House of Lords
Thursday, 30 November 2006.
The House met at eleven of the clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of London.
HIV/AIDS: G8 Agreement
My Lords, following the G8 agreement, in June this year the UN General Assembly agreed the goal of universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010. Countries pledged to set ambitious national targets, including interim targets for 2008. So far, 84 countries have provided targets, 44 of them covering prevention, treatment and care. These plans need to be reviewed so that the international community, with partner governments, can fund effective national plans.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply and for her and DfID’s commitment to fighting this disease. However, despite the Gleneagles pledge, there is already a shortfall of $8 billion and 80 per cent of adults and 95 per cent of children do not have access to treatment. Does she agree that that is catastrophic in terms of the social, economic and human impact of the disease? Does she further agree that the G8 needs to bring forward a plan detailing exactly when, by whom and how the funding gap will be closed so that all have access to treatment by 2010?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to ensure that there are national plans and that they are fully costed and funded. This year, the UN made a commitment that no plans which were costed and effective in covering prevention and care would remain unfunded. That remains our commitment. They have to be national plans, which are then reviewed and supported through the international community. We have made good progress, with 84 plans in place and 44 of them covering the range. We will have to keep up the pressure, but the commitment has to be to those national plans rather than to one global international plan.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the main problems in dealing with AIDS is fear and discrimination, which tend to deter people, particularly women, from coming forward so that they miss out on treatment which could save their lives? While some notable leaders in Africa, such as Nelson Mandela and Kenneth Kaunda, have bravely acknowledged AIDS in their own families, there is much more that we could all do to try to remove discrimination.
My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. We need to tackle the stigma of those living with HIV/AIDS. That is the focus of the DfID campaign for tomorrow, which is World AIDS Day. The stigma and discrimination, of course, affect those who are most vulnerable. We must challenge people’s attitudes towards those living with HIV/AIDS, challenge discrimination and promote and protect human rights in policy and legislation. DfID is supporting approximately 100 projects and programmes, many of which aim to change people’s attitudes.
My Lords, I congratulate DfID on the work that it has done. In an area like global warming, the Government rightly place emphasis on this country setting an example at home. Does the Minister think that the lack of effective campaigning on HIV/AIDS and sexual health in the United Kingdom and the cutting back of promised funding is the right way to show commitment to the worldwide battle?
My Lords, the Government are in fact leading the way. The noble Lord may know that my colleague in the Department of Health launched a campaign this month looking at HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. We are investing substantial additional resources in sexual health—it is one of the six key priorities for the NHS in 2006-07—but there continue to be issues about the funding of the campaign in the longer term. We are seeking to review the impact of the campaign, which was launched only on 20 November, and we shall then look at what more needs to be done as regards our campaigning priorities.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. In 2005, there were 7,450 new diagnoses. That is only a small increase from 2003, but it is more than double the number of diagnoses in 2000. Nearly three-quarters of those newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS probably acquired infections on the African continent. We must look at that link and our work on the African continent is clearly important. On poverty, we will continue to support those families and individuals.
My Lords, do the Government acknowledge that the Ugandan campaign of AVC has been highly successful in reducing from 31 per cent to 5 per cent the incidence of HIV/AIDS among pregnant women? Would the Government seek to support such a campaign?
My Lords, the noble Lord knows that we support a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS prevention. That includes not only looking at abstinence, but also recognising the reality of people’s sexual practice and dealing with it, and looking at the support that must be given to the health sector overall as well as treatment, vaccination and so on.
My Lords, the number of children in Africa with HIV/AIDS is not the major issue but it is still an important and difficult one. To what extent are the Government giving it attention and are they pressing drug companies to pay sufficient attention to it in the treatments offered?
My Lords, we are looking at the issue of children and also at the issue of women and transmission between women and children. Last year, we organised a global partners forum on children affected by HIV/AIDS and we are pressing the drugs companies on this point. We need a different kind of treatment for children than for adults.
My Lords, the Government’s policy on membership of the single currency was set out by the Chancellor in his Statement to the House of Commons in October 1997, and again in his Statement on the five tests assessment in June 2003. The Chancellor announced in Budget 2006:
“The Government does not propose a euro assessment to be initiated at the time of this Budget. The Treasury will again review the situation at Budget time next year”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, although it was vague in many ways. However, it leads me on to my question. This issue is important, given that events are moving and, in particular, given that the owner of the five tests is poised to move from No. 11 to No. 10. If he does so, will we have more precision and urgency in this matter, recognising that the situation is changing in many important regards, or are the five tests in practice a mask behind which there is a determination that we will not join the euro-zone?
My Lords, I stress that this is the policy of the whole Labour Government. On whether the policy tests are a mask for some other policy, the answer is no. The Government have clearly set their policy on joining the euro when conditions are right, when it is in the country’s economic interest to do so and when the case is clear and unequivocal. The five tests are our stability guarantee. If we can satisfy them, the issue will be put to Parliament and to the country in a referendum.
My Lords, is it not a good job that we have not been part of this system and that the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England has been free to manage conditions to promote continuing growth, low inflation and low unemployment in this country, in contrast to the economic stagnation of, for example, Germany? Given the difficulty of hitting on an interest rate that is appropriate at the same time for industry in south-east Wales and for the housing market in south-east England, is not the project for a single interest rate across a large part of the continent of Europe doomed to failure?
My Lords, we cannot conclude that the policy of a single interest rate is inevitably doomed to failure. It drives the need for flexibility and innovation in the economies that are potentially part of that zone. My noble friend is absolutely right to say that the assessment made in June 2003 was spot on. The growth rate in the period 2001 to 2005 was on average 2.5 per cent in the UK, 2.4 per cent in the US and 1.4 per cent in the euro area. There are key structural issues that need to be addressed by European economies.
My Lords, is there not more to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, in that the criteria set for the Bank of England are not just about monetary stability but also about promoting growth? That is in sharp contrast to the criteria of the European Central Bank, which operates purely in terms of monetary stability. Even without the five tests, that factor alone would mean that it would not be right for us to go into the euro-zone while the European Central Bank operates on a completely different basis from that of the Bank of England.
My Lords, it is right to say that the mandates for the Bank of England and the European Central Bank are not identical. In particular, the European Central Bank does not have an explicit symmetric target for inflation. Both the Bank of England and the ECB are required to have regard to growth and employment. If you look at the minutes of the Bank of England, you will see that those issues are a factor in its deliberations.
My Lords, these Benches would like to congratulate the Chancellor on inventing and then manipulating the five tests in such a way as to keep us out of the euro for the past six years. Does the Minister agree that in practice there is only one test for euro entry, which is whether it is good for the British economy? Does he also agree that all the evidence to date shows that the massive costs of entry would not be outweighed by the relatively small benefits that might accrue?
My Lords, I agree that the test is whether joining is in our national and economic interest and whether the case is clear and unambiguous. The potential benefits of joining are reduced transaction costs, increased trade and currency stability. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that those issues have to be put in the balance against all the others. That is why the tests are so important. It is not right to say that the tests were manipulated. An extensive piece of work was done in 2003—I think that some 20 documents were published supporting the conclusions reached, and I should be happy to loan them to the noble Baroness for the weekend if she wishes. That underlines just how extensive the work was. It was a genuine assessment.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that a major cost of being outside the euro-zone is the major lack and loss of political influence for the UK, because the British Chancellor is simply not at the table when many of the key economic decisions facing the whole of Europe are being determined? Will he ensure that, if and when there is a further assessment of our membership of the euro-zone, the political consequences of not being a member are given due weight?
My Lords, it is not correct to say that we have not been at the forefront of political influence in Europe. We certainly were through the period of our presidency of the Union and we are at the forefront of many of the key developments. This Government have been pressing Europe to make the structural changes in its economies that are crucial for the success of the euro and to face the wider issues of globalisation.
My Lords, have the Government given any further thought to what is perhaps the euro-zone’s most important long-term design fault, which is the lack of a federal budget? When the noble Lord tries to defend the single interest rate, would he care to comment on the predicament in which Italy finds herself today?
Well, my Lords, in defending a single interest rate, I point out the benefits that that can have in certain circumstances, but a couple of answers previously I tried to explain that that must be put in the balance against all other economic considerations. A single federal budget is not on the agenda, as far as I am aware.
My Lords, we are working closely with our international partners in the UN Security Council to respond to threatened conflict in the Horn of Africa, including confrontation between the transitional federal Government and the Union of Islamic Courts and the continuing violation of the UN arms embargo on that country.
My Lords, what is the Government's response to the warning by the International Crisis Group that foreign military intervention, as advocated by the US in a draft Security Council resolution, would be likely to cause further desertions from the TFG and even to prompt military action by the Islamic courts against their remaining stronghold of Baidoa? Would it not be perverse if the Security Council, having only yesterday passed a resolution condemning the significant increase in the flow of weapons to Somalia in contravention of the arms embargo imposed as long ago as 1992, were now itself to endorse the US call for the embargo to be lifted in favour of the TFG?
My Lords, these are hugely complex issues in a very complex region where many proxy wars are being fought in the small, strategic country of Somalia. Regional countries and the African Union have indeed asked the UN Security Council to provide an exemption for a peace support operation. No one is suggesting lifting the arms embargo more extensively. We are working with our colleagues in the UN and discussing the suggested Security Council resolution. We will continue to work with our colleagues to try to find a peaceful solution to the troubles of that country.
My Lords, the issues that are tearing the world apart at the moment are being played out in Somalia. The Horn of Africa is in great danger unless we deal with the situation very sensitively and delicately in the UN. Another conflict would be disastrous for Somalia and the wider region. We fundamentally do not believe that there can be any military solution in Somalia. We support the Arab League-sponsored Khartoum dialogue and urge all parties to engage constructively and to return to negotiations in Khartoum, or some other mutually agreeable location.
My Lords, the Minister is right that the situation is very complex. The noble Lord’s Question rightly refers to international conflict. That is not the position now, and I value the Minister’s comments that both Ethiopia and Eritrea are being rapidly sucked into this disastrous conflict, that there is a huge Somalian minority in Ethiopia and clearly the country feels threatened, and that enormous dangers portend, as the Minister has indicated, the turning of the whole of the Horn of Africa into yet another area of turbulence equal to the Middle East. Can she say what information we have on active terrorist involvement in all these areas at the moment? Are there signs that the al-Qaeda franchise or other terrorists groups are operating, and how can she most clearly define Britain’s own interest in seeking to co-operate with other countries through the UN and elsewhere to prevent yet another major conflagration?
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the important issue of Ethiopia. We are aware of reports of Ethiopian and other foreign troops in Somalia. UK officials have delivered very strong messages to the Ethiopians to hold back from war. In respect of the wider issues of global terrorism, we monitor all the reports that are coming forward. We speak to our partners, the US, and our partners in the European Union very often on this issue. We are watching and we are ready to act when necessary; but we monitor the situation very closely.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that, out of the eight countries that have been accused of breaking the arms embargo, five are African states. This brings me to another point: should not the Government be discussing these issues with the African Union whose membership, after all, is pledged to support good governance, transparency, the rule of law and democracy? Surely the individual nation states of the African Union should put the interests of their continent before their regional self-interest. Should not the Government make that point to the African Union?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Indeed, we do discuss these issues with the African Union. One of our desires for Somalia is that there should be peace and good governance. These are precisely the issues that we talk to our colleagues in the African Union about, and we will continue to do so.
My Lords, I have just returned from Somalia on a governance mission. Is the Minister aware that many observers in the region are highly critical of the gung-ho attitude of the US Government and their willingness to back what is virtually a dead horse in the transitional Government, and that ultimately we will have to talk to the courts? What is her response to this analysis?
My Lords, we believe that the transitional federal charter and the institutions created under it are the only basis for reconciliation and political progress in Somalia. We do not believe that the international community should permit those institutions to be removed by force. We deplore what is happening in Somalia and the force that is being used by the courts, because they are primarily supported by one clan and have not yet stated their acceptance of the transitional federal charter as the basis for inclusive political institutions. However, we do hope to continue dialogue with the less extremist elements of the courts.
My Lords, we will hold an open competition to select the next chairman of the BBC. The process will follow the Nolan principles, and the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice. After advertising in the national press, a selection panel will shortlist and interview candidates and make recommendations to Ministers. The appointment will be made by the Queen by Order in Council on the recommendation of DCMS Ministers through the Prime Minister.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think we all hope that in future the process will be placed under the chairmanship of the independent Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Is the Minister as astonished as the rest of us that Michael Grade, as commander of the British flagship of public service broadcasting, is apparently free immediately to transfer his loyalty—if loyalty is the appropriate word—to the BBC’s principal competitor and, indeed, that he feels free to do so, in the apparent absence of any non-compete clause? What do the Government propose to do to prevent a similar situation arising with any future BBC chairman?
My Lords, it is a free country. Michael Grade has made it absolutely clear that he left the BBC because he saw a career opportunity in ITV. I think there would be a fair amount of criticism from many parts of this House if that had been prevented.
My Lords, what was the cost of the recruitment process for engaging the last chairman? If the figure is not available, why not? Will my noble friend ensure that the cost of this recruitment process is calculated and reported to the House? Furthermore, will he ensure that a clause is written into the next chairperson’s contract stipulating that in the event of failure to keep to that contract, they will pay the cost of the recruitment process for the subsequent chairman?
My Lords, I do not have the figure for the cost of the recruitment process because I did not think that it was of major interest to the House. I respect the fact that my noble friend has raised the issue, and I will write to him with the cost, but in an appointment of such importance the cost is of limited significance. It is now right to get the best person equipped to lead the BBC through a very significant period over the next decade. There was widespread approval of the appointment of Michael Grade through the processes adopted, but nobody foresaw his abrupt departure.
My Lords, do I understand it correctly that Michael Grade was appointed by a government department without a contract, without any requirement to give notice or a non-compete clause, and that only three weeks ago this arrangement was confirmed so that he could take charge of the new trustee board which, against much advice, he personally had invented for the BBC? Given that the Government have now lost two BBC chairmen in the past three years, does the Minister not think that the appointment process should be radically reformed?
My Lords, the two chairmen have been lost in very different circumstances, and neither departure was foreseeable. I must point out that we are not talking about the director-general of the BBC, who has a contract, but about the chairman of a public body. The chairman of the BBC is appointed in the same way as are our other major appointees of this kind. What is clear, however, is that when someone takes up an appointment of this significance, he agrees to abide by the Cabinet Office rules for public appointments, and that means not making public or revealing to anyone else the confidential information he acquired in his role as chairman of the BBC.
My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that Mr Grade’s precipitate departure will not mean further delay in the licence fee settlement and that that settlement will be sufficient to cover the BBC’s many commitments under the new charter?
My Lords, we need to have in place the process for the licence fee settlement by 1 April and we are on course to do so. The House will recognise that the chairman of the BBC has played a significant part over the past year in the discussions about the licence fee, but we are now in the concluding stages of those decisions, therefore his departure will have no impact on the timing.
My Lords, I cannot guarantee the latter point. On the first point, Michael Grade made this statement on his departure:
“I would like everyone to understand this is a career decision. What it is NOT is a reaction to anything, internal or external. I was faced with the choice of getting back into programming or ‘governing’ the BBC from a distance”.
My Lords, as I indicated earlier, in public appointments of this kind we do not have a contract; the appointee has very clear obligations in regard to conduct. The appointment is for a considerable number of years and it is anticipated that the chairman of the trust will serve for a number of years—as has been the case with chairmen of the BBC in the past, with the exception of the two most recent appointments, where there were rather particular features.
Personal Injuries (NHS Charges) (Amounts) Regulations 2006
Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions) (England and Wales) Order 2006
Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) (No. 3) Order 2006
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider information and communications services, including the Library and the Parliamentary Archives, within financial limits approved by the House Committee;
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:
L Brooke of Alverthorpe,
L Brougham and Vaux,
L Craig of Radley,
L Jones of Cheltenham,
B Miller of Hendon,
L Renton of Mount Harry (Chairman),
L Rodger of Earlsferry;
That the committee have leave to report from time to time.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Joint Committee on Consolidation etc. Bills
My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, in accordance with Standing Order 52, that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be appointed to join with a committee of the Commons as the Joint Committee on Consolidation etc. Bills:
L Campbell of Alloway,
V Colville of Culross,
L Janner of Braunstone,
L Rodger of Earlsferry.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and a message was sent to the Commons.
Joint Committee on Human Rights
My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That a Select Committee of six members be appointed to join with the committee appointed by the Commons as the Joint Committee on Human Rights:
(a) matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom (but excluding consideration of individual cases);
(b) proposals for remedial orders, draft remedial orders and remedial orders made under Section 10 of and laid under Schedule 2 to the Human Rights Act 1998; and
(c) in respect of draft remedial orders and remedial orders, whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to them on any of the grounds specified in Standing Order 73 (Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments);
To report to the House:
(a) in relation to any document containing proposals laid before the House under paragraph 3 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether a draft order in the same terms as the proposals should be laid before the House; or
(b) in relation to any draft order laid under paragraph 2 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether the draft order should be approved;
and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said proposals or draft orders; and
To report to the House in respect of any original order laid under paragraph 4 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether:
(a) the order should be approved in the form in which it was originally laid before Parliament; or
(b) that the order should be replaced by a new order modifying the provisions of the original order; or
(c) that the order should not be approved;
and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said order or any replacement order;
That the following members be appointed to the committee:
L Fraser of Carmyllie,
L Lester of Herne Hill,
L Plant of Highfield,
That the committee have power to agree with the committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;
That the quorum of the committee shall be two;
That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place;
That the committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the evidence taken by the Human Rights Committee in the last Session of Parliament be referred to the committee;
That the evidence taken by the committee shall, if the committee so wishes, be printed.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and a message was sent to the Commons.
rose to call attention to the role of the international community in the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity to review the prospects for the forthcoming Bangladesh elections and the role of the international community in monitoring the process leading up to the polling day in January 2007.
In June 2005, the House debated the levels of political and religious violence in Bangladesh, the precarious situation of minorities and the threat to democracy which had been highlighted then by the UN special procedures, international NGOs and the media including the Economist, and the donor forum. Seventeen months on, and with the election due in 47 days, the prospects for a free and fair election are bleak.
Some progress has been made in dealing with the menace of terrorism and sectarian violence against minorities by extremists such as the notorious Khatme Nabuwwat. There have been fewer of these attacks recently, and the police have dealt firmly with threatened attacks against the Ahmadiyya community in particular. But the crimes of the past few years, including the brutal assassination of the elder statesman Shah AMS Kibria and the murder of 12 people who were attending a rally addressed by the leader of the opposition in an attempt on the life of Sheikh Hasina herself, have not been properly investigated and remain unsolved. If the state fails to guarantee the security of elected members and is not seen to be actively pursuing the terrorists who attack them, democracy will be fatally undermined. We should continue to emphasise that whenever we have the opportunity.
At a packed conference held a fortnight ago by Policy Exchange and co-sponsored by the Hudson Institute and the International Bangladesh Foundation, of which I am president—I declare that interest—the continuing threat of violence arising from the present political deadlock, including acts by the forces of law and order themselves, was highlighted.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, the political secretary to the leader of the opposition who was himself beaten unconscious a few weeks ago in a gratuitous attack by the police, spoke about the 800 extra-judicial killings by the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB. The editor of Dhaka’s Daily Star referred to the connections between the Jamaat, the Islamist party which was part of the outgoing coalition Government and the violent extremists whose aim is to capture power by force and turn Bangladesh into a Taliban state. The Islamists and their fringe terrorist allies have gained political space, he thought, because of the dysfunctional nature of the conventional political parties. The strong democratic culture and tradition may protect Bangladesh against Talibanisation, but not, as one speaker put it, against Pakistanisation, with the Islamists undoing the gains made by the people when they gained independence in 1971.
These problems will not be solved over the next six weeks, but the maintenance of law and order during the campaign and the protection from harm of candidates and election workers is an essential precondition for the exercise of the people’s democratic rights. The FCO reports that since the end of October, there has been widespread civil unrest in Bangladesh, particularly in the capital Dhaka, which has resulted in up to 14 deaths and some 2,000 injuries.
Unfortunately, over the past four and a half years, 27,000 police have been recruited from the ranks of the BNP and Jamaat activists so that the force consists almost entirely of officers who are loyal to the outgoing Government. That Government cut the basic training of police from a year to six months and promoted 820 officers to the rank of sub-inspector after less than a year in the force in the rush to get them in post in time for the elections. These are not matters which can be addressed by the outside world, but we could suggest that orders be given to the police and RAB to protect meetings and rallies and to prevent the use of intimidation and violence.
During the campaign, the outgoing Government relinquish power to a supposedly neutral caretaker Administration, the head of which is called the chief adviser. The idea of this unique Bangladeshi institution is that an outgoing Government should not be able to monopolise state resources with a view to influencing election results. But the Government have manipulated the appointment of the chief adviser so that one of their loyalists got the job. Controversy raged over this for months until, at the last moment, the appointee resigned, only for the job to be taken over, in a totally unconstitutional move, by the president, himself a party nominee, who now holds both posts of president and chief adviser. He immediately showed his colours by confirming the party officials who were already heading up key ministries and by appointing loyalists to command the police and the RAB. The 14-party opposition have been demanding his resignation; they have been joined in this by the Liberal Democratic Party, formed recently by defectors from the government party, the BNP.
There has also been a last-minute switch in the key post of chief electoral commissioner, formerly held by MA Aziz, a well known former BNP activist. Mr Aziz had defied a ruling of the high court to revise the electoral register back in January with the aid of two new commission members who were appointed to give him a majority on the commission. He went on to ignore the Supreme Court when it upheld the high court decision, but such was the outcry that he suddenly went on three months’ gardening leave, only to be replaced by Mahfuzur Rahman, one of the two loyalists who had given him his majority last January for defying the courts.
The opposition say that Mr Rahman’s appointment also was illegal, because the two vacancies on the commission should have been filled before the vote was taken. They applied to the high court for a writ calling on the chief electoral commissioner to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling on the preparation of the register, and for good measure challenging the validity of the chief adviser’s appointment and seeking to prevent him from exercising his authority without consulting his 10 statutory advisers, who are acknowledged as balanced and impartial. The ruling is due today, but in the mean while, provocatively, the chief electoral commissioner announced the election schedule on Monday without consulting the advisers, and the opposition have responded by calling a country-wide blockade, to start next Sunday.
According to the Washington DC-based National Democratic Institute, the electoral list contains 14 million more names than the voting population. Since there is massive anecdotal evidence that large numbers were prevented from registering by intimidation, the scale of the problem is even greater. The true number of phantom voters, if the missing names are added to the excess 14 million, could be 20 million on the most conservative assumptions. The previous list, estimated to contain a mere 2 million phantom voters, totalled 76 million, so one can see from the proportion of phantom voters that the errors would be large enough to affect the result even if the mechanics of the election at the polling stations were impeccable. Without an immediate and resolute attempt to correct the register, the opportunity for massive fraud is obvious. But Mr Rahman, on taking over, said there would be no change of policy. He is not going to take any steps himself to remove errors, though if errors are drawn to the attention of the commission, he conceded,
“we will drop the fake names and enrol the excluded names”.
The 64 returning officers and 480 assistant returning officers, who will pick the staff at the 35,000 polling stations, were also political appointees of the outgoing Government. If an elector manages to see the list, which the National Democratic Institute said was not available to individuals or political parties in September, and which I understand still has not been published, and he manages to see one of these officials to complain that his name has been omitted, the service is likely to depend on his party affiliation. As for the false names, how can individuals or even the political parties look for as many as 20 million names that are incorrectly recorded in a list of 76 million? The grossly flawed register, the systematic politicisation of the police and election machinery, and the appointment of staunch party supporters to the top two posts, constitute election engineering on a grand scale, to make sure that the outgoing Government retain power.
Now a judgment has to be made not only by the political parties in Bangladesh but by the international community on whether free and fair elections are possible at all in these circumstances. The European Union alone is planning to send 40 “long-term observers”, starting two weeks from today, plus 100 short-term observers, from 9 January to 20 January, on the assumption that polling day will be 15 January. We have 14 places in these delegations, and I wonder if any of the persons we have nominated are from the Bangladeshi communities in the UK, particularly those serving as officers or councillors in local authorities. Could the Minister tell me about that?
The US, Australia, Canada and the Commonwealth Secretariat are also planning to send missions, and it would be useful to know the numbers of these, if the Minister has the figures, and any other missions that she knows of. A preliminary assessment has to be made of whether it is sensible to carry on with these arrangements, in view of the heavily loaded dice. What arrangements are there for consultation between the various agencies sending observers and diplomatic missions on the spot to assess whether the playing field is level enough to go ahead and that the umpires are not all fixed?
If it is go, they need to look first at the way the pitch was tilted before the campaign began, and I hope the Minister can give us an assurance on that. They will have to examine the mechanisms that are in place, if any, for preventing the exercise of the vote by the 14 million persons who are wrongly listed, and for allowing the millions who are wrongly excluded from the list to vote. They should see how officials at ward level are dealing with errors that are brought to their attention, and particularly how minority ethnic groups who have been victimised at previous elections are able to assert their right to vote, such as the Das families who were threatened by police in Satkhira last week. What will the observers do if they find that no steps are being taken to minimise both the extent of false registration and wrongful deprivation of legitimate voters’ rights?
One way of guarding against misconduct, or at least to expose it where it already occurs, would be to reinforce the capacity of local NGOs to monitor the campaign. DfID has undertaken to mainstream women’s equality in their country assistance plan for Bangladesh, and it would be useful if the noble Baroness could tell us what help we are giving organisations that aim at increasing women’s participation in the monitoring process. How are we checking the credentials of the NGOs that are being funded to improve their capacity? The election working group, a coalition of 35 NGOs formed under the aegis of the Asia Foundation, is being funded by the EU and Australia, but is alleged to comprise 20 groups that are associated with the BNP and none that is connected with the opposition. I would like the noble Baroness to look into that.
I have left to the end the wave of attacks on the media, in a state that is noted as the second most dangerous for journalists in the world, after Iraq. According to the European Parliament, three journalists have been murdered so far this year, 95 journalists have been physically attacked, 55 have been intimidated because of articles considered to be non-Islamic, and 70 have fled into exile. In the past fortnight alone, one journalist narrowly escaped a knife murder attempt, and six others were victims of attacks or intimidation. Eighteen journalists and editors face possible jail sentences because of criminal libel suits. I hope that our High Commission in Dhaka will pay special attention to these facts in the briefings that it writes for the observer teams, because as the president of the International Federation of Journalists says, they compromise the very heart of democracy.
International observers have no power to rescue democracy, but their presence may deter the worst excesses of violence and malpractice. For the UK, with our close links to Bangladesh of family, culture, trade and history, the next six weeks are critical and, in this debate, I hope at least that we send a message of support for the efforts of millions of brave democrats to preserve their freedoms. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for initiating this debate. As noble Lords know, I am a great admirer of the noble Lord for his tenacity and his commitment to the people of Bangladesh. I thank him very much for the interest that he has taken in Bangladesh over the past year. Indeed, this is the second time that I have followed him in such a debate.
Bangladesh has experienced not just an extreme amount of violence, but tremendous Olympian moments, watching Professor Yunus receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. This House sends him our warmest congratulations; it is a great prize for Bangladesh and for the people of Bangladesh. Of course, the work was not simply done by him, but the congratulations belong to him and his team.
I concur, of course, with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said. His analysis is extremely appropriate. I urge the noble Lord to continue to co-operate, openly whenever possible, with me as the chair of the Bangladesh All-Party Group, and our members. If they are kept informed openly and generously, I hope that their participation will be enhanced and be greater than it is today. I beg the House’s indulgence and forgiveness if I have to leave slightly before the Minister finishes speaking. I am expected to speak at South Africa House, which has been a long-standing commitment.
In January 2007, it is expected that Bangladesh will hold a parliamentary election. This will pit two main sets of forces against each other, unfortunately. On one side there is the ruling four-party alliance, a right-wing grouping whose main component is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, and Jamaat-e-Islami, the main radical Islamist force. On the other side there is the opposition force, a 14-party secular progressive alliance headed by the Awami League. However, as has already been said, serious questions have arisen regarding the impartiality of the election, and consequently Bangladesh is now facing a grave political crisis.
In keeping with its irresistible democratic aspirations, on which we congratulate the people of Bangladesh, the second largest Muslim-majority country is seeking to hold a parliamentary election for the fourth time. Unlike many other Muslim countries, it is not an Islamic republic. State affairs are governed by a secular constitution that guarantees equal rights to all. Again, however, in light of the recent political violence in Bangladesh, we need to examine how we can ensure that democracy survives and is secured. Proving all political and economic pundits wrong, Bangladesh has witnessed consistent growth—a rate of 5 per cent to 6 per cent plus over the past decade—and is expected to grow at 6 per cent to 8 per cent in the coming years. That is remarkable. Apart from attaining food self-sufficiency, the country has already witnessed a telecommunications revolution at the grass-roots level, cell phones having reached 65,000 villages in Bangladesh, operated by Grameen and BRAC, the largest NGOs in the world.
In our last debate in the House on Bangladesh, we could not have envisaged the current deep political divisions that have helped to deepen the crisis in Bangladesh. Although the Bangladeshi Parliament was not fully functioning, there was every hope that, in the interests of its people and because of the fragility of the country, the political parties would have resolved some of their disagreements, especially by co-operating over the preparations for the forthcoming election.
I am ashamed to say that so much of Bangladesh’s success has been forgotten, as over the past few months we have watched political divisions and disagreements turning into ugly and brutal violence on the streets. Such developments have greatly impacted on ordinary men and women. Civilians have been killed—sometimes, it seems on the screen, without mercy or any effective intervention by the law enforcement authorities.
The BNP/Jamaat-e-Islami coalition came to power in 2001. Since then, increasing concerns have been raised by international observers and opposition groups about the trends in reported attacks on minority rights, as well as the dramatic rise in the number of violent incidents. Widespread human rights abuses have been documented, as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. I shall not go into the details because the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has already done so, but I support the points that he made about the safety of journalists, the increase in reported threats to minority communities and the continuous extrajudicial killing by RAB forces.
Of particular concern to someone who is totally devoted to Bangladesh is the encroaching radicalisation in the NGO sector. We should resist that at all costs, given that we have such a stake in Bangladesh. I am also concerned about madrassahs, Islamic religious schools, which have now achieved graduate-level status—not that this would worry me on its own, but this combination of issues gives us a great deal to think about.
In the past three elections, Bangladesh has successfully gone to the polls under a non-party caretaker Government. However, this time the process seems to have been under more public scrutiny, and therefore has been more openly questioned. Those questions need to be answered.
Bangladesh is now in danger of having its freedom subverted. Alongside substantial international observation, Professor Yunus, Bangladesh’s new Nobel laureate in economics—and, like me, a staunch opponent of any radicalisation of Bangladesh—has stated that this election is critical for the country to move forward, become a dynamic economy and eradicate poverty. That is a great ambition. However, that process will grind to a halt if the world’s longest-standing Muslim democracy is subverted and destroyed. As has been suggested, a level playing field must now be created so that free and fair elections can take place, as they must.
There are serious allegations that votes will be rigged to hand victory to the BNP/Jamaat alliance. I am deeply concerned that those allegations are likely to remain unresolved, especially in the light of the disappointing lack of communication between the main two parties. There are also accusations that the amendments of the voter list will favour the BNP in particular at the polls, as has been said. It is of greater concern that the European Commission believes that the 2001 voter list included 13 million ghost voters, while the Department of State in America believed that 8 per cent of the voter list was fake. The Awami League reported that it believes that the Election Commission, the civil administration and the police force are thoroughly politicised. Recent indications perhaps give great credibility to that, and there is serious concern whether a free and fair election is possible.
Furthermore, events taking place in Bangladesh obviously impact heavily on British Muslims. I propose that Britain and the international community work positively—perhaps in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and as suggested by people such as me in the past few debates—to ensure a united and cohesive British Bangladeshi community working together, which might contribute to the development of the rule of law and order in Bangladesh. I hesitate to say that, because it would be deeply worrying that a load of people from Britain thought that they were the knights in shining armour to ride into Bangladesh and get rid of all its ills. That is not the suggestion. It is very important that, whatever contribution we make, we make it with love, affection and deep commitment to the rule of law.
The international community—and Britain in particular, the largest development partner and a leading trade and investment partner in Bangladesh—has an important role to play in encouraging democratic and moderate political forces in the country through positive engagement with the people and Government of Bangladesh. I hope that there is not just criticism and reprimand. We must resist that at all costs. The British Bangladeshi community has a huge expectation, given the financial commitment that it has continued to make over decades, that the British Government will play a positive role in supporting a peaceful and smooth transfer of power through the fourth democratic and free and fair election, and in making every attempt to ensure that it takes place.
International pressure works—take the rise in militant radicalism in recent years. While bombing began during the tenure of the Awami League-led Government from 1996 to 2001, the current Government seem to many to have been too passive for too long in launching proper investigations into the numerous incidents and murders that have already been catalogued by us here in previous debates and by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, today. Only after serious international pressure did the Government make any effort to apprehend the latest heads of extremist organisations, although we welcome that.
The principal task of the Bangladeshi caretaker Government is to hold a free and fair election within 90 days, in consultation with the major political parties, and with relevant constitutional provision. The greatest obstacle is creating a national environment for free and fair election; we have detailed that. Unless that environment is tackled immediately and urgently, good monitoring of voting on the election day will be absolutely meaningless. The outstanding allegations of partisan direction or nods from the top, the threat of arms and terrorism, and the possibility of extrajudicial killing must be addressed before Bangladesh goes to the election.
At this critical juncture, it is therefore essential that the international community remain positively engaged with the caretaker Government and ensure the holding of free elections in January 2007 within the constitutional framework of the country. Any extra-constitutional or external interference may mean enforced change and some consequences for ordinary citizens of Bangladesh. We should try to avoid that. We must also avoid the current global scenario whereby, as in Iraq and elsewhere, civil unrest seems to be the natural reaction to all the ills of society. We must not allow that to happen in Bangladesh, which is an infant and fragile democracy. I hope that we will keep a keen eye on that situation.
We should encourage the caretaker Government to uphold Bangladesh’s democratic credentials through the holding of free and fair elections, and we should acknowledge the country’s outstanding performance in economic growth, human development and, in particular, women’s empowerment, as well as the country’s contribution to global peace through empowerment of the poor and the participation of large numbers of troops in UN peacekeeping forces. They should all be part of and, I hope, frame our response in the way that we support Bangladesh.
I hope that today we will take the opportunity to demand unequivocally a level playing field on which Bangladesh can have a free and fair election. We should also demand the scrapping of the current voter list and a reversion to the old one. It is vital that we echo the European Parliament’s resolution on Bangladesh. I do not have time to go into that, but it is on the record and, no doubt, my noble friend the Minister will pick up on some of those issues.
Human rights issues in Bangladesh are obviously still of utmost national and international importance and the recent prevalence of political violence on the streets of Bangladesh needs to be given the international community’s full attention and commitment to resolve. The Bangladeshi Government must take responsibility, too, for their part in the recent violence that has erupted there. That the leaders of the respective Bangladeshi parties and authorities cannot come to any agreement is a fundamental and crucial obstacle to securing democracy and law and order in Bangladesh. Therefore, while Britain must resist every desire to intervene, the international community has a deep responsibility to act in a constructive and critical way to ensure that Bangladesh’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law prevails.
Finally, in addition to answering the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will my noble friend tell the House what steps our Government intend to take to press for reconciliation and dialogue between the two parties post-election? Past attempts have not worked. How do the UK Government envisage utilising the vast talents and resources of the Bangladeshi diaspora to allow them to play a role? I would welcome hearing something about the kind of support that we can provide to ensure that women in Bangladesh can play a full political role.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble sister, the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, both of whom are experts in their fields, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with his expertise on human rights and Bangladesh, and my noble friend with her expertise on Bangladesh and the rights of women.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing this important issue to our attention and giving us the opportunity to discuss the situation in Bangladesh and what our Government and we can do for it. I speak as a friend of Bangladesh. Although I am a British parliamentarian with roots in Pakistan, I should say right at the outset, on behalf of Pakistanis, that they have no ambition or wish for Pakistan to impose “Pakistanisation” on Bangladesh. Whoever told the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, otherwise is probably not doing the situation justice, because President Musharraf, in his most recent visit to Bangladesh, apologised to the nation for what happened in 1971. I would do the same, because I have love and affection for the people of Bangladesh.
Despite the many challenges in Bangladesh, as in other developing countries, there have been many positive changes, as already mentioned by my noble friend Lady Uddin. Bangladesh has been successful in reducing population growth and improving health and education. Since 1990, the country has achieved an average annual growth rate of 5 per cent, according to the World Bank. It has seen a sharp increase in foreign direct investment, and a number of multinational corporations have made major investments in the natural gas sector.
Today, Bangladesh relies little on foreign aid, although it is still dependent on loans. In December 2005, the Central Bank of Bangladesh projected GDP growth of around 6.5 per cent. One significant contributor to the development of the economy has been the widespread propagation of micro-credit by Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He has already been praised by my noble friend Lady Uddin, and I join her in congratulating not only Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank but the entire nation. It is a source of pride for the Bangladeshi communities in this country as well as in Bangladesh that this wonderful project has been so successful.
There are more than 300,000 Bangladeshis in the United Kingdom. Many of them make a huge contribution to our way of life in the UK in political, social and economic terms. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lady Uddin suggested that we consider asking some of our British Bangladeshi communities who have expertise through working in local government and the Civil Service whether they can offer help and support to Bangladesh at this difficult time. It is our responsibility to strengthen democracy there and to prevent the country sliding into political chaos.
Bangladesh is a worry to the region and beyond. Its progress as a new democracy looks threatened and the country is currently in turmoil, but we must try to help all stakeholders to move through this period, despite the horrendous headlines about violence and chaos. Bangladesh is being challenged by extremists both from within the country and abroad. They are a powerful minority who want to cause turmoil in the second-largest Muslim democracy. The majority of the population are moderate Muslims, who want a safe and stable democracy. Bangladesh must remain a democracy at all costs because that is the only way that the country can progress.
Despite the current turmoil, Bangladesh is adamant to stay a democratic state. To that end, the coming general elections are very important. There are some actions that we can take in supporting the country and the people. First, our Government should call on all parties to prevent their members committing violence and, instead, to maintain peace in Bangladesh. Secondly, and most importantly, we should support the elections so that they are fair and free. It is important that the UK expects to have a place on the EU mission for electoral assistance, such as monitoring, observing and facilitating during the elections. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, told us, in two weeks’ time a large delegation will leave Europe for Bangladesh, and I hope that our members will contribute toward ensuring that the elections are a success. Later, once a Government have been elected, perhaps we can work with them to strengthen the roots of democracy in the country. If we consider the turmoil created in the Middle East for the sake of bringing democracy to the region, we can understand how crucial it is to take immediate action to safeguard democracy in Bangladesh.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, expressed many concerns. I support much that they have said. Breaches of human rights are a general concern. It is one of the most significant problems in Bangladesh. Numerous international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all raised their concerns at the widespread abuses of human rights in Bangladesh. Targets of violence have included Sufi places of worship, opposition rallies, cinemas, other cultural venues and court buildings. The victimisation and harassment of minorities such as Ahmadis, Hindus, tribal people in Chittagong Hill Tracts and Christians have also been an unwelcome feature of life in the country.
I am also concerned about the attacks on journalists. Bangladesh is facing a huge challenge. Since 1990, it has not seen military intervention, which we have seen in other countries in the region. For that reason, instead of pointing a finger at Bangladesh at this difficult time, noble Lords on all sides, whether in government or in opposition, should support it to enable it to see sense and to see that its only way forward is through democracy.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on his courage in introducing this debate at this time and on the wholly comprehensive way in which he introduced this difficult subject. I intervene briefly because I have come to see that Bangladesh may be part of the wider problem of violent Islamism which appears to be gaining ground over so much of the planet and which now seems to many of us, as we wake up to it, to be by far the greatest problem faced by western culture. No doubt we shall return to that great subject another day.
I have two instances to put to Her Majesty's Government where perhaps they have not been as forthright as they might have been in helping to avoid the Islamicisation of Bangladesh. First—I put this as a suggestion—do the Government agree that they have perhaps given too privileged a position to Jamaat-e-Islami in their dialogue with that organisation in the past? If that is so, I trust that that and similar contact will be more objective towards the ends that we all wish for Bangladesh in the future. The second incident of which Her Majesty's Government stand accused is that apparently the Foreign Office recommended that Mr Delwar Hossain Sayeedi should be admitted into the United Kingdom. I trust that in future Her Majesty’s Government will avoid that sort of incident in our common cause.
Like other noble Lords, I have read the European Parliament resolution on the problems in Bangladesh, which, like the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is an extremely comprehensive document. Noble Lords will know that I am not always an ardent admirer of the European Union or any of its institutions, but on this occasion I have to congratulate the European Parliament wholeheartedly. I trust that its resolution will be taken very seriously by Her Majesty's Government and pursued with the utmost vigour, and that it will also be taken very seriously by the authorities in Bangladesh.
My Lords, I shall make a winding-up speech on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Avebury on securing this debate this afternoon, on an issue important to hundreds of thousands of British citizens in this country with strong ties to Bangladesh, and interests in its future flourishment.
Noble Lords have already noted that the United Nations, the NGO community and the media had all expressed their concerns earlier, in and through this House, about the threat to democracy in Bangladesh. With just 47 days before the general election in January, as my noble friend pointed out, this threat to security and democracy seems even greater.
My noble friend Lord Avebury commented on the continuing threat of violence and Talibanisation. His view that there is a threat of “Pakistanisation” has been challenged from other Benches but it is nevertheless a point worth recognising and debating. Some of his most important points, however, were the politicisation of the police, the outgoing Government’s manipulation of the democratic process through the appointment of the election adviser and the fact that the 14-party-strong opposition coalition is vigorously protesting; in itself, that creates more civil unrest. We must recognise his point about the nationwide blockade being launched on Sunday as an illustration of how serious events are becoming in Bangladesh.
Going forward with the general election without correcting the register is clearly an opportunity for widespread fraud. I cannot begin to contemplate what it would be like to go into a general election where 20 million voters are incorrectly recorded. It is beyond one’s imagination. The international community must make a judgment, as my noble friend says, on whether free and fair elections can be conducted under these circumstances.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, on her contribution; she obviously speaks from the heart and personal knowledge of what happens in Bangladesh. I join with her in noting the achievements in Bangladesh, particularly the contribution that Nobel prize-winner Muhammad Yunus is making to society.
We all recognise that parliamentary elections will pit two groups against each other, as the noble Baroness pointed out, yet this is an opportunity to show the strength of democracy rather than being a cause of immediate concern. As the noble Baroness so eloquently expressed, we must show a way of overcoming the concerns of rising violence and deaths as part of the political process. Her concerns over the threat of radicalisation and subvention of democracy were also well expressed.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, on his contribution. He spoke with great knowledge of the issues of the community in this country with associations with Bangladesh, and from his own position with roots in Pakistan—particularly important in this debate. I emphasise his well made point that many of the 300,000 Bangladeshis in the United Kingdom—making a huge contribution to its culture, economy and community—are able and willing to help their friends and relatives in Bangladesh through this period of turmoil. The will of the people of Bangladesh is to live in a democracy. With our counterparts, colleagues and our relations with the European Union mission, we have the expertise in this country to strengthen that process. We should do so through supporting democratic elections.
My own contribution starts with acknowledging that Bangladesh has been recognised as the world’s largest Muslim democracy for over two decades. One must contemplate, recognise, acknowledge and remark upon that as a great achievement. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party—the BNP—which currently leads the Government in a coalition, and the leading opposition party, the Bangladesh Awami League, have traditionally dominated the nation’s politics. It is not quite a two-party system, but something fairly close.
The standing of Bangladesh as a largely moderate and democratic country is under threat. Its status is under threat from a combination of political violence, weak governance, poverty, corruption and, indeed, rising Islamist militancy. Both leading political groups have a record when in opposition of resorting to direct action on the streets to effect control. Political violence is on the rise. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, a Minister and four others were killed and 70 injured at a rally early last year. That followed an attack on a BNP rally in Dhaka, which killed 22 and injured many more.
Political observers note that the rise in influence of Islamist fundamentalism in the political process is becoming a cause for concern. They point out that, under the BNP coalition Government, granting graduate-level status to madrassahs, despite widespread opposition from the political community, could accelerate Islamicisation of the civil service. That connotes how access to democracy can be subverted by people’s prejudices within their positions. There are indications that elements of al-Qaeda who fled from Pakistan seek to attempt the Talibanisation of Bangladesh. Clearly, that threatens the standing of Bangladesh as a moderate voice in the Islamic world.
When the BNP returned to power in 2001, it secured, with its alliance partners, 46 per cent of the parliamentary seats. Observers thought that the elections were generally free and fair, but the Awami League, now in opposition, claimed that they were rigged and has since regularly boycotted or walked out of parliamentary sessions. It is open to debate to what extent creating this parliamentary partial-vacuum has allowed the ruling coalition a freer rein than it otherwise would have had. Concerns are expressed about the role of the BNP coalition party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which aims to convert Bangladesh into an Islamic republic. Would it have had as much influence if there was stronger opposition in Parliament?
There are claims that bombings and violence are increasingly targeted at secular and leftist politicians, academics, journalists, minority groups and religious minorities, making Bangladesh increasingly difficult to govern democratically. There is a concern that, should Bangladesh become a failed state—and we all wish that not to happen—or a state controlled by Islamist fundamentalists, it would become a launching pad for further international terrorism.
Current events and those leading up to the elections planned for January next year will provide the strongest indication yet of Bangladesh’s future direction. In the last three national ballots the incumbent Government in Bangladesh have been defeated. Recent independent polls show a similar level of dissatisfaction, with increasing corruption, failure to provide basic services such as power and water, and serious price inflation. That has led to forecasts of the Awami League becoming the ruling party and sweeping back to power with a two-thirds majority, which is somewhat significant—provided, of course, that the electoral process is not corrupted and that the elections are free and fair.
The elections planned for 2007 are critical. On them depends Bangladesh’s ability to move forward, to become a dynamic economy and to eliminate poverty, which is the ambition of so many noble Lords. That will not happen if the elections are corrupted and if the world’s largest, longest-standing Muslim democracy is subverted. Your Lordships’ House, Her Majesty’s Government and the many thousands of British citizens with strong ties with Bangladesh, together with our counterparts throughout Europe, all have a part to play in protecting and supporting Bangladesh at this time.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing this question to the attention of the House. It is always a great pleasure to hear speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, they speak with great authority on the subject. I also relished hearing my noble friend Lord Pearson congratulating the European Parliament.
Although Bangladesh does not attract the attention that it deserves in the media, the stability of its political system is of great concern to other countries in the area and beyond. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, pointed out that a large number of people living in this country have a special interest in Bangladesh. I hope that this timely debate will go some way to ensuring that Bangladesh is given the priority that it deserves by our Government.
We have heard today about some very negative aspects of Bangladesh, but it has made great strides towards democracy during the past 15 years. The path from dictatorship to democracy is never easy. The high standard that Bangladesh has reached in a number of domestic and international fields is remarkable, even without considering the troubled history from which the country has emerged.
Bangladesh shows that it is possible for undemocratic countries to change. It is, as has been said, one of the largest Muslim-majority countries in the world and was a military dictatorship only 16 years ago. Yet it now has a secular constitution and is ranked above Italy for gender equality by the World Economic Forum. It has delivered economic growth at a rate higher than that of India and China and has, through that growth, reduced poverty from 70 per cent in 1971 to less than 42 per cent in 2004.
However, as we have heard during this debate, Bangladesh's democracy and stability are not unassailable and are in a particularly vulnerable position at the moment. The caretaker Government must deliver free and fair elections by the end of January. That is a very short time to improve the accuracy of the electoral register, and to ensure the participation of all major political parties and that the process goes through without violence or malpractice. As the largest development partner of Bangladesh, I am pleased to hear that Britain is helping to fund non-governmental organisations assisting with those aims. I hope that we can make a difference to their effectiveness.
Bangladesh also suffers from the long-running and, by now, familiar problems of powerful Islamic fundamentalist groups, accusations of human rights breaches by the police and an uncertain treatment of religious minorities. Unfortunately, attacks on and harassment of vulnerable communities are getting more frequent. What is more, the persecution appears to be encouraged, incited and legitimised by certain political parties in the governing coalition. What are the Government doing to put pressure on their Bangladeshi counterparts to end this persecution of the Ahmadiyya community?
Those problems are certain to be encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan as they, too, climb the long path out of tyranny. Lessons learned now will be invaluable there in future. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that sufficient attention and support is being given to Bangladesh at this time? It would be foolish either to allow the country to slip back into military dictatorship or to allow the instability to spread and become entrenched.
Bangladesh is also a member of the Commonwealth. As such, we have a unique and valuable organisation with which to support and encourage Bangladesh. For example, it would be an obvious forum in which to help to resolve the cross-border issues that Bangladesh and India are currently debating. Her Majesty's Government generally seem to ignore the Commonwealth, but I hope that in this case we will be reassured that we are using the Commonwealth effectively.
Finally, I wish the caretaker Government success in their endeavours to hold free and fair elections and again encourage Her Majesty's Government to do everything in their power to assist and support them in that work. Bangladesh has taken enormous steps forward recently and it would be disastrous if that painstaking work by so many were to go to waste.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he welcomes the deep interest of the Bangladeshi community in this debate and the presence of a hugely significant number of Bangladeshis both here and outside the House? Does he also agree that, alongside taking an interest in the democracy of Bangladesh, our eagerness should equally be applied to ensuring that our democratic process and structures take account of the need of Bangladeshis to have an input into our democratic process and structures: a Member of the Commons for instance?
My Lords, I am grateful for the intervention of the noble Baroness. I made a point of looking up to the Gallery when I mentioned the large number of Bangladeshis living in our country and I certainly very much hope that they can play a big part in how democracy in this country works.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for securing this debate and giving us the opportunity to draw attention to the important issue of elections in Bangladesh. As the debate has clearly demonstrated, this is a critical time for Bangladesh. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, correctly drew our attention to the fact that it is an extraordinary country that has shown that a country can move peacefully from dictatorship to democracy—a Muslim democracy. That is a truly fine achievement.
The elections scheduled for January 2007 will determine the country's future course and its ability to address the enormous challenges that it faces. It is right for the UK to engage. Britain is a good friend of Bangladesh and we believe in the potential of the country and its people. It has achieved sustained economic growth in recent years and the number of those living in abject poverty has been reduced. The work of Professor Yunus and Grameen in pioneering micro-credit for the poor, to which my noble friends correctly drew our attention, has been recognised by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, something of which Bangladeshis can be rightly proud. We add our congratulations to the professor and his team.
Bangladesh is a country with great potential. However, its potential risks being buried. My noble friend Lord Ahmed spoke of turmoil in that country. Deeply rooted corruption and poor governance threaten economic and human development. Insecurity and extremism threaten stability. Human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings, remain a concern, especially for vulnerable and excluded minority communities. The next Government will need to address those issues if Bangladesh is to fulfil its ambitions.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, raised issues relating to the threat of extremism. All departments in Her Majesty's Government are working closely together to address the threat of extremism. We hope that the sharing of our experience through partnership with the Government of Bangladesh on counter-terrorism is helping on that front. On Islamist parties, we think it important to maintain links with all parties that participate in the democratic process in Bangladesh. The noble Lord also raised the issue of the visa given to Delwar Hossain Sayeedi. We do not comment on individual visa applications, as the noble Lord will understand. All applications are considered in accordance with the immigration rules.
Corruption is a particular concern. Bangladesh has consistently figured at or near the bottom of Transparency International’s global annual corruption perceptions index. Deep-rooted corruption leads to decisions that are not in the public interest. In particular, it penalises the poor, who are always hit hardest by bad governance. It is a huge drag on the country’s economic growth. Every year, corruption costs Bangladesh 2 per cent of GDP. This extra 2 per cent could cut the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty from 36 per cent to 11 per cent by 2020. Of course, corruption cannot be eradicated overnight. There has to be political will. There is a need to create a greater awareness among the people that corruption is simply not acceptable. DfID and other international donors are working over the longer term on Bangladesh’s important governance agenda.
The next Government can address these major challenges only if they have a legitimate democratic mandate, secured through a fair, free, peaceful and accepted electoral contest; a popular expression of the people’s interests and a willingness to be held accountable. This is why the elections scheduled for January 2007 will be critical for Bangladesh. The coming weeks will shape the country’s future and its prospects for democratic, economic and human development. This Government have not shied away from their responsibility, as a friend of Bangladesh, to press this home. Indeed, it was the prominent theme of the visit to Bangladesh last week of my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister with responsibility for trade.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was right to draw our attention to the violence and continuing threat of violence. I share his horror at the levels of bloodshed in recent weeks, during which we have witnessed at least 60 deaths and thousands injured. Violence has no place in a democratic society. Nothing is to be gained through more bloodshed and violent division: everyone loses. Violence tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation as a democratic nation. It hinders development, degrades governance and harms the interests of the Bangladeshi people. The security of all voters, party activists, leaders and the media is a fundamental right. I wholeheartedly agree that freedom for journalists and free speech are at the heart of democracy. Our High Commission naturally draws special attention to this issue, and will brief election observers accordingly.
I am also deeply disturbed by reports that women have been subjected to intimidation, and I understand that this is having a detrimental effect on their participation in campaigning. But it is political parties that have the real responsibility here. They must demonstrate leadership by publicly calling for peace and restraint and by curbing the violent excesses of activists, and they must set an example by resolving differences through consensus. We have stressed this message many times and, last week, my right honourable friend urged commitment from both party leaders—commitment that must continue after the election.
On the voter lists, the full participation not only of the parties but of the electorate is essential to democratic legitimacy. When my right honourable friend met Bangladeshi human rights advocates last week, they expressed concern over the intimidation of ethnic and religious minorities and their exclusion from the voter list. Mr McCartney urged the leaders of the main parties to make a commitment to address these and other human rights concerns in their election manifestos and for the future of Bangladesh’s human rights beyond the election. Full participation is a live issue. A crucial measure of the fairness of any election is the accuracy and inclusiveness of the electoral roll—the voter list. The international community and NGOs must scrutinise this process. All Bangladeshis deserve the right to vote. We have called on the Election Commission to ensure that, and that it is achieved transparently, competently and independently.
My noble friend Lady Uddin and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referred very warmly to the European Parliament resolution on the voter list—a unique occasion in this Chamber. The resolution reflected the views of the European parliamentarians that this Government’s position on elections has been clear and consistent. We look to the caretaker Government to fulfil their role transparently and independently. We look to the parties to show responsible leadership and restraint.
The caretaker Government and the Election Commission must also ensure that political parties are allowed to campaign freely and peacefully. Campaigning should be positive and issues-based. All parties must be afforded political space. The people of Bangladesh deserve to have their views and interests heard. They also deserve balanced coverage of electoral issues in the media. The role of the caretaker Government is hugely important. Ultimately, they will be judged on their ability to provide an environment conducive to holding free, fair, peaceful and accepted elections—an environment in which the rule of law applies.
In a democratic election, there can be no violence, intimidation or manipulation of ballots. The electorate must be able to exercise their democratic mandate securely and peacefully. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, clearly demonstrated, the rule of law must also be respected by those enforcing it. We have called on the parties to engage constructively and responsibly with the caretaker Government to achieve this. For the people of Bangladesh to have faith in the election outcome, it will be important for Bangladeshi civil society to have its say. The Government of Bangladesh are on record as having requested donor assistance ahead of the January 2007 election. In response, DfID has provided £1.1 million to the Asia Foundation, to international monitors and the work of 35 Bangladeshi NGOs, with a focus on election monitoring, issues-based campaigning and violence prevention. In 2001, this community helped to deliver a non-violent election day. This is work by Bangladeshis for Bangladeshis. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that such assistance is important not only in supporting the election process but in helping Bangladeshi civil society to develop what is going to be a vital role as the country addresses serious and longer-term governance challenges.
We have set out our expectations. They are no different from those that we would have for any other democracy. It is not for us to interfere. We see our role as one of engagement and, where we can, of assisting the caretaker Government to function effectively in an inclusive, transparent and non-partisan way. Consulting closely with the EU, the US and other international partners, our High Commission in Dhaka has consistently transmitted those key messages to the caretaker Government, the party leaders and the media, and we will continue to do so. It is vital that the messages from the international community are clear and consistent.
The international community’s verdict on the conduct of the elections will be based largely on the observation of those elections. Recent election-evaluation missions by the UN, the EU and the US have consistently identified key issues for the parties, the Election Commission and the caretaker Government to address. I look to them fully to address those concerns, notably the concerns about the performance of the Election Commission and the content of the voter list. I am pleased that Foreign Office officials met the all-party group recently to update it on election issues and the future of Bangladesh. Foreign Office officials remain in close contact with the all-party group, advising it on its applications to participate as part of the EU observer mission. Foreign Office officials are also in touch with the Commonwealth Secretariat, which has now confirmed that it will be sending a Commonwealth election observer mission to Bangladesh. I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Astor, that the Commonwealth is a very important partnership for us. It is a forum in which we could and should be doing more.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about consultation between observers on the spot and whether there was a mechanism. The UN election observer mission will co-ordinate the various international observer missions. Our High Commissioner in Dhaka is in regular contact with the UN and all election observer missions.
On UK nationals who might participate in the EU monitoring teams and whether or not they are from the Bangladeshi community, the European Commission has not yet decided the composition of an observer team. We are aware that members of the Bangladeshi community wish to apply to become EU observers, but we have no information about whether they have formally submitted an application. We are confident, however, that whoever is included in the observer team from the UK will make an important contribution.
My noble friend Lady Uddin is right; we must not forget the excellent progress that has been made in Bangladesh. The recent growth rate, as noble Lords have already said, is in excess of 5 per cent, which is indeed impressive. There should be much to be positive about, but, sadly, the widespread political demonstrations and the blockade of ports, transport and communications ahead of the elections are having a serious impact on the economy. Poor governance and corruption is already costing the economy 2 per cent of its GDP every year. The election should set the tone for a more positive business atmosphere. International investors need certainty and stability. Britain, as the largest foreign investor in Bangladesh, has a clear interest in seeing that the Bangladeshi economy prospers. The international investor community has an important role to play in telling the caretaker Government and political parties that in a competitive global economy, delivering a stable investment climate is a necessity for future development.
I turn to our longer-term commitment to Bangladesh. It is of course entirely understandable that elections should now be the main focus, but I want to stress that this Government’s commitment is about the long term. We have achieved a step change in relations with Bangladesh in recent years, and we are the leading investor. DfID’s commitment of more than £120 million this year makes it the largest bilateral aid donor. A vibrant Bangladeshi community in the UK of more than 300,000 people, something that I celebrate, ensures that people-to-people contacts continue to multiply and enrich both countries. We look forward to working with the new Government to build on the country’s strengths and advantages and to help them address the challenges of reducing poverty, improving governance and tackling extremism.
My noble friend Lady Uddin rightly asked what steps the Government will take to ensure that there is reconciliation between the two parties after the election. Our High Commission in Dhaka has actively encouraged dialogue between the parties and stands ready to do so after the elections. But primarily, of course, it is for the parties themselves to resolve their differences in a mature and responsible fashion. That is absolutely vital for the future of Bangladesh.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the position of women, and I am pleased to say that DfID’s programme on women’s rights includes a £12 million package to strengthen the “people’s voice” in demanding their rights, in particular land and legal rights, and with a focus on women. More than 350,000 people have been reached so far, which is a great tribute to the work of DfID. The department’s continuing large commitment to Bangladesh under the country assistance plan will be a significant element of this country’s Bangladesh policy.
I thank noble Lords for such a thought-provoking debate on the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh. There has been general agreement that it is for Bangladeshis to solve their own problems and to make a success of the elections; it is not for the international community to interfere. But I believe that this debate has demonstrated fully the important role that the international community can and must play in ensuring that the Bangladeshi people get the free, fair, peaceful and accepted elections they deserve. As noble Lords have demonstrated, international pressure works. Bangladesh, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, must not become a failed state. It must be a thriving democracy—a thriving Muslim democracy. The international community should continue to deliver clear and consistent messages to the caretaker Government and the parties on the importance of meeting the standards necessary. The people and the parties will look to international election observers to validate the elections. The international community can help to build the capacity of Bangladeshi NGOs to monitor and assess the elections.
I believe that Britain is playing its role on all of these fronts. The Government will continue to call for action to ensure the legitimacy of the elections, will contribute to EU monitoring, and will maintain their support for local NGOs. We look forward to helping the Bangladeshis achieve a successful election and to working with Bangladesh over the longer term to help that country achieve its very considerable potential, which has been epitomised by Professor Yunus.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken part in the debate, but particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, with her vast experience of Bangladesh and of the Bangladeshi communities in the UK. We have all listened to her with great respect, and particularly when she said that monitoring the elections on polling day would be too late. We have to look at the whole process leading up to the elections. Indeed, the one disappointment I have with this debate is that the Minister did not address sufficiently the problems surrounding the appointments of the chief adviser, of the chief election commissioner and of the assistants to the chief election commissioner who are all alleged to be biased in favour of the previous Government, making it virtually impossible for the election machinery to be run in an impartial and unbiased manner. If that is so, then as the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, pointed out, it does not matter what happens on polling day because the elections will not be free and fair. I therefore reiterate that we must ensure that the observer missions look at this aspect of the matter and evaluate the possibilities of a level playing field before they go on to consider the mechanics of the elections themselves.
We have heard from numerous participants in the debate that Bangladesh presents us with a paradox. On the one hand, we have the brilliant achievements of Professor Yunus, and I join with all those who congratulated him on the award of the Nobel Prize, along with many other distinguished intellectuals—scientists, writers and so forth—of Bangladeshi origin; Bangladesh’s achievement in the attainment of some of the millennium development goals; and its securing a much higher rate of growth than anyone would have predicted 10 years ago. That is the favourable picture. But, on the other hand, we have a dysfunctionality in the political parties and the war between the two ladies which has led to the present desperate political situation and the virtual impossibility of securing a level playing field in the 45 days that remain before the elections. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to ensure that in the briefing we give to the delegations, particularly to the European Union in which we will play a prominent part, and perhaps to the Commonwealth delegation as well, we stress that they should look at the preliminaries and not concentrate on the mechanics of the elections.
What we say now is not going to have a great effect on developments over the coming 45 days. All we can say for this debate is that, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, it has attracted very wide attention among the Bangladeshi community in this country as well as among the media in Bangladesh itself. It is only a matter of great regret to me that however many times we talk about Bangladesh either in this House or in seminars outside, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, pointed out, our own media studiously ignore everything that is said—in spite of the importance of what happens in Bangladesh to our country, to the Commonwealth, and to the world as a whole.
Again, I am extraordinarily grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and I now beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly at this point to say that the time limits for the next debate have changed. For noble Lords other than the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and my noble friend Lord Drayson, the time limit for speaking has changed to 12 minutes. It was originally 14 minutes, but a noble Lord’s name was omitted from the speakers list and has now been included. Again, the time for speeches is now 12 minutes.
North Korea: Nuclear Test
rose to call attention to the implications of North Korea’s decision to conduct its first nuclear test; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion, I should like to thank in advance all those Members of your Lordships’ House who are to participate in the debate, and I should like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to raise the matter today. This is the third occasion on which I have had the privilege of opening a debate in your Lordships’ House on the subject of North Korea. Today I should like to raise three interconnected strands: security questions, humanitarian issues and human rights. Each of these concerns plays into the other.
This Motion was tabled in the aftermath of the October weapons test at Gilju in Hamgyong Province. In becoming the ninth country to possess nuclear weapons, North Korea’s actions were described by China as “brazen”, by Japan as “unpardonable” and by the United States as “provocative”. But of course the test did not just come out of the blue. Its genesis lies in the unfinished business of the 1950 to 1953 war in Korea, which claimed between 2.5 million and 3.5 million lives, including those of 1,000 British servicemen. With the 1953 ceasefire, the country was severed along the 38th parallel and, technically, the principal combatants are still at war. The border bristles with mines, artillery and troops. Anyone who travels in North Korea sees a state whose massive arsenal and resources are overwhelmingly geared to the protection and the survival of the regime.
When, in 2003, North Korea pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, its intentions rapidly became clear. It also became clear that primarily China, through the control of electricity and oil, was in a position to temper the DPRK’s military ambitions. In September 2005, there was a brief glimmer of hope when, during the six-nation talks, North Korea agreed to give up nuclear activity, only to be followed by contradictory statements from Sean McCormack, the White House spokesman, and a retraction by the DPRK the following day. Then, of course, in July of this year, North Korea test-fired seven missiles, and in October it proceeded to test a nuclear device.
On 14 October, the Security Council responded by unanimously voting to impose weapons and financial sanctions. Resolution 1718 demanded that North Korea eliminate all its nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. The resolution also called for Pyongyang to return “without precondition” to the stalled six-nation talks. On 31 October, China announced that the talks would resume “soon”.
If the unfinished business of 1953 continues to have huge security implications, there are also implications for humanitarian and human rights concerns as well. These three questions are inextricably linked and need to be tackled together. Let us take, for example, the humanitarian situation. The escalation of the security issues is already having an adverse effect, in particular on the provision of food aid, which will lead to famine and mass starvation. This, in turn, will lead to more people trying to flee the country, which, in turn, will lead to their incarceration and unspeakable violations of human rights if they are caught.
At a meeting here on 16 November addressed by Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights, I asked him about the plight of the 400,000 people estimated to have been killed by the regime in the past three decades, about the 200,000 people said to be currently detained in the country’s gulags and about the likelihood of a new famine and mass starvation following 2 million deaths during the famine of the 1990s. His view was that there is a real danger of a new famine. That was endorsed on Monday of this week at a meeting held under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I chair.
Professor Hazel Smith worked for the World Food Programme in North Korea. She told us:
“The under twenties have never seen anything other than hunger and if food doesn’t go in there will be another famine, and soon”.
Last week, during the debate on the gracious Speech, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, disputed figures that I gave the House concerning food aid. I said that funds for the World Food Programme were down from £6 million to £1.9 million. These figures were not mine; they were the figures of the special rapporteur, Professor Muntarbhorn. He added:
“In reality it could be even half of this amount”.
He told us that only 10 per cent of needed funds have come in and that only 30 countries out of 200 had contributed food. China is believed to have cut food support by one-third and South Korea suspended shipments after Pyongyang’s missile tests in July.
North Korea has, of course, scandalously used at least 30 per cent of its GDP on armaments and in developing nuclear weapons—resources that should have been used to develop the country’s economy and agriculture—but we have to draw a distinction between a regime and its ideology on the one hand and the people of that benighted land on the other.
More than 37 per cent of six year-olds in North Korea are chronically malnourished. Stunted growth among the population has even led—this is an interesting illustration—to the height requirement for the North Korean army being reduced from 4 foot 11 to 4 foot 3.
Professor Smith says that the country’s stocks of food,
“will not last long into the New Year”.
We must not become complicit in the potential starvation of millions of people. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, replies to the debate he will be able to give the House details of the current humanitarian situation, particularly regarding food.
We must also consider the implications of the worsening situation for human rights on the Korean peninsular. Without UNHCR access, and in breach of the 1951 convention, China continues to return many of the 50,000 refugees who have fled there. I would like to know from the Government what representations we have made about this. The worsening security and economic situation will undoubtedly add to that exodus. What will be their fate? Two weeks ago the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a motion detailing North Korea’s use of torture, public executions and degrading treatments, as well as a morass of other allegations. The penal code particularly, we should note, criminalises defection.
In 2003, my noble friend Lady Cox, who will speak more extensively on this point later in our proceedings, and I travelled to North Korea. My interest had been initially aroused when an escapee came to London and graphically described to me how his wife and young family had all died, either from starvation or as they tried to escape from North Korea into China. For years in the West, we genuinely claimed to know very little of the realities of life in North Korea, but thanks to the testimonies of escapees this is no longer a tenable argument.
In the aftermath of the Korean War, North Korea’s leaders implemented a policy of “juche”—or self-reliance—which has led to decades of isolation. It has led to the state linking itself to criminal activities, including the narcotics trade, to abductions, to the testing, according to BBC allegations, of chemical weapons on civilians and to alleged links with terrorism; and it has led to torture and execution.
On 30 October, the all-party group hosted the launch of a 142-page report 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 spoke at the launch of the report, which is called Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea. I have placed a copy of that report in the Library of your Lordships’ House.
The report invites the United Nations Security Council to evaluate the egregious violations of human rights in North Korea; to consider using Chapter 6 powers rather than those in Chapter 7; and to adopt a non-punitive resolution urging the DPRK to allow open access for international humanitarian organisations to feed its people. It calls for the release of political prisoners, as well as insisting that the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea should be permitted to visit the country. If the new doctrine of “the responsibility to protect” means anything, the UN needs to respond positively to the Havel/Wiesel/Bondevik report, copies of which I have sent to the Prime Minister, the principal opposition spokesmen on foreign affairs and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman.
What would be a thoughtful and intelligent response to North Korea? One thing is clear: 50 years of isolation have not worked, and attempting to starve a patriotic and proud people into submission will not work either.
Following the talks that my noble friend and I had with senior figures in Pyongyang, including Kim Yong Nam, the president of the Presidium, and Choe Tae Boc, the Speaker of their Assembly, whom we invited to the United Kingdom in March 2004, we have argued for what I have called “Helsinki with an Asian face”, engaging respectfully, sincerely and forcefully on questions such as judicial reform. If the declared objective is simply regime change, then that will not work either. We need carrots as well as sticks. In some respects, I think that isolation rather suits the hardliners in the DPRK.
Although the United States is understandably wary of being detached from the six-nation talks, I can see no justification for continuing the illusion that the US never talks directly to Pyongyang. There have been plenty of periodic encounters at the margins of multilateral talks. For instance, Kim Jong-il met Madeleine Albright. Establishing an embassy and diplomatic relations, as the United Kingdom has done, would be a positive and constructive move and could hardly be portrayed as rewarding the regime.
And what about the United Kingdom? North Korea’s ambassador to London, Yong-ho Ri, has just been recalled to Pyongyang, where he is likely to have a key role in overseeing the six-nation talks. I met him before he left, and he believes, as I do, that the UK could be a useful bridge-builder between the United States and North Korea. He also believes that Britain should provide leadership in Brussels in seeking varying levels of constructive engagement, especially once the security concerns are resolved through development aid and assistance towards reunification of the two Koreas.
All that said, for North Korea it is the United States that matters. It is the major player involved, and it alone can guarantee the security that North Korea craves. That is precisely the successful approach used by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher during the worst years of the Cold War. Think of the normalisation of US-Libyan relations in 2004.
Recent changes in Washington create new opportunities. Yesterday Tom Lantos, who is about to become chairman of the congressional Committee on International Relations, said that he is willing to meet Kim Jong-il, and he says that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill should be dispatched to Pyongyang to open a dialogue. There are also other new, lower-key policy options that we can pursue. We have nothing to fear from, for example, student scholarships and exchanges, medical assistance or the offer of technical assistance to promote the rule of law. That will be crucial to economic development as well as to changing attitudes towards human rights.
While more substantial engagement depends on North Korea’s compliance with Security Council resolutions, the UK should in principle support its wish for sustainable development rather than food aid. Tying such development aid to capacity building in the rule of law would be a virtuous conditionality. English language training is also vital if North Korea is to be drawn into the international community and into rules-based international systems. The engagement policy of the South Korean Government also deserves our wholehearted support.
We should explore all possible steps that can open space for civil society, however modest. The “hermit kingdom” needs to know about the outside world, as opposed to the distorted picture that its people have been fed all their lives. We must encourage any moves towards reform and openness, not to mention making a small improvement in people’s lives. That might include scholarships, encouraging cultural exchange and pushing for more access by non-governmental organisations. Those are necessarily modest steps, but they should be supported by a clear road map that shows North Korea that it has an alternative. We should spell out what will flow and be on offer if it agrees to verifiably dismantle its nuclear programme, open up to the outside world, reform its economy and start taking steps to improve human rights and allow for basic freedoms. It should be made clear to the DPRK that nobody seeks to punish the country for its own sake, but that it has an option of being helped towards a better future. Essentially, that is precisely what President Bush and Secretary of State Rice said in Hanoi recently.
In many respects, North Korea’s mad dash to develop a nuclear weapon is a sign of weakness and desperation, and we should see it thus. When my noble friend Lady Cox and I stood at Panmunjom on the North Korean side of the border, where the 1953 ceasefire was signed, it was hard not to think of Berlin and the Cold War that divided and devastated large swathes of Europe. North Korea is often called “the land that never changes”, but for the sake of its people and its neighbours we should devote our energies to disproving that proposition. I beg to move for papers.
My Lords, I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for this debate. I suffer from the great weakness that I have spent most of my life in trade and the financing of trade, and I have never understood, nor will I ever understand, international politics. However, I have always felt that when a country is divided and both countries keep the same name, they probably intend to unite.
My only knowledge and understanding of Korea goes back to Bill Speakman’s VC, the glorious Glosters at Imjin River and Hill 327. More recently, though, maybe 25 years ago, when I was working in the banking world, I was told that Korea was a good place that could build ships, and that it could undertake major contracts. I am afraid I did not believe it. Then I found that the Korean contractors—I still called all of them “Korean”—were some of the most successful in the Middle East, that their shipbuilding side was outstanding, and that on the electronic side they had become pretty important.
In looking at trade and the opportunities that go with it, there is no such thing as geography, and here politics comes into it. I was always amazed that when I worked in and with some of the extreme socialist states such as Libya, Angola, Cuba, Vietnam or even Iran, they all had a trading relationship. I shall use Vietnam as an example. It was a total no-go area. It was the “axis of evil”. It had a close relationship with Iran when I was out there. I found to my amazement that there were swaps going on for rice and energy. North Vietnam had a problem, however: the rice was broken. I had no knowledge of rice. I knew that Thai rice was among the best in the world, and I do not think many of us ever believed the rice world would grow to be so broad and wide. I was asked by the Vietnamese if I could help them, because it was the British who had put in the original mills that were now breaking and grinding the rice in the wrong way. Somewhere out of the woodwork in the United Kingdom came an elderly man who had been out there and knew all about it, and before long various bits of kit were sent out to repair the mills. Then it turned out that North Vietnam had a valuable deep water port, and the Norwegian shipping industry decided to go and revitalise it. Now many people go on holiday to North Vietnam.
In the financial world we always had a rule: you did not finance any country unless you had been there, and “been there” meant you had to have been there within the previous 90 days. I found to my surprise, when I was introduced to North Korea—I have not been there; this is the only time I have spoken in this House about a country to which I have not been—that I was an unwilling interlocutor between some forms of extremists. I mentioned that in your Lordships’ House in an earlier debate.
I was dragged into all this. I was in Berlin last week, seeing the same sort of friends, and they said, “You British have got a role here. You must help North Korea”. I said, “How can we do that?”, and they said, “Oh Lord, go and see them. Tell them what you think”. I went to see Ambassador Pak, an elderly ambassador in the Korean Embassy in Berlin, when there were no other people around. I have the feeling that Berlin is still the centre of North Korean politics in Europe. I sat down with the ambassador and his chargé, and said, “Can I speak openly?”. He said, “Yes. Can I speak openly too?”. I said, “Look, you’ve got get rid of all this nuclear stuff. Everybody’s getting worked up about it. What can I do to help? Can’t we give you a few power stations or things like that instead? We won’t tell anybody, but we could do that”.
They reminded me, as I was reminded again last week, that the United States had originally proposed to build North Korea a nuclear power station, before pulling out, because power was one of the problems that created serious difficulties for the country. These days there are new developments, and I think we should give North Korea a nuclear power station. Coal power stations were also suggested, as it has coal. As your Lordships will be aware, there has been a cycle in the nuclear world with a return to thorium, which is safe and non-weapons grade.
We had these discussions, and they said they would like a few power stations. I said, “What about the Americans? They’re the ones who cause the problems”. They said, “Ah. You see, this all began when they came up the Daedong River, robbed the tombs of our ancestors and took the gold crowns out”. I have never been able to find out who did that, or how. They continued: “Then they made more difficulties for us so we had to let them know that, although they did one good thing—President Roosevelt in 1906 got the Nobel peace prize for ending the Russo-Japanese war”. My knowledge of conflicts in that part of the world is limited.
Their tirade against the United States went on. That was why Korea had to have the Taepo Dong 1, the short-range missile, which was quite good, so many of them were made. It was also why Korea sent the Taepo Dong 2 over Japan. The missile was empty, as was pointed out. It was rather like the situation with Iraqi Scud missiles; you want to frighten people and make them think you are more important and powerful than you are. That is why the Taepo Dong 3 has a range that, I am told, would take out Washington and New York. When I spent some time in Ukraine and went around the Dnipropetrovsk missile factory, they had SS-24s, or maybe SS-25s or SS-26s. I said, “How far do you go up? Why does everyone go progressively from one number to the next—one, two, three? Why don’t they jump a few?”. “Ah,” they said, “you don’t know that we don’t have an SS-50”. During my conversations in Berlin, the ambassador said, “There may be many other missiles—and of course we are going to join the space race”.
Here is a very proud people who would tell you that they have 16,000 howitzers which can land on Seoul. As we were talking in German, I was not quite sure what a howitzer was these days—I thought it was something antique. I met Dr Hans Haubenschild, quite a remarkable man. Sometimes you can go into a room and feel that the person you are with is a good man. He was in charge of the East German training programme for Koreans before perestroika and had trained 600 young Korean orphans. They were sent back, so many a year, over 10 to 20 years, trained in everything. I asked whether that could have included nuclear, and he said that it included everything, from the full range of the arts. Then I was attacked because of who had made them orphans—the United States of America. The anti-American feeling is genuine in a way but much of it is, I feel, promotional.
Dr Haubenschild died a year ago, and I was asked to the funeral. He was replaced by another man, who was trying to see whether the British could help get rid of the mines between north and south. He even asked whether I could put him in touch with the people who had the support of Princess Diana. When I had these discussions, I was told that they all get together some time but that they had different cultures and different rules. When I said that the extreme left was fading away, I was told that the Cubans were too liberal for them now, Iran was changing and there is no solid grouping of extreme left states any more. So they will move with the times.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, quite rightly, there is a need for a carrot. I have a feeling that we should be looking at helping them with their power stations and in other fields, but doing a trade in reduction. At 11.28 this morning a statement was sent out from Beijing that Christopher Hill had returned with a promise from North Korea that the discussions over the past two days would be considered very seriously. I believe there is a chance that these discussions could be considered seriously, provided that someone else can intervene and broker them. I do not think that the United States can do that and, in a strange way, nor can we.
In Germany this week, the all-party group sat with the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and various committees and talked about Iran, Iraq and North Korea. They seem pretty well determined that they would do what they could during their presidency to solve these problems. Recognising that the relationships that existed between East Germany and North Korea might have been stronger than any other, I believe that the Germans could play an important leading role. When we had our chargé in North Korea, he was in the German compound.
I have been told that many of the NGOs are finding it difficult to do things over there. I was told last week that things were not quite so serious on the food front; they are managing but they do not want to use the begging bowl because of their pride.
It is a country which offers a great challenge. I believe that there is a genuine possibility that it could be united, possibly within my lifetime. Once these things start, they move quickly. But unless we can help them build and develop their economy, we will find it extremely difficult. I hold no brief for any political views; I have been with the left, the right, the north and the south. I have been attacked as a lackey of British imperialism. I have had everything thrown at me and have absorbed it with sloping shoulders.
What we need is dialogue. It was put to me that perhaps the least democratic and worst country in the world was a British colony called Rhodesia. The devils in the world are all around. Our Government and others should do the maximum to start a dialogue between individuals, not necessarily Governments.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for calling this debate on North Korea. As we discussed in the debate on the gracious Speech, the international security outlook is very gloomy, and proliferation is high on the agenda. In looking for the best way forward, as your Lordships will do throughout this debate, we need to reflect on the various approaches tried in recent years, learn the lessons from them and look at the policy options that could help to counter the proliferation problem, to benefit regional stability in the longer term and to improve the prospects of the benighted people of North Korea.
While the nuclear test of 9 October this year was presumably North Korea wanting to signal its membership of the nuclear club, the country has, of course, been working towards this moment for a very long time, going back to its civil nuclear programme of the 1960s. By the early 1990s, the United States was concerned that it might have already extracted enough plutonium-based fissile material from a research reactor to make a bomb. That led to the negotiated agreed framework, which was designed to provide two light-water reactors and oil to compensate for the nuclear energy lost in return for a freeze on the North Korean nuclear programme. That light-water project, as we heard, fell behind schedule, and we know now that from 1996 the North Koreans started a covert programme of uranium enrichment, which they eventually admitted to in 2002.
While all this was going on, the diplomatic game changed very significantly, with the change of US Administration at the start of 2001. It certainly appeared at first that the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, would continue the Clinton Administration’s policy of diplomacy as the best way of preventing North Korea from becoming a nuclear weapons state. But very early in 2001 the Secretary of State was countermanded by President Bush, who made it clear that he no longer supported the north/south dialogue. A year later, in the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush completed the diplomatic isolation of North Korea by making it number three on the axis of evil.
It is easy to argue that North Korea would have continued on the path to its nuclear test whatever the circumstances, even if support had continued for the sunshine policy rather than the country’s inclusion on the hit list represented by the axis of evil. However, it is clear that once Iraq, the number one nation on the axis of evil, was invaded, the other two—Iran and North Korea—were reinforced rather than deterred in their views about the need for nuclear capability. By the time the diplomatic path found favour again through the six-party talks, which started in August 2003 after North Korea had withdrawn from the NPT, it was clear that North Korea’s attitude was that the United States would remain a hostile power.
Now that the test has happened, we need to assess the threat that that capability represents and, in the light of that, what we need to do. Assessing North Korea’s nuclear capability is a somewhat imperfect art. It must be based on the amount of fissile material produced each year, the technical capability to weaponise it and the availability of delivery systems. There seems widespread agreement that the test of 9 October produced a surprisingly low yield—less than 1 kilotonne. That could mean that it was an only partially successful fizzle, in the terminology of the nuclear weapons people, or that the North Koreans are so advanced that they can produce extraordinarily low-yield weapons. I think the former is more likely. In plutonium-based weapons, such a fizzle can result from pre-detonation, insufficient manufacturing precision or impurities in the weapons material. That suggests that they have some way to go before they can produce an assured weaponised capability in a form which can be delivered over a distance.
Estimates on the amount of fissile material North Korea can produce are also uncertain. I draw for my data upon the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. On plutonium, North Korea currently has one small 5 megawatt electric reactor which is calculated to have produced, during its lifetime, 43 kilograms of plutonium, plus or minus 10 kilograms. That represents between five and 15 weapons’ worth, a rate of production that will produce one new bomb per year.
There is a larger reactor, which North Korea still has not finished building, although it has been under construction for some 20 years. If that were ever brought into service, North Korea could produce enough plutonium for 10 to 15 bombs per year. Delivery systems, which were also an important part of the threat that North Korea’s weapons represent, are another problem area for the country. The failure of the test firings on 5 July shows that it has some way to go with its missile technology. Even when you have the missile and the warhead, you still have the problem of how you put them together and get them to fit into each other. So we need to take a long view about when North Korea will be able to threaten its neighbours with a fully working nuclear weapons system.
Nuclear weapons are not the only threat that North Korea presents. There is a whole range of security questions, and one needs to consider all of them when strategising about how to tackle North Korea. I shall try to put in rough order the threats that North Korea poses to the international system.
First, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the primary threat is to North Korea’s own people, who are suffering not only an intolerable abuse of human rights but deprivation, famine and death from both natural and state causes. I think that the whole GDP of North Korea is somewhat less than the defence budget that the Minister looks after.
The second most important threat is what would happen if the state were to collapse or implode and refugees flooded across the borders from north to south. There is a potential population of 23 million.
The third threat that I would worry about is the still possible conventional war. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, may not be sure what howitzers North Korea has, but it has an awful lot of them and a very big conventional capability, which is within range of being able to take out Seoul. Under “conventional” I include chemical weapons, because North Korea is assumed to have a fairly strong chemical weapons capability.
The fourth threat that I would worry about is the effect of North Korea coming into the nuclear club on other potential proliferators. How we handle that will affect what other potential proliferators decide to do. The fifth threat is the potential sale of nuclear capability to third parties.
Then we come on to the direct threats. First, there are the threats to regional neighbours, including Japan, from North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and then the much longer-term threat of a longer-range strategic possibility. When we look for policies, we have to take into account that if we counter one concern and tackle only one problem we may exacerbate others. We need a strategy that addresses all the problems with the best possible outcome. The UN Security Council resolution following the tests, which has been mentioned, was useful in showing a united international view. Despite the North Korean claims that sanctions were an act of war, seeing China and Russia support the United Nations must have helped put pressure on the regime. The return of North Korea to the six-party talks is also a sign of hope.
North Korea is a very fragile state, however, and the international community, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, needs to be careful that it does not turn the screw so tightly that it collapses uncontrollably. It may be that, as Robert Kaplan has argued, we shall see a future in which China will play a bigger part, establishing its own client regime to produce a sort of Tibetan-style colony, which might bring less risk of instability but would scarcely deliver the free North Korea that we should be seeking in the longer term.
When we look at options for action, it is a relief that, for once, not even the most hawkish experts are arguing for military intervention. There seems little doubt that there would be an immediate military response against South Korea, with massive death and destruction. There would also be a reluctance to contemplate a military stabilisation exercise in the event of regime collapse, with the continuing experience in Iraq. Sanctions as an option are limited; the loss of food aid, as we have heard from both South Korea and China, has been very painful—but more painful to the citizens than to the leadership. Another famine is not impossible; whether that would be the breaking point for the repressed people is a very dangerous gamble.
All that is an argument for containment of the nuclear threat from North Korean strategic weapons and, perhaps more urgently, the risk of onward transmission of nuclear material to third parties. Such sales, either to potential proliferators or extremist terror organisations, need to be taken seriously. These transfers will not happen across the land between North Korea and South Korea, and, given China’s increasingly tight control of the border, I do not think that they will go by land across the north. That leaves sea and air transfers. The proliferation security initiative must have a part to play in this, and I hope that the Minister will say something about how he sees the UK contributing to the development of policies that will promote security in this area. Intercepting ships on the high seas may not lead to calm diplomatic relations around the world but stopping dissemination of nuclear material from North Korea is key. Nor is it obvious how we handle the air freighting issue.
As the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Selsdon, said, we are brought back all the time to the question of dialogue and engagement. There are few options beyond continuing dialogue that can offer certain and benevolent outcomes. As we saw with the end of the Soviet Union, change can come very fast and very unexpectedly. We shall need to be ready to help without appearing to be imperial when the time comes. Diplomacy should be tempered with better long-term strategy. As we have seen with all three members of President Bush’s axis of evil, such characterisation and isolation can have a real negative impact on international security.
My Lords, North Korea’s decision last month to conduct a first nuclear test can hardly be said to have taken the world by surprise. Not only was it signalled well in advance by intelligence analysis but it fitted precisely into the pattern of defiance of international treaty obligations and international opinion that has characterised North Korea’s policies throughout the 60 years of its existence as an independent state. This is a country that has invaded its neighbour; which used state-controlled terrorism; which seems to have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty principally to provide cover for a covert nuclear weapons programme; which has watched many of its citizens starve to death; and which abuses their human rights more comprehensively than any other state.
If North Korea’s nuclear test should not have been a surprise, it is certainly a major shock to the whole system of international controls against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and, more widely, to the prospects for peace and security in north-east Asia and beyond. So the fact that it is about as far away from this country as anywhere on Earth should not be a cause for complacency or detachment. It is surely right that we should have a full debate on this issue today, and I warmly thank my noble friend Lord Alton for having initiated it.
Faced with this litany of transgressions of international law, standards and disciplines, largely unpunished and certainly not effectively countered over the years, it is easy to head towards one or other of two extremes. We can either conclude that nothing much can be done with a regime so defiant of international opinion and thus lapse into helpless verbal denunciation or, alternatively, examine the case for threatening and, if necessary, using force to bring about a change in North Korea’s policies.
Either course would be mistaken. The first course is likely to lead to spreading nuclearisation of the whole region and the fall into disrepute of many of the multilateral disciplines that protect our security and human rights. The second course, quite apart from the risk of a nuclear exchange and the extreme vulnerability of the South Korean capital, Seoul, would be a mistake because we are not yet at a point at which it would be reasonable to conclude that the preferable alternatives of a combination of reassurance and pressure have no chance of succeeding.
Another trap to be avoided would be falling back into disunity and arguing that the current predicament is all the fault of the US Administration’s policy during President Bush’s first term of office. Here my assessment differs somewhat from that of the noble Lord, Lord Garden. It is fashionable enough to criticise the Bush Administration’s policies on pretty well every front. It was misguided to have broken the thread of the discussion with North Korea that the previous Administration had so laboriously established. However, there is ample evidence—the noble Lord, Lord Garden, referred to it—of the fact that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions were not in fact being held in check, let alone reversed, by that dialogue and none whatever for believing that last month’s test was simply a response to unfair and bellicose treatment. The international community would most likely have found itself in a predicament similar to this one, irrespective of the US Administration’s initial policy response when it came into office.
What is the best way ahead? First, it clearly is urgent to reconstitute the six-nation talks, which offer by far the best prospect of a negotiated outcome. It is good to hear that there is some chance of them resuming before too long. We should not be looking on those talks just as a short-term method of fixing a particularly acute problem. Rather, they should be seen as foreshadowing a permanent sub-regional organisation that could provide the international disciplines and the underpinning for peace and security in the north-east Asian region, with North Korea playing its full part in it. Embedding concepts such as the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the commitment to avoid the pursuit of regime change by force will be of much greater and more lasting value if they are part of a multilateral framework in which all members participate as equals, as is now the case in many other regions and sub-regions around the world. Aiming at such a desirable outcome may well, and almost certainly will, require some direct dealings between the US and North Korea, but those should not be seen as the be-all and end-all of activities on the diplomatic track.
There clearly does have to be pressure on North Korea through targeted economic sanctions, such as those decided by the UN Security Council last month. A policy lacking such an instrument, when faced with such open defiance and obduracy, would lack any credibility. Targeted economic sanctions can be effective, as was demonstrated in the case of Libya, but they need to be pursued with a determination to make them effective. In the immediate aftermath of the sanctions decision in New York last month, there was to my mind far too much talk of what the sanctions would not consist of rather than what they would consist of. It is regrettable that the Government of South Korea are not willing to fully implement the proliferation security initiative designed to interdict North Korean trade in prohibited items. Perhaps some change in that attitude may occur after the country’s elections next year.
There is the enigma of China’s attitude towards the implementation of sanctions. In truth, China’s role in the handling of policy towards North Korea is absolutely central to the outcome. A China whose economic strength and political influence continue to grow, and whose position as North Korea’s main trading partner and principal ally is of long standing, cannot possibly escape from the centrality of that role. It can exercise it by default by doing as little as possible, in which case a negotiated outcome is exceptionally unlikely. Or it can exercise it by actively shaping solutions to the main problems and by making clear that further acts of defiance by North Korea will bring further pressure on it from a united international community. No doubt China will reach decisions on which version of its role to assume on the basis of its own calculation of its own national interest. That is what countries tend to do. China has much to lose from any further destabilisation or nuclearisation of the north-east Asian region, and much to gain from drawing the sting from the current, highly unstable situation.
It may be argued that the approach that I am suggesting, which is quite close to that suggested by my noble friend Lord Alton, places too little emphasis on the sufferings and the human rights of the North Korean people. That criticism was levelled at the Helsinki Charter, which was signed some 30 years ago between the then Soviet Union and its then satellites, on the one side, and the countries of what can loosely be called the West on the other. It was said that, by accepting and legitimising the post-war division of Europe, we were somehow abandoning the peoples of eastern Europe to their fate. It did not quite turn out like that. A combination of time and patience, together with modest incremental steps towards opening up their societies to the outside world and increasing economic interaction with that world, brought about major changes and opened the way to a peaceful transition to what we now call the post-Cold War world. It may seem a bit over-sanguine to assume that the same process could work as well at the other end of the world in quite different circumstances, but what are the viable alternatives? If there is none, would we not be better served by trying this approach? I would strongly support what my noble friend Lord Alton described as Helsinki with an Asian face.
One final thought. The problems posed by North Korea’s nuclear test clearly need to be addressed on their own merits and in their own regional context. We should not lose sight of the wider picture. That test was only one, even if the most immediate, of the threats to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, which is under greater stress than it has ever been before. Last year, the international community failed twice—at the NPT review conference in May and at the UN summit in September—to strengthen that regime. It is surely high time now to resume the effort to do that and not simply to devote all our energies to dealing with the individual cases of North Korea and Iran. There are plenty of ideas out there on the table; among them are proposals for a nuclear fissile material cut-off treaty and for the internationally guaranteed supply of enriched uranium for legitimate, civil nuclear purposes, which we discussed in this House as recently as earlier this week. What is needed now is a concerted campaign to reach agreement on some of these proposals. I hope that the Minister will be able to say how firmly the Government are committed to that purpose and what they intend to do to bring it about.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. I apologise to him, because owing to the rather rapid collapse of the earlier debate I missed the first part of his remarks. I was very interested in the second part, and I deeply apologise. One of the most attractive of the many attractive attributes of the noble Lord is that he never gives up hope in his fellow human beings. The visit that he paid, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, to North Korea, illustrated once again that his faith and belief that human beings can be changed and can be made to think again about what they do has borne rich fruit, because he is one of the few of us who has had access to North Korea and has met in North Korea a good many of its citizens. That was unexpected from the point of view of those of us who see it as entirely a hermit kingdom. It goes to show what a long way hope and faith will carry one. I pay due tribute to him for that characteristic and for having taken that chance. We have heard some interesting speeches.
I refer at outset to the original arrangement—the so-called “agreed framework”—that established the organisation KEDO, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. Two things lead from it. First, we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that many of the countries of Asia, particularly north Asia, with which we are dealing in this debate, have a very strong sense of history. That strong sense of history has been largely lost in western Europe and the United States, and often we therefore know very little about the background and the tradition of the countries with which we are dealing. North Korea is a good example of a country that has for long periods been isolated from the rest of the world, dependent on itself and not familiar with the ways of diplomacy. One of the things that we can read from the story of the KEDO agency and the original arrangement that was made in 1994 is that it is essential to remember that countries have this very long sense of history.
It is also essential to remember—and it is not unfair to make some criticism of the Bush Administration in this context—that democracies often quite rapidly change course, particularly in the United States, between one Administration and another. The path that had been consistently, conscientiously and rather slowly pursued by President Clinton’s Administration was suddenly broken off in 2001 by the Bush Administration. We can fully understand the change in policies between different democratic parties that are elected to government, but doing so is not altogether easy for a country with the kind of tradition that North Korea is part of, and it can be put down to intentions that to this day North Korea clearly believes that the American Administration have towards it.
Tragically, one of the things that we have to learn is that cutting off diplomatic relations with another country is never very wise. We have of course the example of North Korea, but also of Iran, as countries with which the United States has cut off bilateral relationships. That often means that the level of knowledge and information is suddenly reduced, sometimes with serious consequences for the ability to build solutions. I also remind colleagues that it was the nuclear posture review of January 2002, one of the earliest reviews conducted by the Bush Administration, which listed North Korea as a possible target.
I want to look for a moment at the attitude of the neighbours, because it is of crucial significance to our debate. As a number of noble Lords have said, South Korea is desperately vulnerable to an attack by North Korea. The fact that so many conventional weapons in North Korea are targeted at Seoul, a very large urban area, has had a major impact on the so-called sunshine policy pursued by South Korea, which it is extremely reluctant to abandon. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the significance of South Korea in supporting the current sanctions. All of us can also understand why South Korea is keen to strike a balance between what it is asked to do internationally and the risks to its own population. It may be more difficult for South Korea to take that risk than for us to advocate that it should do so. Its position is extremely difficult.
In that respect, we have not yet mentioned the so-called sunshine policy’s effect on the two mid-Korea projects relating to the industrial and tourist areas, which have been established between the two Koreas and would be put at risk by the sanctions. There are real questions about whether they should be affected, given the South Korean attempt to build bridges with North Korea, which in its situation is extremely understandable.
China has behaved in a constructive way, so far at least, in this episode. Not only did it back United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, surprisingly and very strongly, but I understand that the most significant single factor in persuading North Korea to back away from continuing enrichment without returning to the six-power talks was the final decision by the Banco Delta in Macau to refuse to continue cash transfers of an illegal nature to North Korea. Without them, North Korea has seen the creation of an effective financial sanction on it that embraces both so-called legitimate trade and illegitimate trade, with grave consequences for North Korea. It was almost certainly China’s influence that led to the Banco Delta ending its cash transfers to North Korea, so—I am not certain of this—we probably owe to China the effect of that on North Korea, which has been greater than any other of the sanctions so far proposed.
We have also not talked much about Japan. It is of crucial significance what attitude it takes towards the possible reform of its constitution proposed by the new Administration there, and whether it moves away from being a non-nuclear power by conviction, if I may put it that way—a country like Germany that is simply determined not to go back to the traditional military attitudes that survived there until and shortly after the Second World War. The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hannay, referred to a denuclearised Korean peninsula. We must not see a move towards a nuclear Japan at this time, and want to do nothing that might encourage it. That means putting the emphasis on a denuclearised Korean peninsula, not the other way round. I cannot put too much emphasis on that. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to the possibility of instability in north-east Asia and of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in that region. Japan is key to holding that situation, and we must take its considerations profoundly in mind as well.
Last of all among the issues that confront us, I want to refer to one that my noble friend Lord Garden mentioned as his fifth major concern about threats. I would move it much higher, though I defer to his greater knowledge. I believe that the single greatest short-run threat is that North Korea, which has proved itself on many occasions an utterly irresponsible trader in the field, might be one of the sources of nuclear weapons and technology for some of the most dubious and frightening groups, if not states, in the world. North Korea has shown no scruples about to whom it sells its nuclear technology and knowledge. There is no reason why it will show any such scruples in future given the parlous state of its economy, which means that its nuclear technology is among the few things that might be exportable to the rest of the world. That brings us up hard against two really difficult questions. I am sure that the Minister will address them so far as he is able; I fully understand that there are probably great limitations at present in what he can say.
The first is the issue of how far one can maintain sanctions against trade from North Korea to the outside world, and what that will entail. What it will entail is already partly being met by China, which has begun inspections of lorries and trucks passing from North Korea across its border. That is a very recent development. The bigger question is whether there should be some form of naval intervention in trade from North Korea through the seas, and particularly whether that might be escalated to a naval blockade, as is suggested in Washington. A naval blockade will almost certainly involve the United States Navy as the one that would be capable of carrying it out. I raise that simply as a question, but it is a difficult aspect of the whole relationship between North Korea and the outside world.
The second point in that respect, which I want to talk about very quickly, is whether the whole question of North Korea as a trading nation in nuclear matters has not to be part of what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke about—a much wider approach to proliferation. That brings me to the last part of what I want to say. If we believe that we have to take a much larger approach than simply dealing with North Korea one day, Iran another day, and some country as yet unknown on a third day, we have to look at our systematic response to nuclear proliferation and, as he pointed out, the gradual breakdown of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. If that treaty is to be shored up, it will require much more imaginative and far-reaching steps than we have taken. I come back to the issue raised in this House last week, and by me much earlier—whether we do not need a major international push towards the supply of low-enriched uranium from guaranteed, internationally monitored and controlled sources. That does not mean China, the United States or Russia, but the International Atomic Energy Agency as the one and only international body that all the different countries respect and most of them belong to.
That means that we have to see support from the United Kingdom Government and many other Governments for, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, briefly mentioned, the proposal for a substantial fuel bank to supply low-enriched uranium suitable only for civil energy to those countries that are willing to engage in it. It will make it clear that any country that retains highly enriched uranium will be under very strict monitoring by the IAEA for that reason alone and associated with it there should be an attempt to try to cut off the supply of fissile energy materials.
In conclusion, we have to take this matter far beyond the individual case of North Korea, serious though that is, because we are now looking at a slide towards proliferation that must be stopped if the world is to be saved.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on introducing this very timely debate with a characteristically comprehensive, well informed and thoughtful speech reflecting, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, his tireless endeavours to promote human rights and justice for all people.
As my noble friend mentioned, we travelled together to North Korea in 2003. We had been vocal in our concerns over numerous reports of gross, widespread, state-sponsored violations of human rights and a massive suffering endured by people in a Stalin-style totalitarian society. On our return, we established the All-Party Parliamentary Group for two reasons: to maintain constructive contacts with those in North Korea who are trying to make it emerge from isolation, and to build a bridge to enable us to continue to convey our concerns over problems such as those reflected in this debate.
To a great extent, the North Korean nuclear test was a demonstration of the obvious. The DPRK was known to have some form of nuclear capacity since the early 1990s, but, given its defiance of international pressure not to conduct the test, the decision to do so has enhanced the urgency of the need to address the grave threat that the country poses, both internationally and to its own people.
I will focus on the dire humanitarian and human rights situation created by the North Korean regime. The main reason for oppressing its people is its fear of real and imaginary conspiracies and the main reason for the people’s suffering is the diversion of the country’s limited resources to the strategic military build-up, with its growing arsenal of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. Hence, the security posture of North Korea is inherently linked to the plight of its people.
Consistent evidence of wide-scale, systematic and extreme forms of human rights abuse presents a prima facie case against North Korea. Freedom of expression and religion are strictly controlled. Freedom of movement, assembly and association are strictly curtailed. Any persons deemed to be less than entirely loyal or worthy citizens are subject to swift and harsh penalties. It is not possible to obtain a systematic overview of punishment, but there is now a body of evidence from victims and perpetrators of human rights abuses. I have interviewed some of those who have escaped to South Korea and there are many reports that give a spine-chillingly consistent picture.
Arrest and interrogation routinely involve water torture, severe beatings, sexual assault and sleep deprivation. After interrogation, political prisoners who are not executed are sent to a detention facility from which they may never emerge alive. For those who do, conditions in prisons and camps are brutal, with severe undernourishment, appalling sanitary conditions and long hours of gruelling labour. Prisoners are deformed as a result of abuse, malnutrition and hard and dangerous work.
The report Failure to Protect estimates that there are at least 200,000 in gulag-like camps and prisons, including the families of offenders who are often sent to prison alongside the alleged offender. One witness described how even young children may be interned in such prisons. They are not allowed any contact with their mothers, who, heartbreakingly, can see but not comfort them with food and warmth. Work in the prisons and labour camps is gruelling, deforming and dangerous. The slightest mistake can result in the harshest of punishments. Prisoners often die due to violence, overwork, malnutrition and unsanitary conditions. Those deemed to have committed an offence may be sent to punishment chambers measuring around 2 by 2 by 3 feet. Living conditions are barbaric, with starvation rations.
Constant hunger has been described as worse than beatings. Prisoners are crammed into overcrowded cells and may not be able even to lie down. They are deprived of sleep and given minimal clothing, even in the extreme cold of North Korea’s mountain regions. North Koreans frequently refer to witnessing executions. Typically, victims who have obviously been tortured are dragged out in front of an assembled crowd to be executed by firing squad. The victims are prevented from speaking by stones thrust into their mouths.
Religious freedom is harshly oppressed. North Koreans systematically report that being a Christian is viewed as a serious crime. Korea has a history of persecution and martyrdom. In the 18th and 19th centuries, over 8,000 Christians died for their faith. Martyrdom continues today. One escapee told me how he had witnessed the martyrdom of three Christians in his labour camp, which operated an iron foundry. One day, all the inmates were forced to stand in a large circle. The guards brought the three Christians into the centre and ordered them to recant or face death by having molten iron poured over them. They refused to recant and died singing while they fried in the molten iron.
One urgent issue is repatriation, especially by China. Those who have fled from North Korea are forced to return to virtually certain brutal punishment and probably execution. In returning them, China consistently refuses to acknowledge its international obligations.
North Korea is committed to provide free healthcare, but is failing to do so. Nationwide, but particularly in rural areas, health facilities and equipment levels are poor or non-existent, training of healthcare workers is weak and modern drugs are often not available. In May 2004, the British medical organisation Merlin—I declare an interest as a founder trustee—assessed the humanitarian needs of South Hamgyong province in the north-east of North Korea. This area, characterised by large urban populations and mountainous regions, is often difficult to access by the Government and international NGOs, particularly during winter. Therefore, the region has been starved of essential resources. In 2004, no other medical NGO was providing healthcare in this region and to our knowledge that remains the case.
Severe food shortages have caused high levels of chronic malnutrition, to which my noble friend Lord Alton has referred, known as stunting, among children under six. In 2004, UNICEF’s nutrition survey estimated that 37 per cent of children were malnourished, with the figure rising in South Hamgyong province to 47 per cent. Maternal malnutrition was also serious. Some 22 per cent of mothers were found to have anaemia, increasing the risk of low-weight babies. The number of maternal deaths has increased sharply in the past 10 years. Newborn care and newborn mortality are closely associated with maternal health and mortality. Diarrhoeal disease has increased because of deterioration in water and sanitation systems, and acute respiratory tract infections, compounded by underlying malnutrition, contribute to high rates of child illness and death. In 1996, mortality rates for under-fives in North Korea were 39.3 per 1,000 live births; by 2002, this had increased to 48.8 per 1,000 live births.
In response to Merlin’s assessment, the North Korean Ministry of Health agreed that Merlin should work to enhance the capacity of the existing healthcare system at community, county and provincial levels. But despite this agreement and financial support from the European Union, Merlin was unable to gain permission from the Government to work in-country for more than a few weeks at a time, making the implementation of a health programme impossible. Merlin made representations to the ambassador in London, but could not gain any concessions and decided reluctantly, and tragically, that it was unable to proceed.
I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will ensure that humanitarian access remains a key focus of their bilateral and multilateral discussions with the North Korean Government. In particular, will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to North Korea to lift restrictions on the operation of humanitarian NGOs? Those restrictions are so stringent and impractical that they prevent the NGOs from operating in areas where they are desperately needed.
In conclusion, North Korea’s leaders manifestly feel extremely precarious and consequently they are increasingly a threat to international security. The nuclear test can be seen as a symptom of that perceived vulnerability. Classified as part of the “axis of evil” and isolated from the rest of the world, the North Koreans believe that they are targets for hostile conspiracies, especially by the United States. These fears dominate Pyongyang’s world view. The challenge is how to find ways forward that do not exacerbate the situation by driving the leadership further down the road of volatile and dangerous policies adopted for its perceived self-defence. Wisely construed humanitarian and economic engagement could demonstrate to the authorities in Pyongyang that the rest of the world is not hostile and is not conspiring against them. That approach could help to allay Pyongyang’s fears, thereby reducing North Korea’s threat to the security of the global community.
The United Kingdom, with diplomatic representation in Pyongyang, is well placed to act as a mediator and confidence builder as well as to urge the North Korean Government to give safe and unhindered access to all parts of the country for the UN and international organisations to provide humanitarian assistance and to secure the release of all political prisoners. Such measures would pave the way for further provision for fundamental freedoms, including political and religious freedoms.
I hope that your Lordships will acknowledge that I am not known as a soft touch as far as human rights and fundamental freedoms are concerned, but I am also a realist, and I believe that it is possible to make progress in improving the plight of the people of North Korea only by working with the situation as it is. Its leadership is not going to relinquish its nuclear weapons capacity as a result of further threats, intimidation and isolation. The issue is not the existence of nuclear weapons, but the beliefs and behaviour of the leadership, which will decide if and when to use them. Therefore, I reiterate that a policy with incentives for constructive engagement that encourages regional economic development and looking outside is the best way forward for the leadership of North Korea. That will reduce the insecurity, and thereby the fears, of the regime, which is the ultimate cause of its security policy and military build-up. If and when that closed society begins to open, fears can be allayed and the problems of human rights violations and humanitarian crises can begin to be addressed.
Her Majesty’s Government, who have an established relationship with North Korea, are well placed to undertake such a constructive engagement. I hope that the Minister will be able to give such an assurance. Such a policy would not prevent criticism of the utterly unacceptable and barbaric policies that I have described, and which no one could condone, but it could represent the most propitious way forward for the leadership of North Korea in its present state of mind, for the international community and for the long-suffering population facing another bitter winter of hunger and disease, prisons and labour camps. Their interests must surely be one of our main priorities today.
My Lords, I have not visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, although not for want of trying. I therefore speak as an outsider. Despite that, there have been several opportunities in the recent past to learn more about what is going on in the DPRK from a variety of informed sources, including academics, US and UK officials and the UN special rapporteur Mr Muntarbhorn.
What are the main messages that come across from those briefings? They are that North Korea is isolated, fearful, economically and militarily impoverished and pretty convinced that the US is ready to attack it at any moment, which suggests that bilateral talks between Pyongyang and Washington are an urgent necessity. It suffers an absolute shortage of food—as evidenced by reliable production figures, which demonstrate an annual shortfall of food—and shocking infant and maternal mortality and morbidity due in large part to an insufficient food intake.
North Korea’s expenditure decisions underline its major concerns: whereas the US spends approximate $0.58 per person on defence, the equivalent figure for North Korea is $11.50 per person. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, gave a list of threats that North Korea poses, and I shall add another threat that is equally important as the threat of nuclear missiles, and possibly even more dangerous—the possibility of a nuclear accident, which is very likely in a country that has low technological skills.
The DPRK has a brutal disregard for human rights, and democratic freedoms are almost non-existent, as we have heard from several noble Lords. It is a rogue state, and is, according to the US Administration, a member of the “axis of evil”. As the leader, Kim Jong-il, is apparently willing to sacrifice citizens in order to maintain a prideful stance, many thousands of people may well die in the coming months due to starvation.
Famine is not a wholly natural disaster; it is more a man-made one. It is therefore also preventable. Having studied the phenomenon of famine for many years in many parts of the world, we know that early warning indicators of that long-onset disaster are obvious and readable. Famine is, to a large extent, a product of totalitarian regimes in which early crop failure is ignored and there is no public discourse to discuss causes or preventive action. One of the best examples of that is the great leap forward famine in China between 1959 and 1961, during which something like 20 million people died because no one dared tell the great leader that his people were starving. Famine is also hugely more likely in conditions of war and conflict where normal lines of exchange are disrupted. Famine is almost never caused by an absolute shortage of food; it is caused by food becoming too expensive for people to buy as a result of market hoarding and other actions. When people begin to move, even across borders, in large numbers in search of food or feeding camps, it is usually taken as the first sign of famine, but it is, in fact, the terminal stage—at that stage, it is almost impossible to prevent a massive number of deaths from starvation.
All the indicators are that massive starvation is imminent in North Korea. One wonders what the international community can do to prevent the ongoing tragedy of starvation in North Korea and, in particular, what the UK Government, who have a somewhat remote connection with North Korea, can do. The DPRK accepted food aid during the floods of the 1990s and in the earlier years of this century. The main donors were South Korea, China and the UN World Food Programme. However, earlier this year, the DPRK suspended World Food Programme distribution and banned the private sale of grain. The much hated public distribution system was reintroduced. Under it, food is given according to whether a family, not an individual, is deemed to be loyal, wavering or hostile to the regime. Needless to say, families that were deemed to be hostile received almost no aid.
The DPRK has been a UN member since 1991 and is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It can therefore be considered to be a fully fledged member of the UN. That may afford the international community some opportunity for intervention. The right to food is a clear right and is enshrined in the economic, social and cultural rights covenant.
It is clearly in the interests of the DPRK’s immediate neighbours—South Korea and China—to avert a humanitarian disaster, which would have a massively destabilising effect on the region. Once people begin to move in large numbers, that has a destabilising effect, as we have seen in many parts of the world, particularly in the Horn of Africa.
Can the Minister and the Government use their good offices and their influence, not only with China and South Korea—and possibly also with Japan, which might have some leverage with North Korea—but within the forums of the UN, and to some extent the EU, to pursue some pragmatic actions to try to gain a relationship with North Korea that would prevent some of the awful tragedies that are about to happen? One of the major issues would be to continue to offer food aid to North Korea. The leader, Kim Jong-il, has decided that NGOs and the WFP should no longer be active in North Korea. We should ask that food continues to be offered and that the North Korean Government accept that it is necessary to resume the distribution of food aid. At the same time, we could perhaps request that the distribution is fair and equitable, which is possibly a long-lost hope but is nevertheless important to mention. Incidentally, China and South Korea are prepared to give food unconditionally, whereas that is not true of the WFP. That should be thought about and perhaps negotiated. There is huge scope for working with the UN to start up food-for-work programmes. North Korea is inevitably a very vulnerable country because it does not produce sufficient food for its own population even in so-called good times. Of course, North Korea should be encouraged to accept the WFP’s offer of food. Perhaps the right to food could be reinforced also within various UN forums.
The international community also has a role to play, not only in continuing to offer food aid, but also in pressing North Korea to accept food assistance from the WFP. Perhaps the UK is well positioned to try to persuade the Chinese to allow the setting up of NGOs on the border between China and North Korea so that the inevitable mass movement of people—I do not think that it will be possible to prevent famine entirely—can be helped at the border, and to persuade the Chinese to stop arresting and deporting those who come across the border. To send back those people who have fled from North Korea in order to get sanctuary in China to, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has said, certainly torture and possibly death is reprehensible, to say the very least. Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this extremely important debate. Let us hope that we can pursue it in the months to come.
My Lords, in coming to your Lordships’ House just over a year ago from the other place, I have been amazed by the reservoir of wisdom and expertise apparent in every debate. Today’s debate is very much in that same frame. Some may argue that a debate on the nuclear test does not necessarily lead to a debate on human rights, but that I wholly reject. I applaud sections of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton—whom I congratulate on his initiative—and the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady D’Souza, on starvation and human rights violations. I am fortified in that view by the significant shift in South Korea’s position in the debate on human rights violations in North Korea at the UN General Assembly on 17 November, when for the first time, having absented itself or abstained in previous debates, it voted for the censure of North Korean human rights violations. It stated that it voted for the resolution because there was an even greater need to focus on the human rights situation in the DPRK following the nuclear test. There is that linkage in South Korea’s argument.
North Korea is clearly a dinosaur state. Perhaps, like Romania, it is an example of socialism in one family, but, unlike Romania, we know very little about the inner workings of the regime or what motivates it. In a discussion, the current UN Secretary-General, then the South Korean Foreign Minister, conceded to me that even the best North Korea watchers in South Korea knew very little about the inner core of the nomenclatura in North Korea. Another difference is the one that we are discussing today; namely, that North Korea has exploded a nuclear device and is a clear threat to international peace and security. Kim Jong-il, like Napoleon in Animal Farm, needs the constant external threat to maintain his grip on power. He blithely ignored a unanimous UN Security Council declaration two days before the 9 October test and the pleas of his closest ally, China. He seems therefore impervious to external pressure, although it is fair to say that he was probably deterred from a second test as a result of pressure from China.
Perhaps we should not have been surprised by the test. We know that in 1998 a missile was fired over Japan. North Korea renounced the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Last September, the purported agreement to give up nuclear activities was retracted the following day. In July 2006, seven missiles were fired from North Korea. That was followed by the UN sanctions. Why did they do it? The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked of desperation. Other noble Lords have talked about the need for respect, building on the precedent of Pakistan in 1998.
Interestingly, Iran—the only country to congratulate North Korea on its test—through its official television said that the reasons for the test were, first, the US failure to give security guarantees to North Korea, and, secondly, the US failure to deliver on its promise of a light-water reactor—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon—and nuclear fuel. Ominously, Iran warned that other countries might follow North Korea’s example.
North Korea may have miscalculated the extent of the international response to its test on 9 October. China, which had nurtured North Korea over 10 years or so, responded very vigorously. Just before the test, it warned of serious consequences. After the test, it said that North Korea had,
“ignored the widespread opposition of the international community”,
“the Chinese Government is firmly opposed to this”,
“strongly demands that North Korea abides by its pledges”.
It is clear also that this was one of the factors leading to a rapprochement between Japan, the traditional enemy of North Korea, and China. The communiqué in the Chinese/Japanese summit which followed talked of the “deep concern” of those two countries. Perhaps we will note a turning point, partly as a result of this, in the relationship between Japan and China. Finally, the South Korean President said that it would be “difficult to maintain” his country’s policy of engagement with North Korea. I have mentioned the significant decision by South Korea to support that vote of censure in the UN General Assembly on 17 November.
What are the dangers? These have already been highlighted by other noble Lords. Obviously, it could encourage others on to the nuclear path in response, although it is fair to say that Japan’s response has been very positive. Equally, North Korea traditionally has been recognised as the arch proliferator in the world. It benefited from the A Q Khan network, helped Iran to assemble missiles and transferred technology to Syria. In June 1999, Indian customs agents impounded a North Korean freighter, which revealed the covert transfer to Libya of a virtually complete ballistic missile. Possibly the seizure under the Proliferation Security Initiative of that freighter en route to Libya in 2003 was part of a similar operation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, there appears to be evidence of a willingness on the part of North Korea to sell anything to anyone. When we know of the multiplicity of terrorist organisations desperate to obtain fissile material from whatever source, there is a clear danger of North Korea selling such material which could be turned into a dirty bomb.
What should be our response? It is said that it may be four to five years before North Korea is capable of turning the fissile material into warheads to be mounted on missiles, although of course they could drop bombs from aeroplanes. Japan says that North Korea lacks the relevant miniaturisation technology. Do the Government agree with that analysis and with the timetable? If it is four to five years, the question is how we use the intervening period most positively.
What, if any, are the points of leverage on North Korea? Immediately after the test, my noble friend Lord Triesman talked in this House about targeted sanctions. The record on sanctions—one thinks of South Africa—is not good. My noble friend talked of targeted sanctions on the overseas bank accounts of the elites in North Korea and on luxury goods. Clearly, there are limits to diplomacy. China is angry, although it had influence in postponing the second test. It supplies food and oil and is best placed to exert pressure, but it fears instability in the region. If North Korea were to collapse, there would be further refugee flows north and south and possibly even a unifying of the peninsula.
There is, however, one possible positive result with a new impetus to regional dialogue. It is said that at the economic meeting of Asian nations in Hanoi on 19 November there were significant discussions in the corridors about a new US diplomatic initiative, in particular, and that may also be fortified by the change in the Congress.
What, in the Government’s view, can realistically be put on the table? Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group said last November:
“Unfortunately, most of the cards are in the hands of the North Koreans at the moment … At the moment there are some carrots there, but they are not big enough and not juicy enough for the North Koreans to take a bite”.
So how does one make these carrots more juicy? In the Government’s view, what mileage could there be, for example, in initiatives on the de-nuclearisation of the peninsula? I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, raised the question of the bank in Macao. The US is concerned about the Banco Delta Asia in Macao because of alleged money-laundering of drug receipts by North Korea, which also uses the bank as a conduit for counterfeited US currency and so on. But surely, if there were good will, there would be a means of reaching an accord on that.
What about security guarantees? It can probably be argued that North Korea is not vulnerable and that it still has many thousands of artillery pieces which could rain on Seoul close to the border—if not the floods coming from dynamited dams, and so on. So almost certainly North Korea is not vulnerable, but what security guarantees can be given, particularly by the US and China? It has been asked why the US does not at least find a formula for more direct talks. That may come about as a result of the change in Administration.
Is North Korea at all interested in humanitarian assistance? The awful plight of the people has been mentioned. I can see that North Korea’s conduct in the past inspires little confidence in its word, so clearly there must be sticks as well as carrots.
I have two final reflections. First, one sadness in respect of human rights is that the country with the greatest influence on North Korea—China—is not a model of human rights. My second point concerns the dog that did not bark. Notable absentees from the six-power talks are the European Union and the United Kingdom, and that has led to some upset in Brussels. Do the Government share the concern that the UK and the EU appear to have no input into the dialogue? Clearly, the danger of fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists and the dangers of nuclear proliferation affect the interests of us all. Do the Government believe that the EU, and the UK as part of the EU, should be seen to have a greater influence in this highly volatile part of the world?
My Lords, this has been a very sober debate about a very difficult problem in a very difficult country, both in terms of the implications of the attempted nuclear test—whether it was successful, we are still not sure—and in terms of the wider implications for nuclear proliferation. There is also the much longer-term problem of what on Earth the rest of the world does about the current North Korean regime.
I say in passing to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that, if we were to obey the suggested rule that we should speak only about countries that we have visited, the position of a large number of people in this House would be extremely difficult. I think that my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, would be almost the only people to speak on many subjects. We struggle as hard as we can to keep up with the 192-plus countries in the world but it is not entirely easy.
This is an area in which the United Kingdom has marginal influence—it is only indirect influence through the United Nations and the European Union. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that even the European Union is a minor player, and necessarily so, given that the six-power talks bring together the neighbours who are most affected. I think that the European Union should play a much more active and supportive role in some areas. It should also have a clearer political strategy towards China as a whole. There, as in a number of other areas of EU external policy, life will be easier after May 2007, when President Chirac ceases to be someone who allegedly believes in common policy but actively disrupts it in relation to Russia, China and elsewhere. Our representatives in the UN Security Council are, and should be, working actively with others, but we know that action lies primarily with the direct neighbours.
I felt that one or two speakers did not stress as heavily as they should have done—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will come back to this—the immense difficulties in promoting dialogue with the current North Korean elite. It is a highly closed regime, and it is very obstructive not only towards NGOs but towards international agencies. When I spoke to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, who has recently visited North Korea—I am sorry that he is not able to be with us today—I was struck by how difficult he had found it to talk to people on any unauthorised basis when the regime did not wish him to do so. As the noble and gallant Lord has said, this is a criminal regime as well as a hard-line ideological one.
China’s role is absolutely key. I think we all accept that China is a very imperfect regime but it has strong interests in stabilising the region and, indeed, in global stability and global prosperity as a whole. So, in everything that we say to the Chinese, we should encourage active engagement in problems such as those posed by North Korea. We should also encourage its engagement in global institutions and towards other regions of the world—for example, Africa. Chinese fears of refugees and of destabilisation coming across the border into north-eastern China clearly give the Government very strong self-interests.
Similar comments could be made about Korea. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that my understanding is that the last thing that the South Korean Government want at the moment is unification. That is the lesson that they draw from the German experience. They are therefore anxious to encourage the gradual evolution of the North Korean regime without state collapse and certainly without having to pay the enormous costs of unification, which would necessarily be imposed on its direct neighbour.
Japan is another major player. When I was in Japan two weeks ago, I was struck by the enormous symbolic importance of the kidnapping issue there—they are still discovering what happened. After all, the new Japanese Prime Minister partly made his reputation by pursuing the kidnapping issue so far as concerned North Korea. Japan has its own established Korean minority, some of whom have been blackmailed by North Koreans because they still have relatives in North Korea. Japan also has complex and very delicate relations with that immensely difficult regime.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was a little kind to the Republican Administration in the United States. Inconsistencies in American policy, the refusal to talk, the disregard for local circumstances and regional expertise which the Republican Administration have shown in so many other areas have also been evident in their approach to North Korea. We may hope for a more positive approach from a now Democratic majority in Congress, but I suspect that we shall not get a very different tune from the White House or from the Administration until the change of presidency in two years’ time.
The current North Korean development is in some ways less serious as regards the breakdown of the whole anti-proliferation regime than an Iranian development would be. As noble Lords rightly said, there is a real fear that materials and technological expertise will be sold, and that justifies sanctions and inspections. I hope the Minister will answer some of the questions put by my noble friend Lady Williams on the fuel bank proposal and how far that may be the beginning of an answer to threats of collapse of the non-proliferation regime.
A number of noble Lords talked about the role of international agencies. Some time ago, some of us heard Masood Haider talk about the difficulties that UN agencies have within the North Korean regime. The regime regards easier contact with ordinary people—which comes from local inspection of how the food is being distributed—as extremely threatening. It is therefore resisted.
What carrots can we offer that will attract the current North Korean regime? Sanctions have to be part of what we do. If sanctions target the preferred lifestyle of that deeply corrupt and satisfied elite, they are highly desirable. The carrots have to be as much as we can do, recognising that they do not achieve very much at present. In supporting non-governmental organisations, we have to try to promote exchanges, dialogues and visits if we possibly can. That does not take us very far. I imagine that parliamentary exchanges with North Korea are not among the most enjoyable ways of spending a week or so, but it is necessary to attempt to establish a degree of closer contact while being conscious of just how slow and painful a process that may be.
We should certainly be prepared to talk about security guarantees, to deal with problems of status and to encourage the United States to think about giving the sort of status-symbolism which the re-establishment of direct representation would provide. We should certainly support actions by Korea, China and Japan, to which the nuclear test is a most direct threat.
I hope the Minister will say a little about how he sees European Governments as a whole approaching China and the region and what sort of political role, as opposed to economic role, he sees European Governments collectively playing in north-eastern Asia. There, as elsewhere, British interests lie in active multilateral co-operation through global and regional institutions as well as through bilateral relations. The most important multilateral institutions for the United Kingdom there, as elsewhere, are the United Nations and the European Union.
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this important debate, in which we have been able to explore the international fall-out from North Korea’s explosion of a nuclear device last month. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out, the House has been treated to some very well informed speeches this afternoon.
In 2003, North Korea became the first country to pull out of the non-proliferation treaty. Diplomacy and limited engagement have been the primary tools used to deal with North Korea to date, but success has been limited. The International Crisis Group sums up the situation aptly. It highlights that:
“North Korea's precipitous internal situation compounds the international threat of a nuclear North Korea. Economic or political collapse would place a heavily militarised failed state on the border of China and South Korea. An outflow of millions of refugees into China would destabilise this important economic region and be met with sharp resistance. South Korea's fast developing but relatively weak economy is entirely unprepared for the huge costs of reconstruction and integration”.
The North Korean nuclear stand-off entered an even more troubling phase with Pyongyang's test of a nuclear device last month. I agree with many speakers this afternoon that North Korea's provocative act represents a clear threat to international peace and security, rather than contributing to the maintenance of peace, as the regime claims. North Korea's decision to undertake the test, regardless of the Security Council's warning, shows a total disregard for the UN and the will of the international community.
I congratulate the United Nations Security Council, which moved quickly to pass Resolution 1718 unanimously less than a week after the test. It goes to show what a united force the UN can, on occasion, be. I hope that the Minister, in light of reported differences in the interpretation of the UN resolution by the various countries involved—China, Russia and South Korea favouring more limited action while the US and Japan push for tougher enforcement—will inform the House that Her Majesty’s Government are pressing the Security Council to continue strong and decisive action thus paving the way for effective sanctions against the North Korean leadership.
Considering China's influence in the region, I welcome its expression of resolute opposition to these tests. I hope that this will continue to be the view in light of recent reports that all involved may be edging closer to the table once more. Can the Minister tell the House what discussions Her Majesty’s Government have held with Beijing on this issue and what is their assessment of the current fragile relationship between the six countries? Indeed, can he confirm the dates of the talks restarting in mid-December?
While talks offer a welcome glimmer of light, they do not signal the end of North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Indeed, some commentators suggest that now it has a nuclear deterrent, however feeble, North Korea feels it deserves more respect, a sentiment with which I do not agree. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that North Korea will not enter talks simply to buy time and to deflect international criticism? We must make certain that sanctions are rigorously enforced.
The six-party talks are a useful forum, but we must not ignore the fact that resolving the nuclear issue will also require committed bilateral negotiations that address in detail North Korea's security concerns and US demands for complete disarmament and intrusive verification. China's strong response may prove to be a major new factor pressing North Korea to offer more concessions in the talks, but only if the US is prepared to set the table with a far more specific and appetising menu than it has thus far. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with her American counterparts on whether the six-nation talks can act as an umbrella for exploring those issues further? The US needs to demonstrate that it is going the extra mile to offer North Korea a substantive and face-saving formula to reverse its decision to defy the international community. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Selsdon said, North Korea needs a carrot. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said that it must be a very juicy carrot.
My noble friend Lord Selsdon made the interesting point that many North Korean decision-makers are based in Germany. I look forward to the Minister’s comment on that. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made an interesting point about the South Koreans’ fear of reunification, based on the German experience.
Is the Minister confident that the coalition necessary to enforce sanctions, especially the provision on cargo inspections, is in place? Can we actually detect and stop any further supply of nuclear technology to this country; or, indeed, the onward proliferation to other nations? Considering the current strain our Armed Forces are under, will the Minister tell the House if our naval assets are to have a role in boarding and inspecting suspect vehicles?
The behaviour of North Korea—and Iran—over the past year demonstrates the need to shore up our resolve to retain our nuclear deterrent.
My Lords, I am pleased that we have had this opportunity today to discuss the concerns we all share about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and commend the continued interest shown by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool—particularly as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea—who has prompted this debate. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lord Anderson that the discussions this afternoon have again demonstrated the depth of expertise in this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, set out a central thesis on the importance of the three strands of security, humanitarian relief and human rights, and the importance of tackling them together. That is Her Majesty’s Government’s approach. A number of noble Lords have this afternoon made the point of the interlinks between the three. As the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, there is a danger, in taking action on one strand and not the others, of exacerbating the difficulties in those others. It is important that we take an integrated approach, as my noble friend Lord Anderson said.
The DPRK Foreign Ministry’s announcement that it had conducted an underground nuclear test on 9 October demonstrated a serious violation of North Korea’s obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement, as well as commitments undertaken in the US/North Korean agreed framework and the North-South Joint Declaration on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. In tests conducted by the United States and South Korea, both countries have found evidence of nuclear particles in the atmosphere. Given North Korea’s stated intention a week earlier to conduct a nuclear test, and the analysis conducted thus far, there is little doubt that it was indeed a small, though alarming, nuclear event. I listened carefully to the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, of its nuclear capability. I am unable to comment much further; suffice it to say, the international community is proceeding on that basis that that is what it was.
My noble friend Lord Anderson asked for our views on the timetable for development of North Korea’s nuclear capability. We have limited information to enable us to come up with a conclusion on a timetable, but what we have gives us significant concern.
We should avoid the trap described by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, of international disunity, in blaming developments in North Korea on US foreign policy. We must recognise that North Korea, as described this afternoon, has been pursuing a weapons programme since at least the 1990s. We must also recognise that, although there is no reason for us to suppose that North Korea would have adopted a different course if we had not taken action, for example, in Iraq, North Korea has consistently referred to the quality of their bilateral relations with the United States as a cause for their actions.
I was particularly taken by the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, about the importance of a sense of history, and the difference in perception of time in certain areas of Europe. This was brought home to me in discussing this debate with my wife last night, who reminded me of some of Korea’s history with its neighbours. It is important, as we try to engage with a regime with which it is difficult to do so, to keep that perspective, as the noble Baroness said.
Immediately following the test, therefore, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, issued statements making it clear that North Korea’s actions were both highly irresponsible and provocative, especially coming so soon after the July missile tests. The Foreign Secretary subsequently discussed the situation with Foreign Ministers, including those from China, Japan, the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the then South Korean Foreign Minister. Our Foreign Minister, Ian McCartney, also called the DPRK ambassador in London to the Foreign Office to make clear our views.
The world has been united in its condemnation of North Korea’s action, which was carried out in direct defiance of the will of the international community. Comments made by world leaders, nuclear experts and international organisations have highlighted North Korea’s isolation. This issue has underlined the scale of the proliferation threat we face. The international community is working together to overcome this threat to peace and security.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked what the United Kingdom is doing about non-proliferation. We are clearly committed to our obligations under all current non-proliferation regimes, including the non-proliferation treaty, which are enforced by the United Nations Security Council. The unanimous adoption by the Security Council of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 on 14 October came as a swift and robust response to the test. Resulting sanctions include a ban on the export to North Korea of nuclear and ballistic missile goods and technologies, a ban on the export of arms to North Korea, a ban on technical assistance and advice related to all these items and a ban on the export by the DPRK of proliferation-sensitive goods. The sanctions also provide for the freezing of assets of individuals and entities supporting the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, and a travel ban on those individuals. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, it is important that these sanctions are effective.
The next step is therefore for all states to implement the provisions, and the UK is putting in place the necessary measures to ensure that the resolution is fully implemented. A number of noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, have asked whether this would include some form of naval blockade, a “ring of steel”. That is not really envisaged for several reasons. First, it is believed that global interception—rather than a local, geographic blockade—is the most effective way of implementing control over the trafficking in such goods. Secondly, it is believed that the existing international provisions giving nations the right to intervene in the trafficking of such goods, depending upon the location—whether in international waters or ports—are sufficient to enable the necessary actions to take place.
A number of noble Lords have asked about the EU position. EU partners adopted a common position for the implementation of UNSCR 1718 at the 20 November Agriculture and Fisheries Council, because that was an appropriate venue for this to take place. The UK is working with EU partners on an accompanying EC regulation, which will ensure consistent implementation by member states. This is also necessary for full UK implementation of certain measures.
All permanent members of the Security Council have now submitted reports, setting out the actions they are taking to implement the resolution effectively, to the Sanctions Committee, which was created to monitor the implementation of this resolution. We are currently discussing bilaterally with key partners, including Russia, China and the Republic of Korea on how implementation can be fully achieved.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, specifically asked me about Japan and highlighted concerns regarding Japan’s position on nuclear weapons. I stress this afternoon that Japan maintains a three-point non-nuclear policy that prevents it possessing and producing nuclear weapons as well as allowing such arms to be brought into its territory. Recently, on 8 and 9 November, the Prime Minister of Japan reiterated that Japan will stick to its three non-nuclear principles and confirmed that this is the consensus in the Japanese Administration.
The return of the DPRK to the six-party talks, which it abandoned last year, represents a significant step forward. This followed talks between the United States, China and North Korea held in Beijing on 31 October. Both the US and China have said that they want to see real results from the next round of talks. I agree with the noble Baroness when she highlighted the very constructive role of China in this area. These talks provide a valuable opportunity to seek reaffirmation by the DPRK of its commitments under the September 2005 joint statement at the conclusion of the fourth round of the six party talks. We need to see the DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards. Although no firm date has been set for the resumption of the talks, it seems likely that they will reconvene in December.
Agreement by the DPRK to resume the six-party talks is indeed very welcome. It suggests that our policy towards it is working. The international community’s approach of standing firm following the nuclear test has clearly demonstrated that we are all united in the implementation of that policy. But there is still much more to be done. Sanctions must remain in force until the DPRK complies fully.
As a number of speakers this afternoon have highlighted, there is an absolute link between these security issues and human rights. The North Korean Government have made it clear that they regard human rights as subordinate to national security. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, clearly, and in harrowing fashion, described the nature of what goes on in North Korea as regards human rights. This country probably has one of the worse human rights records in the world. Details of serious and widespread abuses have been highlighted in past reports, particularly by the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Professor Muntarbhorn. These reports make chilling reading indeed. Recently, in a meeting at the other place, Professor Muntarbhorn presented his statement in a discussion which was led by the invitation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Ian McCartney. We need to note that while the DPRK’s constitution provides for freedoms and liberties for all its citizens, in practice, that is not the case.
Most recently, the European Union sent out a very strong message condemning North Korea’s human rights record when the UN General Assembly third committee adopted its resolution on 17 November. The resolution was strongly supported, with 91 votes in favour, 21 against and 60 abstentions. Not surprisingly, the resolution met strong verbal disapproval from North Korea. Until North Korea responds positively to international concerns, the UK will continue to work with EU partners and others to maintain and increase pressure in the appropriate international forum.
Despite our strong condemnation of North Korea’s poor human rights record, we have demonstrated our determination to engage with the regime, as several noble Lords have pressed us to do in this debate. For that reason, we have maintained our embassy in Pyongyang since 2001. Despite the very difficult circumstances in which our staff operate they have regularly and frankly imparted our concerns about nuclear proliferation and human rights to senior DPRK officials.
On the humanitarian situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said, famine is a man-made disaster. Since the famine of the late 1990s, the international community has provided extensive food aid to the DPRK—at one point feeding perhaps one-third of the country’s population. But in August 2005 the Government claimed that, after receiving humanitarian assistance for 10 years, aid was no longer required. UN and aid agencies did not share that view, but the World Food Programme was obliged by the North Korean Government to in effect shut down most of its operations.
In response to North Korea’s announcement on humanitarian aid, we in the UK had to suspend further funding. We stand ready to resume humanitarian assistance if and when the DPRK Government are willing to accept it and conditions allow for sufficient monitoring of programmes to ensure effectiveness and accountability. Earlier this year, the World Food Programme resumed its programmes on a much reduced scale.
I have been asked to give some detail on the latest situation. According to the World Food Programme’s estimates, there will be a food production shortfall of a minimum of 800,000 tonnes in North Korea this year. North Korea relies primarily on imports from China and South Korea to bridge this gap. South Korea ceased humanitarian shipments following the DPRK's testing of missiles in July. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, starving this country into submission is not the right approach. UK policy is never to use humanitarian assistance for political leverage. We have encouraged South Korea to move away from this idea and to revert to other methods of leverage, for example, over economic assistance.
But we have to recognise that the position of both China and South Korea in providing humanitarian aid to North Korea differs from that of the rest of the international community. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly highlighted, as the DPRK’s direct neighbours, its key objective is to take steps to maintain stability within that country. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, indicated, the regime were to collapse suddenly, China and South Korea would run the risk of being inundated with North Korean refugees. Neither country would be able to support such an influx.
The UK believes that the World Food Programme is the appropriate agency to distribute and monitor food aid received by the DPRK. We would prefer to focus our attention on non-food needs. I am happy to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that we and other donor Governments regularly urge the DPRK authorities to accept humanitarian aid and to, at the very least, allow the previous levels of access for agencies and NGOs. It is, indeed, a key focus for us.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, provided an important perspective on the contribution that trade can make in difficult circumstances such as these. He mentioned his personal experience in visiting the area. I, too, in a previous life in the biotechnology industry saw for myself the real skills and know-how that exists in South Korea, the real ability of its people and their impressive scientific prowess. It shows the potential of the region to develop properly. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to explore fully the opportunities to use trade, consistent with the policies which I have described elsewhere, to open up dialogue, recognising the difficulties of doing this with this very difficult regime.
However, we need to recognise that we have made clear to the North Korean Government that we cannot extend the benefits of a full and normal bilateral relationship until they have shown that they are addressing our concerns on those and other issues—in particular, their nuclear programmes and their ballistic missile capability. Until the DPRK responds to international concerns, the UK will work with EU partners and others to maintain and increase pressure in the appropriate international bodies.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, rightly highlighted the practical difficulties of dialogue with that country. Despite that, we have to do everything that we can because of the importance not just for security but the terrible things that are taking place in the damage done to the North Korean people and the human rights record of that country. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked if we are using all efforts to press bilaterally and within the United Nations and the EU to do that. Yes, we are.
It should be obvious to the regime of the DPRK that it has nothing to gain from a nuclear weapons programme and a great deal to lose. We hope that it will step back from that misguided path and devote its energies to restoring life to a shattered economy and hope to a despairing population.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I ask him to respond to a point made by me and my noble friend Lord Alton—what my noble friend Lord Alton described as Helsinki with an Asian face and which I went into in rather greater depth—about the possibility of some sub-regional or regional organisation that would emerge from the six-party talks. That would have the advantage of dealing with both security issues with people-to-people contacts and economic development in a way that would balance in future and, perhaps, move all the issues forward. Would the Government be prepared to consider that and think carefully whether they could canvas that idea with some of their partners and allies?
My Lords, I am happy to give the noble Lord that assurance. Listening to the debate this afternoon, I was struck by the consensus across the House on the need to manage those strands as an integrated whole and the important difference in approach of those nations local to the area, which would need to be considered, as well as those from the global perspective. I will therefore take back to my colleagues the point made about Helsinki with an Asian face and ask them to consider responding directly to the noble Lord on that point.
My Lords, further to that question, will the Minister also say whether he is prepared further to consider the discussions of the provision from a fuel bank of LEU rather than HEU to countries that need, or decide that they want, a civil nuclear programme? Can he say anything about the Government's attitude to the idea of a cut-off for the creation of fissionable material?
My Lords, this has been a characteristically well informed debate and a timely one. I agree with the Minister when he said that there has been widespread agreement from all parts of your Lordships' House about the importance of holding together the three strands of humanitarian concerns, human rights and security questions.
Among the recurring themes expressed by many have been the desirability of critical but constructive engagement with North Korea—albeit, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, that it will be a slow and painful process. Other noble Lords have cited the centrality of China’s role and the dangers of proliferation to China, the Republic of Korea and Japan. Reference has been made to the danger to the world if non-proliferation measures are left in tatters if we do not get this question right and act effectively.
We have reiterated our commitment to a denuclearised peninsula and the prevention of seepage to terrorist organisations and states that might misuse nuclear materials. We debated the nature of the regime and its dangerous depredations; the need to hold together those three strands; and the importance of viewing the crisis from the perspective of North Korea as well as our own. There have been warnings about coming famine. One noble Lord said that to use food as a weapon of war would be a very dangerous gamble. I was especially pleased to hear what the Minister said in reply to that point.
As I said earlier, in 2003, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I were at Panmunjom on the 38th parallel, where the ceasefire was signed in 1953. When we were there, we wrote in the visitors’ book that it is better to build bridges than to build walls. Walls have surrounded North Korea for the past 55 years. It takes more creativity and intelligence to build bridges, but I believe that all of your Lordships are committed to that process. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate today and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, with permission I would like to make a Statement on the NATO summit in Riga, which I attended in support of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
“Before going any further, I should stress that there was an overwhelming consensus among the leaders of the 26 NATO countries on the crucial importance of strong collective defence to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. We reaffirmed NATO’s central role in defending our countries and our common values.
“The UK had three priorities for the Riga summit. These were: ensuring success in NATO’s military operations, notably in Afghanistan; improving NATO’s expeditionary capability; and improving NATO’s ability to work more closely with civilian partner organisations and with the rest of the international community.
“I am pleased to report that, despite the complexity of some of these issues, and some genuine and legitimate differences of approach between member countries, real progress was achieved in all three areas. The primary focus of the summit was NATO’s current operations.
“Today, more than 50,000 NATO personnel are deployed on six missions on three continents. Over half—32,000—are in Afghanistan, which remains NATO’s top priority. All 26 NATO member states reconfirmed their commitment to the mission. There was a shared recognition that success in Afghanistan is crucial not just for the Afghan people and for regional and global security, but for NATO itself. As the Prime Minister has said, now that NATO has taken on this vital but challenging mission, its credibility is at stake.
“The summit offered an opportunity to take stock of the progress in Afghanistan, particularly since 2003, when NATO took on the mission in the form of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
“In place of the despotic rule of the Taliban, the country now has a democratic Government. The economy is growing. The infrastructure and basic services are being rebuilt. At last, after 30 years of conflict, the everyday lives of millions of Afghans are visibly improving. According to UN figures, 4.5 million refugees have returned to rebuild their lives.
“Of course, at the same time, the mission faces serious challenges. The Taliban and the drug lords are determined to fight to resist progress, and continue to exploit the impunity they have enjoyed in the south. ISAF forces have seen hard fighting over the summer and have taken significant casualties; but they faced down the Taliban and reinforced the Afghan Government in extending legitimate governance and the rule of law throughout the country.
“We know that some member countries have had their reservations about the mission. Their domestic audiences have been concerned about the intensity of the fighting and have asked questions about the prospects for success. But even after this difficult summer, everyone at Riga agreed that the mission in Afghanistan has to succeed. We should not underestimate the significance, at this moment, of all member countries explicitly reaffirming their support for the mission and their common pledge to provide ISAF with the forces and the flexibility to ensure the continued success of this vital mission.
“My right honourable friend the Prime Minister led calls for allies to reconsider how they might do more to provide such forces and flexibility. There was a welcome signal from a number of nations that they would lift the national caveats on the use of their forces. There were also pledges of additional force contributions. I cannot give full details today: Members will have seen reports in the press, but we must wait for national Governments to confirm these commitments in due course.
“I can say that the pledges made at Riga are small steps in the context of a 32,000-strong mission, when the ideal, as I have been impressing on my NATO opposite numbers for months, is that there should be no national caveats at all—which, I am proud to say, is true of our 6,000 personnel in Afghanistan.
“Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that, even if these are small steps, they are steps in the right direction. Before Riga, the secretary-general estimated that 85 per cent of ISAF forces’ requirements had been met. We must continue to work until we reach 100 per cent.
“We must also continue to work on the wider challenge of transforming NATO. The threat facing NATO members has changed dramatically since the alliance was formed in 1949. There is agreement that NATO must transform its capabilities to meet the challenges of a changing world. We must become more agile and more efficient.
“This is easy to say in theory but harder to achieve in practice in the context of an alliance of 26 countries, each with its own approach and its own sovereignty. But there are signs of progress. Yesterday, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe declared the NATO Response Force fully operational. The NRF was established following the 2002 summit to provide a high-readiness force able to deploy quickly, where required, to carry out the full range of alliance missions. This is a key development. Even before it reached full operating capability, it showed its worth in the relief effort following the Pakistan earthquake last year.
“We also agreed new initiatives to increase the strategic airlift available to allies, to enhance co-operation between our Special Forces, to improve alliance logistics support and to streamline the NATO command structure.
“Of course, as I have said countless times from this Dispatch Box, success in the kind of operations that NATO is now undertaking will not be achieved by military means alone. This is especially clear in Afghanistan. The international community needs to work in a co-ordinated way across all the different lines of operation—security, governance, law and order, reconstruction and development, and counter-narcotics—to deliver a truly comprehensive approach.
“But this comprehensive approach is not unique to Afghanistan. It is equally important in Kosovo, where KFOR has been crucial not just in maintaining security but in supporting the political process; and it will be needed in the majority of operations the international community undertakes in future.
“NATO cannot do the work of supporting governance and development by itself, and nor should it. We have to improve the way we work with organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union, NGOs and national Governments who provide the civilian capability. Yesterday we agreed to develop new proposals to do this, improving civil-military partnerships throughout all the stages of operations, from planning to execution on the ground. NATO does not and should not pretend to be the sole means of creating and maintaining security, and in places such as Afghanistan or Kosovo the civilians and military are working for the same aims. This is not a zero-sum game where support for the UN or the EU is a defeat for NATO or vice versa.
“Many commentators feared that the summit in Riga would be at best a waste of time and at worst a failure. These fears were unfounded. The summit reaffirmed the strength of purpose within the alliance and its commitment to remain a force for good in the 21st century. NATO is not perfect. It needs to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges while continuing to adapt to today’s operational needs. It has started the process of transformation and it is the responsibility of all of us, individually and collectively, to support that process. In protecting our security and our vital national interests, there is no alternative to working within international organisations, and over the past 50 years NATO has proved itself to be one of the best we have. It deserves our continuing loyalty and support”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I do not doubt that he and his Government will privately share with these Benches considerable disappointment at the outcome of the Riga summit. We remain grateful to our Armed Forces, who continue their superb efforts in Afghanistan. It is only unfortunate that, along with the Canadians, the Dutch and the Americans, they have shouldered virtually all the risks. This campaign is protecting the security of all member states, including those who deliberately choose to deploy their troops only in low-risk areas, jeopardising the success of the entire mission. In particular, the caveats imposed by the Governments of Germany, France, Spain and Italy are hampering NATO’s overall efforts. These nations’ troops have been acting in national interests as national armies rather than as part of a unified NATO force.
While we welcome any shift towards more unequivocal support from our larger allies, does the Minister agree that these gestures do not go nearly far enough? These allies were part of a collective NATO decision and remain part of a NATO alliance. Their conduct should therefore be in NATO’s interests, not driven by external considerations. What attempts have the Government made to persuade their counterparts to fulfil the pledge to which they committed their countries? These nations have now said that they may send troops to troubled areas in an emergency. Should this not be the very least we expect from our military allies? How exactly would these Governments define an emergency? A partial solution has been possible on this occasion through the very welcome willingness of smaller nations such as Romania, Slovenia and Luxembourg to relax their caveats, but NATO forces will be required in Afghanistan for several years. Larger allies must be prepared to commit militarily and financially. What are the Government doing to address this long-term problem? There is no mention in the communiqué of NATO requiring its members to commit to a floor in defence spending of 2 per cent of GDP. Have the Government allowed this to be dropped?
It has long been this Government’s policy that Serbia could join the Partnership for Peace only when Belgrade delivered the war crimes indictees Mladic and Karadjic to the International War Crimes Tribunal. Yesterday it was announced that, together with Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia would join the Partnership for Peace. What has precipitated this U-turn? What signal does it send to those who have shielded war criminals for the past 10 years? According to a spokesman for the UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte:
“The prosecutor regrets this decision because it looks like a reward for the lack of co-operation with the office of the prosecutor”.
Does the Minister share this assessment?
Where does this summit leave NATO? As NATO’s first external operation, Afghanistan was hailed as a demonstration of its ever extending global reach. Instead, it has revealed fundamental disparities in its members’ commitment and ideology. It has now become a clear display to the rest of the world of a lack of unity over NATO’s role, damaging its credibility. Statements of support mean very little if they are evidently not backed up by the deployment of forces.
Will the Minister urge his Secretary of State to resolve the problem over the pay of Royal Marines serving in Afghanistan? The MoD has misled more than 4,000 marines over their pay levels, some of whom will receive more than £3,000 less than expected for a six-month tour. This will have a huge effect on the morale—especially in the run-up to Christmas—of personnel engaged in some of the most dangerous war fighting for years. Does the Minister agree that our troops deserve better than this?
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement on the NATO summit. From these Benches we welcome the historic location of the summit in Riga. We also welcome the fact that, for once, the summit seems to have passed without too much public acrimony between the participants.
I was slightly surprised at the claims in the Statement about the three priorities with which the UK went to the summit. I had previously tabled a Written Question about the UK’s priorities and the Answer that I received on 9 October from the Minister’s colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, did not mention those as the three priorities. It might be useful—not now—if the Minister could consult his colleague and decide whether the Foreign Office and the MoD were working to different agendas and let us know in writing.
In the short time available, the summit inevitably focused on the current operational problems in Afghanistan rather than on the long term. I think that the diplomatic fudge—because that is what it was—that was achieved was probably the best that could be achieved in the time.
I share in one respect the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, about the availability of back-up forces in an emergency. We know that we should have had Reserve Forces when we went into the south, but did not; we now seem to have a commitment for emergencies. How are these emergencies defined? At what state of readiness will the forces provided for emergencies be on? It will be no good if they are at days’ notice.
I do not share the fierce criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, of our European allies, which I notice has also come from some government spokesmen as well—but, I am sure, not from the Minister. Such criticisms do not help in keeping NATO together in these matters. I also believe that they are not fair. Does the Minister agree that what the other European members of NATO have achieved during the five years that we have been in Afghanistan in the north and the west—particularly when the UK could do relatively little because it was busy away invading Iraq—has done a great deal to stabilise those parts of the country? Some of those nations’ forces have been put at risk and they have lost people as well. They have been relatively successful in their areas with a rather different technique for winning hearts and minds than we are now seeing applied in the south, which we all know is a different area. Does the Minister agree that it would be a matter of regret if calling on them to deploy into the south meant leaving the places that they have secured in the north to return to anarchy and chaos?
I am surprised at the enthusiasm with which the Statement welcomes the fact that there will be no national caveats. Does that mean that in future British forces operating in coalition and alliance operations will operate without national control over what they do? That is what it sounds like. If we expect other nations to do it, we presumably will do it ourselves. That would be a massive step change.
The Statement trumpeted the great operational declaration of the NATO response force of 20,000 highly capable troops, with associated air and naval support, ready to deploy at five days’ notice. That is an impressive capability. But I again ask the question that I have asked on several occasions in different debates: if we have a NATO force that is operationally capable of doing that, why are we scratching around for 2,500 troops and a few helicopters? Why can we not call on the apparently operationally capable force that NATO has?
All kinds of strange things are missing from the Statement. There is no mention of the comprehensive political guidance that most people expected to be formally agreed at Riga. We all know that NATO needs a new strategic concept to replace the way out-of-date one of 1999. The chances of getting all the members to agree to such a document are fairly slim and, as I understood it, the comprehensive political guidance was going to be a way of papering over the cracks. Does the fact that it is not mentioned in the Statement mean that it is so bland that it is not worth mentioning, or does it mean that even that was not agreed at Riga?
The Statement also does not address the enlargement strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, highlighted parts of that. We on these Benches agreed that the time was not right for extending relationships further with Ukraine and Georgia. There is, however, the question of the Balkan strategy, which he raised. I was surprised that the Statement did not talk about what is now reported in the press: the UK’s support for Serbia moving ahead, with the status of Kosovo and the question of the war criminals still to be settled. What is the Government’s position, and why did they change their minds? There has also been the question of whether NATO should link more closely with like-minded countries in distant parts, an issue raised particularly by the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Did that come up at the summit? If so, what was the Government’s position, and what was decided?
While there was no time in the short summit at Riga to take a hard look at where the alliance is going, there could have been an opportunity to steer the agenda for the 2009 summit. That will be NATO’s 60th anniversary—a suitable occasion for NATO to renew itself. A new strategic concept document could define the alliance’s operational and membership limits. It could change the funding arrangements for operations, which are the bane of all NATO’s activities, so that costs are shared equitably among members. It would also need to analyse whether the alliance is properly prepared for military tasks in the 21st century, instead of continuing to acquire equipment for past battles. It would need to show that the alliance could co-operate more closely with the European Union, which can, as the Minister said, offer complementary capabilities. Would the Government support such an agenda for that important future NATO summit, which might re-energise the alliance?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords for their support, in parts—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Garden—and for highlighting, rightly, the limitations. In response to the questions raised, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, it is important to say that this clearly does not go far enough. However, in our attempts to persuade our NATO allies, our policy is not to point the finger and criticise in public, but to recognise and show appreciation for those countries that have moved in the direction we wish to see, and firmly but privately to make the points to those countries that we believe should go further. We welcome the willingness of those countries that have removed caveats and agreed to provide further resources, while we continue to make the case firmly for the additional resources to be provided to NATO commanders to do the job that they are tasked with doing on behalf of the international community in Afghanistan.
I was asked about such matters as the definition of an emergency. These are issues that we need clarification on. As noble Lords know, they are important to NATO commanders in terms of the effectiveness of operations. Such clarity is required. As I said in repeating the Statement, we need to recognise that those countries, having made certain commitments, need to go back and confirm exactly what those commitments are. However, our focus is to stress the importance of ensuring the greatest possible operational effectiveness, taking into account the significant challenge that we recognise the international community is up against in Afghanistan. That is our policy.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Garden, when he says that it is important for us, while highlighting the importance of a reserve into the south, not to lose focus on the progress that has been made in other regions within the country. We need a whole-country approach. That is our strategy. We have seen real progress within Afghanistan because of the effectiveness of the strategy that we are taking, but there is no doubt that, as we have described, there is a shortfall between what NATO commanders have said that they need to pursue this strategy and what countries have, to date, committed. However, that gap has got significantly smaller as a result of the Riga summit, and that is progress.
The noble Lord, Lord Garden, asked about our position on national caveats. We should not confuse the positions, about which I have been asked many times in this House, of our sovereign control over our troops and the caveats on the difference in rules of engagement—what troops are actually allowed to do within NATO operations and the difficulties that commanders face when rules of engagement are significantly different among the coalition partners.
I was asked a number of questions about our position on Serbia and what has changed our policy. This reflects the pressure in terms of the view of the whole community, which we have recognised. The decision to grant Partnership for Peace status to Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro follows the achievements of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia in moving towards full NATO membership, and marks further progress on the region’s Euro-Atlantic path.
We remain firmly committed to this work and have not abandoned the points relating to conditionality and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The progress on full ICTY co-operation in Serbia remains essential. We expect that the NATO communiqué will make it clear that NATO will expect Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to co-operate fully with the ICTY and closely monitor their respective efforts in this regard. I believe that the message that it sends is really an opportunity for Serbia to move towards closer Euro-Atlantic contribution and co-operation.
I was asked a number of other points for which I do not have full details. I will follow them up and, where I can do so, I will write to noble Lords with an answer.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, the venue in this case was very significant. Fifteen years ago, Riga was within the Soviet Union; it has a large Russian minority, including many retired Soviet military. Given the proximity to Russia and the failure of President Putin to attend, was there any attempt to have a stocktaking of the success or otherwise of the NATO-Russia agreement? As I understand it, there has been some significant technical interchange in terms of air-sea rescue and attendance at manoeuvres, and so on, but there seems very little life left in the agreement. Was there any attempt at the summit to look at the current relationship with Russia? Relevant to that is the alleged attempt by Russia to have regime change in Georgia. Given the enlargement perspectives in respect of Ukraine and Georgia, was there any attempt to consider expressions of solidarity with Georgia or to enhance NATO’s relationship with Georgia?
My Lords, the feedback that I have had on the discussions at the Riga summit have not indicated that there was any such discussion. However, I will ask further and, if I am able to provide any information on the relationship with Russia, I will write to my noble friend.
In my response to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, I forgot to mention the pay of Royal Marines. This is of real concern; it is not a good situation and I will commit to passing the points made by the noble Lord to my colleagues in the ministry.
My Lords, caveats have been extensively discussed by previous speakers and the Minister has responded to them. I want to pursue not the matter of the individual caveats in Afghanistan and how much they have been whittled away but, rather, the general issue. In the 1990s, NATO was intensely critical of the United Nations because its peacekeeping operations in Bosnia were caveated so fundamentally. Now it seems as if NATO has a bad attack of the measles, too. Does the Minister agree that there really needs to be some ring-fencing or limiting of caveats when troops are committed to NATO if the credibility of the alliance in an operation as difficult as that in Afghanistan is not to be fundamentally undermined? The more those caveats get discussed in public, the more the opposition will take advantage of them and play on them. Is anything being done in NATO through the supreme commander and SHAPE and others to find a way, if not to get rid of all caveats, then at least to limit them—and if they cannot be limited, then to thank those who offer their troops but say that they had better send them somewhere else?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a vital point. It is very important for us to make progress within NATO on these caveats. What we can see from the Riga summit is that some progress has been made, although not as much as we would like.
This area reflects the differences of opinion among member countries within NATO as to the role of NATO forces and, in particular, differences of opinion over the acceptance of the need for a comprehensive approach as we describe it—in other words, the integration of military effect with the other lines of development such as action taken for reconstruction and governance. Certain NATO members ask whether this is a proper role for a NATO force and whether the relationship is clear in terms of the civilian-military partnership in these areas.
I believe that we are going through a process of evolution of NATO in which we need dogged determination in making these points, based on our experience of implementing the comprehensive approach and, if I may say so, the progress that we are seeing with it. We need to convince our NATO partners of the need for this alignment and for that to be reflected in how caveats are structured and in the rules of engagement. We need to have patience as we pursue this with dogged determination, and we can take heart from the important progress that has been made recently in Riga.
My Lords, NATO in the past has had a wider dimension beyond the military. For example, it has encouraged civil society in a variety of ways in NATO countries, such as in scientific areas. As NATO moves out of its traditional European area—and just a few years ago I was involved in the NATO meeting in Ukraine—and moves into places such as Afghanistan, is that wider civilian aspect of NATO also being extended to those areas, in all aspects of the society of the country in which it works? I have not heard about that, but it is a dimension of NATO’s work that needs to be changed as NATO changes its area of activity.
My Lords, my noble friend has highlighted the process of evolution that NATO is going through. I should reiterate that there is no unanimity within NATO on the speed and direction of that evolution. Some see NATO as focusing primarily on a Euro-Atlanticist position, primarily from a defence posture, and do not take on board the position that we subscribe to of the importance of the effectiveness of the comprehensive approach, the civilian-military partnership and the development of NATO’s role to be a force for good globally. When we consider what NATO is doing globally today, it shows the real potential for NATO to be that.
As I have said before in this House, we need to be patient, because NATO is itself a relatively young thing, the world is changing very rapidly and these institutions take time to evolve. We must be dogged and clear about the direction that we see ahead and use diplomacy and persuasion as I have described.
My Lords, I am bound to say that NATO is slightly older than the Minister, so it is not really a young organisation.
I should like to question the noble Lord further on the national caveat. I welcome the debate on this, but there are some real questions of sovereignty. It is one thing for the British Government to demand that other European Governments abandon their national caveat, but if other European Governments demanded that Britain abandon its national caveats, the Daily Mail and the Sun would have a great deal to say about that—they would be talking about the imposition of a European army.
There are some real questions of force doctrine. Disagreements in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo have partly been about how you treat civilians and what you do about collateral damage. Those are real questions about how you fight. Those disagreements are not only among the Europeans but between the Europeans and the United States, as the largest member of NATO. I recall a number of people involved both in Bosnia and Kosovo remarking from the British perspective that some of the most difficult caveats were those that the American forces imposed on themselves about their operations, which were not entirely helpful to their allies there.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for describing me in terms of my youth, but I feel the speed at which I am ageing doing this job.
I agree that this is a very difficult area, with which the international community has to grapple. We have made progress. The issues relate to getting alignment, rules of engagement and national caveats to provide military commanders with the greatest effectiveness, given the resources that their community provides—while at the same time preserving the right level of national sovereignty control for those nations—so that politicians are able to balance the concerns that exist in the public of a nation that is committing troops.
It is important for us to acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that it is not very helpful to our force commanders to talk too much about the detail of the differences in the public forum. That needs to be done behind closed doors, so to speak, as much as it can be. We must recognise that this is a difficult and dangerous operation, and that all the coalition partners, at whatever level of national caveat they may be operating, have taken significant losses in support of the United Nations effort and NATO force in Afghanistan. It would not be right to criticise any nation that has lost people on operations in support of this cause.
EU Committee: EU and Africa
rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on the European Union and Africa: Towards a Strategic Partnership. (34th Report, HL Paper 206, Session 2005-06)
The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the convenience of the House, I shall speak also to the second report on the Order Paper, which I am also due to move. In May 2004, the African Union started to attract the attention of Sub-Committee C of the European Union Committee, which carried out this inquiry. There was a desire to know more about the African Union and how it related to the European Union. The decision to proceed was postponed until autumn last year when the Commission produced a draft strategy for Africa, which was followed by a paper from the High Representative, Doctor Solana. The European Council then agreed a substantial document in December 2005.
I thank the members on the sub-committee who conducted this inquiry. We also had the assistance of a special adviser, Alex Ramsbotham, who was able to share with us his first-hand knowledge of Africa and who assisted with the preparation of the report. I also place on record our special thanks to the sub-committee’s then Clerk, Doctor Emily Baldock, who prepared the majority of the report, which is in a form that not only covers the scope of the inquiry but is in a very readable form and for interested parties is a work of reference of the different initiatives, organisations and policies involving Africa at this time. My thanks are also due to her for her assistance in the preparation of the follow-up report.
We are grateful to our witnesses, including the Secretary of State for International Development, Mr Hilary Benn; the Minister for Africa, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman; Elmar Brok, of the European Parliament; and Doctor Solana, who was—as always with this committee of your Lordships’ House—generous with his time. I also thank the other witnesses who contributed evidence, both orally and in writing. The report notes that we were unable, despite very considerable efforts, to obtain direct evidence from African Government representatives or other organisations. Nevertheless it was pleasing to note that when we presented the report to a seminar of invited participants in Brussels, two ambassadors from Africa attended.
The sub-committee decided to take the strategy as given and to concentrate on how it was to be implemented. The strategy itself sets out the areas in which the European Union can support African efforts to build a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future. Key to all the proposals is African ownership and responsibility. Chapter 1 of the report sets out the background. Chapter 2 and the following chapters look at the implication that the EU is the natural partner for Africa and the building of an EU-Africa partnership; asks whether Europe can deliver on its promises; and examines the problems with development assistance, governance and human rights, and peace and security. The final chapter examines how the partnership can be realised.
Given the international focus on Africa in 2005, we considered that the right policies to help Africa were in place. What was needed was fulfilment of the promises. Our inquiry looked not into what Europe should do for Africa, but into what it could in practice achieve. Our central question was: how can the European Union deliver on the commitments made? There is no doubt that the European Union and its member states are well equipped to make significant differences to sustainable development in Africa, but a number of challenges remain to be met by the Union, its member states and Africa.
The committee was convinced that there was a role for the European Union. Many of the member states play an important role in Africa’s development, and will no doubt continue to do so, even without the intervention of the European Union. However, despite obvious sensitivities, a number of the western European nations retain close ties with their former colonies. We believe that the European Union is a natural partner for Africa, and it has particular geographic proximity to the continent. Trade and investment with and from Europe have always been of importance to Africa. The former colonial past has a direct impact on migration—large numbers of people speak English or French, so Europe is their natural destination. If the strategy can improve people’s living conditions, which currently send them in search of a better life, that will help to alleviate the problem of mass illegal immigration from Africa into Europe, as well as helping Africa itself.
European member states must see the benefits of a coherent approach to Africa—a stronger voice when dealing with recalcitrant African leaders, more effective aid delivered, and well focused use of resources. In turn, the African nations have to come together to help each other. The European Union can assist in the process of regionalisation, through both its example and offering direct advice and assistance.
The European Union will work first and foremost with the African Union, whose principal aims—peace and security, democratic principles, sustainable development and co-ordination between the various regional economic communities—reflect the European Union’s own values and strategy. To assist the African Union, the European Union must first understand it. The institutions of the African Union mirror those of the European Union, but we should not assume that the African Union is comparable with the European Union. The relationship with member states is different, and it is in a completely different state of development. Key to the strategy is the building of an EU-Africa partnership. No longer is it acceptable for the European Union, or indeed any state, to seek to impose solutions. Africa must contribute to the process as an equal partner. The process is slow, however, for which both sides bear some responsibility.
The first EU-Africa summit was held in 2000, over six years ago. It set out to strengthen European Union-Africa relations; to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law; to help in the attainment of the millennium development goals; and to strengthen the political, economic and socio-cultural relations between the two. The second summit was originally planned for Lisbon in 2003. It has still not been held, mainly because of the continuing problem of Zimbabwe. Dialogue is essential to the continuing relationship between the two continents. Some of our witnesses believed that a summit was vital for the success of the strategy—the endorsement of African heads of state and Governments being of critical importance. This means that the African Union must deal with the problem of Zimbabwe. It is an opportunity for the African Union to take a strong stand against a leader whose actions violate democratic principles and the rule of law. The European Union should strongly support the African Union, but we believe that the ultimate responsibility for Zimbabwe must rest with other African nations.
Aside from Zimbabwe, much has been achieved in terms of productive dialogue between the European Union and the African Union. Contacts have prospered between the two—between officials at regional level, between EU heads of mission and the AU in Addis Ababa, in Brussels with the African heads of mission and, not least, between the African Union and the European Union Commissions. Recently, ministerial troikas between the African Union and the European Union have been instituted and the European Union must not ignore either the ACP—the African-Caribbean partnership, although it is not exclusively African—or the regional organisations in Africa; although, unfortunately, not all of those organisations are coterminous with the AU’s regional demarcations.
A highly significant development that we note in this report has already made its appearance as a result of the strategy—the joint implementation matrix. That name does not trip off the tongue and a better one must be found, although I have not yet done so. This arose out of meetings between the European Union and the African Union and covers peace, security, governance, trade and key development issues. It is a joint effort to show what progress is being made and who is going to do what. The African side has made a full contribution to the preparation. It received approval at a troika meeting in Vienna in May of this year and is to be followed up every three months. The strategy itself should be considered a living and evolving document and should be reviewed and monitored every year.
In this report we state our belief that we have the objective of partnership and that we have the partners. The question remains: can we deliver? To achieve success, the obvious rivalries between the different directorates-general must be resolved, as must the differences between the Commission and the council. We do not believe that the EU institutions are yet co-ordinating their actions to achieve the best results in foreign policy or development. That is partly due to a lack of clarity of competences, but also, sadly, some lack of commitment to work together. The matrix could prove a useful tool in that regard, by stating clearly where the relevant EU responsibilities for particular proposals or policies lie. As I shall mention, there is some progress and we have some reason to be optimistic.
The same may be said of the European Union institutions’ relations with member states. The strategy will not replace the efforts of individual states or those of other international organisations. Only by co-ordinating its efforts can the international community meet Africa’s needs and ensure that it plays a full part on the global stage. The UK Government look to the Africa Partnership Forum, of which the European Commission is a member, to monitor the implementation of the G8 commitments. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced another panel with similar objectives, to be chaired by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I hope that that is not a duplication of effort or a reluctance to acknowledge that this is an area where the European Union and its Commission might well be able to assist.
I turn to development aid, governance, peace and security. The delivery of aid is an area in which co-ordination can make the biggest difference. Without co-ordination there is a risk of duplicating programmes, that favoured countries will receive more than their fair share, that bureaucracy and red tape will increase and, most importantly, some of the poorest people will be overlooked. Member states should allow the Commission and its delegations, which themselves need strengthening in terms of people and resources, to take the lead in some countries. In others, member states should take the lead, but be willing to share their expertise. We look to the United Kingdom, which promoted this strategy, to set an example.
It is not just the co-ordination of actions that matters, but the adoption of a coherent approach to the delivery of aid. We support the Commission’s increased use of budget support. Concerns are often expressed about its use, but we believe that transparency and accountability are essential in the delivery of aid. Managed properly, budget support can help national parliamentarians see where the money is being spent in their own countries. In the report, we suggest that the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NePAD, might want to consider devising a programme to help African parliamentarians have some oversight of spending. Under the government and economic management assistance programme implemented in Liberia, there is a form of budget support that involves an international representative being placed in the central government of recipient states who, through the financial institutions, controls the flow of money in and out. That programme seemed to us to be worthy of further examination in other places.
Governance, democracy and human rights are core elements of the strategy, and the primary responsibility must rest with African states assisted by African institutions. The European Union can support those efforts by helping Africans develop the African peer review mechanism, an important Africa-led model for progress in governance in Africa. Provisions already exist under the Cotonou agreement to suspend aid in certain circumstances. If the commitment to human rights, governance and democracy is to be more than mere rhetoric, the European Union must be prepared to make robust use of the Article 96 provisions in Cotonou, but Europe in turn needs to understand that good governance may not mean precisely the models to which we in Europe are accustomed. However, there are core requirements: the rule of law, independent courts and the protection of individual rights. The report draws attention to the role that China is playing in Africa. The European Union’s desire to promote human rights, democracy and good governance can be undermined by China’s apparent lack of interest in those areas and its concentration on economic advantage.
In terms of the strategy, our report ends where the strategy begins; that is, with peace and security. Without lasting peace, there can be no meaningful development. ESDP missions to Darfur and Kinshasa are examples of efforts to promote peace and security. The new European Union battle groups may have a role to play in the right situations. The report goes into some detail on the Darfur situation because of the role of the African Union. It was an ambitious initiative, but was desperately under-funded and under-resourced. The main instrument for funding peace and security is the African Peace Facility, funded from the European Development Fund. Despite the use of development moneys for that purpose, the report supports its continued use under the 10th EDF. We consider the European Union well placed to act in developing the Africa Standby Force. Reliance will be placed on the existing activities of member states, which provide the training, advice and logistical support. Co-operation and co-ordination of the EU’s capabilities in this area must take place with the United Nations, the new Peacebuilding Commission and NATO. That is essential if effort is not to be wasted.
Assuming that the political will to act exists, can we afford the strategy and do we have the resources? The primary source of funding will continue to be the EDF, but there are new financial instruments for the common foreign and security policy and other possible sources of funding may be appropriate. The strategy will also depend on member states’ aid commitments. Are the commitments of the G8 being implemented far enough? The commitment by the European Union and its member states to increase aid by 2015 is welcome, but some states are lagging behind and will have to work hard to catch up. The European Commission will have to review the process and if necessary put forward ideas to ensure that the targets are met.
Our conclusions on the strategy were that the European Union is right to emphasise the principle of African ownership and its policies but that divisions between Council and Commission and the European Union and member states have to be addressed; that co-operation and coherence between the institutions, member states and other organisations must be improved; that pressure to implement reforms of governance must be maintained by the European Union and the African Union; and that the commitments on funding must be met. If the European Union cannot successfully implement the strategy, the achievement of the millennium development goals and the aims of the strategy will remain in doubt and, despite good intentions, we will fail the people of Africa.
I turn briefly to the follow-up report, which was published following the response of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure that members of my committee will particularly appreciate the presence on the government Front Bench of the Lord President who will bring her considerable experience on these matters to bear when she replies for the Government. Of course, we want to acknowledge the work which the Minister for Africa, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, puts in. I know that we would wish to welcome to the opposition Front Bench my noble friend Lady Chalker, who also has great experience in these matters.
The Government’s response was largely supportive of our recommendations but a number of questions remain. There is no resolution to the problems surrounding the second Africa summit and the Zimbabwe problem has to be addressed. Do the Government have any constructive suggestions? We regret that the Government did not support the annual review of the strategy. Do the Government support the suggestion that there should be a major review of member states’ commitments to development aid? On coherence, co-ordination and co-operation, the Government agreed with the committee that improvements were needed, but as between Council and Commission, emphasised the need,
“not to combine the distinct roles”.
Of course that is understood, but so long as the legalities are not broken, it should not be used as an excuse not to support pragmatic and practical ways forward.
We certainly would like to know the Government’s view about China. Its influence is growing all the time and there is a clear case for a strong and united European foreign policy. The follow-up report has taken the opportunity of bringing the House up to date on Darfur and the elections in the DRC. It also refers to two interesting documents; namely, the results of the European Union-Africa ministerial meeting in Brazzaville on 10 October and the joint progress report of the Commission and Council.
The Brazzaville communiqué shows welcome signs of how the European Union-Africa partnership is developing and how the matrix is being kept up to date. The Commission and Council paper is welcome just for what it is—namely, a joint paper. It is indicative of the European Union intention to keep Africa among its priorities and develop policies in a co-ordinated and coherent way. This is welcome and supports the committee’s view that the strategy has the potential to be a great success for the European Union and Africa. I commend the report and the Motion to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on the European Union and Africa: Towards a Strategic Partnership. (34th Report, HL Paper 206, Session 2005-06).—(Lord Bowness.)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for his introduction of this very important report. Before I go further, I was particularly cheered up today to see the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, on the opposition Front Bench. We are old sparring partners from the other place, where we used to be involved in transport matters. Surprisingly, one might say, we were old allies when she was a Minister of State at the Foreign Office in the fight against the South African Government in the apartheid days. I had better stop there in case I damage her prospects for ever.
This is a substantial and comprehensive report, and a very detailed investigation into the delivery of aid to Africa and how we might improve it. Africa faces many difficulties, not least instability, failure to provide good governance, corruption and the most ferocious of health problems: AIDS. But there is a tremendous amount of good will towards Africa, which was demonstrated by the Commission for Africa report, published in March 2005. It was universally received as potentially a great way forward. The report recognised that development is a two-way process and that African countries had to be at the forefront of planning. Unless African Governments were involved from the planning stage, most projects would fail in their entirety. That is not a new message; it was expressed about 50 years ago by an African agronomist, René Dumont, from southern Africa. He laid out the number of projects which failed in Africa because they were directed from the metropolitan centre of the country without taking into account what local people felt.
We are still trying to get to grips with the question of ownership and the practical means of delivery and transparency. We must bear in mind from the beginning the aims of aid. First, it should be delivered quickly; secondly, it should quickly reach its target; and, thirdly, it should be done with the minimum of bureaucracy, consistent with transparency. Those three differing objectives must be held together, even though that is difficult to do.
The report recognises that the problems in Africa cause great difficulties, and we have to find a way round that. I must confess that, in going through the report, my mind was reeling in my attempt to understand fully what was happening. We have NePAD, for example—the New Partnership for Africa’s Development—and the African Peer Review mechanism, which is part of NePAD and which we welcome. Perhaps I may say as an aside that I am not entirely happy that NePAD is now to be absorbed into the African Union, but that is the choice of its members. I should prefer to see it as an independent organisation free of the political machinations of the African Union, but we just have to accept that.
We also have the regional economic committees, the matrix, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and a strong call for an EU strategy to promote coherence and avoid the duplication of effort. The strong argument is for coherence. It is suggested that there should be one European Union body to bring the whole thing together but, frankly, I think that that would be a bit of a nightmare. We are in grave danger of having so many reviews and so many committees overseeing this and that and looking at strategy and planning that we will spend all our time on those committees and nothing will ever get done. It is a refrain that one hears from time to time about reviews in this country. We say that the health service should be under review but the bureaucrats say, “We can’t do anything because we’re too busy filling out forms and answering to the Government”. We do not really want a European strategy where everyone is looking over their shoulder, worrying about reporting to one another, and not keeping their eyes on the fact that we must get aid quickly to those who need it.
I welcome the idea that there should be a mechanism for ensuring that each country lives up to its aid pledges. It is no use saying that you will provide the money unless you know that it will be delivered. I believe that in this country we have a mechanism for that. We have the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act, which started as a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Tom Clarke in June 2005. I believe that it has tremendous potential. It places an obligation on the Government to report to Parliament once a year about what is happening. I suspect that, rather than having some grand coalition to see that other countries are delivering, we should get the other countries to put into their legislation the same kind of provision as we have under that transparency Act. We do not need a grand coalition so long as there is a mechanism for transparency.
As stated by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness—I am sure that it will be repeated by others—what is happening in Zimbabwe is a real problem. It is suggested that the delay in setting up the second EU/African summit was due largely to the weak response from the African Union over Zimbabwe. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) has considered the situation in Zimbabwe and has been quite damning in its resolutions on the situation there. The trouble is that, although that has been perfectly clear, the African Union has not faced up to its responsibilities; it has not endorsed the committee’s report.
How are we going to proceed with Zimbabwe? It is incredibly important that it is dealt with, irrespective of whether it is tied in with a common strategy. It is true that the quiet diplomacy of President Thabo Mbeki does not appear to bear any fruit. There is a dilemma about how we should respond. I do not think it actually says so in the report. The implication in some parts of the report is that progress on the development of the strategy should in some way be linked to how the African Union behaves over Zimbabwe. To link the two is a very tempting prospect, but it is a real dilemma.
Perhaps we underestimate the way in which the Zimbabwean situation and Mr Mugabe’s brutal rhetoric about colonialism will bear fruit. About 12 months ago, I was part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to South Africa. While there, we met the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, which is more or less equivalent to our Select Committees. We were getting on fine until the issue of Zimbabwe was raised. The chairman responded with such ferocity that I was really set back on my heels. He was absolutely furious. He said quite clearly that we had to learn that colonialism is dead and that we should not interfere in what is happening in Zimbabwe. Admittedly, at the end of the committee session, several members of the committee, whom I have known for many years, said that the chairman did not really represent the opinion of the committee. I asked why they did not say so; the fact is they did not.
There is a real lack of enthusiasm in South Africa, which I would not have expected, given its own record and that of the African National Congress. I would have expected the African National Congress and the South African Government to be much more open and fiercer in their stance about what is happening in Zimbabwe. I say with regret that I do not buy the proposition sometimes put forward that Mugabe is the oldest of the African leaders and, therefore, by tradition Africans always bow to the elder of the tribe. That is not good enough. It is not good enough for people to say that it is up to Zimbabwe to solve its own problems.
I recognise that in South Africa the problems were solved in the main by the people of the country; they were the ones who made the greatest effort. But that does not mean we should not interfere. Recently, I reminded one of my colleagues that no one in this country said to us, “You must not interfere in what is happening in South Africa”. They asked us to help; if they had not asked us, we would not have been there. Therein lies the rub. There is no coherent call coming from within Zimbabwe.
Earlier this week, I attended a meeting with Archbishop Pius Ncube from Bulawayo. He had a very sad and depressing view. They do not know what to do. There is no coherent leadership there, so it makes life doubly difficult. Lest anyone make any mistake about it, I am not for one moment suggesting that we stop saying that what is happening in Zimbabwe is wrong. I am not saying for a second that we should do other than condemn what is happening and call on the British Government, the South African Government and the rest of the African Union to take action before the situation worsens.
What is happening in Darfur, for example, makes what is happening in Zimbabwe seem a bagatelle. That is not true. One cannot measure human rights in that way. Human rights in Zimbabwe are slipping deeper and deeper into the chasm. If Zimbabwe reaches the cataclysmic level of violence that is taking place in Darfur, it will be too late. I beg my friends in the African Union to speak up.
The report concludes that a proper EU strategy towards Africa would be of great benefit to the people of Africa. We must remember that that is the objective of the exercise. We must also ensure that aid gets through quickly, is focused and is for the benefit of the people. This report is a major contribution to making that work.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for initiating this debate on a clearly important report. I shall also talk about Zimbabwe, in particular the EU sanctions agreed in 2002 against Zimbabwean officials and government personnel, and precluding personal and official travel in and from that country. It has long been a concern of mine, which I have raised in previous debates. I am grateful for a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, in answer to a question, in which he unequivocally says that we will push for the targeted measures to be maintained. That is a great relief.
In 2003 I was working with an organisation called the Redress Trust, an anti-torture organisation. Mr Henry Dowa was a chief inspector at Harare Central Police Station, an accomplished and brutal torturer. We found out that he was a member of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) working with CIVPOL, an organisation that trains policemen. He had clearly been sent there by President Mugabe as a reward for doing a good job.
We unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the UK Government to arrest him, particularly since we thought it likely that he would be travelling back from Kosovo via London, either to go on leave or when his term of office came to an end. We tried to persuade the Government to arrest him for crimes against humanity, under the UN Convention against Torture, which imposes an obligation on states to act on such serious crimes, using the umbrella of universal jurisdiction or customary law. We had collected sworn affidavits from two of his victims, one a bona fide refugee in the UK—with all the rights that that implies—the other a dual British-Zimbabwean citizen.
The Attorney-General’s office wrote back to us and said that we were not dealing with British citizens, so they could not do anything about it—“Let it be”. I wrote to the UNMIK High Representative in Kosovo, Mr Steiner, pointing out the record and telling him about the sworn affidavits of Mr Dowa’s victims. Eventually, Mr Steiner wrote back that he was regrettably unable to act because he had scarce resources and, indeed, his job was really to seek out Serbian war criminals, not to arrest those who might have committed crimes against humanity—I am not quoting him exactly.
I then wrote to the UN Secretary-General, which I thought appropriate at that stage, pointing out that the UN had a strong obligation to ensure that it did not enable torturous regimes to reward their own people with what is seen as quite a prize: being able to travel abroad and have tax-free allowances. Eventually, I got a reply from someone in the secretary-general’s office, who pointed out that Mr Dowa had returned to Zimbabwe. He had clearly been tipped off, and I suppose the only small gratification was that we had curtailed his tax-free allowances and stay in Kosovo. However, the UN Secretary-General’s office made it quite clear that they would insist upon a proper procedure to investigate the case, and that proper action should be taken. That is fine, and one would expect that to be said. As things are in Zimbabwe, however, that is a very vague and faint hope. Of course, nothing has happened since.
It is now reliably reported that Mr Dowa is once again practising his brutal trade, and was implicated in the most recent torture of trade union officials in Harare. No one did anything—not the UK Government, the UNMIK forces or the UN Secretary-General—and nothing really has happened since, except for a report by the Redress Trust, which records the following paragraph from the Herald, a Mugabe-supporting newspaper in Harare:
“We had to prematurely call back one officer from the contingent you are going to replace in Kosovo not for misconduct but because he had been subjected to stressful treatment after a group called REDRESS had falsely accused him of torturing suspects here at home. We are not in the habit of torturing people in this country and allegations are always made now and then”.
I retell the story because there is a good case for sanctions not only to be maintained but possibly extended when the EU reviews them after five years, in February 2007. I ask the Government to see what they can do to persuade the EU to extend sanctions against officials and government members by precluding recruitment to any EU peace or other mission and to make representation to the UN to ensure that it does likewise. If we are serious about getting a loud and clear message to Mr Mugabe, we must use what means are at our disposal.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, has already mentioned a potential EU/Africa summit. There is a great deal of discussion about it. I understand that at least two EU member states would be quite keen to have sanctions against Mugabe and any of his officials dropped so that the summit could take place in one of the EU member states—one of them is Portugal. I am very worried that it takes only one country to veto a decision on sanctions for them to be dropped. It might be possible for either one of those two countries, or indeed another country, to prevail upon the new accession states to veto the sanctions against Zimbabwe. That would mean that Mr Mugabe could once again strut the international stage, with the added honour, as it were, of having sanctions against his country and his officials dropped. That would be a great tragedy.
It is important to conclude that we are not talking about trade agreements but about a regime which is murdering people day in day out, and in increasing numbers. Unless we can use the means at our disposal—in particular, now we are talking about sanctions—there is some question about how complicit we are in this kind of human rights abuse.
My Lords, as a member of the sub-committee throughout this very timely inquiry—as was my noble friend Lord Hannay—I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for his great courtesy in chairing the committee for the past four years, and our clerk, Dr Emily Baldock, who has now moved on to higher things. I thought that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was excellent. I will try to avoid going over the same ground.
I should like to say a word about our self-interest and moral obligation vis-à-vis Africa, because that is the basis for our analysis. We are concerned about where some of the present trends in Africa are taking us. I should like to quote from a recent analysis by the European Defence Agency, to which the UK is a party, that looks ahead to the next 20 years. It states:
“The regions neighbouring Europe will face particular challenges. High fertility should see Africa’s population growing faster than anywhere else—up by 48% to 1.3 billion by 2025—despite AIDS. The average African’s age is projected to be 22. Desertification may increasingly concentrate this young population in urban centres (11 African mega-cities of 5 million plus by 2025)—many of them without hope of employment. The implications for despair, humanitarian disaster and migratory pressures are obvious”.
I draw attention to the mention of migratory pressures at the end of that quotation. That is why I say that self-interest and moral obligation go together here. That is why that quotation rang lots of bells. A time bomb is ticking away. That is why, if for no other reason, we need a very strong European engagement—it may be, in close co-operation with China, a point to which I shall return. I echo all the remarks about African solutions for African problems—African ownership, in the current usage—albeit in a context where direct foreign investment will require people to be clear about the circumstances that do and do not engender that investment. By the way, that is not just investment in raw materials, because people in those cities will be looking to build businesses through micro-finance, the cities already containing more than half of Africa's population.
Overseas development aid is of course vital, but we cannot unilaterally solve the problem just by throwing more money at it. Such assistance, as in all cycles of dependency—we can give only the analogy, however imperfect, of parts of the United Kingdom—can do little to change the underlying dynamic.
I also echo the EDA’s analysis that demographic development is an issue of great importance. Population growth rates currently far exceed what is compatible with increasing living standards or meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Reducing the number of offspring per woman from five, six or seven to nearer the replacement rate will not happen by some magic virtuous circle. Perhaps we need to be more courageous in putting that problem on agendas. It has become something of a taboo subject and the appalling conditions, low expectation of life and infant mortality require that to be a more explicit issue.
Economic development requires productivity growth. It requires growth in the total rate of employment. Africa is falling behind the rest of the world rather than catching up at present. We have not only the problem of low investment—10 per cent of the world's population getting only 1 per cent of the world's foreign direct investment. It would take Africa 10 years or so of growth per head of 7 per cent per annum in real terms to get anywhere near the MDGs. The statistics on the first main page of the report state that in the past decade the economic growth per head in real terms has been only 1.38 per cent, lower than in Europe. The total growth rates of approaching 4 per cent are the arithmetical consequence of adding up the growth rate of population of 2.32 per cent, which is far too high, doubling every generation, and its consequence for slums and unemployment. Against that background, to say simply “cut poverty now” is to ignore the long haul that is entailed. It takes a long time to get the gross national product per head to anything like European standards, but we must do all we can to get those policies in place.
It is in that context that I come to the indispensable role of the European Union, which is parallel to the role of the African Union. Building up the credibility of the African Union is indispensable because the African Union has already become the inescapable dialogue partner of the European Union. This is not seriously challenged, and no one should now underestimate the value of the EU/AU dialogue set in motion by the European Council under the British presidency a year ago.
I was in Algeria recently—I am secretary of the All-Party Group on Algeria—which pointed out to me that it has a senior AU commissioner, the commissioner for security and development. It is partly because of this sense of ownership of the AU that Algeria is totally behind the pressure on Khartoum in relation to Darfur. That is one example. Incidentally, it also demonstrates why it is fallacious for people to think that north Africa is somehow not interested in the rest of Africa. It is, because of migration and the possibility of huge problems in north Africa if there are further disasters south of the Sahara. Ownership of the African Union is rather like the schizophrenia that we have about ownership of the European Union. I noted that the European Union’s special representative to the African Union is Mr Timothy Clarke, the brother of Charles Clarke. On that basis, we should take more ownership of the European Union.
I do, however, have a quibble with the Government’s comment, in an otherwise rather well thought-out response on the AU’s role, that we should,
“remember that not all countries in Africa belong to the African Union”.
To the best of my knowledge—I stand to be corrected—this is true solely of Morocco and its policy on Western Sahara. Although this is highly regrettable, it is getting things rather out of perspective to imply other than that the African Union is representative.
The point has also been taken that the African Union needs a great deal of institutional support. The initial €55 million, agreed in Addis Ababa this October, is very timely. One example of the AU’s many resource deficiencies is the Darfur peace agreement follow-up. In principle, the AU is the custodian of the DPA, but only one full-time professional staff member is working on the Sudan at its Addis Ababa headquarters. The DPA implementation team in Khartoum has only three senior professionals.
I shall say a word about the architecture of the relationship between NePAD and the APRM, which are now under one umbrella, as my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside has said. They are not, and certainly should not be, in competition. This relationship must acknowledge that the expertise in the Johannesburg area—NePAD is located between Johannesburg and Pretoria—is several times greater than that in the Addis Ababa area. Given the nature of Africa, Ethiopia is in some respects a very typical African country. Yet the part of Africa that is nearer to embracing the globalised world is South Africa. There was a danger of some tension between the two. The question of accountability and again of ownership by African heads of government is perhaps more positive than my noble friend believes. There is a degree of operational independence and certainly no one is interfering with the African peer review mechanism; that is my take on the particular problem. So we and the African nations in the AU must build on the credibility of both bodies and on the nature of the dialogue between them.
The spectre of China has been mentioned. It is said that China is undercutting some of the EU’s principles in the areas of governance, the rule of law, the environment and social standards—all this despite protestations to the contrary made by the Chinese. I should like to give chapter and verse on that. Only two weeks ago a huge jamboree was held in Peking. I say “jamboree” because apparently each president had his own anagram sewn onto his silk pyjamas. The Chinese do have their own unique system of governance, if I may put it that way. Given their huge need for raw materials, they are now putting billions-worth of investment in the form of infrastructure, manufacturing capacity and so forth, into Africa. In many cases African countries are to some degree becoming client states.
The dilemma was summed up in the front-page story in yesterday’s Financial Times. The president of the European Investment Bank said that the Chinese banks, with whom the EIB is in competition,
“don’t bother about social and human rights conditions”,
and are snatching projects from under the EIB’s nose. He goes on to say that:
“It’s clear that China is trying to build closer links with Africa and build privileged access to the resources of this continent”.
A further point on that is that this may be short-termism and not necessarily an indication of a long-term commitment to Africa. That could also form part of the dialogue we ought to have. I am rather disturbed by the conclusion of the president of the EIB:
“We have to consider the degree of conditionality which we want to impose”.
In other words, he wants to dilute the sort of principles that we have set out in Europe. I cannot think of a more succinct demonstration of the danger of creating a paradigm which is the opposite of that in our own report. Finally on this, I think that Her Majesty’s Government should be promoting some sort of trilateral dialogue with the Chinese and we should test to the limit the critique that we are destined to undermine each other.
A good deal of progress has been made in the past year and I think that we can look forward with a degree of confidence. I was privileged to be in a position to observe the second round of the very difficult elections held in Congo. In some parts of Africa things are beginning to move in the right direction. I am sure that the policy must be to go forward even though rogue states such as Zimbabwe are difficult to deal with. My final sentence on that is that while nobody is talking about dropping sanctions, we do not want the Chinese to be able to have a dialogue at heads of government level with Africa and we are not able to, so we must find a way of solving the problem. I think that the proposal from Brazzaville on a joint strategy is very encouraging.
My Lords, I join my colleague on the sub-committee, the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, in thanking our former chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for his patience and the determination with which he handled an extremely lengthy and quite complex report.
The report we are discussing today covers a massive field. It is an attempt by the European Union, composed of 25, soon to be 27, countries and by Africa, with some 55, to forge a strategic partnership designed to cover a range of policies from development to security and from human rights to good governance. The complexity of all this, in part, derives from the nature of the institutions at either end of the proposed partnership. In neither case is the allocation of policy responsibilities straightforward or even, in some cases, very clear. In neither is it static, as both the European Union and the African Union are in a constant process of institutional evolution—sometimes by conscious substantial changes of responsibility and sometimes simply by the application of pragmatic common sense. Hence the proliferation of acronyms and the need to explain the institutional diversities at both ends of this equation, for which, as a co-author of the report, I offer some apologies to the normal reader.
No one could say that the proposed strategic partnership lacks ambition—but is it practicable? Will it be likely to add value to what is already taking place bilaterally between the countries of Europe and those of Africa? What is the capacity of both the EU and Africa to act collectively, to deliver results and to avoid confusion and duplication? What are Africa’s needs for which it would welcome an external contribution and is the EU in a position to meet them? What about the growing role of China? Several speakers have referred to that. Will it cut across and undermine the objectives being pursued by the European Union? These are the main questions that we set out to address in the report we are debating today. There are others we decided not to cover, most importantly that of trade which had already been reported on by the EU Select Committee in the context of the Doha development round of multilateral trade negotiations.
On the big question of the practicability of forging an effective strategic partnership between the EU and Africa, our answer really had to be that given by Prime Minister Chou En-Lai of China to a question about the French revolution—“too soon to say”. It really is not possible at this early stage to state categorically that the approach is going to work. What can be said is that both parts of the equation are committing substantial effort and resources to making it work and seem to be making progress both in the institutional handling of the dialogue and in the achievement of practical objectives. Much of course will depend on the development of the African Union, a much younger entity than the European Union and one whose predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity, was notorious for its ineffectiveness.
One can note with some concern that in the coming year at least two African leaders who have done most to set the African Union on its feet—President Mbeki of South Africa and President Obasanjo of Nigeria—will be quitting the political scene. Strong political leadership from the larger member states is as important in Africa as it is in Europe. It seems clear from past experience that a fragmented and divided Africa will be less well equipped to confront the problems facing it and, given Europe’s undoubted stake in an Africa which is achieving stability and overcoming poverty, it must be in our interest that its efforts to find collective responses succeed. We should thus regard the success of the African Union as a European interest which we should do our best to assist.
But can the European Union as such add value to what its member states are already doing? Answering that question is particularly difficult for a country like our own, which has had a long, if not entirely untroubled, relationship with Africa, and which has been in the vanguard of recent international efforts to mobilise external support for Africa. The same siren tunes of national interest and pride of authorship play too in Paris, perhaps even more strongly. I believe that it would be wrong to listen to them. The European Union brings together a large number of European countries, many of which have hitherto had no tradition of working with Africa and many of which have devoted few resources to that continent, and harnesses their collective resources to objectives which are entirely consistent with the policies we ourselves have been pursuing.
Viewed from the other end, Africa has much to gain from dealing with a properly concerted European effort, rather than with a multiplicity of different national efforts shot through with traditional rivalries. Our own Government will need to check a certain ambivalence that we detected between pride in our national programmes and working more closely with our European partners. The opportunity for Britain to play a leading role in shaping European Union policy towards Africa seemed to us one that should be grasped without ambiguity or afterthought.
It seems clear from all the evidence we took that Africa’s needs go far beyond the straightforward provision of more resources and better programmes to deal with poverty, malnutrition and pandemic diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis—important though all those requirements are. They relate, too, to the phenomenon of state failure, which has afflicted Africa more than any other part of the world, and which throws up complex issues of security policy and post-conflict peace-building. In countries either slipping towards state failure or just emerging from it, the normal prescriptions of development aid are quite simply inapplicable.
The African Union is just beginning to develop some capacity and some of the instruments for handling state failure, but, as its experience with the African Union mission in Darfur has shown, it is still far from being able to handle these costly and complex missions on its own. Nor would the European Union acting on its own be a politically acceptable substitute. Even the UN, as we have seen in Darfur, raises strong, if, in my view, entirely misconceived, objections. There is a crying need for some joint approach that enables Europeans and Africans to work together—normally, no doubt, under UN legitimisation—in such peace operations. The Europeans have many of the resources in money, training and expertise that would complement African efforts. That is one obvious field in which a strategic partnership could bring major benefits to all concerned.
Nothing is more sensitive in relations between Europe and Africa than the issues of human rights, governance and corruption, but they cannot simply be ducked. Fortunately the Africans themselves have begun to address them. The African Union’s peer review process, which has been referred to by other speakers, is a laudable attempt to get to grips with these most difficult subjects. Relatively few African countries have so far subjected themselves to this new mechanism. It is greatly to be hoped that that number will grow. Certainly, the European Union should take full account of countries’ records in accepting the peer review mechanism and in implementing its recommendations when they, in their turn, decide on their own developmental priorities.
In all these areas the crucial objective must be for Europe to try to work with Africa’s own efforts, not to be seen as imposing policies from the outside. Achieving African ownership of the strategic partnership in all its elements will be difficult and frustrating, but it is essential. It will not always succeed at the first, or even the second, attempt. The case of Zimbabwe, about which some, including my noble friend Lady D’Souza, have spoken so movingly, is an obvious and lamentable one, where no progress has been made and none is in prospect. Europe, however, should not allow such bad cases to take hostage its relationship with a whole continent, even if it may impose some legitimate limits on the holding of high-level meetings.
One issue that is covered in our report which is receiving much media coverage, particularly since the holding of a Chinese-African summit meeting recently in Beijing, is the impact of the strengthening Chinese relationship with Africa. We need to be clear from the outset: there is nothing objectionable per se in a stronger Chinese interest in Africa, in greater Chinese trade with, or investment in, the countries of that continent. Europe, if it stands for anything, stands for an open competitive approach to such matters, not a mercantilist one. But problems could arise if China were to allow its desire to acquire scarce commodities to develop in a mercantilist—dare one say it, a neo-colonialist?—direction. The same would be true if it were to cut across or undermine Africa’s own efforts to strengthen policies against corruption, bad governance or the abuse of human rights.
I doubt whether it is in China’s own long-term interest—there I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall—to be clearly associated with regimes and practices which the majority of African states are trying to put behind them. The EU needs to discuss all these issues with China in an open and frank way and on a continuing basis. It should not be seen as some continuation of the Cold War by other means and in other regions but rather as an attempt to understand better the policies each is pursuing within the framework laid down by the UN’s millennium development goals to which we have all subscribed.
If this report and debate demonstrate anything, it is the importance of Africa for the European Union’s emerging external policies. This is, I believe, a part of the world where the European Union, as such, has an important role to play and is capable of playing it. If Europe does not play that role, let us be quite clear: no one else will. No one else will step forward to do so. It is clear that Africa is not about to shoot up the United States’ order of external priorities. Who else, other than the European Union, has the resources and the political will to offer a genuine strategic partnership? The question, surely, answers itself. So let us hope that in the years ahead, Europe and Africa will make further progress down the road they have set for themselves.
My Lords, I find myself in the position of being a very new member of the EU sub-committee. First, I must place on record my wider interests in Africa in case they have not been recorded before. I am the vice-chair of the Africa All-Party Group, the vice-chair of the West African Mano River Region All-Party Group and an executive officer of a number of all-party groups on African countries, including South Africa and Botswana.
As a very new member of the committee, I was not involved in the preparation of the report. I feel therefore that I can freely congratulate the committee on its work, particularly the chairman, without any sense of self-aggrandisement. In all sincerity, I felt that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, who chaired the committee, was extraordinary. It was a tour de force. I look forward to participating in future stages of this work—it is clearly a work in progress, from what other noble Lords have said.
The noble Lord stressed the importance of our historic and current affinities between Europe and the African nations, through our languages, trade and development. He stressed that the United Kingdom has the opportunity to set an example of flexibility in the delivery of aid and budget support; he said that it would be a very good area in which to involve NePAD, and other noble Lords made the same point.
The African states themselves need to take the lead on human rights, good governance, transparency, peer review and the rule of law. We can be supportive in the European Union, but to make progress which will last and be sustained, action must come from within.
Most importantly, the noble Lord and other speakers have referred to what can only be described as the lack of interest in China in issues that we hold so important in our perhaps more mature and sophisticated way of looking at the world and its problems. Emphasis was placed on the perception that China’s concentration was almost entirely on economic development opportunities and creating conditions in which it was able to exploit those opportunities to meet its own needs in the first instance. However, I accept the suggestion made by the noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Hannay, that that is probably not in China’s long-term interests. I am sure that that must be the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, also mentioned the downside of the work in this report. There are no solutions in sight for Zimbabwe, which has caused a delay to the second African conference. That point was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, with her very moving description of the conditions that still occur in Zimbabwe with regard to torture. The noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Hannay, made excellent contributions to that debate in their own different ways.
I turn to the follow-up report to The EU and Africa: Towards a Strategic Partnership. It really is important to note that the adoption of the EU strategic partnership for Africa by the European Council in December 2005 was in response to developments in Africa, not in the European Union. The adoption of that strategy has marked a new determination by Europe to engage with the African continent and for that continent to embark on a New Partnership for Africa's Development—NePAD.
The EU strategy must and does reaffirm commitment to peace, stability and development throughout Africa. Equally, it must and does define a single integrated long-term framework for its relations with the whole of Africa. The EU strategy is founded on basic principles of ownership, responsibility and mutual accountability which are generally readily transportable across borders, oceans and cultures. But it is also fundamentally a European political framework, intended by design to address Africa as a single entity. We should not underestimate the challenges that that presents to the European Union and to ourselves.
The European Union cannot as yet claim to have surmounted the many obstacles—economic, cultural and political—that there are to achieving harmony, stability and economic development throughout its 25 member European states. Clearly, achieving those aims on an African continent which contains some 50 nation states that do not benefit from 50 years of gradual progress towards our aspirations as we have seen them in the European Union will be even more arduous. It is recognised that the EU-African dialogue has been possible only due to the emergence of the African Union as the central interlocutor. The fundamental aim is the creation of a constructive dialogue with Africa promoting the implementation of the strategy. The challenge is to maintain the momentum and dynamism created by the adoption and implementation of the EU strategy for Africa. As the report says, it is crucial that the implementation becomes more and more a matter for not only Brussels but each of the EU member states. It is crucial, too, that it becomes more and more a matter for the AU and its member states.
The European Council has pledged to review implementation of the strategy at the December 2006 European Council, which we welcome, and at least every two years thereafter to keep Africa at the top of the agenda in Europe. But the question that we need to ask ourselves is how we maintain the momentum and dynamism that we seek in Europe because we also need to consider how we can keep Europe at the top of the agenda in Africa. We have heard many contributions this afternoon about how other countries, especially China, have their own interests in developing their relationships with Africa, which may or may not be mutually exclusive to our own. The challenge that we have is surely how well the member states of the EU can make progress with the implementation of the strategy for Africa through their individual progress and contributions while recognising the competing claims and attractions for the limited governmental, administrative and organisational human resources to respond to the overtures that are being made by other parts of the world to engage more readily with the African nations and the African Union.
In the follow-up report, chapter 2 talks about,
“coherence, coordination and cooperation in the field”.
Paragraphs 18 and 19 talk about donor co-ordination. I stress that the Government’s response is quoted as saying:
“The priority is to get all bilateral and multilateral donors in a country to work together behind a nationally agreed and nationally owned poverty reduction strategy or plan”.
Absolutely, but those of us who have taken any interest over the years in distribution of European development funds and aid know how appallingly disorganised that has been.
The report continues:
“EU coordination in the field remains scattered and should be improved”.
It certainly does. We have had 20, 30 or more years of trying to distribute funds into projects and seeing them go nowhere. What about improving our ability in the European Union to disburse moneys—aid, loans, or grants—into the projects? I have been incredibly frustrated over the years to hear European Union officials in offices around Africa berating how difficult it has been to realise projects because of the bureaucratic problems that they have dealing with their masters in Brussels and the problems that they have in communicating with their clients in Africa. That has to stop. If there is anything that we can achieve through our EU and Africa strategy, we can achieve some better organisation in that regard; otherwise I wonder why we bother.
I must move on. I apologise for venting my frustrations from past careers, if you like. The important thing is that we are establishing in this report the importance of the relationship between the EU’s strategic partnership and the AU’s NePAD project. Paragraphs 31 and 32, in chapter 2, talk about the infrastructure partnership with Africa. It is absolutely right that we should concentrate on how to work better with NePAD and the AU institutions to develop the infrastructure partnerships that they require to make Africa function better in terms of development programmes in and between African nations. Paragraphs 36 and 37 say that the Trust Fund is not at the moment guaranteed beyond 2007. There is no mention of investment. We talk about loans and grants, but not investment. I wonder whether that is shorthand or an oversight.
There is so much in this report that one could comment on and debate. It is probably more appropriate to move on. I emphasise some of the points made by other noble Lords in connection with the impacts of other international partnerships that have been forged with Africa. As far as I can tell, in the follow-up report there is an acknowledgement that, if we are able to, we need to work more closely with other continents, which may or may not be competitors. I particularly would like to see emphasis placed on how we could work more closely with the United States of America, India and China.
This is just the summary of the output of the Beijing jolly, or whatever you want to call it, of a couple of weeks ago. Do not underestimate the impact that the summit has had on the relationships between the African states and China. There is absolutely no doubt that it has been a serious step forward in the relationships between individual nation states and the opportunities for development that they see through forging stronger relationships with China. It is clear that the outcome from the summit has been the sort of strategy plan that we are talking about in our own EU and Africa strategy here. However, it punches with a lot more weight compared to what we have been able to achieve so far in the EU—hardly surprising when you consider the economic strength and opportunities that China can provide to Africa as a continent. Let us recognise that fact. We go into this not with equal opportunities between ourselves and China, but trying to follow what China is able to do because it has those resources and needs, to such a great extent. Whatever the involvement of China with Africa, we can be sure of one thing—it is driven not by philanthropy, but by its own needs. We must always recognise that.
My Lords, I have been asked to reply on behalf of my party to this important debate, and I welcome the opportunity to be back in your Lordships' House, especially as a temporary member of the Front-Bench team again. However, it is a very temporary position, as I now spend 50 per cent of my life working in Africa, so I cannot take part in your Lordships’ debates as I used to.
Such debates are always fascinating, but this has been a particularly fascinating hour and a half. We have a responsibility following 2005. It was Britain that made it the year of Africa and raised awareness. It is now a big responsibility for Britain within the EU to take matters forward, as many noble Lords have said. I particularly welcome the remarks of my noble friend Lord Bowness and his work in chairing Sub-Committee C. There is no doubt that when a committee as well versed as this sits down and examines the issues, we see what has been achieved—there has been achievement—but also many of the things yet to be done, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, explained.
The European Union has a good system, if it can be made to work, to help the African Union develop, but like so many grand bodies it will be only as effective as its constituent parts. The same is very true for the African Union, which has some strong, devoted and committed members and some that just sit on the sidelines. We have exactly the same situation in the European Union. We in the European Union are natural partners for the African Union, but the capacities are very different. If there is one plea that I put to the Government in all that they are doing, and doing well through the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, it is that we need to build capacity to deliver the aspirations that we share on all Benches in your Lordships' House, and probably across all Governments. The capacity to deliver is lacking.
Let me say a few words about governance. Through Britain’s activity in 2005 and the Commission for Africa, we moved this interesting continent to the heart of EU and G8 policy thinking, but we cannot stop. All the bodies in the world that may be set up to follow the Commission for Africa will be only as effective as the inputs in the countries concerned. Hard work is now with us. The year of Africa is past. We have to focus on a decade of delivery. Although the report does not deal with trade—it was dealt with in a previous report—our European Union Committee has put its finger on many of the challenges facing Africa. Delivery alone may be a key word, but when we consider just how much need there is for faster sustained growth if African nations are to spring the poverty trap of more than 3 million Africans still living on less than a dollar a day, then the means to achieve that have to be willed in terms of human input, not just money. It is very easy to commit increasing sums of European money to this continent that is so much in need, but it is the implementation and what we do with the money that counts for the Africans.
I spent the first half of this week in Nigeria. Consider 150 million people. Regrettably, so many of those talented Nigerians are outside Nigeria. One of the efforts of each European Union member should be to connect with the diaspora of Africa and encourage those committed and well educated people to return to help their own countries. It is a question of persuasion. It is not always a question of supplementing salaries, but it is a question of believing that they can make their own countries a better place from within those countries rather than by standing outside and only sending remittances. That is an effective way in which we could help those countries perhaps to meet the millennium development goals that are significantly off track at present.
Assistance from the European Union must be in the three main areas of the co-ordination of development assistance, building partnerships in governance, and human rights. I am convinced that we have the people within the European Union to do it. We have the ideas and, in most countries in Africa, we have the partnerships that can deliver on the ground. There are exceptions and I will return to the subject of Zimbabwe in a few moments. But what seems to be lacking is the trust between some countries in Europe and some countries in Africa and the ability to see that success in Africa is success for the European Union.
One country in the world has seen such success clearly. China has seen that it can gain a great deal from being active in Africa. There is an enormous gap between our approach to the needs of Africa in infrastructure and the approach of China. I learnt directly this week just how important the issue is to African leaders. They tell me every time that, while we in the West, in government and in companies, talk about conditionalities, the Chinese say, “We want to sign; we want to do business with you”. There is a danger, as was cited by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, that if we do not act to understand the way in which China is now starting to work with Africa, we in the European Union will lose out very badly indeed. And this will be not only in the economic relationship, but in the promotion of good governance and human rights—which we believe is the right way to go and which the majority of citizens of African countries believe is the right way to go. Governments could be tempted by what is on offer from China to go down a very different path.
The packages offered by China now seem very attractive to African leaders, but they may have major shortcomings in the longer term. But African countries will win from obtaining that infrastructure—road and rail transport, processing plants and help with agriculture. These will appear to be very attractive, with soft loans repayable over the long term. They are the kind of projects that western Governments regard as too risky at the moment. We must look at what is happening in that relationship, or the EU’s influence will be put aside and behind the needs of African Governments.
I mentioned the importance of improving governance. I have been impressed by some of the countries that have seriously taken up the APRM, which many noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, have referred to. Governments want to fight corruption. The work of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria is very significant. It is not widely understood, but it is making progress in a country that has had far too much corruption. However, it is not getting much support from anywhere except the United Kingdom. I wish that Brussels could look for successes, even if they were not invented in the European Union but in those countries, and could strengthen and espouse such things as the fight against corruption, where the committees are trying to get to the bottom of the problem and change minds. A lot can be done by encouragement and involvement, but successes often pass us by because they are not on somebody’s programme sheet but have come from the country concerned. If home-grown successes in Africa are supported, they will lead to successful copying in neighbouring countries. Here, I think particularly of Rwanda, which has transformed itself in the past 10 years. While it may not have the sort of governance that we want to see in countries across Africa, it is gradually evolving its own form of good governance and of open debate, which was not possible 10 years ago.
I do not think that we in the European Union give enough attention to a sad development in human rights. I am told by representatives of Liberty, who spoke with many of my Conservative colleagues earlier today, that more women and young people are being exploited today than were ever involved in slavery centuries ago. That is a real problem in Africa. It is not one that can be solved by diktat from European Union members. We must work with African Governments to stop the trade in children and women, which is a serious matter.
Speaking of human rights, let me turn to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. What is happening in Zimbabwe is tragic and is a blot on the African landscape, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, said. However, it is not simply Africa’s problem; it is for the whole world to stop such situations developing, which can happen only through dialogue. It is sad that, at the moment, it is a dialogue of the deaf when it comes to those who knew Zimbabwe in the days when it could feed itself. It is a dialogue of the deaf if we try to dictate. I do not fully understand how the Government can get into dialogue in Harare, but there are people in Zimbabwe who are desperate to try to help change. There is no clear Opposition, which is a grave problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, said. The human rights of people in Zimbabwe are a shocking example to other nations that think that they may be able to get away with poor human rights records, which includes Sudan and western Sahara. Too many copycat situations could be spawned if the European Union and, in particular, the quiet diplomacy of the British Government are not deployed. There is no doubt that we have to make another effort.
When speaking of human rights and the failure to persuade change, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, made a serious point: how do we deal with failed or failing states? Much has been written. Professor Chester Crocker at Georgetown University has concentrated on looking for solutions. The Global Leadership Foundation, of which I am proud to be a trustee, is trying to assist Governments who are in danger of breaking up or systems of government that are not working well together. But more attention on failed states must be an effort that the European Union can make. In my days in government, I well remember spending much time with the east European countries, helping them to move from failed systems of government towards systems of government that would make them eligible to become members of the European Union. We have done it before in a different context. I see no reason why the European Union and the member states cannot use their skills and experience, together with others who are also seeking to overcome failures of the past, to make it all the more effective.
It is very easy in a debate such as this, particularly when the expertise of this committee has shown us a great deal of foresight, to be congratulatory and perhaps to look back at what has been done. But I want us to look forward: I am sure that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will be looking forward in her remarks. It is in everyone’s interests across the world to see economic uplift in Africa. It is certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, mentioned, very much in our self-interest to be involved, especially when we look at the development of the mega-cities without jobs and with considerable social problems. Here, I believe that budgetary support in development assistance, while it can be good, needs to be backed by expertise support. I come back to the comment that I have made on many of these issues: the expertise that is lacking will not be grown overnight in African countries, but having someone in charge of the implementation of European Union development assistance in every single office—someone who will really help to spend the money wisely—is something that we in Britain should really support.
I believe that economic uplift is the wanted way by many African nations today. They want a reduction in the insecurity of doing business. I pay tribute to the comments of the EU-Africa Business Forum which met in Brussels just two weeks ago. It advocates not only greater private sector co-operation and dialogue but also much greater involvement with the public/private partnerships work of the EU-African fiscal policy. Some businesses have worked in Africa for donkey’s years—one is Unilever, in which I am proud to be a director with responsibility for the developing world. I have learnt from Unilever and many other businesses that very often the business sector, with proper governance, can help the European Union to help Africa to help itself. That I mention particularly as one of the ways in which we will build a very much more stable and growing Africa in the interests of all its people.
We know well that there are some particularly difficult circumstances in different countries, but we do ourselves no justice—and certainly Africa an injustice—if we do not look at the economic growth that is occurring. Sub-Saharan Africa has changed. While growth averages 5 per cent across the OECD, in many countries in Africa we are now seeing figures of 6, 7, 10 or 15 per cent—there is growth there. We have to look at the success vehicles and work with those policies of success by enhancing those with expertise in an attempt to help the African Union to copy the success vehicles into the countries that do not have them at the moment. When success is recognised, as the committee clearly said in its report, we see improvements many times over.
It has been an honour to speak again in your Lordships’ House. I hope that we will be able to deal with some of the detailed issues in this report, which is of great value. I hope that we can encourage our European Union colleagues to get really involved—not just to speak up but to deliver what needs to be done for Africa. Africa will respond, but encouragement and expertise are what are needed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for opening this debate and for setting out so comprehensively the conclusions in the committee’s report. I also thank committee members and other noble Lords who have participated in this afternoon’s debate.
The relationship between the EU and Africa at an institutional level and between the EU and individual countries remains extremely important. The year 2005 marked a real turning point for development, especially for the African continent. Aid volume targets were agreed that will double aid to $50 billion by 2010, with half going to the African continent. Agreement was also reached on the European Consensus on Development, making poverty reduction the primary objective of EU aid in the poorest countries. That is particularly important, as the EU provides over half of world aid and is Africa’s largest donor. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, that I absolutely recognise the importance of working with our EU partners on all these matters. I believe that working together brings added value.
In addition, the EU-Africa Strategy was adopted. The strategy builds on G8 commitments and responds to many of the recommendations in last year’s Commission for Africa report. It provides a new framework covering the whole continent to guide the increase in funds from member states in the commission over the next 10 years. It contains challenging and wide-ranging goals on peace and security, governance, human rights, growth and trade, investing in people and development assistance. It is an ambitious agenda, but it needs to be if it is to help the continent to meet the millennium development goals. At its heart are the core principles of ownership by, and partnership with, our African colleagues. The importance of that was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Chidgey. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, that it is too early to say whether this will be an effective strategic partnership, but I will say that it is a crucial one and we need to support it to make it work.
I now turn to the specific issues raised. There has already been significant progress against the EU-Africa strategy, and that should be recognised. I shall start with the subject of peace and security. The continent of Africa, more than any other, has suffered recently from violent conflict. Darfur and Somalia are in our minds today but the tragedies in the Great Lakes and west Africa still weigh heavily. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that, without lasting peace, development will be difficult. There is progress. The conflicts in the DRC, southern Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi and Angola have all ended or seen major improvement in recent years.
The EU has given much support to help the African Union and African sub-regional organisations to prevent, manage and reduce conflict in areas such as Darfur, including in the past year agreement to a further €350 million for the Africa Peace Facility between now and 2010. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, whom I am delighted to see in her place, if only for this debate, mentioned the exploitation of women and the appalling human rights abuses. Part of that is the consequence of conflict. We have all been horrified to see the rape and abuse which has become such a part of conflict on the continent. We are also seeing considerable trafficking of women and children. We really need to address those areas as regards working on the continent, in the United Kingdom and in other parts of the European Union to ensure that such trafficking stops.
The Commission for Africa identified governance as a specific problem holding back Africa’s development and contributing to the number of countries that can be seen as failed or failing, which was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. Last month the commission and member states agreed a common approach to working on governance with developing countries. The EU governance initiative will provide a collective incentive for reform, rewarding countries that show improvements and commitment to improve with additional funding. Around €3 billion is expected to go to ACP countries and to support the African Peer Review mechanism. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, on the importance of supporting Africa’s own efforts in this respect. I endorse his view on the importance of strong political leadership in Africa.
We must support country-led approaches by building on existing processes of dialogue between donors and Governments, linked, for example, to poverty reduction strategies or the African Peer Review mechanism reports. In that context, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, mentioned corruption and the fact that the United Kingdom is one of very few countries working in that area. Corruption is an outcome of weak governance, so we aim to stay engaged with partner Governments in all but the most extreme circumstances. Anti-corruption work must be part of a programme to improve a Government’s capability, accountability and responsiveness.
The EU-Africa strategy paved the way for agreement to the release of €55 million to help build the capacity of the AU as an institution. My noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, both highlighted the importance of that capacity building.
My noble friends Lord Hughes of Woodside and Lord Lea of Crondall mentioned NePAD and the African Union. We welcome the agreement reached at the last EU summit to achieve greater coherence between the existing AU and NePAD structures; it is particularly important in the context of governance. We hope that a closer institutional relationship between the two bodies and their programmes will place greater focus on key areas, in regard not only to governance but also to development.
When talking of governance it is important to talk about Zimbabwe, which a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, mentioned. We and our EU partners are deeply concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Government’s policies hurt rather than help Zimbabweans. Inflation is rampant and Zimbabweans now have the lowest life expectancy in the world. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, mentioned the importance of the sanctions regime.
With the European Union, we will maintain pressure on the Zimbabwean regime to reform, including through the renewal of EU targeted measures on the Government of Zimbabwe in February next year. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, proposed an extension of those sanctions. Negotiating the current sanctions regime was pretty difficult; I say that as somebody who pressed our EU partners hard to make the current regime as tough and robust as possible. Not all member states share our view, but we will continue to press for the strongest possible sanctions regime. I agree with the noble Baroness that torture and human rights abuses should not be tolerated, wherever they occur.
On Zimbabwe, I agree with my noble friend Lord Hughes that African Governments and leaders must press harder for change in Zimbabwe, as it has a direct impact on the region and the continent more generally. We take every opportunity to raise this with African leaders, to encourage them to address the situation. My noble friend is right about the ambivalence towards the Zimbabwean situation in South Africa. I have myself experienced that ambivalence.
My noble friend Lord Lea and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, identified the need for growth and trade on the African continent. The European Commission and European Investment Bank announced an infrastructure partnership in February that was recently approved by member states. Private sector investment in Africa is also lacking. The recent EU-Africa Business Forum, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and held in Brussels, brought together African and European businesses to show how successful business can be in Africa, and to discuss how to improve further the investment climate on the continent.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Bowness and Lord Chidgey, my noble friend Lord Lea and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, raised the role of China in Africa. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, that economic interests underpinned by its remarkable economic growth clearly drive China’s engagement with Africa, both in terms of demand for inputs, especially oil and minerals, to support domestic growth, and of new markets for exports. Chinese companies are less risk averse than their Western counterparts, largely because of strong government backing.
China’s huge economic power can have a major positive impact on Africa, supporting the Gleneagles agenda of growth, trade and poverty reduction. If we are going to see that positive impact, however, we must work for it. There are already some signs that China’s trade with Africa is stimulating higher growth and more jobs for Africans. Like all Africa’s partners, China must ensure it acts in ways that support the building of effective African states that are more capable, accountable and responsive. Supporting Africa’s own agenda of peace, democracy, transparency and sound economic management is essential both for China’s self-interest and for the continent’s longer-term sustainable development.
I assure noble Lords that the UK and the EU are increasing our dialogue with China on Africa. We are actively encouraging Chinese participation in multilateral initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa.
On development assistance and investing in people, member states reached agreement on a 10th European Development Fund earlier this year. This will provide African, Caribbean and Pacific states with €22 billion over 2008-13. There has also been a $90 million contribution to the global fund to combat AIDS, TB and malaria. Recently, there was an EU-Africa Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development held in Tripoli, which discussed how to minimise the negative effects and maximise the benefits of migration for development.
On the UK’s own response to the strategy, the recent government White Papers, Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor and Active Diplomacy for a Changing World: The UK’s International Priorities commit us to fulfilling the pledges made in 2005, including the EU-Africa strategy, and lay out how we will continue to do this.
Noble Lords will know that our development assistance to Africa has totalled more than £1 billion in the past year and will reach £1.25 billion in 2007-08. We are on track to reach the 2013 target of spending 0.7 per cent of our budget on development. On education, we recently announced an £8.5 billion initiative over the next decade. On peace and security, we are training more than 2,000 peacekeepers from Africa a year. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has allowed more than 20 countries to implement or commit to implement its principles.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, talked about the importance of connecting with the African diaspora. She will be pleased to know that my noble friend Lord Triesman is engaged in this work, as am I. There is no shortage of people who want to give something back. But, looking forward, as the noble Baroness said that I would do, there is no room for complacency. There are still too many conflicts, too many children are still dying, too much talent is not being developed and too many opportunities are being wasted. That is why it is important to agree on priority actions for 2007. It is very good news that Germany has decided to make Africa one of the themes for its EU presidency. We want to keep up the pace on implementing the strategy. We are arguing for a particular focus on access to basic services, trade and climate change.
We need to ensure that more people on the continent have access to water, education and health. It is a scandal that 1 billion people do not have safe water and that 2.5 billion are without proper sanitation. Dirty water kills 5,000 children every day. So we need to accelerate efforts to provide clean water and adequate sanitation. We must strengthen the EU water initiative to include non-EU donors.
All African children should have access to primary education of good quality by 2015. This will require long-term predictable financing to national education sector programmes. The UK has already committed to supporting Ghana and Mozambique’s 10-year plans for primary education for girls and boys.
We must provide further robust financial and technical support to African countries in their efforts to confront HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis through mechanisms such as the global fund. We must also implement the EU action plan on recruitment of health workers.
On trade, the informal negotiations on the Doha development round have restarted. We urge all countries to work for a resolution, as this could significantly increase global trade, stimulate economic growth and help to lift millions out of poverty.
We have not touched on climate change this afternoon, but it impacts on all of us. It is most felt by those least responsible for it—the world’s poorest people, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We must accelerate action on climate change, including adaptation, by building on the review of the EU action plan on climate change and development that will take place in 2007. That agenda has to be in addition to our ongoing efforts on conflict, migration and aid effectiveness, which must and will continue.
Work has already begun, and will continue in 2007, on developing a new joint strategy with Africa. The European Commission’s recent meeting with the African Union in Addis Ababa took this work forward, and discussions with African member states have begun. The UK is supportive of this approach. Of course the EU-Africa strategy agreed last December was discussed with the African Union and with African ambassadors and NGOs in Brussels in 2005. The new joint strategy document will take this partnership forward, outlining the commitments that both the EU and Africa will make. We hope that this will be adopted at a future EU Africa summit. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that we need to keep Europe at the top of Africa’s agenda and not just keep Africa at the top of Europe’s agenda.
The United Kingdom recognises that the EU-Africa summit is an important way to enhance the partnership between the EU and Africa and to maintain the dialogue which is, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, stressed, an important discussion. We want an outcomes-oriented summit addressing global issues with ambitious targets and deliverable outcomes. It is hoped that a resolution to the difficulties with Zimbabwean representation will be found to allow that to happen under the Portuguese presidency in 2007.
The EU-Africa strategy is an important political statement of commitment to support Africa's efforts to achieve peace, security and economic and social development. The UK has played a leading role; I am pleased that noble Lords have recognised that this afternoon. We welcome the tangible progress that has already been made, but there is much more to do. We will play our part in ensuring implementation, which has been stressed by several noble Lords, and ensuring that the impact of the strategy is regularly monitored.
Noble Lords will want to know that we are pushing for agreement next month that progress on the strategy should be reviewed every December. We need to continue to work in partnership. We need to review and evaluate what we do. As all noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have said, we need to continue to press for change.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this afternoon's debate. I hope that all who have listened to it and participated felt that the report contributed to enabling that sensible discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, and the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, referred to Zimbabwe, which is, of course, a continuing tragedy, not only for the country as a whole but the people living there. I make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that the committee made no suggestion that assistance to the African Union should somehow be linked to progress in Zimbabwe. I refer him to paragraph 409, which refers to the relative failure of the African Union to respond robustly—which, I think, was a legitimate criticism—and to other paragraphs, especially paragraphs 410, 412 and 414, in which we recognise the progress in Africa that the African Union represents; state that the European Union should support the African Union’s efforts to rationalise its internal functions; and state that budgetary assistance to the African Union should take account of the level of support provided by the African Union countries themselves.
I think that it is fair to say that we have managed to decouple the very important issue of Zimbabwe from support for and work with the African Union. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly made the point that Zimbabwe as an issue cannot be allowed to derail the whole process. He also made the point that if the European Union does not take up the issue, no one else will. Given our interest in Africa, we should be very supportive of that strategy, because we certainly cannot do it alone.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for her response to many questions raised. The noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Chidgey, referred to China. We look with interest to see how that will develop. To the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, I say that we in the European Union Committee produced an earlier report on European development aid in which we recognise, as we do in this report, that considerable progress has been made, although the Commission itself honestly recognised the difficulty in delivering on the ground. That is clearly an area in which there is enormous work to be done if recipients are not to have to deal with a multiplicity of donors with different rules.
I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that we made a nod towards different methods of financing in the report. In recommendation 469, we stated that it was essential that the European Union, through its member states, encouraged international finance institutions and the OECD to take account of development and security needs in Africa. The Minister has already referred to the partnership and infrastructure paper that came out in July, and to the involvement of the EIB with loans.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, for her contribution from the Conservative Front Bench. Her phrase “the decade of delivery” very much summarises what we are trying to say in the report. It was clear from the start that the strategy was a beginning, and that many of the proposals had to be fleshed out. It is clear from the Commission’s and Council’s joint paper, to which I referred, that it is being taken forward and that the whole business of coherence, co-operation and co-ordination is being taken very seriously.
I am grateful to my colleagues on the sub-committee for their kind remarks about my chairmanship. Although another report is pending—it was published during my term, so I cannot say that this is necessarily the last time I will speak on behalf of the sub-committee—it is nevertheless an opportunity for me to thank all Members who have supported me as chairman of the sub-committee over the past three Sessions, as well as the Clerks of the European Union Select Committee, their staff, and our past and present sub-committee advisers, Pamela Strigo and Oliver Fox. I also thank our Clerks, originally Audrey Nelson, and, for the past two years, Emily Baldock: I have been particularly grateful for their support and help, without which I would not have been in the position to receive thanks from anyone.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
EU Committee: EU and Africa (Follow-up Report)
My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on the European Union and Africa: Follow-up report. (49th Report, HL Paper 269, Session 2005-06).—(Lord Bowness.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 6.02 pm.