House of Lords
Tuesday, 23 October 2007.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.
My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Sustainable Communities Act,
Greater London Authority Act,
Further Education and Training Act,
Building Societies (Funding) and Mutual Societies (Transfers) Act.
Terrorism: Charities and NGOs
My Lords, to help NGOs and the British public to take informed decisions on where to travel and work, the FCO provides advice on the threat from terrorism or hostilities, primarily through our travel advice and the Security for Information Service for Business Overseas—SISBO. This advice draws continuously from a wide variety of sources, including the local knowledge and experiences of the FCO’s posts overseas and intelligence sources. We also encourage NGOs to avail themselves of the UN and NGO security networks in the countries in which they work.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. In light of the continuing violence in Darfur and the even greater necessity for the unhindered and uninhibited delivery of humanitarian assistance, what are the Government doing to secure the full co-operation of the Sudanese Government in protecting British charities and NGOs from official interference?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to be concerned about the situation in Darfur, where there is a continuous loss of life among relief workers, as there is among the refugees more generally. There is also limited access to Darfur for humanitarian work because of this. I have, during my visit to Khartoum and Darfur, insisted to the Government in Khartoum that it is vital both that there is full access to all Darfur for British and other humanitarian workers and that they are safe when they travel. The NGOs are part of a network of NGOs that co-operates closely with the UN on security matters to try to give them as much protection as they can get in that dangerous place.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is in the nature of civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations while working abroad not to wish to be too closely associated with their home Government, and that it is therefore quite correct that the British Government should not lobby primarily on behalf of British NGOs but should work with other Governments so far as possible to help to promote security for all non-governmental organisations working in some of these dangerous areas?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct. We are careful to ensure that we speak on behalf of all international, and indeed Sudanese, NGOs. However, let me again draw attention to the fact that British NGOs are—God bless them—very active in Sudan, and are therefore particularly at risk.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us who was responsible for the killing on 17 October of three humanitarian workers working on behalf of the World Food Programme in Darfur to try to deliver food aid there? What does he say to the comment of the co-ordinator of the United Nations humanitarian affairs group that there was a 100 per cent increase in attacks on humanitarian aid workers in August and September? Given that at least 200,000 people have been killed there, 2 million people have been displaced, and 90 per cent of the villages have been razed to the ground, when will an effective peacekeeping operation be put into place in Darfur and Chad?
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me if I cannot speculate on exact responsibilities for the deaths of the WFP workers, but I will get back to him with what detail we have. More generally, the violence had receded for a period in Darfur—the statistics that he mentions of 2 million displaced and several hundred thousand dead largely refer to the period several years ago—but it has peaked again in recent weeks, admittedly at a lower level. We believe that that is in the run-up to the peace talks, which will begin on 27 October in Tripoli, Libya, as all sides try to maximise their control of territory in advance of those talks. The Prime Minister made it clear in the other House that the number one task of the Tripoli talks is to consider a ceasefire—and we hope that it will be achieved on the first day.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as chairman of an NGO called Merlin, which provides medical help in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, including Sudan and eastern Congo, where I was recently. Does the Minister agree that it is in the nature of many NGOs to operate in places where the FCO, important though its advice is, would strongly advise them not to go? In those circumstances, the crucial thing is that they are able to rely in particular on the United Nations and its organisations to help to co-ordinate the security that they need.
My Lords, the noble Lord puts me in a difficult position: it is hard for me to say that FCO advice is not always right. Like him, I have a background in NGOs and I know that sometimes its advice is to be taken and then ignored if you believe that the balance of risk is one that you as an organisation and an individual can bear on behalf of your sacred mission, which is to provide humanitarian relief to people who otherwise would not receive it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a difficult question, and I reserve the right to come back with a supplementary answer. This has been a problem for all international NGOs working in Russia, particularly in human rights and democracy building. Many of them have seen new restraint on their action and new law that she is well aware of, all of which is making their position increasingly difficult. We, like they, are fighting to preserve freedoms in Russia, particularly the freedom for international and Russian civil society to operate openly and to contribute to the political debate in that country.
My Lords, I was chairman of an NGO that had to pull out of one of the Latin American countries during an absolute crisis, when people were not safe at all. Will any thought be given at the meeting in Tripoli to whether it is possible that some kind of identification could be provided for NGO workers? It is accepted worldwide that a person wearing the red cross should be safe, although they are not always safe. Is equivalent thought being applied to something that would be acceptable for humanitarian NGOs?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is aware, and has implied in her question, that the red cross and, indeed, the blue flag and helmets of the United Nations, have increasingly—sadly—in recent years made them targets rather than protecting them. There is no doubt that when attacks on NGO workers occur, increasingly it is because people know perfectly well that they are humanitarian workers, and that, sadly, in the modern world has made them a political target rather than something to be protected because of their neutrality.
Civil Service: Retirement Age
My Lords, no one in the Civil Service is compelled to retire on age grounds before the age of 65. For the senior Civil Service the retirement age is 65. That is in line with the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations default retirement age. Departments set the retirement age for their staff below the senior Civil Service, but the Cabinet Office encourages them to adopt a no-retirement policy or to have plans to do so.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer, which is fine as far as it goes. However, there seems to be a laissez-faire attitude as regards government departments. Would it not be better for the Government to give a lead to all departments, and by implication to staff in this House as well, that there should be no retirement age for people in these positions? Why leave it to the whim of each department?
My Lords, we have sought to decentralise decision-taking in the Civil Service as its tasks vary enormously and the departments are best able to judge their own requirements. However, my noble friend is in danger of underestimating the progress made. There is no compulsory retirement age for more than half the civil servants below the senior civil servant grade.
My Lords, in view of the Government’s sensible policy that there should be a regular flow between the public and private sectors and the fact that retired senior civil servants frequently find remunerative employment in senior corporate positions, is there not a case for making even more effort to retain such expertise regardless of age?
My Lords, the noble Lord has a point, and these issues are still very much under consideration. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will review all these issues in 2011 and the whole of the Civil Service will come within the framework at that stage. As he will recognise, however, it is important for the authorities to be able to retain control over employment policy for those in senior Civil Service positions. But of course I recognise the validity of his point that some senior civil servants—not all but some—go on to posts elsewhere.
My Lords, is it not clear that medical progress has been expanding at a very great rate and that, over the next 10 years, it is likely that very large numbers of people will be well into their 90s and even older than that? As there will be such a big expansion in the number of people in this position, should the Government not be thinking about dealing with these aspects accordingly?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: those are the trends, and the Government are thinking very much along those lines. He will recognise the progress already being made, and we expect that progress to continue. As I indicated, 2011 is a significant date. It is when the department will look at the whole question of regulations on retirement age. We are moving in line with the trend that my noble friend rightly identified.
My Lords, did the Minister see the article in Monday’s Guardian which suggested that despite the Government's proposals to introduce a single equality Bill that covers the existing nine areas of discrimination, age discrimination was still not being taken as seriously as the other issues? Would he like to take this opportunity to deny that and to confirm what I think he has already indicated—that as all of us are living a lot longer, it is in all our interests, when we are healthy and so forth, for employers to keep our skills and expertise in practice for as long as both sides think it makes sense?
My Lords, I did have the benefit of seeing that article, which made a powerful case that age discrimination was the last area in which legislation did not obtain to control its impact. This House has a great interest in these issues, and I am pleased to reflect the obvious fact that the Government intend to introduce legislation to examine these issues in the near future. Work is being done on it. I have not the slightest doubt at all that this House will be a powerful voice for radical change in this area in recognition of this growing trend.
My Lords, I indicated that at least half the people employed in the Civil Service are not governed by a compulsory retirement age. We are gradually moving towards that degree of freedom of choice for older civil servants coming up to retirement age and that process is bound to continue. As I indicated, there is a significant date in 2011 when the Government will take a definitive stance on this question of retirement age.
Taxation: Business Taxes
My Lords, the UK economy continues its longest unbroken expansion on record with 60 consecutive quarters of growth. Building on this strong and stable economy, the Government are committed to continuing to create conditions that support business, encourage enterprise and attract domestic and foreign investment.
My Lords, the Government accept that there will be a fall in the rate of economic growth next year. Presumably, they are also aware of the general concern about our prospects as a country. In that light, is it not foolish on the Government’s part to depress the economy further by increasing the tax burden on business, especially by changing the capital gains tax regime in a way that will sap enterprise, discourage small businesses and take approximately £2 billion away from businesses over three years?
My Lords, the noble Lord ignores the fact that the Government are also cutting the corporation tax rate and reducing the impact on business. We ought not to talk our prospects down. Next year’s growth is not predicted to be at the same level as this year’s, but it will still be a healthy 2 per cent and reflect the fact that we will be one of the faster growing economies among the leading world economies. Therefore, there is strength and momentum in the economy for us to be confident about the immediate future.
My Lords, I declare a personal interest in the capital gains tax issue. I would not normally speak on it but it is too serious. Is my noble friend aware that our right honourable friend the Chancellor has made a serious mistake? As I am sure he is aware, before the Chancellor put his proposition to us, many small companies were floating on the AIM market to raise millions of pounds of capital to the benefit of the UK economy. That has been put in serious jeopardy by the proposals. I suggest that he ask the Chancellor to reconsider the issue with a view to deferring implementation to a new date to give time for the kind of widespread consultation that he obviously could not have had before announcing a major tax proposal. In that time, he might come up with a more beneficial and less damaging alternative.
My Lords, I hear my noble friend’s representation, which fits in with those made by significant leaders of business and enterprise in the country directly to the Chancellor yesterday in what was described on all sides as a cordial meeting. I do not accept for one moment that the Chancellor has made a mistake. However, business leaders are identifying areas in which support for enterprise could be encouraged by a government strategy additional to the ones we have in hand. The Chancellor indicated that he welcomed the opportunity of the meeting yesterday and that he would continue these consultations up until the presentation of his Budget in 2008.
My Lords, I shall pass over internal Labour grief and return to the Question. Does the Minister agree that it is always difficult to debate these matters with the Conservative Opposition when they never make detailed proposals other than with regard to inheritance tax? Does he also agree that he ought to show sympathy to both opposition parties at this stage of the electoral cycle in that whenever we bring forward detailed tax proposals, the Government pinch them and portray them as their own?
My Lords, the Government are always open to representations from whatever quarter. From time to time the Liberal party manages to make successful representations and should delight in that. The noble Lord might reflect on the fact that capital gains tax under the last Conservative Administration was set at 40 per cent without a taper. That the Conservatives are outraged that it is at 18 per cent at present suggests that they have short memories and little wisdom.
My Lords, we know that the Minister has a little trouble with OECD statistics, but he cannot have missed last week’s OECD report that Britain is now among the 10 most taxed countries in the OECD, and of course the overall tax burden is set to rise even further. When will the Government wake up to the fact that our declining tax competitiveness is going to drive more businesses away and therefore harm our long-term growth prospects?
My Lords, on the question of statistics, the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report placed the UK 10th out of 125 countries in its ranking of international business competitiveness. I want to reinforce a point that I was able to correct yesterday. The British economy is strong, with some of the lowest taxes in certain areas in the G7; it is below the average found among the noble Baroness’s chosen illustration, the OECD countries.
My Lords, while I understand the problem with capital gains tax, the noble Lord will be aware that there is another tax increase, on national insurance contributions, which will hit small business people and those earning between £34,500 and £40,000 a year. That will result in extra payments of £357 for small business people and £500 for employees. Is that not a grave disincentive and a stealth tax?
My Lords, it is not a stealth tax because it is all too obvious. The noble Lord should recognise that when it comes to the overall position on business taxation, the Chancellor has to balance the factors he has identified against other areas where the Government are concerned to help business. Further, the Chancellor made it absolutely clear yesterday that he was open to representations on the way in which we could safeguard the future of enterprise and business in this country, and I do not have the slightest doubt that that dialogue will continue.
My Lords, I sympathise with the Minister for his onerous afternoon of Questions, with three in a row, and I thank him for an Answer that did not actually say anything. Is it not the case that we can all now recognise that the size of the increases in house prices in the United Kingdom in the past 10 years—in all but the short term for some people—has been bad for the economy, bad for the efficiency of the housing market and particularly bad for those who have suffered from it, especially young and less affluent people who have not been able to afford to buy houses? Is the Minister aware of the comments made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, which were reported in the press last Thursday? The Chancellor criticised the companies that have been fuelling,
“an unsustainable boom in house prices through irresponsible lending”.
What will the Government do to make sure that, when the present dampening of the housing market is over, we do not have another series of unsustainable and irresponsible rises in house prices?
My Lords, rising house prices are not necessarily damaging for the economy—far from it. They produce very significant assets for families—and it should be recognised that family assets are 72 per cent above what they were in 1997 when this Government came to office—and therefore give householders the confidence with which to carry out their economic activity. The noble Lord will also recognise the high levels of employment that have obtained over that 10-year period. But of course he is right that we should be concerned about the affordability of housing, particularly for first-time buyers. That is why the Government are tackling the issue on both fronts, in the supply of housing by seeking to produce 46,000 extra houses per year under our new proposals, and by giving what assistance we can to first-time buyers in shared equity schemes and so on in order to tackle the problem of how people get on to the first rung of the housing ladder.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the first prerequisite for bringing down house prices is for supply to be increased to match demand as nearly as possible? Does he also agree that that in itself is unlikely to be sufficient? The wall of money that has come in through the buy-to-let scheme, now running at over £100 billion—lenders such as Northern Rock have been prominent in this—has inflated house prices and pushed out first-time buyers in a way that we have not seen for a long time. Does he agree that some burnt fingers may be required for those buy-to-let speculative investors before we see prices stabilise?
My Lords, the whole House recognises the noble Lord’s expertise in this area. I merely indicate to him that if the burning of fingers—if that is the right analogy—is required in order for lenders to recognise the undue risks that they may be taking, the Northern Rock episode is a most salutary illustration of that singeing. That is backed up, of course, by the fact that the Financial Services Authority is very concerned to identify where lending has been extravagant and unjustified and is seeking to bring pressure to bear on those who verge on the reckless. On the other front, the noble Lord is absolutely right that it is important that we should also tackle the issue of housing supply.
My Lords, the level of personal debt, much of which is secured on domestic property, is now nearly £1.4 trillion, which is larger than the UK’s GDP. What analysis have the Government carried out of the impact of falling house prices on household finances and therefore on consumer demand?
My Lords, of course the Government are concerned with that analysis, because it is a significant aspect of prediction with regard to the development of the economy. But even in this period of relative difficulty, house repossessions are less than half what they were in 1990. There is no indication that we are anywhere near a 15 per cent interest rate or high repossession rate. Therefore, the circumstances that led to the housing crash that occurred under the previous Administration in the late 1980s do not obtain today.
My Lords, perhaps I may take issue with the questioner, who referred to a heavily overpriced market. There can only be one price for the housing market and that is the current price. It is essential that there should be no panic. It may very well be that mortgagees are lending over and above 100 per cent of the real value but, nevertheless, one should keep a sense of proportion, because the market can bear those strains. Ultimately, demand will settle the level of price, and demand remains very high.
My Lords, the noble Lord’s remarks help to bring balance to the short discussion that we have had today. There is anxiety about the exposure of US lending authorities in the sub-prime market. I hasten to add that lending in Britain in the sub-prime category is half that in the United States, so we can anticipate that we will suffer nothing like the shock that the United States might face. The noble Lord is right about the general position with regard to supply and demand but, as we all know, where there is dissonance between the two, there can be some very unfortunate outcomes for households. At the present time, as the noble Lord indicated in a previous question, the demand of first-time buyers for housing needs to be met, because we recognise that our fellow citizens are facing difficulty.
UK Borders Bill
Read a third time.
Clause 16 [Conditional leave to enter or remain]:
1: Clause 16, page 10, line 32, after “condition” insert “, for which he must be provided with written reasons,”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 16 empowers the Secretary of State and his officials at the Border and Immigration Agency to impose residence and reporting conditions on any person whatever granted leave to enter or remain in the UK unless that grant is for an indefinite period. Those who could be subjected to these conditions in theory include refugees, international students, work permit holders, highly skilled migrants, tourists and other visitors, and family members of those who are already settled here.
Although none of these groups has been identified as a target, the potential was expressly conceded by the Government in Committee when the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office said:
“we have not named students with limited leave as one of the categories that we will apply the provisions to at this stage. However, the power is broad and we do not deny that these measures could cover anybody with limited leave”.—[Official Report, Commons, UK Borders Bill Committee, 13/3/07; col. 302.]
So hundreds of thousands of immigrants therefore face the possibility that they may be required to report monthly, weekly or even daily to an immigration officer, to reside at a specified address or to be present at that place of residence at particular times. This follows from the drafting of the clause, which leaves the purpose for and the circumstances in which the conditions may be set wholly at large. Such conditions might be highly intrusive with the potential to disrupt studies, work and other economic activity, and ordinary family and private life.
The clause does not explain what its true purpose is or why, if the limitations on its use in practice are to be those that were outlined by the Minister in Grand Committee, they could not have been written into the Bill. We know that the intention is to apply the conditions—initially, at any rate—to UASC and foreign prisoners, though not those covered by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill now in another place. Since the clause is far wider than that, however, there has to be accountability if and when it is used for other categories of person.
That is the immediate thrust of the amendment, but it also allows us to remind the Minister of the assurance he gave at the end of the debate on a previous amendment on conditions on 12 July in Grand Committee. He promised “something comprehensive” and said that the department,
“ought to be able to provide some sort of feedback through the LGA from local authorities about the desirability … of specialist local authorities”.—[Official Report, 12/7/07; col. GC 261.]
Noble Lords who are interested in children will remember that there was a consultation in progress on the Government’s planning for better outcomes and support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under which it was proposed that these children should be concentrated in 40 to 50 local authorities, with responsibility each for about 100 children, in four regions that were outside London and the south-east, where they are concentrated at the moment. However, in the Minister’s letter to me of 19 July following that session of Grand Committee, although he gave me a lot of information about the numbers of UASC and the need for better management of contact with them—and we hope the letter was useful to some of the agencies with which we shared it—he did not mention the specialist authorities. It was not until 18 September that he wrote again to say that the responses to the consultation, which were originally planned to be published at the end of August, had been delayed so that the Government could announce their decisions arising out of the consultation at the same time. The target date is now the end of November, which effectively prevents your Lordships from making any contribution, as we could otherwise have done to the debate on the treatment of UASC if the original timetable had not been scrapped.
At what point was the decision referred to in the letter of 19 July taken? It must have been before the end of August, so why were noble Lords not informed until three weeks later? Does the Minister not agree that his undertaking to provide feedback from the LGA on the specialist authorities idea—given in Grand Committee and therefore, I hope, equivalent to an undertaking given on the Floor of the House—should have been honoured irrespective of what was decided about the rest of the answers to the consultation? When a Minister says he will produce something in any debate and the information is available, does he have the right to delay the publication for three months on the grounds that he wants it to appear simultaneously with something else? As the Minister knows, we are sympathetic to the concept of the specialist authorities, and we can see that paragraph (v) will be necessary to make it work. That is why our amendment asks only for written reasons to be given for the reporting, not the residence, condition. If all the UASC were concentrated in the 40 to 50 authorities, contact management could be improved significantly, and should any child abscond or go missing the authority concerned should know about it immediately and inform the BIA accordingly without disrupting every child’s education and other activities by requiring him or her to attend the nearest BIA office. I beg to move
My Lords, written reasons are just about always desirable when a decision is taken that has a strong bearing on personal and individual liberty. The subject matter of this clause enables me to mention the subject matter of exceptional leave to remain. This used to be a large category of decisions in asylum cases but in recent years it has been squeezed almost out of existence. I say that having it in mind that many applicants probably do not deserve full refugee status. On the other hand they have a serious need for humanitarian protection; for example, because it will be impossible for them to return to their own country, or if not impossible, highly risky and dangerous, so I urge the Government to do whatever they can to make greater use of exceptional leave to remain.
My Lords, I am grateful, as I have been throughout the Bill’s passage, to both noble Lords who have just spoken. I pick up an implication in the early part of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in support of this amendment. Those at the sharp end of this whole system often experience it as one example after another of arbitrary, oppressive exercise of power. This amendment is one small contribution to lessening that experience and to ensuring that those at the basic levels who have considerable power over vulnerable people’s lives set out exactly why they are making this requirement or another. I hope that the House will accept the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who contributed to this short debate. I will set out our thinking on this issue as best I can and try to deal with some of the questions that have arisen in this and earlier discussions.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, tried to flush out more of the purpose of Clause 16. It is designed to allow the Border and Immigration Agency to monitor and maintain contact with certain individuals who have been granted limited leave to remain. That is its primary purpose. As I explained to noble Lords previously, we will grant leave with reporting conditions only where this is justified by a need for close monitoring of an individual.
We want to be able to apply the clause to former foreign national prisoners, who have been released from prison but who cannot be removed at present due to legal barriers. The need to monitor all such people with a view to their eventual removal is clearly in the public interest. I should have thought there would be common agreement on that point.
We also propose to apply the clause to certain young people under the age of 18 where it is considered there is a need to monitor them. Principally we aim to monitor all former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are granted limited leave to remain in the United Kingdom due to the lack of reception facilities in their home countries, but who nevertheless need to be prepared for return to their countries once they are old enough or the appropriate reception arrangements are in place. There is a clear need there.
Conditional leave may also be used to monitor young people given limited leave other than with their parent or legal guardian, who have not identified themselves to the welfare, health and education agencies but with whom we have reasons for wanting to stay in touch until we are satisfied that the child is being cared for properly. The provisions may also be used to monitor those young persons who have been in the care of local authorities but have since opted out of that care. Again, there are good reasons. I should like to reassure noble Lords that we would only apply the conditions reasonably. Our general duties in public law require us to use all our powers rationally and reasonably.
I have concerns regarding the amendment, particularly in relation to ensuring consistency with the way we currently manage foreign nationals with leave who are placed on similar conditions. There is no general legal duty to provide detailed written reasons in respect of decisions to impose the existing conditions on leave under Section 3(1) (c) of the 1971 Act. To introduce a new duty in these circumstances runs counter to existing practice. It is not necessary and could prove disproportionate.
We would set out in correspondence to the applicant the general principles which are applied when considering whether to place these conditions on leave. Separately, the specific reporting arrangements that are put in place for an individual placed on conditional leave will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. For example, in the case of reporting arrangements involving a former unaccompanied asylum-seeking child who was in care we would consider the resource implications for any local authority. We would aim to keep face-to-face reporting to a minimum and would use telephone or video contact where possible and practicable.
In addition, we will continue our discussions on this issue with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services during the implementation of this provision, and ensure that its views on frequency and the nature of reporting are taken into account when drawing up advice to BIA caseworkers on handling former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I believe that those are good reasons for adopting the approach that we have.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about the greater use of exceptional leave. Exceptional leave has now been replaced by humanitarian leave and discretionary leave, which are much more widely used. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked when this decision was made. I shall have to write to him because I do not have that information today and would like to give the matter further thought. I appreciate the noble Lord’s patience, but we try to ensure that we give timely responses, and give proper and appropriate advice on the development of policy. I apologise to the noble Lord for that.
My Lords, the noble Lord has gone some way towards satisfying us on this by saying that the Government would give reasons in writing, but that they would be of a general nature and would not be applied in the particular circumstances of the individual. At least, any person required to report to an immigration office under new Section 3(1)(c)(iv) of the Immigration Act 1971 would know the general background which led to this condition being imposed.
However, I am disappointed that the noble Lord could not say more in response to my request for information, which he had previously undertaken to give us, on the attitude of the LGA to the specialist authorities. That is critical to the residence conditions. If the 6,000-odd UASC are to be concentrated in 40 to 50 local authorities in specified regions outside London and the south-east, it would mean a major reform to the system. When UASC arrive, presumably, as we did with adult asylum seekers under the NASS system, they would be directed to a particular locality where the authority had spare capacity and is experienced in dealing with this group of young people. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be residency conditions for all UASC. When they reach their destination they will normally be in the care of the local authority and the local authority will have the prime responsibility for seeing that they remain in the accommodation provided for them, be it local authority accommodation or a foster home. They will break those responsibilities if they are not fully aware of the location of the children at any moment, and should have first knowledge of any child who absconds or, for one reason or another, is not residing in the place allocated to him.
We still consider that the prime duty should be laid on the local authorities, and that they are perfectly capable of telling the BIA when there is any breach of the residence conditions. We accept that close contact with UASC needs to be maintained for all the reasons given by the noble Lord. We have never opposed that project. We asked repeatedly for more information about how it was to operate; we are still waiting for that information. Obviously, I have to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but I regret that during this Bill we have not been able to have the thorough discussion that would have arisen if the original timetable had been adhered to, and responses to the consultation published on 30 August. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
2: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Detention of vulnerable asylum seekers
When the Secretary of State is considering whether to detain an asylum seeker who is a vulnerable person, he shall take into account the special needs of that asylum seeker and ensure compliance with Article 17 of Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27th January 2003 laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and the Asylum Seekers (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005 (S.I. 7/2005).”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Report the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gave me four separate assurances. He said that the Government intended to narrow the gap between policy and practice in deciding who was to be detained. He spoke of reviewing the guidance to staff. Amendment No. 2 gives him the opportunity to honour his words. It has the incidental merit of enshrining this year’s High Court decision of Mr Justice Wyn Williams in case CO/9745/2005.
The amendment also removes the worrying doubt about whether the assurances given by Ministers in both Houses over a long period have any meaning at all. We have all been repeatedly told that vulnerable people would not be detained, other than in the most exceptional circumstances. In practice, we find that it happens all too often without the least apology, let alone compensation.
Finally, my amendment removes doubt as to whether this country is complying with the relevant EU directive. Noble Lords will note that the directive lays down minimum European standards for the decent treatment of vulnerable people. My advice is that Britain has not opted out or derogated from this directive. I concede that it is likely that this amendment does not cover asylum applicants who have been rejected, or who have exhausted all rights to appeal. I am happy, however, that it protects bona fide applicants and those in the process of determination. We all agree that vulnerable people should not be detained, and that debatable cases should be verified at the earliest possible moment.
My amendment would do much to enhance the reputation of the Government and the credibility of Ministers. I urge the Government and the House to put it in the Bill. I have spoken to my amendment as concisely as I could, and I hope that subsequent speakers will amplify the case for it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend in his striving to improve standards for those seeking asylum. Sadly, we know that some economic migrants claim torture, but the tragic reality is that there are people who have undergone the most terrible types of torture, have suffered things that the rest of us are unable to imagine are possible, have suffered rape, are left extremely vulnerable and are broken. Many do not even make it to our country; they die in their place of origin or en route.
This country has a long history of taking in those who have been broken elsewhere by the cruelty and inhumanity of others. The amendment would impose a minimum standard of how we manage people who have already been broken, so that we do not break them further and break the last bit of humanity left in them. For that reason, I support my noble friend’s amendment. The European Community has made a stand, and we should reinforce it in the Bill.
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has returned to the subject of the detention of torture victims and other vulnerable people. Apart from other considerations, it enables me to clarify the purpose of Amendment No. 26, which we debated on Report. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that we are attempting to comply with Article 17; unfortunately lapses occur from time to time, which the BIA is doing its best to address. I take it that is government policy, and we need an assurance from the Minister that that is what they are trying to do. If that is the case, there is no reason why the Minister should object to including those words in the Bill.
I concede, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has just done, that not everyone who claims to be a torture victim or to have some other vulnerable characteristic, such as pregnancy, should be released solely on the basis of that claim. In the case of torture victims, there is a recognised procedure for notifying the caseholder of an allegation by letter under Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules. I have already expressed our thanks to the Minister for his letter of 9 October, in which he said that a central log of those letters has to be kept at every IRC, and that BIA staff have been reminded to acknowledge the letters and to take them into account in deciding whether detention should be maintained.
On Report, the Minister referred to “agency staff”, but it would be preferable for the duty to be laid on a specific individual who is responsible for that asylum seeker all the way through the process. I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on that point—that we do not lay the duty on the BIA as a whole but on the specific caseholder. On Report, the Minister said that the caseholder was required to acknowledge receipt of the Rule 35 letter and to do so promptly. He then added:
“It may be that the response to the doctor should go beyond a simple acknowledgement. The agency will look at the current guidance to see what more could be said, subject to any issue of confidentiality. For example, the response could indicate to the doctor whether the information about the claim of torture is already known to the BIA and has been considered or whether it is being considered as part of the individual’s asylum application”.—[Official Report, 11/10/07; col. 358.]
Of course, it ought not to be considered solely as part of the asylum application, because there is a specific duty to consider whether continued detention is justified in the case of torture victims, quite apart from the examination of the asylum claim itself.
The caseholder is the official who will recommend whether the person is to be released or is to continue to be detained; alternatively, he may decide that there is insufficient information in the Rule 35 letter to enable him to reach a decision. The Medical Foundation comment on the Yarl’s Wood inquiry report at the beginning of the month accused the Home Office of failing to act when told that a detainee had a history of torture, and it is with that in mind that I asked the BIA to go further than a simple acknowledgement. Perhaps the solution would be to invite an independent person such as Stephen Shaw to carry out a quick audit of the procedures, to see whether the review mentioned by the Minister had adequately addressed the criticism made by the chief inspector, who gets to examine particular IRCs only every few years. Her most recent report on Yarl’s Wood was over 18 months ago, so the situation may well have improved; I hope that it has.
However, the fact that, apart from torture survivors, other vulnerable people such as mothers with small babies are still being detained there is a cause for concern. The Rule 35 procedure should be extended to other categories of vulnerable people mentioned in Article 17, and responses should be similarly required from the caseholder. Since the doctor has to examine every person who comes into the IRC, it should not create much of an additional burden for either the doctor or the caseholder, particularly if, as we assume, the individual’s vulnerability has already been considered by the caseholder before the decision to detain was made.
The inquiry into procedures at Yarl’s Wood highlighted the IND’s failure to act when told of allegations of torture, a criticism that the Medical Foundation had been levelling at the Home Office for many months. The last report by the chief inspector, who had been the first to draw attention to the problem, related to February 2006. I would be grateful if the review that the noble Lord mentioned following that report could be placed in the Library of the House. I personally have not seen it, although maybe I have not done my homework properly.
Unfortunately, many vulnerable people are still being detained, such as mothers with small children, for whom Yarl’s Wood is a totally unsuitable environment. If the Minister wants first-hand evidence of that statement, from the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and other women’s organisations that gave stark evidence at a packed meeting in Committee Room 13 a few weeks ago, I would be ready to let him have it. My suggestion is that the Rule 35 procedure be extended from torture survivors to all other categories of vulnerable people. I hope that the Minister will consider that.
My Lords, we cannot let the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to get vulnerable people considered in this Bill go unremarked. Clearly, he has pursued this with great diligence all the way through our consideration of the Bill.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on the Immigration Service’s proper compliance with Article 17. There are clearly a number of things to do with that article, one being how it defines “vulnerable people”. Perhaps the Minister can elaborate on that. Although people who have suffered torture certainly form one aspect, and pregnant people are another, a whole host of people could be described as vulnerable. It would be interesting to know how many categories fall under that definition.
Could the Minister also give us just a little more information on which reporting mechanisms are in place to ensure compliance with the directive? The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just suggested that there be a reporting mechanism to the agency, but how do the Government and the Home Office pick up on the details there?
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I do not see any grounds whatever for objecting to the inclusion of Article 17, as the amendment suggests. Perhaps I may elaborate on what is included in Article 17. It states:
“Member States shall take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons such as minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, in the national legislation implementing the provisions of Chapter II relating to material reception conditions and health care”.
It adds that the paragraph,
“shall apply only to persons found to have special needs after an individual evaluation of their situation”.
I suggest that the Minister should be only too happy to accept the amendment, because it reinforces the general principle already stated in Article 17.
My Lords, that reading of Article 17 underlines a matter that we have discussed during earlier stages of the Bill. On the one hand, under the procedures laid down it is necessary that people coming into the asylum system—in particular, those coming into detention—should have the opportunity for the most careful medical examination, if they are vulnerable in any way; on the other hand, there is the experience that that is not happening in a significant number of cases. From what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has read out, my understanding is that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, would contribute at that point.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for tabling an amendment on this issue. He has been indefatigable in following up this matter and he made a brave effort to tempt me to accept the amendment; I congratulate him on that. Sadly, I think that I will ultimately frustrate him, although I hope that on the journey to that point he will be persuaded by what I have to say. He was right to remind your Lordships’ House that, as I said earlier, we are trying to ensure that we close the gap between our stated policy objectives and where we end up in practice, because it is practice that we are trying to affect. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, was right to remind us of the need to raise standards, because that is what we strive for—it is a noble objective—and we should have in the forefront of our minds at all times the need to do exactly that.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, tabled amendments on this subject in Grand Committee and on Report, when, he will accept, he widened his proposal to include pregnant women and those with serious health problems. I set out in detail during the debates on those earlier amendments why they were not acceptable to the Government. I intend to elaborate a little more, because I can see that there is a thirst in your Lordships’ House for more information.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to take account of and comply with Article 17 of the 2003 European Council directive on minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and the Asylum Seekers (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005 when considering whether to detain an asylum seeker who is a vulnerable person. Both Article 17 and the 2005 regulations are primarily concerned with support arrangements for asylum seekers and define a “vulnerable person” as a minor, a disabled person, an elderly person, a pregnant woman, a lone parent with a minor child, or a person who has been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, and who has had an individual evaluation of their situation that confirms their special needs. Those must then be taken into account in relation to material reception conditions, healthcare and in deciding whether to provide support.
Regulation 4 of the Asylum Seekers (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005 requires the Secretary of State to have regard to Article 17 when providing support or considering whether to provide support. Article 17 applies only to those persons found to have special needs after an individual evaluation of their case has been completed. The relevant regulation does not require the Secretary of State to carry out, or arrange for, an evaluation of a vulnerable person to determine his special needs.
To return to the specific question of detention, it is already the case that those persons defined as “vulnerable” by the reception directive and the 2005 regulations are subject to particular guidance in relation to whether or not they should be detained. They are already subject to that guidance, which makes it clear either that such persons should not be detained—unaccompanied minors, for example—or that the reason for their inclusion among those defined as “vulnerable” should be a factor arguing against detention, with a requirement that all factors arguing both for and against detention are considered. The latter position would, for example, apply to individuals with a history of torture.
Where it is decided that such individuals should be detained, their special needs are identified at the point of initial detention—or as soon as they become known thereafter—and are communicated to those responsible for their custody so that appropriate arrangements for their care may be put in place. For example, in the case of pregnant women, this would include access to midwives and health visitors or, in the case of a person with a disability, ensuring that appropriate facilities were available. Where information on an allegation of torture or some other factor that might argue against detention comes to light only after detention has been authorised, it will be passed to the agency so that consideration can be given to whether the person’s detention should continue.
I explained at some length during the earlier debates why we could not accept a blanket ban on the detention of individuals who are or who claim to be torture victims, or on other individuals such as pregnant women and those with physical or mental health problems. I will not repeat those arguments today, not least as the noble Lord appears to have changed his own approach to that issue. However, I reassure noble Lords that we already comply with Article 17 of the reception directive, as we are legally obliged to do. Furthermore, the 2005 regulations on reception conditions are concerned with the provision of support rather than detention. The amendment is therefore unnecessary, as what it seeks to achieve is already happening in practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked who was to respond to Rule 35 letters, on allegations of torture, from removal centre doctors. Case owners are clearly responsible for considering Rule 35 letters. The noble Lord also made a point about HMCIP criticism and asked whether there should be an independent review. HMCIP regularly inspects all removal centres and short-term holding facilities and therefore has ample opportunity to look at issues such as Rule 35 letters—and it does so often. He also asked whether we would publish the review into Rule 35 and the Detention Centre Rules. I can tell the House that the review will be a quick, informal exercise to see whether changes can be made to the existing content of responses to Rule 35 letters. The results, and any changes that might be made, will be included in published guidance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked for further elucidation, too, and asked whether the Government will ensure compliance with the 2003 directive. We are already required to comply with that directive, which is implemented through the Asylum Seekers (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005; so we are complying with it.
I think that that concludes consideration of most of the questions that were asked. I make the further point that cases are very carefully audited and we seek to ensure compliance through that audit process. That is another very important check, because the quality of decisions taken in the asylum process is very important. Senior caseworkers, who are embedded in the original asylum teams, currently order some 20 per cent of interviews and decisions with their teams, using a decision-quality assessment form jointly designed with the UNHCR, so there is a good deal of audit and quality processing. Those forms are collated by BIA, which looks for trends across the region. We believe that that form of monitoring provides us with valuable intelligence about the quality of caseworker decisions. Noble Lords who are concerned about this issue should take some comfort from that.
My Lords, I am not sure whether I did give the noble Baroness a response. The auditing process should pick up those issues. I will provide more information later, because setting this out this afternoon in the way in which the noble Baroness suggests involves quite a lot of detail. I would quite like to share that process with all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.
My Lords, may I press the Minister a little further about ensuring compliance and about the audits that he has described? Do these take account of reports coming in from other agencies, such as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture? Are they considered in these audits and audit reports?
My Lords, the Medical Foundation’s services are available to asylum seekers, and are very valuable. The foundation also provides medico-legal reports to support asylum seekers making asylum-seeking claims. It works on instruction from an applicant’s legal representative. Clearly, the sorts of things that the Medical Foundation provides to the BIA and so on help us to get a better feel for how the system is working and what its perfections and imperfections are. That provides us with very valuable intelligence to ensure that we are properly compliant.
My Lords, I thank all those who have either spoken in support of my amendment or commented on it. My noble friend Lady Finlay speaks with enormous authority, drawn from her distinguished medical experience. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has an unrivalled knowledge in your Lordships’ House of immigration and asylum matters. I particularly welcomed his suggestion that there should be an audit of the current procedures, particularly under Rule 35, of the detention and removal centres. That, of course, will affect matters only once a person has been detained. I suggest that it would be very much better to prevent them being detained in the first place. That, I think, was the intention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, to whom I am grateful for that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has just about satisfied me that the Government and the BIA are complying with the EU directive. Perhaps he will write to me subsequently to tell me whether I am right in thinking that the directive applies after an asylum decision has been taken. I agree with the noble Lord that it is vital to raise standards to ensure that official policy and actual practice are the same things. Having made those points, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 19 [Points-based applications: no new evidence on appeal]:
3: Clause 19, page 12, line 23, at end insert—
“(aa) was submitted no later than the notice of appeal was lodged in order to correct a mistake or misunderstanding at the time the application was made,”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, when the Minister confirmed in answer to my question on Report that a 28-day grace period would be provided in the Immigration Rules, thus allowing applications for renewal of leave to remain to be submitted within that period after the expiry of an existing leave to remain, I thought that it would take care of the mischief that we had identified. On further reflection I am afraid that it does not seem entirely to cover the matter.
As the Minister will recall, we are concerned about the person who submits an application in time which, through some mistake or misunderstanding either by that person or by his legal representatives, does not include an essential piece of evidence that is necessary to grant the extension sought. I thought that the Minister was saying that in those cases, after being refused because of an error or a missing piece of information, the person would be allowed to lodge a new application within the 28-day period that we were discussing.
I am now informed that the existing extra-statutory concession which the Minister said would be incorporated into the Immigration Rules allows for the application itself to be lodged within the extension time, but not for corrections to be submitted to a document bundle that has been properly lodged within the permitted leave to remain period. It therefore does not cover the examples we discussed in earlier stages of people such as students or work-permit holders whose original application was refused because of some mistake or misunderstanding in putting together the application itself or its supporting documentation, but which is out of time to correct the error in a new application.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on 18 July. She raised the particular case of a person who is refused as a result of producing in good faith a document containing a significant error. On that occasion the Minister said in his reply:
“Proposed new Section 85A(4)(c) allows evidence to be submitted at the appeal to rebut a decision by the BIA that a document is not genuine or is invalid … We would envisage evidence being produced by the applicant to correct that kind of clerical, typographical or administrative error. I think that it would fall within that exception. The interpretation is sufficiently broad to enable that to be the case”.—[Official Report, 18/7/07; col. GC 74.]
As I read the let-out in Clause 19(2), new evidence can be produced—I should be grateful if the Minister would pay attention to what I am saying, because I hope that I will have an answer from him. If he could defer his conversation with the noble Lord for a few minutes I would be extremely grateful.
As I read the let-out in Clause 19(2), new evidence can be produced only if it,
“is adduced to prove that a document is genuine or valid”,
whereas in the noble Baroness’s example, which I have just mentioned, the document was clearly invalid because of the errors. I respectfully ask the Minister to consider that his interpretation of proposed new Section 85A may not have been correct, because it does not allow the application to provide information that the original document failed to give in error or to expunge incorrect information that the document gave also in error.
The difficulty that both we and the Government seek to address is best achieved by adding to the list in proposed new Section 85A(4), as in our amendment, so that it is included in the Bill alongside the other rules on the circumstances in which the tribunal may consider new evidence. In many cases, that wording would allow the matter to be disposed of earlier than under the 28-day extension because, if there is an error of the kind that we are thinking about, the BIA would presumably spot it and refuse in good time for the applicant to correct it well before the 28-day limit. I beg to move.
My Lords, I made it clear at Report that I had a great deal of sympathy for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as I have for the one that he moved today. For a whole new application to be required because of a simple misunderstanding is counterproductive, and an appeal which must consider the facts presented in the original case is no way of ensuring that procedural errors can be rectified before final judgment is given. I hope that the Minister managed to hear most of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and is able to respond to them.
My Lords, most of the cases that come to my notice, where people request that I write to the Minister to ask him to use his discretion, involve mistakes and misunderstandings. Most asylum seekers’ first language is not English, and even when they have learned a little, they do not always get the correct advice. Our immigration advisers are not always competent in making sure that no mistakes are made or in understanding what has been said. The amendment would cure much of my correspondence with Ministers of State about misunderstandings and errors. If, as the noble Lord suggested, further evidence emerges within the notice of appeal that can help to provide correct information in cases which would otherwise be turned down because of incorrect information, my sense tells me that that would be the best way to proceed. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who contributed to the debate and to the noble Baroness for her reminder to address the issue. I shall try to do exactly that. I want to take noble Lords through how the process works and try to offer some measure of reassurance.
Clause 19 would ensure that in appeals brought against refusals of applications made under the points-based system, the appeals system considers the facts which led to the decision being appealed and will not be an opportunity for applicants to patch up failed applications with new evidence. That is the purpose of Clause 19.
The appeals system exists so that any errors made by the Border and Immigration Agency in considering an application can be corrected. The amendment would lead to it being used to correct errors made by the applicant in applying. That is not the purpose of the appeals system as it exists. The noble Lord is rightly concerned that migrants who make mistakes in their applications will be unduly penalised. I hope I can offer some reassurance when I say that the points-based-system application process will be much clearer than the existing one about the evidence that applicants must submit.
Applications under the points-based system will be made online, not through filling in long forms where the applicant has to identify the relevant boxes. The online system will guide applicants carefully through the process and signpost the way. Applicants will fill in a self-assessment form before making their formal application so that they know whether they are likely to qualify. When they complete the application online, they will indicate the categories in which they believe they qualify for points. The website will then tell them exactly what evidence they need to send to the BIA in order to prove that they qualify for the points. For example, if they claim points for having a degree, they will be told to send in their degree certificate. There will also be a call centre that they can phone if they are unclear. Therefore, there will be far less scope under the points-based system for migrants to send in the wrong evidence or to make the kind of mistakes that the noble Lord is concerned to prevent. Those who do make mistakes in their application despite the additional information and help that we will provide will have to make a new application. We do not believe that that is unreasonable, especially given the lengths to which we are going to make the requirements clear.
The Border and Immigration Agency will have to make a new decision on the new evidence and it is only fair that the applicant should pay the cost of the administration. Concerns have been raised that the applicant will not be able to make a second application if they make an innocent mistake. It has been suggested that, by the time the mistake has been identified, they will not have any leave and their applications will be out of time. If a person applies to extend their stay and they are applying after their leave has expired, it is correct that they would normally be refused. However, where their leave expired less than 28 days previously, the Immigration Rules will provide a grace period. By that I mean that a migrant who does not have leave to be here will still be able to have his or her application considered provided that his or her previous leave expires 28 or fewer days before they make the second application.
My Lords, this is the vital point. If the applicant had previously submitted a document that contained a clerical error and he has already been refused, is he, having had that application rejected, then entitled to submit a new application enclosing the correct documentation or correcting the error made in the form within 28 days after the expiry of his existing leave to remain?
My Lords, it is fair to say that assistance is given to applicants so that they can comply with the application process. Advice will be available to them to ensure that their application is not defaulted, as it were, because they do not have a full and ready command of the English language.
My Lords, that point, among many, seems critical. Can it really be that the noble Lord does not have friends whose first language is English and who are familiar with computers but who get into stews of one sort or another when faced with long documents and the need to press the right buttons at the right moment? Yet he and his department are putting a lot of faith in people, at a point when they are under great pressure, filling in forms correctly and getting all the things in the right boxes.
Does the noble Lord remember that the original White Paper had the word “fair” in it? The detail with which we are dealing here seems likely to be anything but fair, especially when, at point after point in the process of these last months, we have noted the significant extent to which there are real inadequacies in the provision of legal services at the right moment and around people having sufficient time with a lawyer—we have heard of people who have had perhaps a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes with one. We have heard about the real difficulties with translation services and with people getting to the right detention centre and so on. It seems extraordinary that, at point after point, the noble Lord and his predecessor have seemed utterly determined on this, as if there were brownie points for getting through one of these sittings without giving anything away. That is the impression with which I am left after sitting through hours of this process. I would like him to consider especially the presence of that word “fair”.
My last point concerns the consistent reiteration of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who unfortunately is not in his place today, of the effects on cohesion when people feel themselves constantly to be treated unfairly in the process. Their friends, relatives and compatriots receive an impression of an unfair and oppressive system.
My Lords, the reason for having a points-based system is to ensure that there is greater transparency—that is how I can best put it. As I explained earlier, applicants will have a much clearer idea of what is expected of them in making the application because the points-based system spells it out. On the issue of fairness, that is obviously the most important point.
We make every effort all the way through the process to ensure that applicants are not disadvantaged because of issues of language and understanding. Of course we expect the application to be completed in English, but we need to remember that we are talking about people who are coming here to work and study. In any event, those coming to do skilled work will need to speak the English language. However, advice and assistance are quite properly available so that applicants can deal with any difficulties that may arise in how the application works.
I had rather hoped that noble Lords would let me take them through the process. By following it, they may have a clearer idea of what we are trying to do with the new points-based system. I would argue that the proposed amendment will not work within the framework of the appeals system. It is designed to allow the Border and Immigration Agency to reconsider its decision at the point when a notice of appeal is lodged rather than when it is actually heard. Even if we had the resources to make new decisions without charging a second application fee, we would still find it impossible to make new decisions before the hearing. A notice of appeal is lodged directly with the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, not the Border and Immigration Agency. The tribunal lists the appeal for hearing 28 days from receipt of the notice of appeal. By the time the agency receives a notice of appeal, there is simply not enough time to make a new decision without causing other delays to the appeal system.
Finally, it is worth saying that there is a risk that if this amendment was adopted, everyone who wished to put in new evidence at the appeal stage would claim that they have made a mistake. We would not want to enter into complicated litigation over whether a mistake was made, whether it was inadvertent or whether the entire basis of the application had changed. However, this amendment would encourage exactly that. For those reasons, we believe that the amendment is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the success of the points-based system, which generally has been accepted as being a fairer means of making an assessment and coming to a conclusion.
I believe that there is an outstanding question from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He asked about the scope of Clause 19(2). If the BIA rejects a document as invalid or not genuine because of an administrative error, we believe that in most cases the exception in the relevant section will allow evidence to correct the error to be admitted, as it will be evidence that the document is valid. I hope that that answers the noble Lord’s point.
My Lords, the new subsection states clearly that new evidence can be considered only if it,
“is adduced to prove that a document is genuine or valid”.
We are considering a case where a document is manifestly not genuine or is invalid because of an error. It could be that the person has put the wrong piece of paper in the post or there is a clerical error on a particular form. It is the other way round from the circumstances described in the particular subsection I mentioned.
My Lords, I do not necessarily agree with the noble Lord. In most cases it will be acceptable. I understand the level of concern about this matter but we have a process here which should work better and which is fairer in the way it operates. I hope that I have answered the various points about fairness, language and access and so on. Those are important to this matter. We need to bear in mind the nature of the applicant that we are talking about.
My Lords, is the Minister asking the BIA to consider any old evidence that the applicant may submit at his own discretion, which he is for some reason pretending to be an error or omission? If the Minister says that it is not the purpose of the BIA to be punitive for applicants who patch up submissions that are incorrect, that means that it will be able to exercise discretion between cases where somebody submits a piece of evidence along the lines of our suggestion and those where somebody is simply trying to find a lever to reopen the case as a whole. I do not agree with the Minister that it would be difficult to make this distinction.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and to the most reverend Primate for the support that they have given the amendment. The most reverend Primate has emphasised that errors and misunderstandings inevitably occur—that is the case in any large system. Our experience—as his is—is that this occurs constantly in the immigration and asylum system.
I have no doubt that the points-based system will be clearer and that errors are going to be rare, but that does not mean that they will not occur. As I understand the Minister, the person will be able to complete all the questions online and—assuming all the information that he has given is correct and that he has not mis-keyed and typed an “I” where he meant a “7”—will then get a response from the system which is either favourable or not. In a sense, he is able to test the arithmetic of the application but not to verify that the documents to be submitted with the application—the noble Lord gave as an example a degree certificate—will satisfy the requirements. It is those cases—where there might be an error on the certificate from the university that he submits, for example—that we are anxious about, but we are not going to get any further with this matter this afternoon.
I express some gratitude to the Minister for at least saying—as I had originally thought—that if a person submits an incorrect application that is considered within time and the notice of refusal is served on the applicant, and if it turns out that refusal was based on some error or misunderstanding on his part, he will still be able to submit a fresh application within the 28-day grace period after his existing leave to remain has expired. That is not what the extra-statutory concession allows, but having the Minister’s assurance in Hansard will help to ensure that the final wording in the Immigration Rules satisfies what we had originally intended. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
Clause 21 [Children]:
4: Clause 21, page 13, line 31, after “shall” insert “—
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am not going to crow at this point, but the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester accused me earlier of not making any concessions. Here I am going to make a concession, and I make it as graciously as I can. I pay tribute to noble Lords on the Conservative Benches. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and her predecessor in this brief—the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay—both pressed me on this issue. We had a very constructive discussion on it on Report and I am grateful to all those who have helped us perfect the amendments.
The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, required that contractors providing services for the Border and Immigration Agency should have to follow the same code of practice on keeping children safe from harm as the BIA. I said at the time that the Government sympathised with the amendment and that they had inserted a section to that effect in the code of practice. We have now considered the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, and the two amendments to Clause 21 tabled by the Government have the same effect. Importantly, they also make the Border and Immigration Agency responsible for ensuring that those with whom it makes arrangements to provide services follow the code of practice. This is in contrast to it being simply the responsibility of the contractor alone. This now puts it beyond all doubt that those providing contracted services on behalf of the BIA have exactly the same responsibilities towards children as the Border and Immigration Agency’s own staff. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for listening to us on this issue. In an area as sensitive as the one we are dealing with, where the Government are relinquishing their responsibility into the hands of agents, it is right that those agents should have to conform to the same practices as other people.
I am grateful to the Minister for having taken the matter away and looked at it, and I am particularly grateful for the fact that it is now on the face of the Bill rather than only in the code of practice. We have not won on very much, so in thanking the Minister I will quit while we are winning on this one.
My Lords, we are also grateful to the Minister for one of only a handful of concessions that have been made by the Government all the way through the Bill. None the less, the amendment is welcome. I also thank him for his letter of 18 October following our discussion on the extension of the obligations in the code to private contractors.
When we first raised the issue, we pointed out that many of the existing contracts had years to run and we asked whether the obligations would apply to them as well. I do not wish to repeat the examples that I gave except to mention Yarl’s Wood, the IRC where there have been major concerns in the past. The management was awarded to a new contractor in the spring and we were informed that one of the first things it did was to get rid of some 50 members of staff. To an outside observer, it was not clear how this would result in better compliance with the obligations in the code. But if it is not to be applied to that new contractor—if it is only to be applied to existing contracts when they are renewed—it will have two and a half years in which to get its act together, which would take a lot of the gilt off the gingerbread of this clause.
We also hope that there will be a formal system of recording alleged breaches by contractors of the code of practice and of having them investigated, presumably by the BIA chief inspector, in collaboration with an appropriate independent agency such as the Children’s Commissioner.
I accept that the code should not apply to fostering of UASCs, as I had suggested previously, because those arrangements are made by the local authority rather than the BIA. They would therefore be subject to Section 11. That was not entirely clear from the Minister’s previous answer and I would be grateful if he would comment on it.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful that the Minister has brought forward this pair of amendments; I accept that it is some response. As the saying goes, one swallow does not make a summer, but I thank the Minister.
On Report and at earlier stages, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and many others asked the Minister a series of questions about the code of practice, the point at which it was issued and, in particular, its development from the form in which it appeared in whatever kind of a draft it was reported to be in. A fortnight on, it would be interesting to know how that process is going, when it will be available and when Members of the House who have taken an interest in it might be able to see it. The character of this code of practice and the extent to which it covered what it was thought it needed to cover was of considerable interest and some concern on Report.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister must think that today is his birthday, with everyone applauding his new amendment. I join those who are saying that they appreciate it. My only point with regard to the amendment is this: how is it possible to include those who have current contracts as well as those who will have contracts in the future, so that the code will apply to those involved in this work at present? If the Minister could reply to that, I would be very appreciative.
The greatest possible care for our children and young people has featured prominently in our debates. I do not think we will be voting on the Bill today, but it does not get our whole hearted support. It could have been so much better if we had looked at the problem of asylum seekers and at giving them some opportunity to earn a living, thus helping them to establish themselves rather than undermine our economy. We will still be sad about the most unacceptable Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act. Many organisations, especially those involved with children, will regret that it is still on the statute book and can in certain circumstances force people into destitution.
Some people ask what the Liberal Democrats are for. On this sort of Bill, you know exactly what we are for: civil liberties and humanitarian issues. I think it was Andrew Rawnsley who wrote in the Observer on Sunday that if we did not exist we would have to be invented. We are still here. I thank my colleague who has again led on the Bill, my noble friend Lord Avebury, for his considerable contribution over so many years. He won a by-election in 1962, and for 45 years since then he has battled on these humanitarian issues. It has been a great privilege to be able to share the Bill with him. He has had a noble and notable career that we should all applaud, particularly the most vulnerable in our society who have benefited from his campaigning over many years.
We are happy with this amendment, but sad that others have not been accepted which could have been so beneficial to so many people.
My Lords, I have missed out on quite a number of the goings-on in here, but I am surprised that the clause on children has no reference to the Children Act, which is one of the best pieces of legislation in the land. Why is Every Child Matters not forming the background to dealing with children of asylum seekers and immigrants? There is a sense in which the Bill, with its points system, is going in the right direction, but it surprises me that those wonderful pieces of work do not somehow have an echo within the Bill.
My Lords, I am going to take the responses to this amendment as a compliment. I have been accused of not giving too much away; if that is the case, I take that as a measure of success from the Government’s perspective. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for his observations. He tempted me with the question, “What are the Liberal Democrats for?”. I am not going to provide an answer from the Dispatch Box. With the current state of play, it would be too much of an open goal to punt towards.
I will try to respond to some of the points that have been made. As regards whether the code of practice can apply retrospectively, the advice that we have received is that it can be applied to existing contracts through the notice of change procedures already in place. We intend to ensure that the Border and Immigration Agency has a system of monitoring contractors’ performance by measuring them against a set of standards devised for the specific activities that they carry out for the agency. There is already a set of standards for activities involving families, but we will also consider whether new standards for children are needed when the code is formally introduced. Noble Lords should be reassured by that because it goes back to the issue that we discussed earlier about standards.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about private fostering. The draft code states that local authorities will be notified of private fostering arrangements, so there is ample scope for dialogue on that issue. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester invited me to comment on the current position with regard to the code of practice. We intend to issue a formal version for full public consultation. We are extremely grateful to noble Lords and to the various organisations that have contributed during its iteration for helping us to perfect a code which will be worthy of the name. We intend to involve children’s charities and NGOs in a further round of consultation. We fully recognise and appreciate the value of their work and their input in perfecting the way in which we perform.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York said that there was no reference in the code to the Children Act. As I said, we are consulting NGOs about incorporating some of the concepts and policy intentions behind the Children Act, including those in Every Child Matters. The consultation is directed less at the legislation itself than at its spirit, which we are trying to incorporate. That is the most important thing and is urgently needed. We need to ensure that we carry on raising the threshold and the standards. I am grateful to noble Lords for their generally supportive comments.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
5: Clause 21, page 13, line 31, at end insert “, and
(b) take appropriate steps to ensure that persons with whom it makes arrangements for the provision of services have regard to the code.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 60 [Extent]:
6: Clause 60, page 32, line 2, leave out “1 to 4,”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, despite discussion of this matter at previous stages, I make no apology for raising it again, because crucial uncertainties remain and require urgently to be clarified.
The amendment was incorrectly worded when it was tabled last week. I asked for it to be redrafted and the new wording was tabled yesterday. I hope that that did not inconvenience noble Lords too much, particularly the Minister and his advisers.
If accepted, the amendment would ensure that Clauses 1 to 4 extend to the whole of the United Kingdom, not just to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is important for the security of us all. If we are to have the protection of designated immigration officers who, if police are momentarily absent at the point of entry, can stop and search and, if need be, detain a suspect for up to three hours until a policeman arrives, we need it at every point of entry throughout the United Kingdom, not just at some entry points. That seems to me patently obvious.
This measure may be only an extra failsafe mechanism, but it is important. As your Lordships know, the Scottish Executive have until recently taken the view that at the seven main points of entry in Scotland the police are always present, so this failsafe mechanism is unnecessary north of the Border. However, during the passage of the Bill, it has emerged that, from time to time, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the police at these points are briefly absent. In any case, there are a number of vulnerable Scottish entry points beyond the seven already looked at by the Scottish Executive.
Despite the fact that immigration is not devolved, but is reserved to Westminster, the Government have decided to leave this matter to the Scots Parliament. Therefore, we come to the need for clarification. On Report, the Minister said:
“We have had no commitment as yet from the Executive to legislate on this area; they are considering whether they need to. Border controls are not devolved, but crime is a devolved matter”.—[Official Report, 9/10/07; col. 161.]
In the light of that statement, the clarification that I want to ask of the Minister is threefold. First, does the Scots Parliament have the power on its own to implement these measures at all? Secondly, in view of the legislative procedure there, if the Executive have the power and succeed in legislating, how long would it take until the whole United Kingdom is protected? The Law Society of Scotland points out that there could be quite a long delay—of some two years—because of that legislative process. Thirdly, what happens if the Scottish Executive have the power but, being a minority Administration, fail in their attempt to legislate?
I have given my questions to the noble Lord and I wonder whether he can answer them. In the light of those answers, how do the Government intend to fulfil their responsibility under the Scotland Act to protect the borders of the whole of the United Kingdom? Would it not save everyone a great deal of trouble if the Minister accepted this amendment to the Bill now? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. On Report—again, on 9 October, at col. 161—the Minister was very clear when he said that immigration officers are not a devolved matter. The other reassuring element that he emphasised is that the power of arrest for assault will be transferred to immigration officers throughout the United Kingdom. The Minister went on to try to explain:
“It is in the conferral of functions that police officers engage in a devolution issue, in the sense that they will act in Scotland to support the Immigration Service”.—[Official Report, 9/10/07; col. 161.]
That phrase skirts around the question; “a devolution issue” does not pin down for us whether it is a devolved issue or a reserved issue. However, so far so good; the police are to act in support of immigration officials, as they do now and, as this Bill seems to contend, they will do so for some long time. As my noble friend said, we have been led to believe that, with the best will in the world, the legislation will not be put forward before March 2009.
Unfortunately, it appears that we did not go into the fine detail of the powers required for immigration when we debated paragraph 7 of Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act. So it is all the more important that our discussion today should make the issue absolutely plain. When this provision was before the House, we looked at other aspects to which it applied. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, said:
“We fully accept the importance of ensuring that in all parts of the UK there is a common system to govern”.—[Official Report, 21/7/98; col. 869.]
In this case, she was referring to the import of illegal drugs, but perhaps the Minister can understand why some of us are puzzled about why the Government have had a change of heart when it comes to immigration officers.
We are told that the Scottish Parliament will legislate, but Clauses 1 to 4 deal with the powers of immigration officers, not those of the police. Can the Minister explain a little more about the mechanism that is proposed to achieve this transfer of powers in the Scottish context? I am sure that the Minister is aware that Section 29 of the Scotland Act says:
“An Act of the Scottish Parliament is not law so far as any provision of the Act is outside the legislative competence of the Parliament”.
Surely if the Scottish Parliament passed a Bill conveying the same powers as are in this Bill, further down the line a smart immigration lawyer will take an appeal, as is allowed under Section 102 of the Scotland Act, to “any court or tribunal” and contend that in this matter the Scottish Parliament is ultra vires. We will be back to calling on the supervisory powers of the Court of Session to try to sort it out.
The mischievous side of my nature says that if Scottish law is currently considered adequate to enforce our borders, what is so deficient in English law as to make Clauses 1 to 4 necessary? Of course, in principle, our party is anxious to see that our borders are regulated as properly as they can be. If any other route of allocating powers is used, surely it will mean that immigration officers will not have the same powers in Scotland as they have in the rest of the UK. The only way to guarantee that they have the same powers is to pass my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, my name is added to this amendment, in support of my noble friend. At this stage it would be extremely helpful if the Minister would clarify exactly how the Government intend to resolve the inconsistencies within the Bill, which change immigration procedures for half—or two-thirds—of the country, but not for the remainder. There has been, as the Minister may be aware, surprise and dissatisfaction among bodies in Scotland, because the Government do not appear to have acknowledged that they have only a minority in the Scottish Parliament and so cannot pronounce on what legislation it might or might not be able to pass.
The Scottish Law Society has pointed out that, whatever the results of the current review in Scotland, legislation takes time to be drafted, debated and implemented. A period of at least two years is likely to elapse before any significant legislation can be produced. In that time there will be differences between the Scottish immigration procedures and those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Both my noble friends Lady Carnegy of Lour and the Duke of Montrose have given clear explanations of what is now wrong with this Bill. Although this matter has been raised previously, the Minister now has chapter and verse on what is wrong with it and why the exclusion of Scotland from Clauses 1 to 4 will be so detrimental to the control of our borders. I very much hope that he will be able to give a satisfactory response.
My Lords, this is the third time that we have dealt with this matter. The noble Baroness has really put her finger on something that requires attention even at this 11th hour and 59th minute. As I understand it, under the extent clause, Clause 60, Clauses 1 to 4 apply only to England and Wales. Therefore, the powers of immigration officers in those clauses are not operative in Scotland. Because immigration is not a devolved matter, I invite the Minister to agree that extending those powers to Scotland could be done only by the United Kingdom Parliament and not by the Scottish Parliament, which is not enabled to legislate on the functions of immigration officers any more than it does any other immigration matters. Although it was originally said that it had been agreed between the Labour Party in England and its counterparts in Scotland that if the Labour Party had won the election in Scotland it would have introduced legislation in the Scottish Parliament, the Labour Party might have been advised, had it gone further down that road, that that was legally impossible.
We are confronted with a situation now where immigration officers have the powers in England and Wales to detain and search a person for up to three hours, pending the arrival of a police officer, but in Scotland they cannot do so. Yet, as we heard at earlier stages of the Bill, it may be even more necessary in some of the ports of entry in Scotland for that power to be exercised. There may be only one immigration officer—for example, in Shetland—and the police officer may be nowhere near the airport. I do not know what the immigration officer would do if he was confronted with a situation in which he would have exercised those powers had they been available to him, but he could not do so because the Act did not apply. If a police officer cannot be on the spot within the few minutes that it takes for the immigration officer to decide that a person ought to be detained—no doubt the person will abscond when he realises that this is the objective—it will be too late. The Minister needs to confront the situation and explain the long-term answer. Are we going to have to wait for further legislation in the United Kingdom Parliament before we can put this right?
My Lords, as ever, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, for her very subtle and well informed interventions in this Bill and in other Bills. She always makes useful and constructive contributions to our debates. I am grateful to her for providing me with a bit of time and advance knowledge of some of the questions that she has quite rightly and properly asked this afternoon. I know that she and the noble Duke have a keen interest in ensuring that there is no compromise in border security in Scotland as a result of the measures in the Bill, and I assure the House that the Government are more than equally committed to that objective.
The amendment would extend the provisions in Clauses 1 to 4 on detention at ports to Scotland. This matter has been aired in this House and in the other place on more than one occasion. Before dealing with the substance of the amendment, I stress that Clauses 1 to 4 do not change any arrangements for controlling immigration or for regulating our borders. Immigration officers in Scotland have the same immigration powers as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and the clauses do not alter that.
The provisions in this Bill, in substance, deal with criminal justice matters and not the control of immigration, which is, of course, a reserved matter. The Sewel convention states that the UK Parliament will not legislate in a devolved area without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. That is quite proper. The Government remain fully committed to respecting the devolution settlement.
We have discussed in some detail, during debates in Grand Committee and at Report stage, the detention at ports provisions and their non-application to Scotland. I am sorry that I have not yet been able to allay all the concerns expressed on this issue. In seeking to do so now, I will address the fact that, during our previous discussions, some of the debate—
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again. He said that it may be that the person who is detained has committed a criminal offence, but it may be that he has not and is just a suspect. Could the Minister answer the question of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose?
That is the point, my Lords; there may be many reasons for a detention. I would quite like to proceed through answering the questions. I want to address the fact that during our previous discussions the provisions in Clauses 1 to 4 were viewed by some as being a proxy in some way for the unified border force. They are not. Decisions on the shape and scope of the unified border force will be taken only once the Cabinet Secretary’s report is completed. The future roles of the police, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Border and Immigration Agency and other agencies—and their position within the unified border force, or in relation to it—will be addressed in that report, along with any considerations about changes to legislation.
I will explain why we do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that the amendment is necessary or appropriate. Although immigration is a reserved matter, the detention at ports power will be used by designated immigration officers at ports to allow for the detention of people pending the arrival of a constable. I stress again that this is not about border controls; immigration officers in Scotland will continue to have the full range of powers under immigration and, importantly, terrorism legislation.
Furthermore, these clauses do not concern the power of immigration officers to arrest individuals for immigration offences, or to arrest a person whom they have reasonably suspected of assaulting an immigration officer. All those powers apply in Scotland as they do in England and Wales. These powers are not for the reserved purposes of immigration or terrorism, but for the purpose of assisting the police for general policing. In Scotland that is a devolved matter. The rationale is that the border is a convenient pinch point for identifying those who may be liable to arrest. This power will assist the police in delivering that objective and will most likely impact on British citizens and EEA nationals as we increasingly merge police databases with immigration watch-lists under our e-borders programme.
As noble Lords will know, responsibility for policing is devolved to Scotland. It is for the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament, not the UK Parliament, to determine the level and type of policing in Scotland and how best to use resources, including whether to enlist the assistance of immigration officers in this way. On the introduction of this Bill, and following discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the previous Scottish Administration concluded that an alternative non-legislative approach was sufficient to deal with people liable to arrest. That involves the routine deployment of police officers at Scottish ports to deal with those identified as liable for arrest for non-immigration purposes.
I understand that the new Scottish Administration have given a commitment to review, in consultation with ACPOS and the Border and Immigration Agency, whether the support of immigration officers is necessary in Scotland and, if so, how any legislative solution should be taken forward. That is the Scottish Administration’s commitment to review.
My Lords, perhaps I may follow up what the noble Lord has been saying and try to get some clarification. Clause 2(6) states:
“Detention under this section shall be treated as detention under the Immigration Act 1971”.
Presumably that is a matter not of criminal justice but of immigration law.
My Lords, the clause to which the noble Duke refers, if I am following him correctly, deals with what the designated immigration officer may do. The designated immigration officer,
“must arrange for a constable to attend … may search the individual for, and retain … must retain anything found on a search”,
and so on. When the constable arrives, the designated immigration officer must,
“deliver to the constable the individual and anything retained on a search”.
That, as I explained, is the way in which it is anticipated the detention clause will operate.
Perhaps I may continue my response to the amendment. Until that review has been carried out a commitment to replicate the provision in Scotland cannot be given. If legislation is necessary, either the Scottish Parliament could introduce its own legislation or provisions could be brought forward in UK legislation following a legislative consent Motion. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I wish to pick up some of the other points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I have made it clear that the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate on the matter. That is what it has agreed to review. It is also our understanding that the legislative programme for the coming year in the Scottish Parliament is tight and further inclusions would need to be discussed and agreed by the First Minister and the First Minister’s Cabinet. I have also indicated that this is not the only option. Provisions could be brought forward in future UK legislation, again following the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Alternatively, the Scottish Executive may conclude that further legislation is not required.
As I said, the deployment of police resources at Scottish ports is a matter for the Scottish Executive and Scottish Parliament. I therefore cannot accept the amendment, because it would be improper to do so. The security of our ports is delivered by a number of agencies—government departments, port operators and the police. The Government take most seriously their responsibility for protecting the borders of all of the UK. That is why issues such as transport security, terrorism and allied matters are reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament in the interests of national security. There will be no compromise in the security of UK borders as a result of these provisions not applying to Scotland.
There was a question on immigration powers and so on. The powers are there for the use of custody officers, for use in detention facilities, and for escorting, but they do not affect the underlying purpose of detention, which is to act in support of the police service.
My Lords, can the Minister clarify a matter regarding Clause 2? Am I right in thinking that the purpose of the clause is to extend the powers of immigration officers as such not to immigration but to criminal justice? That would be clear from subsection (1), which gives the circumstances in which the immigration officer may exercise the powers conferred by Clause 2. That is a criminal justice matter. Is that right? On the point raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, on subsection (6), is this provision to regulate the detention of the suspect while the police arrive in relation to their criminal justice powers?
My Lords, I do not know what other noble Lords think but to my mind the Minister’s replies have to some extent muddied the waters. The previous Lord Advocate, who has just spoken, said one or two things which, I am sure, from his deep experience and skill as a lawyer, have clarified some points. I found it difficult to follow them and shall not try to respond to them.
The Government seem convinced that the Bill will extend to Scotland some functions of immigration officers that apply to criminal justice but not to immigration. That is difficult to understand. They are trying to enable these immigration officers to hold things up until the police come, to help frustrate someone who is trying to immigrate and should not. I take it that the Government have taken advice on that and are convinced. I just hope that they will continue to be convinced and that we shall not have, as someone said earlier, challenges to the law on this point. It is very difficult for a lay person to see that what the Government are saying is so, but one must accept that they have taken good legal advice and that it is correct.
The Minister did not give much encouragement on the length of time that the Scottish Parliament will take to plug the gap in the arrangements. He says that its programme is tight, and I am sure that it is. I expect that it has a fast-track system and that, if it does, it will be required to use it. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who said that half the United Kingdom is vulnerable if Scotland does not legislate quickly on the point. He is probably right: Scotland’s population is not half of the United Kingdom population but its coastline must constitute, if anything, more than half. The vulnerability must be very great before Scotland has legislated.
We have discussed this fully and given the Government every opportunity to see the problems. The Minister has been no more responsive to the questions on this matter than he has on many others. I hope that when the Home Secretary reads the debates on the Bill, particularly at this stage, she will look at what was said by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. They were very critical, but very politely, about the Home Office in relation to the Bill. I hope that the Home Secretary will read that with care. I do not blame the Minster here for not giving in; he has no power to do so and is told what to do by those at the other end of the building. However, we are rather shocked at the way in which the legislation is being dealt with, particularly as it affects vulnerable people.
I thank everybody who has spoken in the short debate on this amendment. I hope that the Government will not rue the day when they see the result of leaving things to the mercy of the Scots Parliament. I do not understand the argument that gives the Scots Parliament the power, but I hope that it is correct and that the Parliament will get on with it quickly. I am informed that it is now understood in Scotland what the Bill is about and that something has to be done. It is the whole of the United Kingdom’s safety that we are talking about, not just Scotland. It is with the greatest reluctance that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, I briefly make two points. I have given prior notice of them and am advised that they are within the restrictions imposed by the Companion. We have worked long and hard on the Bill, with extra time both in Grand Committee and on Report, but with precious little to show for all that effort. The chances of making significant improvements were reduced by the decision to parcel the Bill off to a Grand Committee, combined with the latest restrictions on amendments that can be moved at Third Reading. Although a Bill goes through six different stages in this House, in the circumstances of the Bill the main arguments can be brought to a vote only on Report. This may be all very well for some legislation, but it was clearly inappropriate in this case; so the procedure for sending Bills to Grand Committee needs to be reviewed, and consideration needs to be given to whether the latest restrictions on amendments at Third Reading should apply to Bills that do go to Grand Committee.
Secondly, in passing this Motion, the House is relying on codes of practice that deal with critical matters such as the safeguarding of children, which have been published only in draft, and on the many assurances given by the Minister about the way in which the Government are going to use the extensive powers that they are taking in secondary legislation. The Minister said that he would give thought to our suggestion that there should be pre-legislative scrutiny of some codes of practice, and I hope that the same reasoning can be applied to orders. The affirmative procedure, to be used for instance for biometric identity cards, does not provide adequate parliamentary oversight, and the more we hand over powers such as this, which have large implications for our civil liberties, the greater the need for pre-legislative scrutiny of controversial secondary legislation.
My Lords, I am sorry if there is a feeling in the House that the Bill has suffered in any way as a result of its Committee stage not being held on the Floor of the House. I disagree with the noble Lord. The quality of scrutiny in Grand Committee is in many ways as thorough as it can ever be on the Floor of the House, because a lot more time is given to very careful consideration and there is a much more iterative process. All Members, even sometimes passing trade, can participate and fully exploit the opportunity to ask the most detailed questions. It is perhaps worth reflecting just how much time we took in Grand Committee. We sat for six days, having allocated an additional day. More than 23 hours were spent on the Bill. In general, those who have participated will agree that the discussion was not only wide-ranging but profound and that the Bill has greatly benefited from that engagement. Although some of the comments made this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, have been adverse, when we discussed many of those issues in Grand Committee compliments were made about the thought and clarity and careful consideration that we in the Government were giving to those very difficult and sometimes very sensitive issues.
The Bill’s process was, of course, agreed through the usual channels. I understand that the noble Lord’s party was fully consulted and that, on its initiative, efforts were made to review the way in which the allocation was made. That is its entitlement, and it was quite right to exercise it. I am afraid that the Government do not get what they wish through the House of the Lords, as I and other noble Lords, particularly those who represent the Government as Ministers, have experienced on many occasions. That is the privilege of the House and the way in which it operates, and that is the way it should be.
There were 14 Committee sittings in the other place, of which four were public evidence sittings, so there was the opportunity to interrogate precisely on the childcare and other issues that have so exercised noble Lords. I also understand that the total amount of Committee time on the Bill was some 29 hours, and that Report in another place lasted four hours and 45 minutes. In your Lordships’ House, we had 23 hours in Grand Committee and a further 13 and three-quarter hours on Report. Noble Lords have detained your Lordships’ House this afternoon for a further two hours. Therefore, I argue that we have very thoroughly considered this Bill. While noble Lords might not like the outcome, we have given it a thorough going over.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he accept that the complaint is not so much about discussion and scrutiny as about the opportunity to have votes on important amendments?
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.
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, this debate comes at a busy time. London hosts several visitors from the Middle East and Afghanistan this week. President Karzai is here today, while Prime Minister Olmert of Israel and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey are also visiting to discuss the region. Even without such visitors to London, the Middle East is always with us. For better and sometimes for worse, the Middle East is constantly at the top of our agenda, because so many dossiers beyond those of traditional foreign policy alone that matter to us here in the UK—terrorism, crime, drugs and migration—have roots in the wider Middle East and, of course, in Afghanistan.
The debate today is sufficiently wide that I felt that I had no choice but to treat this opening intervention as a tour d’horizon, which perhaps can offer some points for subsequent interventions. I am honoured to share the debate with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, who will shortly move his Motion on the EU Committee’s report into the EU and the Middle East. The report is a valuable contribution, not just to today’s debate but to our wider thinking on how the EU should engage in the peace process as it gathers momentum.
I begin with Afghanistan, which I visited last week. Afghanistan is a key priority for us. The Afghans deeply appreciate, as I learnt first-hand, what we are doing in their country. But I must say that I came back from that visit more convinced than ever that Afghanistan—its Government and people—should lead the security and reconstruction effort. The more we are pushed into displacing them in that leadership role, the more counterproductive it is.
I saw last week that a great deal has been achieved in Afghanistan since 2001, including a constitution and presidential and parliamentary elections—the elements, if you like, of a functioning democracy. There has also been the return of 5 million refugees, major improvements in healthcare—82 per cent of people now have access to basic healthcare, compared to just 9 per cent in 2002—and improved life expectancy, education and provision of electricity. Perhaps more surprisingly still, the Afghan economy, which we rightly still think of as one of the poorest in the world, grew some 42 per cent between 2003 and 2006—a year-on-year growth of over 7 per cent. Even on some of the more difficult indicators, there have been improvements. The number of poppy-free provinces, for example, has increased from six in 2006 to 13 this year.
Some of these improvements—from health to reduction in poppy cultivation—are a direct result, at least in part, of the £500 million-worth of assistance provided by this country since 2002. But the successes remain fragile and dependent to a large extent on the security situation. I am afraid that in the southern province of Helmand, where I was a little under a week ago and where British forces are based, insurgency consistently impedes progress.
There is some welcome news about supplementing our security forces in the south, about which I have been asked in this Chamber before by noble Lords. Last week, the Slovakians announced that they will double their contribution in 2008, although it is—let me say quickly, before I am challenged on it—a modest contribution, and doubling it will bring it up to 100 troops. Also, France plans to redeploy six Mirage fighters from Dushanbe to Kandahar. That new proximity means that they should be more effective support to our operations.
However, opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, despite the number of poppy-free provinces, has risen for the second successive year, driven by a significant increase in cultivation in the south and, to a lesser extent, the east of the country. The total area under cultivation increased by 17 per cent this year. Cultivation in Helmand province has risen by 48 per cent following a 162 per cent rise in 2006. Today, Helmand is responsible for more than half the entire Afghan poppy crop.
Our new package of measures on counter-narcotics, which we announced on 9 August, is designed to reverse this trend. We are confident that our analysis shows a strong link between access to the rule of law, security and poppy cultivation. Where we are able to succeed in establishing a functioning state, a convincing rule of law and development alternatives for people, the rate of poppy cultivation comes down.
I come now to Iraq, where the number of our troops will be reduced to 4,500 by the end of this year and, if conditions allow, to 2,500 by spring next year. This is in line with our long-held strategy of handing over increasing responsibility to the Iraqi authorities as conditions and capabilities allow.
Progress has been made in Basra. The new Iraqi security chiefs there are making a real impact. Increasingly, Iraqi security forces are able to handle the incidents that have occurred, and the overall level of violence has dropped in recent months. There have been positive security achievements elsewhere in Iraq, too: in Baghdad, following the intensified Iraq-led security plan; and in Anbar, where local Iraqi leaders have shown commitment to working against al-Qaeda.
We continue to work in support of the Iraqis so that progress on the security front can be matched and sustained by progress on the political front, which is critical to long-term peace. At the leaders’ conference in August, the Iraqi leadership recommitted to the programme of national unity. We are pressing in particular for regular meetings of the Prime Minister and the Presidency Council to drive forward progress on national reconciliation, which, as one cannot overemphasise, is key to overall political progress in the country. Much depends on whether Iraqis will learn the art of compromise and concession to one another.
Iraq’s neighbours have a central role in supporting Iraq’s future. Issues such as refugees, security of borders and the security of fuel supplies have regional implications for everyone. Conversely, external support for militias and insurgent groups prolongs the violence and threat to Iraqi lives. We welcome the UN’s recent commitment to provide a secretariat for this regional initiative, but a critical factor for success will be the willingness of all Iraq’s neighbours, including Iran and Syria, to recognise that a secure, well functioning Iraq is in their interest.
The next of these neighbours’ meetings is in Istanbul. In the past few days, the Turks have faced unacceptable and deliberately provocative violence from the PKK operating out of Iraqi territory. I want to express our admiration for the restraint of the Turkish response. Turkey is right to seek a solution through dialogue and to focus, if possible, on the long-term gains that a secure neighbourhood would bring.
Iraq continues to face acute economic and infrastructure problems. By April next year, we will have spent nearly £750 million on reconstruction. At the beginning of this month, the Prime Minister announced an additional £90 million to create employment and improve infrastructure in southern Iraq. That will provide more than 1 million people with water and power. The southern province, and the city of Basra, is a key region to raise oil revenue. Growth in this region should take hold more quickly and, we hope, act as a multiplier for the country as a whole.
I welcome the increasing international commitment to Iraq. The UN hosted a constructive high-level meeting on Iraq in September, at which I was present. Having participated as a UN official in earlier such meetings, I can record that there is a slow warming of the ice between Iraq and its neighbours. Indeed, other countries are starting to be more active in terms of support to Iraq.
My Lords, will the noble Lord say something about the progress in dealing with corruption? There is no point in spending huge sums of money if they dribble away into the wrong hands. I am thinking particularly of oil theft, which appears to go on the whole time, and continuing reports of money going astray.
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an enormously important point. As the international financial institutions become more active in Iraq, it has been possible to improve some of the measures and accountabilities for the use of funds. However, I suggest to the noble Lord that there are two primary routes to the corruption in Iraq. The first is the continued insecurity, which allows people to steal oil from pipelines; that would not happen in a country that was well policed and could protect its pipelines against these kinds of actions. The second is the continuing sense of instability that the Iraqi political class has about its survivability. I have always found that, when a regime is not certain about how long it will last, that is the moment when it is most tempted to filter resources into its own accounts and to provide a retirement fund in case government officials are forced to go into exile. Therefore, I argue that the best way in which to combat corruption is first to ensure security, secondly to convince Iraqis that democracy is here to stay and that Iraqi politicians have a long-term future in the country, and thirdly to improve the arrangements of international audit and accountability for funds. I acknowledge that progress on all three is not fully satisfactory.
Earlier this month, EU Foreign Ministers committed to enhancing their political engagement with Iraq and its neighbours, which is another sign of growing support for the Government in Iraq. As the Prime Minister has argued in another place, our role in Basra has changed and is moving increasingly towards support for Iraqi authorities. This is a tribute to the determination and dedication of our troops and civilian personnel from the MoD, DfID and the FCO, both British and Iraqi.
I will now say a word about Iran. While Turkey has shown great fortitude in its response to provocation from the PKK within Iraq and while Saudi Arabia is working constructively with Arab colleagues, even towards opening an embassy in Baghdad, I am afraid that I cannot report such healthy collaboration from Iran. Iran is quite simply not a good neighbour. Despite an apparently clear strategic interest on the Iranian side in the success of both Prime Minister Maliki’s Government in Iraq and Prime Minister Karzai’s Government in Afghanistan, both of whom enjoy good relations with Tehran, elements of the Iranian regime remain that just cannot help themselves. They are illegally smuggling arms and supporting extremism and violence, and targeting American and British troops in both countries, as well as playing a similar role in Lebanon.
Within Iran itself, the human rights situation is fast deteriorating. In the past 12 months, the authorities have closed reformist newspapers, arrested journalists and editors and confiscated satellite dishes, while websites and blogs have been blocked. Large numbers of teachers, women’s rights activists and students have been arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. This seems to be part of a clampdown by the system on all forms of organised progress. Let me take just one example, that of Mansour Osanloo. He is a trade unionist, the president of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. He has been arrested several times, first in December 2005, when he was detained without trial for seven months, and most recently in July this year. The charges against him are unclear, but trade unions are illegal in Iran. Osanloo has been arrested and imprisoned for being, it seems, just a peaceful trade unionist. He has not been allowed proper access to legal assistance or medical treatment to save his eyesight, which was damaged following injuries that he sustained at the hands of the security forces in May 2005.
Iran is one of the very few countries that still executes juveniles, in violation of its obligations under international conventions. Iran also continues, as I think we are all aware, to violate UN resolutions on its nuclear programme. Mr Larijani’s resignation over the weekend from the Supreme National Security Council in his role as nuclear negotiator has provoked a new round of speculation and concern. We have always insisted that Iran has the right to civil nuclear power, but not to start a regional arms race. In the next months, we expect a new Security Council resolution and discussion within the EU on new sanctions. If Iran continues to defy international demands and refuses to bring its programme into compliance with the demands of the Security Council and the IAEA, there will indeed be further sanctions.
As I have said before in this House, let me assure noble Lords that we are committed to solving these issues through diplomatic means. Iran needs to stop moving further into international isolation. We need to draw Iran back into becoming a responsible regional leader and international player, but that will not be achieved as long as Iran feels able to fuel violence in its neighbourhood and develop an illegal nuclear capability.
I shall say a word about the Middle East peace process, which will be discussed at Annapolis in the coming weeks, followed by a major donor conference in December. Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have appointed negotiating teams and have met fortnightly through the summer. These meetings provide the best opportunity since 2001 to make progress. As the Prime Minister said on 8 October, we cannot achieve what we want in the wider region without progress on Israeli/Palestinian issues. For the sake of time, I will not go further on this issue now, not least in the expectation that noble Lords will wish to return to it during the debate.
A few weeks ago, this Government published their proposals for an economic road map to underpin the peace process—a programme for rebuilding the Palestinian economy and for reducing the high levels of unemployment and poverty among the Palestinian people. Economic development remains a key part of building a constituency for peace and of course the quartet envoy, the former Prime Minister, remains hugely active in support of that agenda. We are providing humanitarian support to Gaza, the West Bank and the Occupied Palestinian Territories at this time. But both parties need to act to establish a just and lasting peace. Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel continue, but equally settlement activity and the construction of the barrier threaten the viability of a future Palestinian state.
Again, I will leave a fuller commentary on Lebanon until later in the debate, but I just note at this point that the key upcoming event is the presidential election due in November, on which many of our hopes for future stability in that country now rest.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive such a rapid tour of this troubled region, but I hope that at least, perhaps in its mistakes as much as in its claims, it will provide a stimulus for the debate to follow. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan.—(Lord Malloch-Brown.)
My Lords, we are grateful to the Government and to the Minister for promoting this debate at a time when the issues under discussion are very much in need of close examination. As the Minister says, it is a massive canvas and it is very hard to do full justice to all aspects of the Middle East and Afghanistan—and indeed the report we are going to discuss—in one speech or one debate.
We are extremely fortunate that we are going to have the opportunity of hearing two maiden speeches in this debate, to which I am greatly looking forward. The first is going to come from my noble friend Lady Warsi who, despite her youth—I hope that does not sound too old from an older man—is hugely experienced in community relations and particularly in the position of women in the war theatres and uglier regions of the world. That matter requires very close attention, which she will give. She is also an expert on racial justice work and will bring very good first-hand experience to our debates. We look forward to that very much.
Later on we will have a second maiden speech from my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones, who is well known to many of us. She was extremely senior in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as political director and was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. I have never been too sure what joints that joint committee was joining but, along with her other past activities, that gives her enormous experience in these areas to share with us. Intelligence and security are central to our national interest and concerns. I look forward to that as well.
I would like to take the subjects in not quite the same order as the Minister. I will begin with Iraq and the threat of Turkish invasion, which are parts of the same issue—the future integrity and survival of Iraq as a nation and, we hope, as a democracy.
Iraqi Kurdistan is already a semi-autonomous part of that nation. Turkey has been remarkably relaxed about the emergence of Iraqi Kurdistan as almost a separate concern within Iraq. The PKK invasion and the threat of a separate Turkish Kurdish state is of course a different matter and a deadly threat to Turkish stability. We must understand that while caution and calls for restraint all round are completely understandable and indeed essential, so too is Turkish anger at—as the Minister says—the highly provocative attacks by the PKK. The problem is this: if neither the Kurds nor Baghdad have any kind of control—or even concede that they should have any control—over the PKK strongholds and the Kandil hill mountain areas, then the Turkish case for doing something is very strong and we can see the point of view of the Turkish leadership and parliament. There is also an interesting debate going on about the legality of it all. If the sovereign power—which is Iraq, with Kurdistan within it—concedes that its writ does not run in the Kandil mountains, is Turkey acting legally if it is to go over the border? It would be valuable to have a comment from the Minister—maybe supported by some legal advice—at the end of this debate.
That is the unnerving position that is developing there. It raises the broader question which all of us dread, which is that it could be a move by an outside power to enter the Iraqi melange and could lead to dangerous pressures for Iraqi break-up, which none of us wants. I certainly do not. We will debate our own position in Iraq again and again in the coming months and some of my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Attlee, will look at the detailed military aspects.
I find the Operation Overwatch timetable—to 4,500 and then 2,500 in the spring—a little worrying, quite aside from the slightly odd way in which it all was announced by the Prime Minister. There is a saying in our phrase-book: “Get in or get out”. The plan now seems to be to go down in the spring to two battle groups. If one of those battle groups is out helping the Iraqis to train or is on the borders, can the other hold the Basra airport encampment if there is a sudden upsurge of extreme and highly populous violence? I do not want to be too fanciful, but our history is unfortunately marked by a number of instances when a brave British outpost was undermanned and over-run, even by more primitive people. We can think of Gordon of Khartoum—no pun intended—and Isandlwana where that terrible thing happened.
Can the Minister tell me if there is some discontent in Washington with our plans, or are people happy there? We get completely different versions. We are certainly discontented with some of the American procedures in Iraq in recent years. A lot of fingers have been pointed at some of the mistakes made by the American Administration—and by the Americans themselves. I hope that the Miliband mission to Washington that I read about in the papers this morning will clarify things and smooth relations, but I hope it will not be at the cost of being subservient on either Iraq and how we handle it or Iran and how that should be handled. I will come to that point in a moment.
We remain in favour of an independent inquiry into the Iraq saga at the appropriate time to help us see what went wrong, how to put it right and how to apply the lessons elsewhere.
I now come to the Israel-Palestine issue, which some people describe as the key issue, saying that if we can solve Israel-Palestine everything in the Middle East will be sweetness and light. I do not believe that. There are many other long-standing disputes and dangers related to the rise of militant Islam and so on, and those will not disappear if we can get some miraculous advance between Israel and Palestine. The Arab-Israel dispute is certainly the poison in the well and it may be about to get much worse. It links with many other issues such as south Lebanon, the Syrian position and—again—Iran’s role in supporting Hezbollah, Hamas or anything else.
The Minister reminds us that the Annapolis conference is coming up. The conference rooms are all booked. Does the Minister feel that this heralds a change of the whole US policy and approach? Some people may be too hopeful in thinking that it does. Obviously the long-term goal is clear: a permanent peace based on UN Resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, and on the Madrid principles, the Saudi Arabian peace initiative, the quartet road map and a thousand other efforts. That is where we want to go. Obviously one conference alone cannot possibly achieve this: it could not begin to do so, even if we had had slightly happier vibes and reactions from the leading participants before the conference even began. That is why I agree with the US Israel Policy Forum—a very interesting body striking a new note in American attitudes to Israel—that the meeting must be one of a series which must be inclusive, produce substantive moves and concessions and have a real impact on the many imperilled and miserable lives of people living in Gaza and the West Bank. It is imperative to avoid the danger of it being all process and no substance, which we have seen too often in the past.
As I said, the mood in the USA may be changing, especially given the enlightened Jewish opinion which argues that the clear aim must be two independent sovereign states—I know Mr Bush has said that, but other voices are now giving him additional support—and genuine homelands respectively for the Jewish and the Palestinian people. There must be borders based on 1967, maybe with one or two negotiated changes; a just solution to the refugee problem; agreement on Jerusalem; and, above all, a freeze on settlement expansion—that cannot go on.
Tony Blair and his mission can indeed play a key part in all this because the embryo Palestinian state, which is not yet really in existence, is not only bisected by settlements but economically destitute. A huge international programme of revival needs to be marshalled and I hope that the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, will concentrate on that. Certainly he should be supported. That is where he should put his efforts rather than giving Manichaean lectures in America on good and evil. That is what he can do and where his talents can be best applied.
The Annapolis conference and, I hope, its successors need to embrace a wide number of Arab states. It is essential that Condoleezza Rice, with all her travels, persuades the Saudis and the Syrians to get on board, which she has not yet done. The position of Hamas is difficult but, if there is a second conference, that is the point where it could be invited as well. It cannot be excluded in the end, and the quartet and the Americans are going to have to face up to that.
Some of these issues are covered in the EU Committee report, which the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will introduce in a moment. I look forward to hearing what he is going to say. At first reading—I can be persuaded otherwise—the report seems more about the role of the EU than the actual detailed working plans, step by step, of the way in which to move forward. That is in contrast to the American ideas which I have been talking about.
The report brings home to me just how incoherent and unstructured the EU foreign policy role is and, I am afraid, is bound to be. It would be nice if it could be otherwise. Despite brave calls for a more active and imaginative role for the EU, which we all want, somehow it never happens. The same goes in regard to the lack of integration in EU aid policy, which, sadly, has a long history of failure. We should certainly co-ordinate with our European neighbours, or those who are willing, in all kinds of detailed and intimate ways, but we should be cautious about submerging our own unique roles and skills contribution too far into the EU system.
The report strikes me as a warning in this House against seeing too many of our international aims through the EU prism nowadays, and perhaps points to a restructuring and modernising of our own committee system in the new global context, taking special cognisance of our invaluable membership of the growingly powerful Commonwealth network. I should like to hear what your Lordships, and particularly the experienced chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, think about that rumination.
The Minister spoke with great authority on Afghanistan, where he has just been. We all know that this is proving a far tougher nut to crack than earlier hopes implied, as every historian warned us and most of us predicted. We on this side want to hear a great deal more about the overall strategy if we are to accept that yet more troops are going into Afghanistan; we want to know whether the Canadians and Dutch are now pulling out; we want to know what can be done to unify commands effectively; and, above all, we want to know what more can be done—the Minister has spoken about it—to address the narcotics and poppy issues squarely and offer the farmers something better, not deprive them or turn them to the Taliban. The question has to be asked again: why does not the UN or some grouping of nations buy out the whole crop for medicinal purposes? I was surprised to hear the Minister say in one sentence—although he later changed it—that the cultivation had been reduced. In fact, as he went on to say, it has been rising miserably fast. It is a problem that we are not on top of, and it is getting worse at vast expense. Our policy has to change.
The options are narrowing on Iran. Even Mr Putin seems to be losing patience with Tehran. There are fresh ways of turning the screw—Mr Sarkozy has been airing some of them—and those who say that it is either sanctions or a resort to force are giving a false dichotomy; there are options between those two courses of action. Sanctions may be necessary to curb the drift into a military nuclear pattern from a civil nuclear pattern, but we know that China and Russia are never going to come on board and support full UN trade sanctions even if these could be made to work, which many noble Lords said last week they doubted.
Financial sanctions and maybe cyber-sanctions are another matter. Further checks on doing business with Iranian banks or banks connected with Iran could well do a lot more to deepen the divisions in a deeply divided society, which Iran is. The mullahs are cross that they are not getting dollars for their oil, and the young people are clearly fed up with the rule of the mullahs. As I said, the French Government seem to have new zest and ideas on these subjects. Mr Larijani has resigned yet, oddly, turned up at the meetings in Rome. Clearly a lot of internal forces are working against the absolute unified hard line of Iran as a troublemaker, which the Minister mentioned. The one man who could certainly unite Iran is Mr Cheney in Washington, along with his friends. If they decide on an all-out attack, that will consolidate Mr Ahmadinejad’s rule like nothing else.
We want to be friends with the United States in dealing with these terrible problems, but it is a friendship that is rather difficult to maintain. In too many areas, from legal irritants over extradition up to issues such as Guantanamo, Washington seems insufficiently prepared to listen. We all want to see the return of the genial and generous Uncle Sam of the past, but that is not what the world is currently being offered. United States leaders speak of American dominance, but dominance is not the answer. Exporting a simplistic version of democracy, to be delivered by overwhelming force if the medicine is not taken, is not a policy and will not work. I liked the article in the Economist the other day reminding us that democracy is a very loose term and that we should refine it by thinking less in terms of mass ballots, automatic elections, Jeffersonian models or Westminster models and more in terms of the rule of law, open and public discussion and a public-spiritedness in the conduct of affairs. It is a concept which needs careful handling, and nations which believe they can carry it all before them waving the banner of democracy are not going to get very far.
Above all, our American allies have to face the fact, as we do in Europe, that power has shifted to Asia in all these matters. The answer to many of the Middle East problems may well lie as much today in Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo and Moscow as it does in Washington or Brussels. Why do I say that? Because they are the regions with not only the economic power but the political power. They are the regions with the capital and savings generated in enormous quantities, while we—especially the Americans and our own country—are the regions and nations of debt. So they produce the money and we borrow it, and the power tends to lie with those who lend and not those who borrow. That applies as much in the Middle East as elsewhere.
Our national interest is to recognise where the new power lies and to work as closely with it as we can. Our history and skills make us well equipped to do so, and the sooner our foreign policy and the present foreign policy of each Government recognise these realities, the better.
My Lords, today’s debate on the Middle East and Afghanistan is my first opportunity to contribute as a defence spokesperson since I was a defence procurement Minister in the other place over 20 years ago. I am recalled to the colours following the very sad, almost brutal death of our dear colleague, Tim, Lord Garden. He entered your Lordships’ House following a distinguished military career, and his military experience and opinions carried huge respect here and beyond. I come after Tim, but in no way can I say I follow him. We all miss him greatly, no one more so than my noble friend Lady Garden, who is with us today.
My Lords, I would like the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to know that noble Lords on all Benches were enormously respectful of the work done by Lord Garden. I am still an active member of the group he established on non-proliferation, which does essential work. He was diligent about having an excellent range of speakers on that issue, and we very much regret his passing. We hope that in due course the noble Baroness will be able to take an active part in our proceedings.
My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful for the comments of the two noble Lords.
When, at the Ministry of Defence in the early to mid-1980s, I was involved in privatising the Royal Ordnance factories and contractorising the dockyards, the official Opposition at that stage was led by a certain new Labour Member of Parliament called Gordon Brown. My ministerial colleague at that stage, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, visited Rosyth to spell out the benefits of our contractorisation policy. Sadly, if I remember correctly, his ministerial car received a severe rocking, but the men of Lerwick are built of stern stuff and the noble Lord survived. I am delighted to see him in the Chamber today.
I intend to focus my comments primarily on the defence aspects of Afghanistan, although of course the widely held view, as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is that the failure to solve the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians lies at the historical heart of so many regional conflicts and terrorism issues. My noble friend Lord Wallace will be talking about the Middle East and its wider dimension later on.
Sometimes I think that, were instructors at staff colleges to create a mythical country posing the most difficult challenge to our forces, it would have many of the characteristics of Afghanistan today: a large inhospitable landmass with extreme temperatures; a complex tribal population; 90 per cent of the world’s opium production, with all the corruption that goes with that; borders virtually impossible to police, with pursuit over them barred; above all, a country that has defeated and devoured invading foreign armies over the centuries. Our forces in Afghanistan today are being asked to undertake a task somewhere between one fraught with extreme difficulty and a nightmare. That they have achieved so much is a tribute to their training, their character and their bravery, but are we asking them to achieve the “Mission: Impossible”, given their limited numbers and resources?
I am delighted that our military chiefs, politicians across the political divide, the British Legion and the media are now campaigning for greater recognition of what our Armed Forces do for us, for better accommodation, for better medical and psychological support for the wounded and for a better financial package for those service personnel and/or their families following serious injury or death. But all that is for another day’s debate.
In the defence policy debate in the other place last week, the Secretary of State, Des Browne, attempted to put the most favourable interpretation on events. To be fair, there have been real achievements: 40,000-plus Afghan troops trained; 4.8 million refugees returned home; 83 per cent of the population having access to medical facilities, as the Minister referred to; 5 million children in education; and Afghanistan close to becoming self-sufficient in food production. Virtually parallel with that, however, we have a Chatham House publication entitled Coalition Warfare in Afghanistan: Burden-sharing or Disunity?, which paints a very different picture:
“Western forces’ success in fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and in achieving a satisfactory level of security throughout Afghanistan remains limited … The coalition’s internal cohesion regarding the … Afghanistan operation is becoming increasingly fragile … The coalition forces’ comprehensive approach towards stability and reconstruction operations remains an elusive concept”.
“The conflict has increasingly become a regional one … As long as parts of Pakistan serve as a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, coalition forces will not be able to control Afghanistan”.
We expected so much from our allies. Western forces in Afghanistan amount to approximately 50,000, plus potentially a similar number of Afghan forces. Using a formula based on population and landmass, the US forces’ counterinsurgency manual estimates that a force of 400,000 to 600,000 is required to pacify a country like Afghanistan. Too many NATO countries are just not pulling their weight. We have the ludicrous example, quoted in the aforementioned Chatham House paper, of reconnaissance data collected by German Tornado aircraft under ISAF being denied to the more combat-oriented US-led Operation Enduring Freedom mission. All this with Brigadier John Lorimer, the commander of British forces in southern Helmand province, telling us that troops face a marathon mission lasting decades.
It must be heart-wrenching for our valiant forces to conquer positions and seize territory, only to know that lack of numbers means that those gains cannot be properly held and are likely to have to be retaken. That is intolerable. Thankfully, there has been an improvement in equipment, vehicle protection and helicopter numbers, from a slow start. The dominant problem, however, is a major shortage of troops on the ground. With Afghanistan, we are talking about a country the size of France.
In drawing my remarks to a close, I have four specific questions for the Minister. First, can he foresee a serious increase in troop levels from either ourselves or our allies? Secondly, do Her Majesty’s Government favour the appointment of an Allied supremo to whom the Karzai Government could relate, rather than the current multiplicity of military and civilian chiefs, often with divergent missions? Thirdly, what exactly is our policy on opium production? And, fourthly, given that our Apache helicopters have to be used for escort duties as well as combat roles, what are the implications for the rest of our Apache fleet back in the UK?
Few can doubt that the uncertainty and concern that reign in Afghanistan today are compounded by a regional backdrop of anxiety: the unresolved Israeli/Palestinian issue, the turmoil in Pakistan, possible Turkish action in Iraq, the re-arming of Hezbollah and the rising militias in Lebanon and, above all, concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its role as the quartermaster of insurgency. It is difficult to be other than pessimistic and very worried at this time.
My Lords, I thank the usual channels for including in this debate the Motion in my name. The report from the European Union Committee that we are considering was prepared by its Sub-Committee C, which I chair, and I am grateful to the members of the sub-committee—four of whom will be taking part later in this debate and may also have things to say about our report—and to our staff for the hard work they have put in to prepare it. It is an attempt—this takes up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford—to discover what value added the European Union provides for its member states in approaching the Middle East peace process as well as trying to find out what further measures could now be taken.
The sub-committee is very grateful to those who gave evidence to us, particularly Dr Solana, the High Representative for the CFSP in Brussels, and Dr Howells, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We are also grateful to the Government for sending us their reply last week, and for the kind remarks that the Minister made in his introduction today. Some points in the government response showed that they did not fully share our approach, and I will return to these.
The sub-committee had completed taking evidence and virtually completed the report when—as we make clear in chapter six—the growing hostilities in Gaza and the West Bank between Fatah and Hamas and the takeover of Gaza by Hamas militias led to the dismissal of the National Unity Government and the declaration of a state of emergency by President Mahmoud Abbas. While these significantly changed the environment, the sub-committee believes that they reinforce the overall conclusion of our report—that the European Union now needs to play a more active and energetic role in the search for peace in the Middle East. I will return to this.
While the situation when we completed our report in June looked particularly difficult, when we started work on the report at the beginning of the year there were a number of encouraging signs. The Saudi initiative, which led to the Mecca agreement, provided the basis for the Palestinian National Unity Government in mid-March. On the diplomatic front, the United States Secretary of State increased the number of her visits to the Middle East in an attempt to unblock the negotiating deadlock and Dr Solana was tasked by the European Union's Council with missions to the Middle East, including direct talks with the Syrian and Saudi Governments.
The report sets out—this is important because it is not always noticed—the history of the development of the European Union's relation with the region from the EC's Venice Declaration of 1980, where the call for a Middle East peace process was first formulated, and which by recognising the Palestinian right to self-determination provided the initial basis for a negotiated two-state solution. It is fair to say that although the United States has normally led the political negotiations, the European Union has often provided innovative ideas, and since 2002 through its role in the quartet, has been directly involved in the negotiations together with the United States, Russia and the United Nations.
The European Union has also played an important part in humanitarian aid, and from 1995, in providing financial and technical assistance for the creation and functioning of the institutions of an emerging Palestinian Authority. We were told that at one stage it provided half of the budget of the Palestinian Authority. The European Union, taking together the spending of the European Commission and the member states, is far and away the largest donor to the Palestinians, estimated by the Government in their response to be some €800 million in 2007. There is no doubt that at various stages there was abuse of some of this aid but we received evidence of a variety of mechanisms that had been introduced to check that the funding was properly monitored. We welcome the assurance in the Government’s response that they are,
“working with the World Bank, EU and other partners to create a mechanism for direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority that will be based on conditionality around institutional and governance reforms”.
Although, as the report makes clear, European Union aid, and for the last year the temporary international mechanism,
“has prevented a very serious humanitarian crisis from becoming even worse … [it] should … not divert the … EU from the root causes of the insecurity and poverty in the Palestinian territories”.
Analysing the impact of the boycott of the Palestinian Government introduced by key members of the quartet in March 2006 following their assessment that the Hamas-led Government had not complied with the three principles, the sub-committee expressed its grave concern,
“about the security, human rights and socio-economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories”.
The sub-committee cited the European Union General Affairs and External Relations Council conclusion of 18 June 2007 which stated that the,
“EU will do its utmost to ensure the provision of emergency and humanitarian assistance to the population of Gaza, whom it will not abandon. Unimpeded access to humanitarian aid deliveries must be guaranteed”.
Since the report was completed the situation has deteriorated in both the West Bank and Gaza, as the valuable reports from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs make very clear. There are too many of these to quote, but in the West Bank UNOCHA reported in September that 40 more control points had gone up compared with the position in June. That was in the West Bank, not in Gaza. In Gaza the position has also deteriorated in the past month since the Israeli designation of the strip as an “enemy entity”. In its report of 9 October on Gaza, UNOCHA stated that since 19 September a large reduction has been reported in the number of truckloads entering Gaza. The average of 106 truckloads per day that was recorded between 10 June and 13 September has dropped to approximately 50 truckloads per day since mid-September. This trend is giving rise to growing concerns among aid agencies about shortages of certain food supplies.
As regards the opportunity for those in Gaza to get medical assistance, in September there was a significant reduction in the number of patients crossing into Israel and the West Bank for medical treatment: fewer than five patients crossed each day compared to an average of 40 patients per day in July.
The situation is perhaps best summed up in the statement made yesterday after news came of the closure of medical units and clinics because of the absence of anaesthetics. Sir John Holmes, the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said:
“The economic noose continues to tighten around the necks of the people of Gaza, who are being manifestly punished as part of a political strategy”.
In this situation I should like to ask the Minister what the European Union and its member states are doing to fulfil the commitments they made in June not to abandon the people of Gaza.
The sub-committee was concerned at the rigidity of the European Union within the quartet over the three principles, particularly after the creation of the National Unity Government in March of this year. The committee was clear,
“that the European Union's support for a Palestinian coalition government, including Hamas could not have been unconditional. To require that a Hamas-led government not only renounce attacks but use its governmental authority to prevent such attacks was entirely justified”.
As regards the requirement to accept and respect the positions established collectively by the Arab side, we considered that by signing the Mecca agreement the Government had committed themselves to respecting the existing bargaining position and agreements signed by the PLO and more generally by the Arab side. On the other hand, the question of the formal recognition of the state of Israel as distinct from the de facto recognition implicit in accepting the objective of a two-state solution seems open to debate.
Hamas, we felt,
“regards recognition of Israel as the object of the peace talks ... rather than a condition that can be met prior to discussions”.
We expressed the hope that the Government and the European Union would,
“reconsider the precise formulation of any conditions [on this subject] and ... apply them in future with a reasonable amount of flexibility”.
We regret that on this point the Government in their reply was unable to agree.
As chairman of the sub-committee it is not appropriate for me to discuss in detail the approach adopted by Secretary of State Rice in her negotiations or the prospects for the meeting in Annapolis later this year. I wish them well, even if it is difficult at this stage to be too optimistic about the outcome.
However, two matters discussed in our report are relevant to the ongoing search for peace. We made clear that the peace process should not be held hostage by any faction, individual or state. We said:
“Although each situation is different, recent experience in other situations, such as Northern Ireland, can [provide] valuable lessons on how to bring into the peace process individuals and movements who previously espoused violence”.
That was linked to our view, reiterated after the events in Gaza in June, that a precondition of the success of any peace process is that it must be as inclusive as possible. I welcome the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on this point. The exclusion of Hamas can be explained by its behaviour, but many of us feel that it significantly reduces the chances of ultimate success.
The overall conclusion of our report was that the European Union,
“now needs to play a more active and imaginative role in the search for peace in the Middle East than it has done in recent years”.
We made it clear that this should be in close co-operation with the United States. However, in the developments since June, the initiative has been very much that of the Secretary of State of the United States. Whatever happens between now and the end of the year, it would be important that the European Union realises the central contribution it an its members can make to the political, as well as the security, development of the Middle East in the coming months.
My Lords, developments in many parts of the world, but particularly in the Middle East and central and south Asia, whether political, economic or social, are increasingly influenced by religion—a word that I have not heard so far in the debate. Religious beliefs and values permeate what may appear to be just diplomatic, political and even military moves. It is as well for us to recognise this reality and to structure our response accordingly.
Whether we like it or not, the Westphalian consensus is dead—certainly in this region, if it ever existed there. But such a death also has implications for us in our conduct of business. One way to discover people’s religious commitments is dialogue. An Iranian minister said to me recently, when asked, that the cornerstone of his country’s foreign policy was “the spirituality of justice”, to which I replied, “What about the spirituality of love?”. But this dialogue needs to respect the integrity of each side and cannot be conducted on terms decided by one side alone, which was a danger in the otherwise welcome letter written by some Muslim leaders recently.
What should be on the agenda for such a dialogue? It seems clear that Islamist movements of various kinds will remain important on this scene for some time to come. The question is—this has already been implied—whether their programme is to be merely theocratic or whether they will recognise the need for intermediate political, social and legal institutions. Some such movements are in an interesting phase of transition in this respect. Islam has never historically produced an enduring theocracy. There have always been political institutions, such as the caliphate; legal ones to codify, develop and implement the Sharia—we need to note the very important role played by Muftis, the jurisconsults, in the development of fiqh or codified law; the role of the Grand Mufti in Egypt at this time in this area is worthy of note—political and legal institutions; and, of course, we must not forget the socio-religious ones such as the Sufi orders. It has been shown that wherever Sufi orders have been suppressed by authoritarian regimes there has been some kind of emergence of fundamentalist and militant movements.
In the region, there are customary and religious means of governing by consent. That is the phrase we should adopt rather than the loosely used word “democracy”, as the noble Lord has already reminded us. In the joint declarations between Afghanistan and the UK, and between Afghanistan and the European Union, there is a welcome commitment to develop parliamentary institutions in that country, but how will it be done? What kind of development will there be? The convening of the Loya Jirgah, reformed to include women, was a good start in using a customary institution to promote government by consent. Will such sensitivity continue to be shown in the further development of a participatory system in Afghanistan as the national assembly and the provincial assemblies are developed? What about Iraq? As I have said previously in this House, both religious and customary practices—such as baia, the recognition of a ruler’s legitimacy, and shura, a process of participatory consultation—can be developed here to provide continuity. In the past, the Government have always responded to such suggestions to use custom and religious institutions by saying that the Iraqi people are free to have the form of government that they want. But do we not have a responsibility for taking history, custom and faith seriously as partners, for better or for worse, in this dialogue?
In the relationship with Iran, we have to be aware of the complexity of Irani society. We do not have the political and social monolith of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It is quite possible to continue dialogue with sections of even the ulema—they were referred to as mullahs recently, but no matter—academics, prominent politicians and government officials, and even to discuss, as has been said, the possibility of a modern civilian nuclear industry, as with the P5+1 proposals, as well as Iran’s genuine security worries, without in any way condoning internal oppression or external aggression and condemning in no uncertain terms any threats to destroy the state of Israel. Their great poet, Firdausi, who wrote a book on the politics of kings long ago, said that,
“du-sad gufteh chun nim kirdah neest”—
hundreds of words do not compare with half a good deed. Iran needs to show, by word and by example, its peaceful intentions.
If we agree that the role of religion in the state must always be persuasive and never coercive, what are the implications for the application of Sharia law in Muslim countries? This is a crucial issue, affecting fundamental liberties, the status of women and the treatment of minorities. Debate about this matter is often ill informed on every side. We need a comparative study of how Sharia law relates to the constitutions and laws of different nations. It relates differently in different places. We need much further work on understanding the dynamism of the different schools of law in Islam, and how principles for development can be identified and applied. Education, education and education are certainly the priorities here.
In a region fraught with conflict—how many speeches so far have been about that?—it is important to have some convergence on when intervention is justified, or even necessary, to prevent oppression, destruction and genocide. This can be greatly facilitated by in-depth dialogue on the respective Islamic and Christian traditions of jihad and the just war. While there are significant differences between these two traditions, some convergence is possible, and such dialogue is now urgent. How will it be undertaken?
One of the prominent features of interfaith dialogue today is the need for a common commitment to freedom of belief, freedom of expression and the freedom to change our beliefs. We must note here the position of Christian and other communities in the region. We have recently been reminded of the perilous position of the Christians in Iraq: nearly half are now refugees in Jordan and Syria. There can be no justice unless these minorities are fully enfranchised and are secure. Whether it is the beleaguered Christians of Iraq, the Maronites in Lebanon, the Copts in Egypt, the Baha’is in Iran—or indeed the Jewish people in the Holy Land, taking the region as a whole—there has to be an end to persecution, the acceptance of coexistence and mutual respect.
It is quite possible to see what a two-state solution might look like in the Holy Land, and how shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, with particular provision for the holy places, might work. How that might happen has not been mentioned, but it will be one of the difficulties in any final status talks about Jerusalem.
Will the extremists be allowed to frustrate the realisation of such a vision? It is vital to understand that extremist anger is not caused by western policies—exacerbated maybe, but not caused. Rather, such policies are being used an excuse to establish dominance—the real agenda of some kinds of extremism in the region. Of course, extremists should not be provided with excuses, but neither should we capitulate to their desire for dominance. As always in the Middle East, “Assabr miftah al-faraj”—patience is the key to a happy ending.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. He always says things that are correct, true and courageous, certainly among religious people. Not least this evening, he is right about interfaith dialogue: we have to get on with and respect each other. We have to understand that, whether we are in the Middle East or this country. We must get on with others who disagree with us. I thought his remarks were extremely wise.
I am sure we all commend our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the role that he has now taken up in the Middle East, in the hope of creating peace. He certainly contributed to what nobody really expected to happen in Ireland; we are all immensely grateful that it has. He has an impossible task, but he might make it possible. In the circumstances, we are proud that he is the quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process. His role is one of state-building and I hope that he will help to remove corruption and create infrastructure—not least in the Palestinian Authority—and that there will arise a viable Palestinian state which can support a lasting peace. I am sure that we all wish him the best of luck.
I welcome the Annapolis summit next month, at the initiative of Condoleezza Rice; I hope it will capitalise on the ongoing dialogue between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, who are speaking together. Only if people speak together is there hope of peace between their peoples. It is important that all the major players are engaged in the Annapolis summit. That should include the Arab League, especially Saudi Arabia and Syria. Perhaps my noble friend will tell us what the Government are doing to broaden participation and engagement in the Annapolis summit, particularly among Arab states, because without that it cannot succeed.
I travel greatly, especially in the Middle East, and work towards achieving peaceful solutions, which requires two hands. One hand alone cannot clap, as in the Arab proverb. I work with Prince Hassan of Jordan in the Muslim-Jewish Coexistence Trust. We have to work together or we will die separately. Wherever I travel, the biggest concern for everybody is undoubtedly Iran. It is a particular threat to Israel. President Ahmadinejad said that he wants to wipe Israel off the map and on 5 October he announced that,
“the creation, continued existence and unlimited support for”,
“regime is an insult to human dignity”.
Whatever Israel’s failings, it is the only democracy in the area and, however much we might dislike a particular Government at a particular time in our particular country, I am sure that we agree that democracy is best in the long run, even if sometimes it does not elect the Government we would wish to have. Certainly, the opposite side of the House is entitled to be wrong and to have a different view of our Government and their leader—that is democracy. It applies in Israel and nowhere else in the Middle East.
It is the wider regional threat that should worry us all: Iranian nuclear weapons will precipitate a Middle East arms race and countries including Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia may choose to begin their own nuclear programmes if nuclear weapons are obtained by Iran. It will spread, the area will increasingly destabilise, and so will the world that we live in. It will become a world in which there is a much greater danger that we will die. It is this added insecurity that will lead to regional divestment, damaging vital economic interests in the Gulf states, in Israel and throughout the area.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s call of 3 September for a third round of sanctions on Iran, and the calls of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, for vigilance on these issues. Does my noble friend agree that Russia has a major role to play in the ongoing negotiations in the United Nations Security Council, as Ehud Olmert’s visit to Moscow last week showed? I realise that Russia is not easy to deal with, especially given our current difficulties. Our relations with Russia are certainly not at their best, but will Her Majesty’s Government commit to doing everything in their power to encourage Russia to play a constructive role in the Security Council negotiations? We echo our Prime Minister’s call for stronger, more effective sanctions against Iran.
I have taken only six minutes, and I am going to cause great surprise by sitting down. Thank you.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Janner, for surprising me, and I hope that noble Lords will indulge me as I rise to make my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. I was given two pieces of advice about today. I was told, first, to ensure that I used language that was appropriate for your Lordships’ House. I remind noble Lords that, as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, English was an unknown language to me until I went to nursery school; but today I will certainly try to follow that advice. Secondly, I was told to remain non-controversial. As those who know me will know, on this rule I will have to try much harder.
I am the latest of a long line of women that my home town of Dewsbury has contributed to this House. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, whom I confess I had hoped two years ago to replace in another place. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who as the Speaker of the other place had a distinguished career, and whose father, like my father, was a weaver in the textile mills of Yorkshire. Of course, there is also the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, whose contribution to this house as Deputy Speaker must be truly acknowledged, as must her tireless campaigning on women’s issues.
Today, I wish to highlight the plight of women in Afghanistan. In June 2001, Saira Shah, a British journalist, revealed the horrific lives of many ordinary Afghani women. She was assisted in her efforts by RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. She exposed an Afghanistan where women were excluded from jobs and medical care, where education was denied them and where war widows were forced to beg on the streets of Kabul. This was Afghanistan under Taliban rule. On International Women’s Day in 2007, some six years after our invasion, RAWA said that,
“the world came into motion in the name of liberating Afghan women and our country was invaded, but the sorrows and deprivation of Afghan women has not just failed to reduce but has actually increased the level of oppression and brutality”.
UNIFEM, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have many statistics on Afghanistan, and I will share some of them. Some 86 per cent of Afghani women are illiterate; 87 per cent of the Afghan population still believe that a woman needs male authorisation to vote; every 29 minutes a woman dies in childbirth; and 50,000 war widows live in Kabul alone, and many still beg on the streets. The number of girls in secondary school is decreasing; 80 per cent of women face forced marriages; nearly 60 per cent are married before the legal age of 16, despite the 2005 protocol to,
“eliminate child and forced marriage by 2008”.
Sadly, that honourable aim is unlikely to be met by then or at any time in the near future.
I acknowledge that some progress has been made. As we know, 27 per cent of Members of the National Assembly are women, but only one serves in the Cabinet and, sadly, too many are ineffective and subdued. Indeed, in recent provincial council elections, not enough women came forward to take up the women’s quota, resulting in some of the reserved women’s seats reverting to men. I pay tribute to Malalai Joya, a brave and determined young Afghani parliamentarian who more than deserves the international accolades that follow her, but whose life is under constant threat.
Amnesty International writes that,
“women continue to face severe violence both within and outside the house”.
Abduction and rape is widespread, and officials are killed merely for registering women to vote. An extremely disturbing phenomenon is the ever increasing number of Afghan women who seek death by fire: women who are set alight or set themselves alight in sheer desperation. Cases of self-immolation have doubled in Kabul in the past year alone, and the situation is even more acute in the city of Herat. Human Rights Watch believes that contributing factors are severe governmental and social discrimination, illiteracy and an incompetent justice system.
The pictures alone do not fully describe the plight of these women. It is a subject close to my heart and one of which I have direct experience. I chair a women’s empowerment charity, the Savayra Foundation, which seeks to empower women in Pakistan through education and training. Sadly, I meet many abused and desperate women, but one in particular remains vivid in my mind. Aliya, a beautiful 21 year-old woman, a loving mother of two, was set alight by her husband in her home in the Pothohar region of Punjab. She presented herself to me with severe burns and disfigurement from her scalp to her waist. She is a woman whose children fear her because of her appearance. She is a woman who simply longs to hug her young son.
Whenever we go to war, we must ensure that our actions leave women safer and stronger, and we must ensure that never again do we allow women to be abused on our watch in a country that we have invaded to make better.
Let me finish by thanking my noble friends Lady Morris and Lord Strathclyde, who have been far more than supporters—they have been consistently good-humoured despite my constant questioning. I also thank noble Lords from all sides of the House for their very warm welcome and constant offers of tea, far too many of which I have reluctantly had to decline in the interests of my growing waistline. Finally, I thank those who serve your Lordships’ House, many of whom have accompanied me while I was lost in the numerous corridors, and who always smile when they realise that I am the newest and youngest Member of your Lordships’ House and not an intern.
My Lords, it is my duty, but it is also a great pleasure, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and to congratulate her on a most accomplished and rather moving, if I may say so, maiden speech in which she brought attention to an aspect of the problem of Afghanistan that is sometimes overlooked but should not be so. I would like to say how welcome she is in this House too. She adds to both our regional and ethnic diversity, both of which are to the good. She has been given a highly topical but rather difficult and important subject—community cohesion—which I feel needs shaping and defining as well as prescribing. I hope that she will help us to do that.
Perhaps I may also stray a little from the normal practices of this House by offering a pre-emptive welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who is speaking later. I think that I am not allowed in the practices of this House to refer to her as my noble friend, but she is undoubtedly noble and she is my friend.
It is timely that we should have this opportunity today for a debate on the Middle East and Afghanistan. I am grateful, too, that the report on the European Union and the Middle East peace process, produced by the sub-committee on which I currently serve, is being brought within the ambit of our debate. With the important conference on the peace process summoned by President Bush due to take place next month, it was high time for the House to have an opportunity to discuss our recommendations and the Government’s response to them. I hope that the Minister will not take offence if I describe the latter—the Government’s response—as bland even beyond the normal average for my old department. I can see why references to keeping channels of communication open to Hamas and the need for an inclusive peace process might provoke an evasive response, but why on Earth the Government cannot agree that it is now important to begin to address final status issues as well as process completely eludes me.
It would, I fear, be a triumph of hope over experience to say that President Bush’s conference is taking place under particularly propitious circumstances or with particularly high expectations of success. The weak position of both the Palestinian and Israeli Governments—and, one could add, that of the US Administration—increases the likelihood that tough choices will be ducked or fudged. The divisions among the Palestinians, with the exclusion of Hamas from any participation, can be welcome only to the most short-sighted. Nevertheless, it would surely be unwise to approach the conference in a spirit of cynicism or of exaggeratedly lowered ambitions; to do so would likely be self-fulfilling, and another failure will only stoke the fires of extremism that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester referred to in his contribution, which are already burning fiercely enough across the Middle East and more widely across the Islamic world.
What is needed is not just another photo-opportunity conference—not some vapid declaration of principles which are then interpreted in totally contradictory senses by each party within a few weeks or even a few days—but rather the establishment of a robust and structured process designed to get to grips not just with interim deals and fixes like the road map but with the core issues of a two-state solution: frontiers, Jerusalem, security arrangements and refugees; a process that can survive the vicissitudes of next year’s US presidential election and which can be sustained through whatever acts of violence the enemies of a peaceful negotiated solution may throw at it. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referring to a study on the US side of the Atlantic which comes to precisely the same conclusion as I have just suggested. It would be good to hear from the Minister what the Government and the EU’s objectives are for that conference and what enhanced role the EU can hope to play in its aftermath.
There is also, I would suggest, a sub-plot here over the role of the United Nations in any process. There are renewed calls for the UN to pull out of the quartet and thereby, it is suggested, to regain what is described as its freedom of action. I believe these calls to be misguided and I hope the Government will advise the Secretary-General to resist them. It has been a mistake for two successive Secretaries-General, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon, to forbid their special representatives in the region to have any contact with Hamas, or with Hezbollah for that matter. The UN should be prepared to talk to all parties in disputes of this sort. But reversing that mistake does not require the UN to pull out of the quartet. After all, the Russians accept no such constraints on contact with Hamas and yet they remain in the quartet. And just what would be this freedom of action that the UN would have if it distanced itself from the key external co-ordinating group?
Turning to Iraq, I do not want to get drawn into a detailed analysis of the prospects for stabilising the situation. Having tried a whole range of futile, counter-productive and poorly implemented strategies, the United States does now seem to be making the best of a pretty desperate job. But there is one particularly urgent problem that has the capacity to further destabilise the country and to which the Minister referred in his opening speech—it is particularly topical this week given the visit to London of the Turkish Prime Minister—namely, the tension between Turkey and the Kurdish region of Iraq over the incursions of PKK guerrillas and the possibility that Turkey will launch military operations across the border. That would be a high-risk policy fraught with many possible unintended and negative consequences for all concerned. I hope that the Minister will say something about the line that the Government will take on this matter with Prime Minister Erdogan.
It is hard not to feel some sympathy with the Turkish Government, faced with the casualties to their armed forces, and also to feel that the Kurdish regional government are not perhaps doing all they could or all they should be doing to prevent their territory being used for these incursions. No doubt the Americans are better placed than we are to address that aspect of the problem, but concerted pressure on all and a concerted effort by all concerned will be needed if a Turkish Prime Minister who has done more than any other to alleviate the situation of his ethnic Kurdish compatriots and who has resisted the earlier pressure for military action from his generals is not to be drawn dangerously down that road.
Then, there is the threat to the peace and security of the Middle East region posed by the doubts that still hang over Iran’s nuclear programme and by Iran’s refusal to accede to the Security Council’s request that it suspend its uranium enrichment programme. Neither Iran’s response so far to that request, nor the Iranian President’s overblown and often vicious rhetoric, nor the recent resignation of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator leave any grounds for complacency or illusions. An Iran with nuclear weapons or with fissile material enabling it to develop such weapons in short order would seriously destabilise one of the already most unstable regions in the world, irrespective of the wider implications for our own and our Allies’ security and for the future of the non-proliferation regime. So a renewed effort and new initiatives to agree a diplomatic solution are now, I would argue, becoming overdue.
It was quite right for the IAEA’s director-general to seek to clear up all the remaining doubt about Iranian past activities during the long period when it was operating a clandestine programme in breach of its international obligations. Dr El Baradei has been quite unreasonably criticised for doing what is simply his job to do. But however successful the agency’s work in that respect, it will not resolve the problems caused by Iran’s enrichment programme and the doubts about its future intentions.
A further sanctions package may well be needed, but as our debate on economic sanctions earlier this month demonstrated, sanctions are not an end in themselves and they cannot work in isolation from diplomatic action. What is needed is that the United States should accompany any decision on further sanctions with an unconditional offer to join talks with Iran over the whole range of Iranian and international concerns. That, after all, is what it has done with North Korea, and it does seem to be having some beneficial effects. Why can it not be tried with Iran? I would be grateful if the Minister will say whether the Government would support such an approach.
When the House last debated the situation in Afghanistan, the Minister said that the Government were currently reviewing all aspects of our policy there. I wonder if he could say a little more in his wind-up speech about the outcome of that review, though he did speak very interestingly about his recent visit there when he opened. I shall focus on one aspect only: the counter-narcotics strategy.
As Afghan production of opium continues to rise, with forecasts of further rises next year, how long will it be before we recognise that present policies are not working and are almost certainly not going to work? Since our debate earlier this autumn, the Senlis council has produced what seemed to me at least some interesting ideas for pilot projects linking the controlled legal production of opium with the pharmaceutical use of the drug. We know that controlled production can work and has worked in Turkey and in India. No doubt Afghan conditions are much more challenging. But is it not time to give something like this a try?
Any glance at the Middle East and Afghanistan is liable to leave one even more pessimistic and daunted than when one began, but pessimism is a poor prescription for effective diplomacy. We face massive challenges in this region, some of them due to our own earlier mistakes and miscalculations; and I am not speaking here only about Iraq. We need now to try to put that behind us and to work with as wide a degree of international co-operation as we can muster for better outcomes in the future.
My Lords, I am pleased to second the warm tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness. It is good to be sandwiched between two distinguished former diplomats. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, always speaks with great authority and I am confident that the noble Baroness who is about to deliver her maiden speech will follow in those tracks, particularly regarding her major areas of expertise in counterterrorism and the European Union.
As the noble Lord has just said, several tectonic plates grind against one another in the Middle East, causing disturbances in many different areas, but the constant is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. If there were to be a solution there, it would not solve other regional conflicts, but it would certainly make those conflicts more manageable. I shall concentrate on the prospects for the proposed conference in Annapolis, although it appears that only the location has been decided; timing, participants and agenda are in the air. As is the case with any debate on the Middle East, there are already two starting points.
First, as we saw to our cost in the EU Sub-Committee after we embarked on our inquiry, there is the arrival of the unexpected, such as the coup of Hamas on 15 June this year. We had looked closely at the position that we would adopt in relation to Hamas. Then came its dramatic and violent takeover of Gaza and the subsequent entrenchment of what many now see as an Islamist state, heavily supported by Iran. We pressed on, notwithstanding that dramatic turn of events. We included a brief Chapter 6, attempting to foresee the consequences of that takeover. What is new is the increasingly bitter division among the Palestinians, which reflects a wider Sunni/Shia split in the region. The takeover is a good illustration of the unpredictability of events in the Middle East.
The second complicating factor is the irrationality of much of the debate. That combination of unpredictability and irrationality must make one apprehensive about the prospects of success for any proposed conference, even if it is essentially a cover for relations between the two principal participants—the Palestinian Authority and Israel—leading to a series of other conferences.
After all, as my noble friend the Minister knows all too well, the United Nations was extremely confident after 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The UN had enormous success, which I witnessed, in Namibia. It appeared then that everything was attainable. Alas, it was not to be. Yes, we had the Oslo accords in the 1990s, but as the outcome of Camp David showed—even with a United States President prepared to commit much time and political capital to the region, and with a pragmatic Israeli premier in Barak—the initiatives came to nought. Abu Ala, the current Palestinian negotiator, claimed to me that the failure arose because the US Administration were pushing too hard when he and his Israeli interlocutor, Shlomo Ben-Ami, were step by step moving in the ways of the Levant in the correct direction. Others blame Arafat’s indecision and personal weakness. As Shimon Peres frequently states, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. What is clear is that the road map seems to have petered out in the sands before either party had completed their obligations under the first stage. At a time when Arab leaders in 2002 were promoting an interesting initiative, the Bush Administration, if only as a riposte to the Clinton Administration, turned away from the region until this year.
What are the negative features as we approach the conference? The first is political weakness on all sides. Prime Minister Olmert has been damaged by the incursion into the Lebanon, and the Palestinians by fratricidal strife. There is a lame-duck US President who has little credibility in the region as a result of the Iraq invasion and does not want his foreign policy legacy only to be seen as Iraq. Can the Palestinians make progress when their negotiations are led by the Fatah old guard, notably Abu Ala, and when Hamas, which it now bitterly hates, is wholly excluded from the process?
However, there are some positive signs. At least Israel and Palestine are in direct talks. There is little detail, but this fact is a good sign. Benchmarks have been established in earlier talks and, the reverse side of my earlier point, Hamas is out of the picture—at least in the early stages. Key Arab players are engaged. They have visited Israel, are concerned about growing Shia influence in the region and have a credible set of agreed proposals, led by Egypt and Jordan. It may be that the Saudis have reached some sort of deal—explicit or implicit—with the US Administration to assist in Iraq if the US presses harder in Palestine. Equally, there is a wider coalition within the Knesset and President Abbas clearly wants peace, whereas Arafat’s motives were unclear. The regional intervention may provide an acceptable cover for bilateral accords.
What in the Government’s view are the chances for the coming conference and the best means of making progress? The devil is not in the details, but in the key principles, which are well known. Is there at least a prospect of a comprehensive armistice or hudna beyond the negative or limited ceasefire? Is it at least worth seeking shorter, practical and pragmatic steps that would create realities over time? For example, Israel, in an effort to produce trust between the parties, released more than 250 prisoners in July and has released several batches of prisoners since then. As part of the Oslo family and reunification policy, Israel will be granting residency permits to 5,000 Palestinians who have been living illegally on the West Bank. There has also been the symbolic act of the beginning of reconstruction of the roadway between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Much can be done on the economic side and I commend the Government for their initiative on 17 September of launching an economic report. There cannot be real progress without tackling the economic misery on the Palestinian side.
On Iran, I believe that the Foreign Secretary has, as yet, refused to follow Jack Straw in stating that the use of force would be “inconceivable”. Financial pressures, with enhanced sanctions, public and private—including from the banks, which may be of greater importance, as they were in South Africa—are the most likely means of achieving a moderation of policy. A military strike on the three major nuclear installations would only make moderates rally behind the flag at a time when there is real discontent—one thinks of the tomato problems in the spring of this year, signs of disaffection among the populace and words of caution by the Supreme Leader and by Rohani regarding President Ahmadinejad. Would it not be more helpful if the US was to show Iran that it was not focused only on regime change and was more pragmatic, as it was regarding North Korea, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said?
Finally, a postscript on Afghanistan. There has been the very bad news in the recent UN report about the increase in drug production, which the Minister set out in his speech. President Karzai has acknowledged that the security situation has deteriorated, with a recent upsurge in violence, and it is clear that not all NATO countries are pulling their weight, as many like to think that they can operate only from relatively safe areas in the north. Clearly, there should be consensus that we must be there for the long term and provide the necessary resources, because a failure in Afghanistan, with even greater poppy production affecting our streets and even greater sources of terrorist activity by the Taliban, would have the most adverse repercussions not just in Pakistan and the region, but over the world as a whole. Therefore, at least let us be agreed that we cannot, as a world community, countenance failure in Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban.
My Lords, I am honoured and delighted to take my seat in Parliament’s upper Chamber and I am grateful for the kind remarks made in my direction during the debate. The breadth of experience and depth of talent in this House are inspiring and I look forward to being able to contribute to debate of public policy and to the opportunity to influence the outcome on matters that come before this House for consideration and vote.
Like my noble friend Lady Warsi, I will focus my contribution to the debate today on Afghanistan. I recently accompanied the leader of the Conservative Party on a visit to that country. One should always be careful about drawing long-range conclusions from short visits such as ours but, in a less than ideal world, it is still better to have had some direct experience of the issues than none at all. Strapping on body armour before stepping into the heat and dust of Helmand province quickly brings home the reality of the challenge faced by our brave service men and women.
The level of the British military commitment in Afghanistan is striking. At Camp Bastion in Helmand, we have built a military base of significant size, which is in the process of further upgrading. That seems right, because if this country is serious about Afghanistan—and, in my view, we must be—neither our forces nor our civilian personnel will be leaving in short order and they must be properly housed and protected. I shall return later to the likely length of the mission.
Public discussion of the British commitment has tended to focus on three issues: whether we should be in Afghanistan at all; whether our forces have been properly equipped to carry out the mission entrusted to them; and whether they are succeeding. In this short intervention, I am not going to deal in detail with the second of these issues. Suffice it to say just two things. The recent decision announced by the Government to supply, off the shelf, a more rugged vehicle to our troops is sensible, though not before time, and we must hope that those vehicles will be delivered soon. The better armour of a Mastiff, compared with a Land Rover, will help to save lives. No Government are entitled to expose our serving men and women to unnecessary risk. Furthermore, when our service men and women are injured, they should be able to expect the best medical treatment that we, a technologically advanced and wealthy country, are able to provide.
During our visit, we were shown the medical facilities at Camp Bastion, which are also available to the local population. They are impressive, as is the commitment of the medical staff. Injured personnel, of course, need to reach those facilities quickly from the field and shortage of helicopters can be a problem. Moreover, when servicepeople return to the UK for further medical treatment, we need to ensure that not just the medicine but also their hospital environment are conducive to speedy recovery.
As to whether the UK should be in Afghanistan, although our presence there has not been attended by anything like the controversy surrounding our presence in Iraq, it has not been free from it. Opponents often argue that no outside power has ever succeeded in Afghanistan and that NATO will not, either. That is fatalistic, pessimistic and false. The alliance is no invader. It is there at the invitation of the Afghan Government to assist in creating conditions of greater freedom, security and prosperity in that country. That involves combating terrorism, which threatens the Afghan people, this country and our allies. For these reasons, this side of the House supported and continues to support the intervention in Afghanistan.
Having committed ourselves, the UK must now succeed. The consequences of failure in Afghanistan, in the wider region and for the alliance itself are far too serious for it to be anything other than a first-order priority to give ourselves the best chances of success. I do not think that we have done that yet. Indeed, there is a widespread impression outside Afghanistan that the NATO military campaign is failing, which is mistaken, although it is possibly a result of the media sophistication of the Taliban. Our commanders are the first to warn of the dangers and they are not complacent. It is, however, a mark of their relative success that the Taliban has had to extend its tactics from fighting our troops to intimidating the civilian population with suicide bombing.
The real problem lies in what follows—or fails to follow—a successful NATO military operation. If the Afghan armed forces and the local police are unable to provide a reasonable level of security and the Taliban can slip back in, as already happens, economic reconstruction and restoration of normal daily life cannot take place. That has potentially enormous costs in the battle for hearts and minds and the whole point of an operation can be lost. Training a sufficient number of Afghan soldiers to hold territory taken and raising local police standards are therefore key priorities.
Problems lie on the civilian side, too. There are over 100 civilian agencies in Afghanistan with more than $100 million a year to spend. There are no fewer than 28 provincial reconstruction teams, led by different foreign Governments. Much good is being done, but differing methods of operation and different goals, combined with the absence of an overall strategy and effective high level co-ordination, mean much wasted and misdirected activity. We are a long way from helping the Afghans to generate a viable economy free of dependence on the narcotics that reach our streets.
The huge international effort needs strategic direction under an individual with the experience and authority to pull the strands together and contribute to the creation of a really effective military-civilian nexus. Indeed, it has been well said by NATO military commanders that it can go in alone but not come out alone. The civilian side of post-conflict stabilisation is crucial to success and there has to be a joint effort between the military command and civilian agencies. In developing a comprehensive approach, NATO shows that it understands that. However, as NATO itself will acknowledge, implementation is far from mature. NATO also needs to be nimbler and less bureaucratic. I tell no secrets in pointing to the many layers of command, as well as to the long-standing problem of national caveats, which damage NATO’s military effectiveness. Such issues will not find their solution on the ground in Afghanistan, but that country shows clearly how important their solution is to the long-term future of the alliance as an effective instrument of western security.
It is not so much that we do not understand what needs to be done in Afghanistan; we have learnt much and the outline of what is needed is pretty clear. The difficulty lies in putting it into effect. We need to continue to work at getting a higher level of performance out of each of the elements of policy, while welding them together in a strategy that can be driven forward with vigour. This is not an optional extra; it is essential to success.
We also need to be realistic about what we are trying to achieve politically and must not try to impose western notions of liberalism on a deeply traditional society. Instead, we should work with the grain of Afghan society in helping to open up opportunity to more of its citizens. I said earlier that if we were interested in success, we should not expect to leave Afghanistan soon. The British ambassador there was right when he said that it is not a sprint but a marathon. We need patience, perseverance and determination. What happens in Afghanistan is linked to the situation in Pakistan, which is not becoming less complex. That subject goes beyond the scope of my remarks today. However, it is clear that, among other things, closer co-operation between Islamabad and Kabul in countering terrorism is absolutely essential.
In conclusion, I would like to say how important the success of NATO is, not only to western interests in Afghanistan but to the foundations of British foreign policy. As a young graduate, I was the fortunate recipient of a Harkness fellowship, which took me to the United States for two years. While I was there, the Cuban missile crisis took place. Anyone who lived through that has had it impressed on them how profoundly important our relationship with the United States is to our security. The world has been transformed since then, but it remains true for the United Kingdom that our capacity to act in the world still rests on the transatlantic link, at the core of which lies NATO.
In a globalised world, we should not be surprised that we have much at stake in a country 3,500 miles from our shores. We must not shrink from the task that we have taken on, but we must get it right. The price of failing to do so will surely be greater than the effort that we need to put in to make it succeed. I thank the House for listening so patiently to this initial contribution to its deliberations.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and to congratulate her on her contribution to the debate today. She has had an illustrious and diverse career in the service of her country, as a number of noble colleagues today have emphasised. With more than 30 years’ experience in Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, in posts as diverse as Singapore, Washington, Brussels and Bosnia, to call on plus spells as the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee as well as a BBC governor—not, I hasten to add, at the same time, as I understand it—I have no doubt that she will enlighten and enliven your Lordships’ debates for some time to come.
I carry on more or less where the noble Baroness left off in turning my remarks to the work that we are trying to do in Afghanistan. I, like her, praise almost beyond my imagination the work that our Armed Forces have done there, whether they are regular service personnel or reservists. Their approach in establishing the early provincial reconstruction teams was both courageous and sympathetic. I ask noble Lords to imagine just handfuls of young soldiers working with the grain in vast tracts of Afghanistan’s interior. Years ago, I saw for myself, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, did recently, the genuine friendliness of our young soldiers engaging with local communities. I can bear witness to their resourcefulness in helping to deliver humanitarian aid and development projects. Their commitment in holding fund-raising events among their own colleagues in their bases to pay for micro-projects such as a footbridge, a well or a classroom, built with the help of local villagers, pays tribute to the dedication of those young men and women.
Those projects may hardly be noticed in the general scheme of things, and perhaps it is not so surprising that those young men and women are prepared daily to put their life on the line to preserve and protect what they are achieving on behalf of the Afghan people and in the service of their country. We should be proud of them and salute them and their families. We could start by ensuring that the commitment shown by these young people, some of whom are barely out of their teens, in our Armed Forces is not cheapened by inadequate developments, by the inadequate deployment of personnel and resources, or perhaps by the threat of a widening capability gap due to unreliable, ineffective or inappropriate weaponry, transport and communications systems. The case of the Mastiff armoured vehicle is classic; after so many years, we have eventually begun to get it right. With a 30 per cent increase in violent deaths in Afghanistan this year, rising from 425 a month in 2006 to 550 a month now, and with suicide and road-side bombing increasing at a similar rate, we must ensure that the efforts of our military personnel are not diluted, diverted or squandered through the failure to set realistic, achievable objectives in Afghanistan and the neighbouring region.
The present objectives are well known but are worth repeating. In summary, they call for the elimination of al-Qaeda, the defeat of the Taliban and the development of a stable and democratic Afghan state. They also call for support for the Afghan Government and internationally sanctioned counter-narcotics efforts and for the provision of support for humanitarian assistance operations. However, there are concerns that the progress made on the political and development objectives does not match the military investment and commitment that we and our NATO allies are making. The question is why the coalition forces were unable to turn the initial military success into sustainable security and stability in Afghanistan.
The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House has already been quoted in the debate. Its report is an important contribution to the analysis of how we can go forward. Its recent analysis shows that, although the operation suffers from a lack of resources and troops and has done in many people’s eyes since 2003, there is a more fundamental difficulty: those involved in the coalition have in many cases failed to develop the coherent approach needed to achieve the coalition and NATO objectives in that country. In particular, a comprehensive strategy to address the political objectives—the elimination of al-Qaeda, the defeat of the Taliban, and help for Afghanistan towards establishing a stable and democratic state—seems to have been subsumed in a collection of partial and ad hoc schemes and perceptions. That is a major difficulty in varying the international, legal frameworks under which the contributing forces operate.
The national force deployments in Afghanistan are heavily constrained by restrictive caveats imposed by national Parliaments, as my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford has already mentioned. Chatham House gives two classic examples, among many more. My noble friend Lord Lee has already mentioned one: Tornado aircraft collecting reconnaissance data under one hat but being unable to pass the data on to those who need them under the other hat. There is also Operation Medusa, during which Canadian ISAF forces were confronted by entrenched Taliban units in strength. The Canadian commanders apparently asked four allied partners for relief but not one helped. The commanders were turned down each time on the basis that the legal restrictions would not permit their allied partners to come to the Canadian forces’ aid. That is a farce and a fiasco.
Those cases illustrate a serious difficulty with coalition operations in Afghanistan. Not all ISAF members, as many noble Lords have noted, are prepared to share the increased risks of military expansion in Afghanistan—an unwillingness that reflects parochial domestic political pressures but presents a serious threat to NATO’s future operations and perhaps to NATO’s future itself. Helping Afghanistan to develop into a stable and democratic state is proving, if anything, even more daunting. The trends over time of increasing opium production are deeply depressing, as other noble Lords have noted. It is generally known that Afghanistan produces some 90 per cent of the world’s illegal opium, according to the latest UN figures. Even more depressing is the fact that that 90 per cent is up from 70 per cent in 2000 and from just over 50 per cent in 1990. The trend continues unchecked. The narcotics trade continues to fund the warlords and their private armies. It continues to feed corruption in the civil administration and to nurture increasing criminality throughout the country. With disagreement within the coalition about the way forward in eradicating the poppy crops and providing equitable and viable alternative livelihoods for the farmers, it appears that counter-narcotic plans are in danger of stalling, if not of failing altogether.
Finally, no serious commentator on Afghanistan believes now that achieving the objectives of the war as set out initially will result from actions solely within the borders of that country. The conflict has become and has been recognised as a regional conflict that desperately needs regional solutions. Recent events in Pakistan—for example, the attempted assassination of Mrs Bhutto—underline the volatility of the region, particularly in the frontier areas with Pakistan. Inevitably—I am sure that the Minister will comment on this in his winding-up speech—the frontier areas in Waziristan and other tribal agencies, which have been the seat of unrest for centuries, are where the solutions must be found.
My Lords, I join other speakers in congratulating the two maiden speakers, who will clearly become redoubtable Members of the Conservative Benches, this House and, indeed, Parliament as a whole. Both illustrate the well established truth that the range in backgrounds of Members of the House of Lords gives considerable value through the balance of expertise and understanding in Parliament as a whole.
I shall underline some points in the report of the committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, of which I am a member. This is my swansong for my four-year cycle on that committee. I will then put some issues to my noble friend, of which I have given him notice, about the problems on the Iraq/Turkey border and how they interrelate to some of the problems of the internal evolution of democracy and human rights in Turkey. Some of us had the privilege of having discussions with the Turkish Prime Minister about that earlier this afternoon. I couple my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, with thanks to the clerk of Sub-Committee C, Kathryn Colvin, who is happily with us in the Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, may think that I will try to be helpful on sub-committees, but I have to stop there with regard to his thesis that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark when it comes to our committee structure and the remit of the EU Committee and its sub-committees. Of course it has never been the case, whether on Africa, the Middle East or anywhere else, that we are focusing only on what the issue has got to do with the EU. I can well imagine the speech that the noble Lord would make if we did not concentrate on the scrutiny of the EU as our main rationale. After all, we pride ourselves—do we not?—on having a comprehensive structure to scrutinise the EU. I would have thought that the noble Lord would think that that is absolutely essential—I refer to phrases such as “Make sure they don't get away with anything”, and to rhetoric of that kind.
I have been on two EU sub-committees. In committee it is often very salutary to say, “Just a moment, we are not doing a report on the Russian economy or on the whole of Africa; we are doing a report on the role of the European Union”. For example, there is an important and growing role for the European Union in relation to development. The aim is that 10 African countries do not have 250 different pieces of advice about auditing or whatever. But it means that there has to be a bigger role for the EU on such external relations. There is a very long list that demonstrates the truth of that, whether it concerns energy policy, the environment or other such issues.
I do not think that we need to shed too many crocodile tears over the EU being all over the place on policy matters such as the Middle East. I say “crocodile tears” because obviously—to vary my metaphor—charity begins at home. It is Britain, France and Germany that sometimes do not want the EU to act as a united front. I ask the noble Lord: where does that leave criticism? I do not ask him to respond to that this second but that is the nature of the balance that has to be struck. It would be retrogressive to advocate that the EU is simply going to be an exercise in intergovernmentalism. The noble Lord’s criticism would then be logically even more cogent.
The EU in this context is a member of the quartet, but it has not been a very proactive member. We concluded with some agreement over Javier Solana’s remark that the EU sometimes needed to be two or three steps—I think I have this right—ahead of the United States. That is what the Arabs—if I can put them all in one compartment, which of course is a dangerous thing to do—would rather like. Noble Lords can read our remarks about the Mecca agreement in, I think, paragraph 180. We say that the agreements that the Arabs are struggling to put together—they were making some progress—rely on an interlocutor who is not so joined at the hip as are the United States and Israel. To follow on from that metaphor, I hope that my noble friend is recovering well from his hip operation; we look forward to him speaking from the Front Bench for many years to come.
In the phase following Gaza and so on—
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord knows the answer and that he is winding me up. He will have to ask his colleague which noble Lord I may have been alluding to or he will have to work it out for himself.
One of the central themes in our report was put rather well by an academic Israeli witness who told us in terms that the view in Israeli senior circles could be put by saying, “Let the United States handle the politics and let the EU handle the economics”. That is very convenient. In other words—the following conclusion is inescapable—Israel’s special relationship with the United States means that the EU would not have its own robust relationship with Israel but would trail along behind the United States. If we want the Arabs to engage constructively, they should be allowed to have a symmetrically important special relationship with the EU. We are not suggesting that, but the EU should have a balanced relationship in both directions and be able to play its own role in the quartet along with the Americans, the Russians and the United Nations.
There is scope for varying the geometry, as we found with the EU and Iran. At the moment, a crisis involving Iran is obviously emerging, and the EU will have to be very prominent in sorting it out. I want to mention something else that is rather obvious: the Israelis have a nuclear bomb and the Iranians do not. I am not suggesting changing that in the direction of both having the bomb, but there should be a nuclear-free zone covering the whole of the Middle East. My noble friend may wish to comment, but I cannot see why that is not official UK policy. It is essential that we go in that direction.
Before I sit down, I want to say a couple of words about Turkey and Iraq. I had the privilege two weeks ago of being in south-east Turkey in Diyarbakir, an area where the majority of citizens have a Kurdish background. The British Government have been very active in making positive contributions. I welcome the dialogue that I had with the Turkish Prime Minister, who is a considerable statesman. Nearly everyone who has met him in London believes that it is essential to make progress on the route of Turkey joining the European Union. Difficult issues that came up such as the terrorism laws and Turkishness laws must be set against the background that we very much want to find solutions. One danger is that action by the PKK and possible reaction by the Turkish generals could mean that these human rights questions are exacerbated.
The dialogue must be a dialogue, without the Americans coming in again with hobnailed boots over the question of the territorial integrity of Iraq. No one is questioning the territorial integrity of Turkey, including parties with a Kurdish background. We must recognise that the DTP or something like it has a role to play, along with civil society organisations. We must get behind Mr Martti Ahtisaari, the High Representative and the team on the EU and Turkey to signal that we want to accelerate the progress of Turkey towards the European Union so long as there are signs of internal dialogue. I do not mean dialogue with the PKK. The terrorist outrages must be seen to be nothing to do with any party being allowed to put forward candidates—as the DTP is now—for the Turkish Parliament. It would be helpful to see how that positive strategy could be moved forward, as well as saying that we are totally against the terrorist outrages of the PKK.
My Lords, I first refer the House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests as I am a director of a number of companies operating in or with investments in the Middle East, including one with investments in Iran.
It is my great pleasure to be the first on the Conservative side of the House to welcome two exceptional maiden speeches today. Both of them dealt with the subject of Afghanistan, but in very different ways. My noble friend Lady Warsi gave an eloquent and moving account of the plight of women in Afghanistan. She has tremendous expertise in Muslim affairs, which will be of great value in this House. She comes here with a high reputation for combative oratory, which anyone who has watched “Question Time” will know is well justified. She referred to the long line of distinguished ladies from Dewsbury who have arrived here. She is a very distinguished addition to their ranks already and we look forward to hearing her again.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Jones also made a powerful analysis of Afghanistan, and I particularly agreed with two of her observations—I am sure that everyone did. The first is that, having committed ourselves, we must see it through and, secondly, that it would be a terrible mistake to impose western liberalism on a traditional tribal society. I first knew her when she was in the Cabinet Office. Her experience there and as chairman of the JIC will be of tremendous value to this House. We look forward to hearing from her again as well.
At Heathrow Airport, there is an advertisement for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation which one always sees when one gets on board an aircraft. It says, “Isn't it a good thing to see things from another person's viewpoint?”. Then, as you walk down the gangway to the plane another poster says, “Another person's viewpoint is simply the place where you are not”. I am afraid to say that I was reminded of those posters when I listened to the Minister. Sometimes when we have debates on the Middle East we lose the ability to see things as people in other countries see them. We sometimes lose the ability to see how we are perceived in the Middle East.
I hate to say this because it gives me no pleasure, but we are seen today through the prism of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and rendition, and through the eyes of Al-Jazeera television programmes that are often made from the point of view of those on the ground who have to pay the price of invasion—what we euphemistically call collateral damage.
The phrase “the war on terror” has been a terrible mistake. If it were just a phrase it would still be a terrible mistake, because it is so easily confused or wrongly translated as a war against Islam. But it is a wholly wrong concept if the idea is to win hearts and minds and to divorce the passive supporters of terrorism—those among whom the terrorists live—from supporting it. You cannot wage war against a few individuals using all the weapons that demolish homes, kill children and cause collateral damage. When the Minister referred to the French aircraft that were going to be deployed in Afghanistan, I am sorry, but my immediate reaction was, “I wonder how many homes they will bomb by mistake”.
The United States and many in Britain have made the mistake of carrying forward into the war on terror the same mentality that we had in the Cold War. The threat today is not a single ideology that is allied to a military superpower such as the Soviet Union. The threat that we face today is much more diffuse. Sometimes people try to identify a threat by talking about the threat of a universal caliphate. Maybe Hizb ut-Tahrir and Osama bin Laden fantasise nostalgically about the caliphate, but it is most improbable that it could ever be realised. For a start, Shia Muslims—a large part of the Islamic world—do not believe in the universal caliphate. Therefore, Iran, identified as the great danger in this debate, will not be pushing that concept. In fact, the idea of the universal caliphate was not so popular at the end of the First World War when it disintegrated among fighting between Turks and Arabs.
We are not facing a war of civilisations but the threat posed by, I accept, a very large number of small groups of Islamic extremists who can mount terrorist attacks. They can kill innocent civilians, damage property and sting us into making inappropriate reactions. These people can murder but do not threaten the West’s existence or our way of life. Combating them is a job for Special Forces and the police, both domestic and international.
I accept that there is also a separate problem of nuclear proliferation. I agree with the Minister and my noble friend Lord Howell about the danger of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons which could destabilise the Middle East. It is a serious problem which, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, has to be tackled with diplomacy and other measures.
Unfortunately, our task has been made much harder—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was hinting—by the fact that we have turned a blind eye to the possession of nuclear weapons by countries that we regard as more favourable to the West. I agree with him that it would have been much better if, earlier on, we had devoted our efforts towards trying to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
The former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, made a speech last week in which he compared the situation in the Middle East with the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s. In the West, we have had new Hitlers several times. Sir Anthony Eden saw Nasser as Hitler, the Americans saw Ho Chi Minh as the equivalent of Nazi Europe and, not so long ago, Colonel Gaddafi was the latest Hitler figure. I am not sure that the former Prime Minister’s remarks are entirely helpful if they are designed to solve the problem that we have with Iran—a country, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester reminded us, which is highly factional and diverse, and which has a defence budget that is 1 per cent that of the United States.
If Iran is Nazi Germany on the rise, it seems very strange that it made the offer it did in 2003 to rein in Hezbollah and Hamas, help America in Iraq and introduce transparency in the nuclear programme—an offer rejected out of hand because America felt that it was on the offensive and had the advantage. Today, sadly, the psychology is the other way around.
Nothing about Iran today can be understood without reference to the Iran-Iraq war. Trying to understand Iran without reference to that is like trying to understand modern Britain without reference to the two great wars. It is true that Iran displays a highly hostile attitude to Israel, particularly regarding Palestine. Iran has no legitimate involvement in the Palestine question, whereas one can argue that it has a legitimate interest in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Why does it maintain this policy towards Palestine and Israel? I believe it is for two reasons. First, if Iran is attacked, it knows that it cannot retaliate against the United States but it probably thinks that it could do so against Israel. It may be overestimating its own capacity in that regard. Secondly and more importantly, hostility against Israel stops Iran being isolated within the Gulf. Arab Governments are opposed to Iran but I regret to say that the President of Iran’s stance—outrageous that it is—is tremendously popular in the Arab street. There would be no way more effective in undercutting Iran and isolating it than to make progress on the Palestinian question, which is why I hope that the Government will put renewed energy and vigour into that.
Another threat identified in Mr Blair’s speech in New York was the rise of political Islam, about which I would like to say a word. We have seen in recent years the rise of political Islam, sometimes called Islamism—the belief that government should be based on the religion of Islam. It is perfectly possible to believe in political Islam without being a supporter of terrorism. There are terrorists who are Islamists but not all Islamists are terrorists.
Islamism is a spectrum. There is a profound difference between the political Islam of Sunnis and Shias or the political Islam of Iran and Hamas. Throughout the Islamic world, religious parties have been advancing and advancing in democratic elections—in Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Algeria, Egypt and Turkey. William Dalrymple remarked the other day that democracy, not terrorism, has been the engine of political Islam.
Religious parties often come to power, or increase their vote even if they do not come to power, because they are seen as representing justice and the interests of the poor. Often they are the alternatives to despotic or corrupt regimes as I think, to some extent, Hamas was seen as the alternative to corrupt Fatah. On several occasions, the West’s response has been to reject the result of a democratic election, if it is the wrong one, as we decided it was in Palestine and in Egypt.
While I agree with what the Minister said about human rights in Iran, he would have been more convincing if he had coupled it with a strong condemnation of the human rights situation and the imprisonment of political dissidents in Egypt. We are far less vocal about countries that we regard as more in favour of ourselves.
It may be that a religiously based state will be a stage that some countries pass through as they progress towards full democracy. There is no reason why the West should not exist with Islamic states. However, the great mistake that we hope we will avoid making is denying the results of democratic elections when they bring to power those of whom we do not approve. That is simply going to reinforce the Islamist trend and those who sometimes use the democratic process to protest against particular regimes.
In the Middle East, as in Ireland, the shadow of history is a very long one. Today’s children are paying for our grandparents’ mistakes. We have to be careful that we are not creating a bitter legacy for future generations. I hope that that will not happen and that we can put aside some of our mistakes in recent years.
My Lords, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about the war on terror, Middle Eastern perceptions of the West and Islamic politics. However, I will not pursue these subjects but suggest that in approaching this timely debate—for which many are grateful—we should ask what the real interests of the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel are.
The answer lies in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, an end to conditions of war and non-recognition and, more widely, a reasonable balance of forces. If these aims could be achieved, it would be in the national interest of the three states that I have mentioned. It would mean that the Middle Eastern region could make a positive contribution to the rest of the world instead of being a permanent source of instability and violence. The proposed international conference at Annapolis may assist the bilateral and multilateral aims, provided that it respects existing realities. Here I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Hannay, who is no longer present, that this means that Syria and Hamas should not be excluded. Both are too strong to be ignored. Syria is strategically placed and its Government show no signs of collapsing. Hamas enjoys solid popular support in both Gaza and the West Bank. A Palestinian Government of national unity could have continued successfully had it not been for the inept preconditions and quasi boycotts imposed by the external powers. I did warn against these mistakes at the time.
It would be helpful to Annapolis and to the search for long-term peace if the pro-Israel lobby in the United States could be persuaded to show a degree of restraint. Its past failure to do so has meant that the Oslo agreements went unimplemented, that peace with Syria was not achieved, and that the opportunity of the Saudi and Arab League initiatives was missed.
I conclude by mentioning two small points which some might think insignificant. I suggest that together they could do much to improve the climate for negotiations. In Gaza, there are some 6,000 students who have places in foreign universities and institutions, many of them with scholarships attached. They are unable to travel because of the blockade and the closing of the crossing points. Surely it would benefit Israel to let them go to study rather than stay at home, disaffected and liable to be recruited into terrorism.
The second point concerns the 10,000 or more Palestinians currently detained in Israel or who have been convicted by military courts. They include a few women and children, plus many members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council. I welcome the release of 87 individuals in early October, but I suggest that a proper review mechanism is needed to assess length of detention, current attitudes and a whole range of humanitarian factors. Her Majesty’s Government, with their experience of the release of politically motivated offenders in Northern Ireland, could perhaps offer good offices in this context. A review mechanism which led to regular releases would give much hope. It would also be in Israel’s interest by reducing the likelihood of its soldiers or officials being kidnapped.
My Lords, I cannot hope to emulate the most interesting tour de force of the Minister in opening this debate, but I will do my best to concentrate on three particular areas. I start with Iraq. Like my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, I am disturbed by the way in which the reduction of our forces in Iraq was announced and how it appears it is about to be carried out. Surely we agree that there should be no premature weakening of our presence in Iraq. The position is still extremely fragile, but there are signs of hope, not least because of the way the Iraqis themselves are increasingly taking control over their own affairs. Obviously there is a long way to go, and we have a great responsibility for keeping our presence strong and effective, in particular by helping them to deal with insurgents, by holding the ring and continuing with the training of Iraqi police and military personnel, which our forces have done with such consummate skill and which is now extremely well established. What a tragedy it is for the people of Iraq that a Sunni/Shia struggle for power within Iraq is depriving them of the great opportunities which undoubtedly await them, if only they could settle their differences and manage their own affairs effectively.
Turning to the Middle East as a whole, most commentators refer to the need to resolve the Palestine/Israel situation. I agree on the importance of achieving that, or at any rate of making further progress towards achieving it. No doubt the two-state solution does offer the best prospect for peace, but I do not think that that has any chance of coming about unless there is the prospect of a viable Palestinian state, and that in turn cannot come about unless Israel ceases the building of settlements and withdraws from the east of Jerusalem the settlements which it is in the process of establishing.
It is also most important that we engage Syria as actively as possible in our discussions when referring to the Palestine/Israel settlements. Syria is an Arab League nation and should be closely involved in all the discussions. Perhaps the opportunity will arise during the next few days for the Government to encourage Saudi Arabia to renew the initiatives it showed a short time ago. Perhaps that nation can broker an arrangement with Syria to become involved in these discussions.
However, the discussions are about to move to Annapolis in the United States of America, a city of which I have the honour to be a freeman and where one of my ancestors, the last colonial Governor of Maryland, is buried. We are not quite clear about what is going to happen in Annapolis, nor are we yet 100 per cent sure exactly who will be taking part in the discussions. Like the Select Committee, whose report is before us in today’s debate and was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I suggest that greater emphasis should be placed on the possible role of Hamas. I know that it sticks in the throat to have to talk to people who have engaged in acts of violence, but throughout our history we have had to do that over and over. The time has come when Hamas needs to be drawn more openly and fully into the substantive discussions which the other countries are engaged in. I hope, therefore, that our Government will change their position on this point and encourage the involvement of Hamas directly in the Israeli/Palestinian summit to be held next month in Annapolis.
I agree with those who have said that a solution to Iran must be found through diplomatic endeavour. On this point, to what extent is the Minister able to tell us about the position of Russia following the visit of Mr Putin to Tehran? Is there any encouragement coming from that quarter? Is there any prospect of a settlement on a diplomatic basis? I know that Russia was more interested in establishing a Caspian security arrangement and that the interest there lies in oil. But oil is not the only interest that Russia must have in Iran. Russia must also be anxious to ensure that a fundamentalist Islamist influence does not permeate from Iran further north towards Russia.
While on the subject of Iran, I would like to say a word about the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran. There is no justification to continue the proscription of the PMOI. It is not a terrorist organisation. We only went along with that in a form of appeasement to Iran which has done absolutely no good. The people of Iran are anxious for a settlement with the West. The mullahs of Iran may not be, but those who speak openly about the need for greater rapprochement with other countries in the Middle East from Iran deserve all the encouragement that we can give them. That certainly applies to the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
My noble friend Lord Lamont referred to the long shadow of history. I agree with him that we all bear some responsibility for preserving an undue significance in those shadows. We all have the baggage of history on our shoulders, but even in the situation in the Middle East we can find hope if we can change the education policies of some of those countries. Perhaps this is a subject on which my noble friend Lady Warsi, whose brilliant speech was so moving, can make further contributions at some time. I think of the madrassahs in Pakistan, of the schoolbooks that are being used in Palestine right now and of the amount of preaching of hatred that goes on the whole time, more often than not in the name of religion. Education holds a hope for the future if we can get it right.
Lastly, nobody can talk about the Middle East without talking about America’s presence there. Without America there could be no prospect for any settlement anyway. I hope that American policy-makers can be less heavy-booted in their approach to these matters sometimes and not refer to everyone by the blanket label “Islamists”. People in Arab countries are as different as people in western countries. The people of Iran are different from the people of Syria and Lebanon and elsewhere. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said, what we need to bring about a settlement of these issues more than anything else is patience. He is right; we do need patience. But I would add one further word to that tenacity.
My Lords, it is a real privilege both to listen to and to participate in this kind of debate in your Lordships’ House, graced by so many accomplished, knowledgeable and experienced speakers, by two very distinguished maiden speeches and, among many others, by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, with his very particular knowledge, perspective and experience. I was struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, whose words resonated with me over and over again, though at the very end—and thinking of my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester—I wondered whether what he was talking about will prove to be the case or whether it is a momentary blindness; I wondered whether religiously based states are a stage through which states will pass on the way to greater democracy or whether this is how things may be for centuries and in many other parts of the world as well.
I appreciated the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Eden, about history and those of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about what we in our age may be laying up for our grandchildren, just as our grandparents’ generation laid up so much of the present situation. One thing that has surprised me in this debate is how little reference has been made to British responsibility in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s for so much not only of the boundaries but also of the character of the regimes that have preceded the present ones right across the area about which we have been speaking and how that has left people of all sorts in these countries viewing us in some rather particular ways as British people and British Governments.
Some of your Lordships may have seen in the press that, in June, I wrote with two of my colleagues, the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Exeter and of Coventry, a letter to the Prime Minister as he came into office. With an eye on Annapolis and as people with different but long-standing interests in the Middle East, we wrote to see whether we could draw out of him his own sense of the essentials and vision for the region, particularly around Israel/Palestine, offering some of our own observations and conclusions. We began by supporting the commitment of the Prime Minister and the British Government—although it is a much more widespread commitment, too—to a two-state solution, although we noted the extent to which that was becoming, for a range of reasons, increasingly unviable, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, has just said.
We noted the speech that the Prime Minister made at the president’s dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews on 25 April, in which he committed himself to fight anti-Semitism and to remain a lifelong friend and supporter of Israel. In recognising the absolute right of Israel to exist, he called for people to work together for a two-state solution. We said that those were all sentiments with which the three of us wholeheartedly agreed. But we went on to note how on that occasion he had spoken of his understanding of the Hebrew word “tzedakah”, or justice and righteousness—a great biblical word in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament. We said that it seemed to us essential to hold that word in mind and to encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to hold it in mind about each other. We wondered whether, in that connection, he had really seen, and allowed to enter deep into his consciousness, the character of the security wall and the way in which it was, as we put it, separating people from their land, isolating communities and acting as a significant element in impoverishing and pauperising a large part of the Palestinian communities.
In that connection, I was intrigued a week or so ago to read in the press the comments of a UN official—he probably should not have said what he was reported as saying—who talked of recently briefing the previous Prime Minister in his present role on the situation in Israel and Palestine, particularly about the borders and the implications of the security wall and of the range of policies on both sides of it for the welfare and viability of Palestinians at present and in a future state. He said that he found Mr Blair both amazed and surprised by the briefings. This UN official then described how very surprising he found that, given the position that Mr Blair had been in for so long. Like my colleagues and many others, I believe that what is critical is an attempt to take in what is happening to Israelis and Palestinians in the present situation.
It was intriguing to receive, in a letter dated 5 October, the Prime Minister’s response, not least because it was so very much more positive, more engaged, more daring and more explicit than the Government’s response to the EU Committee’s document, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, absolutely fairly said was bland and non-committal to a degree—although I have said more than the noble Lord said, that is what I think he meant. The Prime Minister was very up front. He shared our vision and said that this was a rare moment of opportunity to take the peace process forward. He said that the US-led meeting in November will focus minds on a goal and that we really need to be up and at it and play a full part as the UK, and then within the EU and within the quartet.
That led me to think that the Prime Minister had in mind some of the kind of things that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and his friends had very interestingly said in the committee’s document. I confess that, as I only got hold of it today, I have only read portions of it, but other noble Lords have noted significant portions. While supporting the position of the EU within the quartet and recognising the fundamental relationship with the United States, noble Lords are also saying that some independence of mind is required and necessary. There is a particular history of EU countries with the Middle East and there is a particular history within the EU of the UK in the Middle East.
The Prime Minister went on to be much more explicit than what was in the Government’s response. He said:
“We share your concerns over the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
He also said:
“We continue to call on Israel to halt settlement activities and the construction of the barrier on Palestinian land”.
It is important that we pick up the issues and encourage the Government to do so—I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s winding-up speech in that regard—with the greater sense of urgency that has found its way out into the media and the press in recent years about a situation that, for both Israelis and Palestinians, has elements that are simply terrible. We cannot be seen to allow it to continue until something better appears over the horizon.
I return to the question of the viability of the Palestinian side of the two-state solution. Noble Lords may have recently seen in the press an energetic critique, which surfaces periodically in the work of NGO Monitor, the Jerusalem-based think tank, of the work of Christian Aid in the Occupied Territories. The critique is of a pair of Christian Aid documents in particular, one of which I re-read—Israel and Palestine: A Question of Viability, a report published by Christian Aid in June this year—having read NGO Monitor’s material. This is not the moment to go into detail, except to say that I encourage noble Lords, if they are tempted to accept NGO Monitor’s critique at face value, actually to read the document that it is critiquing. Having re-read the report, I do not find that the critique relates to the Christian Aid text with any real accuracy. More important, the report is worth reading because it is among the most valuable and—from my experience, which is linked particularly to Bethlehem—accurate summaries of what is now needed if the Palestinian side of the two-state solution is to be viable.
I have already alluded to the fact that the committee is right to look for a greater sense of energy and initiative, both from the UK Government and in EU participation in the quartet, if the process is to be kept moving. Too much hangs on the whole situation in Israel/Palestine. While I value and agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, it is not good enough to say that that is the key to it all. I find when I talk to young Muslim people in Southampton that among the things that fire them—and that, their elders fear, fire them very much when they watch Al Jazeera or whatever coming into their homes—is the question of what is perceived across the Arab and Muslim world as a particularly profound injustice and dishonesty among western powers around Israel/Palestine. That is an urgent matter for us to address.
I have been grateful that a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Eden, have questioned—as has the EU Committee, although in very diplomatic terms—the wisdom of the exclusion of Hamas from the range of diplomatic activity. I would like to hear the Minister on that subject. If the British Government are rightly arguing for probing, accurate and excellent diplomatic work with Iran, why are they not saying the same thing with regard to Hamas? I see no significant difference. As others have pointed out, so much in our history says that we have to talk to people. A meeting in Annapolis or anywhere else with such an utterly partial representation of Palestinians is a meeting set up to fail.
I again underline the urgency of the situation. In Israel/Palestine, the Israeli state and hundreds of thousands of Israelis suffer seriously from the failure after so long of all sides, both internal and external, to find a resolution. From the Balfour Declaration onwards, we in the UK hold enormous responsibility for the whole situation through the mandate. I am struck that, whenever I speak about these things in Winchester, people tell me that they were there in 1946, 1947 and 1948 and speak about their experiences in that period. They ask why this process is taking so long and why we in the UK with our history and huge and onerous responsibility are not working much harder to resolve the problem. I am distressed and feel considerable anxiety and guilt at the thought that in recent years the international community has left this situation to fester, thus causing enormous damage to Israelis and still more to Palestinians. I hope that the Minister will commit to an energetic lead in working at these questions and will not let the problems just go on and on.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the debate.
We can debate the desirability of current military operations but we also have to examine the UK capacity to engage in them to the extent that we do. British defence planning assumptions allow for one medium-scale operation enduring—medium-scale comprises a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 men—and one small-scale, comprising a battalion group of 600 men, possibly with naval support, and possibly enduring. The reality is that we are at double medium-scale plus and we have been doing this since 2003. This is a recipe for disaster. We cannot go on in this way.
It is not just about the 24-month tour interval; it is about strategic assets supporting two operations when just enough for one is provided; it is about the rate of spares usage and refurbishment of platforms. More importantly, it is about training for war rather than just the war; the training and experience of senior officers and, finally, the ability to deploy on a large scale deliberate intervention at divisional level—an LSDI.
I have served on an LSDI called Op TELIC 1. Your Lordships will recall that it was militarily successful, but part of that success came from deploying on exercise Saif Sareea in Oman in 2001. But we cannot undertake another exercise Saif Sareea until at least 2015. The very time one questions the need for an LSDI capability is a few years before it is really needed. However, at that point the genuine LSDI capability has been lost and then we get our posterior kicked. The need for the LSDI capability was recognised in the SDR. Does the Minister agree that we cannot engage in LSDI at the moment but that we need to maintain that capability?
I will not weary your Lordships explaining the perils of operating far outside defence planning assumptions for an extended period but they are very real. If any noble Lord thinks that US forces do not have this problem, he should think again. They do, but as with everything American, they have it on a bigger scale than we do. Clearly, we must either cut our commitments or massively increase our resources. Since no extra funds for defence or overseas operations are likely to be available on the scale required—and in any case it would take too long to implement any enhancements—we must cut our commitments.
We cannot affect the outcome in Iraq, however hard we try. We have a small fraction of the forces deployed by the Americans. But we can affect the outcome in Afghanistan, especially if we concentrate our forces on that operation, rather than do too little everywhere. I leave it to the foreign affairs experts and party leaders to say where to concentrate our efforts, but I know what I would do.
We should not reduce our forces in one area. We should close that operation completely. I did not know that my noble friend Lord Howell was going to put this point so well. On Iraq, he said that we should get in or get out. He rightly pointed to some of the risks of a small deployment. In principle, he is right. But, in reality, countering the risk of a large-scale attack could mean that our forces do very little other than exist in theatre. I have already undertaken to spare your Lordships a lesson in military logistics, but closing an operation completely is a lot different from reducing it. There are a lot more savings. But we must avoid the trap of withdrawing from Iraq completely and then redeploying all those forces to Afghanistan because of the long-term damage we are doing to our defence capability. We would be continuing to operate far outside of defence planning assumptions. If we continue to do that, we will encounter serious problems.
There are two useful concepts for engaging counter-insurgency and peace support operations. They are effects-based operations and the comprehensive approach. Many noble Lords have referred to the lack of a comprehensive approach to current operations. Put simply, as a crude example, a desired end state might be a peaceful area of operations. The effect needed might be for the farmers who have turned guerrillas to leave that area. Two activities could have that effect. One is to bomb them—a kinetic solution with all its attendant problems. The other is to put more resource into the aid effort by providing or repairing irrigation systems, and providing seeds and tools, so that the farmers will go home and do what they are good at. Of course, that is a civil activity and not a military activity, but you arrive at the desired end state of a peaceful area of operations.
My concern is that while we might engage in effects-based operations at a low level, we certainly do not do a comprehensive approach at the strategic level in Whitehall and the UK. It is even more difficult to ensure that we have a comprehensive approach at coalition level. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, referred to it as an elusive concept—I think he was referring to a comment in a recent report. But that is not to say that excellent work is not being done in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Kajaki Dam project is a fine example. Money to improve the electricity supply comes from the USAID, but the security comes from British forces in Helmand province. The electricity will improve the lot of the ordinary Afghan and will be a tangible and obvious benefit of progress. It will drive a wedge between the reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban, and will help to extend a writ of the Government of Afghanistan to all their country.
I know that there is a post-conflict reconstruction unit, but it does not mean that we have a comprehensive approach at the strategic level. Which Minister is in overall charge of current overseas operations? As far as I can see, there is not a Minister for Afghanistan or a Minister for Iraq. I believe that at one point Lord Longford was Minister for Germany. He was obviously running the whole thing, the comprehensive approach. We are not doing that at the moment. Theoretically, of course, the Prime Minister is in charge, but I suspect he is a bit busy with domestic policy.
There is public dissatisfaction with both the aid and military operations in Afghanistan. This derives from unrealistic expectations of the rate of progress. There is no doubt that we will have to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan for at least a decade, maybe longer. This is not a prophecy of failure; it is the nature of the problem. In Helmand there is a considerable need for reconstruction and development, but it is difficult to implement reconstruction without improving security. However, it is very hard to improve security until the local population reject the Taliban.
Yes, we can militarily engage the Taliban, but this has its own problems, and Taliban body count is not a measure of success. It will be a slow process to put some security in place in Helmand, in order to facilitate some reconstruction, in order, then, to get some freedom of manoeuvre for the military. There is no doubt that the British public expect there to be some great event in Afghanistan, whereby the Taliban will be defeated. Of course, that will not happen. It will be a slow process to drive that wedge between the reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban, and to marginalise the irreconcilable.
Some noble Lords might think that the MoD is failing in its media operations; nothing could be further from the truth. MoD press officers produce good and accurate stories for the media; the problem is that the media simply do not run them. The stories are there but they do not use them.
Many noble Lords are concerned about drug production in Helmand. The Minister gave a frank account of the current situation. Opium cultivation is an indicator of a lack of proper government. The writ of the Government of Afghanistan does not extend to those areas of cultivation. Our forces certainly do not have freedom of manoeuvre in those areas, which presents problems for the Government. It is important to remember that opium eradication is not a military task. However, the UK does lead on drugs policy within the coalition.
There are several schools of thought regarding eradication. Some think that it is easy. It is not. Any eradication has to be carefully targeted. If a farmer is up to his neck in debt, his land is poor and his poppy crop is destroyed, he will be driven into the arms of the Taliban. We would hope that he would be only a reconcilable member, but he would be in the hands of the enemy none the less. On the other hand, where a greedy farmer grows poppy on land that can easily support legitimate crops, targeted eradication may be beneficial, not least because it would increase the risk of cultivating poppy, rather than legitimate crops.
Aerial spraying would be disastrous. It is very effective at destroying the poppy, and is favoured, unfortunately, by the Americans, but spraying is indiscriminate and might damage legitimate crops. Worse, Taliban propaganda would claim that the chemicals in the spray cause infertility and birth defects. We have heard about how effective Taliban propaganda is. We would lose hearts and minds. Increased poppy production is disappointing, but it is not a driver for our efforts in Afghanistan. When we can get the writ of the Government of Afghanistan to extend across the country, and their police force is effective and honest, we can expect opium production to fall.
My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging but interesting debate. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said in his thoughtful opening speech. It has been helpful to tie in the valuable EU Committee report on the Middle East peace process with this debate. We have had two excellent maiden speeches. I was especially interested by the references of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to women’s rights, an issue that she is fully engaged in. It is also an issue in this country. Last Friday night, in Bradford, I was interested to hear about a speech that she had given last week on the role of the Braderei in the Kashmiri community in west Yorkshire. I would love to talk further about that with her.
We also had a very interesting maiden speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who was referred to as a distinguished and senior Foreign Office official. When I first met her, she was a distinguished but junior Foreign Office official. I am trying to remember whether it was 1974 or 1975 when she first briefed me on foreign policy co-operation among EU member states, when I was myself only a junior researcher at Chatham House. We look forward to many further contributions from her.
There are many larger issues underlying this debate, some of which have been touched on by several other speakers. The first is what lessons we can draw on liberal intervention—the doctrine that our former Prime Minister expounded in his Chicago speech; that underlay a number of UN documents such as the Canadian report and others; and that, in the more ambitious neo-conservative strategy, proposes transforming the Muslim world into democracies—that is, both Tony Blair’s assumption that we could harness American power to a progressive moral international mission and the Bush Administration’s assumption that a coalition of democracies under American leadership could police and reshape the world.
We have now discovered the limits of military power and military intervention. Iraq has become a quagmire because we did not think through the extent to which military intervention can be only part of an attempt to reconstruct a state and to assist in redevelopment. In Afghanistan, we find ourselves now caught in the contradiction between fighting the Taliban, state building and economic reconstruction. We are state building in a country where many parts never really had a state and where, for example, the power of Kabul never played a large role in Helmand.
We now know that there are limits to what the Atlantic allies can do alone. We need to work with others—China, Russia, India and even Iran—if we are to achieve peace and stability in the area. There are also lessons for the special relationship. I very much support the underlying argument in the EU Committee report that, on the Middle East peace process, we need more Europe and less of following the American lead. The United States has, after all, now been the dominant power across the Middle East for 50 years; the sponsor of Israel; the ally and external supporter of authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, until 1979, of the Shah’s regime in Iran. Sadly, under the Bush Administration much more than under their predecessors, it has become clear that American policy towards the Middle East is driven much more by domestic lobbies and by ideology than by careful consideration of national interest and international order, and by a deliberate attempt in the US to suppress intelligent and independent analysis of the complex politics of the Middle East region. As an academic and political scientist, I have a great deal of sympathy with some of those in the United States who have felt the political pressures to limit their analyses of the Middle East.
For example, the American attitude to Iran since 1979 has been fixated on the Iranian threat while at the same time forgetting how the United States has looked to Iranians since the 1953 coup. No American I speak to appears to be aware that the United States shot down an Iranian airliner some 20 years ago, or that the United States actively supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, or that Iranian nationalism is as important as fundamentalism or anti-Americanism in Iranian attitudes to the United States. As other noble Lords have said, that leads to American approaches to Iran which, because of that underlying sense of aggression, are far more fundamentalist—one has to use the term—than American approaches to North Korea.
Then, there is the capture of American policy by the Israeli right through other domestic lobbies. That has also had an unfortunate effect on American policy, in which we see the American commitment to democratise the entire Middle East somersaulting when Hamas does well in the Palestinian elections, leading to active attempts to undermine the Palestinian coalition Government—one who offered us a brief prospect of a constructive way forward.
There are lessons for the importance of religion in global politics, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester told us. Radical Islam is now a religious ideology that has replaced Marxism as the rationale for the excluded and the alienated across the world—and in this country. There is great importance, therefore, in how we in the non-Islamic world respond to that challenge. There is a dangerous tendency within the United States to see this conflict as a long war between civilisations, and against an implacable and unchangeable enemy. It was a great mistake for our former Prime Minister Tony Blair to feed that tendency in his speech to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New York, using the language of fascism to categorise Islam—“Islamo-fascism”, which means that they are totally irrational and that we cannot deal with them. There are, after all, four states in the world with religious legitimacy as their primary foundation: the Vatican, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. I suppose that we ought now to add a fifth: the current regime in Iran. Four of those five are in the Middle East.
We have to be concerned to promote modernisation through necessary compromise between faith and toleration, or between moral certainty and democratic diversity, which we have painfully achieved in this country, and which has been achieved across other states in Europe, sometimes in our own lifetime. Indeed, we forget how recently some of those developments took place in this country. In the first general election of 1974, I remember Father Kelly taking me round the Catholic clubs in Manchester Moss Side and, before we went in, telling me that I had to understand that we would be distinguished by a number of things. First, we would be the only ones there who were not drunk; secondly, the only ones who did not claim to have cousins in Long Kesh; and, thirdly, the only ones who did not believe that the IRA was entirely right and the British Government entirely wrong.
We have moved on from that and now see—or sometimes claim to see—the fundamentalist Muslim challenge. As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, we have to be concerned with the evolution of an Islamic version of democracy. Perhaps in Europe, where we have our own substantial population of Muslim citizens, that is part of what we will now, slowly and painfully, see develop.
There are also lessons for the future of NATO at stake in Afghanistan. How many troops does NATO really need? How many more will the United Kingdom provide, as we draw down in Iraq, alongside the dribble of extra forces from the new NATO states? We will fail in Afghanistan if this becomes a war rather than a mission in which economic and political reconstruction are central. We will fail if we cannot constructively engage Iran in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, or persuade Pakistan to control its own radical Muslim groups. Some of those are linked to the military and intelligence agencies.
I read an interesting article over the weekend in Survival, the IISS journal, which referred to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “passive sponsors of terrorism”—and interestingly compared them, as an American author did, to the United States as a passive sponsor of the IRA. I hope that the Government will make it clear to the Saudis during the state visit that we need much more active support from their regime than we have seen so far on the debate within Islam and on support for liberalising processes in the region.
A number of noble Lords have spoken about the importance of the Annapolis conference and prospects for peace. There are real dangers of another half-hearted initiative on this issue ending in betrayed hopes and failure. I have read various worrying reports in the American press that President Bush is not fully committed to this initiative and that domestic lobbies are mobilising in Congress against it. We have, after all, had 40 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine, interrupted by the brief hopes and disengagement of the Oslo process in the 1990s. The situation in occupied Palestine is not stable. There are new Israeli settlement plans east of Jerusalem. Gaza is being strangled. The West Bank economy is sinking. The most recent edition of Survival has a depressing but persuasive article by Yezid Sayigh of King’s College London. The title says everything:
“Inducing a Failed State in Palestine”.
That is the direction we are going in, and if the state fails, we will have civil war, disorder and external terrorism. We also have weak government in Israel, with a populist Right, some Jewish fundamentalists and an active and unhelpful settlers’ movement. We have to hope that former Prime Minister Blair will not end in the same depressed state of mind as James Wolfensohn and Alvaro de Soto, who wrote despairing final comments on the failures of their missions.
We all understand the outlines of the only acceptable framework for peace and stability—two viable states with agreed boundaries and a special status for the holy places of Jerusalem. The long-term security of Israel depends on the achievement of such a framework. Those of us who see ourselves as friends of Israel find it difficult to defend it as strongly as we would like, as long as new settlements are under way, as long as internal barriers multiply within the occupied West Bank and the blockade tightens around Gaza, or as long as there is a culture within the Israel Defence Forces that permits the ill treatment of Palestinians, as Haaretz reported last week. We understand that there are many, many weaknesses on the Palestinian side within Fatah and Hamas, but we understand also that one has to deal with unpleasant people if one wants to achieve peace.
We are faced in the Middle East with the United States as the dominant but flawed power, bogged down in the area, declaring a “war on terror” but unwilling to tackle its profligate use of oil or reduce its dependence on foreign purchases of US Treasury funds by raising domestic taxes. As the EU Committee report remarks, we need more active and coherent European diplomacy and we need to engage other major players as much as we can, including those two difficult global players, Russia and China.
My Lords, forgive me if my reply is not comprehensive in answering all the points raised. I would need much more than the allotted time and would keep all noble Lords here long past a decent time. I begin by joining all those who have welcomed two remarkable maiden speeches, which offered, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, two very different but equally interesting perspectives on Afghanistan. Listening to those complementary but different views, I wondered whether I started to see a broad tent billowing on that side of the House.
I have tried to organise my responses by country, rather than by responding individually to each point made by noble Lords. I shall try to cluster what has been said under country headings. I shall begin with Afghanistan. The issue I will address first is poppy cultivation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and several others said that it is time to try licit cultivation. The issue was raised in this House just before the summer and, as a consequence, I met with the head of the Senlis Council to explore the idea further and made deep inquiries into the experience in Afghanistan with schemes of that kind. Indeed, I revisited the issue when I was there last week.
Aerial spraying is the only other strategy which unites people as forcefully against it as licit cultivation, and I heard from the military, the NGOs and my colleagues in the Foreign Office why it would not work. First, unlimited experimentation in the past had gone disastrously wrong and conditions that would allow the successful transfer of illegal production into a legal channel were completely absent. They had the view that all it would do was add to the total volume of production. With a new, second and legal client, people would just grow more. There would not be the framework of policing and law to ensure that the only growth was for legal use. Secondly, because of the very difficult situation in Helmand province, where communications are difficult owing to the insurgency, it was felt that such a policy would send dangerous mixed signals: first, you were told not to grow and then you were told that you could grow under certain circumstances. The view was that it would muddle the message. Thirdly, many experts in drug eradication have confirmed that while Afghanistan is a world market-beater in illegal cultivation, the growth of legal poppy for medicinal uses is already a crowded market. A number of growers are producing more inexpensively and there is just not the additional demand. People who have taken a very hard look at the issue believe it would not work.
Equally, from President Karzai downward and outward to all the foreign partners, except the United States, there is a similar objection to aerial spraying, which is the other radical break with policy proposed. In my view, that does not mean that we muddle along in the middle somewhere, doing a little bit of this and that. There is a need for much greater imagination in our eradication efforts.
I am pleased to say that DfID is looking at whether we can put on a more formal and structured long-term basis what one would controversially describe as an Afghan equivalent of a CAP, with subsidised purchase of legal crops to make returns more like those from poppy.
We have to do a much better job of not targeting the farmers, the producers whose hearts and minds we are trying to win in the counter-insurgency effort. We have to target the industry above that—the financiers, the shippers, the drug big-men who are benefiting from the production. We know who they are and the Government of Afghanistan know who they are. A system banning them from travel, listing them and freezing their bank accounts, hitting at the industry’s infrastructure, strikes me as an area in which more can be done. I spoke to the ISAF commander while I was there and he recognises—it is more broadly recognised—that, as drugs and insurgency wrap their limbs around each other, there is a need to break that link by targeting the factories and laboratories via military action if necessary, to take out the infrastructure, and not by targeting the farmers. I take the point that we need to do more and to look hard, because the trends in production figures are simply not satisfactory. We cannot sustain them.
I want to ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, understood the point I made earlier that some provinces—where there is the rule of law, where there are development alternatives and where the writ of government runs—have reached the point at which they are not producing any opium. That is unfortunately more than offset by the jump in production in Helmand. We see these double trends in the country, and there is no doubt that the post-insurgency conditions of stable government and peace are the environment in which we can finally lick the problem. We must therefore win the battle with the insurgency in Helmand. On that point, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, referred to the difficult geography of Afghanistan. I agree. Each time I fly over that country, I think, “Is this really a country?”, with its extraordinary valleys surrounded by mountains, making it very difficult both for military operations and for creating any sense of nationhood.
Helmand is an area in which, despite the heroic efforts of our troops and a lot of tactical military successes for them, we are not yet prevailing in the broader strategic battle because we have been unable to move in behind those successes the kind of Afghan-led civilian-political effort that would capitalise on them to win back ordinary villages to the government side. As recently as today, President Karzai and I agreed on that analysis. There is a sense that the Taliban are a long-term insurance policy for people—a sense of security after this Government fail. We must reverse that pessimism and sense of transience in Afghan politics, and persuade the ordinary people of Helmand that we, this Government and democracy are here to stay to support them for as long as they need.
On that point, reference has been made to this being a long-term commitment. We in the Government do indeed view this as a long-term commitment, but one that must have clear benchmarks and make the transition over time from the military activity of today to a civilian support mission where there is a role for military training but where British men and women are no longer in the front line fighting someone else’s war. We must allow Afghans to take on that lead role. We will be there for a long time, but the role must change.
We do not see a great jump in troop levels. We do not think that anything like the numbers that have been traditional in counter-insurgency operations are possible to achieve in Afghanistan. It is enormously important that, from now on, an enhanced political effort is the main thrust that prevails in this conflict. That effort must be backed by military action, but there would be no dramatic growth in troop levels. There is no appetite for it among our allies. Britain is already the second biggest troop contributor. Yes, we can supplement modestly what is there, but we cannot make the dramatic jumps in troop levels about which some have talked. In the same way, a question was asked about our Apache helicopters. There is a worldwide shortage of helicopters for operations of this kind today. I am out there looking for helicopters for Darfur as well as for Afghanistan, and I can confirm that there ain’t many around. They are a very versatile instrument for these kinds of activities.
In the interests of time, let me move on from Afghanistan, but not without again praising our troops there, as the noble Baroness did. Like her, I have just seen Fort Bastion, which is remarkable evidence of our commitment and the quality of our efforts there.
I turn next to Iran. I confirm the view of those who have said that Iran has a sense of besiegement. It feels that it has powerful enemies and that, in that sense, it is forced to strike back. But let us not feel sorry for little Iran because it is also a major force in its region, and a not altogether friendly one. Through little effort on its own part it has won two massive strategic successes that nobody wished to give it. The first is the emergence of a Shia Government in Iraq and the second is the overthrow of its old enemy the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran has never been better blessed than today with the neighbours that western policy has helped put in power in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, rather than quitting while it is ahead and recognising that it has been played a very lucky hand by the fate of geopolitics, Iran, as I said earlier, cannot resist perhaps going a bridge too far in its activities across the border into Afghanistan and across the border into Iraq; in both cases, it is smuggling in weapons to tactical allies it has made there.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary repeated what was said by the previous Foreign Secretary on whether the UK is committed to not using force. I do not think he used his words, but he said that we are absolutely committed to a diplomatic track on the nuclear issue. We have, however, warned Iran directly and through intermediaries—I have done it myself in a number of ways—that we will not tolerate attacks using Iranian weapons on our troops in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Just a few weeks ago we tracked another shipment of very dangerous explosive weapons from Iran into Afghanistan. These activities pose a real risk to Iran and we urge it resist these behaviours.
As I have said, we are committed to the diplomatic track on the nuclear front. It has been asked tonight whether Russia is as well. Russia has supported two Security Council resolutions on sanctions and is committed in principle to supporting a third, the negotiation on which has begun. President Putin, as was remarked, visited Iran. He went there to try to press the case for Iran complying with the Security Council. I think that there is no doubt that Russia recognises that Iran with nuclear weapons poses as much danger to Russia as to anyone in Europe. It is right that at times its tactical approach has differed from ours. In part that is addressed by Russia wanting to be given a leadership role in this regard.
As to whether there could be a nuclear-free zone embracing the whole region, in a sense we are where we are today. I add a second point: in a sense it is the undermining of the NPT over many years and our failure to have an effective global strategy on nuclear non-proliferation which forces us into so many difficult regional situations of this kind. We have no global framework within which to deal with this dangerously accelerating rate of nuclear proliferation around the world.
I now turn to Iraq and to the point raised first by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and then by others later in the debate, about “stay in or get out of Iraq, but don’t be half in”—to paraphrase what the noble Lord said. He particularly raised the example of whether with 2,500 troops by next spring and if one battle group were otherwise engaged we could defend ourselves at Basra airport. The number has been carefully planned on the military side, and the run- down to coincide with the point at which Iraq will have 35,000 troops of its own, and, therefore, we believe will be a more than adequate partner to us.
This approach has also been confirmed by General Petraeus, among others, as militarily doable. But as the Prime Minister insisted, this will be a matter of military not political judgment. If there has to be any adjustment in time lines, there will be. We will not leave our troops exposed, but we want to move them to this overwatch and training support mission as quickly as we reasonably can.
I hasten to reassure the noble Lord that relations with Washington are in good shape. Although there has been press speculation about the visit of the Foreign Secretary, he was only one of three Cabinet Ministers to have visited in the past few days, along with many senior officials. Plenty of contacts are going on at the moment and we do not need to be concerned, except in the sense that has been properly raised by so many speakers in the course of tonight's debate. As is appropriate between two old and good friends, we have some significant differences of analysis which should be debated, and it is a good thing that all those visitors are going there to make sure that we remain aligned where we have different perspectives on issues.
Before leaving Iraq, I have one clarification of what I said at the beginning. I said that we had committed £90 million to southern Iraq, implying that that had just happened. In fact that is the total of what has been spent and committed since 2003.
Turning to Turkey, Iraq and the PKK, the Prime Minister of Turkey has been here today. I do not yet have a full read-out of his discussions with the Prime Minister, but let me just say, as the Foreign Secretary said in a statement after the PKK attacks, that we condemn them. More particularly, we urge Turkey not to fall into the trap of doing exactly what the PKK would want by making a military incursion into Iraq. At this point, I praise the Governments of Turkey and Iraq, particularly the Government of Turkey, for showing a self-restraint from which many countries could learn.
We are still in the early stages of Martti Ahtisaari’s negotiations, and I do not want to comment further than to say that there could be no better negotiator for a task of this kind. I am confident that whatever direction he chooses, it is one with which we will all be comfortable.
I turn in these last minutes to the Middle East proper, to which I do not want to give short shrift. Several speakers raised the issue of a more robust UK policy. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked of needing to get to grips with the real issues of refugee return, frontiers, the status of Jerusalem and so forth. Those who have been involved in Middle East peace negotiations seem to be of the view that last time the negotiators arrived at the final summit having postponed those issues, believing that they were too hard to tackle in advance. The consequence was that they remained too hard to tackle at the final negotiation.
Obviously, there is a sense that there are a lot of unresolved issues as we come to Annapolis. Those who see it as just the first meeting may sadly be proved right, but some of those coming to Annapolis hope for a breakthrough to make it a significant event. We all welcome the heavy engagement of the US in the run-up to this meeting. We may wish that it had been possible earlier, but we all agree that it is better late than never and are glad that it is now possible for the US to apply focus to the task.
I come to Hamas and Hezbollah and whether the British Government, or indeed the UN, should deal with them. In the case of Hamas, there have been contacts with both and British diplomats have been heavily engaged with negotiating the release of hostages such as Alan Johnston. They have been heavily involved in humanitarian discussions, as were UN officials under both this and the last secretary-general.
The line has been drawn at formal political contacts at a time when Hamas refuses to recognise a sovereign member-state nation of the United Nations, Israel. However, I think that everyone agrees that while that political recognition must be withheld, in terms of negotiations with Hamas at the formal political level, contacts are vital. Over time, they must grow into full political contacts because, ultimately, Hamas must be a party to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
Many of the same arguments apply to Hezbollah. We can abhor—as we all do—the tactics of both organisations and the use of violence and terrorism. Ultimately, as has been said, it is indeed British history—and that of the United Nations—that you often have to talk to people whom you do not like very much.
Let me welcome again the UN report. If we were not robust enough in it in the eyes of the right reverend Prelate and others, let me say that if time allowed me to be robust enough, I would very forcefully—and with, I hope, as much enthusiasm as my Prime Minister—endorse the urgency, the support to a two-state solution, the plea to Israel to stop settlement and barrier activities which make that harder, the plea to the Palestinians to put aside any rocket attacks on Israelis at this time and the plea to both sides to come to the table and negotiate a comprehensive peace. It is British diplomacy’s objective to support that.
I would only observe that we are not quite the front-line player that we sometimes in this House make the mistake of assuming we are. We are not a member of the quartet. We can do important tasks but others lead on much of this issue and we should and must support them.
Let me close by saying two things. First, I think that sometimes, as in the HSBC ads referred to by the noble Lord, we are guilty of looking at issues from one side only and not as comprehensively from the other side’s point of view as we should. That does not mean that we should not do what it takes in Afghanistan to defend its Government. Therefore, I am pleased about those French Mirages. Nevertheless, I accept his broader point that recent years have been terribly damaging to British standing and we have to repair that in all the ways we can. They have done great damage to the concept of liberal intervention. However, the responsibility to protect in a global world, to prevent mass human rights abuses and to ensure that people have freedom and protection from their own Governments is still an honourable idea that should not be lost and thrown out with the bath water of recent historical setbacks.
My second comment is on the right reverend Prelate’s point that the Westphalian system is dead, but religion is alive and well. I am sorry not to be able to do justice to his argument at the tail end of a debate in which I have already run over time, but let me just say that I concur completely with the idea that no longer is interstate peace and security a matter for state actors alone. We are seeing a dramatic rise of non-state actors, not only of religious communities and their leaders, but also secular communities and their leaders. All of them are shaping our world in a way that traditional foreign policy often has difficulty getting its hands around. Much of that shaping is for good, but sometimes it is for bad. It is enormously important that the right reverend Prelate has reminded us of those non-traditional dimensions to the issues we confront in this Chamber when dealing with areas such as the Middle East.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
EU: Middle East Peace Process (EUC Report)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on The EU and the Middle East Peace Process (26th Report, HL Paper 132).—(Lord Roper.)
The report can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldselect/ldeucom/132/132i.pdf.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Serious Crime Bill [HL]
The Bill was returned from the Commons on Monday 22 October agreed to with amendments. The Commons amendments were printed in accordance with Standing Order 51.
House adjourned at 9.15 pm.