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Lords Chamber

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2006

House of Lords

Tuesday, 5 December 2006.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Message from the Queen

My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen, signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:

“I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament”.

Energy: Gas Safety

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What actions they will take to ensure that the gas industry improves the United Kingdom public’s awareness of gas safety issues and in particular awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning.

My Lords, it is vital that the public are made aware of the dangers of CO poisoning. On 27 November, I called a meeting with senior figures in the gas industry. They have made a commitment to new action on gas safety campaigns, with efforts to be co-ordinated by Corgi. I will lead a ministerial group and the Government will take a keen interest in the outcome and improved gas safety.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Given the recent near tragedy in Gateshead of a classroom of schoolchildren being poisoned by carbon monoxide gas, and the need for the gas industry to give clear and consistent advice on gas safety, will my noble friend press the six major gas energy suppliers to ensure that they give that clear and consistent message and that they help Corgi, as the energy’s watchdog, to pursue its excellent campaigns, which have seen a decline in the number of deaths from 50 to 18 in recent years?

My Lords, the latest figures show a further reduction to 16 deaths—but that is 16 too many. The figures also show around 200 serious injuries. My noble friend referred to the Gateshead incident, into which investigation is continuing, although, clearly, we were all very concerned to hear of it. There is no question but that we need to encourage greater awareness of CO poisoning risks and that the industry has a major role to play. I will certainly take his words to heart on that matter.

My Lords, will the Minister press the gas board, or whomever else he is speaking to in these energy authorities, to instruct people to have some type of monitor? My family gave me a carbon monoxide monitor, which seems fine, and they tell me that a less expensive variety is available. However, the danger with all these monitors is that, if they expire and people do not know that they are no longer functioning, they are almost worse than if people did not have them. Will he be sure to cover that point?

Yes, my Lords, the noble Baroness is right: audible CO detectors have a very valuable role to play. If they meet the British standard, they will function effectively. I understand that, if the battery runs out, a noise makes it clear to the owners that the detector is no longer running. The noble Baroness is certainly right: part of the awareness campaign is about encouraging people to invest in such detectors.

My Lords, have the Government undertaken any specific activities in respect of students moving into new houses or others who live in houses that will change occupation quickly, to ensure that those users are informed about what is going on? If there is a lack of funds, would not the gas suppliers be excellent bodies to fill that hole?

My Lords, I certainly agree that the gas industry as a whole is very well financially resourced. I am sure that it is able to invest in CO awareness campaigns providing the information that the noble Lord mentioned. It is worth making the point that the regulations were extended in 1994 to place requirements on landlords to maintain gas appliances in properties available to rent, which provides some protection in the case of students. On the more general issue, the Health and Safety Executive is conducting a review of gas safety, and I will ensure that that comment is passed to those conducting the review.

My Lords, I declare an interest: my pilot light went out. I know that we are talking about an extremely serious situation here, but my pilot light went out. When the light was put back on, the company said that we should have a monitor, such as the one to which the noble Baroness referred, to ensure that the house was safe. However, that cost £60 plus. Of course, I borrowed the money off my good friend Lord Davies of Coity, but other people cannot do that. Are the Government concerned about people in our society who would find that cost hard to bear?

My Lords, I am most sorry to hear about my noble friend’s pilot light; I am sure that we all express our concern for him. However, the action that he took was quite right. It was right to call in a qualified operator to look at it, and the operator was certainly right to encourage him to invest in a CO detection alarm. I do not think that £60 is the current rate; I think that the alarms can be bought for between £20 and £30. However, I take his point that poor people may find that rather difficult. Various schemes are already in place to help such people with gas equipment generally, but my noble friend’s point about CO alarms is important and I will make sure that the Health and Safety Executive looks at it in the context of its current review.

My Lords, many years ago, in the days of coal gas, many individuals attempted to commit suicide by putting their head in the gas oven. Nowadays, natural gas contains such a minuscule concentration of carbon monoxide that that is no longer feasible. However, as has been said, it is clear that inadequate ventilation and improperly maintained gas appliances carry the greatest risk. One problem is a delay in diagnosis and recognition of what is happening. Are the public generally aware that carbon monoxide combines with haemoglobin to give a bright red colour and that one of the earliest signs of carbon monoxide poisoning is that the individual is bright red in skin colour?

My Lords, we think of nothing else in Kings Heath. The noble Lord is quite right that there is an enormous lack of awareness, as has been shown by research commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive. That is why it is important that the industry is encouraged to finance some publicity campaigns. It is also right that health professionals need to be aware of the impact of CO poisoning and to be able to identify it. Part of the review process will be about the kind of information that needs to be given to health professionals, too.

My Lords, may I press the Minister a little further on carbon monoxide detectors? Would he join me in encouraging the suppliers to ensure that all their customers have such things and to supply them for free, if necessary, which was the point made on the Back Bench behind him?

My Lords, that sounds like an excellent idea and I would be very happy to put that to the gas companies concerned.

Railways: Sewage Discharge

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What proportion of passenger trains in the United Kingdom continue to discharge raw sewage on the tracks; and when they expect the practice to end.

My Lords, the Government’s investment in new rolling stock has seen the withdrawal of hundreds of trains that did not have retention-tank toilets. That leaves about 13 per cent of the fleet with non-retention tank toilets, all of which we expect to be withdrawn or converted by 2020.

My Lords, I have been asking Questions about this for the past four years. The Government’s gradualist approach is certainly very gradual. My own route home to Cornwall and the high-speed service on the east-coast route between Edinburgh and London—two of the longest routes in the country—are covering trackside workers and nearby properties with a fine mist of effluent. Do Her Majesty’s Government think it acceptable for railway maintenance work to be carried out in an environment that is contaminated by untreated human waste?

My Lords, progress is such that, in the past six years, we have seen the figures for trains go down from 36 to 13 per cent; so we are making progress. The problem is that the trains have a long life of 30 to 40 years. Some trains would be extremely expensive to convert, and we cannot replace them immediately. Let me reassure the noble Baroness that the trade unions for trackside workers, which have been aware of this issue for very many decades, do not regard it as a health issue for workers on the track.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of the best tomatoes I have ever seen grow spontaneously at sewage farms? Are they safe to eat?

My Lords, none of the train-operating companies with which we have been in contact on this question replied to us on the efficacy of growing tomatoes.

My Lords, even caravans have sealed units, so can the Minister say, with 2012 coming nearer and nearer, how overseas visitors will react when they are told that they cannot use the lavatory if the train is in a station?

My Lords, visitors from Europe will discover that there are fewer trains in this category in the United Kingdom than in almost any rail system in Europe. We are ahead of other rail systems in making progress in this respect.

My Lords, if this Question has been asked for four years, are the Government really treating it seriously or are they simply going through the motions?

My Lords, I knew I would have to tread carefully with this Question. The Government and previous Administrations have been aware of this issue for decades. The problem is quite straightforward: all new train units with toilets that come on stock have the correct processes in place. We are dealing only with trains that it will take time to phase out, because of their durability.

My Lords, in awarding franchises to the rail-operating companies, has not discharging raw sewage been included as a criterion in any of the franchises where the train operator would be asked to convert the toilets by attaching containers to the toilet cubicles?

My Lords, there is clear and very good news on that front. The rail industry as a whole in 1996 adopted a code of practice that all new rolling stock fitted with a toilet would have to be fitted with a retention tank into which the toilet would discharge.

House of Lords: Reform

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they consider it appropriate to use the Parliament Acts to enact legislation on House of Lords reform.

My Lords, the Government are seeking a broad consensus on House of Lords reform. The Parliament Acts have been used only five times in the past 60 years. Consideration of their use in this case would be extremely premature.

My Lords, I take it that consensus will also be sought in your Lordships’ House. Will my noble and learned friend not simply ask leaders of political parties, because they do not necessarily represent their members? Obtaining a consensus among 750 members will be difficult but some leaders of political parties find it difficult to gain a consensus with themselves. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, whom I have heard speak on two separate occasions, is finding it difficult to agree with himself.

Does my noble and learned friend accept that if he asks around in your Lordships’ House he will find that there is little consensus on a hybrid House, whether 50 per cent or 80 per cent elected? However, there will be a consensus for the status quo with some modest adjustments. If that is the only consensus available, given that the Government have ruled out the use of the Parliament Act, will they accept that consensus?

My Lords, we will seek consensus everywhere, including in your Lordships’ House. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is busily seeking consensus on his own side in relation to reform of the House of Lords and his views are well known. The consensus must be across Parliament and across parties, and that is what one is seeking. However, seeking a consensus requires effort. Finding a common agreement may involve some people moving their positions.

My Lords, I have no difficulty agreeing with the premise behind the Question. I cannot find in my mind a more obvious example of a Bill that should not be pushed through under the Parliament Act than a Bill to reform a great House of Parliament. Does the noble and learned Lord recall that on 23 November in this House he said:

“The Government strongly believe that consensus on further such reform is not only critical but a requirement”—[Official Report, 23/11/06; col. 440.]

That was not quite what he said in his initial response when he talked about a broad consensus. If it is a requirement, I reckon that there would need to be a consensus not just between the parties but between the Houses as well.

My Lords, I do recall saying that. It is my position and it remains my position; we need to work for consensus. That may involve people changing their positions; for example, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor confirm or deny that the Prime Minister made an explicit promise to Labour Peers that the Parliament Acts would not be used; and can he explain how he can make that promise when by definition he will not be around to fulfil it? Will he also comment on the fact that when the recent Joint Committee commented on the Parliament Acts it made it clear that they were the bedrock for the relationship between the two Houses; and that the primacy of the Commons is something that that committee, and I presume this House, supports? Will the noble and learned Lord therefore say what he expects the reaction of the public and indeed Members of the other House would be if in due course we turkeys were allowed a veto against Christmas?

My Lords, I am not going to comment on what anyone said to our party meeting. The Cunningham committee’s report is excellent. It accurately describes the relationship between the two Houses. If there was any reform in composition, most people would want that template to apply to any reformed House. We must seek consensus. One should not be so depressing as to talk about failure in relation to consensus. We should try to work towards it.

My Lords, I understood my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to say that it was very unlikely that the Parliament Act would be used in House of Lords reform. However, after reading the newspapers over the weekend, I am given to understand that my right honourable friend in the other place, Jack Straw, has said that it will introduce the novel idea of a preferential vote, which will guarantee some kind of decision in the House of Commons. If that is the case, is it constitutionally correct to apply the Parliament Act?

My Lords, I do not think that the use of the Parliament Act could possibly depend upon the precise method of voting in the House of Commons. It is entirely a matter for the other place to decide how it reaches a decision on this issue.

My Lords, what if there is agreement between the two Houses on the proportion of Members of this place to be elected but the Government insist that the method of election shall be a party-list system, which would result in party toadies arriving in this place? Would the Parliament Act be used when there was agreement about composition but disagreement in this place as to the method of election?

My Lords, it would be awful if toadies came into the House. I very much admire the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who people remember as the Chief Whip in another place. The last thing that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, liked was a toady; he wanted independent-minded Tories to vote on a regular basis. It is marvellous that he admires us so much. I am not going to go into various connotations of what we might or might not agree on; we are looking for consensus on the principles.

My Lords, is the upshot of these exchanges that everyone in the Government now agrees there should be no reduction of powers in the House of Lords?

My Lords, I have made it clear that we regard the report of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, as an excellent definition both of the current powers and of what the powers of the second House should be. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cunningham that they depend in part on conventions, for which you cannot legislate because they must be flexible.

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor define what a consensus on the independent Cross Benches means?

My Lords, “consensus” means broad agreement across the parties. We shall certainly speak, as we are doing, to the Cross-Benchers. The Cross-Benchers have a Convenor who, although he does not represent them, is involved in the on going discussions and loyally expresses their views. But from time to time he says that there is not a concluded view among the Cross-Benchers or, indeed, only one view.

My Lords, having listened to my noble and learned friend, it seems to me that the search for a consensus will begin with a White Paper. Can he confirm that a White Paper is coming on this, and can he tell us when?

My Lords, the search for consensus has begun; it has taken two steps already. First, there have been the discussions to which I have referred in which the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Strathclyde, are involved. Secondly, the search for consensus has been greatly assisted by the report of my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling. There will also be a White Paper, and that will come in the New Year.

My Lords, given that many of the most important constitutional changes in this country, including the Parliament Act 1911, have been achieved without consensus, does the Lord Chancellor accept that, while consensus may be desirable, it is not essential?

My Lords, I said that it was necessary. I think that for the reform of this House, at this time, consensus is necessary.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the search for consensus began with the royal commission? When that body first met, its members were strongly divided between those who wanted a totally elected House and those who wanted a totally appointed House, with all shades of opinion in between. Under the very skilful chairmanship of that commission a real consensus was achieved. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that the consensus achieved then is still worth taking very seriously?

My Lords, the search for consensus began with the Civil War, and that was not altogether a thunderous success.

We are talking about a search for consensus after the report from the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Many people are now going back to the report and saying that there is a lot of good in it that perhaps we should have adopted at the time.

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend confirm or deny what he said earlier? Most of us recognise that the Prime Minister had said specifically that he was ruling out the use of the Parliament Act. Does my noble and learned friend deny that?

Schools: Academies

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

On what grounds they based their decision to double the target for the number of schools to become academies.

My Lords, despite improvements in recent years, too many secondary schools are still failing to achieve high standards for the majority of their students. Academies have established a successful track record, as measured by fast-rising key stage 3 and GCSE results, positive Ofsted reports, strong parental demand and independent evaluation. We therefore believe it right that academy status should be available more widely, lifting the cap of 200 that was imposed two years ago.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but I think that the Prime Minister might have waited until after the National Audit Office report in January. Given that the Government’s often-quoted reason for establishing academies is to rescue failing schools, is the Prime Minister expecting 400 schools to fail by 2010, which is about 10 times the current number? Why have the Government removed the requirement for sponsors to put £2 million up front for each academy? Is it because the vast majority of them have contributed none—or in some cases not the full amount—of the money that they promised? Is this not really about the Prime Minister’s legacy?

My Lords, we never said that academies would only be replacements for failing schools; we said that they might be established in areas where standards are insufficiently high or where communities could benefit from schools with a stronger vision, ethos and leadership than exists at present. That would encompass the 400. On the changed sponsorship arrangements, we have linked those specifically to the integration of the academies programme and the Building Schools for the Future programme, which means that all the capital requirements for schools that become academies are now dealt with on exactly the same basis as for local authority schools in the area. It seemed reasonable to us that the contribution of the sponsor should take the form of an endowment for the schools rather than a contribution to the capital costs, as was the case before academies were integrated into the main local authority capital programmes.

My Lords, the Prime Minister was reported as saying that he wants a large rise in the number of academies to secure his legacy. Given that we on these Benches support academies, from whom is the Prime Minister protecting his legacy?

My Lords, academies have nothing to do with the Prime Minister’s legacy; they are there for the good of the country. We on this side of the House want steadily rising standards of educational performance and opportunity to be available to communities that have been deprived of them for too long. That is why we are establishing academies, and it is right that we should be—as we always are on this side of the House—ambitious in the targets that we set, so that equality of opportunity can become a reality in all communities, including more deprived ones.

My Lords, my question comes from a different experience. My community in Mitcham spent many years trying to turn around two failing schools with some of the worst results in the country. We did so without any success until we approached the Minister for help to turn the two schools into academies. In a few short months, the change in the standard of behaviour inside and outside the schools is absolutely amazing.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 1,000 parents attended a recent open day to find out how their children could attend these schools? Why is his ambition so low when these schools succeed and there is a demand in these communities for them?

My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great knowledge of the situation in Merton. I visited those two academies; they are making outstanding progress in replacing schools that were not sufficiently popular or high performing in their community. I pay tribute to the two sponsors: the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Peckham, who does outstanding work for education across south London, and the Church of England, which is acting as the sponsor for the second academy and sees this as part of its mission, according to the Dearing plan, to expand the number of secondary schools that have a church sponsor in accordance with local parental demand. No one welcomes this development more than the parents who live in Merton; they now have the opportunity of sending their children to two rapidly improving schools where previously they were denied that opportunity and their children often had to travel many miles out of their locality to get good-quality secondary education.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and for his announcement of the extension of this opportunity. Does he think that there are lessons to be learnt from the sort of experience that we have just heard of that might be applied across the whole education system?

My Lords, that question would require a very long reply. However, I believe that the engagement of external sponsors, including the Church of England, has made an enormous contribution to the education system through academies and, potentially, through trust schools. In the diocese of Liverpool, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have come together to sponsor an academy jointly. I could not possibly speculate whether that has lessons for the relationship between those two churches in the future.

My Lords, is it correct that academies are not under the same obligation as other schools to admit children in public care and, if so, why not?

My Lords, the funding agreements that regulate the establishment of academies, which are binding legal agreements between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the sponsors, require academies to give priority to children in public care. The obligation does not arise under statute in the same way as it does for maintained schools, but it is enforced. I can assure the noble Earl that, in practice, academies take their duties in this regard very seriously.

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Middle East and Afghanistan

rose to move, That this House takes note of developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is almost one year since the first fully free and fair parliamentary elections took place in Iraq. Twelve million Iraqis registered for those elections. More than 75 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote despite intimidation and death threats from those hell-bent on ensuring that democracy did not take root. They voted for a non-sectarian Government in which the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds all work together. It reflects the Iraqi mix of strengths and weaknesses, yet these groups have never governed together in the past and had never attempted to do so.

In Afghanistan, too, it is almost a year since the inaugural session of the National Assembly, following successful presidential and parliamentary elections. The people of Iraq and of Afghanistan have overwhelmingly rejected the brutal dictatorships of Saddam and the Taliban. Yet today, Iraq is riven by sectarian violence and in Afghanistan the Taliban is fighting in an attempt to reimpose its fanatical ideology, devoid of any humanity.

Deeply ingrained grievances are dividing faiths and sects. A titanic struggle is under way between those committed to peace, stability and progress and those wedded to a perpetual cycle of violence. To avoid further descent into even greater instability and bloodshed than we are seeing now, we need a comprehensive strategy for the “whole Middle East”, as the Prime Minister said. That means supporting moderate and democratic Governments, building up partnerships with key strategic allies, promoting reform across the region and supporting further development.

Conflict and grievance across the Middle East feed off each other and fuel the flames of hatred on which the fanatics prey. We are striving to help Iraq bring the violence under control so that the political process can take firm root and the economy can grow. We are helping the Government of Afghanistan bring security, stability and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan by helping them defeat the Taliban and bring the narcotics trade under control right across the country.

We must reinvigorate the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It is the one issue above others, as the Prime Minister has said, that,

“unresolved, allows extremists to gain purchase on the more moderate elements of the Muslim and Arab world”.

We have to keep up the pressure on Syria and Iran to follow a sound path, be constructive partners in the international community, play by the same rules as the rest of us and thus share in our progress and prosperity, rather than becoming increasingly isolated at the margins. We have to mobilise all the forces of moderation across the wider Middle East to take on the reactionaries and extremists and expose their ideology for what it is: empty, meaningless and without hope; a cult of death, never a force for the sanctity of life.

As the Foreign Secretary said recently, we are at a critical juncture in which the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance. The sectarian attacks are undermining the progress that Prime Minister Maliki’s government of national unity, which is only six months old, has made towards reconciling Arab and Kurd, Sunni and Shia. It is a Government truly representative of the Iraqi people, with Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Christian cabinet ministers, including four women. We are urging all of Iraq’s leaders from across the political spectrum to get behind their Prime Minister and support his efforts to create a truly united Government and win the confidence and support of the public.

Iraq needs, above all else, a basic level of security. Last week the Security Council unanimously agreed to an extension of the mandate of the multinational forces in Iraq until the end of 2007. Prime Minister Maliki has made tackling the violence his highest priority. While the situation is particularly difficult and dangerous in Baghdad and the neighbouring provinces, it is worth the House remembering that just four of Iraq’s eighteen provinces account for over 80 per cent of the violence. The other 14 are relatively peaceful. Of course, in recent history it has never been genuinely peaceful. The uncovering of mass graves holding the remains of those murdered en masse by Saddam’s secret intelligence forces—systematic, targeted and efficient murder—tells a story that is wholly at odds with a history of peace.

Prime Minister Maliki has made it clear that the state must assume full control and have a monopoly on force. New legislation is expected by the end of the year on the demobilisation of militias and the integration of the military forces. As both the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary have said, we have a clear strategy for transferring security from the multinational forces to the Iraqis. Two provinces, Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar, have already been handed over to the Iraqis, and the security situation there remains stable. We and the Iraqis hope they will be ready to take over Maysan province in January and Basra in the spring.

Even when all the provinces are handed over and the number of British forces in Iraq is reduced significantly by the end of next year, we will continue to train and mentor the Iraqi army and police for as long as they request our help. To help for that long is our sovereign choice as the United Kingdom state, taken knowingly by us and at no one else’s diktat.

I take this opportunity again to pay tribute to the courage and determination of the British forces and civilians working in difficult and often highly dangerous circumstances in Iraq. In Basra British forces have been working alongside the Iraqi army in a joint operation, Operation Sinbad, first to re-establish security across the city and then to help improve the provision of basic public services, including water and sanitation.

Economic regeneration is also critical to the future stability of the country. Billions, not millions, of dollars are needed to get Iraq’s services working properly. Much of that investment must come from Iraq’s own substantial resources, but the support of the international community will continue to be critical to Iraq’s economic progress for the foreseeable future.

The international compact—a joint Iraqi-UN initiative launched in July this year, which brings together the UN, the World Bank, regional financial organisations and a number of states including Iraq’s neighbours—will, we hope, provide a framework for Iraq’s future economic growth and integration into the regional and global economy. The United Kingdom has committed £644 million to support Iraq’s reconstruction; we have disbursed over £500 million on helping the Iraqi Government plan and invest in basic services including electricity, hospitals, improving oil production levels and generating jobs.

The challenges in Afghanistan are different but no less daunting. The Taliban has tried to fight its way back in a major offensive against NATO forces, including our own, in the south of the country. British forces and other NATO partners have responded with exceptional bravery; as a result, security has improved. As the Prime Minister reiterated during his visit to Kabul on 20 November, and again at the NATO summit, we remain firmly committed to helping the Afghan army and security forces extend the Government’s control across the country. We will do that for as long as it takes and because it is our sovereign choice, done at no one else’s diktat.

At the summit, NATO members agreed on the need to meet force-level requirements, to provide further equipment and to increase flexibility in troop deployment. Germany and France agreed that in an emergency situation their troops could be deployed to help those in difficulty. We are confident that the remaining gaps can be filled in the coming months. As the Prime Minister said, the mission in Afghanistan is not yet won, but the NATO summit made significant steps in the right direction to ensure that it is.

The narcotics trade, exploited as it is by the Taliban, remains a major obstacle both to security and to economic progress. It feeds corruption. Of course, this year’s increase is disappointing and reflects the challenging security situation and limited law enforcement capability in the period before NATO moved into the south. However, in those parts of the country where governance, security and development have improved, reductions achieved last year have been sustained and in some cases have fallen further. The Afghan national drug control strategy is starting to have an impact. We and our partners will continue to support it.

The effort in Afghanistan is truly international; we have over 30 partners in the NATO mission there, with well over 60 nations contributing in different ways to Afghanistan’s security, reconstruction and development. The UN mission in Afghanistan oversees 16 UN agencies on the ground, all helping the reconstruction effort. Despite the difficult security situation, Afghanistan continues to make progress. The economy has grown progressively over the past two years. More than 10,000 community councils have been elected across Afghanistan, implementing and setting up thousands of projects in health centres, providing water by sinking wells, or building schools. More than 5 million children—one-third of them girls—are now going to school. The Taliban used to kill girls for trying to go to school. More than 65,000 landmines have been destroyed in the past four years. The UK-led provincial reconstruction team in the southern Helmand province is working closely with the military to help improve educational facilities and water management and to help develop independent media.

Those are quick-impact projects, designed to improve the everyday lives of the Afghan people, pending the implementation of longer-term programmes. In Kandahar province, 1,000 wells have been dug and four large water reservoirs are in operation. New water supply networks have been created, roads and bridges built, power lines erected and transformers and generators installed. For the first time in decades, millions of Afghans face the prospect of a more peaceful and prosperous life. What testifies to this? Some 4.6 million refugees have decided to return home, one of the biggest return movements ever and an essential part of the reconstruction process. So there is hope. But we, the international community and the Afghan Government, must remain committed to the task.

I believe that there is now a glimmer of hope emerging for renewed engagement between Israel and the Palestinians. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stated, a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians would be living, tangible proof that the region and therefore the world can peacefully accommodate different faiths and cultures. The ceasefire in Gaza and Prime Minister Olmert’s offer to hold talks with President Abbas, end roadblocks and consider a prisoner exchange are all recent and encouraging signs.

The United Kingdom continues to work closely with the EU, the US and regional partners to help strengthen Palestinian institutions and improve security. We have committed £30 million towards the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, making the United Kingdom one of the largest donors to the Palestinians. We played a key role in developing the temporary international mechanism by which assistance can be channelled to the Palestinian people while bypassing the Hamas-run finance ministry. We have already announced that we intend to contribute £12 million through this temporary mechanism.

We remain concerned at the humanitarian issues affecting Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, which is why the EU is contributing some €650 million to the Palestinian people—more this year than ever before. We have offered President Abbas our full support in putting together a Government of national unity; that is critical to taking forward the peace process. Such a Government will enjoy our full support. We have made it clear that we would be prepared to work with any Government based on the quartet’s three principles: renunciation of violence; recognition of Israel; and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map. I repeat that new energy is plainly needed in the peace process. The Prime Minister is committed to it and it is vital that the United States engages. But I also see a key role for the European Union. That should be a persistent role of negotiation, mediation and helping build durable regional systems.

We remain concerned about the role of Syria and Iran in Lebanon and their support, in terms of weapons and funds, for Hezbollah. At a meeting with Prime Minister Siniora last weekend, the Foreign Secretary made clear that the United Kingdom fully supported the constitutional and elected Government of Lebanon and urged a peaceful resolution to the present dispute. We have long sought to draw Syria and Iran into being part of the solution for peace in the Middle East, rather than the problem. If the Syrian authorities are ready to play a constructive role in the region, we have made it clear that we are ready to work with them.

The same strategic choice faces Iran. For three years we, with France and Germany, have led diplomatic efforts urging Iran to address international concerns about its nuclear programme. We have built and maintained wide support for that approach. In June, for the first time, the United States, China and Russia explicitly endorsed the generous proposals to Iran which would give Iran everything it needs to develop a peaceful nuclear energy programme, while meeting international concerns, and open up opportunities for higher relationships with the EU and the wider international community. Instead, the Iranian regime has continued its activities in contravention of the IAEA board’s and the UN Security Council’s requirements. We have agreed with our partners, therefore, that we have no alternative but to consult on a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions. But even while our officials work in New York, our proposals remain on the table. Should Iran choose to respect its international obligations, they are the way forward.

The Iranian regime also has a choice about its respect for human rights and political freedoms. Many candidates who wished to stand in next week’s local elections have been barred from doing so. Others have been deterred by the vetting process from putting their names forward. The Iranian people deserve a free and fair choice about their country’s future, and the chance to elect representatives with a wide range of views, not just those picked for them.

While Syria and Iran remain reluctant to engage with the wider international community, the Gulf states and, increasingly, the countries of north Africa are embracing change. In the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar the process of modernisation is under way. Algeria’s President Bouteflika has led a successful programme on national reconciliation. Morocco is firmly committed to strengthening the rule of law, safeguarding human rights and developing a multi-party political system. Libya is gradually opening up. Egypt is moving—somewhat slowly—towards greater political pluralism. The influence of civil society is growing right across north Africa. We need to build strong alliances with these countries, whose example can stimulate desirable changes elsewhere.

As the director-general of the Security Service has pointed out so chillingly, the threat to the United Kingdom’s security from al-Qaeda and sponsored terrorist activity is growing. The longer that conflict and sectarian violence persist, whether—and it is essential to note this—between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, the easier it will be for al-Qaeda to exploit human misery and attract misguided recruits to its destructive cause. If we back away, the victory is theirs. We have to show that our will is stronger than the terrorists’. That is why the United Kingdom and all our international partners must stay engaged in every part of the Middle East, not only now, but for the long term.

Moved, That this House takes note of developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan.—(Lord Triesman.)

My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for setting out how the Government see the situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan. However, it may not be entirely the way the rest of us now see it. It is, as the Minister says, one of great danger. He speaks of “a critical juncture”, which is, indeed, the point we have reached. Iraq is, again in the Minister’s words, “riven by violence”. The situation is fast-changing and the world is looking for new approaches. The question now is whether we the British, our Government and our allies, have the resilience to offer that new approach.

Frankly, there is widespread feeling in this country that our foreign policy has begun to lose its way. As I said in the debate on the gracious Speech and now reaffirm, the direction and purpose of our national policy in this dangerous world now seem, through no fault of the Minister, to be in limbo. The Prime Minister has called for a “whole Middle East” strategy and the Minister repeated that call, but what is the content of that strategy? It seems that we are condemned to wait. We must wait for the Congress of the United States, through its Iraq Study Group, chaired by James Baker III, to declare what that means. It will do so very shortly, maybe even tomorrow. Meanwhile, we wait and listen, while in Iraq that brave claim of “mission accomplished” has, as everyone now recognises, become “mission in chaos”. That is unsatisfactory. The Prime Minister has given evidence to this congressional inquiry by videolink. It is worrying that our own Parliament should apparently be barred, for the moment, from asking the same questions. No one wants in any way to disturb or undermine the bravery and courage of our troops, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else, but questions need to be asked and issues need to be examined. It is interesting that the Congress of the United States apparently feels ready to do that, so why don’t we?

The time has come for bold, independent and creative thinking about the next steps in the Middle East—we all know that. Our allies and friends, with whom, together, we can make the biggest contribution, should be not just the great American republic, much as we admire America, and not just our European neighbours, but also our true and real friends in the Commonwealth and Asia. There, power and influence are growing—this seems not to be recognised as it should be—while, sadly, pax Americana slithers into tragic decline. If that sounds like a party preposition or deliberate criticism from the Opposition, let me say that I am very much fortified in these views by, for example, the recent speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. The other day in Cardiff, he said that,

“the recreation of British foreign policy is no exaggeration of our need. Worst of all, the worldwide stock of sympathy and good will towards the United States has largely disappeared—along with earlier longstanding respect for the wisdom of British policy towards the problems of the Middle East—which had once prevailed almost throughout that region”.

I may not share even my noble and learned friend’s complete faith in the capacity of the united European Union to solve all these problems, but I know that when someone like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe—one of our most thoughtful Foreign Secretaries of modern times—speaks like that, it really is time even for the Prime Minister and his colleagues to stop, listen and think about changing course.

In a way, the elements of this “whole Middle East” strategy, which we are all searching for, are becoming easier to set out as the situation worsens—I shall try to do so in a moment—although it is very far from easy to take forward. What are they? First, a federal Iraq, with a carefully phased withdrawal of foreign troops, including the American armoured brigades, is, of course, something that people want. Perhaps it should begin next year—perhaps the Iraq Survey Group will recommend it and it will take place province by province—in the hope that there will be an Iraqi Government and authority strong enough to replace it.

We should hang on to that concept because a united Iraq remains totally in the interests of all the neighbouring powers and not just the western ones—not just the United States and Britain but Turkey, Iran, Syria and Jordan. Indeed, that is why we have to bring those countries together with ourselves. Frankly—this needs to be said—that will not be done by threats. I heard the words of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and I heard the Prime Minister the other day, and it seems to me that the tone is wrong. When we are not in a strong position or are not the victors—there has been no victory—we will not get these countries to co-operate unless it is done in the proper way. That is the first requirement of the new whole-strategy.

Secondly, obviously we want a fully independent Palestine with—I know that this is a long shot—world-backed security guarantees as far as possible for the Israeli people. My impression is that an increasing number of people in Israel see that this is the only future, even if some people in Washington do not yet see that. Perhaps there will be a change, and that is the ray of light to which the Minister referred.

Thirdly, there has to be some kind of nuclear bargain which includes letting Iran have its civil nuclear power, which it is well on the way to getting, and faces the difficult issue of persuading Israel—again, in exchange for guarantees—to give up its nuclear weapons and Iran to hold back from its drive for full nuclear military weaponry. It may be that here, too, new thinking is required and that the proposals for building on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty with a concept of an international nuclear fuel bank—an idea being developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, which I visited the other day—are the way forward. I do not know, but certainly new thinking is required, which the UN and the IAEA seem to recognise.

Iran really wants the respect that it feels should be accorded to a major regional power. It has a common interest, along with the rest of us, in wanting Iraq to stay in one piece. So does Syria, whose current regime also, understandably, wants some guarantee of its own continued existence. As we all know, it operates through a minority inside Syria. That is all right, but unfortunately Syria also wants to re-establish its dominance of Lebanon. The noble Lord did not mention that, but I fear that that is where the whole idea of a grand bargain or a successful regional conference could begin to unravel, because that dominance is the one thing that Syria cannot have.

At the moment it is straining every sinew to disrupt Lebanon. I do not know whether it was implicated in the latest assassination, the murder of Pierre Gemayel—none of us knows the murky reality behind that—but Syria is at the moment organising ersatz rallies with heavy payments to rent-a-crowd, flag-waving attendees, largely imported by bus every day from Syria. The ever-gullible BBC duly reports those gatherings as bigger and livelier than that of the quiet Christian crowds the other day at Gemayel’s funeral—hardly surprising given that it was a funeral.

I raise that because it is in little Lebanon that all the attempts to bring the Middle East nations to their common senses and achieve some unity of approach could fail; that could be the spark. As someone said the other day, if it is possible to compare a country to a canary in a mineshaft, that is it. We see all the signs of a possibly far greater conflagration throughout the area, with several civil wars breaking out at once. If Hezbollah is allowed to satisfy its power lust through street violence and demonstrations and to extend the sway of its paymasters, Iran and Syria, then stability, sanity and justice will have lost out in the Middle East and every remaining nation will be directly threatened, from Jordan to Saudi Arabia and from the Gulf states to Egypt.

That is why we need more than rhetoric to back the Siniora Government, whom the Minister mentioned. That should come not just from the West but also from the new great powers, Russia, India, China and Japan. There is everything to be said for American policy taking a back seat in these matters, which is why we must be very careful about poking at Russia with constant criticism, tempting as it is with all the funny goings-on about which we have been reading in London and the talk of spying. I urge those who would listen that we must not allow that to dominate our thinking about our relations with Russia. Mr Putin is not an enemy of the West. A responsible Russia is an essential part of the equation in stopping the whole Middle East region from slipping into anarchy. We have to keep that in mind.

I have said very little about the other aspect of the debate, Afghanistan. At the end of the debate my noble friend Lady Rawlings will have many more detailed observations to make on the challenges there. Suffice it to note that I believe that things in Afghanistan are probably not nearly as bad as the media tell us. We also have to remember that Afghanistan is a collection of tribes rather than a nation, as it always has been. Anyone who reads the first five pages of any book on Afghanistan, from Lord Roberts onwards down the decades, will know that perfectly well.

A choice must be made by the outside powers, including NATO, either to deploy an infinitely greater military and politically intricate effort than anything we have seen so far, including skills to deal with the tribes, as well as the ceaseless incursions from Pakistan and the support of the Pashtun. Incidentally, we used to have those skills but we seem to have lost them. It is either that, a much bigger commitment, or a military exit. There is no middle solution and we know that perfectly well. Like the Russians before us, and our forefathers, we all know that perfectly well and have painfully discovered it. There must now be that degree of reality.

We are coming to a critical juncture in our relations with the rest of the world. I have my own solutions on choosing allies and friends in the days ahead, and how to radically reduce our dependence on the dangerous Middle East for oil and energy, but I shall not weary the House with those now; we can debate them another time. We all know perfectly well that the present policies have failed and that new dynamism and imaginative vigour are required in our approach to the eternally complex Middle East and its neighbours if the present slide to worse chaos is to be checked. Of that vigour and imagination I see very little sign in Her Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, I welcome the debate. I particularly welcome the large number of speakers from the Cross Benches. One of the many positive effects of the partial reform of the House of Lords, which we have undertaken in the past eight years, has been a much more active and expert contribution from the Cross Benches, which we used to have when I first came to the Chamber. We benefit from that particularly in debates on foreign affairs.

Our main focus in this debate must be on the linked crises in the Middle East, on the British, European and NATO engagement with those crises, on the parallel NATO commitment to Afghanistan, and the strain that those operations place on Britain’s Armed Forces. My noble friend Lord Garden will deal later with military overstretch, and my noble friend Lady Williams will say rather more on Afghanistan. I want to focus primarily on the Middle East and on the appropriate balance to be struck between British, European, transatlantic and UN engagement in British diplomacy over the coming months.

Nevertheless, I have to say something first about how we reached the situation in which we find ourselves. As the Irishman said to the traveller, “We wouldn’t have started from here”. British policy, following the ideologically driven mistakes of the Bush Administration’s policy, has contributed to chaos in Iraq, a loss of six years in attempts to bring together the two sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the spillover of that conflict into Lebanon. In the United States, the voters have just exercised their rights to disapprove of the mess that their Administration has led them into, and their disapproval of President Bush in particular.

It is extraordinary that President Bush’s closest supporter in the attempt to impose democracy by force on Iraq, Tony Blair, is still in office. It is almost as extraordinary that he has managed to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny of the deceptions that led the UK into war in Iraq, the commitment of Britain to follow US policy, and the failure to exert any significant influence over that policy. I welcome the Minister’s repeated emphasis in his opening speech on the sovereign and independent quality of the decisions that Her Majesty’s Government are now making. I understand why he feels it necessary to stress that point against the record of the past four years.

Fifty years ago, a British Prime Minister committed this country to intervention in the Middle East on falsely presented evidence, without the full support of his Cabinet, and after deliberately misleading Parliament about the purpose of the operation. After an initial patriotic wobble, the Labour Party recognised that this was a betrayal of Britain’s values and interests, and led the demands for Eden’s resignation. Four years ago, it was a Labour Prime Minister who led the country into war in the Middle East on false premises, committing Britain to support an American operation over which we had no influence and which was intended to reshape first Iraq and then the greater Middle East as a whole to fit a neo-conservative design.

An initial patriotic and party-loyalty wobble in support of the Prime Minister was understandable, but I cannot see how the traditional values of the Labour movement—internationalism, open diplomacy, the promotion of a peaceful world order—are compatible with the drift of the Labour Government’s Middle East policy over the past four years. We have bumped along behind a misjudged American occupation, deliberately excluded from influence over that occupation, while sharing with the United States the opprobrium of the Arab and Muslim world which the Iraq war and subsequent occupation have attracted. Yet the Labour Benches have remained almost silent and the Prime Minister is still there. I am proud that my party has stood firm in support of progressive international values while the Labour Government have forgotten them.

But we are where we are and the focus of this debate must be on what direction we should now take. The King of Jordan last week reminded us of the dangers of our current situation: that the Middle East could face three linked civil wars in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, unless Governments within the region and states outside work together to avert them.

The British Government have least influence over the situation in Iraq. Central Iraq is now close to open civil war in four of the 18 provinces, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, points out, but with nearly half of Iraq’s population. Inter-communal killings have been rising. The Iraqi army is struggling to defend a Government who have only a very limited legitimacy. In the southern, British sector violence has also risen, including attacks on British forces. The occupation itself has now become as much a provocation as a protection against civil conflict. We do not yet know whether the Bush Administration will choose to raise the number of troops in a final attempt to impose a degree of order, or reduce them in the hope that the Iraqi army can now cope. But we should not simply follow whatever line emerges from Washington after the publication of the Iraq Study Group report. We should be putting the future of Iraq on to the agenda of a regional Middle East conference, drawing in all of Iraq’s neighbours and co-ordinating the gradual withdrawal of British forces with their advice and assistance in preventing internal conflict from spreading further.

Iran is one of Iraq’s most important neighbours. It is also one of Afghanistan’s most important neighbours. I am struck, as I follow the appallingly misunderstood quality of the debate in Washington, by the absence of historical context and understanding. I read a few weeks ago an official in Washington quoted as saying that they have to resist Iran trying to establish itself as a regional power in the Middle East. Iran was a regional power in the Middle East long before the Pilgrim Fathers reached Massachusetts. Trying to prevent that seems to me to be a little idiotic.

The current regime in Tehran is authoritarian and nationalist. Its anti-western turn reflects, in part, the mistakes of American policy over the past 25 years—supporting Iraq in its war with Iran; shooting down an Iranian airliner; cutting off direct contacts; and finally, labelling Iran as part of the “axis of evil”. It is difficult to persuade the Iranian regime to abandon the enrichment of uranium when it is surrounded by American forces in the Gulf and in states to the east, west and north, with Washington rhetoric still talking about bombing raids. We on these Benches have supported the efforts of the British, French and German Foreign Ministers to keep contacts open with Tehran. We cannot exclude Iran from negotiations, either on the future of Iraq or on Afghanistan. We need their co-operation and we gain already some co-operation towards both countries. Iranian influence over movements within Lebanon and Palestine also makes it a player there. In spite of the many unpleasant characteristics of that regime, our Government should continue their effort to build bridges to it, together with our European partners.

The same logic applies to Syria, a nasty regime in many ways, but a necessary player in any effort to resolve current conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel-Palestine. Syrian intervention in Lebanese politics reflects its assumption and its recollection that the Lebanon was historically part of greater Syria. But we should not forget that the Israelis, Americans, French and others have also claimed intervention rights of different sorts within Lebanon. Our party has also supported our Government’s attempts to engage with Syria, while recognising that Britain’s image in Damascus as the messenger-boy of Washington does not make engagement easy.

On all sides, however, it is recognised that the Israel-Palestine conflict is at the heart of the regional disorder, and of the alienation of Arab and Muslim opinion from the West. The Bush Administration invaded Iraq, after all, partly because of the widespread belief in Washington that,

“the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad”:

that removal of Saddam Hussein, ideally followed by regime change forced in Tehran, would enable the Israelis to dictate their preferred settlement to the occupied Palestinians. Chaos in Iraq has strengthened Iran instead—and weakened Israel’s position, so increasing Israeli anxiety. Israeli and American refusal to talk to a Palestinian Administration led by Hamas, like the refusal to talk to Iran and Syria, has made the situation worse rather than better. The blockade of Palestinian territory and the blocking of financial transfers have led to a humanitarian crisis, which is likely to breed further despair-ridden terrorism, rather than to create the conditions for constructive dialogue. We may hope that last week’s tentative ceasefire between Israel and Palestine will hold, but we should recognise that it will not hold without active external pressure on both sides.

It is unlikely that the Bush Administration, in their last two discredited years in office, will reverse their mistaken decision six years ago to abandon the Middle East peace process, and to identify American interests instead with those of the Israeli Government of the day. Republican calculations of how support for Israel plays in domestic American politics, particularly in the Christian fundamentalist south, are unlikely to change. American support for the project of a greater Israel, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, rests on questionable theology and on disastrous political reasoning. I note that many within Israel question whether their national interests have been hijacked by American ideologues who do not have Israel’s long-term security at heart—promoting an expansion of West Bank settlements and an implicit approval of Palestinian expulsion that can only deepen Arab hostility. So we have to look elsewhere to reverse the slide towards another intifada and to revive the peace process: to the United Nations, to the European Union—for many years the largest provider of aids to sustain the Palestinian Authority—and to the Arab League.

It was characteristic of the loss of British influence that the latest European initiative on the Middle East bypassed Britain. Spain, Italy and France, the three Governments who launched it, provide the three largest contingents to the expanded UN force in Lebanon—and they provided them, we should remember, in response to active pressure from Washington. A previous Spanish Government sponsored the Madrid conference of 1991, out of which grew the Oslo peace process; so these are major and legitimate players within the Middle East. I hope that, in closing, the Minister will assure us that the British are now giving this initiative their full support. He failed to mention it in his opening speech.

The Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian Governments have also taken the lead in reviving the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which offers Israel the security of peace with its neighbours within a two-state framework. We should welcome the active engagement of these states, and of the Arab League. We need a broad approach, to which as many states as possible are committed. Unilateral actions and bilateral negotiations have run into the sand.

We on these Benches are committed to a secure and prosperous Israel, at peace with its neighbours. Our commitment to Israel rests on our expectation that Israel is a democratic state that respects the highest standards of human rights. Peace for Israel has to rest on a two-state solution that is acceptable to Palestinians. The alternative is endless conflict. I agree with the correspondent in Haaretz who said two weeks ago that the long-term occupation and the settlement strategy risk corrupting Israeli values and society. The seizure of Palestinian land, the demolition of Palestinian houses and the destruction of farmland are not in accord with the values of a Jewish culture that has contributed so much to the development of our civilisation. It is in Israel's vital interests to find a way out of the occupation through a return to multilateral negotiations, which we, and other states, should help.

It is also vital that we preserve democratic values by permitting legitimate criticism by outsiders of the policies of the Israeli Government. The closing down of debate on Middle East policy within the United States through campaigns which attacked centres of Middle Eastern studies in American universities and accused critics of the Israeli Government of anti-Semitism has damaged Israel's enlightened interests. Washington no longer serves as a critical friend offering constructive advice. I was shaken, in a meeting with Shimon Peres in New York four years ago, to hear one speaker refer to,

“the structural anti-Semitism that dominates the British media”,

not to be contradicted by anyone else there, apart from me.

Some neo-conservatives have gone further, suggesting that Europe as a whole is fundamentally anti-Semitic and should therefore be excluded from any voice in the politics of the Middle East peace process. Anti-Semitism is a hateful sentiment which ran under European and American culture until the horror of the Holocaust demonstrated what it might lead to. Criticism of Israeli policy and actions in the Occupied Territories is of a different order. We should all be careful to maintain the distinction between one and the other and we should all be careful in our choice of language in a field where emotions run high and loosely used phrases can carry dark historical echoes.

Multilateral diplomacy, backed by financial assistance and the provision, where needed, of peacekeeping forces under UN authority is the only way forward in recreating stability across the Middle East. We on these Benches believe that Britain can best contribute by working as closely as possible now with its European partners to engage the Governments of the region. I welcome the emphasis on that in the Minister’s opening speech.

We regret that the dual military commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan will make it impossible, for the foreseeable future, for British Armed Forces to contribute to such peacekeeping operations. For that, we will have to depend on our European partners and other UN states. For both Iraq and Afghanistan, we should now move away from an Anglo-American approach, demanding that others fall in behind us; we need to recognise that such an approach has left us dangerously overexposed as a country and the region dangerously unstable.

My Lords, in the third day of debate on the gracious Speech, just over a fortnight ago, many Members of your Lordships’ House spoke clearly and strongly about the priority of finding a resolution to the disastrously destructive situation in Israel-Palestine—destructive, as has already been said today, not only to both Israelis and Palestinians but to the rest of the Middle East and much wider.

On that day, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was not, in my view, exaggerating—he spoke for many that day and for many who have spoken today—when he said that,

“the conflict of Israel and Palestine, with its overspill into Lebanon, holds the key to world peace”.—[Official Report, 20/11/06; col. 209.]

He offered the House and the Government advice that was both sound and innovative. It seemed to me that, in winding up the debate that day, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, was agreeing with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Alderdice, had said, as he has done again this afternoon.

I especially remember from a fortnight ago the characteristically distinguished and passionate speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. It was, she said,

“wickedly wrong for Gaza to use rockets against the citizens and civilians of Israel. But it is also wickedly wrong for Gaza to have two people out of three with no running water or to have persistent collective punishment directed against them, with children and elderly people among the many victims”.—[Official Report, 20/11/06; col. 134.]

It is also wickedly wrong for any of us, and for any state, to speak or behave as if the whole situation, not only in Gaza but right across the West Bank and the Occupied Territories, can be allowed to drag on much as it is. This is also true for the Israelis, who suffer, too, although not remotely to the extent of the Palestinians. The Minister quoted the freshly energetic words of the Prime Minister this afternoon, and it has never been more vital that they should be translated into concerted, persevering diplomatic activity.

The reality is that the Palestinian economy is in ruins, wrecked by the wanton destruction of olive groves, orchards and factories, by the separation of farmers from their land and of producers from their markets because of the separation wall and fence, by the destruction of homes, and by the constant abusive delays at checkpoints. The quartet’s and the Israelis’ freeze on funds to the Palestinian Authority has had a truly terrible and inhumane effect, especially on medical services, on education and on the physical and mental welfare of a generation of children. Tens of thousands of people are now seriously undernourished.

I often wonder whether the Prime Minister, members of his Government and still more the Government of President Bush have taken the time to see the wall and fence from the Palestinian side and through the eyes, accompanied by the commentary, of Palestinians who know and suffer its dire and disproportionate effects. Have they talked to people whose relatives have been held up for hours gratuitously, oppressively and throughout the heat of the day at checkpoints when they were clearly sick or in labour and on the way to hospital, tragically often with the result that their condition has worsened or, indeed, that they have died?

Have the Government questioned the Israeli authorities about the conditions in Bethlehem, the little town about which carols are already being sung and—I hope that noble Lords will be as glad about this as I am—to which the four presidents of Churches Together in England will be going after they have been to Jerusalem in the week before Christmas? Bethlehem today is in effect a prison, entirely surrounded by the separation wall or fence and with a huge and forbidding fortification straddling the road to Jerusalem. The city is imprisoned, too, by the settlements built on its land on the hills around it. The pilgrimage industry is therefore in ruins, and a large number of Christians have no option but to emigrate. Ever fewer are left in the city of Jesus’s birth.

In particular, have the Government an opinion about the state of affairs around Rachel’s Tomb, sacred to all three faiths and a few hundred yards inside Bethlehem from the point where the wall and that monstrous gate close off the ancient road? In April 1998, a party of pilgrims and I had a good dinner and a valuable opportunity to meet and talk to Palestinian Christians in a Lutheran-owned hotel that overlooks it. A few years later, in the second intifada, the Israeli Defence Forces requisitioned the hotel, concerned for the safety of their then small base behind the sacred site. Two years ago, my wife and I were taken around that same hotel by its Lutheran owners, to whom it had been returned systematically trashed and abused from top to bottom, with highly unpleasant anti-Palestinian slogans on the walls, many of them anti-Muslim, in a Christian-owned building. Now, Rachel’s Tomb is off-limits, prohibited to Muslims and to Christians. The great wall of Israel snakes down to enclose both the little shrine and the small Israeli settlement that is being built around it. The Open Bethlehem project fears that, once settlers move in, it will become, like the extremist settlement in Hebron, a provocation to violence in a peaceful place.

We need to be as clear here and across Europe and the United States, and in many Arab states as well, as most Palestinians and many Israelis are clear that the situation is intolerable and that a resolution must be found quickly. Historically, as we have been reminded this afternoon, the UK has such a large share of responsibility for the whole situation that we of all people should be exerting every diplomatic vigour—that good word of the noble Lord, Lord Howell—to bring into existence a widely drawn coalition towards a resolution of all the issues through what will be years of careful, persevering work, which we are frankly late in restarting and about which especially the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Hylton, spoke a fortnight ago.

There has to be a two-state solution—one that assures both Israel and the Palestinians security, safety and prosperity. However, I question the realism of the Minister in speaking of returning to the road map, because so many facts on the ground have been brought into being even in the past two years—the continuing development of the illegal occupation, of settlements and of settlers-only roads, tunnels and viaducts, not to speak of the wall or fence.

The weakness of the current Israeli Government cannot be a reason for putting off this fresh diplomatic initiative until what will only be a less promising future still. It will be imperative that all the parties take all the relevant UN resolutions seriously. For my part, I doubt whether peace can be guaranteed for the time that it will take to work through all that must be worked through, including the status of Jerusalem, without a UN force deployed along the internationally recognised borders of Israel. Unless this country and many others work together with those immediately concerned at all those matters as a priority, I am afraid—I use the word advisedly—that there is little point in searching for peace anywhere else in the region to which today’s debate is attending or indeed in searching for peace in the cities and transport systems of the northern hemisphere.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity for a debate on developments in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. I thank the opening speakers for a succession of comprehensive and extraordinarily good speeches.

The two areas of conflict that are the subject of our debate today are very much linked in the minds of many people because British soldiers are regularly risking their lives in an attempt to bring peace, stability and prosperity in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They are linked, too, if we are honest, because of a perception held by many people, although perhaps not as many as some commentators would have us believe, that the conflicts lie at the root of Islamic reaction to western interference. I believe that any realistic analysis demonstrates how different the issues are, both in their origins and in the current way forward available to us.

Afghanistan has suffered decades of conflict and turmoil. It is one of the poorest countries anywhere in the world, and because of that poverty even the most basic services such as education and healthcare have long been denied to its people. One in four Afghan children dies before their fifth birthday. More than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Between 20 and 40 per cent of Afghans are underfed and undernourished. In these circumstances of abject poverty, where the sustaining of life is a terrible struggle each day, of course people turn to any and every means of feeding their children. Opium remains the most profitable crop for most rural farmers. About 1.7 million people—over 7 per cent of the Afghan population—rely on illegal poppy farming as a way of providing for their families. That fuels insecurity, corruption, indebtedness and fear.

Alternative livelihoods are therefore absolutely vital in order to counter the opium trade, but clearly those alternatives are not created overnight. People who are poor and intimidated by drug dealers do not find it easy to abandon one form of livelihood for another without being certain of success. The Minister has described how the Government have put enormous and growing resources into the endeavour of looking for alternative livelihoods, and his words, of course, are very welcome.

But the real issue here is how much finding those livelihoods will be dependent on improved security. That is the real test for NATO. I well remember the discussions when I was a Minister about the levels of commitment from our NATO allies to our joint efforts in Afghanistan. It was, frankly, a disheartening experience listening to some of the contributions of our allies and partners at that time. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how that has begun to change in terms of support on the ground militarily and support to the Government of Afghanistan on their reforms to its institutions—support, for example, for the civil service and for the key non-governmental organisations.

One of my fiercest concerns is the status of women in Afghanistan. At the time of the Taliban, women were not being educated. Very often they could not get medical help unless they were accompanied by their husbands, which meant, of course, premature death for many widows. Women’s lives were, in effect, completely shut down at that time. So it is good to see, as the Minister has said, that over one-third of children in school are now girls and that 75 per cent of those receiving loans from the micro-finance investment support facility are women. But there are alarming reports that a resurgence of Taliban activity in some parts of Afghanistan has led to an increasingly hostile backlash against these welcome improvements.

When the Minister winds up, I hope that he will be able to tell us how our aid programme is making a lasting impact on the improvements in women’s lives. I hope that he will tell us whether he believes that these changes are as yet sufficiently well established within Afghanistan society for us to be able to believe that women’s lives will continue to improve as Afghans take on more and more responsibility for their own country.

I turn now to Iraq. When we debated the gracious Speech, our concerns over Iraq were acute, and they remain so. The losses of our troops when such tragedies occur are appalling. So, too, are the almost daily news reports of the most barbaric and disgusting incidents of sectarian violence and murder. I understand that it is now routine for the perpetrators of these murders to be readily identified by the methods of torture that they use before they kill their victims. But the growth of Shia-on-Sunni and Sunni-on-Shia violence, which has been a terrible development over the past 18 months or so, is a fact, and I, for one, do not for a moment believe that anyone can think it will abate without fresh international and internal thinking on policy and operational approach.

Let us not forget that it was only in January that Iraqis in their millions voted for democracy and a new way forward. Many did so in spite of threats against their lives because they believed in the future of their country. But to have a real future, all countries have to have the ability to control their economies and, above all, their own security. The fact is that Iraq has a dual nightmare of internal conflict between two or more different groups, and of the supply of arms and reinforcements from its closest neighbours.

In my view, it has been short-sighted of our friends in the United States to have so little contact with Syria and Iran over the past two or three years. Both countries have porous borders with Iraq; both believe that they have good reason of their own to wish to secure an Iraq that is not threatening to them and to widen their sphere of influence within that country. But the two countries are very different. For all the internal disputes in the Arab League, Syria is one of its own. It may be unreliable, and its leaders may be given to outbursts of rhetoric that are inimical to most Arab sensibilities, but most believe that Syria has been wronged and will, given time and patience—and probably a very hard talking to—rejoin the Arab family where it belongs.

The attitude to Iran is more complex. In my experience, Iran is feared and mistrusted by its Arab neighbours. But it commands a degree of respect: it is powerful; it is more populous than any of its Arab neighbours except Egypt; it has a history as long as that of Egypt and a well disciplined army; and it has a very real sense of its own identity. It is a player of real importance in the region, and in respect of Iraq. I hope that the Baker-Hamilton study group will reflect that when it reports tomorrow.

May I ask the Minister what the Prime Minister, having given his evidence to the study group, will do when the report is published? Will the United Kingdom Government respond? How will the Government’s view be formulated? I hope that we will have an opportunity to discuss the study group’s findings in this House—even if we have to do so outside this Chamber. I would very much welcome that.

I have left the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until last, but it is still in my view the issue of overarching difficulty and importance in the region. The words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester just now were enormously moving. He asked whether members of Her Majesty’s Government had been to look at the wall or spoken to those directly affected by it. Speaking for myself, I can say that the answer is yes. I did so on several occasions when I was the Minister for the Middle East. At that time—and I am sure it is still the case, as the Minister no doubt will confirm—we protested vigorously about the way in which the wall was routed, as we have made clear over and over again in your Lordships’ House.

Since we discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the debate on the gracious Speech, we have seen not only a ceasefire called by the Palestinians but a speech of real importance from the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Of course, we have seen ceasefires before, and the test is often not so much whether individuals or terrorist groups respect the ceasefire but what happens when they do not. Israel has a history of swift and comprehensive retaliation, as we saw all too clearly this summer.

What is remarkable is that, given that both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are under huge pressure at home—as has been made very clear this afternoon—this ceasefire is holding. President Abbas is taking on the Palestinian gunmen in what he is saying publicly and Prime Minister Olmert is making it clear that the Government are in charge of the IDF and not the other way round. He is making it clear that rules of engagement must be enforced. He is not in an enviable position, but his speech last week made it absolutely evident that he is determined to adhere to that position. For his part, Abu Mazen has tried in good faith to form a Government with Hamas who would command international support. Maybe if it had been left to Prime Minister Haniya, such a Government might have been formed—but it was not to be. That is another very good reason for our sustaining a frank and robust dialogue with Damascus.

Now both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abu Mazen need solid international support. They are getting it from Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—and that is very welcome. But unless that support is strong and sustained not only from those countries but from all the countries in the Arab League—and not only now but when the going gets really tough—and unless we in the United Nations, the EU, Russia and the US together with other world players are able to reinforce that support, this may well be another false dawn.

Maybe there is a real opportunity here—and not just an opportunity in the region—because, to be frank, of the recent changes in the US. The departure of Mr Rumsfeld may prompt many reactions, but most reactions on this side of the Atlantic will not be of sorrow. Similarly, Mr Bolton, a very intelligent, enormously hard-working ambassador at the UN, had the terrible drawback of never believing that he could just be wrong. I do not think, given his recent interventions, that many UN delegations will be sorry to see him go.

To make a difference now, we have to grasp the real problem of talking to those who for years have been isolated, by the United States and others, in the search for peace in the region. We have to talk not only to the nation states—long established and part of the region—of Syria and Iran, but also to Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups that have engaged in violence but are willing now to talk to us. I know that this is an enormously difficult and sensitive point, but we have to think very clearly about imposing preconditions on whom we speak to and when. We owe it not only to the Palestinians and the Israelis, and not only to the Iraqis, but also to the Lebanese—that brave country with a courageous Prime Minister who expected better of the international community and who had a right to expect better. Lebanon deserves all our support and all our effort now. I look forward to my noble friend’s response about what the Prime Minister’s next steps will be in giving that support and sustaining that effort.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford that we should be thinking about changing course. I would have preferred this debate to have taken place after the publication of the forthcoming Baker-Hamilton report. Nevertheless, I hope that we will have an opportunity to discuss that before long, when we have had time to read it.

All my political life I have firmly supported the alliance between ourselves and the United States, but I am going to make some criticisms of United States policy in the areas we have been considering. I am encouraged to do so because the first thing my American friends ask me about is British public opinion on American policies in the Middle East.

When he started the Iraq war, President Bush declared that he felt it would bring democracy to the Middle East. That was a pretty ambitious aim, and I think a lot of people were very sceptical about how far it was achievable. When the allied forces first arrived in Iraq, they had a rather lukewarm reception, and the attitude towards us has got worse. We are seen by many in the Middle East as self-interested and particularly interested in oil. The result has been increased hostility to the western powers.

The Prime Minister said recently that terrorism has not been caused by the Iraq war because 9/11 occurred before the Iraq war began. That is not the point; the point is that terrorism is being enormously increased by what is going on now, not what happened on 9/11. If anybody is in any doubt, they need only ask Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, who talked recently about the effect of what is happening in the Middle East on terrorism. It is obvious that many more men—and women, too—are going in for terrorism. I believe that the terrorist campaign will be with us for many years to come. Historians will regard this war with incredulity.

Another consequence of the war is Iran’s increased influence in the Middle East.

One of the mistakes made by the Americans was not to prepare properly for the period after the war was over. It was pretty obvious that the war would be brief, and there should have been clear ideas about how we were going to manage affairs in Iraq after it was over.

My noble friend Lord Jopling, whom I am sorry to see is not in his place today, made a powerful speech on 18 March 2003, just before the war began, in which he recounted the impression he had discovered in Washington, where he had just been: no one had thought seriously in any way about what was going to be done to manage the civilian problems after the war. Subsequent events showed that to be absolutely true. Because, to a large extent, of the lack of preparation for how internal affairs in Iraq were going to be managed, the war has released all the latent rivalries between Sunnis and Shias.

I am puzzled by the lack of contact that there must have been between Her Majesty’s Government and the American Government about what was going to be done after the war. I do not know what the preparation was here, but surely it was possible for Her Majesty’s Government to find out from the Americans what was being done about this problem. I am not aware of any contact on that subject. If my noble friend Lord Jopling was able to make contact, surely the Government could have done so.

Another error of the Americans was the decision by Mr Bremer, who was in charge of political affairs in Iraq soon after the end of the war, to abolish the Iraqi army and police force lock, stock and barrel. So they went away, many of them with their weapons, but without pay—a sure recipe for the sort of thing that has been happening most of the time since. Did Her Majesty’s Government know of Mr Bremer’s intentions? Were they consulted about making that extremely unsatisfactory move? Surely that was something we should have been discussing with the Americans. Mr Bremer’s decision explains to a large extent the recent casualties—the fighting, the assassinations, the bombs going off—partly because of the number of weapons in circulation, and partly because of the rivalry between the Shias and the Sunnis.

Another factor that has made the situation worse is the lack of training on the part of the American forces in winning hearts and minds. The dogma of the Pentagon, as was explained to me by an American professor at Princeton, was that they would not go in for hearts and minds; that was for someone else to deal with, not the military forces. That has caused a lot of hostility to the Americans in Iraq. I am glad to see it reported that the American policy I have just referred to is now being reconsidered.

Another mistake that we made was to commit ourselves to the Iraq war at the expense of our ability to pay enough attention to Afghanistan. We thought the Taliban had been safely put on one side, but here it is, reviving in very great strength. That is partly because our forces in Afghanistan are not as strong or numerous as they should have been.

My criticism of the Government in this context is that the Prime Minister failed to manage relations with the United States in the way that he should have done. President Bush badly needed us. We were his best ally. The Prime Minister did not use the influence that he had with President Bush, whether we are talking of the time before the war and the United Nations negotiations, or of later events.

The most interesting insight into the attitude of the Prime Minister toward the American president was the accidental broadcasting, after the St Petersburg conference, of a conversation between them in which the Prime Minister said,

“Why don’t you send Condoleezza to Iraq to do something, and I could go and just talk”.

That sheds an interesting light on his attitude.

Regarding Afghanistan, we were right to take on the Taliban but, after that, we failed by not finishing the job. There has been, and still is, a great overstretch of our forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban is now rich and strong; it looks as if it is going to give us a nasty time for quite a while. I found the statement by the Secretary of State for Defence at the time, John Reid, extraordinary. He said that the forces we were sending to southern Afghanistan might not hear a shot fired in anger. I do not know whether he had failed to read his brief, or whether that was his guesswork—or, more probably, whether it was the considered opinion of our best intelligence—but it was a great mis-statement. Our forces in Afghanistan are performing magnificently and I would say the same of the Canadians, who have taken proportionately more casualties. I must mention an interest in that I was at one time a Canadian soldier.

The third area, which has as much potential for disaster as the first two that I have mentioned, is that of Israel and the Palestinians. That is causing as much terrorism in the world as either of the others, and the longer it goes on the more likely it is to worsen. The quartet seems not to have been very active recently, although it may have been doing things behind the scenes. I would like to see the Americans in particular being much more active in that context; in the last resort only they will be able to solve that problem, as somebody needs to put pressure on Israel. At the back of the problem is the Arab world’s belief that the Americans are favouring Israel.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said, conditions in the Palestinian areas in Gaza and the West Bank are absolutely deplorable, as a result of Israeli policies. That is a particular reason for trying to solve that difficult situation as soon as possible. It is doubtful that the policies of Israel will benefit Israel in the long run. I think it is making a big mistake, since the force that it is using to get its will is shocking. It is still building the wall or fence, and thus still breaking international law—as they are elsewhere, by extending the settlements. I hope Israel will realise that, and adopt policies that are to the interest of the whole Middle East, to that of the Palestinians and to that of Israel itself.

My Lords, when I take part in foreign policy debates in this House, I am very impressed by the excellence of the speeches. Those of the spokespersons of the three main parties were, if possible, even more outstanding than usual. I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Howell of Guildford, and my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire on the quality of the reasoning that they bring to these debates. Having said that, no Government have ever had a better wicketkeeper than the noble Lord, Lord Triesman. The test side playing in Australia would be very grateful to have his help. I am not altogether sure that his Government deserve him, but I shall not further qualify the compliment I pay him.

I begin by picking up an important point that the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, made about Iraq. He said that little planning had been done on what was to happen after the victory. That is undoubtedly clear. However, it is rather worse than that. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, gallantly gave the best possible impression that he could of what is happening in Iraq. But what he understandably did not mention, for reasons of time, was the relative disaster that reconstruction has been in that country. Something like 80 per cent of the inhabitants of Iraq are unemployed. All of us in this House know very well that unemployment feeds young men and women into being only too ready to take up the cause of terrorism or anything else because they have no means of making a decent living. The noble Lord was kind enough not to mention the $18.8 billion which are believed to have been lost from reconstruction funds as a result of poor administration by the United States occupation authorities and western companies’ ludicrously high overheads. Those companies seized most of the work, such as smaller construction projects, that should have gone to the Iraqis.

At present the citizens of Iraq are not only continually jeopardised and stressed by the level of insecurity and violence in that country, but still have only begun to get back the electricity, gas, water supplies and sewerage facilities that they might have expected to have 20 years ago. It is a very sad situation. I strongly recommend that anybody who finds me partisan looks at the website of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a position included in the Iraqi Appropriations Act by a handful of Congressmen, led by Henry Waxman of California. The website presents a candid, honest and extraordinarily disturbing account of the reconstruction in Iraq and the ways in which so much of the money that all of us, but notably the United States, have contributed, has been abused, misused and allowed to run into the ground.

A further point, which I believe to be very important, concerns the desperate efforts to try to hand over to the Iraqi army and police. That is the way we need to go, but we are still not putting enough money into training those young men and we still fail to protect them. One of the sadnesses in Iraq is that, day after day, young male and female police recruits are slaughtered almost before they start their duties. Many noble Lords will speak about Iraq in this debate. It would be helpful if, at some stage, our ever ebullient Prime Minister were willing to recognise that the invasion of Iraq was a very serious mistake indeed in British foreign policy.

I pay tribute to the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who spoke movingly about Afghanistan. Her comments were very relevant to the situation. She spoke with great honesty about some of the problems Afghanistan faces. I will come to those in a moment, but I want to raise one other issue, which is a matter of great concern to NATO and which noble Lords with great knowledge of the alliance, such as my noble friend Lord Garden, might say something about. The Minister might also say something about it.

We know that the time of General Richards in Afghanistan has been applauded by all sides. Here is a military leader who has captured the imagination of many of his colleagues—Afghan, American and other allies alike; who is almost universally praised for the way in which he has handled the operation; who has gone out of his way to bring the battle for hearts and minds alongside the battle for military advantage; and who, after just nine months of outstanding success in Afghanistan, is to be switched to another post. Surely NATO could take these matters rather more seriously. Nobody, however brilliant, could grasp the complexities of Afghanistan in just nine months. No sooner has General Richards gained a powerful leadership position in that country—one we all applaud for bringing the political and military campaigns together—than he is suddenly moved somewhere else, to be replaced by an American general, who was last seen in Afghanistan at the height of the period of occupation by troops three years ago. That is a great pity. I wonder why people could not be retained on the grounds of their outstanding performance, rather than switched around simply because of some bureaucratic decision made by a NATO which finds it very difficult to work like an alliance, and in which each member state still has to get sovereign permission before accepting even very straightforward operational requests from the generals, because of the way it is constructed.

On Afghanistan, I want to follow what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said about the terrifying dependence on the poppy crop as a means of keeping very poor Afghans alive. Some 2 million people are totally dependent on it. The astonishing figures suggest that this is an area where we are losing hand over fist. In 2001—a time, I regret to say, when the Taliban was very powerful—7,606 hectares, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, were devoted to the growing and cultivation of the opium poppy. This year 165,000 hectares are devoted to the opium poppy—the highest level ever in Afghan history. It is astonishing that, despite terribly expensive efforts to destroy the poppy crop, which last year cost the United States alone $235 million, we are seeing—because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, rightly said, there are no alternatives—it grow and grow. Most of the product comes to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.

We have to be more imaginative. One of the suggestions made by an NGO, which may not be practical, was to buy a large part of the poppy crop to make legitimate drugs, of the kind still badly needed, such as morphine and other painkillers. I understand the difficulty of doing that when the Afghan Government is highly corrupt. If we cannot do that, surely we could at least consider creating a kind of common agricultural policy for the other crops. If we have to pay too much for them for the next four or five years, it would still be far less expensive than what we are presently trying to do, and would enable Afghan farmers to lead decent and legitimate lives without being driven into what is increasingly a criminal economy in a large part of Afghanistan.

I agree completely with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on the position of girls and women in Afghanistan. She is obviously right to say that we must defeat the Taliban, but we cannot do it by military means alone. We have to find economic reasons for Afghans to believe that supporting the Taliban is not in their interests, let alone in the interests of the world.

I turn to two other issues—I am well aware of the pressure of time. The first, again, follows something that was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—that is, the state of Lebanon. I say again as strongly as I can that I believe that our Prime Minister and President Bush made a desperate mistake in not insisting on a ceasefire in Lebanon at the beginning of the Israeli offensive on southern Lebanon. Why did we imagine for a moment that this weak but democratic, western-inclined state would be able to live with the consequences of so many civilians being killed and so many babies, who, as our televisions showed, were alive and then died, being carried out of burning buildings? That is no way to create support for a moderate Government in a country where hearts and minds are crucial. We have now put at risk the Lebanese Government, led by a decent, moderate and thoughtful man, President Siniora, whom the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and I have met and been impressed by. What did we think we were doing? As a result, not only have Iran and Hezbollah been strengthened but the Government of Lebanon may not survive for more than the next few hours because of the level of demonstrations in the street. Talk about shooting oneself in the foot! This is to shoot oneself in the heart, and it is an absurd thing to have done. I only hope and pray that Lebanon’s Government survive to take part in a wider regional peace process. But, frankly, the odds are against it at present and very much in favour of a Government whom we would not like to succeed this decent one, led by a decent man, who supported western ideals and western values.

Lastly, I want to say a word about Israel and Palestine. It is worth remembering that it was King Abdullah of Jordan who said:

“I know people will say that there are several core problems in the Middle East … But for the majority of us living in this part of the world, it has always been the Israeli-Palestinian, the Israeli-Arab problem”,

at the centre. That has been true for 40 years: it always comes back to the Israeli-Arab, Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

Again, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, about the extreme interest and concern that we should feel for the brave initiative of Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel. He said only a few days ago—at the end of November—that he was in favour of making a major initiative towards the Palestinians, admittedly at a time when the Palestinian state is worse even than it has been over recent years because of the desperate plight of Gaza, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester—I apologise to him for having missed the earliest part of his speech—made such moving reference. We should stop for a moment and consider how important that initiative is.

There is reason to believe that Mr Olmert has long been in favour of trying to reach a decent peace with Palestine. However, there are two great worries. The first was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate and others, including my noble friend Lord Wallace. It is what appears to be the double standard that western countries apply to Israel and the Palestinians. They are absolutely right to say that the Palestinians, in the shape of Hezbollah, should recognise Israel and abandon threats to destroy it, but alongside that equally goes the absolute necessity for Israel to recognise that the war and the settlements are contrary to international law. An even-handed Government, which I should like to see ours become, would make that clear at the same time to both those Governments in order to create the possibility of peace.

I have one other great fear, which I shall mention in this final minute. I do not know how many noble Lords saw the very troubling article that appeared in Ha’aretz on 3 December. In it, a very brave journalist, Gideon Levy, refers to the fact that, time and again, when peace has been very close between Israel and the Palestinians, when there was a referendum on the prisoner proposals, and when Hamas and the Palestinian Authority came together to create a united Government, a very high-level Palestinian figure has been assassinated and, shortly afterwards, the terrorism has begun all over again. So we now need to couple with our requests and demands to Israel and the Palestinians to pave the way for a peace that might be lasting—and, God knows, that too hangs on a thread—a request for an end to judicial assassinations, because they are completely contrary to the ability to run politics in a civilised manner and, in the end, will destroy those who are responsible for them.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for giving the House a long overdue opportunity for a debate exclusively devoted to the Middle East and Afghanistan. Many of your Lordships will no doubt have decided to concentrate on the dangerous and critical situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon and on our relations with Syria and Iran. It will not surprise many noble Lords if, like the right reverend Prelate, I choose to concentrate on the situation and prospects for relations between Israel and the Palestinians, not only because the gracious Speech rightly accorded this long-standing problem high priority in the Government’s foreign policy agenda, but also because I believe that we are at a critical and important moment when there are or should be real prospects for progress towards a lasting and fair peace settlement.

It is arguable that the simultaneous crises in Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon now present opportunities as well as challenges. There are signs that not only moderate Arab states, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but also Israel and even Syria are looking afresh at ways to ease the interconnected tensions in both Palestine and Iraq. Many of us in this House have argued, as I do again today, that a fair and balanced approach to the Palestinian problem is a central and essential pillar, not only for the many problems that threaten our interests in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, but also for our relationships with the wider Muslim world and within our own domestic communities.

I hope that when the Prime Minister meets President Bush in Washington this week he will not allow the very timely discussions that they will no doubt have on future policy on Iraq to divert them from the urgent need to address the critical situation in Israel and Palestine—the “regional context” of Iraq's problems, as an editorial in yesterday's Financial Times put it. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have suffered enough. Surely it is time for the quartet to revive and intensify its efforts to return to the road map, even if the route is changing. Continuing violence by both sides across the borders of Gaza has too easily diverted attention from the wider suffering and deprivation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem and, of course, Bethlehem. That includes their continuing economic hardship; their lack of access to education, employment and health treatment, caused by restrictions on movement and border crossings; the intrusive construction of the so-called security fence, which has divided Palestinian families and blocked access to their olive groves and orchards; and the continuing expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem.

I do not want to focus solely on the dreadful suffering and bitter resentment caused by continuing Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian land. It is encouraging that voices can now increasingly be heard from private individuals on both sides calling for a peaceful settlement and the end of occupation.

Three positive developments in the past few weeks are worth noting. First, there was the unilateral announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza by Hamas and the consequent call by the Israeli Prime Minister for restraint on the part of the Israeli Defence Forces. Secondly, there was an important and potentially historic speech by Ehud Olmert on 27 November, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, referred, in which he not only made a conditional promise to release numerous Palestinian prisoners, but committed himself to implement the road map by working for an independent and contiguous Palestinian state. Thirdly, Prime Minister Olmert called for the assistance of neighbouring Arab states, including Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, to achieve a fair and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians—a call that seems, to those of us who had the privilege of hearing King Abdullah of Jordan speaking in the Robing Room a month ago, likely to receive a positive response. Indeed, all of us who heard King Abdullah on that occasion will have been impressed by his warning that time for a peaceful settlement is fast running out.

No doubt there will be further violence and difficulties to frustrate these good intentions, not least the problems that Mahmoud Abbas is facing in trying to form a national unity Government. I believe that this is a moment when our Prime Minister has perhaps his last opportunity to use such influence as he has, or should have, with President Bush to persuade the Americans to grasp the nettle of a fair and peaceful solution to the Arab-Israel dispute by adopting and maintaining a balanced—I keep repeating that word—just and proactive policy towards both sides.

Of course, there is an urgent need to relieve the economic deprivation in both Gaza and the West Bank, and I acknowledge the outstanding and generous contribution that we and our colleagues in the European Union have made towards that end. But aid is not everything. It is all the more urgent to revive the road map, to maintain and encourage a dialogue with all the parties, including Hamas, and to use our own historical connections and our diplomatic skills in the Middle East to assist the parties to fulfil their ambitions for a just and lasting peace settlement. This will require courage and concessions from all the parties. They will need firm and consistent support and encouragement, not least from the United States superpower, if we are to achieve an outcome that would be of major importance for the interests not only of Palestinians and Israelis, but of peace and stability in the wider Middle East.

I find it deeply disappointing that President Bush, on his recent visit to Jordan, apparently made no attempt, as he could easily have done, to invite either Palestinians or Israelis to meet him, to show at least that he regards a Palestinian peace settlement as central to his policies in the Middle East. Mr Blair has this week a unique opportunity to persuade Mr Bush of the vital necessity of United States commitment or recommitment to the road map. I hope that he will take it.

Much has been said and written about the loss of influence in the Middle East that Her Majesty’s Government have suffered because of our involvement in the tragedy of Iraq and because of our implicit failure, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred, to support a rapid ceasefire in Lebanon. I firmly believe—but then I would, wouldn’t I?—that our Diplomatic Service has unique strengths and experience in the Middle East and elsewhere to enable us to play an influential and vigorous role with all our friends and allies in working for the peace settlement that has eluded us for nearly 60 years.

There are conflicting reports, nearly all depressing, on the effect that the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review is likely to have on the resources available to the Diplomatic Service—a service, I remind your Lordships, with one of the smallest budgets in Whitehall—to maintain adequate representation in our embassies and high commissions worldwide. Many of us have expressed our regret that the Diplomatic Service has already been forced to close several diplomatic posts. I hope that the Minister when he winds up the debate can give us an assurance that sufficient resources will be made available to enable our diplomats to continue not only to represent our interests in the Middle East, but to have the wherewithal to pursue a genuinely global foreign policy.

My Lords, the issues we are debating today have direct implications for our own security here in the United Kingdom. Our domestic security necessitates marginalising extremism by winning hearts and minds. However, a significant number of hearts and minds are not being won in some quarters by the perception of what is happening, or failing to happen, in the Gulf, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Nothing can justify the vicious and sinister terrorism, but in the grim reality of Iraq there are lessons to be learnt, and which must be seen to be learnt, if we are to have credibility in the global role we seek to play.

First, trust is essential, and it was extensively damaged when the reason given for intervention and its timing proved false.

Secondly, the absence of a specific, convincing Security Council resolution did not just mean that some ritualistic formula had been neglected, or even just that international law had been flouted. Its absence meant that a sufficient global consensus for what was being undertaken had not been achieved, and that as adverse consequences predictably accumulated, dangerous polarisation inevitably grew, accentuating hostility towards those primarily involved, not least the United States and us.

Thirdly, it was inexcusable to launch such major action without having thought through and planned for all the potential consequences. Building peace matters every bit as much as winning wars. Official refusal to acknowledge the number of civilian casualties and fatalities during the intervention was provocative, wrong, insensitive and highly counter-productive. The brutalities which followed by some of the security and armed services compounded this.

Fourthly, plans for a constitutional and political settlement have to be owned by a widespread and representative cross-section of those for whom it is being made. Durable democracy, justice and stability have to be carefully built from the foundations upwards; they cannot simply be orchestrated and coerced by outsiders. Of course the outside world can assist, and reliable and inclusive regional guarantees, arguably involving both Syria and Iran, could be a vital part of this, but a lasting solution cannot be imposed by outsiders.

To say all this is in no way to condone or deny the barbaric cruelty of the previous regime in Iraq. However, what is sad is that the tragic consequences of the intervention and the way it has been conducted may have become even more globally destabilising than was that regime with all its sick manifestations.

In the morass, as it now is, nothing matters more than to endeavour to find a constitutional and political way forward that meets the situation as it is, rather than as we would like it to be. We cannot just walk away; that would be cynical and irresponsible. We have to face up to the consequences of our actions, but the way in which we do that must relate to what is really a viable way forward, however radically different this may prove to be from what we hoped would happen.

In the Middle East, justice remains an indispensable element for success. Historically, the United Kingdom carries a special responsibility to the people of Israel. Our forebears were among those who played a lead role in the creation of that nation, but we must never forget that no people paid a higher price for the creation of Israel than the Palestinians. Maximum possible justice for them must therefore always be, and be seen to be, a priority. We all welcome the ceasefire. Now the Government of Israel must be encouraged to understand that finding a viable way forward will necessitate talking with people with whom it is not easy to talk, as we ourselves discovered in Northern Ireland. It is a flawed and counter-productive approach to talk only to those with whom it is easy to talk. The objective is surely to marginalise irreconcilable extremism. Bridges must be built with those in Hamas and Hezbollah who can be won to a political process. Once more, our experience in Northern Ireland is relevant. As with Iraq, the outside world can assist—as can regional neighbours, not least Syria if it is seriously so minded—but it cannot impose a lasting solution.

Meanwhile, the destabilising humanitarian plight of the Palestinians must be addressed. The suspension of international aid to the Palestinian Authority—$350 million of direct budgeting support in 2005—and the withholding of tax revenues by Israel, which totalled $814 million in 2005, have led to a dramatic increase in poverty. The World Bank has estimated that poverty increased to 44 per cent in 2005 and is expected to rise to 67 per cent in 2006. There has been a drastic contraction in public services, with essential medicines in short supply, public hospitals stopping all but emergency treatment and dialysis, and health NGOs facing collapse with the curtailment of Ministry funding.

The temporary international mechanism has not halted the decline. While it may be true that 60,000 public sector workers have received partial payments under the TIM, it is estimated that as many as 90,000 workers have been excluded from the scheme, mostly security personnel. The World Bank believes that public sector incomes have dropped by 60 per cent. Meanwhile, refuse collection and sanitation are at breaking point. Cesspits are overflowing, and refuse is piling up in the streets. The TIM provides its funding through the Fatah office of the president, but the danger is that such parallel funding structures undermine existing Ministries and complicate nation-building and stability.

It has been disturbing to hear of the upsurge in fighting in the south of Afghanistan, linked as it is to a revival of the Taliban and the determination by the Afghan Government and the NATO ISAF to establish government authority there. It is especially disturbing that the Taliban infiltration seems to be occurring in new areas in the west and centre—for example, Farah and Wardak—threatening to spread to areas of the north with Pashtun populations, and is now close to Kabul itself. There are reports that shadow government structures are being set up in parts of northern Helmand, with sporadic attempts at control in other areas. At the same time it seems that, in non-Taliban areas, local commanders with well armed militias are posing a serious threat to the authority of the Government and hampering reconstruction efforts.

Like others, I am concerned by the failure of some NATO members to live up to what had been expected of them in Afghanistan. It must raise questions about the future of NATO. Indeed, I wonder whether it does not throw new light on the importance of military co-operation within the European Union. Dependability is critical in military planning and operations. That demands closer political integration, it seems to me.

It has become clear that the unanticipated strength of the military opposition in Afghanistan has undermined the intended two-pronged strategy of military toughness and humanitarian effectiveness. Does my noble friend not agree that it remains true that the use of military power alone will never resolve the current problems in Afghanistan? Is it not essential to give equal emphasis to increasing the capacity of Afghan institutions to manage security, improve governance, and both lead and deliver on reconstruction and development? Poverty should surely be recognised as one of the key causes of the current instability. Afghanistan, after all, is ranked 173rd out of 178 countries on the human development index.

Does my noble friend also agree that more donor attention and resources must therefore be directed towards those areas where they can make a tangible difference to the security problem over a longer time frame; for example, health and education, employment programmes, justice sector capacity-building, and police and army reforms? In a report published on 27 November, Oxfam—I declare an interest as a former director—highlighted that half the children in Afghanistan still did not go to school, despite a 500 per cent increase in enrolment in the past six years. With the advent of democracy, the main symbol of national regeneration lay in the dream of educating every child—boy and girl. However, there remain many obstacles to achieving that. Demand for education has to be bolstered, as does the confidence to stay in the education system.

The Oxfam report underlines that extra investment in school buildings is desperately required. Over half of pupils do not go to school because there is no school nearby; over half of the schools need major repairs; the majority are without clean drinking water or toilet facilities, while 2 million children study in tents or in the open air. Against that background, Oxfam has called on the international community to invest $563 million to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country.

In Afghanistan there may be up to 10 million small arms circulating in a country with a population of just 23 million. Guns have arrived in three waves since conflict began in 1979. Up to 2 million people are thought to have died since then, and hundreds more are disabled by their injuries. The guns come from all over the world, including the US, the UK, France, India and Pakistan. While some disarmament has taken place, many leaders of armed groups still possess weapons and use them to abuse and threaten people and to steal property. As in so many other crises elsewhere in the world, ordinary people have to pay the price. Surveys suggest that nearly two-thirds of Afghans now believe that disarmament is the most important way to improve security.

There is no simple solution. Ex-combatants must be disarmed, demobilised and reintegrated into their communities. UN programmes, albeit with mixed results, have attempted to achieve that. Alternative sources of livelihood must be provided so that the gun is not the only means of survival. Foreign Governments should remember their part in arming Afghan warring sides in the past and therefore recognise their heavy responsibility to ensure that arms supplies do not fall into the wrong hands. The world really must take responsibility for the arms it supplies. To do that, the proposed new international arms trade treaty should be urgently agreed.

I must congratulate our Government on their strong leadership on this. The United Kingdom was commendably active at the UN General Assembly in October. As consultation goes forward in 2007 and the group of governmental experts is convened, the Government will have to keep up the pressure on the United States—the only country to block the vote for an ATT in New York—and on the other countries which, by their abstention, could become obstacles to the achievement of a legally binding arms trade treaty. I understand that there will be a further relevant vote on these matters in the UN General Assembly this week.

I am among those who fervently want to see the United Kingdom play a lead role in international security. The issues we have debated today illustrate what a complex challenge that is. We cannot police the world on our own. What is required is a strong commitment to the United Nations, to effective international and regional arrangements for military and police co-operation, and to making a success of the international rule of law, so badly set back by the kind of intervention that took place in Iraq. This means that we must critically examine our current and future defence expenditure to ensure that we give substance to this global commitment. It is highly questionable whether it remains appropriate to renew colossally expensive, and arguably distorting, unilateral postures of the past. Prioritisation is essential. We must will the relevant and effective means as well as the ends. All this also means never bringing about a faltering in the brave endeavour by putting our courageous men and women of the armed services at risk of failure by expecting them to be in too many places at once or by sending them into operations ill equipped.

My Lords, we have for many years enjoyed power and influence in the world for two reasons: a sophisticated, professional foreign service and highly trained Armed Forces. The Government are on the way to destroying both. The FCO budget, as distinct from DfID, is 0.2 per cent of total public spending. Of its staff, 6,000 are UK-based; 10,000 are locally engaged. The FCO's international priorities, as set out in Active Diplomacy for a Changing World, include expertise in human rights, conflict prevention and energy security and concentrate on improving diversity and bringing in people from a wider background.

Unfortunately, many of the decisions are taken and much of the policy-making is done in No. 10 Downing Street. Despite what Active Diplomacy describes, accurately, as the language and negotiating skills of the Foreign Office, the Prime Minister sent the head of his own Strategy Unit—a serving diplomat but, I think a specialist on Europe—to negotiate with Syria, just as he sent the noble Lord, Lord Levy, as his personal negotiator to the Middle East and Latin America. The head of the Foreign Policy Centre that he created was “horrified to discover” that our foreign policy was based on the UK's national interest and has only recently taken the view that we do not need arms or defence because,

“our influence comes from the fact that everyone respects us”.

Much valuable knowledge in the FCO of the probable consequences of trying not just to get rid of Saddam but to fit the Shia and the Sunni into the same tidy Procrustean democratic bed in Iraq has been ignored. Our Armed Forces are now paying for that. Equally, negotiating with Syria, Iran—and, perhaps, in the context of the future of the Kurds, Turkey—will require deep knowledge of the history of the region and not simply negotiating skills. It is not too late to draw on that knowledge.

The same is true of Afghanistan, which is a harsh land and, history tells us—although the Government do not seem to read much history—is by tradition both warlike and fiercely Islamic. It is wholly unlikely to change its traditional attitude to women—I wish that I could think otherwise—or to abandon tribal structures for democracy. Do we really think that the Army is there to hold the ring to allow a western civilisation to emerge, with the help of DfID, at some unlikely future date? This country cannot afford to lose highly trained soldiers on what is likely to be a long, long war of attrition in which there may be no decisive victories. The military mission in Afghanistan needs to be redefined.

We are committed, under the defence planning assumptions, to one enduring medium-scale military deployment, one enduring small-scale operation and one non-enduring small-scale operation. The strategic review considered that we should never do two major operations at once, but that is exactly what we are doing. We are failing to use our resources properly and to give our overstretched forces the support that they need. Both the National Audit Office, in its report on 3 November on recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces, and the 35th report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body are ringing alarm bells. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that those warnings, including the fact that the commitments routinely exceed current manning, are being heeded not in some distant future but now.

According to the National Audit Office, four major reasons are given in a list of 28 for military personnel to think of leaving the service. One is the impact of service life on family life: 64 per cent, overall. Another is quality of equipment: 49 per cent. Another is uncertainty over the future, given current changes in the forces: 54 per cent. Most disturbing of all is the

“feeling that the work of the Services is no longer valued”—

55 per cent. Those are issues of both morale and efficiency and it is essential that they be addressed for reasons of both recruitment and retention.

One problem which concerns both the NAO and the Armed Forces Pay Review Body is defence medicine and the need of the wounded soldier to be treated in a military environment. The NAO reviews a number of pinch-point trades—the trades where there is real trouble and not enough people. Case studies 10—“General Practitioners, Tri-Service”—and 11—“Accidents and Emergency and Intensive Therapy Unit Nurses, Tri-Service”—are relevant and disturbing. The NAO expects that GPs will remain on the operational pinch-point register at least until 2010, and points out that 50 per cent of medics in field hospitals in Operation TELIC in Iraq have been provided by the Territorial Army and that medical support personnel have also been provided by some coalition partners and even some contractors to meet some of the forces’ commitments. There is much to be done to remedy this serious pinch point, although, despite everything, the Territorial Army has done a brilliant job.

I believe there are four or five dedicated wards in the country, usually with a ratio of 70:30 of military to civilian nursing staff. In how many of those are service wounded—I do not expect the unfortunate Minister to answer this—surrounded by confused geriatrics because of the policy of giving the NHS first call on all beds? The average number of patients in one week has gone from 40 to 80. There are not enough trained military personnel to train others; there is, in particular, a severe shortage of nurses trained in intensive care and emergencies, whether to serve abroad or at home. How many guides on deployment are being breached? The Tory Government’s closure of all military hospitals under Treasury pressure was the fatal first step for defence medicine, but this Government’s policy of so-called dedicated wards has done little to meet the needs of our service men and women through three wars—the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Finally, the effect of the troops’ prevailing belief, as reported by the NAO, that their work is no longer valued, is a vital morale issue. The effect on both retention and recruitment can only be serious at a time when we are committed indefinitely to two major operations. Her Majesty’s Government need to recognise that this is a significant and dangerous situation in which the Armed Forces need immediate and visible commitment to defence from the Government, rather than an announcement from the Chancellor, while visiting troops, of more aid for Iraq and an announcement from the Prime Minister of the doubling of aid for Pakistan and an offer of large funds to pay for so-called faith schools. So long as Her Majesty’s Government choose to commit the Armed Forces to major ventures, they have a duty to ensure that they get the resources they need, time for training, proper roulement, essential armaments and medical services, and due care for families.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body has also produced a full report on service medical and dental officers—a supplement to its 35th report—which reports a shortfall in medical officers of 21 per cent by July 2005, with undermanning in critical consultant specialties of 40 to 60 per cent. By July 2005—over a year ago—the TA strength of medical officers was only 310 out of a requirement of 680. Forty-eight per cent plan to leave the service within five years.

Both recruitment and retention are seriously and adversely affected by the disparity between the pay of NHS doctors and nurses and that of those in the services. The Government must not, as they did with service housing, require the MoD to find the necessary money at the expense of other, very often urgent, operational needs. This is what has happened year after year when it comes to keeping long-standing promises to provide decent housing for families. Each year, the MoD has to say, “Sorry; something more urgent has cropped up”. The Government must provide new money, and urgently, both for retention and for recruitment. No one knows, for instance, how long the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan will last and what their nature will be. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body estimates that its recommendations both on retaining those in place and on recruitment will add £9.9 million to the Director General Army Medical Services pay bill. This is not too much to commit to the urgent needs of the services, and it should be ring-fenced. Let us at least use the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure that our Armed Forces can survive and do their job as they should be expected to do.

I should add that I warmly support what the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Crosby and Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, have said about the possibility of buying the poppy crop. I feel very strongly that to do so for medical purposes would be a solution and would save lives. It would also, to some extent, break the power of the Taliban, as part of its power over the people is its position as brokers for the poppy trade. I hope that that will be taken into consideration. It seems remarkably sensible and simple.

My Lords, I begin with Iraq. I was one of those who supported the invasion of Iraq. Apparently, there are not too many around these days who did. I supported it really if only to get rid of Saddam Hussein, a dictator who invaded two countries, gassed his own people, and inflicted many cruelties on the Shia people, who were the majority of the population. He was a minor Hitler, but with greater ambitions yet unseen and unfulfilled. The world will be a better place without him.

Now we find ourselves in the situation that we are unable to control and unable to influence. That does not invalidate the reasons for the war. We are trying to persuade ourselves and our allies that there is no civil war, yet the reality is otherwise. The minority Sunni, having lost the power they had for the past 20 years, are seeking to return the previous regime to its original power by making devastating attacks on the Shia population. The Shia, having suffered from Saddam’s Sunni regime, are now seeking revenge on the Sunni for their past suffering. They have now perpetrated the most heinous crimes against each other by destroying places of worship and murdering thousands of innocent people.

The allies, who are struggling to keep the peace, are no longer the main targets. We are caught in the crossfire. We should stop pretending that we can control or influence the situation. It is apparent that our presence no longer serves a useful purpose since we are unable to stop the war between the Sunni and Shia. If the allies can accept the reality, they are left with no alternative but to agree with the Iraqi Government that now a timetable for withdrawal must be discussed and agreed.

I turn to the situation between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Although I am a strong supporter of Israel, I have criticised Israel for remaining in occupation of Palestine for more than 38 years, which is more than six times longer than we occupied Germany after the Second World War. The former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon decided in 2005 to withdraw from Gaza and the withdrawal was subsequently carried out. This is the second time that Israel has made an honourable and strategic withdrawal. The first time was in 2000 when it withdraw from Lebanon with the enthusiastic support of the Israeli people. That did not prevent Hizbollah from regularly attacking Israeli civilians after the army withdrew. Hizbollah has launched 106 attacks on Israeli citizens since 2000 without any significant reply from Israel. Those attacks included 42 anti-tank missile attacks, 28 Katyusha rocket attacks, 16 infiltration attempts and nine shooting attacks. One must wonder why Israel waited so long before deciding that enough was enough.

As your Lordships will see, when Israel follows the urging of many nations to withdraw from territories that it is occupying, it is not met with restraint by those who are left there to live in peace. Hizbollah does not represent the Government of the Lebanese people and the area of southern Lebanon that Hizbollah occupies has been a no-go area for the Lebanese army, which is utterly unable to control it. The 106 attacks to which I referred, together with the taking of Israeli soldiers as hostage, led Israel to consider the attack on Lebanon. I believe that the Israeli Government should have issued an ultimatum to return the soldiers and cease further attacks on Israel. If Hizbollah had complied then, there would be no war. If it failed to comply, the world at least would have seen that Israel had a just cause and in the eyes of the world it would have demonstrated a possible peaceful resolution to the war before its attack on Hizbollah and the Lebanese people.

The withdrawal of the Israeli troops from Gaza presented the Palestinians with a unique opportunity to revive the economy of Gaza, and to give employment to half a million unemployed Palestinians, who are now without work, for them to be responsible for the consequences of their own actions, whatever they may be. The western world has promised the Palestinians £3 billion for the reconstruction of their country when peace is restored. When Israel left Gaza, this would have been an appropriate moment to have provided, say, £1 billion towards the country’s reconstruction. Sadly, as was said about Arafat, the Palestinians never fail to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. When Israel completed its withdrawal from Gaza, the majority of Israelis were overjoyed. Within a few weeks after withdrawal, the Israeli feelings turned from joy to bitterness when Hamas or Islamic Jihad began to fire rockets at bordering Israeli towns.

The consequences of this are not only bad for the people of Gaza but also for the Palestinians living on the West Bank. Many Israelis began to argue that Israel was safer when Gaza was occupied. Now there is very little enthusiasm in Israel to support the grand plan presented by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to withdraw from most of the remaining territories in the West Bank. It may be that the Israeli fear is justified because of Palestinian acts of aggression since the withdrawal from Gaza. It leads me to wonder whether the Palestinian people can really see the long-term negative consequences of their most recent aggression on the quality of life that they wish for but obviously cannot create.

During the Lebanon war, a Lebanese family said:

“We are not fighters, we’re families who only want peace”.

That certainly applies to all Lebanese and Palestinians, except those working for the destruction of Israel. It equally applies to virtually all Israelis who want only to live in peace within secure borders. I believe that if a referendum was held in all three countries on whether they wanted to live in total peace with their neighbours, it would probably secure 90 per cent support. The problem lies with the relatively few who continue to seek the destruction of Israel.

When Hamas recognises the immediate needs of its own people and sets forth to develop a plan for future economic growth, educational development and the creation of jobs for its people, it will find, right next door, a strong and purposeful neighbour and collaborator in the Israeli people. But, as we have known from 2,000 years of history, this change of perception is not easily achieved.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who is no longer in his place, made a number of quite significant criticisms of Israel—and, frankly, I agree with most of them—but there are always two sides to every coin and sometimes it is difficult to see both sides at the same time. He referred, in particular, to the wall. Although about 90 per cent of the wall is a fence, nevertheless it is still a restriction. The wall itself is fairly devastating when you are close up to it and the right reverend Prelate’s criticisms of it were valid. However, he did not mention why on Earth Israel would spend millions and millions of shekels to create the wall if it had no purpose. The fact that the purpose of the wall has not been mentioned today is perhaps proof that it has worked: it is to deal with suicide attacks.

It is the duty of every Government, beyond anything else, to defend their own people. If we had rockets coming from France into Britain, I do not know how long it would take us to try to occupy maybe northern France. Israel was unable to counteract suicide bombers and decided upon a plan to construct a fence, and in some areas a wall, along the whole length of its border. This strategy worked because Israel was able to restrict the people crossing the border, often to work in Israel, of which there were many thousands, to narrow entrance points where they could be searched; people could not just wander across. The wall is a bad thing—but it has served its purpose. I hope that when peace is restored, as I am confident it will be one day, it will be taken down. But remember always that on all these issues we can stand up and speak on one side or the other—but in every case there are two sides and we need to look at them at the same time.

My Lords, one of the disturbing aspects about our military involvements in Iraq, and now Afghanistan, is the degree to which Her Majesty’s Government, maybe unwittingly, have surrendered some control and authority over our Armed Forces. Let me make clear at the outset that nothing I say detracts from the high regard that I have for the way in which all three services, from top to bottom, have been performing to support the Government’s wishes. I share the widespread admiration for their efforts. My particular criticism is focused on the slipshod way in which Her Majesty’s Government have been prepared to deploy and commit our forces.

The timing of our initial military involvement in Iraq in 2003 was preceded by political restrictions on overt preparations which compressed timescales. It was not the best way to embark on a large-scale expeditionary operation. Moreover, we were committed to operations by the timing of the United States’ decision to invade Iraq and its declared and clear intention of achieving regime change. Our professed reason for participating was the removal of a threat from weapons of mass destruction, although it was not denied by the Government that if Saddam fell it would be most welcome.

So from the start there was some confusion about the strategic political aim of the coalition, and that could have affected the way in which the forces carried out their tasks. Fortunately, the Iraqi initial resistance was very poor and the divergence in aims did not cause the operational difficulties that could have arisen if the resistance had been stronger or more prolonged. It was also disturbing to learn that confirmation of the legality of our involvement had to be sought by the Chief of the Defence Staff of the day, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce.

Both the US and UK Governments saw and characterised the invasion of Iraq as the actions of “liberators”. However, it was only a matter of months before we “liberators” were being recast as occupation forces, not least in the eyes of many Iraqis and some of their neighbours. The label “occupation” is now very widely used.

The Prime Minister and other Ministers have repeatedly said that our continuing deployment in Iraq would be governed by the wishes of the Iraqi Government: we would stay or go at their request. The initiative on when to reduce or withdraw our forces is left not clearly with Her Majesty’s Government but with the Iraqi Government. As the weeks, months and even years have gone by, and with our additional involvement in Afghanistan, our forces have become over-committed on these two fronts.

By “over-committed” I mean that our forces are operating way beyond defence planning assumptions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, has just mentioned, for which the defence budget had not been adequately funded, and for a protracted period of time. The situation has now developed to the state that difficulties with key enablers such as air transport and helicopters and a drawdown on essential operational training have become more and more critical. One cannot properly go to war, or take part in operations that may involve fighting or difficult peacekeeping, without adequate backing and preparation of additional or replacement units.

The actual or likely reduction in junior and middle rank officers and senior NCOs by resignation or early retirement can only cause further problems with bringing on and training new recruits. The worse this difficult situation becomes—and time is not on our side—the more important it is to be absolutely clear that the decisions about our deployments lie in the hands of our own Government and not that of another, no matter how friendly.

A further complication is that if the Americans are to continue to operate in the Baghdad area, the security of their lines of communication from Kuwait and the Gulf through the British zone around Basra will be of great importance to the US forces. In other words, the timing and scale of withdrawal of our forces might be decided not in our own national interest or to correct and relieve overstretch in our own forces, but on the wishes of the Americans and/or of an Iraqi Government whose writ does not seem to run widely in their own country.

That, again, is not to criticise the forces. Our participation was an inevitable consequence of the protracted high level of commitment in Iraq and because some NATO countries were reluctant to take part. In short, there was not enough to go round the two theatres at the more prudent levels of effort that would reflect and cater for uncertainties about the strength and determination of the opposition. Ministers admit that the scale of Taliban attacks was greater than had been anticipated—certainly a great deal more than Dr Reid’s forlorn hope, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that our forces in Afghanistan might be there for three years without ever having to fire a shot.

Thanks to the superlative efforts of our forces, the Canadians and a few others, we have so far managed to dominate the battlefield in southern Afghanistan, sadly not without casualties. But is it realistic to believe that this can be done into the next year and beyond without deploying much greater strength in theatre than is there at present? The Government acknowledge now that this is necessary.

Why otherwise have the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary made so much effort to get other NATO nations to step up to the plate? Until those few that do so are trained for the intensity of operations—and are then deployed—the situation is not going to be eased. A rise in the casualty rate cannot be ruled out when faced with such determined and suicidal opponents. Redeploying forces following a drawdown in Iraq may be a help, but Her Majesty’s Government should make it very much clearer that this is their intention and that they are not going to be overruled by one or more of our allies in Iraq.

In his Chatham House speech last week, there were indications that the Defence Secretary’s thinking was starting to move in that way. That is welcome as far as it goes. But my criticism is that the Government have for too long let it be understood that our deployments and even strengths in the two theatres were to be at the behest of the host nations or the US Government. Staying “until the job is done” or “staying the course” as our American allies have expressed it, is not a proper strategic posture when the levels of commitments are as high as they have been—well above defence planning assumptions—and so beyond by a considerable margin what ground forces in the front line and all three services in the key enabler areas of support are resourced, trained and able to sustain. I believe that the time has come to be far more robust and honest in our statement of future intentions. The service men and women who are out in theatre—and those who are going to be committed in the coming months—deserve a clearer understanding of what it will involve for them.

Even this line of approach may be overtaken by events. It is alarming that an individual as eminent as the former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, as was widely reported last week, said that the war in Iraq could be considered a civil war. Kofi Annan was even more depressing, saying the situation was worse than civil war. If faced with open civil war in Iraq and the total loss of control by the Iraqi Government that that would imply, it might be necessary for us, the Americans and other coalition forces in Iraq to withdraw very rapidly—even at the expense of having to leave behind valuable equipment and stores.

And whatever the future holds for us in Iraq, it is all too clear that far more effort is going to be necessary in Afghanistan—and over a period of years—if the Taliban is not to re-establish control in the southern areas of Afghanistan.

The Foreign Minister in Pakistan was reported as saying the Taliban was going to win in Afghanistan and NATO was bound to fail. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry later said that their Minister’s remarks had been misrepresented. Apparently he did not say that the Taliban was winning the war in Afghanistan and NATO was bound to fail. However he did emphasise that the military approach alone would not resolve the problems of Afghanistan. It must be combined with a political and economic approach. We and the local Afghan people need to see much more of that in the weeks and months ahead.

The Government, if they are minded to stay in Afghanistan, must speed the drawdown in Iraq and provide the increased resources that protracted expeditionary commitments require. Is it possible to continue to hold at the current level of forces in Afghanistan and not have to increase them? I doubt it. Even at present levels more is urgently required to support operations. Promises expressed by the Prime Minister last month on his visit to Afghanistan must be honoured. So far it is not clear that they are.

Without a much more full-blown commitment of resources, we may indeed lose out to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. There will be no chance then for the political and economic levers of a co-ordinated strategy to work, to set Afghanistan on a stable footing. Whatever new direction we take, let the Government remember their responsibility not to over-commit the Armed Forces as has happened in pursuit of their objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far.

My Lords, events in Israel and Palestine in the past couple of weeks have raised hopes yet again that there may be a way forward which will resolve their particular conflict. Ehud Olmert’s positive speech and Mahmoud Abbas’s enormous efforts are both very encouraging.

But optimism is not a word that one often uses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and we do have to be realistic about what might be achieved. Nevertheless it seems not unreasonable to think that—if left to themselves—Abbas and Olmert could reach some form of agreement acceptable to both the Palestinians and Israelis even though it is likely to mean concessions by each of them. But I fear they will not be left to themselves and that a malign influence from elsewhere will determine the outcome. And it is in Syria—and especially in Iran where the strings of Hamas and Hezbollah are being pulled—where I believe we in the UK will have to focus our efforts if we are to be of any help at all.

Here in the UK and in this House it is common to criticise Israel for not doing enough or for doing the wrong things—and of course there are many things for which we should be critical. Indeed that debate is going on even more vehemently in Israel itself than it is in your Lordships’ House—difficult to believe but it is true. But in criticising Israel we do have to keep a sense of balance if we are to have any influence at all there—or indeed among the Palestinians. And I fear we have little influence.

There is much talk here of putting pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians, to make concessions, to cease disproportionate responses to acts of terrorism, to accept a two-state solution and in return Israel will be able to live in peace and security. But that is just what Israel has been desperate to achieve itself. It is just what Ehud Olmert repeated in his speech of a couple of weeks ago, including the prospect of two states living in peace side by side. No one should imagine that Israel wants to continue to live in a state of siege and under constant threat of terrorist attacks. Nor can anyone look at the desperate plight of the Palestinians and think that peace and security is anything but what they are desperate to achieve. So what is stopping them?

I agree with much of what other noble Lords have said, but I would like to put a slightly different slant on things.

Israel is about the size of north-west England, from where I hail—about 30 miles wide and just over 200 miles long. It has more or less the same population as the north-west. If you look at the map of the Middle East it is a mere dot in an area the size of Europe made up of very hostile states stretching across Iran, Iraq and Syria. Israel not unnaturally feels extremely threatened by nations that have repeatedly tried to invade it since it was formed and are now promising its destruction even more vehemently.

You might ask whether withdrawing from Gaza has improved matters for either the Palestinians or the Israelis. And you might also ask whether there is any encouragement here for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank without the acceptance by Hamas and its leaders of Israel’s right to exist. Remember that missiles fired from Gaza currently have a range of about eight miles and an independent, Hamas-run West Bank firing missiles with a similar range would have Israel—30 miles wide—in a very uncomfortable position. Just imagine if the population of Lancashire, for example, had several hundred rockets fired at them each month from Yorkshire on one side and north Wales on the other. They might expect the UK Government to intervene, especially if the rockets were being supplied from, say, France or Germany.

Israel’s experience of withdrawal is not good, so what sort of reassurance can the UK Government or the UN give that its borders with the Palestinian state will be secure? Only a peace agreement, with all parties signed up, can give that reassurance, certainly not the UN or other external bodies. So when noble Lords talk of putting pressure on Israel to make concessions and negotiate, it is worth remembering that Israel was and is ready to do just that, but it needs someone to deal with. While it is clear that moderate Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership are ready and willing, it is far from certain what Hamas will do—or, rather, what its leadership in Damascus will allow it to do. The report this weekend that Hamas is unwilling to work with Abbas yet again dampens the prospect of negotiations achieving a great deal.

Let me turn to where we might focus our mind if we are to help the Palestinians and Israelis reach a solution desirable to both; because the most strident voices against any form of peace agreement are in Hezbollah and Hamas and they, in turn, are the agents of Syria and Iran. There is no room to doubt now that they are funded, trained and controlled by those states. It seems equally clear that they do not have at heart the interests of not just the Israelis but the Palestinians or the Lebanese, for that matter. Can anyone seriously believe that Iran and Syria are concerned about the Palestinians or Lebanese when they risk the lives of women and children by not only siting their missiles and militia among them but also recruiting them to run forward whenever Israel threatens retaliation? That is pure cynical manipulation of the local population, sacrificed on the altar of extremism emanating from elsewhere.

The sources of the problem of the Middle East lie with Iran and Syria, and no amount of pressure on Israel will make any difference to Iran’s desire to destroy it. To suggest that it is simply the current extreme leader in Iran spouting off for local consumption flies in the face of the evidence of years of preparation of Hamas and Hezbollah for the moment when they can put into effect their desire to remove Israel from the face of the Earth.

Then we come to Iraq, and the part proposed for Iran and Syria in its reconstruction. It is fascinating to hear the word “reconstruction” in relation to those two countries whose recent histories focus more on destruction—unless, of course, you regard Syria’s actions in Lebanon as aiding reconstruction. When I hear that these states might be courted to help in Iraq, I reflect on how Iran, which has been at war with Iraq on and off for years, may have had just a little twinge of satisfaction at the invasion by the western powers, and now it is being asked to take it over, with hardly any effort on its part. What an excellent position to be in. Clearly I am not nearly so sanguine as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and some other noble Lords about Iran’s role in Iraq.

Let us look at what the result would be as and when the US and UK and other forces finally leave Iraq, as they must at some time. Iran is likely to ensure a Shia takeover after a war with the Sunnis; we will then have a huge and extraordinarily powerful block stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria and into Lebanon, with all the dangers that that entails for the rest of the world. I have heard that Israel is described by extremists as the little Satan and America as the big Satan. The UK and Europe are the medium-sized Satans. Examples of anti-western terrorist activities are pretty widespread across the world, and there is little comfort to be gained from hearing of Iran and Syria’s potential role in Iraq, to say nothing of the severe threat that that poses for little Jordan and Israel in the middle.

Let us talk to Iran and Syria, but for that we need a very long spoon indeed. If the idea of wooing them is simply to extricate our troops from Iraq, then it sounds like realpolitik at its most short-sighted and it could be extremely dangerous for us and the rest of the world.

We must try to convince Israel to exert as much self-control as it can when it responds to suicide bombers and missile attacks. We must try to support it and the Palestinians in an even-handed way in any negotiations they may be able to initiate. But unless we also understand that the solution lies not in Israeli or even Palestinian hands, we will be whistling in the wind.

So is there anything useful we in the UK could be doing? I think there is. First, we must do all we can to support Mahmoud Abbas; we must try to channel funds to aid him and his fellow moderates. The situation for the Palestinians is desperate, and we must help him in his desire to gain the support of his people. It is vital, of course, that the funds are not diverted into arms for Hamas.

Secondly, we must enlist the support of other states in the region, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also the North African and Gulf states, Turkey and Jordan. If we in the UK are going to achieve anything at all, it will only be with the support and influence of these countries, which are not driven by a distorted, extreme religious fanaticism. We are unfortunate in having the recent distraction of the Serious Fraud Office investigation of aeroplane contracts with Saudi Arabia. We must solve that quickly; we cannot afford to be alienated from them at this critical time. We need all the friends in the Middle East we can get.

Thirdly, we should recognise that many inside Iran are very disturbed by the rhetoric and actions of their leaders. It is here that we might be able to see some internal changes, carried out not by external force but coming from within, through Iranians themselves. It is not easy, but many brave people there have been resisting the mullahs’ efforts to suppress them. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran is a non-violent resistance movement opposed to the current regime, and its members are suffering terribly because of their opposition. They are regularly tortured—and publicly killed—in Iran, yet despite that, their numbers are growing. They exist in large numbers outside Iran, here and in Europe. They also have a small town in Iraq called Ashraf, where for the moment they are safe, but the Iranian regime is seeking to destroy them. I fear that any deal struck with Iran over Iraq’s future will see the immediate destruction of that town and the slaughter of its unarmed citizens.

This non-violent group, the PMOI, is currently on the UK’s proscribed list of terrorist organisations. What a topsy-turvy world we live in when it is the current Iranian regime that should be on that list rather than those who oppose it. We must encourage a change in Iran, not by extreme actions by foreign nations but by the Iranians themselves. The first step might be the de-proscription of the PMOI.

I have tried to indicate that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to be resolved, it is no use simply focusing our pressures on Israel when the resolution depends to the same extent on Iran and Syria. It is there that we should focus our efforts. Incidentally, even if Israel and Palestine are finally settled, we will still have to face the problem posed by the Iranian brand of Islamic fundamentalism, so we may as well start there anyway.

My Lords, I, too, was all for toppling Saddam because I had seen some of the damage that he had caused in Kuwait and the evil that he had perpetrated. But I am glad to say that I also warned against the possible dire consequences if we did not take the utmost care. It is quite clear, as so many speakers have said, that we and our American allies have committed a catalogue of errors.

As things stand, frankly, I know of no one who has a wholly acceptable, credible answer to the predicament that now afflicts the Americans and ourselves in Iraq. I put ourselves as second fiddle there, because that is plainly the role that we have played so far. The Baker-Hamilton commission reports to Congress tomorrow, but, if the leaks are anything to go by, it will not have a very satisfactory answer either. Our Prime Minister will be in Washington to contribute, I hope, to the President’s response to the commission’s recommendations. We hope that he does not echo the President’s response too slavishly, without full regard to British interests.

The truth is that we are in a very weak position in Iraq. That weakness is reflected to a varying extent in Afghanistan and other areas of the Middle East where we are involved. The soft centre of that weakness is that, overall, the policies pursued to date are patently discredited and tainted with failure. Our errors were noted by James Baker in his autobiographical synopsis published yesterday, and many of them were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Blaker earlier in this debate.

No amount of spinning and happy hours of statistics can change that perception of failure. The American people have shown their dissatisfaction in the mid-term elections. A similar, deeply disappointed mood prevails among the electorate in this country. There is a clear demand for a change of course, but the path is fog-bound and not clearly visible. In the absence of a clear-cut alternative approach or a fresh, convincing strategy, eventual withdrawal from Iraq and decreased involvement elsewhere appear inevitable, which gives more than comfort to the insurgent forces that oppose us—it inspires them to greater effort.

While the situation in Afghanistan under NATO’s command may be less acute, the Taliban are certainly back at the gates of Kabul, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, indicated. One of their commanders recently told the Times:

“We are in no hurry ... look at how far we have come from nothing. We’re in a guerrilla war. It isn’t a matter of two or three years. It might take us ten, even thirty-five years. Will the foreign soldiers last that long here?”.

Those are the people who created 4.6 million refugees, who are now happily returning—but for how long? I regard that statement by the commander as very telling when set alongside the disappointed attitudes prevailing in the West.

There is talk of negotiations with Syria and Iran to ease the tensions in the Shia areas where they are involved, from Lebanon to Afghanistan and Iraq. That in itself is a sign of weakness, as President Bush realises only too well. Iran was, after all, part of his “axis of evil”. As some of the speakers in this debate have said, such negotiations would be fraught with danger, including a greater role for those two states in neighbouring Shia territories. Their past record hardly inspires confidence. I understand that yesterday Mr Bush met the Shia leader, Mr al-Hakim, who heads the biggest block of MPs in the Iraqi Parliament. He is close to the Iranian leadership and, I am told, wants the Americans to stay in Iraq to deal with terrorists. He has his own militia of 25,000 men. He is opposed to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. I do not know what to make of that, except that there is clearly no unity even in the Shia sect.

If Iran persists and succeeds in developing its nuclear capabilities, its power will extend far beyond the Shia limits to the “crescent” described by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg. So far, Iran has not indicated a willingness to negotiate with the United States on the nuclear issue in spite of a conditional offer to do so from the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, which itself represented a reversal of US policy. If such negotiations were to occur, in a fresh and broader political context that appealed to Tehran as a way of extending its influence, due regard should be paid to Henry Kissinger’s recently expressed conclusion, in an article in the Sunday Times of 19 November, that,

“if, at the end of such a diplomacy, stands an Iranian nuclear capability and a political vacuum being filled by Iran, the impact on order in the Middle East will be catastrophic”.

The Sunni countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others—are already nervous at the prospect of the Shia accretion of power extending from Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon to Afghanistan. It is also difficult to see Israel standing idly by while her opponents mass themselves for a jihad against her. Israel might be tempted to make a pre-emptive strike.

Meanwhile, we are confronted daily with the atrocious situation in Iraq and the mounting toll of casualties caused by the seemingly senseless and murderous onslaught of the terrorist militias on the Shia-Sunni frontiers in Baghdad and elsewhere. Life, according to some—including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan—is worse than it was under Saddam Hussein.

Iraq has a democratically elected Government, of which we had high hopes, but its Prime Minister, Mr al-Maliki, has pleaded with the United States for more power to be given to him. Certainly, something must be done to clean up the police and other forces to ensure their undivided loyalty to the state in the battle to establish order and stability. If social order is not restored, we cannot decently and honourably hand over power to the Iraqi Government and withdraw. At the end of the day, the people of Iraq will vote for a strong Government and secure that by hook or by crook, and we may be back where we started—with another monstrous Saddam, or a fundamentalist regime ruthless in the execution of a merciless religious law.

The truth is that our choices are very limited. We are dealing with Islamic states and powers that have been aroused in a way and to an extent that we have not seen for centuries. They have an ancient faith-inspired strength that empowers individuals to alarming self-sacrificial actions, and counters the value and efficacy of modern weaponry. Our basic policy must be containment until we can safely disengage, but that disengagement is not currently in prospect. Precipitate disengagement could well have injurious repercussions here at home, if interpreted as a sign of weakness. It could encourage violent reactions. The only way to ensure peace and stability in Iraq is to convince the insurgents that they cannot win. I am afraid that, at this time, we are far from achieving that position.

My Lords, it seems that there is now widespread agreement in this House that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is a key to peace, and not just in the Middle East. The International Crisis Group’s Gareth Evans and Robert Malley recently wrote that,

“the Arab-Israeli conflict has ceased being a local, or even a regional concern. It is an international one, with obvious ripple effects in the rise of Islamic militancy and terrorism”.

In my own limited experience, in places as far away as Sudan and Bangladesh, I have heard politicians and ordinary citizens link the Palestinian cause to terrorism—and, indeed, to al-Qaeda. We may hesitate there, but at the very least Palestine is used as a propaganda weapon in many countries, against both the USA and our country, because of our support for Israel. Nothing is more urgent than addressing that problem.

Ten days ago, a ceasefire was declared in Gaza. Does that mean an end to the suffering of the Palestinians? Indeed, does it mean an end to the fear of attack endured by Israelis who live in what I have previously described as a “gilded cage”? I will not dwell here on the humiliation of the Palestinians and the destruction of their lives, for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester described it graphically. But for people who do not know about it, it is well recorded in our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights report published this autumn. Although the report neglected to mention the action in Lebanon—a grave omission, in some people’s view—it nevertheless gives a graphic account of Palestinian suffering. If your Lordships have any more doubt, look at the Independent today. Insult has been added to injury by withdrawing revenue and aid, and by refusing to talk to a democratically elected Government in Palestine. Thousands of Iraqis and many of our own citizens—and American citizens—are dying for democracy in the Iraq war. What hypocrites we are.

The treatment of the Palestinians by Israel defies international law and the Geneva Convention; it abuses their human rights. Over 60 United Nations resolutions have been ignored by Israel. Why do we allow that to go on? Why can Israel continue its actions when other countries have sanctions imposed, or are invaded, for less? Why do we carry on trading arms with a country that uses them for external aggression or for internal oppression? Depending on how your Lordships see Palestine, it is certainly one or the other, but they are both forbidden under our arms control laws. What is the future for Israel, which we all want to survive? It makes no friends in all of this; the recent Nation Brands Index survey, as reported in no less than the Jewish Chronicle last Friday, showed Israel gaining bottom ranking in nearly every question—and bottom overall in a table of 35 countries. How can Israel go on like that? She must realise that the hegemony of the USA will not last for ever, and what happens then?

My recent contention that a factor in all this is the activity of the pro-Israel lobby operating in the West has got me into big trouble, and led to accusations of anti-Semitism. I would like to sincerely apologise to colleagues in my party and elsewhere, and to Jewish people all over the country, who may have misunderstood my remarks. I beg leave to try to explain them. “The Israel Lobby” is the title of a paper written by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt of Chicago and Harvard universities. It is not the only paper on the subject. It is well researched and authoritative. The authors conclude that the lobby exerts a huge influence on US politicians and foreign policy. That is their conclusion and anyone can draw their own.

Let us remember that the lobby to which they refer is not composed simply of Zionists. There are many neo-conservatives and right-wing Christian evangelists in that lobby’s huge, wide coalition of people. Criticism of the lobby therefore cannot be called anti-Semitic. It is not anti-Semitic to criticise either the lobby or the actions of the Israeli Government. It may be said that to do so is simply used as an excuse to be anti-Semitic, which I accept; I have heard that said many times. Yet the reverse is also true. Accusations of anti-Semitism can be used as a smokescreen to shield the actions of Israel from censure and to silence her opponents. I am not anti-Semitic—I will challenge anyone who accuses me of that disgusting sentiment—but I am horrified by decades of inaction by the international community in dealing with the occupation of Palestine, and the damage that that is doing to the Jewish diaspora, who contribute so much to all our lives.

I wish to refer here to the late Yehoshafat Harkabi and his book Israel’s Fateful Hour, which was published in 1988. Noble Lords may know that he was chief of Israel’s military intelligence from 1955 to 1959. He said:

“Israel is the criterion according to which all Jews will tend to be judged. Israel as a Jewish state is an example of the Jewish character, which finds free and concentrated expression within it. Anti-Semitism has deep and historical roots. Nevertheless, any flaw in Israeli conduct, which initially is cited as anti-Israelism, is likely to be transformed into empirical proof of the validity of anti-Semitism”,

as I mentioned earlier. He went on to say:

“It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world”.

That was said in 1988 by an Israeli minister.

In defending Israel’s right to exist—and its right to defend itself, which I do—I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, on his speech this evening. It was extremely thought-provoking; he gave a very interesting and delicate view of the other side, for which I thank him. Yet we must also now insist that Israel obeys international law, withdraws from the Occupied Territories, dismantles the settlements and, as one of my beloved grandchildren—eight year-old George—likes to say, “Give those people their land back”. I say to my noble friend Lord Jacobs that while the need for a protective wall can be justified—and I have said that openly—its construction did not have to take even more Palestinian land. The wall, if it was needed, could have been built on Israeli land.

The Holocaust was the worst event in human history; we must never forget it. But, in making amends for that terrible event, we cannot condemn millions of innocent Palestinians to humiliation and poverty in what seems like perpetuity. There is now another opportunity for progress. A ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Gaza, but, sadly, not with the West Bank. This brave initiative of Prime Minister Olmert two weeks ago is very welcome and we have heard many comments about it this evening, but it will not work if the Israel Defence Forces continue to terrify Palestinians with overflights, sonic booms, humiliation at checkpoints, arrests, arbitrary detention, the relentless expansion of West Bank settlements and targeted assassinations. Such actions provoke trapped Palestinians until they take action and break the ceasefire. As my noble friend Lady Williams said, Gideon Levy’s recent article in Haaretz pointed out many examples of where this has occurred and where the Palestinians have been provoked into taking action following the actions of the Israel Defence Forces and Shin Bet. Gideon Levy asks:

“Who rules in Israel and who is really dictating its path?”.

He calls on all Israelis and Palestinians to monitor the ceasefire that has just been called and to examine both sides carefully in the next few weeks to determine what is going on.

Nevertheless, this new initiative is welcome and we must all have great hope for it. The news that leaders of United Kingdom churches are at last going to Bethlehem and the Holy Land is also welcome. I am extremely moved by their action and thank them for it. This Christmas they will visit Bethlehem and the Holy Land to remind Israel and the Palestinians that it is also a centre for the Christian faith and its message of peace and loving one another.

My Lords, reading the Hansard account of your Lordships’ discussion of foreign and security policies during the debate on the humble Address was a rather sobering experience. Not only did the twin cuckoos of Iraq and Afghanistan seem to drive every other foreign policy issue, whether the future of the European Union, the fate of Africa or the problems of world trade and climate change, into the margins, but the whole tone of the debate was shot through with anger and despair, with few enough suggestions for adjustments to the policies which were so widely criticised. This is sad, but it is a fact and it reflects a general mood in this country, encouraged, it needs to be recognised, by a media which simply ignore any positive stories that emerge in either of the combat zones in which our troops are currently engaged.

Today, we have an opportunity to return to those two burning topics of the hour and to look more widely at the problems of the Middle East. I should like to make a modest contribution to a shift in emphasis away from Stygian gloom towards remedial action. I very much welcome the fact that a number of participants in the debate have taken a similar course.

First, I make a plea to decouple in our thinking those twin issues of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are two very different countries in two very different regions. No doubt someone will forgive the speech writer who coined the meaningless and misleading phrase, “The wider Middle East”, but I shall not readily do so. They are subject to quite different considerations and need quite different policy prescriptions. The costs of failure in each will also be very different. Linking them together, therefore, serves no useful purpose; it merely makes it more likely that failure, or relative failure, in one will drag down the other.

Looking first at Iraq, much attention is currently being given to the possibility of enlisting its neighbours, in particular Syria and Iran, in an effort to stabilise the country and check the sectarian violence. I welcome that attention, having myself called for a regional approach to security issues since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but we need to approach this issue in a serious and systematic way. It is no good thinking that an appeal to Syria’s and Iran’s better feelings, because we are in a pickle, is going to bring a positive response. Nor should any attempt to bring in Iraq’s neighbours be confined to these two countries. It surely needs to encompass all Iraq’s neighbours, not just the ones which cause the most trouble. So that means bringing in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan and Turkey too. To what should we try to bring them in? Not, I suggest, some one-off conference, which would be long on words and short on follow-up. Surely, what is needed is to give all these countries, including Iraq, of course, a long-term stake and a long-term say in the stability of their region. That could mean a regional organisation which would give legal guarantees of non-intervention, systematise co-operation across a whole range of policy areas and provide for in-depth confidence building measures between its members.

I can already hear critics saying how utterly unrealistic all that is in the present fraught state of affairs, or asking how we can offer such openings to Iran or Syria when we are still at odds with them over nuclear and other issues. Well, what are the alternatives? Might not giving Iran and Syria a real stake in regional security make some of the other problems that we have with them easier, not more difficult, to resolve?

I suggest that on one point we need to be clear. The disintegration of Iraq into three separate states would be an unmitigated disaster more likely to lead to intervention by its neighbours and to a wider conflict even than the one that currently exists. Because any such conflict would risk involving the vital interests of all western countries, it would not be one from which we could afford to stand aside or from whose consequences we would be protected. So, by all means—I would strongly support this—let us have a federal Iraq with considerable powers devolved to its three component regions, although a functioning central Government and an equitable sharing of oil revenues would be essential if that were to work. But let us not be seduced by those siren voices from across the Atlantic, which sometimes argue that we could contemplate the break-up of Iraq with equanimity.

Afghanistan, it seems to me, is a quite different set of problems, and one where the prospects for a relatively successful outcome are a good deal better. There, too, there is a need for a regional approach, although with a quite different group of countries, Iran being the only common factor with the neighbours of Iraq. Afghanistan’s neighbours have often meddled in its affairs in the past, just as Afghanistan has meddled in theirs. The single most vulnerable point now, as it has often been in the past, is the porous border with Pakistan’s tribal areas, which are not fully under the control of the central Government.

In the case of Afghanistan, too, the establishment of some kind of regional grouping with strong, binding commitments to stabilisation and co-operation would seem to be highly desirable. At the same time, along with others who have spoken, I hope that we would take another careful look at our policies on drug eradication, which, as currently designed and implemented, seem likely to cut right across attempts to provide security and development in the south of the country, and which do not seem to be getting to grips with the corruption and drug traders in high places within the government machine.

That brings me to the one issue that truly impacts on both Iraq and Afghanistan, as it does on the whole battle that we are waging against terrorism, and that is the sorry state of efforts to resolve the problem of Palestine. If anyone doubted that a policy of neglect and unilaterally imposed solutions was doomed to failure, recent events in Lebanon and Gaza have surely blown aside those doubts. At the same time, there are few, if any, signs, of a purposeful move back to a peace process which, over many long and weary years, has become discredited. I would except from that criticism the recent speech by Prime Minister Olmert, which seemed to be a very serious attempt to send a signal. However discredited that peace process may be, there really is no practical alternative if we are to avoid periodic outbreaks of hostility and if we are to leech away the poison of Islamic fundamentalism. The time has now come, as many others who have spoken in this debate have said, for a renewed effort.

Perhaps it is also time to move away—and here I differ from many others—from the staged approach characterised by the much referred-to road map, which seems, so far at any rate, always to founder on the mutual distrust of the two sides so long as the final status issues are not being addressed. We should move towards negotiations more like those at Camp David in 2000, which did address those final status issues. Can we expect a lead from the same direction that gave a lead in 2000; namely, the US Administration? I fear not. There I entirely agree with those, including the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who cast doubt on whether the present US Administration look likely to give any such lead in the next two years. I do not believe that they are going to do so. Can the Europeans, at least, begin to move ahead, working with both Arabs and Israelis, to prepare the ground? I believe that they can and should. After all, the European initiative in 1980, led by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who was here at the beginning of today’s debate, paved the way towards acceptance of a two-state solution. That initiative, though much criticised by the Americans at the time, was later accepted by them.

Like others, I regret that our Government were not part of the initiative recently taken by the French, Spanish and Italian Governments; perhaps they can now catch up with that and ensure that the European Union as a whole, with its considerable influence, begins to stake out the ground for a comprehensive settlement. The appointment of a politically prominent European Union figure with a strong official-level back-up team might be one way to get the ball rolling. I would not see that as in any way abandoning the use of the quartet as an essential co-ordinating instrument. Indeed, the new UN Secretary-General, a very welcome visitor to this city today and tomorrow, would be an essential part of that and could become a very important player, along with the EU, in a renewed effort to build momentum towards peace negotiations. As so often, there are, no doubt, plenty of objections to proceeding in this way. People will say that nothing can be done without the Americans. True—up to a point: nothing can be completed without the Americans. There is no question of a Middle East peace settlement being agreed without full American involvement and endorsement. Does that mean that we have to wait until they are ready to move? I do not think so. Doing nothing much while the Middle East burns again is surely the worst of all policy prescriptions.

My Lords, I begin my comments on Iraq by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, whom I heard with interest confess to being one of few Members on the Liberal Benches to support intervention. He should not be ashamed of that. The reality of Iraq—and I think without any doubt that historians will say this—is that it is a classic example of how to win a war and lose the subsequent peace. As many have already said, problems started after the disbanding of the army, the police and much of the civil structure governing the country. Unlike some others who have spoken on this today, I have taken time to look at the background to that. I say that because I took the view, as they did, that the mistake was for there to have been no planning at all. In fact there was. That is what I learnt and that is why I have changed my view slightly on this.

If you read the recently published book—reviewed in the latest International Institute for Strategic Studies quarterly survey—by David Phillips, one of the advisers to the United States during the whole period of planning for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, you will see that there was considerable planning over a long period. The deadly mistake was to override what was happening, for which I would put a lot of responsibility on Donald Rumsfeld, who took the decision to do so. The political drive from Washington, led largely by Donald Rumsfeld, to take such action stripped the Iraqi state of any administrative structure. I agree with my noble friend Lady Symons, who commented that she was rather glad when Donald Rumsfeld went. My only regret is that he left it four years too late. It was not a surprise when, without the policing of borders, and with police and army officers having been sent into permanent unemployment, but with their weapons intact, there was a problem. I remember how my heart sank when I heard what had happened. If I have regrets about that period in 2003, it is that we did not hold the United States strongly enough to a post-conflict policy.

The other thing that I want to say about this is very important; I wrote a pamphlet about it in 2003, which got some publicity at the time. It concerns the policy of intervention. There are a lot of people running around at the moment saying that we should have followed the United Nations. Remember this: almost every intervention that has taken place in recent years has happened without UN approval. Kosovo did not have UN approval. Bosnia, as my noble friend will know, was a case where we should have intervened, because some of the paramilitary groups began to arm and fight—perhaps not unreasonably—when they saw white European Christians murdering and raping white European Muslims, while Europe did nothing about it. The lesson learnt from that for many such groups was to start arming and to start fighting, because the Europeans will not do anything to help. Further back, the removal of Pol Pot by the Vietnamese, the removal of Idi Amin by the Tanzanians and, indeed, the removal of East Pakistan’s Government from Bangladesh by the Indians all happened without UN support.

Part of the problem is that the United Nations, which was frozen during the Cold War, is still unable to work effectively. I am a great supporter of the United Nations, but let us not kid ourselves that somehow or other the system is working at the moment. This is why I said in my pamphlet that the other big mistake in Iraq was not to have removed Saddam Hussein when we had the Muslim nations on side. This was during the invasion of Kuwait, and the period immediately after that, when the first material breach of the ceasefire by Saddam Hussein occurred. This was a material breach that meant that the ceasefire no longer functioned, and the UN did virtually nothing other than start imposing sanctions. As so often with brutal dictatorships, these were targeted against the opposition groups within the country, while the dictator protected his own friends and family. Again, we took no action. The history of this is rather different from how it was painted at the time. The post-conflict situation has been disastrous. I have no illusions about that. Our position in Iraq should not have come about, but it did for that reason, and not because we removed Saddam Hussein.

I should declare an interest as chairman of a charity, the Arab-Jewish Forum, which I set up at that time because many of the Arabs in my then constituency of Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush approached me to say that they wanted rid of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, a leader of one mosque asked whether, rather than invade, we could send in the SAS to kill him. Many felt like that at the time. What they asked me to do was to find some way of dealing with the core issue, referred to by so many Members today, of Israel and Palestine. I was not sure what I could do, but we found that there was no organisation that addressed both the diaspora of Jews and the diaspora of Arabs in this country. So we formed the Arab-Jewish Forum.

I have a vice-chairman, Atallah Said, who is a Palestinian by origin. Originally, he believed in wiping Israel off the face of the map, but he is now a strong supporter of the road-map approach. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the road map should not be regarded as dead—indeed, I think that we must enliven it again. The forum also has a Jewish vice-chairman, Tony Klug. I thought that it would be run by Arabs and Jews and that I, not being an Arab or a Jew, would be able to leave the scene. Unfortunately, the members decided that it would be best if someone who was not an Arab or a Jew chaired it, and I think that that is beginning to work. The forum has held a number of conferences—we will have more—at which it has looked at the relationship between Arabs and Jews. Over several thousand years, on the whole that relationship has been very positive, although there have been periods in which it has gone badly wrong and the present is one of them.

In the context of changing policies, Condoleezza Rice made a very important speech in January or February of this year in Egypt. She said that the big mistake in United States policy since 1945 has been to back almost every regime in power in the Middle East that looked as though it could retain power. Frankly, when she said that, everyone in Europe and elsewhere should have pleaded guilty too, particularly in France and Britain, because that has been our policy. As she pointed out, we should all have encouraged, brought forward and supported the organisations, parties, groups and others that supported the emergence of the rule of law, democracy and human rights, as those are the only ultimate guarantees of peace between nations.

When the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that that is not within the Labour Party’s policy of internationalism, I simply say that my internationalism recognises that the nation state is vital, but it certainly does not recognise that the nation state can do anything that it likes with its population. It is the people that matter, not the boundary of the nation state. That is why in the document that I wrote in 2003, when there was so much argument on this subject, I said that our approach to Saddam Hussein had been very similar to our approach to domestic violence in this country 50-odd years ago. Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and we get him out—we stop him straight away—but, if he does it to his own people, we take no action. That is just like our previous domestic policy in which, if a man beat up his wife in the street, we arrested him but, if he did it at home, that was all right. In that sense, our policy towards nation states is very similar to the “Englishman’s home is his castle” approach of 50 years ago.

We know that we cannot change things quickly, but I say to the Liberal Democrats that they need to recognise that internationalism is not just about nation states, and it is certainly not just about doing precisely what the United Nations says. The reality is that we would not have intervened in any of those cases. Indeed, our problem was in not intervening in Bosnia or Rwanda and probably, I am sad to say, it will be in not intervening in Darfur, where the number of killings will be just as great. Because we see the events on television, Iraq or Afghanistan are considered to be terrible, but, just because we do not see events in Burma, North Korea or wherever, that does not mean to say that they are not happening. They are happening and we need to know that and think about it.

The process in these conflict situations is extremely important. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his considerable experience, also referred to that. A process must be started, above all, on Israel and Palestine. I accept what everyone else has said about that. It is a way of disconnecting the extremists from the moderates. Our own evidence from Northern Ireland shows that the process has to start with talking. Again, I agree with my noble friend Lady Symons that we should not be too fussy about whom we talk to, but how and when we talk to them is a matter of judgment. I talked to the political representatives of the military wings of both the unionists and the republicans in Northern Ireland and got into considerable trouble for it at the time with the media and the Conservatives, only to discover a few years later that they were already talking to them. I should have saved my time and stayed at home watching television.

However, the reality is that that sort of talking is necessary to get to the point of a process. When you get that process moving, you can then start to talk about the things that are necessary to move towards a more stable situation where justice for both sides is recognised. It would be a mistake to line up against the Israelis or the Arabs in a simplistic sense, because that only loses you influence with one side or the other. The Prime Minister recognises that rather well. It is a case of recognising that you maintain your influence only if you are listened to in both cases. If you have power, you can impose it; if you have influence, you have to use it in whatever way you can, and often that is not as easy as it looks.

At times, particularly when listening to debates in continental Europe and increasingly, I am sorry to say, when listening to debates here, I am troubled when people place an almost moral and political equivalence between tyrannical despotic states and states that have the rule of law, democracy and human rights. There is no moral and political equivalence. That does not mean that you do not bother to talk to people at all or try to make arrangements with them from time to time, but it is very important that you never lose sight of that lack of equivalence. If you do, you begin to think, first, that the state that is under a tyrant is popular, which it almost always is not, and, secondly, that somehow or other you will get peace if you simply make peace with that state. From our experience in the run-up to the Second World War, this country should remember that well. It does not work in that way and it never has.

Modernisation is happening in the Middle East and, in my view, a modernisation struggle is also going on within Islam. If we look at what is being debated in the Muslim press both here and overseas, we see that a struggle is going on for the heart and soul of Islam. It is an important struggle which perhaps we cannot do much about, but we must recognise that it is happening and, as my noble friend Lord Triesman said in his opening comments, we must recognise that a lot of states in the Middle East are leaping ahead. Whether it is Dubai, Kuwait or Morocco, they are making considerable progress. It is not a total disaster area from one end to the other, and we should not look at it in that way. If we do, to some extent we make the mistake that occurred in the United States: a British officer, perhaps rightly, said that there was institutional racism in the US Armed Forces against Arabs, and I think that there is some truth in that.

I shall end with a brief comment on Afghanistan. I agree with much of what has been said, but I wish to add one point. When people plead for NATO, us and everyone else to put more emphasis on reconstruction and less on the military side, they should remember that the people who lead the opposition to us, whether there or in other parts of the world, also read books about asymmetric warfare and about winning hearts and minds. If they enter an area in Afghanistan where there are no western forces and they shoot a headmaster or kill a government officer and so on, they know what they are doing. It is not some bizarre accident; they are trying to say, “You can’t govern this country and you, the people of Afghanistan, had better remember that when they’ve gone, we’ll still be here”. Again, we experienced that in Northern Ireland. We tried to get Catholics to join the police force. It was not simply that they did not want to join; it was that, if they did join, at best their families were pressured and threatened and, at worst, they were shot. That is how it worked. Sometimes, people do not believe that these groups and organisations have brains at the top. They do, and they adjust their policies, tactics and strategies in much the same way as people do in Britain, America or anywhere else.

Although there is a long road ahead, I am not wholly despondent about the Middle East: the present moves between Israel and Palestine are very encouraging. I think that we could do more to use the diaspora communities of Arabs and Jews in this country and elsewhere rather more effectively and in much the same way as the British-Irish Association underpinned many of the things that we did in Ireland.

My Lords, I shall follow the lead given by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, on Afghan issues and her striking analysis of Afghan poverty. Afghanistan has been subject to almost 200 years of continuous foreign intervention because of its geographical position. Being between what was British India, now Pakistan, and the tsarist and then Soviet empire, and east of a long frontier with Persia, now Iran, has made Afghanistan the subject of continuous interest. Time after time, the scale of foreign intervention has turned Afghanistan into a client state, the rules of the game having little to do with Afghan interests yet the outcome of each engagement being of no more than tactical importance to the players—short-term policy dominated, first, by London, Delhi and Moscow and later by Washington, Islamabad and Tehran. Modern technology in warfare and within the global economy has changed the rules. There was the Russian occupation from 1979 to 1989, the Pakistani-backed Taliban, al-Qaeda, the overthrow of the Taliban, the destruction of al-Qaeda and now NATO.

No longer can we rely on short-term policies. The risks are unacceptable. Afghanistan's 24 million people have acquired a geopolitical importance which fully engages with our strategic interests. In the past 30 years, there has also been extreme ideological intervention in Afghanistan. There was the break-up of the monarchy, with its complex history of succession; the rise of Marxist/Leninist factions; the arrival of the Soviets, and the Islamist response to their departure; the medieval Taliban regime demonstrating extremism at its worst—and all that in contrast to Afghanistan before the early 1970s. Until then the moderate Hanafi school of Sunni Islam predominated. Indeed, the 1964 constitution, while recognising Hanafi practice, wrote in a separation of powers and established a system of secular courts. The attempt was only partially successful, as was the system of elections to the parliament.

Nevertheless, the Afghan people have not been attracted to centralisation and command and control, choosing instead to maintain their many differing societies, consistent with ethnic grouping; for example, the Uzbek and Tajik people of the north, living south of the River Armu beyond which lie Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The largest and often dominant ethnic group in the south, the Pashtuns, are divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Durand line of 1893. That settlement has been, and remains, a source of discontent and dispute. It has contributed to major changes in Pakistani policy, from backing the Taliban to today's expressions of support for the US-led war on terror. I hope that the Government are more certain than I am about the continuing role of the Pakistani directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Has that leopard fully changed its spots? If a Taliban fighter, once trained, is paid more than an Afghan policeman, it spells trouble.

Economically, Afghanistan suffers from being landlocked and having very difficult terrain and a climate of extremes. Although it has natural resources, they are difficult to develop. Given an income of less than $1 a day per head of population, a third of which comes from narcotics, President Musharraf has a point when calling for economic development on the lines of the Marshall Plan. One thoughtful estimate proposes a $20 billion investment programme in addition to present official aid, which is nearly all aimed at current government expenditure. Indeed, if the institutions which are necessary to a successful 21st century state are to develop, Afghanistan's income per head needs to rise sharply. In any chicken-and-egg analysis, income needs to rise first to achieve democratic institutions and not the other way around; nor is there any way in which the necessary capital formation can come from the savings of people as poor as the Afghans. Taxation is at one of the lowest levels in the world because there is not much to tax, nor any widespread collection system.

Whether for reasons of the West's relationship with Islam, of the geopolitical balance in the region or the need to see NATO succeed, it is in our interests to stay with the challenging problems of Afghanistan and to see the country through to becoming a stable, significantly secular state, at peace with itself and its neighbours, a state to which many more far-flung expatriates will wish to return and which can play a part in the global economy. Membership of the global economy is now a necessary condition for peace and stability. In total, those objectives are way beyond any task that we have so far set ourselves, the most difficult challenge being the separation of religion from secular society in a country committed to development. Malaysia has shown that that can be done, as has Indonesia, at least so far.

Considering our present contribution, our forces on the ground come first with their professionalism and long experience of countering terrorism and civil disorder. It is right that we praise them, but what task have we set them? Does it include knowledge and involvement in economic development alongside the Department for International Development, the World Bank and NATO? What about the economic implications of the long-running dispute with Iran over the use of the waters of the River Helmand, or do we look only for less Taliban-led disruption and violence and for the destruction of poppies? What happens after that? As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, imagination is needed.

On the DfID website the country profile of Afghanistan is instructive and depressing. Its opening description is pessimistic. Its catalogue of comparatively small aid initiatives is focused on support to a Government who do not inspire DfID's confidence. Amazingly, its pages make no mention of NATO or of British troops on the ground. While the World Bank recognises that major private sector development is vital for sustainable economic progress, DfID confines itself to micro-initiatives. None of that will give the Afghans confidence that there is a substitute for poppy income and none is in prospect. As DfID says, its plans, which are short term, do not deal with medium- and long-term economic challenges. The economic issues faced by Afghanistan have changed those rules too.

DfID needs to think through its intellectual approach. Just what level of income per head would provide a better chance of peace and stability, and how could we achieve it? What about a well targeted $20 billion investment in productive assets, with a security situation which did not unduly affect the costs of construction? A co-ordinated approach led by the Washington institutions incorporating Europe-wide and bilateral programmes should be carefully examined. In default of a co-ordinated development strategy, it is not enough to call it reconstruction. We are in danger of repeating the post-war issues of Iraq. Yet, with a strategy, we could lift Afghan incomes to between $800 and $1,000 a head. That might break the cycle of poverty.

It will be recognised that such a determined and expensive strategy would be difficult to sell to domestic electorates, but it is not impossible. The more than 600 million people of North America and Europe are well capable of lifting 24 million Afghans out of poverty. The great benefits of demonstrating that the West can succeed do not need elaboration; they are obvious.

Let us not do half a job: going as far as lessening violence, then losing interest, as the United States of America might do if the war on terrorism were to take a better or a different turn. Let us persist and finish the job. A thousand dollars a head is not riches, but it would be a great deal better than $300.

My Lords, I want to speak about the use and abuse of language, and then about real British interests, since both should guide our policies in the Middle East. We should beware of rhetoric—our own and that of others, including enemies.

The war on terror, or terrorism, is an idle phrase because states of mind and ideologies cannot be overcome by military means. War on terrorists is possible, but they must first be identified, usually by good intelligence. If one lot of active terrorists is eliminated, another group is all too likely to spring up unless local hearts and minds have first been won over. That can seldom be done by force of arms. The terrorist—or freedom-fighter, as he probably sees himself—conducts an asymmetrical hit-and-run kind of war. Experience of this in Northern Ireland and in a variety of other post-imperial situations shows that clear-cut military victory can seldom be achieved, as indeed Israel has discovered on several occasions in Lebanon.

We should study carefully the findings of the American academic Mr RA Pape of Chicago, who examined hundreds of suicide bombings since 1980 and found that few were committed by intensely religious people. More than 90 per cent were carried out by young people moved by anger and despair directly related to perceived or real occupation of land by foreign forces—usually, I am sorry to say, democratic ones. This perhaps also points to the need to distinguish between ordinary bombings and those with the added dimension of suicide. We should avoid a black and white analysis of absolute good on the one hand and absolute evil on the other. It is surely dangerous to lump together all forms of extreme violence.

We should note that in Iraq the absence of law and order has given scope for kidnapping and extortion. It has probably allowed latent sectarianism to drive out those seen as a threat. It is important to distinguish between violence that stems from grievances or suppressed identities and that which is ideological or religious.

It is clear already that our foreign and home policies cannot be other than closely connected. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. It is in our real interest to secure the greatest possible degree of world peace and the maximum social cohesion at home. This does not mean that we should give way to threats or violence. It means, however, that we should know the conflicting parties and distinguish those who may be irreconcilable from those who are sometimes prepared to negotiate, stripping away, if possible, the veils of rhetoric.

A second important British interest is not to follow slavishly in the wake of American foreign policy without receiving tangible benefits for doing so. We seem to have somewhat different conceptions of democracy and the rule of law. A more detached alliance with the United States might allow us to improve the effectiveness of our own Armed Forces and give stronger leadership on urgent global issues, such as climate change or the reform of world institutions.

In the Middle East, we should explore the aims and goals of Hamas and Hezbollah. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. We may think we know what they want, but are we accurate and fully up to date? We should bear in mind that each of those movements is rooted in a single population; each has democratic credibility and has shown that it can provide a certain standard of honest local administration; each represents a wider constituency than just its own members. Neither movement appears to have plans for worldwide revolution.

I hope that it is not too heretical to suggest that this kind of thinking should be extended to al-Qaeda. Of course this network has blood on its hands, but so did the Mau Mau, the EOKA and the IRA. Surely it is right to offer non-violent options to all fringe and extremist groups to reduce the attractions of force and increase the rewards of dialogue. Al-Qaeda appears to have operated as a manager or link between a variety of terror franchises. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility to discover from the central nucleus whether there may be points at which a negotiating process could begin? This may be particularly relevant to Afghanistan.

In our previous debate on Israel and Palestine, I called for,

“maximum diplomatic effort to achieve ceasefires and an early start to negotiations”.—[Official Report, 20/11/06; col. 110.]

Since then, it is encouraging to say, ceasefires and some talks about talks have begun. There have also been changes within the United States Government and possibly new approaches there to diplomatic priorities. In my view, Israel and Palestine remain the key sector. Our diplomats, supplemented on occasion by voluntary organisations and academics, are a key asset. Their skills of analysis and discernment should be given full scope. They should be listened to with the greatest care. Why should they go on reporting if their reports remain unread?

I return to my theme of language. “Sulha” describes an ancient Arab and Middle East practice of reconciliation between warlike tribes. It has existed for centuries to prevent acts of revenge and disastrous feuds. Sulha builds in collective wisdom and common legal principles. The good news is that the Sulha Peace Project, closely linked with the three faiths’ Abrahamic Reunion, is working to bring Israelis and Palestinians into dialogue and towards joint action for peace. Some of their members are even able to cross into Lebanon and act as intermediaries there. The Sulha Peace Project is only one small movement among many others, striving to build bridges of peace, but it points towards an important wider concept.

There can be no doubt that diplomatic effort is needed, but it must be supplemented by civil society and religious leadership to create public opinion that will not be satisfied until real progress is made towards the just and lasting peace that we all desire. I say long live the diplomatic, civil and religious troika. Top-down agreements have little chance of working unless they are complemented by harmonious and right relationships built from the bottom upwards. This is a lesson we should draw from Northern Ireland and Bosnia. I trust it is equally applicable in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

My Lords, many speakers in this debate have referred to the key role of the Israel-Palestine issue for the future of the Middle East. I do not disagree with them, though one is bound to wonder whether the existence of an independent state of Palestine would have prevented the Iraq war or would have contributed to the solution of the present predicament. Having said that, I turn to an issue which might appear marginal in the context of a Middle East debate, but of which I shall try to argue that it is anything but marginal; that is, Turkey.

The Iraq war has had a whole series of clearly unintended consequences. It has, for example, enhanced the role of Iran both in the region and more generally in an unexpected way. It has exacerbated the conflict between Sunnis and Shias. It has exacerbated the Israel-Palestine conflict. It has unfortunately led to quite deep divisions between the United States and Europe; and—let us make no bones about it—they are quite profound at this stage. But above all, it has led to a massive radicalisation of Islamic politics. That is true in the region but it is in some ways true all over the world. One of the big questions with which we are faced is how this general radicalisation of Islamic politics can be, if not stopped, at least controlled and gradually changed.

That will not happen in Iraq. I was one of those who initially supported the war, but in my view damage limitation is now almost the only option there. It is not likely to happen in Afghanistan where, as I see it, we are likely to see for a long time at best a precarious balance of warlords and drug mafia and, one hopes, a growing number of groups, of forces and above all of individuals who are looking for a life in freedom.

It is crucial that the regimes—the Governments whom the Minister in his introductory speech called “moderate and democratic”—are strengthened and are certainly not further weakened. A lot of weakening has happened. “Moderate and democratic” has become quite a strange combination of words because “democratic” for all of us means elections, and elections in these states may in fact have strengthened the radicalisation of Islamic politics. In other words, we cannot argue that elections are the solution to the problem of the radicalisation of Islamic politics—and that holds in Egypt as it does in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

To come back to my main point, I think we have to be deeply concerned about the future of moderate Islamic Governments, wherever they are, and should do everything we can to strengthen their hand rather than weaken it. And this is where Turkey comes into the picture—in my view in a crucial place because, if you will pardon my saying so, in Iraq, despite the presence of troops, we can do relatively little. In Afghanistan much of what we do is hope. But in the case of Turkey, there are things which we can do, and we can do them now and in the immediate future. And the terrible thing is that at precisely this time, we in Europe are doing the wrong things in our relations with Turkey. The country is sliding away from the West.

Next year will be an election year in Turkey; 2007 is a crucial election year. In the late spring—the date has not yet been fixed—there will be presidential elections. In the late autumn—in October or November—there will be parliamentary elections. We may well see the results of a situation which has been created not least by the obvious awkwardness, to put it mildly, in the relationship between the European Union and Turkey. In my view it is highly risky, indeed politically totally wrong, to stop or even stall the negotiations with Turkey at this point. I do not want to be misunderstood. It is clear that when Turkey becomes a member of the European Union, the issue of Cyprus will have to have been resolved. I see no reason why it should be resolved this year in these weeks with a set date at this point. It is quite clear that the Copenhagen criteria will have to be applied to Turkey in full but I see no reason why we should now say that they probably will not be and therefore the bona fide negotiations with a view to full membership of Turkey in the European Union should be stalled. We have to continue to negotiate with the intention of full membership and we have to do that here and now.

This means—this is my main point—that we have to support the commissioner who negotiates in the light of the Council decisions of objectives and method. I implore Her Majesty’s Government to insist in Council meetings that the statements made by both German and French Government representatives these days have to stop. When one is in the middle of a negotiation, one does not attack the other side in this way, or suggest that one does not want a successful outcome of these negotiations. I worry about the fact that on this very day, the German Chancellor, the French President and the Polish Prime Minister have their routine meetings in which the German Chancellor proposes a formal decision by the Council of Ministers to introduce a clause into the negotiating mandate for Turkey which will make it necessary to have another unanimous decision to continue at a later date. I very much hope that Her Majesty’s Government will take not only the line which they have taken in any case, but a very strong line and that they will argue not only in the terms in which the Turkish issue is often argued but in the wider terms that are the subject of this debate.

Once again, I hope that noble Lords will not regard this as a distraction. Turkey is a moderate Islamic country that is well on the way to democracy as we use the term; above all, it is well on the way towards the separation of religion and law and therefore a country that needs and deserves support. It should be an example for other moderate Islamic countries around the whole region that is our subject in this important and useful debate.

My Lords, at this stage of the debate much has been said by noble Lords far better qualified than me, but I have some observations. First, the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, talked about the unintended consequences of the invasion of Iraq; I have another. I served in Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division in Iraq in March 2003. At all levels, we honestly believed that we faced a threat from chemical or biological weapons. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that we were not deterred; we had countermeasures, training and brilliant leadership. What does that tell the rest of the world? Very simply, it says that US/UK forces will not be deterred by the threat of chemical or biological weapons. Since very few non-nuclear states can resist a conventional attack by US/UK forces through the use of conventional weapons alone, the only way a state can acquire an ultimate guarantee of security—to use the language of yesterday’s Statement on Trident—is to have some form of nuclear weapon, even without an effective missile-delivery system. Little wonder, therefore, that Iran actively seeks nuclear weapons. The fact that our invasion of Iraq was of questionable legality and necessity does not help.

My second point is that many noble Lords are concerned about military overstretch. Your Lordships have worried about tour intervals for at least a decade, but I shall add a little more detail than even the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, gave us. Some time ago I asked the then Defence Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for how many years we had operated outside defence planning assumptions. He erroneously answered, “None”. A suitable letter was sent to me and placed in the Library, adding more detail, as its introduction put it. The fact is that we have operated outside the DPAs for many years. That should keep alarm bells ringing in Defence Ministers’ offices continuously.

The Government have also quietly reduced our capability under defence planning assumptions. We are now able to conduct either two small-scale enduring operations or one medium-scale enduring operation; “medium-scale” means a brigade. Alternately, we can make one large-scale intervention—“intervention” implies a short timescale, about six months—and follow it with a medium-scale sustaining operation. So what are we currently doing? The answer is two medium-scale-plus operations—Operation TELIC in Iraq and Operation Herrick in Afghanistan—in addition to several minor operations.

As we know, both operations are very challenging—we have talked about the problems today, so I shall not repeat them—but what is the effect? It is not just the problem of the tour interval alone—the pressure on the serviceman—that noble Lords have talked about. The problem is lack of training. Yes, there is good training for the current operations, but we are not training enough for the ability to prosecute a high-intensity operation at the large scale of effort. We are building into our Regular Army and other Armed Forces a weakness because, in time, officers at all levels will have missed out on vital training experience. I think that many noble Lords were surprised at the weakness exposed in the Israel Defense Forces recently. The military costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan may be far higher than realised, because they are hidden. Worse still, no amount of extra resources later will be able to replace that loss of training and experience. It will be built into our Armed Forces for years to come.

My third observation concerns Iraq and Afghanistan. The outlook for Iraq is bleak; I have not heard any serious commentator suggest anything else. It is important to recognise that, in both campaigns, the media consistently exaggerate the difficulties and minimise the successes, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I cannot recently recall reading anything positive about either campaign, and it is ridiculous to suggest that successes do not occur regularly. It is not a failing on the part of Ministers and officials. Good news stories are available; however, the media choose not to publish them. That is extremely frustrating for those officers responsible. But intriguingly in respect of Afghanistan, when many senior officers privately brief me, they are confident of the outcome. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, gave us a glimmer of hope.

Many noble Lords have referred to the general reluctance of NATO nations to contribute troops to operations in Afghanistan. I agree with their sentiments; it is extremely disappointing and a major challenge for NATO. However, the telling point from one senior officer was that they would jump on the bandwagon later when the operation came right, or words to that effect. I hope to see that situation obtain in due course.

There has been much talk about the legitimate economy for Afghanistan—my noble friend Lord Eccles talked about the need to get Afghanistan into the global economy—but I have yet to hear what Afghan farmers are expected to produce as an alternative to narcotics in the short term. In the longer term the education programme, especially education for women, as outlined by the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, must be the right approach. But what can be legitimately exported from Afghanistan to sustain that country, and how?

Transport from Afghanistan to the market, especially in the developed world, is expensive, tortuous and insecure. Even NATO containers going to our operations in Afghanistan are mysteriously raided. Can anything be done to minimise or reduce transport costs for the Afghan economy? If the Minister cannot answer that now, perhaps he could write to me later. At present, the transport system and economy favour high-value, low-volume, low-inherent-skill products. Opium, say at £100 a kilo, is ideal. I wonder what the effect would be of putting in place a subsidised, reliable and secure transport system to the European markets, perhaps a very regular Antonov flight at very low cost. In the long term, what is being considered for reliable road and rail links to a sea port from Afghanistan? I know that it is a long way and that it would have to go through other countries, but it would go some way to meet the concerns outlined by my noble friend Lord Eccles about developing the Afghan economy. If nothing is done about transport links for goods, it is hard to see how the Afghan per capita income can be increased.

The invasion of Iraq has encouraged the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The media, while correctly identifying problems, would be much more responsible if they covered some military and civilian successes in theatre. However, my greatest concern is the permanent damage to our Armed Forces due to operating far outside the defence planning assumptions.

My Lords, I would like to concentrate on the Middle East aspect, rather than on the Afghan aspect, of this debate. Two days ago, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, described the Iraqi situation not as being on the verge of civil war, which is the current euphemism, but “much worse” than civil war, with ordinary life being more dangerous than it had been under Saddam Hussein. The Secretary-General of the United Nations and not the media said that.

It is an appalling sign that such obvious home truths can only be uttered by a public official about to leave office. The Iraqi economy is in ruins. Oil production, at 2.1 billion barrels per day, has not yet recovered its Saddam level after three years. According to calculations in the 21 October issue of the Lancet, an estimated 655,000 people have lost their lives since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, 600,000 of those through violence. In the Shia areas of southern Iraq, fundamentalist Islam has seized control and imposed the dictatorship of Sharia law—a far cry from the neo-con project of turning Iraq into a western-style democracy.

Advance leaks from the Iraq Study Group—the so-called Baker panel set up by President Bush after mid-term elections—suggest that it will recommend a phased withdrawal of US forces, and a transfer of security functions to the Iraqi Government. Short of doubling or trebling the size of American forces, that is the minimum concession to reality; but what chance is there of the Iraqi Government regaining control with the coalition having destroyed the Iraqi army and civil service?

Somewhat more promising is the grudging recognition that in order to achieve peace in Iraq, and more generally in the Middle East, we will have to engage the other regional powers, especially Iran and Syria. A report co-authored in 2004 by Robert Gates, the new American Secretary of Defense, advocated “selectively engaging” with Iran in order to promote “regional stability”. I hope that he will carry that determination with him into his new office.

The Prime Minister, in his Mansion House speech of 13 November, acknowledged that a settlement in Iraq required “partnership” with Iran and Syria as well as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Prime Minister of Israel has also been talking in a similar vein. On the other side of the divide, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, exploiting Iran's new position as a regional power broker, held a summit with the presidents of Syria and Iraq in Teheran on 27 November to discuss ways to bring peace to Iraq. If a way could be found to link up these western, Israeli and Syrian-Iran initiatives, the door would be prized open for that “whole Middle East strategy”, of which the Prime Minister has talked.

Let us be clear though about what this agonising reappraisal means. It means accepting that the American-British-Israeli policy of reshaping the Middle East by military force has failed. The Americans have lacked the strength and will to subdue Iraq, much less create a democracy there; the Israelis have failed to destroy Hezbollah in Lebanon, or indeed to quell the Palestinian insurgency; and America has failed to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment programme. These policy reversals have knocked on the head the myth of American omnipotence. The emperor has been shown to have no clothes, or at least no clothes cut to carry out the policies he has embarked on. The United States is still the most important act in the Middle East, but it is not all-powerful. The Islamic revival has created a balance of power in the region for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. That means that any settlement of the interlocking problems of the Middle East will have to be a negotiated one.

I am not sure that Bush and Blair yet realise this. The reality of failure has dissolved part of the fog that envelopes their deceptive and self-deceiving utterances, but the two leaders still apparently believe that the game is theirs provided only that Iran and Syria, and the forces they control, can be co-opted as partners in their design. The clearest indication of this continuing delusion is their insistence on attaching preconditions to any talks with the other side: Iran must give up its nuclear ambitions; Syria and Iran must renounce support for violence; and the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority must renounce terrorism as well as recognising Israel’s “right to exist”. These conditions for talks are completely unrealistic.

The reality is that the renunciations which the West rightly seeks can come about only as part of the bargain eventually struck, not as preconditions for talks. I doubt if Bush, Blair and Prime Minister Olmert have yet accepted the need for a genuinely negotiated agreement of outstanding Middle Eastern problems; but that is the price they will have to pay for the failure of their policies. The fact that a balance of power has come into being in the Middle East is precisely what makes possible a genuine negotiation, leading to multilateral ownership of a regional peace settlement.

An opportunity now exists to strike what I have called a “grand bargain”, to pacify the most dangerous and volatile area of the world—a bargain to which all the great powers and the state and the non-state power holders in or adjoining the Middle East might be induced to underwrite. That includes Hezbollah. Here I differ a little from what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said on Lebanon. Of course the long agony of Lebanon is a tragedy, but it is basically an outcome—and it has been going on since the late 1960s—of events outside Lebanon, and particularly of the Israel-Palestinian dispute. Lebanon has been a victim, not the centre of the storm.

To give the Prime Minister credit, he glimpses the opportunity for a “grand design”, but he is too much hostage to his own past mistakes and to the American president to act resolutely on it. I would add that he has missed the chance to put the weight of Europe behind British diplomacy. He has sacrificed everything to the “special relationship” with the United States, from which Britain has got nothing but grief in the recent period—as Kendall Myers, a senior US State Department official was tactless enough to point out only the other day.

The outlines of a “grand bargain” are not difficult to discern, difficult though they will be to achieve. Other noble Lords have touched on various elements. They include an agreed formula for sharing power and oil revenues between the three main provinces in a federalised Iraq; a fully independent Palestinian state, roughly within the 1967 borders, with international guarantees of Israel’s security, and, I would add, an internationally patrolled demilitarised zone along Israel's borders; a phased withdrawal of western forces from the Middle East in return for a guarantee against the use of oil for political purposes; and a nuclear-free zone—something alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell—without which Iran will never give up its nuclear ambitions. One has just to bite the bullet that Israel in return will give up its bomb. Finally, a reactivation of the suspended customs union between Israel and Palestine, agreed to in the Oslo accords, with a gradual extension to Jordan and Lebanon creating a genuine free-trade area that is capable of reviving the economies of that region, with a “Marshall Aid” programme to get it started, as happened in Europe in 1948.

What is the alternative? I do not believe that a “one step at a time” approach will work. Every small confidence-building step in one area will be sabotaged by a renewed outbreak of violence somewhere else. That has been happening. The time has passed when the United States or Israel could pick off their opponents one by one. The Islamic world is more cohesive and angrier than it was nearly 30 years ago when Egypt settled with Israel. We must never forget that that settlement cost Anwar Sadat his life.

We should never forget that the Muslim population of western and central Europe now approaches 10 per cent of the total population. What prospect is there for harmonious race relations in Europe with the Middle East in flames? The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, rightly touched on the Turkish aspect of that estrangement in his thought-provoking speech.

If we miss the chance to do something big and constructive now, we may not get another for a long time. The balance of power in the Middle East is shifting against the West and will shift further still. If that process continues without a comprehensive settlement, vengeance, I fear, will not limp.

My Lords, this debate has, naturally and rightly, been absorbed by today’s many crises that we face in the Middle East. We have more or less agreed that we are possibly on the verge of a turning point—another turning point, because during the past 50 years we have faced numerous ones.

In the past few years, I have not been able to take a day-to-day interest in the Middle East because I have been preoccupied with other jobs. However, from the age of 10, I was out in the Middle East a great deal, for my father had a lifetime there and, at the end of his days, he was appointed as the special envoy of the Foreign Secretary to negotiate our withdrawal from the Middle East during 1970-71. Later, I was privileged enough to serve as a Minister of State in the 1980s with responsibilities for the Middle East.

I hope that the House will bear with me if I focus on just two things. First, I should like to take a step back and reflect for a moment on what considerations should govern our approach to the Middle East. Secondly, I should like to focus briefly on one aspect where I think that Britain can be constructive, especially in the Gulf: that is, on political reform.

It is worth reminding ourselves that it is less than a hundred years since the foundation of the modern Middle East was laid in the immediate post-First World War days leading up to 1922—largely imposed by Britain and France, for good or for ill—the Arab world having just emerged from 500 years of occupation in the Ottoman Empire, with all the inevitable wounds that that created. In Europe, it has taken us centuries to develop our nation states and current systems of government.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that the Arab world had a great empire which started 13 centuries ago and flourished from the borders of China right across the Mediterranean, with quite a legacy in various parts of the world, such as Spain. More recently, we, too, have had our empire and have left good things and not such good things. One of the most interesting observations about empires is that in the period after they are over, countries suffer from a lack of self-confidence and some decline. Those symptoms exist in the Arab world and have done so for some time. There are certainly symptoms of lack of self-confidence in Britain today: the decline in faith; the decline in values. So any approach that we make to the Middle East should be with the utmost humility.

It is against that background that we have today explored the explosive factors that exist in the Middle East: the failure to resolve the Palestine-Israel issue; the desperation in Iraq; the uncertainty in Lebanon; and the exasperation at the failure of the United Nations to implement many of the important Security Council resolutions, ranging from the resolutions that demanded that Israel end illegal settlements in occupied territories to the need to disarm Hezbollah in Lebanon.

As a result of all that, many people live today in what one can only describe as a Dante's Inferno. The graphic descriptions that we have heard today in outstanding speeches have depicted that. As we all know, desperate people do desperate things. In that situation of desperation, the hardline states, such as Iran and Syria, are encouraged still further.

I agree with all the speakers today who, in looking at the way forward, have said that it can come only from a twin approach: the will on the part of the countries of the Middle East to find a resolution; and with help, such as we can give it, from the West—Europe and the United States. It is of mutual interest to try to help them create stability. As we all agree, that needs a persistent international effort to help strengthen the moderates in that area and isolate the extremists. Whether we like it or not, it needs the help of the United States. We need to be reminded of Churchill's remark that,

“The United States invariably does the right thing, having exhausted every other alternative”.

I just hope that they have now exhausted every other alternative.

I ought now to be nice about the United States. Condoleezza Rice has not made the mistake that John Foster Dulles once made when he was Secretary of State. He landed in the Middle East and said:

“Now let us resolve these problems in a truly Christian fashion”.

But we also need Europe, with her long historic connections with that area. Above all, I agree with all those, including my noble friend Lord Hannay, who say that there must be a regional solution. Arab neighbours must play an active part in all this. It is worth reminding ourselves that in 1961, a Kuwait crisis existed when General Kassem threatened to invade Kuwait. The British moved in, but very quickly afterwards an Arab peacekeeping force took our place. Although there are no direct analogies, it is worth reminding ourselves of that lesson. We must go on working vigorously for a just solution and strengthen the dialogue between the West and the Arab world, based on mutual respect for each other's history, culture and religion.

I shall say just a word about political reform, especially in the Gulf, because that is where we can be most constructive. In the speech, which has already been referred to, made by Condoleezza Rice in Cairo in the summer, she said:

“For 60 years, the United States has pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East and has achieved neither”.

To my mind, that rather implies that democracy is unstable. Surely, the right political reform can in fact strengthen stability and they do not contradict each other.

At this point, I declare an interest. I am patron of the Sir William Luce Memorial Fund, which is based in Durham University and is working with the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies there and Chatham House, with the support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of the Gulf states, on a project jointly to study political reform in the Gulf. There are certain considerations that we ought to take into account. That reform must be home-grown. It must stem from the roots of the Gulf states, the Arab states, themselves.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, whereas in our empire we imposed the only system that we knew, understood and respected—our own system of parliamentary democracy—we did not do so in the Gulf because our responsibilities were for the protection of the external affairs of the Gulf and their defence, not their internal affairs. Those Gulf states can evolve their own system quite naturally, and we need to accept that they have a different culture, a different history, different traditions, and a different religion from ours. In the past, their tribes, clans and families have been the dominating factor, and their Majlis al-Shura system has given the people of those countries access to their rulers. But circumstances are changing. Elites—middle classes—are emerging in these areas. Modern travel and communication strengthen them, and there is also a very large foreign population in the Gulf states to help influence them. We can therefore welcome some of the changes: municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, Parliaments in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, the development of an al-Shura assembly in the Oman, recent elections in the Yemen, and elections shortly to be held in the UAE.

In the elections in Palestine, it was encouraging to see that 63 per cent of the electorate wanted to vote. In Iraq, a high proportion of people wanted to vote, but they must have the right circumstances in which to allow democracy of one kind or another to flourish. We should therefore share our experiences with these countries. We should not impose ourselves on them or lecture them on what system they should have. Nor should we undermine the rulers of those countries in that process. Against the background of a decline in trust in politics and in Parliament here, and our doubts about a second Chamber and what its future should be, I rather doubt that we are in a good position to lecture them.

The other aspect that has been touched on today is that we must meet the challenge that extremists—Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—will get elected, and have been elected, to these assemblies. I am reminded of a conversation that is alleged to have taken place between Nehru and Nasser, when Nasser boasted to Nehru, “I put my extremists in prison. What do you do with yours?”. Nehru is alleged to have replied, “Actually, I put mine in Parliament”. There is something to be said for arguing by these means rather than fighting.

Each state needs to develop its own system of accountability to suit its own circumstances. Above all, we need to encourage evolution rather than revolution. However long and drawn out the crisis of the Middle East has been, and is, we must persevere with our moderate friends to find a way forward that will bring peace as opposed to war in the Middle East.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in the debate, particularly just two speeches away from my noble friend Lord Skidelsky, who was one of the few to talk consistent sense in the weeks before the opening hostilities in Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, as many of us in the Chamber will remember, constantly urged Her Majesty’s Government and the United States Government to squeeze the regime of Saddam Hussein by imposing heavier and heavier sanctions, not by attacking him. Those speeches recall, to those who know anything of recent history, the wise letters which President Eisenhower wrote to Sir Anthony Eden at the time of Suez. They were published as an appendix to volume II of Eisenhower’s memoirs, Waging Peace. Perhaps it will turn out that President Chirac was writing similar letters to Prime Minister Blair in 2003.

Many of us share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, to avoid war, but, for all sorts of reasons—some naïve, some complicated—many of us foolishly believed Her Majesty’s Government when they assured us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We also accepted some of the fascinating stories that leaked out that there had been secret dealings between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Of course we did not expect to be told the details at the time; we merely accepted Her Majesty’s Government’s word.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has said, the problems of Afghanistan and of the Middle East—historians among us will remember that the Middle East used to be known as the Near East; no one quite knows why there was that sudden change from Near to Middle—are quite separate, even if they are interconnected. Her Majesty’s Government share a mission in Afghanistan with the other NATO countries, however inadequately our allies may respond. So far as I know, there is no serious opposition to the NATO commitment, even among countries, such as Spain, that are generally opposed to United States policies and to President Bush. That is because all can see that if the Taliban were allowed to resume its control of the country, or even part of it, we should have a good deal more than poppy growing to complain about. We can assume that, were we to accept defeat at the hands of the Taliban, al-Qaeda would soon be back at home base. It is therefore hard to see that Britain—a responsible country, even if very far from Kabul—can have any attitude for the foreseeable future other than to remain. The Minister, with his statistics on new wells and the number of girls now in schools, encouraged us to think that the mission might one day be able to be fulfilled; but how far ahead is that likely to be?

As to poppies, we should not forget how, in the course of another, successful, ethical foreign policy—the abolition of the slave trade—this country persuaded its slave traders to change almost overnight from the purchase and sale of slaves to the purchase and sale of palm oil.

Support for the NATO position in Afghanistan does not mean that we have to accept all the arrangements that were made by the United States at an early stage in the war against the Taliban, particularly the establishment of the prison at Guantanamo, which must be one of our great ally’s worst ever actions. If President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1902 arranged for the US lease of Guantanamo Bay from a newly independent Cuba, knew what has been going on in eastern Cuba, he would be turning in his grave, even though he was known for speaking softly and carrying a big stick.

Earlier in the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, called Afghanistan more a collection of tribes than a state. That may be so, but it is an ancient community, with a complicated and interesting history in which Britain has been much involved. Was there not a time in the 1760s when an Afghan empire extended not only over eastern Persia but over Baluchistan, the Punjab and parts of Kashmir?

Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq is a very modern country indeed, having been cobbled together in the aftermath of the First World War, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, recalled, by a distinguished academic, Dr Gertrude Bell; by an outstanding soldier/administrator, Sir Percy Cox; and by the then Colonial Secretary, Mr Winston Churchill. Before 1919, the three former Turkish provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra constituted the area that is now Iraq. That still has a consequence for modern politics. The country, as most noble Lords will know, was a British mandate from 1920 to 1927, and Sir Percy Cox, whom I have just mentioned, was our first High Commissioner. He was the man who drew the straight lines that have characterised the Iraqi frontiers ever since, and who the Dictionary of National Biography recalls as having revised and amplified the Turkish administrative system with rare skill, a commendation that might have been read with benefit by the early United States administrators in Iraq after the conquest, such as General Garner and Mr Brennan.

Until 1957, Iraq remained an informal part of the British Empire. This country had no greater friend in the Middle East than the longstanding Prime Minister Nuri es-Said and King Faisal of Iraq, was tutored by a distinguished English social anthropologist in his youth, a friend of mine, Julian Pitt-Rivers. After 1957 in Iraq there was a dictatorship, first of the army and then of a political party, the Socialist Nationalists of the Ba’ath party. Despite that bizarre and unsuccessful history the Iraqis nevertheless—this is something that strikes one whenever one meets someone from that country—quickly developed a sense of patriotism and of what a nation should be. Perhaps that was assisted by the fact that the territory of Iraq has a very grand place in history. It is, after all, the birthplace of civilisation, of law and of writing. Unlike some new countries, such as Ghana, Iraq did not have to invent a past, for the past in Iraq was always there between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

In 2003 as we all know, the United States decided to invent a new stage in the history of Iraq, by establishing a sun of democracy there which it was hoped would radiate throughout the region. One United States neo-conservative spoke of a “tsunami of democracy” sweeping throughout the Middle East. That policy was not directly reflected in the speeches justifying the war itself. Instead, the pretext—that was the word used by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr Wolfowitz—was the nuclear weapons allegedly possessed by Saddam Hussein. It would have been far preferable, as I am sure noble Lords would agree, if Britain and the United States had been completely honest in 2003 and announced that their plan was indeed regime change—getting rid of a regime of brutal wrongdoing. The United States at least could have remembered those words as they figure in the at-one-time famous Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1905, which specifically justified US intervention in foreign countries in Latin America if “brutal wrongdoing” was proved.

From listening to several speeches in the House in this debate, I have the sense that some noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, for example, and the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs—might have supported such a policy of intervention if brutal wrongdoing was plainly written down. As we all know, the military operation in Iraq was brilliant. It is right to give credit where credit is due, but as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said, no one seems to have taken any trouble to consider what would happen after the victory. Someone else—I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby—wondered where the British planners were at that time: why did they not consider the future? Alas, there was no Sir Percy Cox able to reconstruct the former Administration “with rare skill” and—again alas—the emblematic sight of post-war Iraq was not the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad but the sight of American troops standing by while great museums were being looted.

Now the case is everywhere being put frequently for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, even—most unusually—by our leading soldier. But even those who questioned the desirability of the war at the beginning, such as me, must now wonder whether a serious withdrawal is possible if the alternative in Iraq could be what the Chief of Staff to the United States President, Josh Bolten—not Ambassador Bolton but Josh—described recently as,

“a failed state, a haven for terrorism, a real threat to the United States and the region”,

and of course the United States’ allies. That, for once, is a realistic statement by an American neo-conservative.

So the odds are that we have no alternative but to stay. One distinguished Member of this House, the late Lord Harlech, is credited with telling President Kennedy in 1963 in respect of a Central American civil war, “Every country, you know, Mr President, has a right to its own Wars of the Roses”, but all civil wars have unforeseen consequences, even more than all wars. However desirable it must be, I cannot see that a British-US role in Iraq can be abandoned once it has been begun. Before we seriously contemplate any withdrawal, we should consider much more seriously the future politics of the country and in particular whether the place of the three Iraqi provinces that I mentioned earlier as existing under the Ottoman Empire—Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra—might be re-examined to give historical backing to a real federal state with a balance between the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shia.

The democratic creators of the Bush Administration never seemed to be interested in the details of what democracy was going to be, but the fact is that they should because one democracy is better than another. The great successes in recent years in history has been the federations such as those in the United States but also those in Germany, Australia, Canada, and—without the use of the actual word—in Spain. A solution along those lines has begun to be mentioned to the United States following the thoughtful writing on those questions by Ambassador Peter Galbraith; and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to it in his speech.

My noble friend Lord Hannay opposed the idea of any break up of Iraq into three separate entities, but that is not what I am suggesting. All the same, I recall, as my last reflection, that Churchill at the Cairo conference in 1920 as Colonial Secretary instinctively favoured the creation of an autonomous Kurdistan as a buffer zone between the new Turkey and the new Iraq. I suspect that Churchill’s instinct, as so often, was right, even when he knew far less than the experts such as Sir Percy Cox.

My Lords, I put my name down to speak. I was told that it got lost somewhere in the system, so I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for a few remarks in the gap. I want to say two things that are fairly raw, given the time available to me. First, I am increasingly concerned about the use of the phrase “the war on terror” as a major theme for directing our policy in the Middle East. I have an increasing sense that the real change that has happened in foreign policy is the end of the Cold War, and that is what we are adjusting to and we need to get it right. There is an interesting article in the latest New York Review of Books, which I hope appears in the Library, reviewing a book by Louise Richardson, who is a professor at Harvard. The book is called, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat. It has some sober things to say to us on these matters.

The trouble with conducting policy under the theme “a war on terror” is that it invites reaction: the sort of reaction that creates chaos and disorder and continued violence. Who would say in Iraq that that is not where we are at the moment? My first point is, can we shift away in the construction of the policy from that as a major theme? Why do we not work on the business of diversity and difference? Why do we not work to our strengths? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, about the importance of maintaining our international relationships in all of this. Whatever we think of the Bush policy, the relationship of this country with the United States, with Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, with China, with India and across the world has huge potential for exercising influence in the Middle East. We are a prosperous country. We are struggling, reasonably successfully, with being a multicultural society. Why are these not being used as strengths in a diplomatic route into these matters. That is my first point.

As to my second point, I am even more concerned that a policy of a war on terror has led to military action. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, about the retreat of Israel from the Lebanon in 2000 were very interesting. Of course, what Israel left behind was Hezbollah even stronger than when it went in. Military action can be counter-productive; it can end up in exactly the opposite place to where it started. We sent our troops into Northern Ireland in 1969, where they were hugely greeted by the Catholic and nationalist populations. Two years later bombs and stones were being thrown at them and so on. We went into Iraq in April 2003. Six months later, more than 60 per cent of the population thought it right to attack the troops who had gone in.

To use military action as a route into sorting out these problems is deeply dangerous and counter-productive. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we will have to reconstruct the diplomatic tasks that the Foreign Office has traditionally done so well in the past. There is a huge task in front of us if we are to get out of this mess.

My Lords, despite it being only a fortnight since we discussed many of these issues after the gracious Speech, things have happened internationally in the mean time, and the contributions that we have heard throughout the debate today have all been important and have added to the information that we had before.

The central issues are not surprising. We have talked predominantly about Israel-Palestine, Israel-Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan and how we can develop the relationships with Iran and Syria. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, brought an important dimension to the debate that had not been picked up elsewhere—the question of Turkey. From these Benches, I support every word that he said. It surprised me that there has been no mention of the possibility of conflict in Iran, of the possibility of either US or Israeli action against Iran, or of the way in which Saudi-Iranian relations are going.

Most noble Lords made the point that all the problems are interconnected. Although the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, chose to separate them, I think that at the end he put them back together again. Certainly there is an interconnection between these problems, which cover a large geographical area. It is also an area full of natural resources, although we have not spoken a great deal about the wealth that is available but is so unevenly distributed. As King Abdullah of Jordan told us on 7 November, we do not have much time. He talked about there being a matter of months left in which to make progress. There is a real problem, in that the international community does not seem to be able to focus on more than one crisis at a time, yet things are moving in all these areas, as we have heard.

Like other noble Lords, I shall start with Iraq, particularly because it is an area in which we have a significant commitment. We also, as many noble Lords have said, have a deep responsibility there because we had a hand in causing the current situation and because of the levels of deaths and violence, the exodus of people and the lack of a clear strategy. We heard from the Minister today that things are relatively calm in all but four areas. We heard a similarly complacent introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on 20 November. The problems in Iraq are extraordinary. The bucolic pictures of progress that we hear from Ministers are impossible to reconcile with the reality. There were reports in a newspaper this weekend of a policy of murdering patients in hospitals if they belonged to the wrong group.

My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby referred to the problems of reconstruction. We know that electricity is still available only for a few hours a day in much of the country. We know of the fleeing of tens of thousands of professionals out of the country. The Minister told us the figures for how many people had gone back into Afghanistan; he did not tell us the figures for how many people are leaving Iraq. We have asked repeatedly over the past three years for objective data to be published on a regular basis so that we can see where there is progress and where there is a lack of progress, so that we can put the resources in the right place. There is no hope of a successful political development in Iraq if the Iraqi Government cannot, in the end, deliver any improvements in the day-to-day lives of their people.

I would love to have the time to debate with the noble Lord, Lord Soley, the appropriate ways in which interventions should be carried out. It is a complex issue, two aspects of which relate to how many allies you have with you and what chance you have of a successful outcome. I would say to those who supported the intervention in Iraq, which includes my noble friend Lord Jacobs, that they should do what I do and look every morning at the website This website collates media reports from Iraq of events over the past 24 hours. It is always sombre reading. The Saturday report included 91 killed and 43 injured in a triple car bomb attack in central Baghdad; an American soldier killed in Anbar province; three killed and seven wounded at a police checkpoint at a west Baghdad hospital; an interior ministry official gunned down in the east of the capital; two killed by a Katyusha rocket attack; and a soft drinks delivery driver and his colleague shot—and that is only the Baghdad section. It finishes with just one sentence:

“Police said they found 44 bodies in different parts of Baghdad”.

Lest noble Lords should think that I picked a particularly bad day, I rechecked the website this morning. Yesterday’s report has a similar sentence stating that the figure for yesterday was 50 bodies in Baghdad. I shall not weary your Lordships with the continuing litany of death and destruction for the other provinces, although the website gives the figures province by province, not only for the four provinces. I added it up to 196 dead reported in the Iraqi media in that 24-hour period. There were hardly any reports, of course, in our own media. We have grown bored of reading about the terror that we have brought to the Iraqi people.

We have heard many views today on what to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, reminded us, we hang on expecting Baker-Hamilton to pull a rabbit out of the hat tomorrow. We have also learnt that on 6 November Mr Rumsfeld was writing his memo of 21 proposals of how to cut and run without appearing to do so. Despite the Minister’s protestations, we know that the British Government have no influence on this US debate on strategy and as usual we must wait to find out what the US intends to do. I trust that we in this country will not have to wait too long to have a full investigation into the way we have handled Iraq. There are lessons to be learnt at every stage—from when we went in, to how we conducted the war, to what has happened subsequently. Those are lessons that we may need to apply if we come back to other interventions later.

Noble Lords have agreed that partition would be bad for Iraq, yet the endgame has not yet been played out. We have taken comfort from the apparent stability in the Kurdish northern region, yet there are worrying reports of growing tensions even there. Perhaps the Minister in his winding-up speech could share with us his assessment of developments in the north of Iraq. The battle for the central region including Baghdad seems to be being lost if the level of violence is the indicator. Even in the south, which is of direct interest to us in the UK as our forces are there, divisions are appearing between the Shia groups, and the role of Iran is of great concern. Add to all that this talk of Saudi Arabia readying itself to take sides against Iranian-backed Shias in Iraq and we have a picture of great instability. As many speakers have said, we need to talk to Iran and Syria. I welcome the proposals that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, gave us and what he said about the region having to have a real stake in, not just a single conference on, the way forward.

Then we turn to Afghanistan, the other country in which this nation has a direct military commitment. I spoke about reconstruction in our debate on 10 October, and we have had a series of opportunities to speak on NATO and Afghanistan in the past two months. As noble Lords will know, I do not accept the criticisms that have been generally voiced about NATO’s performance. We owe NATO quite a lot for the progress that has been made in Afghanistan.

On this occasion, I will deal briefly with only two aspects. The first is opium production. The Minister in his beautiful way said that the increase is “disappointing”. As my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby gave us the area statistics for increase of production, let me give another statistic. This is from the Washington Post of 2 December, which reported that the 2006 production of the crop has broken all previous records. In addition to a 26 per cent production increase over the past year, coming to a total of 5,644 metric tonnes, the area of land being cultivated grew by 61 per cent. In the areas that we are interested in—the two main production provinces of Helmand in the south-west and Uruzgan in central Afghanistan—production was up by 132 per cent. Does the Minister recognise these figures? Are these the ones that are disappointing? If so, what does it mean for our strategy?

We on these Benches support the analysis that Afghanistan is a direct security threat to the UK in two different ways: because the training of terrorists that al-Qaeda carried out in the past could be re-established; and because the country is a provider of heroin on the streets of Britain. But if we are losing the battle on that second half of the dual threat, what changes of policy do the British Government envisage? We have had some ideas from noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, highlighted the importance of alternative livelihoods, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, gave us a picture of the economic challenges and the way in which the economy might be developed.

The second question that I would like to draw to your Lordships’ attention is more difficult—whether we have adopted the most appropriate military strategy for stabilising the south and east of Afghanistan. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, spoke about the Canadian approach, but noble Lords might be interested in a very thoughtful report in the Toronto Globe and Mail this Saturday, which looked at techniques used by the Dutch in the very challenging Uruzgan province. The Dutch did a concerted hearts and minds operation with 1,400 troops. The commander described his approach as follows:

“It’s a strategy focused on supporting the local government rather than killing its supposed enemies, talking with the Taliban instead of fighting them, and treading carefully with an understanding of how little any foreigner knows about this untamed country”.

The Canadian reporter contrasted that with the more gung-ho—but certainly less successful in terms of casualties—approach adopted by the Canadians in the next-door province of Kandahar. There are lessons for our own approach here. As I have said before, the other Europeans have made progress over the last five years in Afghanistan because they have worked with the people at a slow pace—a pace that we could go at with the number of troops that we have. There are no easy military-style solutions.

I was very taken by the point that my noble friend Lady Williams made on the continuity of commanders. These are lessons that you learn on the ground. If by the time you have learnt them you get posted and someone else from another nation has to relearn them, there is no continuity in approach, which gives rise to dangers for us.

Before I leave the subject of Iraq and Afghanistan, I must comment on the special problem that the two very challenging operations give the British Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, spoke on this subject. I spoke about it in the Queen’s Speech debate as well. We all know that the defence planning assumptions have been exceeded not on a routine but on a continuous basis for the past seven years. Either those defence planning assumptions must be changed, which will involve additional resource costs because that is what they generate, or we reduce the tasks. We cannot carry on doing it in this way or we will end up with broken forces.

I would have liked to have spent some time on the situation in Iran, but I expect that we will be coming back to that as things develop. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire spoke wisely on how we should be handling Iran. I trust that we will not see any precipitate pre-emptive military action taking place there. But we also have to think of the implications for Iran and hence for Saudi Arabia if Iraq fragments, which may also lead to the possibility of conflict.

I turn finally to the Middle East peace process, Israel and its problems. We have had a rich debate on this, to which many noble Lords contributed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester spoke about the effect of checkpoints. Those of us who have worked in the West Bank and Gaza very rapidly came to understand how they generate anger. If that can happen in a short time, I do not know what it must like to be there all the time. The right reverend Prelate’s description of the situation around Rachel’s Tomb was important in terms of understanding the problems. The noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Judd, and my noble friends Lady Tonge and Lord Jacobs all spoke with passion from different perspectives. It is important that we have those different perspectives.

We have a very fragile peace at the moment. Indeed, it is a measure of how parlous the situation is that we take comfort from the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and the UN-monitored ceasefire between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel. Neither situation is stable or likely to be long-lasting unless progress is made in finding a way for this small but volatile region to live at peace. As King Abdullah told us, we are running out of time. As many noble Lords have said, Israel has managed by its actions to produce an elected Hamas Government as well as Hezbollah’s increasing power within Lebanon. Given the current scene, it looks set to get worse.

My noble friend Lord Wallace reminded us that reports over the weekend suggest that Saudi Arabia is ready to take a lead in brokering an Arab-Israeli peace deal based on the initiative of four years ago. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.

We have talked about the engagement of Syria and Iran. I was struck by the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Hylton. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, made clear the importance of engaging these nations. It appears that President Bush has no great interest in doing much more. He did not bother to do anything while he was in Jordan. We have to advance this, if necessary without America, until America is ready to help. The Oslo agreement was done without America kick-starting the process.

In an article in today’s Financial Times, Zbigniew Brzezinski says:

“The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia”.

That quote is equally true of the UK in its role as the unquestioning ally of the US.

Wherever we have looked across the Middle East and Afghanistan, it is clear that the long-term imposition of security by military means is impossible. The military, by making the rule of law possible, must be the facilitators of the more important political and economic development, whether in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq or Afghanistan. Too often the military operation becomes the central focus of attention, and quick military solutions lead to long and deep resentment which compounds the problems and makes peace more difficult. If the international community fails, we have the prospect of civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, and perhaps conflict within and between other parts of the region. That must not happen. I agree with the Minister’s caution in his opening speech: a failed strategy in the region will come back to haunt us in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, it is my great pleasure and privilege to respond to this debate on behalf of my colleagues. I consider it an honour to do so, but also a somewhat daunting challenge. It has been a typically outstanding debate. We would expect no less with such expertise in your Lordships’ House as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, in her masterly overview.

My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford opened with a characteristically forceful and important speech that covered Iraq and the Middle East. The situation in Iraq and other parts of the region, including Israel-Palestine, has been well covered by your Lordships. Events in Iraq were sadly in the news again this weekend. I do not intend to add much to what has been said so ably and eloquently by noble Lords. At this late hour I will concentrate primarily on reconstruction and Afghanistan, a nation I have discussed regularly in this House since 1994. I should declare an interest, as I have done many times, as patron of Afghan Mother and Child Rescue.

Many noble Lords emphasised how important it is that we do not forget the demanding challenges we face in Afghanistan. Just as the UN estimated that October saw the highest number of fatalities since the Iraq war began, so this year has been the most costly since the Afghan campaign began, with the awful figure of nearly 4,000 deaths, one-quarter of them civilians. Much impressive work, though, is being achieved in Afghanistan, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, told us. A democratically elected national assembly and provincial councils have been launched within the past 12 months, giving the country its first legitimate Government since 1973. A professional supreme court has recently been created. Significant improvements in infrastructure continue to take place, from road-building to irrigation projects and the hydropower stations completed in Ghor by Afghan Aid, a remarkable charity.

The United Nations Security Council has admitted, however, that progress this year has not been as rapid as hoped. Many development agencies are finding their reconstruction efforts increasingly vulnerable. Security is clearly a problem, especially in the southern provinces. Unfulfilled aid promises and depleting resources are also severely weakening those efforts and pose long-term problems that require long-term responses. Just as it was a disappointment to learn in Riga last week that the German, French, Italian and Spanish Governments would not commit troops to the areas of the country that most need them, so it is displeasing to hear of Governments reducing their development commitments to Afghanistan when there is still so much to be achieved.

We have heard interesting contributions from all around the House on the problems of security, especially in the knowledgeable speech from my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth. She also pointed out how the Foreign Office budget has been overtaken by DfID. In the debate on the gracious Speech I, too, mentioned that DfID now receives twice as much in funds as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does.

At the summit in Riga, NATO heads of state declared:

“There can be no security in Afghanistan without development, and no development without security”.

NATO must now recognise the importance of development for the enduring political and military success of its Afghan campaign. Less parochially and selfishly, we must justify our continued presence after five years to the local population. That requires visible evidence of reconstruction, through basic facilities such as fresh water—still denied to the majority of the population—renewed infrastructure or employment and education opportunities for both males and females.

We also support the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who in her informative speech stressed, as many others did, the need for better security and reconstruction, the plight of women and the furthering of microfinance facilities. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, put into context how vital—or, as he said, crucial—Turkey’s role and position is to our future. We on the Opposition Benches completely agree with him there. Time does not allow me to refer to all the speakers, but my noble friend Lord Blaker and many others asked the Minister to urge that there be discussion of the Baker study group’s report, which is due out tomorrow. Can the Minister press for that in the not-too-distant future?

It is very important that we actively encourage good governance in Afghanistan and local participation in development projects, particularly in the context of the resurgent Taliban and the influence exerted by the country’s drug barons. Let us look into creative ways of dealing with the opium problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, emphasised. The launch of democratic bodies across the country is a heartening start, but, as in Iraq, we should recognise that there is no short-term solution and no room for complacency after achieving an initial goal.

Government organisations in the country are still fragile and need our continued support and authority. Corruption is a continuing, widespread problem that threatens the credibility and popularity of the new Afghan Government. Few would disagree that we should target government officials who have links to drug money, showing the people that we are serious about both narcotics and corruption. Both the weakness of the local police force and the lack of effective rule of law urgently need to be addressed.

I shall finish on a more positive note, about the successes and potential successes of reconstruction. In the youngest age groups, a third of all schoolchildren are now girls. Joint international and Afghan programmes are providing more employment opportunities to the local population, of whom over a third are unemployed. Many roads and villages have been rebuilt from total ruin; we need to show unwavering commitment to these and other projects.

It is perhaps too optimistic to believe that visible success in reconstructing Afghanistan could help stimulate those in Iraq to pursue a similar goal, but it is certainly the least that the long-suffering Afghan people deserve. Economic insecurity and intense military activity over the past three decades have been aggravated by flooding and food shortages from severe drought. What is clear from today’s fascinating debate is that we cannot neglect Afghanistan now.

My Lords, the breadth and depth of today’s debate doubtless underlines the extent of the challenges that we face in bringing long-term peace and stability to the Middle East, to Iraq and to Afghanistan. The knowledge of the House has been brought to bear and I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for the great quality of their speeches, which were intellectually gripping and moving.

Noble Lords who have held the highest offices of state in the United Kingdom—or who have been responsible for the safety, security and representation of this country— know only too well how easy it is to offer grand visions for peace in the Middle East, but how much more difficult it is to find practical solutions that work. Ending conflict, building peace and expanding democracy and growth require decades of confidence-building, conciliation and commitment to succeed. That may be disappointing but there are no quick fixes. That is why we must focus our efforts on strengthening the political and military reach of the Iraqi Government of national unity so that they can take over that responsibility in their country. There will be no cut and run in Iraq. We must make sure that the distinctive task of supporting President Karzai’s Government in Afghanistan is achieved fully and properly with no cut and run. We must also encourage the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and their neighbours to move along the path of peace.

We need to understand fully the reminder of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that on occasion the price at which we bought stability was that of accepting co-operation with dictatorships. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, made a similar point. That tells us something about living in modern times. I appreciated very much the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, which, with that of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, demonstrated how the national origins of many of the countries with which we are dealing have thrown up complexities, resulting in cultural barriers which are hard to deal with. In trying to address what is needed, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, called for greater links between groups of countries that could, if they were so minded, unlock a helpful process. I refer to a possibly small but none the less helpful move. About an hour and a half ago Reuters reported that the Iraqi Prime Minister said that he was sending envoys immediately to neighbouring countries to seek co-operation on improving security in the area and that he would soon call a conference of regional states on the issue. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that conferences can be talking shops and may not work better than other measures, but I may return to that point.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Garden, addressed tactical and military questions. I shall deal briefly with some of them, as I wish to discuss many other issues as well. The tactics and procedures of British forces remain under constant review. They are adapted and refined in line with individual situations and circumstances as they evolve. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was right to say that the media give little credit to the significant role that the forces can play as they make those changes. Our forces have developed expertise, experience and best practice, which, as I said, is evolving, to deal with counter-insurgency, peace support and anti-terrorist operations. They do so with proper rules of engagement and carefully prescribed laws of armed conflict. Their behaviour is crucial to how we are perceived. Unlike insurgents and militias, our troops operate within that legal and moral constraint, which is as much a part of determining tactics as any of the military questions that arise. Courage, compassion and commitment are shown by all the service personnel. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, did us a great favour in describing realistically their readiness and capacity.

Are we overstretched? Our commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq take account of the changes in the requirements in each of those countries. We continually review our force levels in each theatre. I assure the House that the current levels are manageable and that they give the commanders what they need to do the job. The Armed Forces are, of course, heavily committed but the number of regular Armed Forces deployed on operations has decreased during the last year. I am told that the figure now stands at around 18 per cent overall. I do not deny that that is challenging, but I am told that commanders believe it is sustainable. I do not want to keep a single member of the Armed Forces in Iraq or elsewhere for a moment longer than is necessary. But we will not draw down those troops until we, our coalition partners and, in particular, the Iraqi and Afghan Governments are confident that those Governments are ready to take over. As I said, that is our sovereign choice; it is not in any sense imposed on us.

I shall say a few words about Israel and Palestine and the Middle East peace process. It cannot be said that we have no clear strategy for advancing the process. The Prime Minister has consistently made it clear that moving towards a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, as set out in the road map as a model, is the central plank for achieving peace. The Prime Minister has taken every opportunity to urge the United States to re-energise the peace process. In 2004, with strong support from the United Kingdom, President Bush committed himself to working towards that two-state solution—the first President of the United States to do so. I have emphasised, as has the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, quite rightly, the potential role for the EU. I count that as essential.

There has been a question about the Foreign Office and the conduct of foreign policy. I want to deal with the issue broadly. I will never argue against the Foreign Office getting more money or the Comprehensive Spending Review being more generous. Foreign policy is still developed in the Foreign Office, which may come as something of a surprise to one or two noble Lords. It would be a fiction to suggest that it is undertaken entirely by the Prime Minister. Of course the Prime Minister’s office and the Foreign Office work closely together. When, historically, was that not the case? The challenges and opportunities in the world today are truly global. Foreign policy is an integral part of domestic policy. Indeed, it is inconceivable that this or any future Prime Minister, of any party, could sit at the sidelines and not have foreign policy and its implications in their mind as they deal with matters.

I shall turn now to the vital points made during the debate, in the order of the speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, in a typically thoughtful contribution, argued that we needed to engage others without threats. I have some sympathy with that argument, but there is a difficulty with it. This is clearest when we look at a country such as Iran’s nuclear development, which is bound to be a matter for the United Nations Security Council. Iran has a great deal of historical pride, and we must respect that, but a balance must be struck between the effort to keep people within the camp of friends and ensuring that they do not take steps with which we could not live in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, made essentially the same point. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will accept the point I made. I hope I did not suggest that we needed a lot more regional conferences; I believe that we need rather more durable structures than that.

Despite what the noble Lord said, I believe that we make a genuine impact. I want to give one example. Diplomatic talks in recent weeks have undoubtedly convinced Syria that British foreign policy has been changing in a way that it should respond to. The visit to Damascus in October by Sir Nigel Sheinwald unquestionably made an impact on how that country considers reaching out to its neighbours. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made some very important points. I do not accept his point that deception led to the Iraq war. Four inquiries were held; they did not find that deception had taken place. There may well be disagreement over the wisdom of it; people are perfectly entitled to take that view.

I also do not accept the noble Lord’s view of Labour’s tradition of internationalism. I have always thought of myself—I hope not unfairly—as an internationalist. One of the things that internationalism taught me when I looked at Saddam Hussein’s regime is that internationalists cannot be quiescent when a dictator decides to wipe out the entire socialist part of his country, every active trade unionist he can lay his hands on, the Marsh Arabs and most of the Kurds. They all had to be protected in the final analysis, albeit too late for many of them.

In all of this, as my noble friend Lady Symons said, it is right that in moving forward in our international relations we do not set unreasonable preconditions. The same point has been made by a number of noble Lords. But internationalism does not simply mean that we are welded to the United Nations. On occasions, as my noble friend Lord Soley said, it means, as it did in Kosovo, that some independence must be exercised. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to Spain, France and Italy. Although their plan came as something of a surprise to the Palestinians, the Israelis and, I believe, everyone else, none the less it is well worth exploring, and we are not resistant to doing so. I conclude my response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, by saying that I agree with him 100 per cent that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism and it should not be characterised as such unless there is specific evidence of anti-Semitism in a free-standing way.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said that the dispute in the Middle East should not be allowed to drag on. I believe that we are major contributors to trying to deal with that continued violence and to ensuring that the Palestinian state, as it emerges, becomes economically viable. There are some fundamentals that probably do not have to be rehearsed in this House but I shall say them in brief, telegram form. The Israelis should not build on Palestinian land and they should not build their fence on Palestinian land; equally, they should not be subjected to rocket attacks in their beds at night. They have a right to defence, and even a fence if it is on their own land.

My noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean made some vital points and I hope that I can do them justice. It is crucial that in Afghanistan we create new livelihoods. Security is essential to doing so, and a number of NATO states are feeling their way towards that. They are all sovereign states and they have differences of view, but I agree with my noble friend that more engagement is essential.

I also agree with the points that she and others made about the role of women. Briefly, the FCO/DfID gender strategy for Afghanistan—it is available in the Library of the House of Commons and I should probably ensure that it is available in our House as well—remains the cornerstone of our approach. The priorities outlined and the objectives that we are funding include: promoting security and the rule of law for women; promoting women’s civil and political rights; and protecting women’s economic, social and cultural rights. Further, through the Global Opportunities Fund of the FCO, we are sponsoring a number of projects that are specifically designed to increase women’s access to justice; improve their living standards; promote equal participation in governance; create a professional network of women’s rights organisations; and promote access to information through the radio. I assure the House that that programme will continue vigorously.

There is a robust discussion with Syria, and I have just mentioned Sir Nigel Sheinwald’s mission there. In response to my noble friend and to a number of other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I can also say that I believe that, when the Baker-Hamilton report comes out, it will repay early study. I guess that we will be studying it at the end of this week. I cannot commit the House and its authorities to a discussion, but I find it a little hard to imagine that there will not be one. The Prime Minister is going back to the region very soon, and we are awaiting the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. We do not expect the study group to advocate sudden withdrawal but, if it does, we will not support it. A clear-cut view of our own will be put forward.

I understand the points that the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, made. I wish that people would go back and re-read John Reid’s statement because I believe that it has lost a little in translation. He said that he hoped that shots would not be fired in action. He also said that he did not anticipate too much good fortune. I think that John Reid usually says what he thinks in terms, and I suspect that re-reading what he said will repay the reader.

I turn to the balanced and, as ever, very honourable comments and questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. I thank her for her kindness to me. Being in Australia certainly had its attractions this evening, although I am not sure that the same could be said of keeping wicket. The reconstruction has plainly had its failures. It would be frivolous not to say so. Unemployment is plainly one of the driving forces of continued instability. The financial waste which appears in the Waxman report is very telling. Who could deny that? I am also concerned about rotation, although I am no expert on the speed of rotation of commanders and I shall not pretend to be.

I hope I am not complacent about narcotics. The call in this House is for greater imagination; consideration of the issues of acquiring the poppy crop and so on is very important. If corruption exists in those areas, it is important that it is attacked at the very top of any Government who are involved.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and other Members of the House—the noble Lords, Lord Wright, Lord Turnberg and Lord Jacobs—I commend the Olmert speech. I ask colleagues to read it if they have not done so. It contains a number of new options that can be taken up. I believe that President Abbas will do so. The United Kingdom will be consistent in the way in which it approaches those matters. It will be consistent on the wall, on the settlements and on Israel's right to exist peacefully.

The noble Lord, Lord Wright, brought great wisdom to the debate. I also thought that the speech of King Abdullah was very significant. The approach to the Palestinians has to be far fairer. Plainly that is one of the requirements. I do not believe that anyone should describe the election in the Palestinian territories as illegitimate in any way, but the responsibilities that come with election are also unavoidable. The new Government have to step away from violence; they have to recognise the right of Israel to exist; and they have to honour what their nation has signed up for. Those are not, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, put it, simply preconditions that might come out in a discussion. To my mind things can be done—things that can indicate the basis for a far greater confidence as other discussions go ahead.

Our approach to aid and the amelioration of suffering, also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, is very important. Aid is not everything, but it is very significant in the region at present. A just and lasting settlement, of course, is fundamental, which is why I have talked of mutual confidence. I am told that the FCO has sufficient resources and I intend to ensure that they are exploited to the last penny.

My noble friend Lord Judd made some vital points as well. We do not talk only with those to whom it is easy to talk; I can promise him that from day-to-day, first-hand experience. I also accept his proposition that military power alone will never deliver peace and security anywhere. Dealing with poverty is crucial in any conflict. Well focused aid, with long-term objectives, is vital in any conflict, including in the areas that my noble friend Lord Judd mentioned—education and health. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned the same point. However, in areas of conflict there has to be a force that is capable of creating enough stability for those kinds of hearts and minds campaigns and aid programmes to work.

On military hospitals and the answers that I and others have given on Selly Oak, I refer the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, to an answer which I hope is uncontentious. We want any of our personnel who are injured, wounded or ill to be treated with the very best medical resources and facilities available to them. I believe that those are overwhelmingly in the National Health Service.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, asked whether we have sovereignty over our Armed Forces in the present circumstances. The initiative is with us. We took a principled position, of our own volition, and we shall continue to do so. The circumstances on the ground will determine how the states in the region see matters and rebuilding states will make it easier. That is how we will be guided.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, made a number of vital points, some of which were also made by the noble Lord, Lord Luce. In my view, there also needs to be systematic regional organisation—more than a conference. There needs to be a serious evaluation of the prospects for doing that.

At one time some people believed that the African Union as a regional body looked impossible. It is still work in progress, but our expectations of it grow all the time because its impact grows and it is more effective. Regional bodies can have such a purpose. That is allied to the point that Europe must work much harder, with a dedicated role to do so, at the Middle East peace process.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, argued that prosperity often needs to precede democracy—I hope that I am not putting words into his mouth. As an economist I understand that important general proposition, but it is not universally true. The DRC and Mozambique—I could probably go through others—have managed to reverse that process. We have to take the gains where we can and marry them. Maybe that was also part of the force of what the noble Viscount said. We must persist and finish the job; he expressed absolutely the right sentiment.

I find it a little hard to accept the relativistic distinction that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made between the motivations of those who murder people in some numbers. Whether or not one takes that view, in dealing with many organisations that are committed to violence—the IRA was mentioned—it is vital to find out what people want if there is to be contact and negotiation with them. Usually it is expressed in terms of political power, distribution of resources, national or regional status. There has to be something about which a negotiation can be conducted. Al-Qaeda has never provided the smallest clue to any such objective on which a rational discussion could take place.

The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, with his customary brilliance, raised the question of Turkey. I completely agree with him, as did the noble Lord, Lord Garden. We should take the most positive role in negotiations. We launched that during our presidency, and I am proud of that. We must move toward full membership. I will take his vital message back to the FCO because I believe that that deliberation should help guide our work to secure Turkish membership of the EU.

I have a number of facts about the state of the Afghan economy, which I would love to tell the House, if I did not think that I would be trespassing too far in response to the questions posed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, but I will write to him, as the detail is worth having and I will place a copy of the letter in the Library. I have nothing on transport costs but I will look at that as well.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford called on us to build on diversity and to offer diplomatic routes using the most diverse channels. I have a good deal of sympathy with that proposition. Indeed, our relations with some Islamic countries have moved not backward but forward. In many respects, Pakistan is a good example, because it has seen that we are not hostile to Islam and not fundamentally unsympathetic.

The noble Lord, Lord Garden, presents me with a problem. I hope that he will not take it as ill spirited if I say candidly that he has no monopoly on the pain felt regarding the number of murders in Baghdad and Iraq. Many of us feel that strongly, and I do not believe that there is complacency in any of our souls. Iraq is horrific, but it is not all in the same state. On occasions we should give a little more credit to the Governments of countries and to provinces. His noble friend Lord Clement-Jones made that point about the Kurdish areas in the debate a couple of weeks ago.

It should not be too painful for any of us to acknowledge the achievements of other people in these difficult circumstances when there are achievements to acknowledge. I invite the House to ponder that. I do not believe that we have brought all this on the Iraqi people. I will not repeat my comments about Saddam Hussein’s regime.

In the southern areas, drugs are a difficult problem. I am sorry if my language was not as florid as might appeal to some noble Lords. Drugs are a very serious issue, but until we can get security into that part of the country, we will be in grave difficulty.

I greatly welcome what the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said in recognition of the progress that is being made, even if it has not been as fast as we would have all hoped for in Afghanistan. The role of the charities and the NGOs is invaluable. I feel the greatest admiration when I observe what they are able to achieve. The Governments across Europe must maintain their donor obligations. It is right that they should do so and it is absolutely right that security and development are utterly interdependent. Both have got to be taken seriously as part of our forward programme.

In conclusion, it is an enormously difficult area, but the comments that I have made about each of the countries—and I have placed the Middle East peace process at the centre of the debate because the Government and the Prime Minister do so—I hope have made it clear that there is no want of energy and no lack of perspective in driving this forward. As the King of Jordan said in the Robing Room of your Lordships’ House only a short while ago, this will be our most testing time. We have to rise to that challenge and we must do it with a good deal of, to coin the phrase, pessimism of the intellect and toughness in our thinking, but we must do it with more pessimism and more credit for those who are working with us to achieve it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at 9.06 pm.