords have spoken about the intensity of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, I do not believe that in Afghanistan we are getting the support that we deserve from some of our allies. General Richards still does not have an operational reserve, which breaks one of the fundamental principles of a core command. He has no operational reserves of his own in terms of vehicles, men or, most important, helicopters. In addition, the restrictions on the rules of engagement placed on certain of the allies in Afghanistan are such that really their contribution is minimal. For example, in the north a lot of equipment is being smuggled through from the “Stans”. For the German contingent, however, the rules of engagement are such that they cannot be as effective as I know they want to be. On top of that, we see no clear way ahead for dealing with the poppy crop.
Training is fundamentally important, and while it is easy to talk about, we will not have operational success unless there is hard and demanding training—not only at the unit and battalion level, but also at the formation level, for brigade and divisional commanders. Because of over-commitment or perhaps underfunding, exercises have had to be cancelled. While this is easy to talk about and might not get much publicity, the impact over time could be very dangerous.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, is doing all that he can to get a grip on the equipment programme, but there is no doubt that it is underfunded. Getting the priorities right is not easy, and already we see major delays in the delivery of certain equipment. Some of the problems have been solved by urgent operational requirements, but some of those would not have been necessary if the equipment programme had been right. We know of the problems with armoured vehicles and particularly with helicopters. Some tough decisions are going to have to be made about the equipment programme even if funding is improved. Those decisions are likely to stoke inter-service rivalry if the Minister takes on and makes some of those hard decisions.
Because time is moving on, I shall not deal with welfare in detail other than to make one point, and that is about the pay for our Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defence has made some improvements to pay and has talked about operational allowances, but the fact is, I am told, that a traffic warden in London is paid more money than a soldier on the front line in Afghanistan or Iraq. That surely cannot be right.
In summary, our Armed Forces are doing a magnificent job, but they are underfunded. I know that the Treasury will say that it has heard this before, but it is true. The Army is too small for the commitments that it is being asked to meet; the equipment programme needs a major sort-out, and the fact that training has had to be cancelled should not be allowed to slip under the fence.
My Lords, in declaring my interest, perhaps I may also say how glad I am to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, in what he has just said. He wished not to be thought of as a beacon of hope, but I think that he has been a beacon of very sound advice on the future strength of the armed services in this country. I am glad to speak on the Motion for an humble Address and wish to concentrate on the first two paragraphs of the gracious Speech, in which reference is made in the first paragraph to the challenges the UK faces abroad, and the need for a stable economy in the second.
Some emphasis is necessary in this debate on the role the economy plays, or should play, in underpinning our efforts abroad. Not everything in foreign affairs depends on money; it very often depends also on leadership, will, insight, hard-earned respect and a moral stance. I should like to speak about both. I wish to see us continue to shoulder our share of the burdens in Afghanistan and Iraq, so I welcome the announcement made by the Chancellor on Saturday of £100 million over three years for reconstruction in Iraq. In saying that, I seek confirmation from the Minister that this very big sum equals “new money”, as it is known in the Treasury trade. I shall say little else on these theatres, sandwiched as I am as a speaker between two noble and gallant Lords who know what they are talking about and having no taste at all for being thought of as an armchair admiral, air marshal or general—save to observe that I do wish that some of our European partners who are so long on rhetoric in these matters but short on deployment would shoulder more of their burdens, particularly if we do eventually enter a process of phased withdrawal determined, as I hope we will be, to leave things behind that bit better. Not to try to do that would be morally reprehensible and would show scant respect both for our dead and those of our allies, particularly in the United States.
The benefit of a stronger, faster-growing economy at home will enable us not only to continue to shoulder our burdens but to do other desirable things as well, such as to improve ever more carefully targeted, good-value foreign aid, driving towards the targets set by the international community. Equally, and here I agree with my noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, in his masterly maiden speech, that the time has come to stop reducing the strength of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office abroad. Surely in a globalising economic and cultural world it is in our interests to do more by employing more talented representatives—provided that they are talented and hardworking. I cannot speak with any authority on this because I was never judged subtle enough of mind to be deployed usefully within the walls of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and therefore I have no interest to declare, but I do believe that even within an expanding budget for diplomacy, which we need, there will always be room for year-on-year efficiency savings.
Where could the money come from? For a moment I shall be rather daring and use a politically incorrect phrase. We are going to need lots more money in support of our future foreign policy, and I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for the use of the vulgar phrase “tax cuts” in this otherwise delicate debate. Political commentators from left and right tell me there is now a consensus that these words should only be used with caution in public discourse. If that is indeed the case, we have not only to relearn the recent lessons of the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, but also to benefit from the excellent experience of the United States over recent years. President Bush has been much excoriated in this debate, either directly or indirectly, but in 2003 he introduced tax cuts that have been highly successful, leading to ever higher levels of income and economic growth, reducing the United States’ deficit and underpinning massively increased US expenditure around the world.
We need continued economic growth to enable us to do more abroad, facing as we do what will be a very long-run and expensive first proper post-Cold War era crisis in the Middle East and Afghanistan. We now see that this involves everything from the Palestinian question via the growth of Iran as a regional superpower to much murkier threats such as, I suspect, increasing radicalism within Turkey. More money from economic growth will thus be of great help and I hope that a new consensus over taxation will emerge.
Perhaps I may conclude by giving two examples of where leadership, not money, is most important. Neither is a great issue within the strategic flow of the debate, but they are both important. First, the Government have already turned their mind to the draft legislation on implementing the Hague convention on the artefacts of war. I congratulate them on that. It is vital that we do all that we possibly can at home and internationally to stop the trade in artefacts looted during the course of conflicts abroad, thus protecting not only cultural objects that may turn out to have enormous economic value but also, at the same time, archaeological or ethnographic objects of little real worth except for their immense value to scholars in their work. I hope the Government will keep up their efforts in this context.
Secondly, and lastly amid these micro measures—my noble friend Lady Hooper mentioned some measures of great importance in Latin America and elsewhere—I would ask the Minister to turn his attention to what can be done internationally on a pressing issue of human welfare where globalisation brings great wealth very close to great exploitation. It brings them almost, but not quite, face to face. This uneasy meeting is played out around the globe on our great cruise ships. They are very popular. People save hard to celebrate an anniversary or retirement on them, dining and dancing on the decks. But the conditions of those employed below the decks on which the dining and dancing takes place are often very poor and people are often exploited.
This is a matter not only of how people are treated and paid but of how they are recruited. The Roman Catholic organisation the Apostleship of the Sea, which does much for the welfare of seafarers in the United Kingdom, tells me that when crews are recruited, whether in the Philippines, Indonesia or West Africa, it is often done by brokers who not only charge them to get the job but sometimes also take ongoing fees, leaving them effectively close to indentured labour, often on ships flying flags of convenience in which UK public and private companies have a direct economic interest. As someone once said, something needs to be done about this.
I have beaten the thickets of government, thus far without much success, to try to find the Minister responsible for doing something in this area. It may be that when that immensely talented, able and farsighted Minister—I am speaking, of course, of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman—looks through his own ministerial responsibilities he may well find that he is the Minister responsible. If he is not, perhaps he will kindly let me know which man or woman is responsible. I know this is one of those micro issues that it is easy to push aside amid the great sweep of international relations which have properly dominated the debate, but such little things help to define not only the practical but the moral approach to foreign affairs by the United Kingdom.
My Lords, as the third noble and gallant Lord and former Chief of the Defence Staff—and the junior one—to speak, I am not altogether surprised that my superiors have stolen some of the best points I was going to make.
It is very easy for the Government and the Treasury to say—as they have time and time again—that the military exaggerates its problems and always delivers when called upon to do so on operations. Of course no Government want to spend more on the military than they have to, but, despite repeated warnings, we in this country are still taking our services for granted and taking avoidable risks with the lives of some of our service men and women. We are involved in two unpleasant wars that are unpopular with the general public and put huge pressure on the services. Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only commitments that the services have and the Government’s and the Ministry of Defence’s planning assumptions do not match operational reality. The Army in particular is too small and the Government should not have reduced the infantry’s size as they have in view of the commitments that we have now and are likely to face.
Too many people in Whitehall—politicians, civil servants and some military—believe that we can muddle through for a couple of years and return to the kind of life that existed at the end of the Cold War. I have spoken to senior officials who give the impression that Iraq and Afghanistan are short-term problems and who still fail to recognise the dangers we must face, and be prepared to face, in the coming years. This really is not a time to indulge in wishful thinking. Politicians have to realise that it is their duty to supply adequate, well-trained, well-paid and well-equipped forces. Politicians do not always have the luxury of choice that they think they have and the ability to remain aloof from crises. History will show that the peace dividend taken after the end of the Cold War was too large. The Army today is just about coping but is paying a considerable price. Certain parts of it will break if commitments continue and nothing is done about it. Reducing numbers in Iraq is very unlikely to be enough to rectify matters.
Training is being curtailed, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said. Unless a unit is warned to go to Iraq or Afghanistan its training receives a very low priority. Exercises in Canada, which are so important for war fighting, are being cancelled. Overseas exercises are removed from the calendar. This is serious and brought about because of lack of funds and lack of available units. We have so little in reserve that a new and surprise threat will cause grave problems. Many officers and soldiers have now not experienced brigade and divisional training as exercises at this level do not happen. Many senior commanders in the future will never have had the opportunity to learn how different parts of the Army work together. We are even finding the Army recruiting reservists but then being told there are inadequate funds to train them. It is not surprising that they become disenchanted and leave.
As far as equipment is concerned, there is certainly some very good news. Much of the Army’s equipment is first rate and as good as that of any army in the world. Of course, the Army has not got all it needs—it never will have—and there are severe problems with shortages in some areas. Certain equipment is desperately needed, such as helicopters and the new medium armoured vehicles. FRES—the future rapid effects system—is long overdue. The MoD has delayed its in-service date until 2012.
I congratulate the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his energetic and determined approach to controlling the very difficult equipment programme. The defence industrial strategy should receive strong support. Like the noble Lord, Lord King, I found the Prime Minister’s statement that the Army would be given anything it asked for in Afghanistan astonishing, and it was greeted with hollow laughter by serving service men and women. There are no helicopters sitting on shelves, and trained air crews cannot be magicked up from nowhere.
Other speakers, notably my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge, have already talked about pay and allowances. I believe that we should spend a higher percentage of the defence budget on people and their conditions, and rather less on expensive platforms.
My last point is that we should recognise that medical support in Iraq and Afghanistan is quite outstanding. But there is real bitterness in the Army and among Army families about how the wounded are treated at Selly Oak and other Birmingham National Health Service hospitals. Nobody is in any doubt that the wounded receive quite excellent clinical treatment from National Health Service surgeons, doctors and nurses—I am in no way criticising them. But our servicemen need—and were promised—a military environment and military wards, and very little has happened to bring this about. Ministers accepted the defence case. The shortcomings of the present system have been widely reported in the press and elsewhere. The whole story is a sorry one. The previous Conservative Government ignored military advice and damaged the Defence Medical Services. Their successors have been constantly warned, often in this House, of the seriousness of the situation. They have had some 10 years in which to get it right. In fact, due to funding, the situation is now worse than when they came to power. Our wounded deserve better, and, as a country, we should be ashamed.
I have talked mostly about the Army, not because I am a general but because the Army today, supported by the Royal Air Force, bears the brunt of current operations and is likely to continue to do so. I am delighted that the Chancellor has been to Iraq to see for himself what is happening. I wish he had gone before and shown a greater interest in defence, but better late than never. It is good for the Prime Minister to go to Afghanistan. The Government should face up to some very difficult decisions quickly or they will preside over serious damage to our forces.
It appears likely that the Government will eventually keep the nuclear deterrent, and they have two options—to inject considerable money into defence or to reprioritise the budget and direct money to where it is most needed to counter current and foreseeable threats. Ideally, both should be done. More money and readjustment are what is really needed. We should avoid a policy of continuing to muddle through, but I have an awful fear that the Government will funk it.
My Lords, we were given a small hint today that debate on the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq might be postponed until another day. That certainly has not stopped three noble and gallant Lords—I hope the House authorities will forgive me if I include the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, in that category—together with two of my colleagues making some powerful speeches. We will get an opportunity to discuss the Far East, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq at much greater length, but tonight I should like to concentrate on what I call the human raw material—the men and women in our Armed Forces. I call it human training.
The Minister has always been immensely helpful to me, not least earlier this year. Can he confirm that recruitment to the Army, about which I have had some experience, and the other Armed Forces, is still at the decent and desirable level that he and his colleagues believe is necessary to fulfil all the enormous programmes the defence forces are asked to carry out? Is the style still pretty well the same as it was for young guardsmen? One used to start—perhaps one still does—at Pirbright, going on to development at Catterick. Then, when one is fairly experienced, there is further training at lance-corporal or junior NCO level within one’s unit.
Perhaps many of us in the House of Lords Defence Group have been negligent in not going to places that I have heard many things about—Warminster and Brecon—where non-commissioned officers, future warrant officers and future very important pillars of the British Army are trained to an extraordinarily high standard. Can the Minister at some stage confirm that this still has an enormously high priority? Without that training, its constant updating and constant change of purpose, much of what has been spoken about by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Inge and Lord Guthrie, will slip down the slope.
If soldiers have satisfactory training and feel that they have a decent career when they reach a fairly senior level, there should not be a problem with retention or career development. All the factors I have mentioned need, in the 21st century, to be coupled with family life. Our soldiers and all other members of the Armed Forces are not like Masai warriors who spend their life until 35 performing duties and then go home to retirement and a comfortable married life. The British forces do not work like that.
I see my noble friend Lord Astor turning in my direction. Thirty years ago I was pretty well in the same position he is. I remember making a speech, winding up for the Opposition; we heard much about “teeth not tail” and how the Labour Government of 1976 were concentrating on what the Armed Forces needed. I am sure that this Government are doing exactly that, but I beg them to remember that plenty of other aspects of the tail are also necessary.
On conditions in barracks, the House of Lords Defence Group visited the Royal Engineers in Chatham. I was amazed at what the young soldiers there put up with. They said that although the barrack room was perhaps not in the best order, they could wait because the Army was doing something about it. I also recall making a visit to the married quarters at Woolwich. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that conditions there are being closely watched.
My noble friends Lord Luke and Lord Astor have accompanied me on two out of the three visits that the House of Lords Defence Group has made to Cyprus. I have my notes with me—at least there is some competence on the Back Benches—of our visit to Cyprus in 2003. There we found 22 Regiment Royal Artillery, which was performing in the infantry role, and 10 per cent to 12 per cent of them were reservists, about whom the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, has spoken. In other disciplines—I hesitate to call them medical and technical—one would probably find a much higher proportion of reservists in the conditions required today, particularly with overstretch. With the commitments that have been made here and overseas, I believe that all the Armed Forces are in danger of overstretch.
I live in the lovely county of Angus, host to 45 Commando, who are away at the moment. Over my home fly many performing jets—I think they are Tornados—from Royal Air Force Leuchars where there are three squadrons, and they go elsewhere. I am very pleased and somewhat humbled to speak tonight, along with noble and gallant Lords and two of my kind colleagues from Northern Ireland who helped me and made powerful speeches. My noble friends Lord King and Lord Hurd made the kind of speeches that I one day dream of making.
In May, 1957—it is very nearly 50 years ago—I was a mere Army recruit, serving under Sergeant Kiwi Clements of the Coldstream Guards. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, is not here, but I shall remind him—no doubt he will remember him. The sergeant turned me and 16 other young men into soldiers. We were made to take the first step towards the eminence and experience of the noble and gallant Lords who have spoken. Perhaps the motto is “nil satis nisi optimum”, which means “only the best will do”. That will certainly be known to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and perhaps to many others—certainly the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester and my noble friend Lady Hooper.
I believe that we have the best men and women in our Armed Forces. Perhaps I may as a Back-Bencher pay tribute to each and every one of them—to their skills, their courage and their service—from the mere recruit who is joining their regiment and taking their first steps into service life to those who are performing in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. We thank and salute each and every one of them tonight.
My Lords, when speaking in the foreign affairs debate following Her Majesty's gracious Speech in the past, I have always addressed my comments to the challenges and opportunities facing southern Africa. However, I was fortunate two weeks ago to join a trade delegation, led by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. It was my first time there and I went with no prior assumptions.
I shall address my brief contribution today to the challenges and, just as importantly, the opportunities which face that region. If ever there was a forceful argument for a multi-region federal model to resolve the stalemate in Iraq, the Kurdistan region exists as an institutional reality, with its own government and legislature.
I was extremely impressed to see that the coalition of the KDP and PUK appeared to be working well, respecting the rights of minorities. I was impressed also by the high level of security and the ability of the local authorities to control insurgents coming into the area. One of my expectations before we went to Erbil, based on the travel advice which we received from the FCO, was that it was a high-risk area to visit. We had very limited security and certainly did not feel at all under threat.
The perceived threat has certainly been a major reason why British companies have not yet engaged in the considerable opportunities that are springing up in the region. Clearly, there was a great deal of desire to see British companies engaging there. The hotels in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah were packed with businessmen, predominantly from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, France and even Germany. Another deterrent to engaging with local businessmen was the difficulty that they were having in obtaining visas to visit the United Kingdom. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will touch on this point in his speech.
Among the many infrastructure challenges facing the region is the lack of adequate power generators, with Erbil and Sulaymaniyah being restricted to only four hours of electricity from the local grids every day. Will the Minister elaborate on what is being done to encourage international reconstruction funds to engage in the region? Another challenge, and potential opportunity, is the totally inadequate banking system in the region, with almost no facility to use credit cards.
I had assumed from reading press reports that there was a tense stand-off between the Turkish Government and the KRG, but, from our discussions with various Ministers, it appeared that there was growing co-operation and consensus between the two regions. Certainly, the recent, acrimonious comments about the Kurds by Abdullah Gul, the Turkish Foreign Minister, which were widely publicised, were in Ministers’ opinion made more to appease the whims of his local constituency than to signal an act of aggression against the KRG.
The big challenge is the equitable distribution of Iraq’s oil revenues, which account for 95 per cent of Iraq's GDP. The current constitution provides that the central Government will continue to be responsible for the operations of established oil fields and infrastructure, with regional governments taking responsibility for managing new exploration developments. The KRG was and is in the process of tabling a regional petroleum law, which specifically provides for revenue-sharing with the rest of Iraq. Clearly, a formula needs to be agreed for redistributing revenues equitably across Iraq. A source of much frustration to all the ministries in the KRG was the fact that the Kurdish region receives only 7 per cent of the central budget, although 15 per cent has been allocated to it.
I would have liked to comment on the final goal of the KRG, which is to absorb the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and other disputed territories. The constitution calls for a referendum on the territories by the end of 2007. However, as I am a long way down the speakers’ list today, and we shall have a full debate on the Middle East and Afghanistan on 5 December, I shall conclude and, I hope, participate in that debate.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord St John, who, as he said, was a member of the delegation of the Middle East Association which travelled to northern Iraq last week—and a valued member, he was, too. My previous speech in a foreign affairs debate was about the Kurdistan region of Iraq, shortly after I had visited it in 2004. I was pleased to see during our delegation’s visit last week how much progress has been made in that two-year period. It is an enormous amount of progress. Earlier this year, a new combined administration, in which the PUK and the KDP are co-operating extremely effectively, came to office. There is a strong element of minority parties, too. The Kurds are playing a strong part in the federal Government, which did not exist two years ago. President Jalal Talibani and others are determined to make the new federal constitution work, and many other senior Kurdish Ministers are in the Government.
As the noble Lord, Lord St John, mentioned, security is even better than it was two years. The region has gone forward while the rest of Iraq has gone backwards. A new investment law has been passed and an investment board set up. The noble Lord alluded to the draft regional petroleum law, which specifically provides for the sharing of revenues from new deposits exploited in the north with the rest of Iraq. The region has played a strong part in formulating the equivalent federal petroleum law, which provides for sharing of revenues from other deposits in the rest of Iraq.
The existing airport now provides regular international flights, and a new airport is due to open shortly. There will be direct flights from Europe. Austrian Airlines will start twice-weekly flights from Vienna to Erbil on 11 December. Companies from many countries are investing—predominantly Turkey but also China, South Korea, Germany and the Czech Republic. The list goes on. Starwood is building a new Sheraton in Erbil and a new Hyatt is planned; 300 companies attended the recent Sulaymaniya trade fair—but there was not a single British company at that fair. There is great investment in the offing from Lebanese interests, as well as from the UAE and Kuwait.
In the middle of those positive signs there are some major challenges—with revenue, for example, and the fact that under the CPA and the elected federal Government Kurdistan does not receive its fair share of federal revenue, as the noble Lord mentioned. That region gave up its customs duties from Iranian and Turkish border controls, but has received only half the amount of revenue that it should have done and as a result has been starved of investment for public infrastructure projects. That is noticeable; there is a big difference from two years ago: there is a major shortage of petrol, a lack of sufficient electricity generation and a very high rate of inflation.
One of the major issues alluded to by the noble Lord is Kirkuk, but the KRG are very hopeful that with the agreement on revenue sharing put forward by the two petroleum Bills, the outcome of the referendum next year will be seen as not threatening to Iraq’s neighbours or Sunni leaders in Iraq.
The noble Lord mentioned, too, the fact that banking in Kurdistan is still in its infancy; trade and investment banking is reasonably sophisticated, in fact, but retailing banking is in its infancy and no credit card is issued for use in Kurdistan.
Above all, there is the issue of relations with neighbours, especially Turkey—and I shall come on to that in a few moments. But the key issue for our delegation was, “Where is the British business presence in Kurdistan?”. I think that we concluded that it was hardly surprising that no British company was present in Kurdistan in the light of the FCO advice. I have a very high regard for those FCO personnel who serve in Iraq, especially those who work in areas such as Baghdad; but one has only to look at the travel advice from the FCO to see that British business is bound to be deterred from working and doing business in Kurdistan. The travel advice says:
“We strongly advise against all travel to Baghdad and the surrounding area”.
That is absolutely correct. But the advice continues:
“We advise against all but essential travel to the rest of Iraq”.
That is a complete blanket; it is as if Kurdistan did not have a completely different security situation from the rest of Iraq. The advice goes on:
“The security situation in Iraq remains highly dangerous with a continuing high threat of terrorism and violence targeting foreign nationals, including individuals of non-western appearance”.
Again, no distinction is made whatever. It continues:
“The threat of kidnap of foreign nationals across Iraq remains high. There have been many kidnappings, some of which have resulted in the murder of hostages”.
There again, absolutely no distinction is made. It goes on:
“You should consider whether your presence in Iraq is essential”.
If a British businessman reads that advice, is it likely that he is going to go to Kurdistan, whatever the challenges, prospects and opportunities? One of the purposes of our trade delegation was to give the lie to that advice. What can business do in face of such advice?
As the noble Lord, Lord St John, said, we travelled around Erbil in a bus; British officials travelled in armoured land cruisers with security staff at their behest. The contrast was quite striking. We tried to tease out from FCO officials why they were so cautious, but it was completely incomprehensible; there did not seem to be any particular explanation why the security advice that we noticed on the ground, which we were given by the interior ministry in Kurdistan, was so very different from the advice that the FCO is dispensing.
We met the chambers of commerce, the Trade Minister, the investment board and Health and Education Ministers and the message throughout was exactly the same: there is a great desire to see British companies engaged. There is a huge amount of good will towards UK companies. Why is the FCO not engaging more? Despite a pledge last year, the consulate has still not been moved to Erbil and now it appears that the consulate will be moved to a South Korean army camp because of fears about the security situation in Kurdistan. That seems somewhat disproportionate. We need to recognise that the only place that business can be done in Iraq is in the Kurdistan region. There are many issues—with the visa situation, for example, because students and business people find it very difficult to get visas into the UK. There are all sorts of other issues.
I refer briefly to the Turkish situation. I believe that despite the public words of Mr Gul, the Turkish Foreign Minister, the Turkish Government are beginning to understand the advantages of an economically strong Kurdistan. I know Turkey extremely well and am a great supporter of its desire to enter the EU. Turkish businesses have invested some £1 billion in Kurdistan in recent years, and there is a huge mutual interest in ensuring prosperity and stability in Kurdistan. Both have secular societies and a strong common interest in not encouraging Islamic fundamentalism. The KRG—the Kurdistan Government—are co-operating with General Joe Ralston, the special envoy set to try to solve the PKK issue. There is good will on the part of the KRG and I very much hope that the Turkish Government respond to that and we can see a prosperous future for Kurdistan.
My Lords, in the debate on 12 July I expressed my anger at the mess that we have allowed ourselves to get into in Afghanistan and Iraq and my belief that there was going to have to be a serious inquiry about the circumstances that allowed this to develop. I still believe that—and I must say that I was appalled at the House of Commons only a few weeks ago being unable to rally enough support for such an inquiry. But time is short and I wish to be positive and to consider some of the diplomatic issues that face us.
First, we must be frank about the difficulty that we face in bringing Iran into a positive and constructive mood about Iraq. If Iran can see that it is in its interests that we have a federal unitary state in Iraq—and I believe that it is in Iranian interests—Iran can be a decisive influence in bringing this about. But we have to face the fact that we will not get Iran in a constructive role while it sees itself under military threat because of its nuclear programme; nor will it respond to the United States while the United States continues with the sanctions imposed after the occupation of the Teheran embassy all those many years ago under President Carter.
During the Reagan years an ill-fated attempt was made—ill-fated especially because it was linked to the contras—to reopen a serious dialogue between the United States and Iran. It could be said that we cannot influence that American issue and that that is really for the Baker commission, and that may be so; but in one area we will have to rethink our own policy—with regard to the dialogue developing around Iran’s nuclear pretensions. I, for one, believe it is clear that Iran is after at least an option on being able to build a nuclear weapon. It would be extremely damaging to the region if Iran developed such a weapon, and we would be highly likely to see more proliferation to at least Saudi Arabia, Egypt and possibly Syria.
We have had the experience of the success of skilful diplomacy with President Gaddafi and Libya which started, against all predictions, after the shock of the Reagan attack on Gaddafi because of the Libyan involvement in terrorist activity in La Belle discothèque in Berlin and later with Lockerbie. It is a fine example of serious diplomatic engagement in which the British and American Governments worked closely together. One of the deals that was done was that Gaddafi was given an assurance that if he was co-operative, the idea of regime change would be erased and he would be able to continue in power. That was realpolitik of a fine and an intelligent order.
I believe there is a direct parallel between how we dealt with the Libyan issue and how we deal with the Syrian question. In my judgment, we are not going to get Syria seriously engaged while it thinks that, as soon as it does this, we will simply try and remove the Ba’athists and the young President Assad from power. We have to grapple with that issue.
Regarding the use of sanctions as an incentive to Iran, I am not sure what will happen, but I believe the British Government will have to pull back a little from the rhetoric of the past year or two about sanctions against Iran. We will have to recognise that if we are to going to resolve the nuclear problem, that will be further down the track, and that the immediate priority is to have a more constructive attitude from Iran to getting stability in Iraq. If that means we have to adopt a different tone from the Americans on this question, so be it.
As for Syria, many Israelis in the past have been ready to put a negotiation over Golan in advance of a negotiation over Gaza or the West Bank. That was Barak’s view for quite a while. I hear all these pleas for an engagement in the West Bank at the moment, but I think the fragility of relations that exists in Israel itself makes it extremely unlikely that we will get much rapid progress on this issue. We ought to look at the one area where substantial progress could be made; that is, over Syria, Golan and Lebanon.
We saw, in July and August, how badly it is possible for both the British and the Americans to handle the issue of Lebanon. Those few weeks, in my view, saw the most disgraceful diplomacy. What was so tragic was that it came after the communiqué that was issued by the G8 at St Petersburg, which could hardly have been better. If the eight countries had all acted to put a force into Lebanon immediately, as was envisaged in that communiqué, it would have been a remarkable success for the G8. The problem was that both Prime Minister Blair and President Bush thought that the Israeli armed forces could, in that space of time, deal with Hezbollah. Not even many of the Israeli military believed that was possible.
We have to learn from that mistake. One way now would be to put Syria top of the negotiating table. We must try and improve the quality of the activity of the UN force currently in Lebanon, which is not dealing with Hezbollah anywhere near strongly enough, and at least raise the profile of the Arab/Israeli dispute and hope to make progress there, while doing everything in our power to get back into a dialogue with President Abbas and have a Government that speaks for the Palestinians and can negotiate with Israel.
I have said enough. This is a very difficult diplomatic area. I urge one thing: that the Prime Minister drops his constant personalised diplomacy and allows the experts in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the Ministry of Defence and in the intelligence services to create strong and coherent policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Israel. It is high time that No. 10 quietened down a little. It has made some disastrous mistakes. If the Prime Minister will not resign, he should at least now step back and let these areas be dealt with by the professionals. In that way, Britain might be able to recover its influence and prestige in all these complex issues.
My Lords, it is extraordinarily exciting to be playing cricket with the great, the good and the gallant, particularly when I have a feeling that my role in general is as the bad and the ugly, and that I may probably be defined as being part of the “axis of evil”. I have already disclosed in the past my involvement in the Middle East, over now since 1974, usually in places where the Foreign Office felt it was not acceptable for a gentleman to go, such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and all the more difficult parts of the world. But I enjoyed it. I learnt an enormous amount, and I would prefer to tell noble Lords some of the stories I was told.
“Chinese Whispers” is nothing compared with the whispering in the Arab world. Of course, it is not democratic. There is no word for “democracy” in Arabic or Farsi. In a way it is a form of theocracy, in that a leader is anointed by God, takes control and is accountable under God. I am accountable to no one, but I need to go back into the past to try to persuade your Lordships that “plus ça change”.
I shall begin, like the noble Lord, Lord Browne, with 1906. It was a great year, the year my grandfather first got into the House of Commons, an impressive year. It was also the year the parliamentary Labour Party was created from the representative body—I would not like to say that ever since it has not been representative. It is 100 years old this year. At that time, knowing how good we are at reacting to natural disasters, your Lordships will recall that there was a great earthquake in Ecuador, measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale and killing 1,500 people. There was also a big eruption of Vesuvius that overwhelmed a large chunk of Naples, but only 500 people were killed. Then there was the San Francisco disaster. That was the big one, an earthquake that measured about 8.8, with 3,000 people killed. In the same year there was a major tsunami in Hong Kong that killed 10,000. Two years ago, another tsunami, measuring nine-something on the Richter scale, killed 212,000. From time to time since 1906 there have been other natural disasters. Then we had a form of terrorism. Terrorism, as your Lordships know, means, “government or rule by fear”. It is an “ism”; I do not know how you would define it otherwise. In these periods we had the Baader-Meinhof, the Brigate Rosse, and the problems in Northern Ireland, where 3,500 people were killed. Then we had al-Qaeda. The latest American information shows that it has been responsible for the deaths of 3,457 or so, internationally.
When you put all that lot together—I am now going to talk about life and death—suddenly strange things go through your mind. The United States lost 472,000 people in two world wars. We lost 1.5 million in two world wars. How many people have been killed as a result of our aggression in Iraq? More than all of that put together? I know not. Certainly, the United States has no full understanding of what deaths and destruction have been caused. Some 210,000 people were made homeless in the San Francisco earthquake disaster, but how many people have been made homeless and had their lives ruined because of one strange action? It was not the right action to take. I defended and will always defend the right of a Prime Minister to decide to go to war, and I believe this House wholly supported our troops and the Government, but now the days of reckoning are coming. What on earth can we do now? How can we get out of this extraordinary mess that we have got ourselves into?
The military mess may get even worse. Going back before 1906, your Lordships will remember that General Roberts walked from Kabul to Kandahar to relieve our forces there with 2,700 troops, but he had more than 7,000 levies of Indian soldiers. That was a great march and a great success. Thereafter, we had the problem of Isandlwana, Mafeking and so on, but in each case we had a small number of troops with large levies. As Kipling said, we had the Gatling gun and they had not; we also had the Maxim gun. In those days, with a relatively small number of troops, we could maintain or re-establish law and order, but not today, because we are not working with the most sophisticated weaponry around, but we are fighting with people who will fight. Roberts had 35,000 Afghanis arrayed against him, and there were maybe 100,000 troops. As these battles go on so the numbers rise, because young men want to go and fight. I was doing my naval training on HMS “Theseus” prior to Suez, and I really wanted to go. Every young person who joins the Army wants to go. If you have not been there and got back, you are not happy. We have Armed Forces who want to do the best they can in the world, but not necessarily peace-keeping of this sort. It is a dangerous time.
I am head of the appeal committee for the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. I have a point to make on behalf of the 52 former ambassadors and high commissioners who wrote a letter on 27 April 2004 to the Prime Minister, warning what was going to happen. There were 28 ambassadors who had held 41 posts in the Arab world. They knew what they were talking about. In this capacity, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that he might be kind enough, if I were to write him a letter, to look to those people. If you want some wise men, ask if we can have a meeting with them.
I leave noble Lords on the happy thought that I have used before. What is wrong with the Arab world and the Middle East? Three things: hashish, baksheesh and malish. Of course, a fourth one is the British, because they invented the other three.
My Lords, the words unusually missing from this gracious Speech are “poverty reduction” and “international development”. However, I realise that much humanitarian work is hidden behind foreign policy and anti-terrorism, especially in conflict countries. What has happened to poverty reduction in Iraq? Is DfID still using that terminology, or is it impossible under these dangerous conditions to target the poorest and the victims of injustice?
One group that I commend tonight, both in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, is the Christian community, which is declining in number across the whole region. I hesitate to single out Christians, who often enjoy social and economic advantages which may be resented, not least because of their connections abroad. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the churches in Iraq have unfairly become the focus of much discrimination, and even hatred, since 2003, and many Christian families are now reduced to acute material and spiritual poverty. The plight of the Assyrian Christians and other minorities has already been discussed. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Carey has also represented them, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made a strong case for them in July last year.
The Assyrians, or Nestorians, are the descendants of the people of Babylon and Nineveh. They were one of the earliest Christian sects. By the 9th century they had become a worldwide church extending as far as China and south India. For 12 centuries they lived mainly in harmony with Muslim Arabs in what we now call Kurdistan, but when missionaries arrived in northern Iraq, the Assyrians began to be persecuted. Hundreds of thousands were victims during the terrible Armenian massacre. Britain defended them against the Turks after 1917, when Assyrian soldiers became trusted allies up to and after Iraq’s independence in 1932. But at that time, thousands more, seen as collaborating with us, were killed by the Iraqi army. Historically, therefore, we are in their debt.
It is hard to estimate the total number of Assyrians now, since so many have fled from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the US, Australia and this country. Incidentally, the Home Office tried to send some of them back to Iraq on the absurd grounds that they were quite safe in the north. There are at least 600,000 to 700,000 left, and they and other related minorities such as the Chaldeans, the Syrian Orthodox Church, Catholics, Copts, Armenians and others, deserve much more attention and, above all, better protection from the Iraqi Government. That, of course, also means our Government. Thousands were oppressed and displaced along with the Kurds under Saddam Hussein’s Arabisation policy, and the Commission for Resolution of Real Property Disputes is genuinely trying to help them to recover their homes and property, taken up to April 2003.
Under Iraq’s new human rights legislation, Christians in theory qualify for protection, but they are obviously not getting it from the police, the army or the occupying forces. They have no militia to protect them, like the larger Shia and Sunni factions. Many Christian communities have been directly targeted. In the past three years, 30 churches and schools have been bombed in Baghdad and northern Iraq, and small businesses are constantly attacked.
Some of those attacks have been in so-called retaliation for the Danish cartoons or the Pope’s ill-judged lecture on Islam, for selling liquor, as they have done for centuries, or, in the case of women, for not wearing the veil. But in communities already fragmented by near civil war, the problem runs much deeper than that. Christian families live in daily fear of death threats. Last month an abducted priest from the Syriac Orthodox Church, Father Boulos Iskander, was found in Mosul, beheaded and dismembered soon after his family had already paid a ransom of $40,000. His kidnappers used the excuse of the Pope’s remarks the previous month. Several young women have been killed after threats about the veil. A 14 year-old Christian Assyrian boy called Ayad Tariq in Baquba was also beheaded last month, according to the Assyrian news agency.
Not surprisingly, many Christians have left Iraq, among the hundreds of thousands of refugees. Asylum seekers arriving in OECD countries doubled during the first six months of this year, and more than 8,000 Iraqis applied to EU countries during that period—a higher figure than from any other region. The UN estimates that a further 425,000 Iraqis are displaced inside the country. Among them are urban professionals, doctors, teachers and technicians, many of them Christians. As one noble Lord has said, those who are most useful to Iraq in its present situation have been directly targeted by extremists.
One Christian refugee who personifies the brave and almost hopeless struggle of minorities is Dr Donny George, the former director of the National Museum in Baghdad, who helped to recover the treasures that were looted after the US invasion. Having come under increasing pressure from Shiites and Islamists, he resigned in August as president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. He even had to close the museum and seal it in concrete to save it. Like other archaeologists, Dr George has left the country and has moved with his family to Damascus.
Money to pay the salaries of the special police force that valiantly defends Iraq’s famous archaeological sites is running out. Again, we see a vicious minority of extremists determined to destroy their own culture, coupled with the apparent inability of the coalition and the Government to help. What can our Government do now to break this deadlock?
Are the minorities receiving their fair share of the billions of dollars pledged in Madrid? My noble friend Lord St John raised this question. During last year’s debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, told my noble friend Lady Northover:
“The Iraqi transitional Government … have massive international support: $32 billion was pledged in Madrid … it is of course up to the Iraqi Government to co-ordinate with the Kurdish regional government to afford an equitable redistribution of resources”.—[Official Report, 6/7/05; col. 716.]
Two noble Lords who visited Iraq have told us that this is not happening. Dr Kim Howells said:
“The Iraqi Constitution contains provisions which guarantee democratic principles, rights and freedoms of all individuals, including the freedom of worship. We continue to encourage the Iraqi government to ensure these are protected”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/10/06; col. 2072W.]
What does this “protection” mean in practice? What has happened to the resettlement programme in the Nineveh plain? Do the Kurdish Regional Government respect the constitution when they register householders to prevent terrorist infiltration or are they favouring the Kurds in this process? This issue came up in the Australian Federal Parliament on 29 May, when Chris Bowen MP asked his Government to support a protected administrative region for the Assyrians. I do not go as far as my noble friend in suggesting that the Assyrians should have regional autonomy, as their own democratic movement proposes. I think that that is difficult to contemplate at a time when, as we have heard, Kurdish independence may again be on the cards as a result of a failed Iraqi state. There is a lot of historic suspicion on the Assyrian websites, but there is a lot of sense in supporting a protected homeland or some kind of administrative region for the Assyrians.
The persecution of Christians by Muslims is neither new nor unique. It is mainly a story of exile that is being told in Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine and all over the Middle East. I accept that it is in part an unforeseen consequence of our own mistaken policies but that does not excuse us, and so long as we have influence in Iraq we have the opportunity of ending it.
I will end by urging the Government to return to their position in 2002—it was advocated again tonight by several noble Lords—when a large number of states, including Iran, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, pointed out, united in a coalition against terrorism. I will briefly quote from the late Robin Cook's resignation speech in March 2003. He said:
“Only a year ago, we and the United States were part of a coalition against terrorism that was wider and more diverse than I would ever have imagined possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition. The US can afford to go it alone, but Britain is not a superpower. Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/03; col. 726.]
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, referred to this debate being marked by the contributions of the good, the great and the gallant. I certainly agree with him that this has been a most impressive debate, in which an extraordinary range of knowledge and experience has been shared with the House by all noble Lords who have taken part. It is one of those occasions in which this House demonstrates what sort of debate it is able to have because of the sort of people who are part of it. That reflects very well on the House.
I will concentrate very briefly on a part of the world and on a country that I do not think has been mentioned by any noble Lord so far; I refer to the question of Britain’s relations with Argentina. I will give an account of the visit that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and I paid to that country under the auspices of the IPU at the end of September in our capacity as officers of the British-Argentine All-Party Parliamentary Group. We were joined on the visit by a third officer, a Conservative Member from the other place, Mark Pritchard. We went with entirely open minds and we made it clear that we were willing to engage in discussion on anything that our Argentine hosts wished to raise with us. We were thoroughly briefed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before we went. While we were in Buenos Aires, we had the good fortune to stay at the residence of the British Ambassador, Dr John Hughes, which meant that we received daily briefings and were kept up to date with what was appearing in the media about our visit.
The tenor of our briefing before we left was that on a wide range of issues the relationship between Britain and Argentina is excellent. The FCO was at pains to point out that Argentina’s membership of the UN Security Council, which has now just come to an end, was entirely constructive, particularly in areas such as combating drug trafficking, anti-terrorism and arms control. The trade and cultural relationships between our two countries are all positive and, of course, spread widely into sport—although supporters of the English football team and now, amazingly, the national rugby team would prefer that the Argentine national sides were not quite as successful as they are. The sporting links none the less go back a long way and are very warm. Our welcome also was warm and genuine, and we were able to engage with Argentine parliamentarians on a wide range of issues, including our experience in combating football hooliganism, transport planning and homeland security.
However, there was of course one issue where the scale of disagreement between our countries is profound—the islands in the south Atlantic, which we call the Falklands. We were warned in advance that there had been little constructive dialogue on this subject at government level for the past decade or so. Disagreements over fishing policy, direct flights to the islands, hydrocarbon and minerals extraction, and, above all other matters, sovereignty continue. We made it clear to our Argentine hosts that we could not discuss sovereignty and stressed that, if any progress is to be made on this issue, the interests of the islanders need to be taken into account.
Before we went into the Congress building on our first full day in Buenos Aires, we were conscious that discussions with its foreign relations committee and its new “Malvinas Observatory”—a sort of think tank of academics, diplomats and politicians—could have gone disastrously wrong. There could have been a complete stand-off, a confrontational non-meeting of minds or a restating of existing entrenched positions. In the week before that meeting took place, if one had read some of the Argentine press, this did not look like a far-fetched set of circumstances. On 25 September, the newspaper Ambito Financiero carried a piece headed “Three Britons in enemy territory”. However, it was not quite like that.
Instead, we formed the opinion that there was a real desire within the Congress at least to open up a dialogue at parliamentary level with our two Houses of Parliament. We were told that just before we arrived the Argentine-British parliamentary group in the Congress was reformed. Of great interest to the parliamentarians—certainly to those who wish to look forwards rather than backwards—was the agreement between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar, which was concluded in September, just prior to our visit.
This debate provides the opportunity for me to congratulate the Government, and the Governments of Spain and Gibraltar, on reaching what is clearly a very satisfactory conclusion. As noble Lords will be aware, the agreement has brought to an end decades of ill will, harassment, misunderstanding and hostility between Spain and Gibraltar. It covers the use of Gibraltar airport, the lifting of Spanish airspace restrictions, the opening of the border, the paying of pensions to Spanish workers in Gibraltar and the recognition of Gibraltar’s international dialling code. The agreement reflects well on the three parties involved.
A number of aspects of the negotiations and the agreement are particularly interesting. First, the Gibraltarians were allowed by the Spanish Government to take part in the discussions in their own right. Previously, they had insisted that Gibraltarians could take part in talks only as part of the British team. Secondly, the agreement provides that the British Government retain international responsibility for Gibraltar. Thirdly, Spain has not been required to abandon its sovereignty claim on Gibraltar, although it has effectively been allowed to park it in a siding while the rest of the agreement is implemented.
I found particularly interesting the comments made by the Spanish Foreign Office official, José Pons, in an interview with the Gibraltar Chronicle on 12 June this year. He described the trilateral dialogue as an historic opportunity to achieve normal and prosperous cross-border relations,
“without any of the sides having to renounce their positions of principle”.
The obvious question is whether any lessons can be learnt from the agreement with Spain over Gibraltar that could have relevance to the dispute with Argentina over the Falklands. With the Argentine presidential election taking place next year, I would not be too confident of much progress being made at government level. Maybe parliamentary diplomacy offers better prospects, rather as it did when Argentina sent a delegation to the IPU centenary conference in London back in 1989, the year before diplomatic relations were formally restored after the war.
My noble friend Lord Triesman will recall that Deputy Jorge Argüello, chairman of the Congress’s foreign relations committee, visited London in the middle of October. Indeed, he met my noble friend on the day after he came to speak to the British-Argentine All-Party Parliamentary Group. Dr Argüello told us at that meeting that he and his colleagues were studying the terms of the Gibraltar settlement and would be sending us their views on it. Whether anything comes of that, we shall have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, on the subject of the Falklands, I commend the Government for resisting the temptation to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands war next year with a militaristic celebration. I particularly welcome the comments of the Minister for Veterans, Derek Twigg MP, who was reported in the Times last Tuesday as saying that the June event would be a commemoration, not a celebration. He said:
“Our relationship with Argentina has come a long way in recent years. We will recognise their losses too. Our commemoration will not be triumphant”.
That is absolutely right. We can all understand how difficult the 25th anniversary will be for Argentina. We have to remember that our quarrel in 1982 was with the military dictators, not with the Argentine people. We have an opportunity to rebuild our friendships and I hope that we shall do so.
My Lords, I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Howell in welcoming our maiden speakers. With so many distinguished foreign affairs specialists in the House, and the forceful maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, on the importance of the Foreign Office, I hesitate to mention one fact: according to the public expenditure overview, DfID now receives a bigger budget than the Foreign Office. In 2006, DfID received £4.4 billion and the Foreign Office received £1.9 billion—DfID received twice as much.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, told us that international development is now being taken seriously, and that it is one of the most important challenges that we face. But it can never simply be a question of numbers. The eminent economist Professor William Easterly has described,
“the twin tragedies of global poverty”.
The first tragedy encompasses the many and well documented problems that several of your Lordships have identified. The second is that, after 50 years and more than $2.3 trillion in aid from the West, there is so shockingly little to show for it. Clearly the problem is not apathy, but the efforts seem so futile. It is a great sadness that statistically countries that have received high levels of aid are no more likely to pick up economically than those with little outside help.
Many of our efforts are too ambitious in their design, where the more focused, localised plans that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, always mentions would be more successful. Pledges are made with no regard to whether the targets are achievable. In an Oxfam report in October, we heard how a 10 year-old promise to halve global hunger by 2015 is having no effect. Since the pledge was made at an international summit in 1996, the number of people starving worldwide has increased by 54 million, while the number of those facing starvation in Africa has risen by a fifth.
It was perhaps no surprise to see that the Government’s response to this announcement was to quote how much DfID had spent, rather than to name any substantive measures taken to reduce hunger. So many efforts fail due to lack of accountability. Promises and gestures are too easily made, but at no cost when goals are not met. The G8 summit last year originally agreed to cancel all debts owed up to the end of 2004. After the conference, the World Bank agreement was renegotiated to include debts only up to 2003. This change—made after the headlines and spotlight had moved away—will cost poor nations an extra $5 billion. All too rarely do we ever hear any feedback on the success of these gestures. Who knows what practical effects the Make Poverty History campaign actually had? We never hear feedback from the poor themselves.
The Chancellor has recently launched a new bond scheme, which will tie up funds and shackle future budgets for the next 10 years, leaving no opportunity for evaluating its success. I urge the Minister to ensure that we pay close attention to how this money is spent.
While the more overriding and obvious actions may be the most appealing—alleviating guilt or satisfying the vanity of Governments—they may not be the most beneficial to those whom we are actually trying to help. Following the recent convocation of 41 African presidents in China, I am reminded of the success of Chinese involvement in Africa and would like to see us take a more commercial approach through investment and trade, rather than handouts to Governments. As Peter Boone, an economist from the LSE, found, aid has invariably financed consumption rather than investment and growth. No developed society ever solved its own poverty problems in this way.
While we may not approve of everything that China is doing, there is no doubt that by offering straight commercial relations and bilateral trade with African nations it is helping to stimulate developing economies. As part of these relations, China is also improving schools, hospitals, roads and railways across the continent—exactly the sort of material benefits that many Western donors have been reluctant to offer. We should encourage trade between developing countries and look towards long-term solutions. Our Conservative proposals for a pan-African trading area might help to achieve exactly that. The most effective solutions will not be imposed from outside, but must have domestic origins.
Noble Lords who were in the chamber in October might remember that I mentioned the remarkable example of Anglo American’s HIV/AIDS programme for its employees in South Africa, devised and run by Dr Brian Brink. Private companies, as well as religious groups—as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford—have an important role to play in tackling the problems caused by poverty. Dr Brink illustrates how enlightened private companies can be more effective than just government money. The programme relies as much on prevention as on the treatment, and couples practical remedial steps with behavioural education and raising awareness. Crucially, it also encourages voluntary involvement through testing and counselling and is therefore seen as less prescriptive or patronising.
Realistic programmes should be undertaken rather than wild promises made. It is surely better to pledge money for specific achievements, such as building a reservoir or improving roads to inaccessible villages, than to announce broad targets for which no one is accountable and which no one has any incentive to meet. I again welcome the Government’s commitment to DfID in the gracious Speech, but it is important to remember that increased aid does not necessarily mean increased development. We should also remember that we are trying to transform the lives of individuals, not Governments.
My Lords, in the gracious Speech, reference was made to North Korea and Darfur. On Thursday last, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office organised a welcome discussion with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn. During our discussions, I referred to the 2 million people who starved to death in North Korea, the 200,000 people who languish in modern-day gulags and the estimated 400,000 people who have died in North Korean concentration camps over the past 30 years. It is particularly perverse that at least 30 per cent of that totalitarian state’s GDP is used for armaments and to develop nuclear weapons while its people starve and are trapped in third world poverty.
In that context, the promulgation of the United Nations doctrine of the responsibility to protect—the duty to intervene in egregious situations—may provide a new instrument for international diplomacy where there is evidence of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes or crimes against humanity. However, we need to know from the Government how that is to be implemented. In the case of North Korea, Professor Muntarbhorn accepts that the empirical evidence of the regime’s involvement in crimes against humanity was well documented in a report launched on 30 October at a meeting in your Lordships' House that was sponsored by the All-Party Group on North Korea, which I chair. That report, Failure to Protect: a call for the UN Security Council to act in North Korea, was commissioned by Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former Norwegian prime minister. Mr Bondevik addressed our meeting.
The view of that troika was endorsed last Friday by the General Assembly of the United Nations when it passed its second resolution on North Korea. With the welcome support of the Republic of Korea, the General Assembly voted 91 in favour, 21 against with 60 abstentions. The General Assembly called for North Korea to reassess its refusal to recognise the mandate of the special rapporteur. It condemned the morass of allegations and the evidence of the use of torture, degrading treatment, public executions, prison camps, forced labour, people’s tribunals and the absence of due process. It drew attention to the,
“all-pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association”,
the terrible plight of refugees and the restrictions on travel and the freedom of movement. It detailed the precarious humanitarian situation; the continuing violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly those of women forced into marriage and abortion; the infanticide of children of repatriated mothers, the abduction of foreigners and enforced disappearances.
There is every indication that the secretary-general elect, Mr Ban Ki-moon, an accomplished and respected Korean diplomat, wants to use the United Nations mechanisms to improve substantially the human rights situation in North Korea. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us what consideration is being given to how best we can help Mr Ki-moon in that process. For instance, will the welcome renewal of the six-party talks on security issues be extended to form what Professor Muntarbhorn called a “comprehensive package”, also making reference to the human rights situation? Do the Government see merit in the Bondevik-Havel-Wiesel proposal that Chapter 6 powers should be invoked, allowing the Security Council to consider the situation without having to take the full gamut of measures required in Chapter 7?
Given that the Republic of Korea and China are desperate that there should not be a complete collapse of the DPRK, with all the humanitarian and refugee issues that would arise, will the Minister say how we intend to encourage China—a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford—to use its extensive leverage, not least through its control of North Korea’s petrol and electricity, to deter further nuclear proliferation and to avert these crimes against humanity? Meanwhile, China is itself in flagrant violation of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in repatriating them to a country where they will face severe punishment, torture, and even execution.
On North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons, how effective does the Minister believe the current sanctions against North Korea really are? Is he confident that the international community will be able to block the seepage of nuclear materials and technology to third countries and to terrorist organisations? What is the current situation with regard to the food aid so desperately needed in North Korea? Is it the case, for instance, that funds for the World Food Programme for North Korea are down from £6 million to £1.9 million, and that only 10 per cent of the needed funds have come in from 30 countries out of 200? Although, in the light of the current circumstances, the attitude of the international community is understandable, will the Minister reiterate that food aid should not be conditional?
Professor Muntarbhorn flagged up one other issue—the future of UN special rapporteurs. Given their effectiveness in exposing the situation in countries such as Burma and North Korea, what will our diplomats be doing to defeat moves in the new United Nations Human Rights Council to abolish the more than 10 country-specific special rapporteurs?
North Korea is the latest test of our frayed international structures. It will be among the United Nations’ great moral challenges in the coming years. Let us hope that we do better than we have done in Darfur. Since travelling to Sudan in 2001 and Darfur in 2004, I have raised the situation there on countless occasions. In 2004, an estimated 50,000 people had died. Today, the dead number between 200,000 and 400,000. Two million people have been displaced and 90 per cent of the villages have been razed to the ground. Most of the 16 recommendations in my 2004 report, including the naming of the genocide for what it is, remain to be acted on.
In the light of the leading role that Her Majesty’s Government played in securing Security Council Resolution 1706, will the Minister spell out for us tonight why there is not now to be a UN force, and what will be the composition of the proposed African Union/United Nations hybrid force? What will be the respective proportions? How many troops will be deployed? Will that include western personnel? Under whose command and control will it operate? What will be its mandate? When will the targeted sanctions agreed under Security Council Resolution 1591 be enforced? How will we respond to the call in August of the International Crisis Group for the targeting of the economic assets of Khartoum, its security agencies and its fraudulent charities, and to the widespread calls for divestment in Sudan? What progress is being made in disarming the Janjaweed militia?
To conclude, Darfur is a textbook example of what happens when a Government declare war on their own people. As untold thousands have been raped, tortured, terrorised and killed, it has been a test of the determination of the international community to implement its doctrine of “the duty to protect”. Yet, as recently as Wednesday last, the head of United Nations humanitarian operations, Jan Egeland, was told on arriving in Khartoum that the vice-president of Sudan would not meet him and that he would not be permitted to travel to any of his proposed destinations in Darfur outside the state capitals.
We flatter ourselves if we think that regimes like this will act for the benefit of their own citizens. That is never their consideration. Their aim, rather, is to perpetuate their grip on power and to ensure that their ideological aims are implemented. We consistently fail to grasp the true nature of regimes such as those in Sudan and North Korea, and they generally outwit us. Abasement and appeasement in dealing with their defiance will not strengthen the UN as it faces other equally desperate situations.
We all need to ask ourselves the question, when all the bodies have been buried in Darfur, how will history judge us? How will history judge the effectiveness of our international institutions? And would it not be better not to use sententious and earnest rhetoric, such as “the duty to protect”, if we are unwilling or unable to make a reality of the high-minded words? Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great UN secretary-generals, said that the UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell. That should remain its objective in Darfur and North Korea.
My Lords, I want to place on record that I consider that, in many ways, my noble friend Lord Drayson is a much better defence procurement Minister than I could ever aspire to be—I emphasise in many ways, not in every way, but I am still happy to give him that tribute for a start, because I shall say something rude about his speech in a moment. I congratulate him on the way in which he has got a grip on the defence industrial strategy. I know that he has worked extremely hard and is very highly thought of at the Ministry of Defence. However, one passage in his speech struck me as a little bizarre. I heard him say that he wanted to urge the EU to co-operate more with NATO. The only members of NATO who are not in the EU are the United States, Canada, Norway and Iceland, to my knowledge. What he is urging the EU to do I am not quite clear. He might go back to his speechwriters to remind them that quite a few members of the EU are not in NATO in any case, so that is a piece of nonsense.
I hope that I did not hear my noble friend correctly when he was talking about the poppy eradication programme, because I had an assurance from the Dispatch Box a few weeks ago that that would be no part of the responsibility of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, who are merely there to ensure good order, and that it was a matter for the Afghan Government whether they proceeded with a poppy eradication programme.
I am deprived of some of my usual targets this evening, I regret to say, because the speeches that I most welcome in your Lordships' House are those that come from the Liberal Democrat Benches, mainly because they are so quaint. I shall proceed, even though the only representative on their Front Bench is the noble Lord, Lord Garden, who talks more sense than the rest of his party put together.
Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that he supported the deployment of the EU's resources at long range. Coming from a spokesman of a party which supports the development of an aeroplane called the A400M rather than have the C-17, that struck me as peculiarly quaint, if I may say so. I want to say just a word about the C-17, because this is a defence debate and I was once a procurement Minister. The C-17 is one of the most magnificent planes that has ever been designed or built and I congratulate my noble friend on the fact that the Ministry of Defence has acquired a fifth one. I very much hope that we will have a sixth one before long; that is not idle talk, because it has been talked about by the MoD for many moons.
I am also delighted that the Australians have decided to buy the C-17, as have the Canadians. As my noble friend will be aware, there is a very interesting development. I cite the 18 September issue of DefenseNews, which states that
“Thirteen NATO allies are banding together with the intent”—
there is a split definitive here, I fear—
“to collectively purchase C-17 transport aircraft to help the alliance fill its strategic airlift deficit”.
What is interesting about that is that the countries signing the letter of intent are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States.
As far as I can see, the only members of NATO who will not have access to the C-17 are the Spaniards, the Germans, the French and, possibly, the Portuguese, who are all stuck with the A400M programme. Is it not a sad reflection that our major NATO allies in Europe will be deprived of access to what is, in my view, the only serious strategic transport aircraft? As I have said before, I very much hope that Her Majesty’s Government will see a way of releasing resources from the defence budget by coming out of the A400M programme themselves now that BAE Systems has sold its shares in Airbus and no longer has any serious interest in the success of that venture.
Unfortunately the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is not in her seat, although I did tell her that I was going to say something nice about her later this evening. It may surprise your Lordships to know that I agreed very much with what she said about cluster bombs. I think they are a weapon that should be used only in the most restricted of circumstances. I was appalled at the use the Israelis made of them in Lebanon, but I still think they are a legitimate weapon of war. I have always thought of them as an airfield-denial weapon and not as a weapon to be used in civilian areas. I say that as someone who stood up in your Lordships’ House and defended the use of landmines.
The noble Baroness also said that we must have a debate on the Trident programme. I can imagine nothing more boring than a debate on that programme because the decision on Trident has already been taken. Everyone knows that. It was actually taken in Paris, not in London. Can anyone in your Lordships’ House imagine a British Prime Minister of any cast of mind or political party saying in the House of Commons, “Mr Speaker, I wish the House to know that my Government have decided on mature reflection that the Trident weapon system will serve us in good stead for many, many years, but we now wish to release the resources for it for other purposes, and to that end we will be putting the ultimate defence of our island in the hands of our good friends on the other side of the English Channel”? It beggars belief that any British Prime Minister could say that. He might then add, “I offer our Pakistani citizens the additional reassurance from President Musharraf that their best interests will be served by the Islamic bomb”. No British Prime Minister could survive the ridicule that would follow remarks of that sort.
Lastly, I shall say a word about Turkey. The attitude of the international community generally towards Turkey has been disgraceful. The Turks are making enormous efforts to meet the quite proper requirements of the EU on how they handle their social arrangements in Turkey, but it is inexcusable how the international community has discriminated against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus compared with the way in which it handles the Greek republic of south Cyprus. I am so glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has just arrived in the Chamber. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Garden, will tell her all the nice things I have been saying about her. That is the last thing that I wanted to say. I thank noble Lords for their attention.
My Lords, I often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert; I certainly agree with his praise of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and his comments about Turkey. However, if there is one department of government in which I could never find myself it would be the one concerned with defence procurement. My comments are therefore on a different set of issues and follow the very important things said by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the fact that this has turned to a considerable extent into a debate about Iraq. I am very much a bystander on Iraq. All one can do at this point is to hope that attempts to prevent a swing from tyranny to anarchy and possibly back to new kinds of tyranny will be successful. However, this is the time to think about what went wrong and what might be done to avoid such mistakes in the future. I say that as one who still believes that intervention to bring about regime change can be justified. If we want to live in a world of liberty under law, we cannot tolerate vicious regimes which practise murderous oppression at home and threaten those around them with aggression. The Westphalian era of letting states do what they want within their borders is over. It is no accident that the doctrine of non-interference is today preached primarily by dictatorships from North Korea to Zimbabwe.
Action to bring about regime change has to be multilateral. The only universal organisation we have for this purpose is the United Nations. It would have been preferable if more of the recommendations for reform by the high-level group had been adopted, but it is good to learn from the gracious Speech that the Government will contribute to a modern and inclusive United Nations. Inclusiveness is of course both the strength and the weakness of the United Nations. We may have to live with the fact that the wheeling and dealing about necessary resolutions is not edifying, but when it comes to matters of principle, such acquiescence is not easy. It is particularly difficult to accept that those who systematically violate liberty under law sit in judgment over others.
This is relevant to the lessons from the Iraq debacle, of which two seem particularly important. One is that there has to be a clear and precise analysis of the causes for intervention. This should not be a negotiated analysis, but one that identifies violations of enlightened values, many of which are embodied in the UN charter and can be further identified with the incorruptibility and persuasiveness which the International Atomic Energy Agency displays in its field. The other lesson to learn is to take a considered approach to the institutional changes needed in the country at issue: what needs to be done and how. Something like the Copenhagen criteria of the European Union may serve as a model for applying the principles of the constitution of liberty under varying and always specific historic and cultural circumstances.
There is at this time no organisation or even arrangement to achieve these ends. NATO is regional and primarily military in culture. The Council of Europe is also regional and has been somewhat generous in interpreting the values of its foundation. This is true also of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I have in mind the political equivalent of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in economic matters, a universal though not inclusive arrangement to bring together those committed to liberty under law, a sort of organisation for political co-operation and development, an OPCD, as it were.
In this connection I was interested in an article published in the Guardian on 9 November by Timothy Garton-Ash endorsing a report by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University entitled Forging a World of Liberty Under Law. The report recommends what it calls a “concert of democracy”.
One great risk of the experience of Iraq is that those involved, and indeed the bystanders, conclude that withdrawal and protection are the best way to go. This danger must be avoided if we do not want lawlessness and lack of liberty to prevail. The way to achieve this is not to return to unilateral action or even to bypass existing organisations, but to add to them the powerful voice of those who realise that liberty under law needs active defence. Formalised or not, we need to bring the democracies of the world together to reach a common understanding of reasons for intervention and methods for making regime change effective.
My Lords, it will come as no surprise that I would like to press the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on an issue that I have raised in the defence debates following the Queen’s Speeches in 2004 and 2005: aircraft carriers. While I am delighted that the Minister has frequently reiterated the Government’s unflinching support for the projected two new aircraft carriers, I am frustrated—although, sadly, not surprised—that I cannot congratulate him on the start of their construction, let alone anything else.
In May last year my questions about press reports that the Main Gate date was slipping into 2006 went unanswered, yet 18 months later we still have no date. Indeed, the Daily Telegraph reported at the start of this month that there are risks of even further slippage due to,
“continuing disagreements between the industry and the MOD over rising costs”.
That is a debate in itself, considering that the initial estimate was between £2.8 billion and £3 billion and we are now looking at a figure closer to £3.8 billion.
I fully accept the desirability of maximising the de-risking process within the carrier project but the MoD’s management has been disappointing. The creation of this alliance, followed by the award of a physical integrator contract to KBR, has revealed a constantly shifting strategy. Has the de-risking process now been accomplished? Can the Minister inform the House of the outcome of the alleged discussions with the industry at the start of this month? How is the component costing and consequent business case for the project proceeding? Will he now give a firm date for Main Gate, as there appears to be a chicken and egg situation, with each side waiting for the other to move first? Perhaps the Government, as the customer, should get on and place an order and rely on the industry to make its own arrangements for how and where the various modules of both vessels are to be produced. It seems to me that, once the Government and industry have sight of the workload in future years, the review of the shipyard situation can be also successfully concluded.
Linked to the cost debate, I hope the Minister can offer me greater clarity on the role of the French. We welcome their desire to take advantage of the extensive design work undertaken in the UK but we remain concerned that, given the pressures on the budget, Her Majesty’s Government may suddenly announce that they will share the two carriers between the UK and France, consistent with the Le Touquet declaration of 2003. Will the Minister give an undertaking that this will not happen?
I reiterate our belief that the “Queen Elizabeth” and “Prince of Wales” will eventually be ships of which we will be enormously proud. They are essential if the Royal Navy is to continue to carry out its remit, and will be the nucleus of a very formidable fighting force capable of projecting military power and peace-keeping anywhere in the world. However, the abandonment of the original proposed in-service dates of 2012 and 2015 respectively leaves us with a very serious capability gap. Without the right kind of Sea Harriers, the Invincible class will require another nation to provide air defence. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with other nations, such as the USA, about the provision of air defence should the situation arise?
In the debate of 19 May, I asked whether the Joint Strike Fighter in-service date will coincide with the arrival of the first of the carriers, stating that the weight problem appeared to have been solved. Unfortunately, the outstanding issue still appears to be the ongoing lack of agreement on the supply of technology which will allow British contractors to maintain and upgrade the aircraft. If this is not sorted out, it is self-evident that this aircraft will be useless to us.
Does the new political scenario in the US affect this? Could the Minister update us? If there seems to be no solution to the problem, what is the Government’s plan B? Will the carriers be capable of being converted to take non-short-take-off and vertical-landing aircraft? It is possible that the whole future of the carrier programme will depend on the good will of the new US Congress. Up to now, the Government have been very consistent in their support for the project. Can we be assured once again that that support is still in place?
I am conscious of the workings of these debates, and ask the Minister to undertake only to write to me in answer to any questions that he cannot respond to today.
My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot take part in the defence procurement debate. However, I agree strongly with the many speakers today who have said that the conflict of Israel and Palestine, with its overspill into Lebanon, holds the key to world peace. I therefore welcome the emphasis on this in the gracious Speech and in part, at least, of what the Prime Minister said recently at the Mansion House.
It is in the interests of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and people, the Arab states and the rest of the world to bring military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to an end and to work for long-term resolution. The economic development of the whole Middle East, including, for example, Gaza’s offshore gas, is held back by instability and excessive military spending. I heard, as some of your Lordships may have done, the king of Jordan speaking earlier this month in this Palace and saying that progress towards peace was crucial in the coming six months. If stagnation continued, he indicated, his country faced being surrounded by civil wars in Lebanon and the West Bank, as well as in Iraq. That is one especially acute local perception. The wider world interest is to make progress to remedy a situation which gives a pretext for action to every violent jihadist, wherever he or she may live. The difficult part is to get down to the details and make progress on particular points.
I should like to emphasise the helpful role of Egypt and Jordan. They could form a mini quartet, working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I wish to underline the importance of confidence-building measures. The most obvious starting point concerns prisoners and detainees. Generous moves by Israel on releasing women and children, old, sick and long-serving prisoners, would provide strong incentives to the organisations now holding a handful of Israeli military prisoners. There are also the detained Hamas MPs and, of course, the Gaza crossing points of Karni, Rafah and Erez. Unless these are open, Gaza is just a fenced-in prison.
There are also the foreign passport holders and the foreign spouses, all of them resident in the occupied Palestinian territories. These people are providing employment and developing the battered economy. Regularising their position would help prevent those territories sliding still further in the direction of Somalia. Releasing customs and VAT money would also make a huge contribution to stability.
The biggest confidence-building measure of all may well be a hudna, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. It is important that everyone understands the full meaning and significance of this word. As long ago as the 14th century, Ibn al-Mansur defined haadana as meaning “he made peace”. Hudna is the noun which derives from this verb. It can mean more than just “ceasefire”. In 2001, an Israeli businessman proposed that the concept be applied to the affairs of his region. In 2003, Hamas and Islamic Jihad unilaterally declared a 45-day hudna. In January 2004, a senior Hamas leader, since killed, offered a 10-year hudna in return for complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
More recently, there has been talk of a 10-year hudna to allow for negotiation of issues arising from 1967 onwards, to be followed by a much more long-term hudna for negotiation of post-1948 issues. Such thinking deserves very serious consideration, since it comes from Hamas, whose acronym means also “zeal”, and stems from the Muslim Brotherhood. If a hudna of whatever length were backed up by a religious fatwa, it would have a strong, binding moral force. The history of hudnas among Muslim peoples shows that they are very seldom broken and that they imply an obligation to negotiate, therefore giving at least de facto recognition of the enemy or opponent. A note to me from your Lordships’ Library states that a hudna obliges the parties to seek permanent, non-violent resolution of their differences. It would be ideal if the other significant militant groups could be associated with Hamas in a hudna.
I conclude that it is no longer sufficient or satisfactory just to say “Everyone must get back to the road map”. Too much has happened since that was first proposed. What is needed is maximum diplomatic effort to achieve ceasefires and an early start to negotiations on the most urgent issues. Will Her Majesty's Government initiate this, working with the European Union, the Arab League and the United Nations to persuade the United States and Israel? These two states are the most capable of starting helpful movement. Neutral states, including the Vatican diplomatic service, should be involved, too. Diplomatic effort should be backed up by inter-religious dialogue, in particular among the great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Both Israel and Palestine have large diasporas which can play a constructive part. Despite the difficulties, religious and civil dialogue across the existing barriers and boundaries is urgently needed.
I look forward to the Government's reply; first and foremost, on the diplomatic effort required, and, secondly, on the use of the economic and other incentives that we and our European Union partners already possess.
My Lords, I am grateful to be given this opportunity to raise a matter that is of great urgency and importance. I was, unfortunately, unable to be in the House at the start of the debate, due to rail delays.
Much good intention and good will is directed towards Rwanda. In that connection, I pay tribute to the work of this Government, the Rwanda Government and to many other organisations. I shall single out one—SURF—a charity for the survivors of the genocide, of which I am proud to be a patron.
Rwanda has been through a trauma of enormous proportions but, somehow, it has to find a way forward, which has to be through reconciliation and justice. As President Kagame, the president of Rwanda, said:
“For the sake of the nation, we have no alternative”.
Today I am here to speak for the survivors. Our Government to their credit are funding the initiative for reconciliation, called “gacaca”, but it is proving difficult. Gacaca involves perpetrators, of which there are 100,000 in prison, facing up to victims and relatives to own up to their crimes and by this process gain release. But not everyone has genuine remorse or, indeed, owns up to everything—and witnesses are being attacked and, in some cases, killed.
So what needs to be done? Gacaca does not allow for a witness protection programme. Survivors are being intimidated and threatened and there is an urgent need for a protection programme to be put in place. Also, once released, perpetrators are threatening and attacking with impunity the very people who have been victims already. There is a need for sanctions and re-arrest for such offenders.
A violence-free, stable and peaceful society needs to be created in Rwanda, but that is now at risk. I know that the two Governments are aware of those concerns but the situation is difficult and urgent and action is desperately needed.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate with a number of common themes: the centrality of the Middle East peace process, the despair over Iraq, questions over British foreign policy and the wish for Europe to do more have been recurrent issues. We have been fortunate to have four outstanding maiden speeches from noble Lords, Lord Patel, Lord Leach, Lord Browne and Lord Jay. Your Lordships' House will be further strengthened by the addition of their different worlds of expertise.
I start with Iraq—the “disruptive epicentre”, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, described it, because it is the most difficult and urgent foreign and defence policy issue facing Britain. Few of us, when we opposed the 2003 intervention, imagined the strategic incompetence which has followed over three and a half years. We have tried to offer constructive ways forward at each turn of the screw. Internationalising and engaging regional powers is not a new idea. It would have been easier if done in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, or even a year later, but now it is much more difficult. As my noble friend Lord Chidgey said, there are few incentives for Iran to dig the United States out of its hole. Indeed, the mixed messages to Iran from Mr Bush and Mr Blair over the past week can have done little to make Iran feel that the approaches are serious in any case. But, as my noble friend Lord Ashdown argued, we must try to engage all the neighbouring states.
We do not know whether the United States is thinking of ramping up the number of its troops or drawing it down. The president, in the wake of Mr Rumsfeld's departure, seems to have three different study groups to advise him. I will not even ask the Minister what the UK Government’s position is, because it is of absolutely no relevance. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire explained, we know that Downing Street will wait to be told what to do by the White House. If America says “stay”, we stay; if America says “go”, we go. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, was right when he said foreign policy is in limbo.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, graphically described the tragedy of Iraq. Transparency International has reported that Iraq has slipped this year to 160 out of 163 in the list of corrupt states in the world. Government agencies now kidnap, torture and murder other government employees. The United States has put no serious funding forward for next year for aid and reconstruction. The situation with the electricity, water, and sewage infrastructure remains desperate. The Government remit in Iraq operates little beyond the Green Zone. Despite many noble Lords speaking against it, partition is now in effect being arranged on the ground. Our own Chief of the General Staff wonders whether we are doing more harm than good.
Our other major operational commitment is in Afghanistan. My noble friend Lady Northover described the problems of reconstruction. At the same time the head of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, General Maples, told a congressional hearing last week,
“Violence this year is likely to be twice as high as the violence level seen in 2005... In 2007, insurgents are likely to sustain their use of more visible, aggressive and lethal tactics”.
We have seen that in the casualties sustained by our own forces and our allies in recent months. I trust the Minister will update us on the UK intelligence assessment of the outlook for the next year and whether we can still expect a draw-down of UK personnel in Afghanistan when our headquarters function is handed over in the spring.
We have touched on other important areas of conflict and potential conflict during this debate. My noble friend Lord Ashdown reminded us of unfinished business in the Balkans. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, reminded us of Africa and the problems there. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, focused on the continuing tragedy of Darfur. Do the Government support the establishment of a no-fly zone there as one possible answer? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester also reminded us of the possibility of conflict again in the DRC.
Many noble Lords reminded us of the other unresolved key issue: Israel and its neighbours. The events in Lebanon have not made the region more secure, and the task for peacekeepers is not an easy one. My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby described the terrible plight of the Palestinians in Gaza. Tensions are rising, and the rumours of large-scale Israeli military action in Gaza in the near future must add to our concerns.
I find it depressing that the United Kingdom is now seen as so flawed in its foreign policy that France, Spain and Italy did not even feel it necessary to inform the FCO of their new peace initiative. In this area we would do well to heed the view of my noble friend Lady Northover and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, that we need to be prepared to talk with Hamas and Hezbollah.
This debate has been a bleak litany of global security problems. As the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, said, hope is in short supply. The gracious Speech singled out concerns over North Korea and Iran. The North Korean nuclear test and the continuing concerns about the Iranian direction in their nuclear programme both indicate a need to re-energise the international non-proliferation regime. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, argued, the answer will not be through the use of military pre-emptive attack. However, there are still those in the US and in Israel who argue that the situation in Iran may come to require a military solution. I trust that the United Kingdom will not support such a strategy, which would serve only to destabilise the region further and deepen the divide between the West and the Islamic world.
The gracious Speech was strong on domestic security issues, but light on defence policy. However, it said that the Government would work to strengthen NATO. The alliance is holding a summit in Riga at the end of the month. With my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I shall look forward to hearing what the United Kingdom Government expect to achieve at this summit, in their new quest to strengthen NATO. Certainly it will not be about a new strategic concept, much overdue though that may be, or even about further enlargement. I imagine there will be a celebration of the operational status of the 20,000-strong NATO response force, although that sits slightly oddly with NATO’s inability to provide 2,000 troops to bolster forces in Afghanistan. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, talked about the importance of NATO and EU co-operation, which provoked a little murmur of excitement from the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. I hope we will also hear how the continuing difficulties between the EU and NATO are to be resolved.
I want to focus on the problem that we have in sustaining our Armed Forces for the future to meet all the challenges that we have been talking about, and others, such as the humanitarian assistance needs of which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, reminded us. We had a very useful debate on the defence industrial strategy on 17 October, and for that reason I shall not dwell on equipment issues, but I support the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Luke, raised on various equipment issues. I will instead highlight our real concerns about the people who serve us so loyally and courageously in the Armed Forces.
In Answers, Ministers always assure us that the Armed Forces are stretched but not overstretched. Yet the Chief of the General Staff has warned us of the risk of breaking the Army. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, thought that the Minister was overoptimistic on this, and I agree. On 1 November, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, told us not to worry because soldiers’ morale was up by 14 per cent since April of this year. That provoked a number of exchanges about spin and a subsequent letter to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, in which the Minister corrected his figure from a 14 per cent to a 16.7 per cent increase in morale. In fact, I have examined the relevant attitude surveys from which the data were gathered, and it is clear that at the 95 per cent confidence level the difference between the two results may be as small as 2 per cent. I am quite happy to exchange my calculations with the Minister. How much more honest it would have been to say that the latest survey—these very figures—shows that only half the soldiers reported their morale as high or very high. That is the proper figure that we need to know.
These attitude surveys paint a detailed picture of sentiment in the three services. They show, for example, that more than a third of respondents in the Army do not feel valued by the Army. That confirms the view of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, that the services feel that they are being taken for granted.
That brings me to the report of 3 November by the National Audit Office on recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. The newspaper headlines following the publication of the report focused on the 5,170 shortfall between the requirement and the trained strength for all three services. However, that figure is a gross understatement of the scale of the problem. The report also shows that every year, without respite,
“the armed forces have consistently operated at or above the most demanding combination of operations envisaged by the defence planning assumptions”.
The chart it shows goes back to 2001, but the problem is older than that. These assumptions are clearly wrong, and this means that the defence programme is based on assumptions that are wrong and have been wrong for at least the past six years. No wonder we are short of people, that harmony guidelines are broken, that there are—as the NAO reports—88 operational pinch points, that logistic support is fraught with difficulty and that equipment is showing its age. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, to pin up the NAO chart in his office and use it to argue for a recasting of the defence planning assumptions to reflect reality rather than hopeless optimism.
Although personnel issues are not part of the portfolio of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, he perhaps needs to look at his equipment programme as a complete system. He procures extraordinarily expensive capabilities, each and every one of which needs specialist trained personnel to operate them. The National Audit Office survey of pinch-point trades reports that 60 per cent cited dissatisfaction with inadequate resources to do the job, and 45 per cent of our Armed Forces in these trades cited dissatisfaction over the quality of their equipment, both of which are in the Minister’s area of responsibility.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to just two of the 11 case studies by the NAO. One is naval and the other is air force, as our debate has been, as always perhaps, predominantly army-centric. The first is on Royal Navy nuclear watchkeepers. At April 2006, there was a shortfall of 29 per cent in this category. This is the specialisation essential to the operation of our nuclear-powered submarines—we have no other sort of submarine. They take years to train and gain sufficient experience at more junior levels at sea. The NAO report shows how the problem can be tracked back to recruitment and redundancy following Options for Change in the early 1990s. The situation cannot be recovered before 2014—and that is if everything goes well. At the same time, we are procuring expensive Astute submarines that will depend on having enough of those people.
Similarly, in the Air Force, the Nimrod R1 is a key intelligence-gathering platform, but it needs enough linguists in the air. Their strength in April was just 35, a 50 per cent shortfall. The NAO demonstrates that only because those people are continuously working twice as hard as they should be in very difficult circumstances do we manage to sustain operational capability
There are no easy answers to these manning problems. We are, however, seeing a progressive reduction in the effectiveness of our Armed Forces as a result. In some cases, money cannot buy experience, time is also needed; but if the money is not available to support the level of tasking which has now become normal, some difficult decisions need to be taken about how to reduce the number of commitments. We have talked about the large commitments in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But whatever the geopolitical arguments, the manpower problems of the Armed Forces are not sustainable in the long term if we continue our current commitments. If we do not match our commitments more closely to our force size, we may find that we have an equipment programme that is buying capabilities that we shall not be able to use because the experienced specialists needed have left for a better life elsewhere.
The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, in his opening speech reminded us of what we owe the members of the Armed Forces and paid tribute to them. From these Benches we also pay tribute, particularly to those who have died in the service of their country. But, after today’s debate the Government need to reflect on the strength of feeling around the House and make sure that these are not just fine words to be said on Remembrance Sunday.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord King started his excellent speech by drawing attention to the sombre atmosphere in which this debate has taken place. I am still reeling from listening to some of the most powerful speeches that I have heard since I entered the House. This has been an historic debate, and I do not say that idly. It will make uncomfortable reading for the Prime Minister tomorrow, particularly as few, if any, speakers were prepared to come to the defence of the Government.
My noble friends Lord Howell and Lady Rawlings in characteristically well thought-out speeches have covered important aspects of foreign and European affairs and international development. I shall focus my remarks primarily on defence. It is, after all, the quality and dedication of our Armed Forces in action that give the hard edge of realism to the policies that, so the gracious Speech tells us, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to pursue. I pay tribute also to the professionalism and bravery of the men and women in our Armed Forces. We on these Benches remember those troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is one notable omission from the gracious Speech—namely, a measure to register and set a framework for regulating private military companies. The groundwork for such a measure has been undertaken. There is wide agreement on the value of a statutory framework; indeed, some of the leading UK security companies have been calling for this. There may be difficulties in precise and effective drafting, but that does not excuse the Government from failing to set about the task, at least in the form of a draft Bill. The future of our nuclear deterrent was also omitted from the gracious Speech but will undoubtedly come up in our proceedings in the new year.
It is not surprising that the recent change in the political balance of the United States and the possibilities of new and, I hope, more successful policy directions there have attracted considerable comment by speakers today—not least because the implications of a policy adjustment by the US will relate directly to the continuing deployment of our Armed Forces in Iraq. We all understand something of the key part that the committees of both houses of the US Congress, particularly their chairmen, play in developing and applying policies. Noble Lords may well feel that time and effort on the part of Members of this House in establishing cordial personal relationships with incoming chairmen, particularly of the Senate committees, will be of real assistance in refurbishing Anglo-American understanding. The future of the British participation in the Joint Strike Fighter project may well rest in the hands of incoming chairmen. I wonder whether the Minister could touch briefly on the JSF. I understand that the first flight will take place some time before the end of the year.
Like other noble Lords, I congratulate the maiden speakers on four really excellent speeches. I refer to the noble Lords, Lord Patel of Bradford, Lord Browne of Belmont and Lord Jay of Ewelme, and to my noble friend Lord Leach of Fairford. I very much look forward to hearing them again on numerous occasions in the House.
Mention of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, leads me to foreign affairs. Time does not allow me to refer to all speakers, but a quick global tour d’horizon reveals issues requiring attention including the Middle East and the Gulf, which were addressed by many noble Lords who have a great deal of concern about our strategy in that region. My noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, talked about Syria. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, stressed the importance of serious diplomatic engagement with Syria, Iran and Lebanon and the hope that the Prime Minister will drop his personalised diplomacy and leave it to the professional diplomats. I shall read the noble Lord’s speech tomorrow with very great interest.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, spoke of Argentina and offered the Government some consolation: warm praise for their Gibraltar policy. My noble friend Lord Patten asked which Minister is responsible for policy on cruise liners. I await that answer with great interest. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke eloquently of Darfur and North Korea. I commend him for his very hard work to help the downtrodden in that totalitarian state.
Our relations with the EU were covered by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Leach, who made an eloquent maiden speech. NATO, the Riga summit and the United Nations—the last covered in detail—were discussed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. We on these Benches welcome the new Secretary-General of the UN and wish him every success in office. He has a demanding agenda, not least in the preparations for reconstructing the organisation’s headquarters and strengthening its ability to intervene quickly and effectively wherever its supranational authority is properly required. The Commonwealth was mentioned—I share the support of my noble friend Lord Howell—as were the FCO and Britain’s place in the world. I listened very carefully and with great interest to the point that my noble and learned friend Lord Howe made about the perception of the FCO. My noble friends Lady Hooper and Lord Patten mentioned the downgrading of many of our embassies abroad. My noble friend Lady Rawlings pointed out how much larger the DfID budget is than that of the FCO.
Iraq was covered by the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Ashdown, and, in a very powerful speech, by my noble friend Lord Hurd. That speech encapsulated what many other noble Lords said today, and it should be required reading. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke optimistically of the Kurdistan region of Iraq and the lack of a British presence there. My noble friend Lord Selsdon spoke of the terrible loss of life in Iraq.
The DRC was covered by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and Rwanda by the noble Lord, Lord Cotter. Turkey was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Maginnis and Lord Gilbert, and Iran was discussed by my noble friend Lord Lamont. Interestingly, Burma and Zimbabwe were not mentioned. I particularly missed hearing another powerful speech by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, who was unable to be here tonight.
All assumptions made a year or so ago by the Government on Afghanistan were at the optimistic end of the spectrum. The warnings, which I remind the House were uttered from these Benches and by my colleagues in another place, were brushed aside. The conflict has been out of all proportion to that promised by Ministers when they announced the deployment. In Afghanistan, troops have been engaged in the hardest sustained fighting since the Korean War, with a steady stream of casualties and many instances of real heroism.
We must not fail in Afghanistan. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said that we have failed in Iraq. To lose Afghanistan, too, would look like carelessness. The consequences of any failure will be felt on our own doorstep in the equally lethal forms of increased heroin supply and increased domestic terrorism. Can the Minister assure the House that commanders in Afghanistan will get what they have requested, including more men and armour, and heavy armour if that is what they require?
Visible, practical reconstruction on the ground is essential if we are ever going to convince people that the UK’s intervention was beneficial. We were told that this was a reconstruction force—serious warfare was not anticipated. Are the local population any better off than they were? They have seen troops in place for five years, but they have seen little or no improvement in even the most basic facilities. Returning members of the Armed Forces are very critical of DfID, which they say is only interested in reconstruction in a zero-risk environment.
Let me turn back to the what-do-we-do-next questions of Afghanistan and Iraq. At the heart of our difficulties lies the fact that the Government have committed the nation’s Armed Forces to a two-front war without adequate forethought and without allocating—or possessing—the resources needed to sustain them. The House has heard about this from my noble friend Lord King and from the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall, Lord Inge and Lord Guthrie.
When we send our brave men and women to fight on our behalf we owe them a fair, transparent mission objective, the best kit, the right budget and complete support before, during and after combat. But British troops are having their lives put at risk by ageing or inadequate equipment. Drastic further cost-cutting measures are now being forced on them by the Government amid fears that defence spending is running out of control. That has resulted in the cancellation of critical military exercises in Kenya and Canada. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, was right to point out the importance of training to our Armed Forces. My noble friends Lord King and Lord Lyell drew attention to the importance of family life and up-to-date barracks.
Over the past year, I have had the privilege of meeting many soldiers who were returning from Iraq. One issue that always comes up is the shocking delays and unreliability of the air bridge to Iraq. As the House of Commons Defence Committee said, it is unacceptable that service men and women—many of whom are serving greatly in excess of harmony guidelines—should have their leave disrupted by the MoD’s inability to provide a reliable air bridge. I have raised this issue before. I am aware that it is not always the fault of the RAF, which has to operate some really antiquated aircraft—there are younger aircraft in the RAF and Imperial War Museums. Once again, I ask the Minister to look into this issue, which is important to thousands of service men and women, and to write to me, placing a copy in the Library.
We have followed with profound interest and a certain amount of approval all that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, has said about a defence industrial strategy. This has implications of the most profound importance for the longer term, but it does not take sufficiently into account the immediate problems.
Turning to the Royal Navy, my noble friend, Lord Luke, mentioned the delay in the commencement of the carriers, and I look forward to some assurance on this point from the Minister. Maybe he can say something about the Type 45 destroyers. Does the commitment for eight still stand? The Royal Navy will become ever more important for energy security. We receive most of our crude oil by sea, and we will become increasingly dependent on open sea lines for imports of LNG.
Can the Minister tell the House something of the progress with the future strategic tanker aircraft, which is so important for the Royal Air Force? I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, on the C17.
With the exception of the last century’s two world wars, our Armed Forces have never in modern times been so stretched and so hard worked as under this Labour Government. We cannot continue indefinitely with the level of overstretch and the inadequacy of equipment. We cannot go on attempting to fight extended conflicts in distant theatres by relying on reservists to plug gaps in the Regular Forces. I join the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, in paying tribute to our Reserve Forces.
The Government must decide whether to increase the resources to match our commitments or to reduce our commitments to match those resources. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said, we cannot carry on muddling through. The manner in which this Government seek to meet the challenges, which they properly recognise, places at risk the quality and morale of their essential agents—our Armed Forces.
My Lords, today’s debate illustrates most vividly the extraordinary complexity and interdependence of the international challenges that we face. Foreign policy has always been central to our defence of our security, to the protection of our interests and the growth in our prosperity, and it is so today.
There has never been a greater need to work with friends, allies and partners to promote our shared values against those who would destroy them. Working with friends demands constancy in hard times as well as in good times.
I applaud the analysis by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, of our location in our alliances and his understanding of our interdependence with allies. It demands a mature not a capricious stance with key allies, including the United States, even when discussing differences as critical friends with them. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, was right when he said that we need to engage with the new personalities on the Hill to make that effective. It demands engagement with the mainstream of European politics and not flirtations with some of its extreme right-wing fragments. The tougher the world, the truer this is.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was consistent in his pessimism, and a good deal of the House has joined him in that. The United States relationship is not shallow, as he knows, and I do not think that it would be right to describe our work with Europe as a flop.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Drayson for setting out the interlinked issues in foreign policy, defence and international development—the challenges that we face today—and the strategies available to tackle them. He also described some of our progress. I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their remarkable insights and analysis during this debate. It would be unfair to pick out one established Member over another, but the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, as ever gave some surprising insights.
I join others in congratulating the noble Lords, Lord Patel, Lord Leach, Lord Browne and Lord Jay, on their outstanding maiden speeches, which are surely just the trailer for what they will give to this House in the future. However, throughout the debate, I wholly disagreed with the analysis of foreign policy as being in a vacuum, or of our interdependence on others being a liability. I hope that I can demonstrate that.
Where are we now? In our debate in May 2005, the United Kingdom was some months into the G8 presidency and about to start the presidency of the EU. Within weeks I had attended the African Union summit and then had the good fortune to be at Gleneagles. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, whose speech enriched today’s debate, played a central role in the build for Gleneagles and the event itself. The theme was to bind the world together in unprecedented solidarity to fight poverty, disease, conflict and poor, corrupt governance. Aid, debt relief and African commitment to better governance were our weapons in this monumental project.
There has been no talk of failure in this by the poorer nations, for whom this project was designed. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, asked us about the humanitarian lead that the country might show. I look immediately to the Commission for Africa, and suggest that we look there for our ambitions for children.
At Gleneagles, as I well recall, we were enthused by the news that London had won the 2012 Olympics—well, perhaps President Chirac was not, but most of the rest of us were. The conference worked with great spirit and to a great cause through to 6 July. On 7 July, the House will recall—indeed, this country will recall—the shock and horror of the devastating bomb attacks in London on people of all creeds. I said then, and I say tonight, that no bomb, no violence, however sickening, has ever forced the people of my home town—of any creed or none—to surrender their freedoms, their way of life or their values; nor would it in any UK city. Not then; not ever.
Whatever our spirit and resilience, however, a lesson came home. International terrorism threatens our security. It is global, even when the murderers are home-grown: vicious sectarian killing, suicide bombing, in Kabul or Kings Cross, has the same aim. So combating terror is our number-one priority. Conflict and violence block the basis for economic and political growth and development. These matters are inextricably linked. No growth: persistent poverty; persistent poverty: renewed conflict. That is why I want to talk about interdependence tonight and to repudiate some of the simplistic nostrums. Pursuing the UK’s interest depends on understanding interdependence.
Our first UK interest is to make the world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Dealing with terrorism is no conventional war. Of course it is right to reach people’s hearts and minds, to learn from them and to express our values to them. For most people—and, let me say in this specific context, for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, I am sure—there are few difficulties in embracing moderation, tolerance and a love of freedom. Most of us choose to respect and admire diversity, to welcome our richer differences rather than infuse them with hatred, division and reaction. Some people do not. That is why it is a conflict, first and foremost, about values. Just as some have committed themselves to wage physical war—on 9/11, 7/7, in Indonesia and Algeria, in Kenya and Madrid, on other Muslims, on Christians, Hindus, Jews, on Arabs and on the West—we must decide what we agree on about our values, and why it is necessary to fight for them.
These developments have crept up on us over a long time, probably at least two generations. I fear, as others in this House do, that we were perhaps not always watchful enough, sometimes not wise enough, as these things developed—too ignorant of the currents in the Islamic world, too prone to see terrorist incidents as isolated rather than grasp a pattern, an emerging strategy among some fanatics. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, eloquently called on us to understand the political patterns in history.
Who understood early enough the meaning of the emergence of the Taliban, or the character of the struggles and atrocities in Chechnya? I just use those as examples. The noble Lord, Lord King, calls on us to use all our knowledge in this context and, of course, that must be right. I shall return to the subject of Israel and Palestine in a moment, but I cannot say that that conflict crept up and surprised us because that would not be true.
A basic truth remains: the United Kingdom did not attack anyone, but we have been attacked. We are entitled to defend ourselves and to work with those in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else who are committed to building democracy. At the heart of this is a battle of ideas and I recognise that, at the heart of the battle of ideas, soft diplomacy is an essential stock-in-trade. I say to the House, especially those noble Lords who, for the best reasons, emphasise hearts and minds in our debates, that the more al-Qaeda and reactionary regimes push back against us, the more we have to deal with the ideas at the root of it all. Their final fight will be for their ideology and for the despotisms that protect it.
How much more difficult it will be if they can do so in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Our tasks are clear, if difficult. The nuclear test in North Korea roused everyone, especially regional neighbours, to insist on renewed talks. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to North Korea in powerful terms. Although the talks are focused on weapons, I hope that they will lead to recognition of the legitimacy of the UN special rapporteur on human rights and of the plight of the starving and political prisoners. China, which is the principal nation of influence in that region and which is becoming a massive force in the world, has a vital role in that. Food aid is never conditional and cannot be. I shall check the point, but I am not aware of a significant diminution of food aid.
In Iran, there must be compliance with Security Council decisions, and the decisions must have real consequences. I do not underestimate the continuing role of diplomacy or deny the right to civil nuclear energy, but I emphasise the need for a resolution in the way we deal with it. Ahmadinejad may sound theatrical when he says that Israel should be wiped off the map, or grotesque when he denies the Holocaust, but we would do well to take him at his word. In that, I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. I do not think that his speeches are for local consumption, but I am not prepared to guess or to take the risk. The UN and the IAEA carry global responsibility.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that our objectives are to deal with non-proliferation, not with regime change. In Darfur, we have been at pains to say that our objectives are humanitarian and not, in the case of President al-Bashir, regime change.
There are tests of immediate security; they are tests of the fundamental health of the non-proliferation treaty. Given the difficulty of distinguishing between peaceful and non-peaceful uranium enrichment, I particularly welcomed the statement made on 26 May by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that:
“The IAEA would oversee an international bank of uranium to ensure a reliable fuel supply for countries utilising nuclear power without the need for everyone to own their own fuel cycle”.
Our task, however complex, is to turn that proposition into reality.
I have touched on instability in that region, but I must say more about Iraq and Afghanistan. I know that many noble Lords believe that we should not be in Iraq. The noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Jopling, made that point very clearly, as did many others. A few noble Lords take the same view about Afghanistan. I recognise that other noble Lords do not regard either step as intrinsically wrong but worry about the length and sustainability of our presence. I do not doubt that there are differing views about military deployment among many former commanders of our forces, but I do not accept that those with current responsibilities have ever said anything that falls on deaf ears with the Government.
On one thing almost all of us can agree. Tonight, just a week after Remembrance weekend, when we stop and pay the deepest tribute to those who died on the side of freedom and democracy, it is right to pay our respects, as we have done in the House this evening, to our forces defending those same values today. Noble and gallant Lords have served, but I have not, and it is hard to grasp the courage required or the harshness of the theatres of conflict. It is also hard to understand what families who endure the inevitable uncertainties go through. They also deserve our profound admiration.
We owe it to everyone to hold on to some facts as we think about that, whatever attitude was taken to military engagement. Let me start with one fact. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that the £100 million is new money.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, we have seen the demand by the citizens facing terrible threats, none the less to strive for democracy. They have chosen constitutions—no doubt imperfect and capable of improvement—and they have elected Governments. Day by day they face those stoking up civil war not by accident but by conscious plan.
I believe that we should listen with greater care than we have done historically to those newly elected leaders. They speak for their countries and their aspirations. They are nobody’s puppets. They believe in democracy and are fighting for it. Their fight is not always, or even frequently, blessed with success, but it is the right fight, fought for the right reason. And they want us to leave when the conditions are right for Iraqis and Afghanis to carry that burden alone.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is certainly right—a federal Iraq must be the best outcome. Rational discussion needs to take place, but it needs conditions of greater stability in order to take place. The international community inevitably must play its role in all this, and it needs to be a process in which the elected Government of the country is not bypassed. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, provided useful information on how one successful part of the region operates. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, expressed the emerging difficulties of engaging Iran on federal and other issues. Plainly, we must get that discussion right, too.
Historically one thing is always true: there is terrible fragility in any state until democracy and democratic values take root. It has been so everywhere. Europe’s own history certainly is characterised that way. Either a nation and its friends commit the time necessary to see democratic institutions and a democratic culture grow, and grow durably, or we resign ourselves to living with the consequences of fragility.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda showed the consequences of this fragility in New York and on many other targets. A Sunni dictator showed it over decades as he attacked and killed at least half a million of his Shia neighbours, eliminating every domestic socialist and trade unionist he could lay his hands on, and he gassed a number of his own people. Gassing his own people takes a very special kind of dictator. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, is wholly right to say that non-intervention is to allow precisely those nations which most resist any kind of influence for democratic purposes to get away with unchecked brutality.
So we will do the job. The job is to get Iraqis and Afghanis to the position where they can do the job. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, expressed his anger at that. I never disagree with the need for self-criticism, but it would not be right to say that the British people have not had the opportunity or capacity to criticise or dismiss the politicians who lie behind the policy, as Americans have recently—a general election took place and it was at the heart of that general election campaign. We had the right to take that decision. We took it. I say to the noble Lord—who is a very distinguished former Foreign Minister, in post I believe very close to the time when Srebrenica broke out—that it is very hard to arrest the complexity of some of these brutal outcomes in any country where there are people who are intent on that kind of mayhem. I hope he recognises that.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, described our responsibilities better than I can. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and others are right when they said that we face risks with whatever course we take. Of course we will always listen to the chiefs of staff. I tell him though that there is evidence of al-Qaeda operating in many other places than where he believes—south-east Asia and east Africa. Possibly for that reason it is more likely to take a generation to deal with it.
The noble Lords, Lord Garden and Lord Astor, asked about Afghanistan. I do not think that I could ever be accused of being over-optimistic. I try not to brush matters aside. I believe that real progress is being made. The beginnings of a democracy are being established. The security situation is becoming more stable, although it is plainly very fragile in the south. The Afghanistan compact provides a vehicle for continued international support for Afghanistan and our commitment remains strong. The legitimate economy is growing. Reconstruction and social development are beginning to move. The challenges are plainly there in security, the rule of law and drugs, but we can see the beginnings of a positive trend. Commanders will get what they need to do the job.
Our second main priority is to prevent and resolve conflict through a strong international system. It is clear that, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said, we need to do that with continuous strategic thinking. At the heart of that, our mission should be to focus on the Middle East peace process. No other long-term conflict so divides the world or fuels mistrust, however cynical are those who may manipulate that mistrust. The centrality of the Middle East peace process has been stressed across this House. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, emphasised it; so did my noble friend Lady Symons when she talked about the Prime Minister's role. I am quite clear that the United States must be involved positively, which may well come about more as a result of the election. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said that we should all avoid language that reinforces the propaganda of the dictators with whom we are trying to deal on occasion. I agree with him.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may have lasted decades with huge suffering among civilians on both sides, but its potential solution is built from relatively clear blocks. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, described it as very complex with no clear line of development—I hope that I am not putting words into his mouth unfairly; I certainly do not intend to. We can become transfixed by complexity and lose sight of some of the relatively clear elements. The Palestinians are entitled to live in a viable, contiguous state with its own secure and democratic institutions. In that state, they should control their own political and economic destiny. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, they will need economic opportunity to drive that forward. The Israelis are entitled to live at peace within their state and in a normal relationship with their neighbours. That means that their neighbours must recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist, cease violence against it and normalise relationships.
Of course, many things can disrupt the two-state solution. Rocketing civilians in their beds at night is intended to reverse any progress. Building a security wall on or annexing and building on other people's land fundamentally disrupts the search for peace. Both sides must respect non-violence and, when they are attacked, the need for proportionality, or they infect each rising generation with the virus of violence. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, called for a robust but honourable criticism of Israel. I understand what she means, but, on occasion, we should also pause to consider the psychology of a people who are subject to rocket attacks in their homes every night.
The Prime Minister has committed us to a push for peace to remove the detonator of wider insecurity. The effort needs all of us—the United States included—to try for dialogue, including dialogue with Iran. I say to colleagues in the House who have made this point that the bones of any peace attempt will include elements of the road map. That is inevitable and the EU is eager to find a Palestinian Government to deal with in finding the two-state solution. The flow of arms to Hamas and Hezbollah is a counter-pressure. For example, whenever the world calls for progress on non-proliferation with Iran, we find that destabilisation, including destabilisation in southern Iraq, is one consequence.
Those are the realities with which we have to deal, and we will have to deal with them by talking. That has become more imperative: talking with Iran and Syria and across the whole region. On that need, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and others. I note the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in such talks. Equally, legitimate international pressure becomes imperative if any state chooses conflict over talking.
Iran is a young nation and, at the same time, an extraordinarily ancient civilisation. Its youngsters have a tradition of intellectual inquisitiveness and are unlikely to be trapped for long by theocracy. That is why I am delighted that the BBC World Service is to start a Farsi TV channel to bring the region the impartial objectivity for which the BBC is renowned worldwide. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, said, progress elsewhere in the Middle East is needed. Soft diplomacy will be one of the factors. It is certain that it must be, and must be seen to be, indigenous progress for which people can take credit for themselves.
I described the priority as resolving conflict across the region through strong international institutions. This is a time for major reform. We owe Kofi Annan many debts; he has identified the reforms that Secretary-General Ban must introduce. The Security Council must be reformed. The absence of India, Japan, Germany, the major regional powers in Latin America such as Brazil, or an African power such as South Africa—other than temporarily, as at present—is not really sustainable. The Secretary-General, who faces so many unresolved disputes, needs the authority to propose action and to see it through. That in turn will be blunted unless he can appoint a secretariat and have oversight of the resources. Moreover, it will be sub-optimal if the UN continues to deal with development and humanitarian work through multiple agencies that are each in a silo. My noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington rightly insisted that this must be addressed. One agency should have explicit responsibility, acting through a UN single office dealing with each country and with an obligation to try to predict crises rather than simply to react to them. I assure my noble friend that we will pursue this.
We will not focus solely on the UN. My right honourable friend the Chancellor is chairing an international monetary and finance committee of the IMF, and driving change to improve the stability of the international financial system. Independence of political influences, improved surveillance capability and better alignment with emerging economic powers are all needed to make it more effective. The Chancellor and my right honourable friend Hilary Benn will work to ensure that the fight against world poverty remains the key purpose of the World Bank. I share the view that the Commonwealth can play quite a role in this.
Fighting poverty is the third priority that I want to mention. It is inextricably linked to our work on human rights, democracy and good governance. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, repeatedly described these areas as displaying neglect. She is profoundly wrong. I am grateful in a way that we look to the judgments of the nations that are receiving our help rather than to some of the judgments made this evening. The United Kingdom is working towards an aid level of 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2013. In 1997, it was only 0.26 per cent. Today, it is almost 0.5 per cent.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, called for better, more intelligent aid. Better aid, debt elimination and fair access to developed markets through trade are vital ingredients for achieving the millennium development goals. It is harder for Governments to do this than for NGOs. We would probably all agree that micromanaging large numbers of small projects has never been a great strength of Governments. However, it is also very important that we support good governance. In all this, accountability is vital.
The poverty that we seek to address forges wars. It incubates international criminals and narco-traffickers, spreads HIV/AIDS and drives millions on to the roads as economic migrants or refugees. It all happens despite the growth in world wealth, and every one of these calamities will end up in due course on our doorstep. It is never very far away, which is why we have an obligation to attend to these issues and not let Africa and other countries slip off our agenda. Nor must we let humanitarian work be the only work. Work on good governance is also critical. Starvation and a lower life expectancy in Zimbabwe, for example, are no accident, and they can be resolved. We must work to resolve that.
In mentioning Africa, I shall touch briefly on the fourth priority: climate security through sustainable, low-carbon economics. I am grateful for the remarkable work of Sir Nicholas Stern and the role of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary as a champion of this cause. I shall deal with it not so much globally but specifically. Climate change threatens security and stability, and it is often the precursor to conflict. Drought and desertification, flooding and land loss destabilise peoples, and this will worsen. Seventy-five per cent of the workforce in sub-Saharan Africa works on the land, and climate change means there is less land on which to graze animals or grow crops. That was the origin of the fights over resources in Darfur. I am not in a position tonight to give the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the House details of the force dispositions that have been discussed over the past week, but I make the point that, when a settlement is finally achieved in Darfur, unless we get to grips with sustainable living on that difficult patch of land, more or less nothing will work.
Many issues have been raised and I shall mention them briefly. Uganda is committed to poverty reduction. The proportion of people living below the national poverty line fell from 56 per cent in 1992 to 38 per cent in 2002. School attendance has increased by 86 per cent, national out-patient attendance has increased by 117 per cent, and we are addressing the problem of poverty. That is essential if there is to be a settlement in northern Uganda. We will try to deal with the problems in Rwanda, as the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, has asked for. We are acting on finding and returning genocide perpetrators and I believe that Rwanda has made significant progress in many ways.
We were bound to have a major debate on Europe. I will not cover it tonight because it has not been much addressed in the House, but of one thing I am quite convinced: we will need to work together in the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Leach, managed to avoid controversy for at least 30 seconds in his excellent maiden speech. However, I am closer to the position of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, on this, even if I do admire the single-mindedness of the noble Lord, Lord Leach. We will have to do this work together.
The noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Garden, asked about NATO and the EU. They are not in competition but have complementary strengths. Under Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO has an open door for those who commit to its principles and wish to contribute to security. The Riga summit later this month will be a key opportunity to strengthen the alliance. Afghanistan will be a central theme of discussion, but I believe that there will be consideration of Kosovo, wider partnerships, endorsement of the comprehensive political guidance programme and validation of the NATO response force concept.
I commend to the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, DfID’s White Paper which deals in extensive detail with water and sanitation, although I am sure he will have seen it. I accept his fundamental proposition that we need to work with UNICEF and young people on all these problems. Young people I have met right across Africa have almost always wanted to talk about water and sanitation, and I entirely understand why.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, asked about Reserve Forces. The use of our Reserve Forces in operations is not a reflection of overstretch. It follows from our one-army approach, taken to reform Army structures. Our reservists know that they will be expected to go on operations, and that is the current state. Perhaps I may also point out that in September 2006 a report from the RAF and the Royal Navy showed that a very small percentage of people have been affected by breaches of harmony guidelines, although I accept that a larger proportion is affected in the Army. The pressure on equipment programmes reflects the changing nature and diversity of the operations we are called on to meet, from conflict prevention through to counter-insurgency and full warfare. The Government are meeting these challenges through the widest reform of defence procurement seen for many years. They are already delivering results in, for example, the new armoured fighting vehicles now coming through. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, raised some of these issues. Perhaps I may say to him on another matter that I believe that the treatment of wounded soldiers in the NHS provides the best and most specialised healthcare you can get in the United Kingdom. The objective must be to provide the very best healthcare. It is a question not of the name over the door but of the quality of the medicine provided behind it.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for his comments on the protection of artefacts, and I agree with him that their loss is not only bad for world heritage, but also of symbolic importance, as people feel they are losing their history. I cannot enlighten him on cruise ship staff, but I am determined to find out. I deeply regret that that was not part of the briefing for tonight.
The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, asked about recruitment. In 2005-06 the services achieved 96 per cent of their total recruitment requirements. Overall, achievement has improved by this stage of the year. By the midpoint of the year we saw an improvement of about 4 per cent over the equivalent point last year, and training remains a priority.
A number of points have been made about the Iraqi Kurds. I believe it is not in their interests to break away from Iraq. There are bound to be more discussions and consultations on better distribution of the resources of the country—that has to happen.
We do not try to impede people travelling; we give cautious travel advice. Others are rather more stringent in their travel advice but I will look again at it on the basis of what has been said. The security of our offices and a decent amount of stand-off is a duty of care to our staff and is always done on the basis of professional advice, as I am sure is understood.
On the point of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, about the Assyrian and other Christian minorities, we are working hard for the interests of the Christian minorities in Iraq. We support all minority groups in Iraq and, where we can, we play a role in facilitating their participation in society and in the Government. I can confirm that we are also supporting at a very considerable level, through DfID, the spending on the reconstruction of the country. We have pledged a total of £544 million on that goal.
It has been a long debate and I am sure that I have done far too little justice to some of the vital points that have been made. I take completely the points made by my noble friend Lord Ahmed about making sure that we deal with all of the peoples of the world as we would wish to deal with all of the peoples of our country.
It has been a debate of great complexity. We are a small nation which punches far above its weight; we have remarkable strengths. Some of our fellow citizens are the staff who serve in our missions abroad, often in difficult places, often facing tough problems. Whenever I see them—diplomats, consular officers, UK Visas staff, DfID staff, British Council staff—I am struck by their dedication. I hope that anyone travelling from this House and seeing them is similarly struck. They are not the stereotypes of media imagination. They are a diverse, often very brave, group. They often work with remarkable efficiency and inventiveness within the constraints of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, described as a very tight budget. I thank those staff today.
I have made comments, as have other noble Lords, about our respect for the Armed Forces. A great deal of work is going on to try to improve the position of their families and their accommodation.
Perhaps I may express a word of admiration for NGO personnel. They are not “disaster tourists”, as I remember reading in a newspaper recently. Try distributing food in northern Darfur as the Janjaweed and the helicopter gunships are swarming around. These are unsung heroes. Willy Brandt once said:
“International co-operation is far too important to be left to governments alone”.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford made a similar point about faith communities. These people deserve our thanks.
The expectations of our people, our forces, our selfless NGOs are that we work to eliminate conflict, poverty, rotten governance and a stricken climate. We want our forces to be strong enough, both in personnel and equipment terms, to face the problems this country asks them to face, and we want their families to be treated in a way commensurate with that.
People do not always want force; they sometimes want skilled negotiation and diplomacy, they want intelligent soft power to play an increasing role, and they want it to permeate the walls that are built in the name of religious intolerance. No one will forgive anyone for failing to act where we have the prosperity, the means, the knowledge and the science to act. We will not be forgiven if our legacy to the next generation is indelible damage to the fragile climate of the planet. These demands on our generation are a challenge for every one of us. They need all our talents and our co-operation across communities and faiths. It is not a bad challenge to have to face because the prize is very great. I relish it and, from what I have heard tonight, however despondent, I believe the House relishes it.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Warner, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Tuesday 21 November.
House adjourned at 10.40 pm.