Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Baroness Corston—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure—and not a little surprise—to open the debate on the details of the Queen’s Speech. I start by paying tribute to my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who has gone to follow his lifelong passion for motor-racing; he is keen to race next year in the American Le Mans series. I am unsure whether this job is in any way a training for that, but I want to place on record my admiration for the way in which he won the respect of the military, his department, the defence industry and this House. Like him, I am well aware of the high—indeed, intimidating—level of expertise on every side of this House. As this is my first day in the job, I have not yet been able to meet and talk with those involved in this area, but I hope to be able to do that in the next few weeks and to continue the noble Lord’s briefings for those interested in this area, whatever side of the House they are on. I look forward to continuing that tradition, which he started.
Today’s uncertain world presents us as a nation with many challenges: failed and failing states, terrorism, energy security, climate change, mass migration and the proliferation of weapons and weapons technology. This country cannot isolate itself from those issues, nor can we alone solve them. As the leading member of key global institutions, not least the United Nations Security Council, we take a broad global approach. Furthermore, it is in our interests to do so. As we saw in July 2005—and before that on 9/11—threats to our country and our people can be and are fomented abroad, and our position as the leading economic power and a world-class centre for science, engineering and technology depends on us being an open society. It requires us to embrace the opportunities of globalisation while recognising the difficulties that it can bring. Tackling today’s challenges surpasses the remit of any one government department; in fact, those challenges cannot be dealt with effectively by any single nation in isolation.
I want to say a few words about how this Government are responding. By focusing the efforts of all government departments, we are trying to achieve the maximum possible impact—what we call the comprehensive approach. Fundamentally, this comprehensive approach is a recognition that to deliver effective and lasting progress we need to use all levers of government, just as we do when dealing with threats to our security at home. The balance between these levers—military, diplomatic, development and others—will vary from case to case, but by uniting them in a common strategy towards common aims we can achieve far more than through separate parts of government working individually. This is obvious in principle, but it is not always so easy in practice, as others have found.
This applies not just to Whitehall, where, I am pleased to say, our efforts are increasingly joined up; it is mirrored on the ground. This can be seen in Afghanistan, where there can be serious fighting, peace support work and development all happening in the same area. On the ground, military personnel, MoD civilians, diplomats and DfID officials work together, often under one roof, to make sure that our efforts are as coherent as possible. That way they can deliver the maximum effect.
Our overseas aid is an important and often underestimated influence. Improving governance, the rule of law and the quality of life will eventually win the day in Afghanistan and Iraq, and aid has a key role to play in achieving that change. But aid needs to be intelligent, sustainable and conducted hand in hand with issues such as debt elimination and trade access to developed markets. There is no point lifting a nation out of conflict or poverty without allowing it to sustain its position in the long term. Last month, the Government announced that the development budget will increase by 11 per cent per year up to 2011, raising it to more than £9 billion. This Government are increasing our resources here because they are serious about delivering the millennium development goals in every country, not just some.
Obviously, we need international alliances. We cannot do everything by ourselves. The challenges that we face affect our friends and allies as well, so more and more we need to, and do, co-ordinate overseas activity with them. On Iraq and Afghanistan, the impression from the media and elsewhere is that we are there with the United States and perhaps one or two others. The reality is that there is a 28-country coalition in Iraq and a 37-nation-strong effort, managed by NATO, in Afghanistan. Each nation has different concerns, characteristics and capabilities—we acknowledge that—but it is important that the burden is shared, and shared equitably. We will continue to press our partners to do more.
In addition to individual nations, the key global institutions have a vital role to play: the UN, NATO and the EU. We are a leading voice and strong supporter in all these, but we are also determined that, like our own cross-government effort, they should be as effective as possible. Some—NATO and the UN, for example—are now addressing a far broader range of challenges than they did originally, so we continue to push for change and reform to make them more efficient and effective. We welcome the growth of the EU’s capability and capacity into the defence and security arena, especially where it provides an opportunity for a joined-up approach to counterterrorism, but it is always important that developments such as these should strengthen and enhance what NATO offers, not seek to replicate or compete with it.
For security and development to be sustainable in developing countries, we must continue to invest time, people and effort into conflict prevention, which is why that is and will remain one of the Government’s top priorities. We will continue to work to prevent conflict before it turns to violence by supporting local, national and international mechanisms to manage and resolve disputes peacefully. When conflict breaks out, our response must always be closely tied to dealing with the underlying causes—for example, using our conflict prevention pools and peace support operations, as well as the obvious diplomacy routes.
Many of the significant conflicts in the world today are internal. One of those is obviously Afghanistan. The aim of our work there is to help to create a sustainable, secure, democratic nation. That is easy to say but not easy to achieve. We are not talking about simple rebuilding of a country, as in Bosnia or even Germany after World War 2. In many ways, we are talking about building capacity and infrastructure from scratch, as a result of decades if not centuries of conflict and instability.
Much progress has been made in large parts of Afghanistan, but it has been hard work. Key to progress has been establishing the right security conditions for development, which means extending the reach of the Afghan authorities. They need our help. Without it, we risk a return to the lawlessness and extremism that has in the past been exploited by international terrorists.
As security spreads in Afghanistan, so do development and reconstruction. Around 5.4 million children are now in school, compared to 1 million in 2001, and over a third are girls. Basic healthcare now covers 82 per cent of the population, compared to 9 per cent in 2002. The UK has already spent more than £500 million on humanitarian and development assistance. We have signed a 10-year development partnership agreement with the Government, and the daily lives of ordinary Afghans are getting better. Politically, progress is being made as well, with the growing capability of the new democratic Government and an economy growing at over 10 per cent each year.
As we train local security forces, we can focus more on development and good governance. We are not imposing our solutions; we are helping Afghans to find Afghan solutions to Afghan problems. The transformation of Sangin is testament to what can happen once secure conditions are established and take root. Six months ago, it was a conflict zone. Now, there is a vibrant community and commerce with a growing sense of hope and optimism.
Another important element of our work in Afghanistan is, of course, counternarcotics. We need to help the Afghan Government to deal with the criminals at the top of that trade and to provide alternatives for farmers. We must support the Afghan Government in their efforts to eradicate poppy. Their national drugs control strategy is a good start—a balanced, eight-pillar plan which includes the whole range of activities required to combat illegal drugs. That now needs to be fully implemented with the support of a healthy judiciary system to deal with the criminals.
As the Afghan Government’s partner nation on counternarcotics, we are spending £270 million over three years to help the Afghans to deliver that strategy, not least because 90 per cent of the heroin in Britain originates from that area. I think that we are all aware that it is in our interests to tackle this problem.
Looking at the broader region, we are all concerned about recent developments in Pakistan. Despite pressure to the contrary from the United Kingdom and the United States, President Musharraf has announced a state of emergency, granting him extra executive powers over and above the constitution. We recognise the threat to peace and security faced by Pakistan, but we urge its Government to use normal democratic processes to promote peace and stability. Our position is clear. We call on the president to restore constitutional order and to confirm publicly that free and fair elections will be held on schedule in January. This means the release of all political prisoners, including members of the judiciary, confirmation that the president will stand down as chief of the army staff by 15 November, reconciliation with his political opposition and lifting restrictions on the media. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his Statement in another place, this is taken very seriously by this Government.
I now turn to Iraq. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced a clear way ahead for our presence in Iraq. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki said that he hopes to see the Iraqi Government assume security responsibility for Basra province—the last of the four in our area of responsibility—by the end of the year. This is excellent news. He made this announcement while marking the handover of Karbala province from US to Iraqi control. That means that Iraq now has full responsibility for eight provinces across the country. This is testament to the Iraq security forces, which are steadily increasing their capability, and to our own forces and our allies, which have given the Iraqi forces the time, space and assistance to develop their capability. As the capacity of the Iraqi forces increases, our force levels can reduce. We plan by spring to have reduced those to about 2,500 personnel deployed in southern Iraq.
At the same time, the UK, led by the Department for International Development, will continue to assist the Government of Iraq with the reconstruction of their economy. There is an economic dividend from the improved security. We are doing this primarily through helping the Government of Iraq to unlock and use their substantial oil wealth and through promoting private sector investment in the south.
Perhaps I may take a little time to pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces and their superb work on our behalf, day in and day out. That is the case not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in areas of former conflict such as the Balkans and the Falklands. It is a sad truth that we have lost brave service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. I salute them and those who have been injured in the line of duty. I salute their families also, especially those whose loved ones have given their lives while serving their country. I know that the nation will make a special effort this weekend to remember their courage and sacrifice.
We must make sure that our personnel, who place themselves in danger for our sake, are properly looked after, as well as their families. The Government fully acknowledge our responsibility to do just that. My colleagues in government have worked to improve the support that is offered to them in every area—in accommodation, medical care, pay, equipment, bonuses and operational welfare. During the past year, some £700 million has been invested in accommodation.
The Government have also boosted medical care by increasing community nursing and psychiatric support. The number of military nurses has increased, a military-managed ward in Selly Oak has been created and there are now better travel and accommodation arrangements for visiting families. However, I assure the House that Ministers recognise that more still needs to be done in this area.
I now turn to equipment. A key part of looking after our people is ensuring that they have the equipment that they need to do their jobs. The Government have put a huge effort into that. The feedback from operational theatres now is that the kit that our people have is excellent. That is, in part, because £2.2 billion has been spent on urgent operational requirements to meet the needs of those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over £1 billion of that has gone on force protection. The Mastiff vehicles are an example. They were built, upgraded, tested and delivered in just 23 weeks and have been so successful that another 150 are being bought.
Much of the credit for delivering better equipment to time and to cost lies with the defence industrial strategy, which was launched two years ago to improve the way in which we deliver and support equipment on the front line. It has transformed the way in which the MoD does business with the defence industry, bringing a new level of transparency and allowing industry to understand short, medium and long-term ambitions. That will mean that we are better at providing the equipment that our forces need when they need it. To ensure that we continue to have the military capability that we need, we are investing heavily in new, world-beating equipment, including two new 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers, which were announced in July, C17 transport aircraft and the new Future Rapid Effect System vehicles that are so necessary for the Army.
It is in this country’s interests to remain an active and leading participant on the world stage. To maximise the effect of our efforts, we must harness and focus the tools available to us, across government and across the international community. That is what we are doing and will continue to do and that is our best way of responding to the very significant challenges that face us in protecting the people of this country.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton. I think we overlapped a little in the House of Commons and I certainly remember sharing an “Any Questions” platform with her in the distant past.
I confess that I share her slight surprise that she is here and that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, is not. In future, I must always remember to believe rumours. I gather he has gone motor racing, which presumably is a rather less risky pastime than being a Minister in the Ministry of Defence. The task that he performed in Government was not an enviable one. The Ministry of Defence is fighting two wars and many other engagements under great strain. Perhaps I can say in his absence that the noble Lord faced those problems with acumen. In my view, the MoD was lucky to have his professional skills at a very dire time—but now he has gone.
It is very good that we open this five-day debate on the humble Address by focusing on the full range of our international concerns, our foreign policy and our place in the world. No doubt the debate will broaden out into all those areas during the afternoon. The experts and polling gurus often tell us that foreign policy has low voter priority, with domestic issues such as crime, education, health and so on, coming way up the list. That view misleads. Our overseas relations, our activities and policies define our identity at home. They tell us who we are, what kind of society we want to be, what brings the nation together and what common purposes we serve. Of course, they determine our security and how far we can prevent global terrorism undermining our counterterrorist measures here at home and our free and balanced society. Our outside role in the world and our home safety cannot be separated by categories or distinguished: they are all one.
We currently hear a good deal about “Britishness”. If there is to be greater cohesion in the so-called “broken society”, then it starts not with sermons about Britishness, but with a clear articulation of Britain’s position, viewpoint and standing in the world. If there is to be loyalty to national values and institutions, for which our leaders are always calling, that starts with a well defined expression of what Britain really is and who speaks for it. If there is to be cultural and social unity, as opposed to the multi-cultural pockets of isolation, fear and mutual antagonism that we tend to have now, then those with the power to give words to feelings and hopes must define the national core around which real national unity can form and hold. Our foreign policy is the beginning, the shaping and the envelope of all that.
The criticism of the last Prime Minster’s foreign policy that we heard again and again—the noble Baroness touched on it—was that we seem to be too much of a poodle on Washington’s leash. To agree with that criticism is not necessarily to be anti-American. The Americans are our friends and have been most of the time—except perhaps at the beginning—and will be in the future, but the Blair experience is a warning against following Washington policy too slavishly and getting precious little in return, as many Ministers, including the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, have forcefully and rightly pointed out. We must ask ourselves a big question: should we put all our faith in the theory of the European Union as a rival counter-force in world affairs, pulling its weight with a single voice on the centre of the world stage, as the enthusiasts for European integration and the new treaty to come before us keep urging? My answer to that is: “No, no, no”.
Of course, we in Britain are good Europeans. We in my party have always been very good Europeans.
My Lords, some would indeed argue that we have been too good in keeping our doors so determinedly wide open for immigrants from the new entrant accession-state EU members, while most of our neighbours throughout the EU kept their doors prudently ajar and managed the situation much more carefully and intelligently. Now, of course, the British policy has gone into reverse and we are trying too late to close the door for the newcomers Romania and Bulgaria; but the errors have been made.
The truth is that the international scene has metamorphosed into an amazing new network of states, and it is time for new platforms and coalitions. The idea of the EU as a bloc with a single foreign policy, whether intended to confront America or for any other purpose, is—to put it in the jargon—“yesterday”. Power has shifted from the bloc-builders, indeed from the whole Atlantic world, in two overarching ways: it has dispersed to billions of desktop computers via the worldwide web, a teeming and often dangerously empowered micro-world; and, of course, it has shifted to Asia’s millions and the unstoppable Asian enterprise, soaring economies and high technology which is flowing not west to east, but east to west.
The architects of the Lisbon treaty—to which we will have to give a lot of time—are taking the European Union in the wrong direction. They are trying to establish the legal and constitutional structure of a kind of western empire that belongs to history while the real need is not for another jammed-together regional bloc but for far more flexibility and a trelliswork of links and relationships between different nations. That is why the integrationist flavour of the latest treaty is so hopelessly inappropriate. It is trying to sew together a constitutional garment for the EU of the past. The EU of the future, which I hope will certainly include Turkey and maybe other countries, will look quite different and require different systems of governance.
Let there be no scintilla of doubt: this latest treaty is patently and obviously a document that embodies the old constitutional concept. We know from the candour of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and the like that it was designed to be largely unintelligible, which is a far cry from the hopes of those at Laaken four years ago. They wanted a new treaty that would bring the EU closer to the people. I am afraid that it is more likely that it will be closer to the lawyers. Its DNA is identical to that of the rejected treaty. It is that treaty’s proven child. As the European Scrutiny Committee in the other place put it a few days ago:
“Taken as a whole, the Reform Treaty produces a general framework which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty”.
In the words of the Economist magazine, which is no lackey of any party, this is,
“Sneaking a constitution through on the sly”.
The case for a referendum on such a transfer of Parliament’s powers to others and such a contracting out of our foreign policy is absolutely unanswerable, just as it was with the previous treaty. We shall certainly be tabling an amendment to that effect when the treaty Bill comes before us. Adding a personal addendum, I am only sorry that your Lordships’ European Union Committee does not quite see it this way, although my hope is that another committee of your Lordships’ House will examine and advise on the treaty’s constitutional implications in detail, comparing it with the previous, now defunct, one.
The task of clarifying our external interests and role in the face of a long list of new challenges should be pursued in quite different directions from the ones I am talking about. We are confronted by foreign policy priorities of the utmost urgency which just cannot wait for cumbersome and all-too-often fruitless attempts at manoeuvring for common positions in the European Union. I shall take some of the issues that the noble Baroness has already raised. We have the still crumbling position in the Middle East, the persisting Iraq civil war—let us hope that there are signs of improvement, as she suggested—and the glaring dangers, to which we can never shut our eyes, of our withdrawal and the so-called overwatch strategies. I hope they will go right, but they seem full of risks.
Then there is the continuing Israeli-Palestine stalemate. There are some hopes for the forthcoming Annapolis conference, which Condoleezza Rice has engineered, but there are also enormous difficulties and it will be first of a long series of conferences. There is the still rising Iranian nuclear threat, which is still unchecked, and all the proxy wars, terrorist campaigns and irregular warfare which leave our Armed Forces under ever more pressure to re-equip and adjust to new patterns and techniques requiring new types of defence technology. I echo the tribute paid by the noble Baroness to the young men and women who have fallen in the two campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the bereaved. Each death is a terrible personal and family tragedy. My noble friend Lord Astor will develop in greater detail how we see the military problems, which are considerable, and how they should be resolved.
Furthermore, I sometimes wonder whether in the world-wide scramble for oil, gas and minerals the looming threats to our energy security are properly appreciated on the Government Benches. I will say more on them in a moment, if I have time. And what about the water and food shortages and the rising tensions they generate? There is the paralysing dilemma, which seems to have passed by some government policy makers, between the rapid global growth out of poverty—which actually means consuming and needing a lot more cheap energy—and the longer term environmental and climatic health of the planet, which calls for much less energy consumption, certainly less from fossil fuels, and much more expensive energy. That is a dilemma that we cannot just brush by and hope for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
We have booming transnational crime; we have the drug trade roaring ahead more vigorously than ever. The noble Baroness mentioned Afghanistan’s heroin. The poppy crop is bigger than ever, alas, and therefore the heroin supply is stronger. We have epidemics and pandemics. We have imploding nations such as poor Zimbabwe, and now—the noble Baroness also mentioned it—Pakistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power, so whoever governs it will have nuclear capability. It is a seed bed of terror all over the world and it is a feeder for the Taliban next door in Afghanistan. Any instability there must be a source of immense and acute danger to us directly here in this country. Of course we want to see democratic elections and for these things to be encouraged and supported, I hope, through the Commonwealth, about which I shall say a word in a moment.
We also, incidentally, face new cyber-war dangers which could paralyse our society overnight and induce total civil collapse—this is not fantasy—as it did in Estonia only the other day. There is not much sign of that kind of vision of the future in the gracious Speech.
These are the sorts of priorities which we should be concentrating on. I personally feel especially concerned that our foreign policy and our energy supply threats seem to be left unconnected and, as it were, dangled and hanging in the air. We have a run-down nuclear industry—half its plants are down—and it will take at least a decade to resuscitate that now thanks to the Government’s dithering, even if the new Energy Bill and Planning Reform Bill in the gracious Speech go through at high speed, which they will not. We have oil approaching $100 a barrel; a misplaced attempt to involve ourselves in the EU’s precarious, forlorn and Russia-dependent energy systems; the wrongly taxed North Sea oil running down; inadequate gas storage; a tiny dependence on biofuels—and the wrong expensive sort of biofuels; unreliable and oversubsidised wind farms; and with a string of targets, mentioned again in the gracious Speech for CO2 emission reductions and renewable energy sources, both EU-based and our own, but no serious strategy to achieve them.
The EU’s favourite idea for developing carbon capture and storage remains completely uncommercial and untested: it is just talk. The huge prospective Chinese and Indian coal-burn, if not curbed, will completely overwhelm and render useless all our elaborate western efforts to limit carbon—however many Bills we pass imposing legally binding frameworks to cut carbon, as mentioned in the gracious Speech.
How do we become more realistic about these things and meet these challenges more effectively? The sober answer is that there are no glib answers or magic bullets. To cope with this new world, we have at hand one network which could prove invaluable; that is, the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is lucky to get one brief mention in the gracious Speech—except, of course, when we are referring to Her Majesty as Head of the Commonwealth—but here is a system of relationships which embraces all our friends, of which Her Majesty is the highly popular head figure; which connects across continents; which is multifaith; which contains six of the fastest growing and cutting-edge economies in the world; which brings together on equal and not patronising terms the smaller and poorer and the richer and bigger nations; and which ties us into a system of broadly common values, or at least aspiration towards them. As I mentioned, it could well be relevant—but not, alas, mentioned by the Government—in dealing with the Pakistan danger.
I wonder whether the Commonwealth might not be a much better channel for our development aid than some aspects of the much criticised European Union aid programme. I certainly wonder whether giving certain forms of aid to China and India still makes the slightest sense when India is pouring out a million science graduates a year, as the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, reminded us yesterday in her excellent speech, and China is doing much the same. The Government should apply their minds to the changing situation there. As the Daily Telegraph—not everybody's favourite paper—remarked the other day, the Commonwealth could be,
“a powerful agent of political and economic change”.
Other countries think that we are quite mad not to be making far more use of the Commonwealth, yet no mention does it get in the Government's vision or strategic views on foreign policy. Of course, it needs reinvigorating from its present diminished and neglected role. It needs confidence; it needs a more vigorous external agenda; it needs connecting with sympathetic powers such as Japan; and, above all, it needs resources. It is absurd and grotesquely unbalanced that our net subscription to the European Union is well over 100 times greater than our support for the Commonwealth. The balance needs correcting.
The Commonwealth is today and tomorrow’s neglected colossus. Far from being a nostalgic club of the past, it is the global network of tomorrow, which we ignore at our peril. At the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in a few weeks’ time in Kampala, I hope that the Government show some understanding of that. I am very glad to learn that his Royal Highness Prince Charles is attending it with his parents. Perhaps he sees the future a bit more clearly than do Ministers.
The next big challenge—or big idea, as I think people say nowadays—is how, in a totally interdependent world, we build the right partnerships and links to handle all the external influences which are shaping our lives, our work, our economic health and our safety here at home at this moment. I believe that we have the wrong partners and are drifting along under the wrong influences and that it is high time for this country to review and alter those alliances and work more closely with our true friends, who may or may not be our geographical regional neighbours. Some are, some are not.
In India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the oil-rich Gulf states, the recovering South Africa, as well as Scandinavia and the brave little Baltic states and other parts of the new Central Europe, we have a lot of friends. They are all asking, “Where are the British? Why have their horizons become so narrow, regionalised and inward looking? We are waiting to grasp hands with them again, but where are they?”. Those countries are the network and the powerhouses of the future. Our Asian friends, together with China, are the areas to which the centre of the world economic gravity is fast shifting. They are the capital-rich countries that will supply and finance the development of the whole globe. They are where the action will be and where the British, with their long history of adventure and their vast global reach, should also be. I see no comprehension of that in the gracious Speech, for all the frenzied talk of spin and narrative.
This is a lost Government with a lost agenda. Some of their Ministers seem disaffected, while others, such as our own delightful additions to the Government, the noble Lords, Lord Malloch-Brown and Lord Jones, or Digby Jones—is he here now?—are, as we so often hear from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, determined to stay outside the new Labour tent. I do not believe them. I do not blame them either, although I am not sure that I can find them room in our tent, so they may just have to stay out in the open and live the open life. I hope that they do not get too wet.
The Administration, of which they and others are semi-detached members, is living on borrowed time. In my view, it has already borrowed too much of it. The moment has come for payback—the moment when this whole raddled Government should stop their borrowing and start repaying for their misrule and their mistakes. Ministers can do that best, both for the rest of us and to restore their own work-life balance, which seems to be important to them, by removing themselves and all their works and letting a new generation and a new Government take over.
My Lords, there is little in the Queen’s Speech on foreign policy. We are promised legislation to approve the EU reform treaty, but there is no promise to persuade the British people that the treaty is necessary, let alone that European Union membership is in Britain’s national interests. We have some welcome words about the millennium development goals, to which we on these Benches will continue to give our strong support and on which my noble friend Lady Northover will speak later.
There are sentences on Iraq and Iran—major and continuing British commitments, neither of which is very easy at the moment—and there is a reference to,
“international concerns over Iran’s nuclear intentions”.
There is a promise to,
“maintain Britain’s strong commitment to reaching a lasting peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians”.
My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby will speak on that. There is also a reference to Afghanistan, but I am surprised that there is no mention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I wondered whether that was a sign of Britain’s hesitation about its future, although we heard a little from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, in her opening speech about the problems that NATO now faces in Afghanistan. One hears very often that the future of NATO is at stake in Afghanistan.
Those unconnected sentences betray an underlying incoherence. Britain has no foreign policy at the moment in terms of a clear view of our place in the world and our preferred international role. Tony Blair, like John Major before him, slid back from his initial promise to place Britain at the heart of Europe to a position in which Britain followed Washington’s lead wherever it took us. The Government have failed to provide the British people with a new narrative about national identity and about our relations with our neighbours, our friends and our responsibilities, even about the threats that we face.
Two or three years ago, Tim Garton Ash wrote that British foreign policy over the past 40 years had been footnotes to Churchill—that we are still stuck in the assumptions of the 1950s. In summing up, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said:
“It is in this country’s interests to remain an active and leading participant on the world stage”.
Anthony Eden could have said the same, as could Harold Macmillan; indeed, they both often did. Gordon Brown, in his British Council speech three years ago, said interestingly that confusion over our national identity lay behind our hesitation over our role in the European Union. However, there has been no effort since then to address this confusion. Instead, there has been a sad silence from Ministers. Indeed, I congratulate the noble Baroness on managing to avoid mentioning the European Union once in her opening speech, if I heard her correctly, although there were several references to Britain standing together with the United States.
The divide between nationalism and internationalism is one of the underlying issues in democratic politics. The Liberals are instinctive internationalists. We believe that co-operation with our neighbours and the promotion of open societies, open markets and, so far as possible, open frontiers are the best way in which to build a peaceful and equitable international order.
The Conservatives are instinctive nationalists. They believe in British sovereignty and British status, although I sometimes wonder whether it is now English sovereignty and England’s status. The Conservatives are therefore naturally suspicious of Europe and, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has suggested, they are now also suspicious of the United States. I think about the position in which Enoch Powell ended up, and I wonder whether the Conservative Party is drifting in the same direction.
Labour is historically an internationalist party, coming, like the Liberals, out of Britain’s progressive tradition. The Government have an excellent record on world development and on commitment to action on climate change, although on climate change they are having trouble meeting the commitment that they have given to the European Union. But Labour’s backsliding on co-operation with our neighbours has been an immense failure, giving rise to press and popular suspicions about France and Germany and to the glamorous illusion of world status that successive British Prime Ministers come to feel as they walk along the White House red carpet arm in arm with the President of the United States.
Our previous Prime Minister’s image of the United Kingdom as a bridge between the United States and Europe, in which Britain interpreted our incoherent European allies’ wishes to the United States and interpreted to our non-understanding continental partners what the United States wanted, was a wonderful illusion. Tony Blair never stopped to ask why that did not appeal to Paris and Berlin. This week, as President Sarkozy is welcomed in Washington with even more warmth than Chancellor Merkel, the idea that Britain somehow had a special relationship between Europe and the United States is exposed as empty.
With the new Prime Minister as with the old: we read that Rupert Murdoch was at Chequers the day after Gordon Brown decided not to call an autumn election. Irwin Stelzer, Rupert Murdoch’s effective representative in Britain, is in and out of No. 10 and the Treasury. There is active competition between Labour and the Conservatives for Rupert Murdoch’s Anglo-Saxon blessing. If you sup with the owner of Fox News and the Weekly Standard—the bible of American neo-conservatism—you endanger your principles as a progressive. We know what the Murdoch agenda for international order is—antagonism to the United Nations and to international institutions, scepticism about climate change, insistence on America’s special mission and the belief that it is the duty of America’s allies to follow its lead.
I hope that we all accept in this House that there are almost no international issues on which the United Kingdom benefits from acting alone. All the major challenges that we now face beyond our borders require close co-operation—first with our neighbours, then with other democratic Governments and then through global institutions and all those whom we can persuade to work with us.
Britain cannot stand alone on the challenges of global warming, which is now the greatest threat to Britain’s long-term security, as it is to others. It cannot stand alone on the non-state threats of transnational terrorist movements and cross-border crime, and on our fragile world economy—although, as a semi-detached member of European financial and economic co-operation, Britain will often find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer sits outside meetings of EU Ministers discussing financial questions, or as the euro, the dollar and the renminbi are negotiated. Again, Britain cannot stand alone on population growth and on the pressures for migration. Any coherent British foreign policy must start with co-operation with our neighbours.
Of course, the European Union is not ideally designed for all Britain’s specific interests. Other members have other priorities and national inhibitions. But nor is it ideally designed to fit the exact priorities of any other member state. Negotiation and compromise are the essence of multilateral co-operation. No state can expect to win every point in every game. Enlargement from a European Union of 15 to 27 necessitates some institutional changes. That is the justification for the reform treaty that we will discuss in this House later this Session.
However, the British press and British politicians—including far too often Labour Ministers, as well as our previous and current Prime Ministers—portray European diplomacy as a battle between Britain and the rest, in which we stand alone embattled against the Continent, brave and honest Englishmen in danger of being outwitted by the devious French and the wicked Germans.
That is a powerful myth, which feeds into the Churchillian image of the Anglo-Saxons, as in 1940-41, alone but resolute in the face of the threat from across the Channel. Next Sunday, on Remembrance Day, we shall celebrate and symbolise that powerful British recollection, which we have not yet managed to move beyond. But it is now a myth. France and Germany have long ceased to be the motor of European integration in close partnership. Both Governments would prefer very clearly a closer partnership with a constructive British Government, if our Government were capable of responding. The German Government cast a dissenting vote in the Council of Ministers far more often than the British Government. Those who campaigned against the constitutional treaty in France argued that the Anglo-Saxons had taken over the European Union. Indeed, with four Nordic members, economic liberals in government in Portugal and the Netherlands, and eight new members from central and eastern Europe, the balance of approaches in the European Union is now far closer to our own than to the protectionism of the old French left.
The underlying reality is that Britain shares interests and assumptions across most international issues more closely with our partners within the EU than with the current Administration in Washington, than with the Commonwealth, which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, prefers to cultivate while his party protests actively about Zimbabwe, or than with other groupings across the world. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that as African members of the Commonwealth resist our good governance agenda, with real problems about corruption in the use of aid, I would hesitate strongly in transferring more of our aid budget to the Commonwealth multilateral framework rather than working with our partners in the European Union.
On energy and climate change, on the Middle East, on Israel/Palestine and Iran, on Russia and on world poverty and development, our interests go most closely with our European neighbours. For example, the European Union collectively provides more than half of world development assistance. But there is a wide gap between the realities of British co-operation and the nationalist rhetoric that Ministers prefer to adopt. On border control, for example, the long-term co-operation between UK customs officers and their opposite numbers was hardly mentioned in discussions on the UK Borders Bill. The opt-out from Schengen is paraded by Ministers without mentioning the unreported opt-ins to benefit as far as possible from arrangements that our police know are essential to combating crime and illegal immigration. I was provided by the Ministry of Justice, after a great deal of effort, with a list of our 53 opt-ins on immigration. I wonder how many more there are in police and judicial co-operation that are not reported to this House.
On foreign policy and defence, who would remember now that the European security and defence policy was launched by Tony Blair at the Pörtschach informal summit in 1998 and jointly provided by Tony Blair and President Chirac at St Malo? Once the Daily Mail dubbed it the “European army”, Ministers took fright. The Daily Mail of course thinks that this is yet another Franco-German plot to force British soldiers into what it calls a “militaristic” Europe—wearing jackboots, of course, as part of their uniform. Since then, Ministers have done their best to pretend that this has little to do with us.
Yet, underneath it all, we are deep in the middle of it still. The head of Mr Solana’s foreign policy secretariat is a British official on secondment from the Foreign Office. The head of the European Defence Agency is a British official on secondment from the Ministry of Defence. Throughout last year, the head of the EU military staff was a lieutenant-general seconded from the British Army. You do not read that in the Daily Mail and Ministers do not tell us about it either.
The other week, in Brussels, negotiations on the European External Action Service began. Clear British interests are at stake. The Foreign Office budget is being cut and the number of missions that we have in overseas countries is going down. We have just discovered that Burkino Faso has been elected to the UN Security Council and we do not have a mission in Burkino Faso to look after our interests as a permanent member of world status of the UN. In reality, we share posts abroad with a number of other European countries—more than most others. We share most often with the Germans and even occasionally with the European Commission, but you do not read that unless you get to page 200 of the FCO annual report, in the appendices. As discussions start in Brussels on the future shape and structure of the European External Action Service, I am told that the British are sitting silent on the edge of the debate for fear of word seeping out to our Eurosceptic press. That goes against Britain’s national interests, for fear of upsetting the illusions of the domestic conventional wisdom.
Ministerial rhetoric is all about red lines and resistance, even when some red lines cut across Britain’s long-term interests. In contrast, there is no whisper of a red line in our relations with Washington, under either Democrat or Republican Administrations. On the Middle East peace process, neglected for the past six years, Tony Blair hoped that acquiescence in Iraq would win American commitment to Middle East peace negotiations, but it is only now, in the final 15 months of the Bush Administration, that the Americans at last appear to be almost serious about getting negotiations under way in Annapolis. We have to hope that the Annapolis conference will take the process forward, but Her Majesty’s Government on their own have no influence over it.
Iraq has, of course, been the greatest disaster not only for British foreign policy over the past 10 years, but also for the stability of the Middle East. But American policies in Lebanon, towards Syria and above all towards Iran have not been entirely rational. America’s refusal to negotiate with Iran in 2003-04 and the clamour in Washington for enforced regime change do not inspire confidence. Are there any red lines for Her Majesty’s Government in this? Have we warned about bombing Iran? Have we condemned what appears to have been American connivance in the unexplained Israeli air raid on Syria this summer? On climate change, what have we said? When was the last major speech by a British Prime Minister in Washington, laying down the line to an American audience on the urgency of that global issue?
On missile defence, on which our Government have accepted all American requests and on which the US Administration are now negotiating over our heads with the Russians about the terms and conditions of future deployment, what are the Government telling Parliament? A Written Statement slipped out on 25 July, just as we rose for the summer. It referred to the need to protect the West against “rogue states”, accepting American concepts and American language to justify British acquiescence in an American project. Some months ago, the Financial Times said of Conservative foreign policy that it was odd to find a British political party dedicated to following the national interests of another country. I sometimes think that that could also be said of new Labour’s foreign policy. It is, after all, what Rupert Murdoch would wish.
A progressive foreign policy must start with greater honesty in explaining to the British people Britain’s underlying international interests and capabilities and how best to pursue those interests in co-operation with like-minded partners within the capabilities, capacities and finance that we are prepared to devote. Later in the debate, my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford will talk in more detail about the capabilities of the Armed Forces and how better to match commitments to the limitations of what any British Government are prepared to spend.
I want to end with a question for the new Labour Government as they attempt to straddle the divide of nationalism and internationalism between the illusions of the Anglo-Saxon special relationship and the necessities of European co-operation. It is now 15 months to the arrival of a new American president in Washington, with a new team that will set out to launch its own vision of foreign policy and call on its European allies and partners to fall in line behind it. We now know that this will be before the next general election, so it will be on this Government’s watch. What will new Labour’s response be and how will it work over the next 12 months to prepare for it? Will Mr Brown jostle to be the first European head of government to visit the new president in Washington, as Tony Blair did with President George W Bush, or will new Labour now work to promote a concerted and coherent European response on the many issues on which we share common interests in order to build a more balanced Atlantic partnership for the next decade?
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, to her new responsibilities. I look forward to getting to know her and to working with her. I hope that she will not take it amiss though if I say how sad and distressed I am that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, has left us. He was an outstanding Minister and acknowledged as such on all sides of the House. I found him extraordinarily helpful to work with and his reputation is wide and respected in all parts of the defence community outside. It is a surprise that he has gone. One so often hears of Ministers who have been very hard pressed—in his case as a part-time Minister in defence, not as a full-time Minister—who go to have more time with their families. For a Minister to say that he wishes to have more time with his racing cars is a novel approach. But I hope that he gets many chequered flags. He certainly deserves them for all the work that he did in his job in the Ministry of Defence.
A couple of weeks ago, in a “Sky News” interview, the Chief of the Defence Staff said that while the military is an essential element in bringing Afghanistan to its rightful place in the 21st century, it was an enormous project that will take decades and ultimately can only solved politically. In June, our new ambassador in Kabul, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, said,
“Britain could be heavily involved in Afghanistan for decades”.
He called it,
“a marathon, not a sprint”.
So we have two highly respected and well informed senior officials outlining a long-term overseas commitment for the Armed Forces. Their views no doubt reflect the private position of the Government though, perhaps understandably, I have not heard a Minister put it in quite such stark terms. We are long past Dr Reid’s statement in early 2006 when, as Defence Secretary, he said that he would be,
“perfectly happy to leave [Afghanistan] in three years without firing one shot”.
To be fair and accurate, Dr Reid also said at the time that the deployment of UK forces would be a complex and dangerous mission. Events have proved him right on that. Our force levels in Afghanistan are approaching double those originally committed in 2006.
So we must plan to be heavily involved, on the ground and in the air, in expeditionary warfare, a long way from home and for years. At current levels of expenditure our forces have been sorely stretched. The drawdown in Iraq is most welcome but it will not do that much to ease the overall problem for personnel, especially if we commit further troops into Afghanistan.
We have now learnt the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Ministers have made much of the further 1.5 per cent real increase in the defence budget over the coming three years. It is welcome, certainly, but is it enough to meet expeditionary commitments stretching into the distant future?
And is that the whole story? In his Statement about retaining a nuclear deterrent capability, the Prime Minister said:
“As before, we will ensure that the investment required will not be at the expense of the conventional capabilities that our armed forces need”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/06; col. 23.]
Indeed, in answer to my question to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, on the same Statement, she replied:
“What I said in the Statement and in response to questions was that this would have no impact on our conventional capability. That is the commitment which has been made”.—[Official Report, 4/12/06; Col. 987.]
In spite of that, it was expecting too much that deterrent expenditure would be ring-fenced. It has now been subsumed in the CSR defence allocation. Moreover, there seems to be a tendency for the Treasury to expect some urgent operational requirements to be met from within the defence budget allocation, not as a charge on the contingency fund that meets the operation costs of our forces in theatre. The £2.2 billion that we learnt today has been spent on urgent operational requirements in order to support our troops on operations is another example of defence underfunding in the past. Far from there being no impact on our conventional capability, it seems that for such requirements the Armed Forces are to get, relatively, no more, and in real terms probably less, as expenditure on the deterrent grows. By all accounts the budget is well short of planned requirements. Something must give.
The increasing use of PFI to meet defence requirements, the constraint of contracts already entered into with industry that cannot be broken without much nugatory expense and other fixed costs such as pay-in pensions mean that there is considerably less scope to trim expenditure to fit a budget than was true in the past; so much so that, unless further funds are made available, some major project in the future equipment programme will have to be seriously delayed or even abandoned. Salami-slicing—the default tactic in “budget lite” situations—is unlikely to yield enough.
If the axe is to fall on a major programme and the deterrent is to continue, as I believe it should, what should it be? I fear the future carrier programme must be most at risk. If we are to be largely committed in Afghanistan for decades, and so unlikely—indeed, unable—to be much deeper embroiled elsewhere, there are no tasks for a strike carrier force that cannot be better mounted from bases in or around Afghanistan. We needed our carriers when Argentina invaded the Falklands, but now there is a main base airfield at Mount Pleasant. Even if the Argentinians, seeing us so stretched elsewhere, were to be tempted to reinvade the Falklands, their task would be infinitely more difficult for them than it was in 1982 even if we no longer had a carrier. Elsewhere in the world, with any possibility of major conflict within carrier reach, we would be in partnership with the United States and our carrier capability might be more desirable but not necessarily essential.
On a more detailed level, I fear that the gap of eight to 10 years between the withdrawal of the Sea Harriers in 2006 and getting the carriers and Joint Strike Fighter into service will face the Fleet Air Arm with an almost impossible problem of recruiting, training and retaining enough fast-jet pilots and engineers and developing their essential leadership and other expertise on time. Already at RAF Cottesmore, where the remaining Sea Harrier naval pilots and ratings are based, there are shortfalls in skills, which are being met by Royal Air Force personnel. The impact on the defence industry, particularly shipbuilding, cannot be overlooked, but one does not need four acres of open deck to operate UAVs, which might provide a more realistic and affordable long-term capability for maritime aviation.
The pressures on recruiting and retention across the three services, particularly in certain key activities, mean that the first call on additional funds should be people-related, including steps to improve harmony, accommodation, pay and compensation. Much has been said recently about the military covenant, a vital element in sustaining the loyalty and commitment of our fighting forces. Time does not allow me to develop my misgivings about the way the Government are failing to honour that covenant. Indeed, defence did not figure in the gracious Speech. However, the covenant should be with not only the Government but the nation as a whole. I have been struck by how much support the United States armed forces and veterans enjoy from their public and private business. It is almost certain that a US service man or woman, on producing their service identity card, will be given a discount on their purchase by the retailer. Is that too much to hope for or expect in this country? Giving discounts to 200,000 service personnel would make little difference to bottom lines and have a minimum impact on shareholder dividends or value, yet I can think of no more practical and welcome way to show national appreciation for all that our forces are doing. Every little helps, it is said. Will any retailer agree to offer discounts, or even extra points on loyalty cards, to our serving personnel to show that they are appreciated? I commend this idea to your Lordships.
My Lords, of the Government’s many policy commitments in the gracious Speech, I welcomed particularly the final one: that the Government,
“will maintain Britain’s strong commitment to reaching a lasting peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians”.
I was in the Middle East some six weeks ago on an official visit, during which I met Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I saw not for the first time stretches of the security fence and visited Sderot, the town which has been showered with rockets from Gaza. Some 800 Qassem rockets were fired between June and September this year, compared with 500 in the same period last year. It is worrying that a Katyusha rocket, with a range of 20 kilometres, which is almost double that of a Qassem, has now been fired. Anyone who handles a Qassem rocket, as I did, will see that it is basically simply a length of any kind of piping. The rockets have grown in sophistication, as anyone can see from the samples collected in the police station in Sderot. The alarm goes off as a Qassem is launched, and the people of Sderot have less than a minute to take evasive action. One does not know where the rocket will fall, nor does the launcher.
I spoke with mothers in Sderot who were protesting against their Government because of a lack of adequate shelters for schools. They consider that the best shelters are built around and over the existing school buildings to provide a protective shell. They want more shelters, but they also want the IDF to take Gaza again, which I hope will not happen. However, if there is no lessening in the number of rocket attacks, one wonders how long any democratically elected Government can resist the pressure to take some military action. One can only too well understand what Israeli deputy foreign Minister Majalli Whbee, a Druze Member of the Knesset, said to some of us on his recent visit to London; that is, that he can no longer look those people in the eyes, since he had argued with them that Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and removal of the settlements was a price worth paying for the peace that it would bring.
I first visited Gaza in August 1967. Israelis had been there only a matter of weeks. It was a hell hole, a vast prison. It had been under Egyptian control, and Egypt would not allow Palestinians into Egypt proper without a special permit, so the Palestinians had been in Gaza since 1948. The Palestinian refugee camps of Gaza, Jordan—now the West Bank—and Lebanon are stains on the world’s conscience; but they are a stain above all on the conscience of those Arab Governments whose purposes it has suited to use the Palestinians for their own political purposes. That started in 1947, when the Arab League rejected UN Resolution 181, which would have made two states, Jewish and Palestinian, out of mandate Palestine and assured the Palestinians that, although the Jewish Agency had accepted Resolution 181, the Arab League would prevent its implementation. With the British mandate ending on 15 May 1948, Israel declared independence on 14 May, which was incidentally immediately recognised by both the United States and the USSR. On 15 May, the forces of five Arab armies, from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan, which provided the British-trained Arab legion, entered what had been mandate Palestine and fought the 1948-49 war, with the results we all know.
We can only hope now that interests related to Iran and Islamist fundamentalism will at least make some Arab Governments do the right thing by Palestinians. I sensed from talks in Ramallah with the experienced negotiator Sa’eb Erekat and Abdullah Abdullah of Fatah, as well as with senior Israeli politicians, that there was a real move to reach agreements that would progress the peace process. I also spoke in Jerusalem with my right honourable friend Tony Blair, who is doing his utmost to carry out successfully his mandate as envoy of the quartet. I believe that there are some grounds for hope and am marginally more optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about this. We have a window of opportunity in which this time we might just succeed, because of a combination of unique circumstances.
First, the Palestinian Authority/Fatah is desperate to achieve an agreement that would produce improvements in the lives of Palestinians to vindicate itself in the face of Hamas. Secondly, a coalition in Israel of Kadima and the Labour party is also desperate to produce improvements for their people to vindicate their position vis-à-vis the hardliners of Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose electoral victory would almost certainly mean the end of the peace process.
Thirdly, Arab Governments are very worried by the threat posed by Iran and the dreaded possible Shia crescent and by the threat of Islamist fundamentalists to the stability of their own regimes, so at long last they are moved to take action to help to resolve the problems for the Palestinians, by directly contributing materially and politically to the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen needs their moral as well as material support.
Fourthly, both Israelis and Palestinians have a desperate wish for peace in their lives. There are numerous organisations and projects for furthering understanding and contact between those peoples. I visited an outstanding example in a marvellous school in Jerusalem, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian children are educated by Jewish and Arab teachers in Hebrew and Arabic and all festivals of all three religions are celebrated. It is one of four such schools in Israel of the Hand in Hand organisation. It was wonderful to speak to these children and one has to admire them, their teachers and their parents. I was very much reminded of visiting Belfast under the auspices of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, or NICIE, and seeing the brave achievements of some very brave schools there.
Fifthly and lastly, but certainly not least, there is the quartet envoy, Tony Blair, with his special experience of difficult negotiations and his unique ability to bring about conciliation. The conference in Annapolis, for which he and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are working so hard to achieve maximum attendance, with the aim of achieving concrete results, is a truly unique opportunity for a breakthrough, but only if Arab Governments actively pledge themselves to the cause of settling the Israel/Palestine question once and for all. What is required above all else is political will, which I believe is there. There are answers, which everyone knows, to the much-vaunted impossible “final issues”, such as Jerusalem and the right of return of refugees. The now unfairly disparaged Oslo process in many ways laid some foundations for the way forward in those issues.
On Jerusalem, a very senior Israeli experienced in negotiations with Palestinians said to me that Jerusalem was already divided. In the evening Jews do not go to East Jerusalem nor Arabs to West Jerusalem. So what is de facto could become de jure and the old city with the Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy places could be put under international or UN control. This is close to what Resolution 181 of 1947 envisaged for Jerusalem, but the 1948-49 war resulted in Jordan taking the old city with subsequent desecration of Jewish sites and no access allowed to Jews—a situation which continued until 1967 when I visited the old city and witnessed the desecration that had taken place.
On the right of return of refugees set out in the much quoted UN Resolution 194 of December 1948, there have been various plans proposed whereby Palestinians could return to the Palestinian state or other Arab countries with generous financial help for resettlement towards which Arab Governments have a responsibility to co-operate and contribute. The Palestinians deserve no less. Neither side will get everything it wants—Israel on Jerusalem or the Palestinians on the right of return—but the basis for a real settlement is definitely in place; it requires only everyone of good will to work to achieve it.
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to address the Queen’s Speech in the presence of one of my most distinguished predecessors, the noble Lord, Lord Healey, who has just entered the Chamber. I hope that I may take him with me in some of my remarks, which although critical of certain aspects of the Government are motivated by what I hope is a bipartisan approach to the importance of defence for our country at this time.
My noble friend Lord Howell said that the Commonwealth got only one mention in the Queen’s Speech. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said, defence and the Armed Forces got none. As the earlier speeches made clear, this is against the background of the very dangerous situation that we are in. There is no question about that. In his eighth response to a Queen’s Speech, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said last year that the world was a more dangerous place. I do not think that anybody would challenge the fact that, whatever it was like last year, it is certainly no safer now, and in many ways it is much more dangerous. The recent events in Pakistan and the appalling bomb outrage in Baghlan province yesterday, which killed five Afghan MPs in a province which was previously thought to be safe, indicate the seriousness of the challenge that we face there.
I have sought to address the Queen’s Speech against the background that this is the new Prime Minister’s message to the country and to Parliament, and to examine how his approach to defence is being carried through in the actions that he has taken so far. Comments have been made—I do not endorse them; I have merely heard them—that our new Prime Minister is not interested in defence. I judge as I find. I have to say that some of the initial actions that he has taken cause the greatest concern. At a time when the pressures on the Secretary of State for Defence are as great as I remember them being in recent years, the idea that he should be double hatted as Secretary of State for Scotland at the same time is quite incredible and a serious mistake. I understood that the Government were going to reconsider that particularly misguided decision. We were promised a response on that but we have not yet had it.
Mr Adam Ingram attracted considerable support and respect for the way in which he sought to address his duties as Minister for the Armed Forces. A slightly less noticed change is that he has gone and at this critical moment for our Armed Forces, deployed as they are in these theatres of extreme danger and hazard, Mr Bob Ainsworth, who was the Labour Deputy Chief Whip, has now taken over as a completely new Minister with, I believe, no previous experience in the defence field.
I endorse everything that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said about the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. I found him admirable in the sense that he was the only Minister on either side of the House that I ever remember saying to me, “You were one of my predecessors in defence. Any advice you can give me I would be very willing to receive”. New Ministers are not noted for acting in that way, and I admired him for it. Given the responsibilities that he carried and the abilities that he brought to the task, his absence is a great loss to the Government. He had experience on the commercial side. I do not know the noble Baroness’s commercial background but she is taking on a challenging undertaking, given the scale of the contracts for which she is now responsible as the Minister for Defence Procurement and the difficulties that the Ministry of Defence has in organising its procurement in an efficient and reliable way.
But it is worse than that. Another of the noble Lord’s responsibilities was for the Defence Export Services Organisation. The decision to close DESO down in the Ministry of Defence—it has been widely welcomed by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and is trumpeted on its website at the moment; I have no doubt that it will trumpet the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, as well—is a major blow to the defence industries of this country. I can see the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who was active as a Minister in helping to promote a lot of companies in the defence field. I am not talking about the arms trade and undercover arms sales, but a lot of good British companies that bring a lot of income and jobs to this country, are much respected and relied on DESO as their agent and assistant in dealing with Governments across the world.
I do not want to suggest anything about the loyalty and decency of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, which allowed that press release to go out about him taking up Le Mans 24-hour driving. However, what happens if you close down part of a Minister’s responsibility without consulting him—if he is actually doing rather a good job at that—and without any idea what you will put in its place, and then try to find an alternative arrangement in what I think is now called DBERR, which was the DTI? Incidentally, we were told that the noble Lord would also be a Minister in that department—he had a double hat—and I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, will be as well. My simple point is that if you treat Ministers of ability and competence like that, you need not be surprised if some of them decide that they will go off and do 24-hour Le Mans driving instead.
I am concerned, because there is a crisis in morale in our forces. They are entitled to feel the support of the leadership of the country—the Government and Ministers in the Ministry of Defence—because of the challenge. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and I faced that challenge in the first Gulf War. When our forces are in the front line, facing the dangers that they do, the challenge for Ministers is to ensure that the country is behind them—that the country understands why they are there, that it supports the mission that they are undertaking, and that the casualties that they take are fully understood. They must be respected by the country as a whole.
There has been a serious problem of credibility of government ever since Iraq and the dodgy dossier. There is a lack of proper reporting back. Also, many people in the country lack belief in what seem overoptimistic reports of what is going on, and there seems an unwillingness sometimes to reveal the full extent of the casualties that we are taking. I was not aware of the scale. I looked at a report about 3 Para coming back from six months with the 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand. It earned a Victoria Cross and a George Cross, and lost 14 dead with 46 more wounded. That is one parachute regiment in the front line in Helmand. In the first Gulf War, we faced no casualties of anything like that proportion. As was said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, we know now that we may be there for a long time with challenges to face, so it is the responsibility of Ministers to ensure that the resources are there, and that the country—by Ministers’ own efforts, communication and persuasion—understands why the forces are there and that they have public support for what they undertake.
Against that background, I challenge something that the noble Baroness said during her appallingly daunting task of having to stand up at five minutes’ notice and make the opening speech. We know it is not true that the burden in Afghanistan is equitably shared between the NATO allies. We know that there is great difficulty in getting any of the NATO allies to continue or in any way increase their commitment. They certainly do not wish to do so in the more hazardous areas of Afghanistan. We face a challenging time.
I apologise to the House for overrunning. My simple message is that what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, called “the covenant”—the duty of a nation to see that, if our forces are in harm’s way and on the orders of the Government are serving our country in the way that they are, they are entitled to the fullest possible support in every respect, whether on the front line, with equipment, in housing, in medical treatment, in the question of compensation for injury. There is a whole range of things. At the moment, the Government are failing in that respect and I hope that the message they take out of this debate from me and from others is that action is needed this day.
My Lords, I had planned to say a word about the EU treaty among other things, but, inspired by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, I plan to speak about the EU treaty only. I plan to urge that the debates in this House, as we consider ratification, focus on the relevant and leave aside the irrelevant. I heard two irrelevant questions today.
Irrelevant question number one was the extent to which the reform treaty replicates in substance, if not in form, the constitutional treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, discussed the matter at some length. Many Opposition spokesmen cite statesmen in the large majority of EU member states where the constitutional treaty had already been ratified. Naturally, and for obvious reasons, such statesmen tend to say that not much has been lost in the reform treaty. For them, that is true. Our Government, by contrast, tend to stress the difference between the two texts, as they apply to the UK. The new red lines have been successfully defended, the new exemptions, opt-outs, opt-ins, emergency brakes have been inserted specifically and only for the UK. They, too, are correct, although in other member states it is seen as puzzling and, to me, it is a little shaming, that the treaty should be commended here not for what it says but for changes, unique to the UK, compared to an earlier text which Ministers had previously agreed, signed and recommended for ratification. I hope that our debates here will not focus on textual comparisons, but on what the current text actually says. We are where we are.
The second irrelevant question that came up this afternoon was whether the UK should be putting forward in the EU another prescription, better than the reform treaty. Some argue that the Brussels institutions have outlived or exceeded their purpose and that what is needed is the presentation by UK Ministers of a blueprint for a looser union, with some powers returned to the member states. I think that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was prescribing this afternoon. The Conservative Party’s principal spokesman in the convention that drafted the original constitutional treaty in 2002-03 did just that—with great energy and eloquence—and secured six supporters; six, in a convention of 207, and not one of those supporters came from a governing party or a party in a governing coalition. As I understand it, the Tory leadership has since been scouring eastern Europe for support for the Howell concept—the looser, weaker union—and has found some, mainly on the far right, mainly strongly nationalist, and hence against EU enlargement and immigration; mainly agrarian and hence against free trade and CAP reform. One might think them rather odd bedfellows for the party of Robert Peel, or of the noble Lord, Lord Howell.
All 27 member state governments have, once again, followed a different course, agreeing on the present reform treaty, by unanimity. One can change the treaties only by unanimity. The “flat-earth” prescription is not negotiable; therefore, it is irrelevant; we are where we are. We have to consider the ratification of the existing treaty, not whether there should be a different kind of treaty.
As we consider it, your Lordships might wish to look at four aspects, as they are probably seen across continental Europe as the most important. First, if the treaty is ratified, the European Council will have a full-time, fixed-term president. Six-monthly rotation worked well for six, nine, or 12 member states but does not work well for 27. Continental federalists, who have always been wary of the European Council, because it did not feature in Jean Monnet’s original vision, initially opposed the creation of the full-time presidency of the European Council. They thought that the creation of a second full-time senior post might undercut the authority of the President of the Commission. I favour the reform: technicians, like me, have a bias towards efficiency. Those who would prefer the EU to be inefficient might wish to oppose it. The House should consider where the UK’s interests lie.
The second key aspect is the voting system. Qualified majority voting in the Council would, if the treaty were ratified by all, be by a new dual-majority system, requiring a majority of population as well as a majority of member states. Currently, there is a very weak correlation, weakened by successive enlargements, between population and votes. Representatives of 100,000 Maltese or Luxembourgers have the same voting weight as representatives of 3 million Germans. That looks like an anomaly that should be put right. Initially, small member states opposed the reform for the obvious reason. I always favoured it, not just because UK voting weight would go up by about 40 per cent, but also because I thought that the increase in QMV, made inevitable by enlargement, made it important to enhance the democratic legitimacy of decision-taking. Those who do not want the EU to be more democratically legitimate, or those who might want the UK to be more often outvoted, so making the EU more unpopular in this country, might wish to oppose the reform. It is for the House to decide.
Thirdly, the coherence of the EU’s external diplomacy will undoubtedly be enhanced when the High Representative of the EU, already responsible for conducting the Common Foreign and Security Policy, is allowed to chair the Council and take part in debates in the Commission.
Finally, the treaty tries to bring the EU closer to the citizen, and make it easier to follow. Now is not the time to debate the details of red and yellow cards. The central point is that national parliaments would be able, if they chose, to monitor EU legislation more effectively. How we in this House could best use those new powers is, I know, an issue to which the chairman of the EU Select Committee is now devoting considerable attention and his considerable energy. Making the election of the Commission President one of the first acts of each newly elected European Parliament would also give more meaning to European Parliament elections, and would probably raise voter turn-out. The secession clause in the treaty would prove, if proof were needed, that talk of an incipient superstate is mistaken: no state constitution has a secession clause. Those who would prefer the EU institutions to remain threatening, distant and remote might resist those reforms. The House should decide.
We should keep in mind one other consideration as we think about ratification. What if we say no? The reform treaty is about making the EU work better. Unlike the Single European Act in 1985—with major extensions of qualified majority voting, which were necessary for the single market, and with the introduction of the Common Foreign and Security Policy—and unlike the 1991 treaty on the European Union—with its provisions for economic and monetary union, and the start of co-operation in justice and home affairs—this treaty is not about the conferral of new powers. This is about making the present systems work better.
That is not an accident. In 2002, the EU convention consulted public opinion to discover what was wanted, and the answer was clear: try to introduce more transparency, simplicity and, above all, efficiency. Hard on the heels of 9/11, and at a time of severe splits over Iraq, people wanted the EU to be more effective in helping Governments to deliver security, and more effective in pursuing European interests in the wider world. Very few wanted extensions of EU powers. Even fewer wanted reductions in EU powers. Everybody wanted the show to run better, and that was before the further complication of enlargement from 15 to 25, and now to 27. Five years on, 27 Governments think that this reform treaty has, in a modest way, done just that; that it will deliver efficiency; that the EU will work a little better. Most of our partners think it too modest, but better than nothing.
I wonder what would happen, what signal we would send, if we were to decide that, on reflection, we do not favour efficiency, and do not want it to work better. They have put up with us reopening, in the first intergovernmental conference, deals struck in the Convention; and then reopening, in the second intergovernmental conference, agreements reached in the first. They have put up with us discovering new red lines, requiring new provisions particular to us, and further watering down the provisions applicable to all. Salami-slicing has been extremely skilfully done, and the sausage for the UK has got smaller and smaller. After all that, if we now take a straightforward Luddite line, saying that, on reflection, despite all the concessions to us, we would actually prefer to stick to the existing treaties, and existing unreformed institutions, because we do not want the EU to work better, our counterparts in other capitals might well be tempted to ask whether we really want to obstruct their wishes, and those of their people, or whether we would not prefer to step outside. Norway has access to the single market—though not, of course, to its rule-making—and willingly pays a price in the form of a contribution to, though not, of course, any receipts from, the EU budget. Is that what we want?
I believe that to step outside would be a profound mistake. I also believe that the entry into force of the reform treaty is in the interests of the United Kingdom, on its merits. Those who take a different view on the latter question owe it to the House also to address the former, without resorting to “flat-earth” fantasy.
My Lords, the Queen’s speech briefly mentions a range of foreign policy and development areas, and the Climate Change Bill. So what will this mean and what will also need to be addressed over the next year?
We know that many Asian countries are powering ahead. Even Vietnam, with its terrible history, is likely to reach middle-income status within a year or two. But many African countries—and many people within the developing economies—are being left behind. In many countries, achieving the key MDGs is a distant hope. We are looking, in the words of Oxford academic, Paul Collier, at the “bottom billion”. Conflict and bad governance contribute in a major way to countries’ inability to develop, and failing states are expensive to us all, not only financially but also in terms of our security.
Climate change has a huge potential to destabilise, so will the Climate Change Bill be tough enough to make a difference to the poorest countries? The poorest people are most vulnerable. What is happening in Darfur is due partly to the expansion of the Sahara and the subsequent displacement of people. As we have heard, a target of 60 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 is too limited. Scientific evidence suggests that emissions must be reduced by at least 80 per cent. Britain ought to be carbon neutral by 2050. Will the Government adopt that target and a scheme of annual, rather than five-yearly, targets to hold Ministers to account?
What about governance? As Hilary Benn, then Secretary of State for International Development, stated last October,
“without good governance we will not be able to defeat poverty, or climate change, or war, or famine”.
Two months later we had the case of BAE and Saudi Arabia. When the Minister replies, could he tell us where he and the new Prime Minister stand on combating corruption, even if it seems to hit British interests?
Conflict undermines development. The noble Baroness spoke optimistically about DfID’s role in Iraq. Can the Minister tell us how effective he thinks it can be in the midst of insecurity and destruction? What is happening about those who help us there as interpreters? When we assess for asylum, it is on the basis of risk. Surely we need to do that here: the risk is likely to be as great for someone who has worked with the Army for 11 months as for someone who has worked for a full year.
We know that Afghanistan was neglected as Iraq took its toll, and that it was the breeding ground for terror and the narcotics trade. We also know that the unpopularity of the war in Iraq is now affecting popular support for our operations in Afghanistan. However, there is still political agreement about the importance of international support for security and reconstruction in Afghanistan. Development there seems to have been too centralised, top-heavy and insufficient. Persistent poverty has promoted insecurity. I know that the FCO and DfID are well aware of this, but it is urgent that we improve the impact, efficiency and relevance of aid. It needs to be better co-ordinated and increasingly to use Afghan resources. Government capacity there is weak and corruption is widespread and, as the Minister said, much more needs to be done to build local government and local communities. While provincial reconstruction teams have been useful, are they now impeding the development of effective local institutions?
It is said again and again that across much of the Middle East and beyond little will be resolved while the Israel/Palestine conflict continues, and the future security of Israel depends on the prosperity, not otherwise, of its neighbour. What can the noble Lord tell us about the troubling reports that the Israeli ministry of defence has apparently instructed an Israeli energy supplier to reduce fuel supplies to Gaza? I am encouraged that he, at least, seems to recognise that any future resolution of the problems there will need the involvement of Hamas, and I urge the Government to move further on dialogue with it. Bringing in all sides is what is required.
Israel recently used cluster bombs in Lebanon. A new international treaty banning cluster bombs is expected in the next year. It needs to be as strong as possible. Is there a risk that the UK Government may place themselves on the weaker side of this argument as they fight to keep what they define as smart cluster bombs? The Government have shown signs of shifting their position. Could the Minister fill us in further? When does he think the Government will come round, as I am sure they will, to banning all cluster bombs? Here, as in so many other areas, we will miss Lord Garden, who forensically took apart the Government’s case.
As we identify sources of conflict around the world that jeopardize development, there is one which is surely being grossly underestimated: the impact of AIDS. Hitting, as it does, young adults and undermining economies and societies, it is surely the breeding ground of much future conflict. It is therefore especially important that we always keep in mind its impact on children. The Government intend to bring out a new AIDS strategy in December. I would like to be reassured that the ear-marked funding for children will continue. The full integration of treatment which prevents mother-to-child transmission into reproductive, maternal and child health services is also essential. I recently visited a hospital in Cambodia that was treating AIDS patients. It was heart-breaking to see little children being treated there, none of whom should have contracted the disease had their mothers been tested and treated. There is the increasingly deadly combination of AIDS and TB. Will that be integrated into DfID’s new AIDS plan? At Gleneagles, in the Make Poverty History year, it was agreed that all who needed it should be on treatment by 2010. Will that target be met? If so, how?
The Queen’s Speech hints at the Government’s priorities in international development. It stresses the importance of delivering the MDGs only eight years hence. In the end, what we do through trade as part of the G8 is likely to achieve more than what we may do through aid. Look at the transformation of Asia. But we have to address aid, debt and trade. In the recent past, the excellent work in development has been very much undermined by our foreign policy exercises. As the Minister answers his first Queen’s Speech, will he tell us whether he thinks we are now in a new era?
My Lords, much has happened since we last debated the humble Address on the Queen’s Speech. We have had a new Prime Minister, a new Foreign Secretary and a new Minister for the Foreign Office in your Lordships’ House. I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown on his initiation into the House, on his expertise and openness and on the inclusive way in which he has embraced our cross-party exchanges.
I welcome, too, my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton, who is only the second woman ever in this country to be a Defence Minister. She brings a wide breadth of experience to her new job. She has, of course, a hard act to follow. My noble friend Lord Drayson was quite simply a first-rate Minister. I hope that she will be very happy in her new role and that she will enjoy her time in the Ministry of Defence as much as I did.
The past year has been difficult and complex for those charged with foreign policy. The continuing nightmare of Darfur haunts our newspapers and television screens with the spectacle of terrible human suffering. The struggle by the brave Buddhist monks in Burma to make their voices for democracy heard, through peaceful and dignified demonstration, has been evident, as has the restraint and determination of the extraordinary and admirable Aung San Suu Kyi. There is the continuing controversy over the real nature of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and uncertainty about how the international community can sustain a united position on Iran. More recently, the turn of events in Pakistan is a source of huge anxiety worldwide. This is not a straightforward issue, as any thoughtful observer can see all too plainly. Open civil strife or worse in Pakistan will be catastrophic, not only for that country but for Afghanistan and those involved in trying to improve the lot of the Afghans, and of course it will be a real issue for Pakistan’s close regional neighbours, as well as for all those engaged in dealing with security and counterterrorism across the globe. It may also make the spread of nuclear capability a very real and imminent danger.
I would like to comment on a couple of points that were touched on in the gracious Speech. First, on Europe, we certainly heard fighting talk from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. It is clear that there will be a serious and deep division when we discuss the European treaty. Those of us who debated its predecessors know that we can look forward to many hours of long and often excitable debate. I am sure that there will be accusations about the Government not holding a referendum and that this will be the subject of repeated indignation. However much such accusations are part of the political currency of the day, I hope that most of us will in the event be sensible enough not to believe the propaganda that one Conservative MEP rightly described as an exercise in politics, not democracy.
The treaty is necessary in exactly the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. The Prime Minister has said that Parliament will have the fullest opportunity to debate the treaty and, indeed, the charter of rights. The charter does not challenge or undermine the rights already set out in United Kingdom law. The treaty makes possible more cross-border co-operation, while safeguarding our own criminal law system and judicial process, so that the fundamentals of our common law system are not jeopardised. The treaty makes it clear that the basis of foreign and security policy will remain intergovernmental. I am bound to say that I and, I know, many other noble Lords wanted an absolute assurance that the intergovernmental basis would remain unchanged. We have it. Moreover, member states’ existing powers in maintaining our diplomatic services and our membership of the UN Security Council are expressly covered in the treaty.
I hope that, although the press may seek to characterise the treaty as fundamentally reordering our relationship with Europe, most of us in this House will recognise that the specific and careful provisions that have been secured for the United Kingdom show that it is indeed an amending treaty that safeguards what we value not only in our parliamentary system but under our rule of law. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, was right: it is what the treaty actually says that matters, not what commentators would like us to believe that it says.
Where we can speak with one voice as Europe in world affairs, where that is possible, we are genuinely strengthened, not diminished, by so doing. In the Middle East, for example, speaking as Europeans in the seemingly intractable search for a viable path to a two-state solution, Javier Solana has represented this country and our partners with exemplary common sense and wisdom. He has been a force for balance, for engagement and for understanding. Speaking on behalf of all of us, he has indeed strengthened our hand here in the United Kingdom.
I agreed with much of what my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale said in her typically thoughtful intervention. I am sure that we all hope that next month’s conference on the peace process will make real progress. I hope that it will not be a repeated exchange about the process of negotiation, rather than an embarkation on negotiation itself; or an exercise in talking about the economic viability of a Palestinian state, rather than a discussion on how to bring such a state into being; or a discussion about Israel’s security without a discussion of how the international community can have a real role in monitoring and underwriting that security and, of course, the security of the Palestinian people.
I remain convinced that we Europeans must agree to Syrian inclusion in that process soon. I agree strongly with James Baker’s argument that Syria is ready for “tipping” on this point. I hope that Europe’s voice will continue to encourage that process with real determination.
The gracious Speech spoke of the Government’s commitment not only to reaching a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but also to delivering security, political reconciliation and economic reconstruction to Iraq. We all know that there is no quick fix in Iraq, but I was struck by the remarks of the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, in London last month about the economic improvements in that country. There has been a budgetary improvement doubling Iraq’s spending capacity this year on its social services; GDP growing at 6 per cent, which is a remarkable figure when compared with GDP across many other countries in the region; inflation down from 60 per cent two years ago to 16 per cent now; and, most tellingly of all, unemployment down from 50 per cent 18 months ago to 19 per cent now.
Iraq will continue to be a point of acute controversy—we all know that—but mostly it will be hard and laborious work. It will cost a great deal to do it properly. As the study report said last December, the US spends as much on its forces in Iraq every month as the Iraqis spend in a whole year. Will the Minister tell us in his winding-up speech how security can be maintained with that huge gulf in expenditure on security now and in the future?
Finally, I shall say a word about our public servants who work on foreign and defence issues. Quite simply, we need more of them, not fewer. Our men and women in the Armed Forces need to hear our explicit thanks and appreciation for what they do for us here and overseas. They are extraordinarily good at what they do and courageous in the sacrifices that they make, and we, for our part, should reward that effort, dedication and professionalism with real and clear support. We should also do better at supporting our diplomats. Without them, we are quite simply unable to engage in multilateral fora such as the UN, NATO, the EU and the Commonwealth. They bring us closer to those with whom we disagree and they strengthen the ties with those with whom we agree. Their work is not an optional extra; it is the bedrock on which we depend for our security and, in no small measure, for our prosperity. Our foreign policy determines our defence policy and we must be more explicit about it also determining our development policy. Development should be integrated into our diplomatic process in the same way as trade and defence are. All three need strengthening. Our capacity to deliver on our high ideals may well falter on our inability to put money and clout behind our values of human rights and equality and behind our aspirations for peace and prosperity.
My Lords, recently released from the shackles of the convenorship of the Cross-Bench Peers, I welcome the opportunity to comment, in the light of the gracious Speech, on the UK’s international objectives and specifically on public attitudes to our objectives in the European Union. This debate is already very wide; it covers, so far as I can see, the whole world and beyond to Armageddon, which the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, introduced into the discussion. Having spent much of my career in European affairs, both in the UK Civil Service and in the European Commission—I declare that interest in that I do, of course, have pensions from both sources—and although I shall speak mainly on European affairs, I shall comment first on the extremely important issue of the exit strategy from Iraq and, in due course, from Afghanistan, as many other speakers have done, particularly while the Israel/Palestinian issue is quite unresolved.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the depressingly long search for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians are, except in one respect, immeasurably more important for Britain than the amending treaty is. I am sure that we will have a lot to say about that treaty, but these issues are more important. First, they are more important because of the saddest of all indicators: the loss of British lives and the number of Britons injured—perhaps many of us have not fully comprehended that number—the very large number of Iraqis killed or injured in the continuing high level of violence in Iraq since the invasion, and the human cost of the hostilities in Afghanistan. This can justly be described as grim. Secondly, they are more important because such violence over a long period has influenced opinions and nurtured extremism, and can profoundly change the attitude of groups or nations. We in Britain are among those who are most affected as a greater target for extremism, and we must recognise that enmities have been exacerbated and that the consequences will not disappear quickly.
Our forces have performed to a very high standard, but the question now is simply the exit strategy. We have no vocation to remain in Iraq or Afghanistan; we have only to assess the advantages and disadvantages of how we proceed from here. I have one important point to make here. Ministers have been telling us regularly that we should leave Iraq when the national Government and the security forces can control the country and check violence, but the situation will never be so clear-cut as this objective assumes. The reality must be that we should leave when the objective has a chance of being achieved within a reasonable timescale. We have to bear in mind the lesson of history, which is that liberators often come to be seen as the enemies of the people, or at least of some of the people, simply because they have invaded their country. Today, we have to balance the problems that the invading forces themselves represent against the need for the Iraqi nation itself to improve its own security. Too long a delay in exiting carries a real cost. Quicker may be better for all concerned.
In the hope that by the end of the Session covered by the measures in the gracious Speech we shall see a much reduced role for our forces in Iraq, I turn now to European affairs, as many others have done. I begin with a plea for the Government to make as big an effort to tell the people the advantages of those European policies that they support as they make to explain where they have defended the UK’s position. It goes without saying that there are areas where we need to assert a defensive position in the European Union, so the phrase “red lines” is fully understandable. That is probably particularly so when changes in the existing treaty obligations are proposed. But we will have to make a decision soon—it is coming before the House—on the ratification of the amending treaty. At that time, I shall say a heartfelt thank you for the understanding that we shall not be called on to face another treaty-amending negotiation for very many years to come.
The sequence has in each case had some justification, but the cumulative effect of the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, the constitutional treaty and now the amending treaty has weighed heavily on public reaction to the European Union. I feel it personally because I gave up many months of my life to the first three of those treaties. Indeed, my wife has decided that on my tombstone will be written my age less one year lost in the negotiations of the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties.
It is customary for Ministers in debates such as this to say that the Government present positively the advantages that we gain from membership of the European Union, but I think that we could do with a bit more punch. That will be particularly true when the amending treaty has been ratified. Some of the more important policies, notably the single market, run themselves, or more accurately are run by those who are not directly concerned—business, commerce, the services, professions and so forth. We do not need to keep digging them up, but I repeat to the Minister that we need to do more to present and explain the UK’s role and its objectives not just on the controversial points but on other policies such as international trade, environment, research and so forth, which are continuing policies likely to be beneficial to us.
However, in the immediate future, the amending treaty will play a major role, not only because of the process of ratification, but because of public reaction to the EU as a whole. The Minister will be pleased to hear that this is not the occasion to enter into all the nooks and crannies of the amending treaty, but I would like briefly to make three comments in support of the treaty. My first point is a practical one. The motivation for the amending treaty at this time was always largely practical, even though for the former constitutional treaty it was dressed in some finery. The European Union has to adapt its way of working to the huge impact of enlargement—now to 27 countries and probably soon to more. I was involved in the first four enlargements of the Community and know how big a difference enlargement makes and how you have to look again at how the Union runs itself. That is the purpose of the changes being made to the European Council and, in foreign policy, of the amalgamation of the roles of the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission with external responsibilities.
Secondly, there is much more explicit emphasis in the treaty on the role of the nation states, which have always been the makers and the masters of the union that they have created. I welcome the recognition in Article 1 that the powers of the European Union derive from the member states. Powers not specifically transferred of course remain with them. In recent years, it seemed obvious that the trend towards a more intergovernmental approach grows stronger. I can never understand how some critics have been able to assert the opposite.
Thirdly, this amending treaty must give us stability so that we know clearly what is to be decided in the UK and what is covered by policies and decisions within the European Union. When I spoke previously on the constitutional treaty, I referred specifically to the passerelle clause, because it risked upsetting the idea that we had a stable situation resulting from the decisions. I note that this clause still exists, but subject to unanimity and, apparently, subject to approval by the House. Is that right? Is it prior approval? Does it mean both Houses? Perhaps the Minister would reply on that specific point.
My Lords, it is a pleasure for several reasons to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. It is now more than 18 years, I think, since he and I worked in partnership on these matters. Certainly, it is more than 18 years since, in the kind, euphemistic words of an American chairman the other day, I “relinquished” my position at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have some hesitation in entering this debate after that lapse of time, not least because there have been so many changes in the world during that time. I should also like to draw the attention of the House to some of the factors that have been involved as a result of those changes in our foreign policy and foreign policies around the world.
First, on the plus side, there has been a substantial reduction in the British bilateral burden. Northern Ireland is no longer on the Foreign Office agenda; nor, for practical purposes, are Gibraltar or Hong Kong. Those positions have moved forward quite well. Secondly, however, there has been a huge explosion in a much wider multilateral agenda: namely, the widespread disruption of the Middle East; the upsurge in terrorism; the spreading of anxiety about the non-proliferation treaty, whether in Iran or northern Korea; the humanitarian catastrophes in Darfur, Myanmar and Zimbabwe; and the influx of new, generally less stable, states to the world, such as Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. Thirdly, there is the re-emergence of Russia, which, having lost an empire, is still looking for a role, under determined leadership, even if that is rather uncomfortable for the rest of us.
Fourthly, there is a significant shift in the conduct of American foreign policy. I was unable to take part in the recent debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Saatchi on anti-Americanism, but had I done so, I should certainly have been, as he was, anti anti-Americanism. But one must face the fact that problems which previous Administrations would instinctively have sought to handle through multilateral institutions—of which the United States had been one of the principal midwives—have more recently been more likely than not to promote what I may call the Bolton/Cheney unilateral response. In the kind of forward aphorism that Deng Xiaoping always used to like, “Like father, unlike son”.
Fifthly—not the least important—there has been the growth and the impact on the world of states which had previously been less than in the front line, such as Brazil, India or, surprisingly to some extent, the most important, China. China is hugely important. First, I must declare an interest. I visited China as long ago as 1978, then again during the Hong Kong negotiations, and long thereafter my life became heavily involved in the future of that territory. The number of people in the Foreign Office department dealing with Hong Kong rose from three to 23 during the negotiations. Finally, I have been for some years president of the Great Britain-China Centre, and indeed I was in China last month, as was the Minister.
The reason why China’s presence on the world stage is so important is multi-faceted. Of course, one is first aware of its huge and continuing economic success, but that is by no means the only factor. When one considers the other features, it is worth recalling how much we can rely upon the good faith of China by looking at the way in which some of its key commitments in the Hong Kong negotiations have been maintained. They are remarkable commitments. For example, the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong still has in its membership two Members of your Lordships’ House, currently the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hoffmann and Lord Scott of Foscote. That was a remarkable proposition to have been accepted; it is still being faithfully observed and is of enormous help to the stability of the territory. A commitment yet to be fulfilled, but still remarkable, is not just the accountability of the Executive to an elected assembly, but also the commitment to increasing progress towards universal suffrage for it. It will be a great advantage, as both the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, and I pointed out, to see steady progress towards the fulfilment of that last commitment.
In China itself there have been positive developments, some of which have been taking place over the whole of the past 30 years since Deng Xiaoping successfully replaced the Gang of Four. But it is not just about China’s dramatic economic growth. It is fashionable for some commentators to respond to that by saying, “That’s all very well, but look at the rest of the record, which is alarming and disturbing”. The Economist, a magazine that I have respected for many years, in its issue of 30 June spoke of China as a “viciously repressive dictatorship”. While the Chinese themselves would concede that much still remains to be done, I do not think that the analysis is helped at all by hyperbole of that kind.
It is important to recognise that there has already been much improvement in the conditions of the ordinary Chinese citizen. The other day I received a pamphlet produced on behalf of a group of people from North Korea who escaped to China with the assistance of a significantly courageous Christian priest. These people produced a booklet describing their reaction on arriving in China:
“The first thing to notice in China was abundance in food. There are foods everywhere. There are clothes everywhere. Second, freedom is guaranteed”.
That may be a slight overstatement, but it is what they say. They continue:
“Third, personal property and possessions are permitted. The harvest is mine to keep. When I gain profit by business, it is also mine to keep. Fourth, there is freedom of residence, freedom of speech, and freedom to travel … I could move to an area of my choice … I became aware of the fact that North Korea is the only country where you have to apply for a pass to travel from place to place”.
It is clear that, understandably enough, China is there seen through rose-tinted spectacles, but it certainly deserves to be taken into account.
Beyond that, China is playing a much larger international role. It is developing a worldwide network of investment, for the most part in developing countries, and an increasingly effective and widespread diplomatic representation, often in countries where we are closing our own posts, such as Madagascar. China recognises the need for soft power in a way that the United States seems to have forgotten with the establishment of Confucius Foundation Centres around the world, including in this country. Further, China has been particularly useful over the more difficult international problems facing us in recent years. The North Korea nuclear programme has been tackled successfully because China was one of the six participants in the six-party talks.
On Darfur, having hesitated for some time, China supported Resolution 1769; it has appointed an envoy to the country and has sent almost 200 engineers to support what has been done there. Even in Myanmar, which raises difficulties because of its proximity, Miss Suu Kyi requires all the support she can get, and there has been some support. It is very unlikely, for example, that the UN representative, Mr Gambari, would have gone there recently had it not been for Chinese intervention.
It is encouraging to record the conclusions of the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which I do not often quote in this House or anywhere else. It committed itself, in what is a kind of equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, to a continuation of “reform and opening up” and to “continuing to take an active part in multilateral affairs”. There is, as I have said, much scope for it to do more, and we should work from there. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I go on for a minute or two more, otherwise I shall miss the central point.
That is the setting in which the United Kingdom and France, as permanent members of the Security Council, need to mobilise and manage our foreign policies. I am afraid I react with less than enthusiasm to the attempt of my noble friend Lord Howell to emulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, with his, “No, no, no”. It tends to get the hackles rising. Of course I have enormous respect for the Commonwealth. One of the most valuable qualifications for the United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer going to the IMF was preceding it by attending Commonwealth Finance Ministers meetings. Unlike the United States Treasury Secretary, we had an understanding of many of the colonies, from Grenada to India, and a wider perception of the world. But, having attended half a dozen Commonwealth conferences and about 15 European Council meetings, it is clear to me that we were much more able to achieve some agreements of a collective and effective kind in the European Councils than we ever were on matters of substance with the Commonwealth. But there is much scope for “networking”—another favourite word of my noble friend—in that context.
But it is tempting, is it not, for France and Britain, as seems to be happening this week, to believe that we can handle all these things vis-à-vis the United States by our very own special relationship. Ours is built on the Magna Carta and France’s on the sacking of the Bastille, I suppose; they are different badges of democratic freedom. But it may not be possible for that to happen.
Finally, let me address the issue of the treaty to which much reference has been given. I cannot help recalling that one of the documents which I handed to Chancellor Kohl in 1985, with Margaret Thatcher present, was entitled “Europe: The Future”, which contained our support for progressive movement towards an increasingly co-operative European foreign policy. That is what the Single European Act was about and it remains one of the most important components for addressing the world as it is today. It is exactly the kind of solution we need and for which we have been campaigning for a very long time.
For the reasons explained by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, it is an entirely sensible treaty. It contains measures which are essential to the operation of our foreign policy if it is to be amplified by partnership in the kind of world in which we live. I am distressed by the dilemma that has been created because democratic competition has landed both our major parties with a commitment to a referendum on this issue. I cannot believe that the prospect of a referendum on this treaty—worst of all if the treaty had already entered into force—will be of any value at all. Indeed, at this time, the prospect of a referendum is disruptive to a certain extent. That is what happened in 1975. There was a hiatus in which the foreign policy of this country and a lot of its business was paralysed because of uncertainty about our position.
So, while I can understand why we have got into the hole in which we find ourselves, I endorse the speeches of noble Lords who can see that the only way out of it is by proceeding now with the implementation of the treaty, negotiated and renegotiated, as it has already been. If it is accepted by everybody but ourselves, there is a limit to the extent to which we can remain in a corner of our own making.
My Lords, I infinitely prefer the approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, to that of the noble Lord on his Front Bench. I have listened with great interest to his comments on China, particularly with regard to its growing influence on the international scene. He said it had already been instrumental in arriving at a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem and was being increasingly helpful in other areas of the world; he cited Burma and Darfur. I hope the changes in Chinese policy that he examined will extend to other parts of the world, particularly Zimbabwe, with which China has always had a close relationship. That relationship is increasingly intimate but does not include the exercise of China’s political influence on that dictatorship.
As the gracious Speech reminds us, in two weeks the Commonwealth Heads of Government will be meeting in Kampala and they will need to formulate a collective response to the crisis in Pakistan, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, is a source of huge anxiety worldwide. With the constitution suspended, martial law in force, the free media silenced and thousands of people detained, including two-thirds of the supreme court, lawyers, democrats and human rights activists, CMAG is holding an extraordinary meeting here in London next Tuesday. If Musharraf is still defying the call, made by the Foreign Secretary and others, to restore the constitution and the rule of law, CMAG should recommend that the CHOGM suspend Pakistan from membership of the Commonwealth. There should also be a Commonwealth travel ban on Musharraf and his collaborators, and both military and development aid should be suspended. Domestically the auto-putsch and the emasculation of civil society will encourage the extremism and terrorism Musharraf said it was intended to counter and make it even harder to restore peace and stability in neighbouring Afghanistan. The utmost pressure must be brought to bear on him to hand over the reins of government to the president of the Senate, as provided by the constitution, and to hold an election within 90 days.
Africa is not mentioned in the gracious Speech, and the Government seem to have forgotten the commitment of Mr Blair’s Commission for Africa, billed two years ago as “Changing a continent, saving the world”. Aid was to have increased by $25 billion, with improvements in the governance of receiving countries. But there was no plan to follow up the ambitious goals, or to sustain the momentum created by the UK’s presidency of the G8. The target date of 2015 for the millennium development goals is approaching and Africa is faltering. My noble friend Lady Northover paraphrased the UN Secretary-General when she said that Africa is lagging behind the rest of the developing world. The proportion living on less than a dollar a day, the under-five mortality rate, the proportion living with HIV, the number lacking basic sanitation and the urban population living in slum conditions are worse in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region of the world, and the goals will not be realised at the present rates of progress.
The commission examined some of the man-made hindrances to development but was silent on population growth, which is the biggest of the lot. In many parts of the Sahel, the land cultivated per head has declined by half over the past 25 years, with a growing landless workforce migrating to the slums or to neighbouring Nigeria or the Middle East. Escalating oil and gas prices, climate change and the switch to biofuels are already leading to a global food crisis, and the pressure from population growth has the combined effect of increasing demand and reducing supply, with loss of soil fertility, reduction of crop yields and extended desertification. It was good to see that access to reproductive and sexual health services, including contraceptive advice and services, has been added to the millennium development goals. How will the Government implement that goal, starting from such a late point in the MDG cycle?
Armed conflict is a second brake on development. The UN Peacebuilding Commission has a much narrower remit than was envisaged, and has no part to play, for instance, in the stalemated dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia. There is no real pressure on Meles Zenawi, who was a member of Mr Blair’s team, to comply with the recommendations of the Boundary Commission which both parties had agreed beforehand to accept without reservation. Instead, Ethiopia has found spurious excuses for refusing to comply, and now that the commission is about to dissolve at the end of this month, the war could start again. What are we, as friends of Mr Zenawi, doing to get him to honour his undertakings?
Many of the conflicts in Africa have been fuelled by the competition for resources. Unfortunately, the UN panel on the illegal exploitation of resources was wound up four years ago and the evidence that it uncovered has never been pursued. The Blair commission recommended a permanent body to monitor the trade in conflict resources and ensure that sanctions on them are enforced. Why have the Government not taken up that proposal with the Security Council? Where does the wanted war criminal, Laurent Nkunda, obtain the resources to pin down 20,000 government troops in eastern DRC, causing the internal displacement of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands to flee into Uganda? The Government earned only a paltry $23 million from mining royalties last year and are aiming to cancel or renegotiate some concessions that were the subject of allegations by the expert panel. Is DfID giving them technical help in getting a better share of their own mineral wealth?
In Sudan, failure to reach agreement on control of oil-rich Abyei contributes to the fragility of the comprehensive peace agreement between north and south, and the withdrawal from the south of the Government of national unity. The UNMIS mandate had to be extended to the end of October 2008 at a cost of $850 million. It is only one of eight UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, which will cost more than $4 billion in 2008. The conflicts destroy even huger economic and human potential. The Blair commission said the international community should invest in the continent’s own early warning, mediation and peacekeeping capacity, yet the AU has neither the resources nor the expertise to contribute effectively to those objectives. It did not protect 200,000 victims of the genocide in Darfur, or even its own soldiers who were murdered at Haskanita. I hope that it will be possible to bring the war criminals of Darfur to justice, but the best memorial to the victims would be to endow the African Union with the power and the ability to stop mass murders and genocides on African soil.
My Lords, I make no apology for devoting a substantial part of my contribution to this debate to the EU reform treaty, which this House will be called on to clear for ratification in the coming months. Not only is this legislation an important element of the legislative programme before us, but also it is of great significance for the future development of the European Union. I do not wish to plunge into the scholastic debate about whether the treaty is of greater or lesser weight and significance than previous EU treaties, which have hitherto invariably been ratified by this country following parliamentary procedures; nor shall I dwell on the equally scholastic debate about whether the treaty is “broadly equivalent” to the constitutional treaty which has now been dropped, except to observe that the scrutiny committee in another place might have done well to study the carefully argued opinion of the Dutch Council of State, to the effect that the treaty is not broadly equivalent to the constitutional treaty, even for member states which are not covered by the special provisions negotiated for the UK. It would have done well to think of that before reaching its own not very rigorously or even clearly reasoned contrary conclusion.
I shall focus on an examination of whether the main provisions and innovations of the new treaty are likely to lead to the better functioning of the European Union and are in this country’s interest. This is an angle of approach simply ignored so far in our national debate—though not, I am glad to say, in this House this afternoon—including in the Prime Minister's Statement after the recent European Council in Lisbon. Surely it needs to be at the centre of any process of decision to ratify this treaty.
Let us look at four main issues: the reform of the Union’s institutional structures with regard to foreign policy; the creation of the office of the president of the European Council; the involvement for the first time of national Parliaments in the Union’s legislative procedures; and the extensions of qualified majority voting, particular in the field of home affairs and immigration. The common foreign policy of the European Union has expanded rapidly in recent years, with every step decided by unanimity. It is hard to believe that it will not continue to do so, with so many of the threats and challenges that Europe faces capable of being handled only by a united collective effort. Europe is in the lead in stabilising the Balkans, a key player in the Middle East peace process, the international community spokesman in the effort to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme and is deploying security missions in Bosnia, Gaza, the West Bank, Chad and the Central African Republic.
Only those in a state of total denial could fail to recognise the scale of this development. But the European Union is, to use a hackneyed phrase, punching well below its weight, which is partly but not exclusively due to the complexity, duplication and confusion of its foreign policy machinery. The enhanced role of a high representative, his or her double-hatting to bring together the impact of the Council and the Commission, and the development of an external action service, are all steps to remedy—and they should do so, bringing about a more coherent and effective implementation of all the instruments of external policy than has hitherto been possible.
The new post of the president of the European Council, together with the provisions on foreign policy, marks the effective end of the rotating presidency—and not before time. A device that worked well for a community of six, nine or even 12, a community with no major foreign policy responsibilities, has become hopelessly anachronistic and even counterproductive for a Union of 27 with a growing external policy dimension. Presidencies skewed towards the priorities of this or that member state, lack of continuity and sustained effort, lack even of representation in many parts of the world when a small member state holds the presidency—all those weaknesses need to be and should be remedied. The balance between the supranational institutions, the Commission and the Parliament, and the intergovernmental ones such as the Council, has been shifted, albeit modestly, towards the latter.
Subsidiarity is an ugly word and an obscure concept, but it does matter if the centralising tendencies of the Brussels institutions are to be subjected to a reality check when legislative proposals are brought forward. Giving national Parliaments a role in that reality check surely makes sense. Some argue that the provisions in the new treaty will be ineffective, but we will know whether that is so only when we, the national Parliaments, have tried to make use of them—and without the treaty we will have no chance to make use of them.
As to the extension of qualified majority voting, I can often hardly believe my eyes when I read what is written about it in the press. The words “surrender” and “sovereignty” tumble out as if we had not on balance benefited enormously from the use of qualified majority voting and hardly ever been voted down. Without qualified majority voting, we would not now have the single market. Would that have been in our interests? In this treaty, the main areas shifted from unanimity to qualified majority voting are either clearly in our interests, such as with energy policy, or leave us with an opt-out. Sovereignty is a bit like the biblical parable of the talents. Do we want to cling on to an asset that is increasingly difficult to use effectively on our own or do we want to increase its effectiveness by using it in concert with others?
In all these four main areas and in any others, such as the reduction in the size of the Commission, Britain will benefit substantially from the entry into force of the new treaty. No doubt there are many other complex issues in it, which we will need to examine in detail in the months ahead; but it would be good if that debate could be a hard-headed one, focused on the actual provisions of the treaty, not the usual jumble of myths and unsubstantiated assertions that often seem based on an assumption that we are locked in a life-or-death struggle against our fellow Europeans, not, as is in fact the case, trying to work out how best to co-operate with them to our mutual advantage.
I turn from a subject that many may feel we spend too much of our time discussing to one, disarmament, which I suggest we spend far too little time discussing. In the last decade of the Cold War and in the years immediately following its end, the world made some major advances towards a reduction in armaments and a strengthening of the policies restraining the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Chemical Weapons Convention came into force; the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was extended sine die; the two nuclear superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, reduced their arsenals; regional agreements such as that on conventional forces in Europe were negotiated; and a number of regional nuclear-free zones were agreed. Iraq’s attempt to break out of these multilateral disciplines was frustrated. But since the turn of the century, the international community has neglected this field. Indeed, there has been regression. Now we face the risk that these disciplines will be flouted and eroded, leading to a much less, not more, secure world.
Is it too late to do anything about this to reverse this dangerous trend? I do not believe so. It is late but not too late. Next year new presidents will be elected in Russia and the United States. That should provide an opportunity to relaunch the process of both bilateral and multilateral disarmament and arms control. Already a debate is under way in the United States, led by statesmen of impeccably realist credentials such as George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry and Sam Nunn, about the need to move towards nuclear disarmament. It is surely time that we turned this domestic US debate into an international one. We should be contributing our own ideas and our own willingness to play a part. Some of the proposals we are contributing already—the idea of an arms trade treaty and the uranium enrichment bank—are excellent ones; others would be if they were taken further. We should move decisively to ban all cluster munitions, not hide behind an unconvincing and unsustainable distinction between dumb and smart munitions.
But what is still lacking in our Government’s programme is an overall political concept and the promotion of this policy area much higher up the list of the UK’s foreign policy priorities. The former Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, made a good start in her last days in office with her Washington speech to the Carnegie Institute last June. What would be good now would be for the new Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister to take up the baton and play a leading role in the discussion of these issues both within Europe—I include Russia in that term—and across the Atlantic. I fear that if we do not create an opening towards a renewed disarmament and counterproliferation strategy within the next two years—and no one should doubt that these two things are indissolubly linked—the opportunity will not recur any time soon, if ever.
My Lords, I have counted the foreign affairs paragraphs in the gracious Speech—there are six in 38. That is hardly surprising, because in legislation a Government can normally deliver on the domestic side, whereas on the foreign affairs side there is the need to persuade, the need to find compromises and the need to respond to the unexpected and the unforeseen. But in the current debate we have to understand the crossover between the domestic and the foreign; we have to understand that virtually all the domestic matters with which we deal have a greater foreign content. We should think of migration, drugs—Afghanistan has been mentioned—and terrorism. These key issues all have a foreign dimension. At a deeper level, we have to understand our national strengths and the way in which our proud history has given us a unique membership of key international institutions, and we have to understand ourselves—what we can do independently. We speak on virtually the 25th anniversary of the Falklands invasion, probably the last independent military operation of its kind that this country will be capable of undertaking.
We have pre-eminence in a number of institutions and many centres of excellence, and the world context is changing. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, mentioned the China dimension and the first $1 trillion company, PetroChina. Of the 10 most valuable companies in the world, five are supplied by China and three by the United States. That is the substructure on which the political superstructure will be built. In this debate, we have to look at how we in the UK, with our advantages, can make the most serious contribution.
I listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Howell. He always speaks with great thought, but it puzzles me why the Conservative Front Bench—both in this House and in the other place—cannot bring itself to say one word in favour of the European Union. It cannot be as bad as that; there must be something good and worthy about it, even if there are many blemishes on which it is worth dwelling. Surely our relationship with the European Union will dominate parliamentary debates for at least the first six months of next year. Is our future in the new Europe of the amending treaty? Should the European Union of 27 members be given the institutional structure to enable it to function in our common interests? Is isolation, however dressed up, a serious option?
The immediate debate will be on our response to the amending treaty, but the subtext is much deeper. Have we accepted that our future lies not in unilateral initiatives—nor in some ad hoc groupings, as though we were a sheriff seeking to find a different posse for each of the diverse challenges that we face—but rather in working as a team with our EU partners? The point was well made by a former European Union commissioner, Peter Sutherland, in a rather despairing article in the Financial Times of 17 October entitled “Does Britain want to be in or out?”. Many who attack the proposed amending treaty do not want to be part of the Union at all, preferring the illusions of either independent isolation or some mythical intergovernmental and limited grouping that is not on the agenda.
Another unrealistic diversion lies in calls for a strengthened Commonwealth as an alternative grouping to the European Union. I speak as someone who has been on the executive of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for well nigh 25 years, and knows many senior Commonwealth leaders. I know that the proposition is not on the Commonwealth agenda and that it was comprehensively destroyed—rubbished, indeed—by Don McKinnon, the outgoing Commonwealth Secretary-General, in a recent lecture. Will those opposed to the treaty play to a populist Eurosceptic negativism or seek to make a constructive contribution to the debate? Both horses cannot be ridden.
Surely we must now recognise that the European Union is the main influence on our foreign policy, for good or ill. Large sections of our foreign relationships are already wholly within EU competence—for example, trade policy, and aid and development is more and more part of European Union policy. A key outcome of the October European Council is that the CFSP will remain intergovernmental; there was a clear declaration to that effect. Coherence in the CFSP is in our interest, is necessary and can be achieved only by the institutional change of double-hatting one individual to chair the Council and be responsible for external relations in the Commission.
It is also clear that the main crises in the world cannot be tackled by this country acting on its own or as part of some ad hoc posse, as I mentioned. They can be tackled only as part of an EU enterprise. The reality is also that our foreign policy is already the product of intense regular discussions at all levels with our European partners in seeking greater convergence. Let us look at some of those world crises, to show that we are working closely with our European partners, as we should do.
We had a recent debate on the Middle East so I shall not dwell on it, but the recent EU Sub-Committee C report argued for an enhanced EU role in the Middle East. Of course, the EU is already part of the quartet on Israel/Palestine. Already the EU3 work together in respect of Iran, while the United States is hobbled because of its agenda of regime change. Only intensified diplomacy can deliver on the nuclear threat, and that should include security guarantees to Iran. However, if Iran persists along its present road and continues to be a spoiler in the region—yes, with Lebanon; yes, with Hamas—the European Union must ensure with the rest of the international community that it pays a high price.
Sub-Committee C will again look at Russia. I do not anticipate our report but it is surely imperative for the European Union, so far as possible, to co-ordinate our response to a newly assertive Russia. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that there are divergent national interests. It is surely in our interests to converge so far as possible.
We think of the coming Africa-EU conference in Lisbon. In Darfur and other areas of conflict it is with the European Union, not some independent and illusory foreign policy, that we are embarked.
Finally, I shall dwell a little on the Balkans, because a crisis is looming in Kosovo after 10 December. I do not share my noble friend’s confidence that there is but a minor gap between those who want independence and those who want substantial autonomy, which can be bridged by the international community. A resolution needs most skilful management. The European Union has the necessary range of tools, civil and military, to smooth that transition.
Some talk of a grand bargain with Russia. More realistically, the likely scenario is as follows. On 17 November, there will be legislative elections in Kosovo with all participating parties pressing for independence. That will almost certainly be boycotted by almost all the Serbs. On 10 December, the troika—the European Union again, Russia and the United States—will declare its failure to the United Nations Security Council, in spite of the valiant efforts of Ambassador Ischinger. The Security Council will fail to agree on a resolution and ask the European Union to assume control of the province, which will be agreed. Finally, it is very likely that Kosovo will declare independence in the second half of January; that the majority of the European Union will recognise that; and that gradually the international community will adjust, step by step, to the new reality. However, that is the best scenario—it could all go tragically wrong, with Serbia and Russia playing rough and possibly encouraging not only the breakaway of a part of Kosovo, but the joining to Serbia of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia. The jingoistic Prime Minister Kostunica has already threatened that. His coffers are full and his country is used to sanctions. He is probably not bluffing with his recent threats.
Obviously, to reduce the chances of such turbulence, we must try to understand and respond to the sensitivities of Serbia. First, the international community must be tough with Kosovo on human rights and minorities. It has many potential levers—not just financial sanctions for non-compliance, but in the very last resort the threat of the redrawing of frontiers. Remember that two municipalities north of the Ibar were moved to Kosovo only by Tito in 1950 for administrative reasons. De facto, Belgrade already rules north of the Ibar. Secondly, Serbia must be assisted financially in respect of the 250,000 refugees on its territory who are dumped in villages and hated by the local Serbs. The prospect of European Union entry must be opened more widely. It is vital for us and the EU that we do not have on our doorstep in Europe a failed state acting as a conduit for drugs, migration and even possibly terrorism. The EU has a key and unique role here and elsewhere in the crises of this world.
Finally, for us, the EU should be not a problem but an opportunity. Today the EU provides a far more benign context for us because of changes in the leadership of France and Germany and the policies of the new countries in central and east Europe. History is not dead but leads to international crises. It is absolutely clear that our interests broadly coincide with those of our EU partners and need to be harmonised with them, which was the theme of the inaugural lecture of the director of Chatham House. Some in our country are blind to those recent changes; others rush into false cul-de-sacs. Let the current debate on our relations with the European Union be serious, but let it be honest, with opponents of the treaty ready to expose their real agenda. Let us recognise that the international context has changed and that our interests demand that we play a full role, not as an independent national entity—the Churchill illusion—but as a full member of the European Union.
My Lords, in this vastly wide-ranging debate, I wish to draw attention to a relatively narrow matter, which causes me great concern, regarding the lamentable lack of co-operation and, indeed, indifference between the European Union and NATO. I approach this as one who is in no way a Eurosceptic and has for many years attended the NATO Parliamentary Assembly with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I am afraid that I cannot see much in the proposed European treaty Bill that will improve the relationship between NATO and the EU. Surely there should be growing co-operation between the two, especially given their largely, but not entirely, overlapping membership, which ought to bring their work closer together.
On the one hand, NATO, with its continuing credential as a relevant organisation, in view of the new belligerence of President Putin, has been moving more into EU territory with regard to civil protection against terrorism and natural disaster. On the other hand, the EU has been moving more into the military role of NATO. The Berlin Plus agreement set out how co-operation could be established. It was to allow the European Union assured access to the assets of NATO, including SHAPE. However, that agreement has not broken the logjam that bedevils NATO-EU relations.
Of course I acknowledge that the Turkey-Cyprus dispute is one of the reasons behind this apparent impasse, but that is not the whole story. I was struck by remarks made by Tomas Valasek, former director of the Slovak defence ministry, who said that the Turkey-Cyprus dispute has merely been a “smokescreen” for the European and Atlanticist camps in NATO and the EU to hide behind. There is a lot of truth in that. The Secretary-General of NATO, de Hoop Scheffer, said not long ago:
“It is astounding how narrow the bandwidth of co-operation between NATO and the [European] Union has remained … there is still a remarkable distance between them”.
One serious problem is the astonishing absence of any formal channel of co-operation between NATO and the European Commission. The Commission decides on an increasing number of subjects that affect NATO and the EU. There should be a comprehensive institutional framework of co-operation between the Commission and NATO. In January of this year, when I was in Brussels with the committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, we met a Commission official who told us that he had never met his NATO counterparts. That seems astonishing when you realise that there is already too much overlap and duplication between the two—for instance, the EU battle groups on the one hand and the NATO Response Force on the other, and, in the field of command and control, the EU Operations Centre on the one hand and SHAPE on the other.
What can be done to correct all this? I hope that the Government will make an effort in the months and years ahead to try to correct this abysmal relationship. Perhaps the climate has changed, which might give us the opportunity to make those changes, especially with the election in Paris of President Sarkozy. His new attitude should give us hope, because he appears to be much more interested in co-operation with the United States than his predecessors were, which was one of the causes of the logjam in relations.
Let me make some suggestions for Ministers and Governments to do something about. I have spoken about the need for better institutional contacts between the two organisations, especially at Commission level. My second suggestion concerns the fact that the EU and NATO both have growing capacity to come to the aid of a stricken nation that cannot cope on its own after suffering from, say, a major terrorist attack or natural disaster. These facilities, which both organisations have put together and are growing, are largely civil resources such as fire, police or technical assistance. Within those organisations there is a military element and both bodies have their regular training exercises but, unbelievably, they carry them out separately. The EU has its Monitoring and Information Centre for civil catastrophes, whether by terrorism or natural disaster, while NATO has an almost exactly parallel organisation, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. Both carry out separate exercises.
In May, I attended a NATO exercise in Croatia where a hijack, biological attack, earthquake, chemical spill and transport disruption were simulated. Many countries took part, from as far away as Finland, which sent emergency units. The EU has similar exercises to do exactly the same job—14 in the past five years—using the same scenarios that I saw in Croatia earlier this year.
Why do the Government not make a start in trying to improve relationships between NATO and the European Union? As a start, they could try to get them to do these exercises together. There is no reason on earth why they should each approach this from separate points of view. It must be sensible to do it in co-ordination. There is a huge amount to do to achieve a closer relationship between the European Union and NATO. I hope that the Government will be able to give a little time to considering that, as it is of great and growing importance.
My Lords, I join others in very warmly welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, to her important portfolio. I am also delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, is winding up the debate. We were working colleagues about a decade ago in the World Bank—in fact, he was my superior. I am delighted and quite amused that once again he will be having the last word after I have had my say. It is great to have him with us.
Many noble Lords have spoken about the reform treaty in the course of this very long and varied debate. It will be no surprise to any of you that I want to make that the theme of my remarks. At the outset, I emphasise that I have absolutely no intention of arguing the merits or demerits of the treaty. That would be wholly incompatible with being chairman of an all-party committee which is already engaged in an in-depth and thoroughly objective assessment of the impact of this treaty on the United Kingdom and on the EU as a whole if it were ratified by the member states.
I want to be quite clear about this. There are those who have expressed surprise and disappointment that the Select Committee has not produced a report comparing the reform treaty text with that of the now defunct constitutional treaty, as the European Scrutiny Committee in another place has recently done. There is, of course, a long-established practice in your Lordships’ House of complementing, not duplicating, the work of Commons committees. But quite apart from that, we felt strongly that to make a comparison between the constitutional treaty and the reform treaty would draw us into the domestic political argument over whether ratification of the new treaty should be subject to a referendum. We considered that to be wholly outside our terms of reference.
There was an equally compelling reason for our rejection of that proposal. We simply do not agree with those who assert that whether or not the reform treaty is substantially equivalent to the constitutional treaty is of the highest constitutional significance. On the contrary, it is our view that that question is only of political significance to the arguments being advanced both for and against the holding of a referendum. What is of undoubted constitutional significance is the contrast between the existing position and what would follow from the coming into force of the treaty following ratification.
In light of that, your Lordships’ Select Committee decided that the best service it could render the House was to conduct a rigorous and detailed impact assessment, based on the treaty text agreed at the 18 October informal summit, to be carried out through our policy-based sub-committees, of the effect of the treaty changes in their final form on the United Kingdom and on the EU as a whole. The Select Committee will assess the institutional changes with the exception of the creation of the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy which will be scrutinised by our Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy Sub-Committee. We plan to publish the consolidated assessment in advance of any ratification Bill coming before your Lordships' House in the event that the treaty is signed at the 13 December European Council. Our sole objective is to produce a report that can prove useful to all participants in the debate.
We shall be looking principally at the treaty itself, with the UK's opt-ins and opt-outs treated separately. With regard to the latter, we shall explain where opt-outs are possible, and what would be the implications of not opting in. We will, in particular, seek to probe in detail the effectiveness of the Government's red lines, including, of course, the provision that national security remains a matter for member states. Opt-ins in freedom, security and justice matters will be subjected to close scrutiny, as will be the United Kingdom’s position regarding the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. We shall also look closely at any provision made by the Government to implement parliamentary involvement in passerelle provisions which enable qualified majority voting to be extended without treaty amendment, a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, has already expressed interest.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that that is precisely what our Select Committee and its sub-committees should be doing. Work is already under way, and on Thursday last we published a preliminary report setting out our work programme on the treaty and publishing some evidence already taken from our permanent representative to the EU, as well as from the head of the Commission's legal service, from the office of the EU Commission vice-president in charge of relations with national parliaments, and from one of the three MEPs who represented the European Parliament in the intergovernmental conference on the treaty.
That is just the beginning. The Select Committee and its sub-committees are now fully engaged in carrying forward this very important inquiry. We are asking interested parties within and widely outside Parliament to put their views directly to our sub-committees and to the Select Committee. On Tuesday of last week, and leading the pack, our Law and Institutions Sub-Committee—chaired, as noble Lords know, by one of our Law Lords—which will bear a heavy burden in this inquiry, published its call for evidence, seeking a broad spectrum of views on the impact of the reform treaty in the areas of freedom, security and justice.
Meanwhile, the regular scrutiny of EU documents, particularly draft legislation, continues, as it must. In addition, a dozen parallel inquiries are currently under way, such as those into the functioning of the single market, the EU's relationship with Russia, the future of the common agricultural policy, and the European external borders agency. Ahead of us lie the Commission's annual legislative and work programme and the annual policy strategy. Both will, as usual, be carefully scrutinised and reported on to this House. We will, of course, on behalf of the national Parliament, be contributing to the European Union's special 2008-09 review of the Union's budgeting system.
I remind your Lordships that relations between the national parliaments and the Commission have been markedly improved by a commitment made by Commission President Barroso, enshrined in the conclusions of the June 2006 European Council. The Commission has committed itself to go beyond the formal obligation to respond to national parliamentary scrutiny of compliance with the subsidiarity and proportionality principles in the framing of EU legislation.
Last June, President Barroso unilaterally committed the Commission to respond directly to views conveyed to it by national parliaments on the substance of Commission proposals as well as on the issue of competence. Your Lordships' Select Committee is taking full advantage of this development and the Commission has been duly responding directly to our committee. Indeed, we are also now receiving comments from the Commission Vice-President in charge of relations with national parliaments on reports of the Select Committee which contain recommendations for EU action, or, in some cases, EU restraint.
So we have our work cut out for us. I tell your Lordships, not for the first time, that but for the rich pool of expertise and experience to be found in this House, and the willingness of some 80 Members of your Lordships’ House to give so much of their time, this work simply could not be undertaken. I am truly grateful to them. I am sure the whole House feels equal gratitude. On a personal note, perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the House very warmly for having done me the honour of entrusting to me for one more Session the chairmanship of the Select Committee.
With the reform treaty, in particular, we shall be very busy indeed during this Session. I trust that the fruits of our work will prove useful to your Lordships as this House deliberates the United Kingdom's place in the European Union and in the wider world.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, and the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who is to respond to this debate. The noble Baroness may remember that we worked together in a previous existence in another place on the Standards and Privileges Committee and became known as the sleaze busters. Exactly five years ago today, almost to the minute, I suffered a heart attack, so it is with great pleasure and some relief that I rise today to add my comments on yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.
I wish to address my main remarks to the words in the gracious Speech:
“Reducing global poverty will be a high priority for my Government, with renewed efforts to achieve the millennium development goals”.
In particular, I shall address how that relates to the provision of clean water in Africa.
Noble Lords will be aware from my entries in the Register of my interests in Botswana in Southern Africa. In over 13 years in another place and just over two years in your Lordships' House, I have developed an interest in the whole continent of Africa, and have visited a number of countries from Ghana to Mozambique, from Senegal to Namibia, and this summer from South Africa and Botswana to Kenya and Burundi. Every time I return to this country from Africa, two challenges are uppermost in my mind: water and jobs.
This year we have seen devastating floods across much of Africa. We know that a lot of rain falls on the continent, yet all too often we also see on our television screens pictures of people struggling to survive because of drought. Animals die, starving children and emaciated mothers suffer and aid agencies find their resources stretched and inadequate to provide sufficient help. Meanwhile young men stand idle with no jobs to do. I take Burundi as an example. I visited Burundi in September with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. That country, half of the former Belgian colony of Ruanda-Urundi, has been plagued by civil war. Aid agencies are there in force, not least our own Department for International Development. The newish Government have been in power for two years and regard that as an achievement because they have not been overthrown in a bloody coup. Yet everywhere young men stand around idle, a tinderbox waiting to explode again.
In Kenya, I heard of women—it is almost always women—who walk miles every morning to go and fetch water. They walk home, cook the family meal, go to bed, wake up in the morning and go and fetch more water. That is not living; that is a grinding existence. I know some of the difficulties of having no water supply. I live in Gloucestershire, where the Mythe waterworks on the outskirts of Tewkesbury were flooded in July. For two weeks we had no water supply. It is true that bowsers were promptly delivered to key points and bottled water was also supplied, but to fill the toilets we took large containers to a nearby stream and carried them home. It was a nuisance for us, but for those Kenyans having to walk miles to get water is more than a nuisance.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will take place in Uganda in a couple of weeks. In 2001, I visited Uganda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and saw a Rotary-backed project to secure a water supply coming out of a hill. The water had originally formed a pool that became polluted. The project had surrounded the water with concrete and installed pipe work leading to taps. Unfortunately when I was there no water was coming out of the taps. The people explained that there had been no rain for two years and they had no water for their animals or crops and precious little for the people. It was one of those moments when it was difficult to find words. I think I mumbled, “I'll see what I can do”. An hour later, while enjoying a rest at the Jinja sailing club, the sky darkened and we experienced the most dramatic thunderstorm. The manicured lawns disappeared under water, and for the rest of our visit Michael Howard, before his leadership days, claimed the credit for bringing the rain.
Even in Botswana, the most successful country in Africa, where they found rich mineral and diamond deposits and did not have a war over them, there is a water shortage. Last year, after good rains, there was grass everywhere, animals looked healthy and well fed and the main dam in the country’s capital, Gaborone, filled up. This year the rains failed, the dam became depleted and animals wandered the streets looking for food. Yet Botswana has invested much of its resources in constructing a north-south water carrier, so that surplus water in the north of the country can be pumped to the south where most of the population live. Without that the situation would be much worse than it is. We hope for better rains this year.
There has been criticism of the Government’s programme because it contains no vision, so may I suggest a vision for them? Cannot the global community make a commitment to sort out the water problems of the world? Some aid agencies do their best. WaterAid scratches at the surface of the problem, yet its total annual budget is less than the amount spent by Thames Water on improving the quality of water in London from 99.98 per cent purity to 99.99 per cent purity. We know vast quantities of rain fall on Africa every year. The problem is that when there is an abundance, the water is not stored and there is little infrastructure to deliver water to areas of shortage. Climate change threatens to make rainfall less predictable. The time for action is now. What a project this could be: building dams and reservoirs to store water, installing pipes and pumps to move water to where it is needed and providing work for unemployed young men and women who need jobs and hope for the future. We know it is possible because of the success of a prototype: Botswana’s north-south water carrier.
Yes, it would cost a lot of money, and noble Lords would be right to ask where that will come from. Let me put it this way. Since 2003 the United Kingdom and the United States of America have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on an unnecessary, and in my view unjustified, invasion of Iraq. The country was knocked down at great expense in finance and human lives and now the country is being rebuilt at huge cost. The result was that we made a lot of enemies, and we are told that our country is now less secure than it was. By contrast, the project I have outlined would probably cost less than the adventure in Iraq, and we would end up making a lot of friends. So the next time our friends in Washington—and they are our friends—suggest knocking over another country—let me take one at random; say, Iran—it would be preferable for our Prime Minister to say, “No, hang on a minute, I have a much better idea”. This is a vision. I tried it out on a gathering of aid agencies in Burundi in September. Those people are in the front line of delivering the millennium development goals in Africa. Their unanimous view was, “Why don't you get on with it?”. Why indeed? The Government should eagerly adopt this vision and put the United Kingdom at the heart of a brave and worthwhile project. I hope they will.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friends Lady Taylor and Lord Malloch-Brown on introducing and winding-up this debate. I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to working towards reaching a lasting peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. Almost two years ago, Israel claimed to be withdrawing from Gaza, yet according to the Human Rights Council report commissioned by the UN last year and released earlier this year, Israel retains control of Gaza’s airspace, sea space and external borders, and the border crossings at Rafah, for persons, and at Karni, for goods, are ultimately under Israeli control and remain closed for lengthy periods.
Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, killing soldiers, and Israel continues to kill Palestinian civilians. In the previous 12 months, Hamas killed 27 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and Israel killed 583 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, and that figure excludes targeted assassinations, fighters and suicide bombers. Over 80 per cent of Gazans now live under the official poverty line. There is a shortage of money, food and medicine. The recent fuel rationing by Israel is a collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Hamas must release Corporal Gilad Shalit who is illegally held by it, and the Israelis must release 11,000 Palestinians who are illegally held in their prisons.
While our prayers and good wishes are for the future peace talks, I am afraid that peace talks without Gazans will not have much support in the Arab world. Perhaps the Minister can say whether Her Majesty’s Government have any humanitarian aid programme in Gaza. And have they made any representation to the Israeli Government on the humanitarian situation there?
I now turn to a very serious and dangerous situation in Pakistan. I speak as someone who was born in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan and brought up in Yorkshire. My love and admiration for the country and its people takes me back to Pakistan at least four times a year. I support many charities in the health and education sector. My son, who is a Yorkshireman, runs a school in Kashmir.
In the past few years, while the politicians and military leaders have been arguing over military rule, uniform security, democracy and rule of law, the poor people of Pakistan have suffered with inflation going through the roof and very low wages. The rich property dealers, including a few generals, have become super rich, and, with the middle classes diminishing fast, there is crisis in many parts of Pakistan, with poverty, lack of clean drinking water and a shortage of medical facilities.
I am aware of the dangers from terrorism and nuclear weapons and the danger of these weapons being in the wrong hands. I remind the House that it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a democratically elected leader of Pakistan, who initiated the nuclear programme and that it was Mian Nawaz Sharif, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, who tested those weapons after the Indian tests in 1995. So why is it that we cannot trust the people of Pakistan to elect a leader who has the support and confidence of the Pakistani people, and who is capable of dealing with extremism and ensuring the control and command structures of safeguarding these nuclear weapons?
General Musharraf has proved to be tough on words but weak on delivery. His policy in Baluchistan province, Waziristan, Swat Valley and Kashmir has been disappointing. In Baluchistan action was taken against Mr Bugti, an 80 year-old former governor and chief Minister of the province, who was killed in a cave. Arresting him and putting him before the court would have been much better. In south Waziristan the army has lost more than 1,000 soldiers. Many are now refusing to fight the extremists. In the past three weeks, 300 soldiers have surrendered to the militants. In Swat Valley, Maulana Fazalullah was allowed to run a pirate radio station. I remind the House that the Government recently switched off 40 TV channels overnight, but did not switch off this radio station for months while he was recruiting extremists and an army of fighters who were getting ready to take over the civilian government in the settled areas of Pakistan. Only 10 days ago did the Pakistani army start to take action against this group.
We know that in Islamabad two brothers were allowed to run the Red Mosque while weapons were being brought in. They were caught with weapons, rocket launchers and explosives. What happened? A Government Minister made a deal to have the two brothers released so that they could run the place in a normal way. Rather, the Government should have prosecuted and put them in prison—and we know what happened six months later.
There has been the disappointing exclusion of the Kashmiri leadership from the talks, which have achieved nothing. We saw the sacking of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. That was because of the disappearance of 200 Pakistani citizens and the corruption in the steel mills. Finally, earlier this year in Karachi more than 50 Pakistanis were murdered by terrorists. President Musharraf showed his fist to say that this was “people power” rather than terrorists who had killed innocent people.
So the country is facing a lot of dangers. President Musharraf said to the West that he was imposing emergency rule and martial law because of the dangers from extremists and terrorists. That was because the judiciary was about to deliver three very important decisions which were to the national interest. The only action President Musharraf has taken has been against lawyers, human rights activists and journalists and to replace the judges.
We should not suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, we should give the generals an ultimatum: release all political prisoners and allow freedom of the press within seven days. More importantly, we should lift the provisional constitutional order and allow the Supreme Court to run its affairs. We should not stop the development aid, but we should target our actions and sanctions against generals, whether in Burma, Thailand or Pakistan.
My Lords, the gracious Speech refers to governance and democratic issues in this country which need to be debated. I welcome that. But it is noticeable that the gracious Speech does not refer to the encouragement of democracy abroad. I want to address a few remarks to that issue because I think that it needs a more consistent and coherent approach.
With this and previous United States Administrations, you tend to see a lack of consistency, a swinging from on the one hand idealism, sometimes involving the imposition of democracy, to on the other hand realism, which very often means supporting autocracy. There was of course that famous conversation between Nasser and Nehru, in which Nasser boasted to Nehru,
“I put my extremists in prison. What do you do with yours?”.
To which Nehru replied,
“Actually, I put mine in Parliament”.
There is a lot to that view. If you look at the history of India you see how well it has developed its democratic system and how robust it is, whereas in Egypt it is fragile. However, if you do put extremists in Parliament, you want to be sure that they accept the rules of democracy, for, as I think the late Lord Hailsham once said, those who have tried to create heaven on earth very often end up by creating hell on earth.
The United Kingdom, it seems to me, is well equipped to play a constructive role and is well positioned in two areas in particular. One is the Commonwealth and the other is in the Gulf countries.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has not had enough support today, on his remarks about the Commonwealth. I agree with everything he said with the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in two or three weeks’ time in Uganda. Here is an ideal forum, however difficult it is to handle, that is a cross-representation of the globe in every sense, from culture to religion to regions, to play a constructive role as an equal partner in tackling the many global issues that affect all members of the Commonwealth. One aspect of that is democracy and good governance. After all, the Commonwealth is committed—however well or badly its members live up to it—to promoting fundamental political values: democracy, good governance, the rule of law, representative institutions and a plural society. From the Singapore meeting in 1971 to Harare, of all places, in 1991 to South Africa in 1999, that has been reinforced. As we know, the Commonwealth is active in this. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said just now, it is active through the Ministerial Action Group in monitoring countries, in providing good offices to reconcile internal differences in countries, in observing elections, in supporting institutional development. I remain a very strong admirer of the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It needs more resources to fulfil its objectives of promoting democratic evolution.
Technical assistance is also provided by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Foundation, of which I was privileged to be chairman for five years in the 1990s, is tasked to help to develop civil societies and strengthen democracy. It will be chairing and organising, in Uganda just before the main meeting, the People’s Forum on how to realise people's potential. I hope that links will be established informally there with non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe.
The test case will be how the Commonwealth deals, first, with Pakistan, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said, where, despite a not very strong record on democracy since independence, everything should be done to encourage constitutional evolution and to preserve the independence of the judiciary. The Commonwealth is well placed to help in that. In Zimbabwe—in a different situation altogether, Mugabe having suspended Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth—the Commonwealth needs to stand ready to make it plain to the people that, once Mugabe goes, if they satisfy certain conditions on standards and democracy, they can re-enter the Commonwealth. I am glad that the President of Nigeria today is reported to have made strong criticisms of the present regime in Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth has a vital role to play.
In addition, we have long traditions and links in the Gulf. It is a very volcanic area and we have seen what happened in Iraq, but I think that in the Gulf countries with which we had a protective relationship are the beginnings of some kind of evolution of constitutional monarchies, which ought to be encouraged, but each country in the Gulf has different circumstances. Over many decades, Kuwait has developed a constitution with quite a robust Parliament. Saudi Arabia is a more conservative society, but evolving gradually with local government developing. Here, I must stress that dialogue is more important than boycotting. Then there is the United Arab Emirates, where a completely different situation exists: 80 per cent of the population are foreigners. Although it is an open society, it has no Parliament. We have to judge each country on its own merits according to its history, traditions, culture and our traditional friendship with it.
I suggest that Turkey should be something of a model for those countries. Here is a secular constitution but an almost wholly Muslim society. Success in Turkey should be a source of encouragement to the countries of the Gulf.
Lastly, in approaching these issues, we need clear criteria. We should not preach, patronise or impose on others. We tried that in the old days. It did not always work. We should share our experience with our friends, but as friends, and acknowledge their different cultures and traditions. After all, we have taken centuries to evolve our system. It is only recently in history that women got the vote. We are all aware today that our parliamentary system and our media are pretty inadequate and need improvement, so we need a humble approach. We should be consistent in our approach and not swing between trying to impose democracy and back again.
It is important to accept that there is no standard solution or template for all countries: each must be judged on its own merits. It is that approach, the approach of encouraging evolution rather than revolution, on which we should be consistent and through which we can make a contribution.
My Lords, there was no reference in the gracious Speech to a Bill to ratify the EU treaty. I totally support what my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said about the Commonwealth and what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has just said. I do not apologise to the House for banging on a bit about the Commonwealth. I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford: we are going in the wrong direction, at great expense.
Today, by the grace of God, we do not have to make a decision, but sooner or later, when we have the benefit of the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, we shall have to make a decision. The report will be a great help towards making it. However, it is not so much our decision that matters; it will be the decision of the electorate at the next general election. The Government, at their behest and will, will have this treaty ratified. As my noble friend Lord Howell said, this is a very serious time for reflection—not so much for our reflection but the reflection of the electorate. On a manifesto commitment, the electorate will have to decide whether to withdraw from the treaty. That is the simple position.
There are many factors and one can mention only a few in a few minutes. One is that our national global interest, our relationship with the Commonwealth and with the United States—never let us step aside from that—is a wholly different quality of interest from that of any other member states. When my noble friend says that we are moving in the wrong direction, he is right.
The point is not what we think—I come back to this again—it is what the electorate will think. The very esoteric arguments that one hears in this place—as they always are—have to be reduced into very simple terms. At the end of a debate in both Houses, the electorate will be enabled to piece together, with the aid of the media, the press and everything else, what they think. One comes back to the democracy point made by the noble Lord, Lord Luce. That will be how this matter is resolved.
One or two matters arise from this. What do the people think? What will they say about this as a sort of staging post towards the dream of Jean Monnet to create a unitary European state? I do not know. In the Written Statement on 22 October, there was no mention of the European Court of Justice, or indeed of the manner in which it has exercised its jurisdiction to favour integration on the balance of objectives. In this context, the authoritative contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, on 9 October at cols. 121-22, is crucial, as it correctly states the tendency and the jurisprudence of the court to favour integration.
The Government made two assurances: first, that the national interest is protected; and, secondly, that they will stem the tide of integration for 10 years on ratification. Those assurances are not well conceived. They cannot be made by a Minister of State or a Government; they can be made only by the European Court of Justice, which will favour integration. We are in a cleft stick; on ill conceived assurances, one sets out to sea in a sieve with the owl and the pussycat in the light of the moon. Even the report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, which gets as near as you can get, is no substitute for the decision of the European Court of Justice or for what the people may think—the democracy point made by the noble Lord, Lord Luce.
My Lords, in light of the fact that I cannot be here tomorrow, I shall speak today about my portfolio—children, schools and families—so do not expect answers from the Minister today.
On the Children and Young Persons Bill, I welcome the focus on transparency in care planning. It is vital that the voice of the child in care is heard. Many children in care feel isolated, which is why it is very important that mechanisms and resources are put in place to ensure that each child can really influence his or her care. It is frustrating for a child to hear a lot of good intentions and then for nothing to happen or for their view to be ignored.
I also welcome the move to address the child’s educational needs and put the designated teacher on a statutory footing. How can a child attain good grades when he is constantly moved around and forced to go to the school with a vacancy rather than to the best school in the area? Friends are important to children. They can be devastated when dragged away from their friends, and often the result is that they protect themselves by not making any. They become isolated, introverted and lonely. That is not a life that any of us would want for our own children. Most of us with adult children know that their need for us does not go away when they leave education. Indeed, they never go away. Yet the corporate parent sends children out into the world with little or no backing when they reach 18. It is right that those in foster care should be able to extend their time with their foster parents if they wish, but I would like that right to be extended to those in residential care and for there to be a set of transitional arrangements until they are 25.
Evidence from the Children’s Society shows that, despite government guidance that says that advocacy providers should ensure that their services are accessible to disabled children, a quarter of those surveyed said that they had not been able to respond to a referral from a disabled child. These children need a statutory right to an independent advocate. All children in care need someone to talk to who is independent of the local authority and who will promote their interests without fear or favour.
Every year 300 frightened children arrive in this country, unaccompanied minors who arrive here fleeing from who knows what. Unlike other children in care, local authorities do not have parental responsibility for most of them. That makes it difficult for them to access help and advice about their asylum appeal and harder for them to settle down here. I will suggest a system of guardianship for these children. It is a great pity that the Government have not taken the opportunity to commit themselves to therapeutic services for all abused children, including children in care. Abused children are damaged not only physically but mentally and emotionally. These scars take years to heal and need professional help to do so. If such children are to grow up happy and well balanced, if we are to put a full stop to the recurring cycle of violence and abuse against children, we must act. Sadly, far too often, abused children go on to abuse their own children because it is the norm for them. It is all they have ever known. That has to stop. One important contribution to stopping it would be for the Government to change their attitude to parents hitting children. Sadly, despite the overwhelming opinion of the professionals that was recently expressed in the Government’s consultation, they have told us that the country has no stomach for giving children the same protection under the laws of assault that adults enjoy.
When the Government of Sweden became the first of a dozen European countries to give their children this legal protection more than 20 years ago, the Swedish population did not demand it either, but that Government took a lead and had a massive public education programme in which they explained why it was harmful to hit children and showing parents better, safer and more effective ways of instilling discipline. The whole attitude to children in Sweden changed. The Swedish jails are not full of caring parents who occasionally lose their temper, as the Government lead us to believe would happen here if we followed the Swedish example. The law should set a standard of protection that our most vulnerable citizens should be entitled to expect. How can it be right that someone can beat a small defenceless child as long as he does not leave a mark but, if he raises a hand to someone vandalising his car, he may be in trouble with the law? Let us not be deceived. All over the world there are police and security forces, expert at inflicting pain without leaving a mark. That should be as illegal in this country when it is done to a child by its parent as it would be if it was done by a police officer to a suspect in custody.
The Education and Skills Bill, which will extend the compulsory education leaving age to 18, is, as we understand it, full of duties and penalties. It is a great clunking fist, taken to a matter that would respond much better to options and persuasion. We will seek to amend the Bill to bring a better balance between enablement and compulsion. By proposing to spend £600 million over a decade on a complex registration system and on hiring inspectors to go around checking on small businesses, Ministers are missing the point. Yes, of course it is a problem that around 200,000 16 year-olds drop out of education. But the right approach surely is to look carefully at these young people, detect the reasons why they drop out at that age and fix them. Many of those young people have already been failed by our education system. Are we then going to penalise them if they say, “Enough, I don't want any more of this”? Many of them do not even have the basic skills to go on to further education. That is what needs fixing. Many of them have had behavioural or health problems and have been excluded from school for long periods. For many, the curriculum has been irrelevant. Many of them need money. The Government are about to introduce a set of national diplomas in the practical skills that young people need to get a job in our increasingly technological world. Why not wait and see how well that works before dashing off a piece of legislation forcing young people to stay in education?
Yes, of course, all adults should have an entitlement to training to enable them to attain a level 2 qualification. That has long been Lib Dem policy so I am not going to argue with that. But for some young people, it would be better to let them do it a little later. Last week, I heard about a 16 year-old girl who had a child at 14. Of course she should be given every opportunity and help to get qualifications so that she can support her own child, but it could be that she needs to spend her time with the child just now. After a couple of years, when the child is at school, might be a much better time for her to complete her education or training.
What about a young person going through an episode of ME or some other debilitating illness? Mental age is not the same as chronological age. To put these duties on someone at an absolute age is ridiculous. I hope that the Government will think again and do things differently. Young people should have funded options and high-quality choices at 16, not duties and penalties.
With 50 per cent of children leaving school without five good GCSEs, this is not the time to do this. The Government should provide resources to ensure that every child with special needs has professional help to get over those problems. That should be the right of those children and also the right of every other child in his class whose own education is disrupted because the poor over-stretched teacher is distracted by the need to cope with a disruptive classmate. That is the way to spend £600 million.
My Lords, I will revert to the topic that the rest of us have been debating. It is a good many years since I worked in the foreign service, but I still have one concern that troubles me: the extent to which the Government and Parliament, not excluding this House, are increasingly out of touch with public opinion.
Informed public consent to major policies is a necessary basis of the democratic system that we have sought for so many years to establish in this country. Obtaining that consent is an essential part of good governance, and if the population at large concludes, as it appears to do at present, that the Government—and still more the European Union which is responsible for most of our legislation—have no time for its views, its disillusionment with politicians and political institutions will increase. That does not bode well for parliamentary government in our country.
In the field of foreign policy that we are discussing today—or were—the most explosive issue is Iraq. When we debated Iraq in this House on 24 September 2002, it seemed probable that before long the United States would attack Iraq. The question was whether or not we should take part. I argued then that we should not, and that we should go to war only if we ourselves were threatened or if vital British interests were at stake. Since neither of those applied, I said that I did not believe that it would be right to send our young men there to face being killed. But Tony Blair decided that we should take part and the result has, sadly, been a disaster. Matters became still worse when his Government went on to involve us in fighting in Afghanistan, which my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig has told us, may go on for years: a grim prospect.
The country was not consulted before the key decisions were taken. Everyone is made miserable by the continued loss of British lives in conflicts that essentially have little to do with us and appear likely to increase the risk of terrorism and to make the situation in the Middle East progressively worse. We are now left with no option but to disengage and gradually withdraw without too much loss of face.
Now we have a new Prime Minister and perhaps the trickiest foreign policy issue that he has to face is how to deal with the proposed EU reform treaty. We shall have to discuss that in detail early next year, but at this stage, although some aspects of the treaty appear sensible and necessary, it is clear that, as now drafted, it involves further pronounced steps towards European integration and brings much nearer the prospect of a country called Europe run from Brussels. It will result in the loss of our national veto in some 50 different areas and will give more responsibilities to Brussels where there will be a European Foreign Minister in all but name presiding over a European diplomatic service. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has already quoted the Economist. It also said on 27 October:
“In 2003 this newspaper suggested putting the draft constitution in the bin and starting again. Given that the Lisbon treaty is merely a remuddled version, our advice remains unchanged”.
The argument has of course been about whether there should be a referendum as was promised by the Labour Party in its manifesto. We have been here before. Many of us will remember the debate in this House on 14 July 1993, when a distinguished Conservative, the late Lord Blake, proposed that there should be a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. The Conservative Party shamefully bussed in numbers of backwoodsmen to achieve a massive vote to defeat that very reasonable proposal. It did the party no good at all. Now we have a Labour Government seeking for their part to deny a voice to people outside Westminster on a major step towards an integrated Europe. Polls show that seven out of 10 British people oppose the treaty, but the new Prime Minister seems prepared to ride roughshod over public opinion. Westminster appears isolated and cut off from the rest of the country, like Tewkesbury during the recent floods.
Since the public seem to be opposed to the treaty and everyone, whether Europhile or Eurosceptic, is convinced that if there were to be a referendum people would vote overwhelmingly against accepting it, we should perhaps do more to find out what sensible people really want in our relationship with Europe. It would be useful to explore alternatives to the present state of affairs, where we are dragged grumbling towards a United States of Europe, which a number of noble Lords who have spoken seem content to accept, or we could take the drastic step of coming out without more ado. My own view for a long time has been that we should loosen up or leave.
I was interested to see that a round dozen Members of this House signed a letter from Global Vision business supporters which appeared in the Financial Times on 17 October. It called for Britain to negotiate a new relationship with Europe, preserving the benefits of free trade and co-operation on policy areas where we and our neighbours have common interests, but opting out of the journey towards political and economic union.
Members of the other place have their constituencies, agents and surgeries which ought to give them a sense of what people out there are thinking, but nevertheless the message often does not appear to get through. In this House, we have none of that; we can rely only on the findings of polls, comments in the media and our varied personal contacts, but collectively we can get a sense of what people think. Nevertheless, at present, neither we nor the other place seem to respond adequately to the feelings of the country as a whole. Parliamentary democracy in Great Britain is not answering the helm. To some extent that is due to the party system. Politicians forget that they are a very small minority. Members of the three principal parties in this country altogether amount to about half a million people. This compares with more than 1 million members of the RSPB and 3.5 million members of the National Trust. Moreover, people are put off by what they hear about the whipping system, which does the image of Parliament no good at all.
The fundamental problem is that our Governments, of whatever party, are usually determined to do what they want to do and to disregard opinion outside. Prime Ministers come to Downing Street with all sorts of good ideas, but once they get there, they lose touch with the country outside Westminster and deny the people as a whole a voice on the road ahead. This was the line taken by Charles I, and we know what happened to him.
It is surely important that on foreign policy and defence, in which the lives of our citizens are often at risk, we should pay much more attention to the view of the country at large. This should be so obvious as to be not worth saying, but sadly this is not the case. I believe therefore that we should all work to get the Government and Parliament to listen much more to people outside Westminster, to take their views seriously and to pay real attention to what they say.
I sat up when I heard at the beginning of the gracious Speech:
“My Government will take forward policies to respond to the rising aspirations of the people of the United Kingdom … and to entrust more power to Parliament and the people”.
That sounds new and encouraging. We must watch to see what the Government do. The European reform treaty will be the first touchstone.
My Lords, I will say a little about cluster munitions and wind up by talking about the European Union. I welcome the changes in the Government’s policy on cluster munitions, as announced earlier this year by the Secretary of State, who said that the Government would ban the use of dumb cluster munitions. Your Lordships will be aware that each cluster munition or cluster bomb may have anything from 50 to several hundred bomblets. The problem is that they do not all explode when they hit the ground. Those with a high failure rate have been called “dumb” and those with a low failure rate have been called “smart”. The trouble is that that distinction does not work in practice. Most of the smart cluster munitions or cluster bombs are also dumb.
Recently, Chris Clark, programme manager of Mine Action Co-ordination Centre South Lebanon, said that although several military users maintain that the M85—one of the cluster munitions with a self-destruct mechanism—has a failure rate of less than 1 per cent, the evidence on the ground in south Lebanon is that the weapon has a failure rate of between 5 per cent and 10 per cent. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that there is no basis for believing that improving the reliability of cluster munition fuses or adding a self-destruct feature can be the sole or primary solution to the cluster munition problem.
Nearer to home, the Select Committee of the House of Commons has said that, even for submunitions with self-destruct mechanisms, the potential to inflict death or injury on innocent non-combatants entering the field after engagement is substantial. Two Select Committees in the Commons challenged the Government’s premise that the failure rate of the M85 is 2.3 per cent and called for them to acknowledge that the failure rate could be as high as 10 per cent.
I saw some of those unexploded cluster munitions when I visited the Lebanon earlier this year. Clearly, if cluster munitions are being tested in non-battle conditions and they land on hard ground, they are more liable to explode, because of the impact with concrete or whatever. But it is not like that in the real world. Some land on soft ground and some have their fall slowed down by vegetation—trees, olive groves and so on. The result is that there can be a very high failure rate. In the Lebanon, some landed on hard surfaces, but even there the failure rate was higher than in test conditions. Certainly there is a failure rate.
Given all that, is there any military use for cluster munitions? I am bound to say that the evidence is that there is no proper military use for them. Perhaps in the middle of the Cold War, with visions of 2 million Soviet troops massed for an attack, cluster bombs or munitions theoretically might have had an effect. But that is not the world we are in, as most military people would agree.
Perhaps I may speculate a little on what is happening within the Government about this. I suspect that there are different opinions. I know that the Government officially speak with one voice, but we know that there can be different opinions. From the little that has come out, I think that DfID and the FCO would like to see these wretched, terrible weapons banned. The problem is that in the MoD there are differences of view.
Among those in your Lordships’ House with a great deal of senior military experience, it seems that there is little support for cluster munitions. I have talked to colleagues who say that. This is partly to do with the munitions’ doubtful military effectiveness and the fact that they kill civilians long after the conflict has ceased. Civilians—farmers going about their business, children playing or whoever—step on them. These people are liable to have their legs blown off or to be killed. That is not calculated to win hearts and minds. Most military thinking these days is about winning hearts and minds when the conflict has moved on. I very much hope that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will see his way to banning all cluster munitions in the near future.
I am delighted that we have two very able Ministers on the Front Bench. My noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown in his previous career had a very senior position at the UN and before that at UNDP. I shall not quote him against himself, except to say that I know where his sympathies lie. I suspect that I also know where the sympathies lie of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton, in her new job today. But I know the line that we will get, because it is still official government policy while it is being considered. I hope very much that the Government are considering this matter hard.
On the EU, a lot of the arguments about the reform treaty were ably put better than I could put them by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I do not want to go over that, except to say that I just cannot think that the argument for a referendum has been made. Unless we are going to become a plebiscitary democracy as opposed to a parliamentary democracy, I do not believe that there is enough substance in the reform treaty to justify a referendum. It is not that sort of change. I very much hope that the Government will stay firm on that.
However, it is important that the Government argue their case harder than they have been doing. There has been too much silence on EU matters from successive Governments, with the result that there is a vacuum which is filled by the Eurosceptics. The British public have the right to be better informed and the Government have a real responsibility to play their part in saying what is going on and what the key issues are. The amount of misunderstanding on this is manifest. The Government should argue better or more passionately the case for EU enlargement. Accession of further countries that meet EU standards is good not only for those countries but also for Britain.
The role of the media is an important factor. I believe passionately in a free press, but there is something not quite healthy when four of our most important national newspapers are owned and controlled by one person who neither lives in Britain nor is British. Surely Rupert Murdoch has too much power and influence on British policy on the EU, especially on the referendum. Unless the Government speak much more loudly to counter this, he will persuade more people of his views. Of course, he has the right to own British newspapers. I do not argue against foreign ownership. I just wonder whether there is too much ownership of newspapers in one person when they are being used in a blatantly propagandist way on some of the issues to do with the EU, the treaty and the referendum.
I very much hope that the Government will continue their policy of supporting the accession of Turkey. Of course, Turkey has a long way to go, but those of us who met the Turkish Prime Minister when he was in Westminster last week will surely have been impressed by his positive views on Turkey moving forward and his views on Turkey’s relationships with the EU and with Britain. I appreciate that there is a problem concerning Cyprus which has to be resolved, but I believe that Turkey’s membership, in the fullness of time when it meets our standards, would be only of benefit.
Let me say finally and briefly that I visited Moldova a few weeks ago. It is the poorest country in Europe and obviously its interests are to move closer to the EU. That will be a long way ahead, but it has been much damaged by Romania joining the EU, so that the EU border now lies between Romania and it. I hope very much that the Government will accept that Moldova has a strong case for sympathetic support in its bid to get closer to the EU.
My Lords, I hope that after so many hours of important political debate, with many useful statistics thrown at us, I shall be forgiven if I begin with a literary allusion. One of the most interesting books of the Renaissance was Tirant lo Blanc, written by a Valencian. It was published in 1490, with an English edition in 1984, yet it is lively and more relevant to us than it may seem, because the early chapters envisage how a Saracen Muslim army lands in this country and establishes itself near Warwick, there to be defeated by someone called the Hermit King of England. It took him six weeks to do so. I mention this to recall that we in Europe have experienced a threat from militant Islam before and that it was defeated.
The novel that I mentioned reminds us that in the era of the Renaissance, which was not so very long ago, the threat to Europe from the Ottoman sultanate was so great that one writer suggested that the best course might be to abandon Europe to Islam altogether and take our civilisation to the newly discovered Americas. The threat then was of a large, well directed conventional army—as we would now put it—bent on expansion and equipped with magnificent guns, such as the monster cannon made by a Hungarian engineer, Urban, which the great Gibbon blamed for the fall of Constantinople itself in 1453. It was an army supported by a large and effective navy, and of course those institutions were the articulation of a traditional empire.
Today we have a quite different kind of conflict, with a frenzied minority sect of Islam, al-Qaeda, which operates most unconventionally. Al-Qaeda, so far as we understand, constitutes a small group of armed men whose loyalty is to their own rigorous, if antique, version or vision of Islam. These men want to destroy the West’s position throughout the Islamic world, especially in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East, and in the long run they want to ruin the West itself. They operate through cells, a few of which seem to be linked to the founders, who are still at large on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Other followers and follower sects seem to have no institutional links with the authors of the movement, but these elements hope to secure their membership of that murderous club through imitation, which may explain the background and motives of the London and Glasgow bombers.
Incidentally, those condemned in the recent trial for the murders in the Atocha railway station in Madrid in 2004 were found guilty of planning a radical Islamic republic in Spain, which had a long period of Muslim rule, although admittedly not a radical regime, in the Middle Ages. We can learn about the background of those concerned in the attack on the twin towers in New York by reading a brilliant book, The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, published by Penguin Books—it ought to be in our Library.
Perhaps those involved in al-Qaeda and the other undertakings hope to secure in the long run, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, put it a week or two ago, a restored and radical caliphate stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. They evidently want to secure that, wherever there are Muslims in what they consider to be infidel countries such as our own, Sharia law should apply to those Muslims, not the laws of the country concerned. Presumably these agitators and conspirators hope to ensure that no press attacks are made on, and probably no jokes are made about, their religion in those countries. Even now, I wonder whether the entertaining speech about Islam by Figaro in Beaumarchais’ play “The Marriage of Figaro”, on which Mozart’s opera is based, would be acceptable on our stage. There may be a question mark, too, about the basically favourable but very secular remarks made about the life of the Prophet by Gibbon.
Al-Qaeda and its offshoots are a movement fuelled by the fact that the copy of western life and western institutions that has been taken to the Muslim world sometimes seems to be a rather shabby version of the original. The movement is helped by its success in securing so much attention in the world’s media. As I understand it, al-Qaeda is a minority within a minority, but it will prosper if it can give the impression that it is doing well, since many weak but otherwise moderate people are always tempted to join a winning side. It may also be helped, inadvertently of course, by statements from our politicians and others, such as that made last week even by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, that the threat of al-Qaeda and international terrorism must be expected to last for generations. Why are these pessimistic statements made? Is it partly because one of our difficulties is that today we wear our own Christian faith rather lightly, if at all, and are not well equipped to conduct a war of religion?
All the same, surely we in the West, with all our power and imagination, our free institutions and our laws, our intelligence and generous tolerance of approach, and the public place we give so enthusiastically to women, not least in your Lordships’ House, can envisage a much shorter time of trouble than is envisaged in these statements, if not perhaps as short a time as the modest weeks needed by the fictional Hermit King in Tirant the White.
My Lords, the gracious Speech contains only one sentence on the European Union reform treaty, but I have no doubt that, in the coming months, many words will be written and spoken about a referendum on it. After the distinguished contributions already made by so many experts, it is tempting merely to say that I adopt the arguments of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay of Chiswick and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. Opinion will continue to be divided about whether the Government have a moral commitment to hold a referendum in the light of their manifesto promise; whether the treaty is the abandoned constitution in another wrapper, or whether it is significantly different in both style and substance to justify not holding a popular vote. All that discussion and writing will be at the expense of time which should be devoted to the treaty itself and whether it is a good thing for the United Kingdom and Europe.
I regret that I cannot agree with my noble friend on my Front Bench about a referendum. I did not believe that we should have had a referendum on the original constitutional treaty; I did not agree with the then Prime Minister when he changed his mind, and I do not think we should have a referendum now. If we had a referendum, leaving out the compelling arguments for Parliament to decide these matters, I fear that, on past performance, the case for the treaty would not be advanced with much rigour. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, indicated at the beginning of this debate, more emphasis would be given to those matters where we have successfully defended ourselves against the combined forces of the Commission and other members, who by the implication of our arguments are apparently so careless with their own sovereignty that they would be prepared to agree to anything. But it certainly will not be portrayed as the successful outcome of discussions between friendly partner states.
In any referendum, what is the question? Are we for or against the abandonment of the rotating presidency? Are we for or against the increase in the influence of national Parliaments? Are we for or against attempts to improve the effectiveness of the common foreign and security policy? These issues cannot be answered by a simple question.
To be sure, these questions will not be the subject of balanced discussion in much of what is, as it likes to describe itself, the serious or quality press. Your Lordships will have noticed that the European Union is responsible for the increase in the price of Christmas trees. If you read the detail, it is because the subsidy in Denmark has been withdrawn, something normally that one would support.
By way of example, for months the Daily Telegraph has, in its pages and those of its sister paper, the Sunday Telegraph, been drumming up support for a referendum; the number of signatories now exceeds 100,000. But support is elicited, I would submit, on the strength of a few statements taken out of context and without explanation. It is headed, of course, with a quote from President Barroso:
“What we have is the first non-imperial empire”.
Perhaps the use of the word “empire” was not particularly appropriate but no one goes on to point out that Mr Barroso was highlighting the difference between a European Union built of 27 free and democratic countries, each with its own elected Governments, and past attempts to build a European empire through force. One phrase taken out of context nevertheless makes the headline demanding signatures to the petition.
A number of bullet points follow. Readers are told that the treaty wishes to create a European head of state, no doubt in order to create a certain amount of anxiety among the population as to the status of Her Majesty. Of course, neither the mandate for the Intergovernmental Conference nor the draft reform treaty create a state or threaten the position of the Queen or any other monarch or president within the union as heads of state of their individual countries. Do we really believe that our partner states which have recently regained their independence would again act so carelessly with their sovereignty? We know that what is proposed is a president of the European Council for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. Even opponents of the constitutional treaty agree that the six-month rotating presidency needs reform.
The European diplomatic corps and the foreign minister are another bogey man. There is no explanation that the merger of the Commission post and the existing High Representative do away with a situation of two voices, one with influence and no resources and one with resources and rather less influence. There is no explanation that the foreign external active service shall work in co-operation with the diplomatic services of the member states and include staff seconded from the diplomatic services of those member states.
In context it is all quite a different picture. The High Representative is not taking our seat on the Security Council. All that is proposed is that when the Union has a defined position—which will in any event require unanimity—the High Representative should be asked to present the Union’s position. This is not taking the UK’s or France’s seat on the Security Council.
The giving of the European Union legal personality is seen as a huge threat, although no reference is made to the existing Article 281 of the treaty on the European Communities, which also gives the communities legal personality. The changes in voting are inevitable with enlargement and yet opponents of the treaty are often the proponents of enlargement. Are we assuming that we want enlargement only on the basis that new and smaller members should somehow be second-class citizens?
All this and other points were put before the public before even the final form of the treaty was known. For all these reasons—I was but I am no longer, since the beginning of the new Session, a member of the European Union Select Committee—the Select Committee’s decision under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, should be welcomed across the House. Whether or not the reform treaty is the constitutional treaty in disguise depends upon the political approach you take to this issue. Of course, it contains significant proposals which were in the constitutional treaty, and for the opponents of both it will remain the constitutional treaty, but this argument gets us absolutely nowhere in informing the House for the debate that will come. Other people see the reform treaty as quite different in style and substance, but it is essentially a political judgment. So is the request for a referendum. I would submit that if the Select Committee were to produce a report which entered into such waters, including whether or not there should be a referendum, it would threaten the objectivity for which the reports of the Select Committee in your Lordships’ House are well known and respected. Of course, in the debate Members will form views on the matters dealt with by the committee and they will use the findings of the committee to buttress their own arguments, but they will do so against the background of a committee report which is intended to analyse the impact that the reform treaty—which is a fact, as opposed to the constitutional treaty which is no longer a fact—will have on the United Kingdom and the existing treaties.
My Lords, I have reflected on the debate on the Middle East which took place in your Lordships’ House on 23 October. It strikes me that no speaker then opposed the proposition that Hamas and Hezbollah must be part of any effective solution. This is a major change of opinions and I now feel much less lonely. Two weeks ago I criticised the western powers for imposing “inept pre-conditions and quasi-boycotts”. Tonight I want to look in greater depth at western policy towards Israel and Palestine since the Oslo agreements.
To go back even further, we should remember that the United Nations set up the Relief and Works Agency in 1949 to provide basic services for Palestinian refugees. UN members have been paying for this agency ever since. I would describe western policy since 1994 as one of drift, while each year signing enormous cheques. Since 1994 the immense sum of $9.4 billion has been spent. We, as taxpayers, have in effect been subsidising the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and of Gaza up to 2005. It can be argued that the occupation of Gaza continues because of Israel’s control of the borders by air, sea and land. In the period 1994 to 2000 a quarter of all aid went, in theory, to build up Palestinian institutions and their effectiveness. Latterly, however, relief, energy supplies and salaries consume almost the whole budget. In Gaza, 1.1 million people out of 1.4 million depend on food aid.
Western policy towards the Palestinians has been little less than a disaster. Massive aid has not stemmed unemployment and poverty. While there is now little justice for individuals, so-called security forces grew to some 86,000 by February 2007. Arms provided to President Abbas and Fatah failed to prevent Hamas’s takeover of Gaza last summer. Western policy has been a shifting one, sometimes backing the Palestinian president and sometimes the Legislative Council. At almost all times it has given scope for large-scale corruption. Certainly no effective support has been given to the reformers who exist within Fatah. The Palestinian Authority has been reduced to a failed state.
The United States and the EU began to boycott Hamas well before the general election of January 2006. When the Mecca agreement came in February this year, the West totally failed to seize the opportunity for an effective power-sharing Government. It brought on itself the Gaza coup of last June. That has been followed by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian president with support and supervision from the US. The negotiations are supposed to be formalised at an international conference at Annapolis. It would, however, be a brave man who could predict a useful outcome unless those who can actually deliver results are included.
Western policy towards Israel has been consistently timid and weak. During Prime Minister Olmert’s first year, the number of settlers in the West Bank increased by 5.8 per cent. One hundred and two outposts that even Israel considers illegal are still tolerated. The wall and fences continue to be built on Palestinian land. Bethlehem is now isolated and the West Bank cut up into fragments. Twelve hundred kilometres of roads on the West Bank are wholly or partly reserved for settlers. By 2003 Palestinian assets and infrastructure to a value of $728 million, funded entirely by external donors, had been destroyed by Israeli military action. Such actions have drawn only the mildest protests.
In 2005, laborious discussions produced the agreement on movement and access. That was followed by the Rafah crossing-point agreement, establishing the EU border assistance mission. So successful was the latter that 100,000 travellers passed through it in the first two months. Alas, Rafah is now shut and no movement or access provisions have been implemented. Around 5,000 students are unable to leave Gaza for further education. The Palestinian economy is largely destroyed. Israel may imagine it is secure—but for how long, with a new-style Somalia so close by?
Before worse befalls, Israel should consider whether its current policies may not be self-defeating. If its true interest lies in having a stable and peaceful neighbour, should it not encourage power-sharing between secular and religious nationalists? Should it not strongly support everything that strengthens legitimate Palestinian institutions? Imprisoning more than half of Hamas’s parliamentarians can hardly be helpful. Detaining some 10,000 people, including some women and children, must alienate minds and hearts. Closures and check-points add to the prolonged agony of the West Bank.
In the West—that is to say, the US and the EU—there is surely a need to re-examine the policies towards both Israel and Palestine. The wise warnings of James Wolfensohn, Alvaro de Soto, Jan Egeland, the World Bank and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs have all been ignored. It is no surprise that experienced and highly committed public servants have resigned in despair. American attempts at regime change have not proved successful. Legitimate Palestinian authority has been undermined. Israel has been encouraged to defy international law and conventions. The West should learn from the decision in 2003 by the International Committee of the Red Cross to withdraw from a situation it could not influence.
If revised policies are needed in the West, so too in Israel, which is by far the stronger party in negotiations with Palestine. I doubt that continued occupation of the West Bank can be in Israel’s true interest. Its own public opinion calls for a long-term agreement. If international guarantees are necessary to support such an agreement, it will be in our interest that they be given. There has to be new thinking on all sides. Mediterranean co-operation, with United States involvement, could be the context in which new thought will bear fruit.
This country has its own double standard to review. When the safety of a distinguished British journalist was at stake, the Government were quick to talk to Hamas. On urgent regional matters affecting world peace they refuse to engage, even on de facto terms, despite the de facto recognition that Hamas affords to Israel. They refuse although they talk to the regimes of Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma and elsewhere. The time for changes has come.
My Lords, in the last throes of the Legal Services Bill a week last Thursday, I said this:
“The independence of the judiciary is under attack in a number of places in the world. The most senior chief justice in Pakistan is supported by independent lawyers, who have taken to the streets to defend this principle. It is so important that I regret that those on the”—
“Benches next to me are resiling from it”.—[Official Report, 25/10/07; col. 1150.]
That, of course, was before last weekend’s events. Pakistan today is a perfect illustration of what can happen if the rule of law is abandoned. All dissent can be ignored; there is no remedy for arbitrary arrest and false imprisonment. Opponents of the military dictatorship are silenced and the only answer is street protest, rapidly descending to violence. In Pakistan, more than 60 judges out of a total of 97 have declined to take the oath under the new regime. As a result their homes have been placed under strict security and the courts have been closed, with barbed wire denying access.
Mr Andrew Holroyd, the president of the Law Society, said today that the rule of law is nothing without lawyers. He said:
“I can think of no starker demonstration of this commitment to the law than the extraordinary courage, fortitude and bravery of the lawyers we see in Pakistan. They have rightly demonstrated against the government measures. The suspension of the Constitution, the denial of fundamental rights and repeated attacks on the judiciary removes any semblance of a just and civilised society”.
Geoffrey Vos QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, has written similarly to the Pakistan High Commissioner. Mr Ifath Nawaz, chair of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, has strongly urged the Government of Pakistan,
“to end emergency rule, respect judicial processes, reinstate the judiciary, adhere to the rule of law and return to governance in accordance with the constitution”.
How are we supporting the judiciary and the legal profession in Pakistan? The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, in opening this debate, referred to a demand for the release of political prisoners and added, “including … the judiciary”. I suppose barristers can rot, but at least she has given the judiciary some support. The world is looking to see whether the United States and Britain will place co-operation with a discredited military dictatorship armed with nuclear weapons in the so-called “war of terror” over and above the vital necessity to make a stand for democracy and the rule of law.
I recall the sustained attacks of Mr David Blunkett against the judiciary, both in and out of office. He did not restrain his language:
“Our justice system is a sick joke”.
“It’s time for judges to learn their place”.
He referred to judges as,
“bewigged menaces who make the law look like an ass”,
and said that power without responsibility undermines our democracy. We have no democracy if we do not have law to regulate, for example, the misuse of executive power and even the electoral process itself. Pakistan should make the anti-lawyer faction in the ranks of the Government thoroughly ashamed of itself.
On counterterrorism, we were told on Monday that the threat emanating from core al-Qaeda based in the tribal areas on the Pakistan and Afghanistan border remains the number one concern for the security services. It was said also that other regions of the world, such as Somalia and Iraq, are increasingly sources of training and planning for terrorists. Mr Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, stressed that terrorist attacks in this country are the visible manifestations of a deeper problem whose root is ideological, and that combating the ideology requires a much broader strategic effort across government. It is conceded that the Government are struggling with the problems of radicalisation of youngsters in this country down to the ages of 15 or 16.
It is quite wilful to suggest that the threat is not caused or increased by the foreign policy of this country. But it is not only foreign policy that has to be addressed. Your Lordships will forgive me if I move into my more familiar home affairs territory, as I shall not be here on Monday for the appropriate debate. The fairness with which members of minority communities in this country are dealt with is crucial. Alienation from mainstream British society can be exacerbated by injustice.
This Government have nurtured a new and dangerous offspring in the criminal justice system. Across the globe and across the centuries, criminal justice has been concerned with the detection and punishment of a crime that has been committed. In the common law world, the pursuit of that goal is tempered by well known safeguards under the heading of “due process”. We know what they are: fair trial following a fair and principled process of investigation.
However, the goalposts of the criminal justice system are being moved, so that the emphasis of new criminal legislation brought forward by this Government is not to detect and punish a crime that has been committed but to prevent it. They use the criminal law as a tool to try to manage risk. I am reminded of Brutus’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, where he suspects that Caesar if crowned may turn into a tyrant. He says:
“So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel
Will bear no colour for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities:
And therefore think him as the serpent’s egg
Which hatch’d, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell”.
That was precisely the rationale for Mr Blunkett’s favouring of detention without trial. No criminal offence could be proved by those subjected to Belmarsh prison, so he favoured locking up the alien serpent’s egg in Belmarsh in case it grew mischievous. Locking people up in a police station without charge is simply a continuation of the same policy. Twenty-eight days’ detention is too long, as we have always argued, and a further extension of detention will be an intolerable burden, leading to further radicalisation of potential terrorists.
In parallel, we have seen the steady advance of civil orders, obtained without due criminal process—for example, the ASBO, which is obtained with a lesser burden of proof, sometimes by a council official simply quoting anonymous sources, and which criminalises conduct that is a nuisance but not an offence. Then the Government brought forward control orders, which are civil orders with similar use of hearsay evidence, hitherto concealed from the defendant. The control orders may contain restrictions, including house arrest and bans on internet access and unauthorised visitors. Fortunately, the Law Lords have in the past two weeks overturned the ruling that allows intelligence-based evidence to be withheld from suspects and their lawyers. We recently saw introduced the serious crime order, a civil order that again gives rise to criminal sanctions and imprisonment. The Criminal Justice Bill referred to in the gracious Speech will continue the process by the imposition of violent offender orders, which are to be imposed if the offender has acted in such a way as to give reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary to protect the public. Again, the order may contain such prohibitions, restrictions or conditions as the court thinks necessary.
The common thread of these developments is that each person who is subjected to an ASBO, serious crime order, control order or the new violent offender order is put in a bubble; they have their own criminal code. They can be convicted of a criminal offence if they go to the pub, because it is against the order. If they go to a shopping centre or if, as happened in one case, a young lady comes to the door in a bikini too often, an ASBO can be imposed. One criminalises people for their behaviour in this way. We shall approach with scepticism these fresh inroads into basic freedoms that appear in the legislation that is shadowed in the gracious Speech.
My Lords, I welcome the continuing commitment shown in the gracious Speech to tackling global poverty and to the millennium development goals. I welcome also the way in which the Government have given effect to that commitment through increases in DfID’s budget.
Relatively little has been said on international development in this debate—no doubt because there is no legislation—but, like other issues, it is difficult and complex, and contains many risks and opportunities for us all. As with those other issues, I know that there is great knowledge of and support for international development in all parts of this House. I hope that, during this Parliament, there will be many opportunities to debate the issue to create a better understanding of it and its relevance to us all.
Perhaps I may illustrate that with a single example, which is the critical shortage of health workers in many developing countries. Last year, the World Health Organisation published a report in which it assessed that there was a shortage of 4.3 million health workers in the world. One can question the assumptions, but whatever the answer—whether the figure is 3 million or 5 million—it is a substantial number.
The WHO said also that 57 countries were in crisis, most of them in Africa, but some in other parts of the world. What it did not say, and what is becoming evident, is that this is truly a global, and not an African, problem. An insufficient number of health workers will have a major impact on our ability to deliver on the millennium development goals. Norway has recently published a study of the numbers of health and social workers that it will need in 2030, with an ageing population, and has estimated that it will need double the number of health workers that it has now. This problem is coming to the developed world, as well as being a present and immediate problem in the developing world.
The shortage of health workers in the developing world is a classic, important and complex public issue and there are many reasons for it. Some are related to migration to the west or the north; some, sadly, are related to death and injury in the dangerous profession of providing healthcare in developing countries. A great deal of internal migration and circular migration between countries takes place. In a number of countries in Africa, there are unemployed health workers, because the resources to employ them do not exist. In addition, a number of the so-called “vertical” funds, which deal with single issues or single diseases, often scoop from the pool of local employment, perhaps by paying higher wages, and therefore, paradoxically, while improving services for one group of patients, they perhaps deplete the local health service.
I know that the Government have made impressive steps in working with Malawi to try to retain health workers there and increase their numbers, but much more can be done. When I talk about health workers, I do not mean specifically doctors and nurses, although one needs them. If I understand the Ethiopian Government correctly, they say that 70 per cent of the burden of disease in their rural community can be tackled by what they call community health workers; that is, people with a relatively low level of training. As they have a relatively low level of training, they can be trained quickly and much less expensively, and they are much more likely to stay in the country.
I shall illustrate that further and declare an interest, in that I am shortly to become chair of Sight Savers International, a major international charity concerned with blindness and the rehabilitation of blind people. The charity has an impressive record in Africa in particular of training what we call mid-level workers. Those are people who have, perhaps, been nurses and who have then been trained through Sight Savers’ work to become cataract surgeons, for example—and very good at it they have proved to be. There are other examples, but I take that one as a matter of personal preference, as noble Lords will understand.
Evidence has already been gathered about the impact and effect of community health workers. I know that people listening to or reading this debate will say that previous experiments in having large numbers of community health workers have failed. To some extent, that is true, but the reasons are well understood: they have not been supported. You need people to supervise and support the community health workers but, to put it in terribly simple words, the triangle of the health professions in somewhere like Ethiopia is very different from how it is in England. There is a very broad base of community health workers, with some mid-level workers, some nurses and a few doctors, as opposed to the approach that we have in this country.
So there are some things that we can clearly do. You also need a different education approach, based on primary care, prevention and training people locally, and you need subsequently to employ people. As we have seen in Malawi, the Government have been willing to step in and support local employment of people within the country.
What is the UK going to do on a greater scale in its leadership role, as one of the major global developers in the world, but also as a major global employer? We all understand that there are many people in this country in our health services who have come from overseas. What more will the UK do to tackle this critical shortage in health workers?
Let me move on to congratulate the Government once again on a new initiative announced in September, an excellent approach called the international health partnerships, in which the UK, together with the World Bank, the WHO and a number of other countries, agreed to work together to stop one of the major problems in international development, which is fragmentation—when different people duplicate what others are doing in individual countries. For example, a Minister from Mozambique said to me that he did nothing but deal with foreign aid workers. His line was, “When I was appointed, I thought that I was going to be the Health Minister for Mozambique, but I discovered that I was the Minister for health projects in Mozambique, run by foreigners”. The Government’s attempt to deal with fragmentation is fantastically important, as in the field of human resources it leads to disjointed training schemes, a lack of focus on pre-service training schemes and competition for workers with the inevitable inflation that that brings to salaries throughout the continent of Africa.
Do the Government see the international health partnerships as one way in which to work together to tackle these complex problems of getting an adequate health workforce in developing countries? That is a truly wicked problem. Secondly and more generally, how will they measure the success of the international health partnerships? A lot of people have supported the initiative, but it will be interesting to see how success can be measured.
Finally, I return from developing countries to global health issues. While this arises in developing countries, it is deeply relevant to developing countries. Earlier this year, the Chief Medical Officer published a report on global health issues as a draft strategy for government. It would be useful to know when the Government will address that and publish their response.
While I have not addressed any legislation in my few remarks, these issues will, I hope, come back to the House in the next year in various different ways. They are big public policy issues, which I believe are very much worthy of discussion here.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness to the Front Bench and her renewed commitment in the Queen’s Speech on her Government’s behalf to Afghanistan. Our foreign policy in Afghanistan cannot succeed if it clings to its post-2001 objectives. The mightiest military alliance will never remove the Taliban, and the largest aid programme ever will never make Afghan poverty history. That is not a pessimistic assessment. The author Khaled Hosseini wrote last week that Afghanistan was failing because we were not doing enough. Five million refugees had returned to abject poverty and we were neglecting them and 2 million more are due from Iran and Pakistan. He said that,
“a failed Afghan state is a catastrophe for both Afghanistan and the West”.
He is right—it would be. But it is a dire prediction, and novelists are rarely useful policy makers.
I do not think that Afghanistan is a failed state and during a recent visit I witnessed many positive changes that had taken place in Kabul and elsewhere since I was previously there. However, I believe that, as the UK, we have to revise radically our optimism after 2001 and reassess our performance, both as a military force and as an aid donor. I shall focus on our development policy but should like to say a word first about Helmand, where the strategy must surely be one of simple containment, since we do not want the Taliban to spoil any efforts to rebuild the country.
The question has to be asked, five years on: why are we in Afghanistan? Why are our soldiers in Afghanistan? Is it a NATO co-ordination exercise? Is it to defend our country against terrorism or to help the Afghans? Surely it is quite unreasonable to expect British troops to risk their lives in Beau Geste-type operations unless the people can see not only military success but other diplomatic, aid and development activities working effectively. The Afghan population does not need our NATO battalions to behave like giant vacuum cleaners hoovering the Helmand valleys and suffering appalling casualties unless they themselves are actually benefiting from our presence. And was it wise to move our provincial reconstruction team and much of our development effort to Helmand?
The different issue of blurring the lines between aid and soldiering came up in the defence debate in another place on 16 October. During that debate, the Defence Secretary said that he wanted to give NGOs the confidence to work in an environment where they do not become targets. That surely means that the MoD cannot mix war and peace; it cannot dress up what the Minister calls a dirty, difficult and dangerous war in Helmand as an environment of peace and development. My contention today is that we are not protecting the Afghan people so much as protecting ourselves and the rest of the world against terrorism. We are driving rapidly about in armoured vehicles and not doing enough to demonstrate our friendship with those we have come to help. We are in danger of losing the battle for hearts and minds. Can the Minister confirm from his own experience that we may seriously be missing the UN millennium development goals, as well?
We shall have to move quickly as there will not always be the same appetite among aid donors for helping Afghanistan. Much has been achieved, but we tend to hear the same figures from Ministers—about the 5 million children—and read too little about genuine poverty eradication, as I shall mention later. After spending a week in Kabul and Balkh province, I am concerned, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about the proportion of aid coming in that goes to ministries in central government and is never seen by the people. The in-phrase is “capacity building”; this can often be a disguise, not only for the usual excessive administration and corruption that we find in a poor country but on buying in too much external technical assistance, which last year absorbed an estimated 25 per cent of the total aid.
The NGOs have been concerned about this for some time and have lobbied hard for more investment in projects which directly involve local people. It is true that internal revenue also has to make up for any future slack in aid, when the world’s attention inevitably moves on. Three-quarters of our DfID funding comes through central government. In this context, I have already asked the Government in a Written Question what independent auditing of DfID funds is taking place. Much is expected of the new independent directorate of local governance under Jelani Popal, which is designed to decentralise national and provincial governance. The aid community must support every effort to devolve government down to the elected local councils and shuras. As my noble friend Lord Crisp has just said, much more must be invested in the training of health workers in the provinces where health centres are virtually run by the NGOs—it is very like the situation in Mozambique from that point of view—and they should come into the public sector. Infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world and the trained village-level nurses and midwives whom they need can come only from their own communities. International and Afghan NGOs are active in many other parts of the country and DfID and the embassy should give them and other development projects more support in their own right. Dr Liam Fox made the important point in the defence debate that Afghans, not administrators but local people, must become more involved in their own reconstruction or the Taliban will inevitably come and fill the vacuum.
The FCO and DfID also need to work harder on their image with the Afghan and other media. They need to emphasise success, perhaps through the national solidarity programme which is a fruitful partnership between government and NGO projects. The expanded UK embassy is, I know, addressing the problem of hearts and minds and as part of that it must identify itself more closely with the reduction of acute poverty in Afghanistan. That is the primary objective. The more that acute needs are recognised and addressed by local people, the faster the country will move towards the millennium development goals. This will take what the Minister described in the debate on 23 October—which I missed—as “an enhanced political effort”, which uses all the levers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said. It is a wonderful country with an exciting history—most of it about the greed and pillage of foreign invaders.
In Bactria, close to Mazar-e-Sharif, my wife and I met French and Afghan archaeologists and saw relics of Archaemenid and Greek empires and of ancient walls of cities destroyed by Gengis Khan and Timur. We saw some of the oldest Islamic mosques in the world, the Timurid madrassas of Balkh and Mazar, the haunting valley of Bamyan—still largely intact—and the garden shrine of the Emperor Babur in Kabul, which is testimony enough of the survival of a world-class culture in Afghanistan.
The Afghan people are proud of their country. They would like outsiders not to invade or occupy it but to come and support them in rebuilding it. Whatever the inadequacies of their Government now and in the past, the vast majority are now committed to development and reconstruction and to a future in which their country may again hold up its head in the family of nations.
My Lords, this is the first time that I have spoken on defence in your Lordships' Chamber in the 21 years-plus that I have been here. I had a great deal of fellow feeling for the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on taking up her new post. I am only about two weeks longer into this argument than she is. I should mention the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. When it was known that I was taking up this portfolio, he extended the helpful attitude towards me that many noble Lords have mentioned today. The rumour mill is already grinding that he is going off to drive cars down race tracks at tremendous speeds and that the great urge to do so came on him very suddenly. However, he takes part in racing anyway. But even if the desire to race has become so overwhelming that he can no longer accommodate his duties in this Chamber, I wish him well. Even if he will not speak at the Dispatch Box, I hope that he will return to the Chamber very soon because he has genuine ability and displays great humour. He knows how not to take himself too seriously while still doing his job. I hope that we see him back here soon.
The main point about the Armed Forces is that we are asking them to do an awful lot. We are asking them to take part in our wars of choice; that is, wars that we do not have to fight to defend ourselves. Certain of these wars perhaps should be fought. Indeed, the destruction of the Taliban, or the driving from power of a regime that supported Al’Qaeda, which attacked ourselves and our neighbours, is something that one finds considerable difficulty disagreeing with. However, as regards other forms of military adventurism that we have experienced over the last few years, I felt very comfortable sitting on these Benches when the relevant decisions were made. But the fact of the matter is that we are asking our Armed Forces to do a great deal. In Afghanistan, particularly at the moment, we are asking them to fight a very hot war on a small scale. As regards the level of casualties, the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, described what happened to one of the battalions of the Parachute Regiment. If my memory serves me right, I believe that it is the Third Battalion. It took something like 10 per cent casualties during a tour of duty. If I remember what limited military theory I have picked up, a 20 per cent casualty rate means that a unit is unsustainable. It is taking heavy casualties. Even for a crack battalion in a very professional army like ours this is worrying. Many units are coming back and reporting that they have lost five, dead. It is only now that the media are realising that 30 or 40 people have been hospitalised. Many of them will never be fit enough to return to service. This degree of commitment and the ongoing number of troops involved in the front line are leading to real overstretch.
I should like to concentrate on what we are doing to support those troops going through this. As regards the planning and the time in service, it is clear that the time spent resting and regrouping—I forget the exact military terms—is being exceeded. Virtually everyone with a lapel here is wearing a poppy today. The Royal British Legion has pointed out to everybody in its recent appeals that it has a whole new list of clients under 35. These people are experiencing combat stress and need medical treatment and support. That group of people and that organisation consider that the Government are not supporting them and are not making sure that they get what they are entitled to when they are being asked to do something which the Government of the day have chosen to undertake. The most recent example of this was the almost shambolic reporting in the press on Monday that they were being asked to pay a little more insurance as their compensation was not enough to cover them and their families if they were injured or killed in action. The ins and outs of that case do not really matter; the fact is that it is presented in our national press as service people having to fork out because someone is ordering them to go into a dangerous situation. The damage done to the perception of the Armed Forces is almost incalculable.
Coverage was also given of the wonderful practice that we have of insuring your own kit. I do not know what the armed forces of other countries do in this regard, but if we go on in this way, we shall not present an image to the Armed Forces that will build up their morale. They are tired and their families are under stress. We have had the ongoing discussion about the poor accommodation available to the military. The Minister’s brief may well say that it is getting better. That may be the case, but why did it get so bad in the first place? Why did we not invest in the Armed Forces? The Audit Commission report published last year said that we are keeping people in our armed services by paying them little extra bonuses every now and then—little bounties. Why do we not review their pay structure to keep people in the armed services?
Then we have the ongoing idea about the treatment of people in our medical system. We have done away with military hospitals. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and his officials argued that it would be very difficult to maintain separate hospitals with a sufficient number of patients. That might be a valid argument, but people perceive that they are not being treated properly. War pensions are supposed to be received as priority. Can the Government tell me that every member of the NHS knows that war pensions for members of Her Majesty’s forces are supposed to be received as priority? I bet the answer is no. The war pensioners themselves do not know. Are people told, “Yes, you should support these people. Yes, you should make sure that the pensions get through”?
The perception that we are creating about our Armed Forces is that they are wonderful so long as they do their job, do not die in large numbers and we do not have to worry about them. I am starting to get that feeling from groups outside. Unless we start to address it, we will have shrinkage in our professional Armed Forces that might end up in a downward spiral of recruitment. If that is allowed to happen, we will not be able properly to carry out any of the activities that we now undertake, and are in danger of effectively turning a good professional Army into a scruffy one.
My Lords, in yesterday’s gracious Speech, I confess that I had my ears cocked for one word in particular—Africa—but cocked in vain, as it turned out. The nearest that the gracious Speech took us was Uganda, and that only in the context of the CHOGM later this month, although I was glad to see that there was a mention of global poverty and the millennium development goals. Where has gone the front-line commitment—the concentration of the last Prime Minister and the present one when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer—on the Commission for Africa? It has gone to a thing called the Africa Partnership Forum, whose latest report the Government have not thought worth bringing to Parliament, nor, I think, any of its previous reports. Its latest report studiously avoids attention to any of the most difficult places in Africa, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is to that country that I want to give attention.
It is a truism that peace and security in the DRC are a prime key to peace and security in the eight or nine countries that surround that huge entity—it is larger than western Europe—in the middle of central Africa. Later, I want to attend particularly to the relationships between Congo and the countries down 800 or so kilometres of its eastern side—moving from north to south, they are Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. However, it is worth noting that that relationship is at the moment poisonous to the north. Kony, the leader of the LRA, is almost certainly holed up in areas of northern Congo impenetrable to law and order. He has been rearmed and revictualled, virtually certainly by Sudan as part of its effort to destabilise northern Uganda and places south.
On Monday last week we had the benefit of hearing, through a Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about northern Uganda shortly after her return from that country. The House was then able to give attention to the difficult questions of the ICC charges against Kony and some of his lieutenants, and that strong sense in northern Uganda that peace must take preference over the ICC process, which to many there is foreign, distant and inadequate beside their local, indigenous judicial accountabilities. It is a sign of the complexity of the situation that, however much that argument has power regarding northern Uganda and peace there, the situation in the DRC is almost the other way round. Human rights abuses and impunity from them, and an ending of that impunity, are a prime question in the DRC. In the DRC, it is good news that only two people of what must be dozens who might be candidates are in The Hague charged with human rights offences.
Without the security sector reforms urgently necessary in Congo, the place is very little better—if any—than it was before the elections and the processes of last year. There is a crying need for the accountability of the justice and police systems to be worked at and, if security sector reform is not given priority, there will be no peace and security within Congo or along and across its borders, no containing of pillage of mineral resources, and no working at good relationships with the countries of the Great Lakes region. Many of the issues of ethnic tension are intertwined, and the matter is of deepest urgency.
After four years of transition and a year after the election of President Kabila—itself a remarkable achievement, remarkably supported by this country and the EU—an indescribable amount still needs to be done. In many places even where there is peace and security, it is—as I was told by everyone I met in Bunia in late April, whether in English or French—fragile, and very fragile indeed. About one leg of the security sector reform—the establishing of a working, honest, independent judicial system, of accountable police, military, intelligence and prison services, and of the beginning of an end to impunity—the title of a recently published Amnesty International report says it all: Democratic Republic of Congo—Torture and Killings by State Security Agents Still Endemic. That report maps in horrifying detail a story familiar to many of us, not least those of us who have been trying to persuade the Home Office that it dare not deport people, whatever their asylum status, to the DRC.
Critical too is progress towards the creation of a reliable, trained—including training in human rights—national army and police, whose pay, food and equipment are not constantly siphoned off to senior officers, with the effect that the FARDC is just as much a threat to local people in most places where it is present as are the militias and bandits whom it exists to combat. That huge task leads naturally into the current tragedy for hundreds of thousands of Congolese—the resurgence of war these last years in eastern Congo, specifically in Nord-Kivu. That is vividly documented in two excellent reports published in the past few weeks by Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group.
There in Nord-Kivu are all the terribly familiar ingredients of the recent history of the DRC, in the war at the heart of which are the Tutsi-favouring and Tutsi-defending forces and the political party led by General Nkunda. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us by whom that war is being funded, because it would be good to get to the bottom of the matter. There is military action involving a shifting range of actors and alliances of all sorts, but the forces of the Governments of Rwanda, Uganda and of the United Nations are among them. There is widespread and horrific abuse of civilians, including women and children—and there are large numbers of child soldiers. Some 400,000 people have been displaced in camps and in the bush. At the war’s heart is the generational mutual fear and suspicion of Hutu and Tutsi; the effects are evident on land use and the struggle for the control of the vast mineral resources. All of that demonstrates the inability of the national Government to exert convincing control of the east and evidences the weaknesses of the UN and its forces, in admittedly difficult circumstances.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. In particular, what are the UK Government doing as regards its colleagues in the EU and in the P3 plus 2 in response to all this? What are they seeking to support? What contribution are we making now to security sector reform, to land distribution reform in the context of demobilisation and resettlement, to the control of mineral resources and to the vetting of contracts? How careful is DfID regarding the human rights records of companies with which it is entering into partnerships? What proportion of DfID’s activities is with local NGOs and sociétés civile? Why is DfID so unwilling in the Great Lakes and more widely to funnel aid through church-based organisations? How do the Government view the contemporary scramble for Africa by China and a range of Islamic states? In the face of talk of the withdrawal of MONUC in 2009, are the Government arguing that nothing of the sort must be done until security sector reform is vastly further down the road?
I have two last questions. What training for our Armed Forces is being offered as a contribution to civilian protection? On page 47 of the IPPR’s Safeguarding Civilians, there is an interesting series of paragraphs asking that crucial question. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to a question put to me separately on successive days in April in Burundi by two thoughtful Burundian Christian leaders. They said: “We would really be interested to know who is running the Great Lakes region”.
My Lords, first, I welcome to this House a good friend, my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton, who was a colleague in the House of Commons and in this place. I wish her well. My noble friend Lord Drayson shared a room with me for quite a long time. He was a delightful companion and—this has been said on all sides—a very good Minister. My noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown, who will wind up this debate, adds lustre to the government Benches and I welcome him.
Many years ago, I was, mistakenly, a Eurosceptic; but, having worked within the European Commission, observing and playing a part in various institutions and helping to communicate the fundamental message of the European Commission, I changed. I recognised the Commission’s faults, but I perceived how wrong I had been. I reject the fundamentalism that scars the entire situation regarding Europe. It is ironic that, for the most part, the two main political parties have dramatically changed their stances. Today, the majority of Conservatives are implacably opposed to the whole concept of Europe, whereas the majority of the Labour Party is for a stronger Europe. The Conservatives cannot maintain a position of a do-nothing Europe or withdrawing from it altogether. It is one thing to play remorselessly to the Eurosceptic gallery—in essence, that was the gravamen of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell—but, in reality, the Conservatives would need the unanimous agreement of all member states to realise their ambitions. Despite the current reticence shown by the Labour Government, I hope that they will play a much more positive role in the European Union, helping to mould it for the future.
On the treaty, I argue that it is not nearly as radical as those that preceded it: the Single European Act, Maastricht and Amsterdam. Did we have a referendum on them? The answer is a devastating no. Of course, there are similarities between the constitution treaty and the reform treaty but there are also key differences. The United Kingdom has negotiated a series of significant opt-outs: the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, crime, policing and, where there is aid for humanitarian purposes or energy policies, the UK can go its own way. To pretend, as most Europhobes do, that suddenly British law has become subordinate to European law is utterly false. The situation has remained unchanged since we joined the European Community in 1973. Contrary to the assertions of those who are opposed to the European project, in no way have our citizens been hoodwinked.
What the Conservatives contend is untenable. To argue that we should withdraw from the European Union is legitimate—in my view, wholly wrong—but to argue that we should be half in and half out is unworthy of them. The European Union has a much better chance of influencing the United States and others over, for example, climate change, than if the UK were to go it alone.
Climate change is probably the most significant issue confronting the world today. Despite some errors, the Gore report remains a highly potent source of criticism of present policies. We would be greatly mistaken to ignore its messages and those of the Stern report. The vast majority of scientific opinion voices that conclusion. There is a legal maximum that criminal liability has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and civil liability on the balance of probabilities. In that context, the latter is to be preferred. If we are proved to be wrong, which I think unlikely, we can recover, but if we apply the doctrine of reasonable doubt the worst will come to the worst and our children and grandchildren will have absolutely no chance.
The European Community also has a vital contribution to make to the Middle East peace process. Select Committee C considered a number of relevant matters: the EU's policies, its diplomatic initiatives and how each of those could be enhanced. It concluded that the European Union could have an even greater input than at present and that if Hamas renounced violence, recognised Israel and accepted past agreements negotiated by the PLO, it could be usefully involved in the peace process. Israel should be recognised as an important player in such talks and could establish its bona fides by transferring to the Palestinian Authority tax and custom revenues which, given a peaceful situation, I believe Israel is prepared to do.
The situation with Iran is extremely complex. The attitude adopted by the present leadership is bizarre and unhelpful. By indicating that the regime is prepared to adopt a more positive approach, there is a possibility that dialogue could produce helpful results, but that remains to be seen. Extremism must not extinguish all sane paths to peace.
This has been a useful debate. A number of themes have been aired, and I hope that it will be regarded as helpful as far as the evolution of foreign policy by the Government is concerned.
My Lords, I will focus on the Government’s commitment in the gracious Speech to the eradication of poverty worldwide. In so doing, I will highlight the plight of people in three areas I visited recently: northern Uganda, Burma and southern Sudan, where conflict and oppression have long been contributory factors towards grinding poverty.
Just three weeks ago, I was in northern Uganda and last week I drew your Lordships’ attention to the continuing hardships of the people there and their acute fear of renewed conflict. I shall not repeat those points this evening because the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester has spoken eloquently on those issues. However, I ask the Minister if Her Majesty’s Government will ensure that the problems of northern Uganda will be discussed fully at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala.
I turn briefly to the tragic plight of the people of Burma, which has been seen on TV screens around the world, as monks, nuns and civilians made their courageous public stand for democracy until the brutal SPDC regime moved in with violence to obliterate communications and punish the demonstrators. Only a trickle of information has since leaked out about torture, killing and the continued imprisonment of at least 2,000 demonstrators, including many monks. We have even less knowledge of the fate of the ethnic national groups such as the Shan, Karen and Karenni peoples fighting for survival along the eastern border in a bitter war which has left 500,000 living as displaced people, including 90,000 still living and dying in appallingly harsh and precarious conditions inside Burma. They are hiding in the jungle with little food, shelter, healthcare or education. Meanwhile, the SPDC regime continues to attack villages, to murder, rape, torture, to use forced labour in conditions so harsh that many perish and to force civilians to act as human minesweepers.
The plight of other ethnic groups such as the Chin, Kachin and Rohingya people is also dire. Although not engaged in active conflict, they suffer all the horrors of occupation, with SPDC troops stealing their crops and livestock as well as carrying out extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and forced labour. Healthcare is virtually unobtainable, so many die of treatable diseases. No education is allowed beyond primary level. One woman whom I met speaks for countless others as her story is typical. Her husband was forced to serve as a porter and as a human minesweeper and was blown up. She was then compelled to work as a porter, carrying 30 kg of rice or ammunition from dawn to dusk with little rest, food or water. At night, she and other female porters had to undertake a different kind of service for the SPDC soldiers. She eventually escaped to Thailand with her children, but her eldest son was so badly beaten by the SPDC that he suffers permanent brain damage.
The ethnic national peoples of Burma are in a horrendous predicament: those who oppose the regime militarily in an attempt to retain some freedom face the threat of ethnic cleansing by the SPDC’s overwhelming military might, and those who seek accommodation by laying down their arms face physical and cultural extinction by strangulation of resources and systematic oppression. I welcome assurances given by the Government in another place on 29 October to increase pressure on the SPDC through increased EU sanctions and statements by UN Security Council. I also welcome the commitment by DfID to increase aid. In the welcome increase in aid, will there be more provision for those suffering and dying as internally displaced people in the jungles of Burma and the occupied territories, including support for organisations whose personnel risk their lives to take aid across the border? How do Her Majesty’s Government assess the role played by China and India? Is China doing all that it should to bring the SPDC to account? If not, what is the Government’s view of the appropriateness of China acting as host to the forthcoming Olympic Games? And will the Government raise with India its policies of selling arms and providing military training to the SPDC?
I turn to Sudan. The situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate. I am not going to focus on Darfur because that situation is in the public domain. I turn to other areas in Sudan such as the south, the Nuba mountains, the Southern Blue Nile and Abyie county, where the people are suffering acute deprivation and extreme poverty, often without any aid, and where the political situation is so serious that the fragile peace achieved by the comprehensive peace agreement—CPA—may be broken. Indeed, in some areas, the discussion centres on not “if” but “when” war will break out again.
The Government in Khartoum have been depriving the areas now administered by the Government of Southern Sudan of resources essential for the reconstruction of the infrastructure devastated in the bitter war which was waged by the National Islamic Front regime against the south from 1989 until two years ago, a war—indeed, a jihad, as they called it—in which 2 million perished and 4 million were displaced.
The refusal of the Government in Khartoum to honour the conditions of the CPA and to share the resources needed for the rehabilitation of the south has led to such dismay, frustration and anger that, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned, the representatives of the Government of Southern Sudan have walked out from the proceedings of the Government in Khartoum and the leader of the south, Salve Kiir, has accused Khartoum of serious breaches of its commitments.
In our work, we witness the effects of these developments. Earlier this year, with my organisation HART, we visited eastern Upper Nile and Equatoria. People were suffering and dying from preventable and treatable diseases, including leprosy, malaria, meningitis, measles and problems with childbirth. The people are inevitably disaffected with the present situation: they feel marginalised, alienated and dissatisfied with the peace process. In many places there is no provision of aid. In others only Islamic aid organisations such as Dawa Islamia may be present, but the people often refuse to go to it for help, as it requires conversion to Islam and the local people say that they would rather die than convert.
My noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton has highlighted the growth of militant and strategic Islam in Europe. We find similarities in Sudan. The leaders of the south have in their possession a document outlining the proposals for the Islamisation of southern Sudan, with a budget of US$29 million for Islamic teacher training colleges, schools, school uniforms, hospitals, clinics, medical staff salaries, medicines and so on. They claim that this budget has been sent to Saudi Arabia and to Libya and that money is pouring into the south, the design being to use humanitarian aid as a means of conversion to Islam, and they point out that the name of the major Islamic aid organisation, Dawa Islamia, means not “aid” but “conversion”.
The peoples of the south and the other marginalised areas are deeply concerned. They claim:
“We are losing in peace what we managed to hold onto at such terrible cost in war”.
There is clearly an urgent need for unconditional and uncompromising humanitarian aid in these vast, war-torn regions of Sudan. Therefore, I ask the Minister: will the Government recognise the need for assistance to the Government of Southern Sudan and for independent resources to be available to the people of the south and not channelled through Khartoum? And will the Government consider supporting aid organisations working in areas where at present there is no independent assistance?
Finally, the United Kingdom has a seat on the Assessment and Evaluation Commission of the CPA and is charged, together with Kenya and Ethiopia, with responsibility for observing and monitoring the implementation of the CPA. But I understand that this commission has not been functioning. Many people in Sudan believe that the United Kingdom could reactivate it and that it would be critical to the success of the peace agreement. Therefore, I ask the Minister: will the Government undertake as a priority to fulfil their obligations as a member of this commission to reactivate it and to work through it?
This is very important, because if the peoples of southern Sudan despair of achieving a peace that will enable them to rebuild their land in ways that enshrine the fundamental values of freedom and justice for which they fought and for which so many have died, and if they see a strategic Islam, well resourced from Khartoum, gaining ground, they may feel that another war, with all its horrors, may be their only option for survival. Such a development would be catastrophic for not only some but all of Sudan.
My Lords, of the subjects for today’s proceedings on the gracious Speech of Her Majesty, the last item is defence. That is what I shall try to concentrate my remarks on, after some notable speeches. I have much sympathy with the Minister, who has stood rather like a brave No. 15 at Twickenham, fielding all sorts of things. He has a little to come from me, but he need not worry too much. I believe that we have another debate on 22 November, when we will be able to expand a little more on defence. As defence was referred to by Her Majesty in the gracious Speech, it is worth following up many of the excellent speeches on defence that have already been made by some now absent friends—they are no longer in the Chamber.
It was about 30 years ago that my noble and learned friend—and, for the first time, I can say kinsman—Lord Lyell of Markyate rose up at party conference and said:
“The prime duty of the Government is the defence of the realm”.
Unlike me tonight, he did not have to go on. Bands and banners were struck up; that was his speech made. He was of course quite right.
One reason why I want to add my short comments in support of much of what has been said today is that we have been very much concentrating on the military activities in Afghanistan. The Minister will be able to cover that tonight and, no doubt, at great length later in the year. We have been hearing that the Afghan campaign may well take many years. The noble Earl said that it would be a very long campaign, not necessarily merely military.
There is another reason why I am detaining your Lordships for a short while this evening. There is an esteemed all-party group in your Lordships’ House chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. We call ourselves the All-Party House of Lords Defence Group. Thanks to a wonderful relationship with the former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, we have been extremely lucky. We hope that we shall be able to continue under the new Administration to polish that great relationship. I have been reprimanded at least three times for ringing the Minister’s office saying, “We are the House of Lords Defence Group. We are the warlords”. I am told to conduct myself with decorum and, above all, with restraint, which is what I shall attempt to do tonight.
There is another reason, which stings home for me personally. In our group, we go from Marshals of the Royal Air Force and Field Marshals right down to, in my case, Second Lieutenant Lyell, Lord. I had 19 months of national service. In a week’s time, I shall not be with your Lordships, because I shall be with 16 other fellow recruits in the guards’ depot at Caterham. We started our national service—two years full-time or four years part-time, that depended—under the wonderful tuition of a sergeant who may well be known to my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. He was called Sergeant Kiwi Clements of the Coldstream Guards. He was a perfect example of the British Army. In eight weeks, he brought 16 of us to be competent young soldiers. He taught us many things. He kept it simple. Above all, the motto that he instilled in us was the same as we have seen on television adverts:
“Be the best. Join the Army”.
Another motto, which comes from the blue sector of Liverpool—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was here a moment ago—is:
“Only the best will do”.
That also goes for the British Army. As we see and hear day after day and night after night, the British Army lives up to those two mottos in action in appallingly difficult conditions in Afghanistan.
I had the very good luck—I do not know what he thinks—to serve with my noble friend Lord King in Northern Ireland. Even in the four years in the pressure cooker of Northern Ireland, I never heard him make such a passionate and excellent speech as he made earlier today. He made my speech for me. Indeed, many of my comments have already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who referred to the welfare, and above all the care and devotion, that we owe to our Armed Forces in Afghanistan and all around the world.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and his department, and I hope that my thanks will be passed on. The House of Lords Defence Group has made two visits—we may get an opportunity to refer to this when the Minister returns later this evening or at a later stage. Usually if we are lucky enough to make visits and learn things, and if there are small points of criticism to be made and things need doing, we try our hardest to be discreet and not to echo this in your Lordships’ House, even though it is an august and excellent Chamber. On the other hand—and I have been lucky enough to serve with this group for nearly 30 years—when we find points of excellence, we may take the licence to refer to them.
Last July, the group made two visits, one of which was to the Royal Naval Air Station down at Culdrose. We found a mixture of things. Captain Thicknesse runs squadrons of Sea Kings, Merlins and Seahawks there. The way in which Captain Thicknesse and the Royal Navy look after the families is first class. We understood that the average length of service of servicemen and their families at Culdrose, which is a good way from your Lordships’ House, let alone from my home in Scotland, is eight years. Two or three of the servicemen whom we met had been with their families there for close on 20 years. RNAS Culdrose is a prime example. One week later, the group was fortunate enough to go to Royal Air Force Coningsby, where we saw the first two operational squadrons of the new Typhoon. Group Captain Atha and everyone else on that station were a superb example of the commitment, drive and real excellence in service that can be achieved. I hope that the Minister will tolerate me bringing up those two cases of excellence on a night such as this.
I see that the time is up for me, so I conclude, as always, by sending our very best wishes to servicemen all around the world, and to those who are serving in and preparing to go to Afghanistan. From my own perspective, I send our very best wishes to the timorous, rather shy untrained recruits—and to their instructors—who are working tonight and who in a matter of months will be serving in Afghanistan with the British Army. Their motto is “Be the best”, and they are. We salute each and every one of them tonight.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, on becoming the new Defence Minister for appropriations. We all recognise that this is an extremely tough job to take on. Not only is the job surrounded by tremendous pressures but there has always been concern here about whether unreasonable, and indeed unfair, pressure is being used. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, will rightly call on her experience as a former distinguished Leader of the House of Commons. She will need every element of that reputation to maintain a position that now needs to be kept.
I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, about the formidable set of questions and requests that now lie before the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown; it is one that I do not in any sense envy. He will have covered the whole world and discovered that the House of Lords is full of experts and people knowingly committed to all kinds of causes. I can only say that he now has my sympathy in trying to deal with such a huge range of requests and impossibly high expectations. I am sure that, in so far as any human being can meet them, he will. On that, I wish him the very best.
I will start with just a word on Pakistan, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, referred, although I am sorry that he is not in his place. We should say right away that one of the most impressive things about Pakistan is that the huge opposition to the intent to impose martial law has come from a range of people who are essential to Pakistan’s transition to democracy. It has come from judges who have put themselves at risk in upholding the concept of the rule of law and from lawyers who have shown clearly that their concern for the public good is greater than that for their own advancement. It has come from the very heartland of the people who, one day, will build democracy in Pakistan. We need to record our recognition of their courage and determination. It is in Pakistan’s interest that, as soon as possible, their detention should cease and they should be returned to the public company of their colleagues in order to be able to advance Pakistan’s future.
One of the features of Pakistan in the past few years has been a sharp move towards growing criticism of the West and, in particular, the United States. An opinion poll conducted by Pew showed this year that only 15 per cent of Pakistanis indicated that they had faith in the United States. One of the reasons for that was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, when he talked about the world that we are living in and referred to the extraordinary power of global communications. We must recognise that satellite television is to be found throughout the Middle East and South Asia, perhaps unexpectedly, because satellite is not always owned by the people who have television sets. Nevertheless, it extends everywhere and it has concentrated in a very dramatic fashion on the shortcomings of the West. It has concentrated on Iraq, on scenes of prisoners being abused and on occupational commitments to such things as collective punishment. It has spread throughout the Middle East and South Asia a representation of what we are doing that may not be entirely fair, but which has been terribly powerful in its ability to recruit people to the terrorist cause and to the rejection of western values and western objectives. In Pakistan, that has had the effect of rapidly moving public opinion in a direction that is not sympathetic to us. However, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, will appreciate that nothing is so important in Pakistan at the moment as civilian support for what the Government are attempting to do.
For a long time in Pakistan, there has been a close relationship between the military and civilian support for that military—a belief and trust in the military, which, incidentally, as all of us know, contains the people with a key determination over how nuclear weapons might one day be used. It is therefore vital that that relationship should be reconstructed, with support by civilians of a military that they believe to be responsible. One of the lessons that we must draw from the Pakistan crisis is that we have put too many of our eggs in the basket of just one leader, General Musharraf; we have not sufficiently recognised the need to keep very close to the public in Pakistan and to support them in every way.
I wish to raise two other issues. The first follows the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, about the Middle East. I hope that her rather optimistic view is right, but I have to say that we are now looking in Gaza at an impending crisis of the most extreme form. We know now that only one passage, Kerem Shalom, is to be permitted in that area. Sufa has been permanently closed. That one entry into Gaza can carry only one-third of the necessary supplies, not only basic food supplies but also the supplies necessary to keep the infrastructure of Gaza working. The hospitals in Gaza are closing because they have no means of keeping open. Electricity, benzene and other forms of energy have been cut off to that pathetic enclave, which is now described as a hostile enclave. As things stand, it is a matter of weeks before the population of 1.4 million people in Gaza will be virtually at the end of the road. We cannot allow that to happen.
I fully understand the anger of Israelis at the rockets that have reached them, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, referred. However, we cannot find a way out of the terrible dilemmas of the Middle East by allowing one part of what is one day supposed to be the independent second base of a new Palestinian state to collapse in ruins all around us. It is simply impossible. What can be done to sustain Gaza and the West Bank in a situation where a viable second state—a Palestinian state—is becoming day by day, because of what are sometimes cynically called “facts on the ground”, almost impossible to sustain? Have the British Government raised the issue of the misuse of funds intended to support the authorities in the West Bank, but used to buy arms, the so-called Elliott Abrams policy, which in turn will lead to a massive civil war?
I am deeply concerned also about missile defences being built in eastern and central Europe, in Poland and the Czech Republic. On 28 February 2007, we were promised by the Prime Minister a major debate in Parliament and outside Parliament on the decision to be made about whether we should partake in the missile defences now extending to Poland and the Czech Republic. There has been no debate or discussion with Parliament. There has been only a decision, made in a Written Ministerial Statement on the last day of the last term of Parliament, that we will go ahead with supporting this ballistic missile defence and being involved in Menwith Hill.
Russia has understandably become extraordinarily troubled about this. One moment’s thought on how we would feel if missile defences were being placed by Russia in, say, the Republic of Ireland will tell us something about the way the Russians feel. The outcome of this is an increasing lack of co-operation by Russia at a time when the world’s global structures are coming under the most extreme pressure and we are moving in some parts of the world towards chaos.
The Russian Government have now decided to walk out of the conventional treaty on arms in Europe. They have decided to resume their global flights of surveillance all around the world and have announced that they will target European cities in retaliation. All this was unnecessary. I hope that it can be dealt with by co-operation between the United States, Russia and the European Union, but at present it is very hard to see how this can contribute in any way to peace. Were the British Government consulted before the United States decided to embark on placing missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic? Did they object in any way? Were they aware that, for one reason or another, it was decided not to put this issue to Parliament, despite the very clear commitment in the Queen’s Speech to restore the influence, the power and the sovereignty of Parliament?
My Lords, compared with the majority of our European neighbours and many overseas contemporaries, the role of our Armed Forces in the life of this nation has been more than prominent. The retreat from Empire and colonial entanglements may seem a lifetime away, but in the expanse of our kingdom’s history they are relatively recent events, necessitating military commitments uncommon to nations of a similar size. Britain’s participation in the Cold War kept our Armed Forces to the fore through the 1970s and 1980s, and in the 1990s our foreign policy began to fashion a new role for the military as peacekeepers in conflicts such as Kosovo and the Balkans, building on the skills and expertise which our soldiers honed combating terrorism on the streets of my native Northern Ireland.
I do not decry the role of the military in our national life. Rather, our Armed Forces have been and continue to be a source of national pride, a physical manifestation of values which often reflect the best of what it is to be British in the modern world. In a world where respect, discipline and sacrifice are oft neglected, our Armed Forces remind us, and society in general, of the enduring importance of character and duty. We owe much to and indeed expect much from the men and women who voluntarily endanger life and limb for the nation’s benefit. Much has been said today about how the Government fail to reciprocate the faith which servicemen place in them, sentiments with which I wholeheartedly agree. It is to our eternal shame that we fail properly to equip, train and support our Armed Forces. Further, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others have elucidated, for the Government to break the military covenant reflects poorly on our Ministers.
It is a problem as old as the military itself. Every age has its cause célèbre. The issues of the day may change, but the underlying tensions remain. For example, in his excellent book, Redcoat, Professor Richard Holmes paints a bleak picture of the soldier’s lot in the years after the Crimean War. Conditions, particularly in barracks, were shockingly poor. Soldiers, mostly sleeping on the floor, were crammed into spaces half the size of those enjoyed by convicts of the time. While we have mostly left behind such gross physical squalor, there have been more than a few disturbing instances of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan being denied the means by which to fulfil their duties effectively. If that was not sufficient dereliction of duty on the Government’s behalf, it has also emerged that not only do troops feel obliged to take out private insurance to top up the meagre compensation offered by the Ministry of Defence in the event of injury or death—or even to cover the loss of kit, an affront in itself—but those insurance premiums are now expected to increase by some 160 per cent. Such fast and loose treatment of those who put themselves forward in the line of fire for our country should burn the conscience of Ministers.
In an era when the Armed Forces face intense competition in recruitment, it is peculiar indeed that the Government should lose sight of the importance of ensuring that the armed services are seen to offer good conditions and terms in order to attract potential recruits. However, lest I be accused of having nothing positive to contribute, I would like to suggest a partial solution to today’s recruitment difficulties. Despite their problems, the Armed Forces still offer tremendous career opportunities to both United Kingdom and Commonwealth citizens. Pre-1969 and the outbreak of the Troubles in Ulster, the armed services of Britain were also a highly popular career choice for thousands of citizens from the Republic of Ireland. That should come as no surprise as historically the Irish have made a disproportionately large contribution to the United Kingdom’s military, boasting a lineage that stretches back to the 17th century. The Irish formed the backbone of Wellington’s army with regiments such as the Connaught Rangers and the 87th Irish Fusiliers, earning the admiration of all who fought with them. In 1830, 42.2 per cent of the British Army was Irish, and as late as 1870 the proportion was still high, at 28 per cent. Even during World War II the numbers serving from the Irish Republic stood at over 160,000.
Apart from sheer quantity, Ireland also produced quality. Macaulay called Ireland,
“an inexhaustible nursery of the finest soldiers”.
These, of course, included one Dublin-born Arthur Wellesley.
With stability returning to Northern Ireland, I can see no reason why our Armed Forces should not proactively reactivate that rich vein of recruitment from the Irish Republic. Not only would this help to address manpower issues, it would also help to strengthen personal ties between the United Kingdom and Ireland and set the tone for further improvements in relations between our two countries.
At a time when our military resources are stretched and when uncertainty abounds in various theatres, it is beholden upon the Government to ensure that the Armed Forces have the manpower to undertake all that they lay at their door. This requires practical measures to underpin the service personnel’s confidence that the nation will protect their interests and, I suggest, a more creative approach to recruitment which would tap into the ambitions of those Irish men and women from the whole of the island who wish to follow a military career with a global touch.
My Lords, I feel a little nervous tonight because I think I am going to say some things that I might regret later. I started and thought the most moving words of all were those in Prayers today and I could not remember the number of the Psalm. It set the scene.
My Lords, Psalm 46. My noble friends could not remember either.
Then I thought that some of the weakest words I had ever heard in this House were in the Queen’s Speech on foreign affairs. Before, as your Lordships will know well, foreign affairs and defence came first. The first two days were for defence and foreign affairs and we filled the House with usually 90 or more speakers. You look at the thinness of my Benches on this side and the Labour Benches opposite, and the great strength of the independent Benches and the Liberals, who normally come out in mutual admiration, and you ask why.
Then I thought, “What were the words that moved me yesterday?”. We had two great speeches on the Adjournment and then the Leader of the House said there were a couple of TomToms on the Front Bench. There is another Tom on my left here. I thought, “What is a TomTom?”. I should know, of course, because I am secretary of the Parliamentary Space Committee. One of the things that I am good at, as many people will know, is that I have a sense of direction. You often have a sense of direction if you have spent a long time on your mother’s milk and can divine water. Many people have no sense of direction. Many of Islamic faith have an extremely good sense of direction and always know where Mecca is. In my car, which is a German car—I always said I would never have a German car—I have a form of TomTom. It does not really work—I call it Hilda—and it says every 10 minutes “You must make a U-turn”. That is what I would like to say to Members on the Benches opposite.
I was told that I should always say “I” because their Lordships like to know that you are “I”. You do not say “they” or “one” or the report that many people read out from third parties; you say “I”.
I am not very much but I have spent most of my life in trade, usually being put by the Foreign Office below the salt at important meetings. I was brought up to believe that trade was the lifeblood of anything—it created added value—and that if you wanted your trade right you needed to create added value at home and then added value abroad. For 10 years I chaired the Government’s Middle East Trade Committee. I was on that committee long before I was under Lord Jellicoe on the British Overseas Trade Board and under Lord Shackleton on the East European Trade Council. I went round with great men and good and I found that you could go places where no angels could tread.
As a result I would find myself sitting with Matrix Churchill in Iraq discussing the problems of the supergun. No one really knew where it was pointed but we knew of Mr Bull, who had decided that it may have been blown up by the Israelis in Amsterdam. The Iraqis regarded it as something of a phallic symbol, too. It was a remarkable piece of kit that scared the living daylights out of everyone. That was where the name “Living Daylights” came for the James Bond film, but that is another story.
Then I had to go to Iran after the Iran-Iraq war. That was pretty moving, because I had not realised how people had suffered. The Iranians wanted to know if I could help them with Lord Roberts’s workshops because so many of their people were shell-shocked that they did not know what to do. They allocated one-third of their industrial production to establish an organisation called Razmandegan Islam, the “fighters of Islam”. Although one may object to some of the ways that fanatical countries can be, we have to go back to the time when the Americans had their hostage problem; I was working in a banking group and we had to be involved, directly and indirectly, in the payment of blood money.
When we had no diplomatic relations with Libya, the Foreign Office or someone else would say to people like me, “You must go to Libya”. We would go to Libya and be very well received. All the time one was looking at trade—but because I have a sense of direction, I also use maps. When I look at a map, I say to myself, “In the European Union everyone is thinking of the country next door, not other countries that may be of mutual value or appreciation to each other”. The German foreign policy was always beggar-my-neighbour—a good card game. They never went off abroad. As your Lordships will remember, the Germans had only one adventure in Africa. I have used this before, but it is one of my favourite stories: 700 Hottentots managed to defeat 3,000 German soldiers.
One of my favourite countries was Afghanistan. The Afghans are quite remarkable people. I have a tremendous fear when I look at the map and say, “Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan”—and realise that around them are another 15 to 16 countries in extremely strategic positions between natural resources and raw materials that are vital to the West. You might say, “Maybe there are a few people around who want to stir things up. Why should the British have to do it alone?”. That is why I was impressed with the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Luce, who were simply saying, “Get the Commonwealth, NATO and the European Union together”. Who else is providing support for the creation or preservation of democracy that will never even come to these countries? That is not the way they decide over there. They need strong rulers, who we can only hope are benevolent.
I worry very much about this at the moment, because I feel we are in one of the most dangerous periods of my whole life. I do not know why; there have been terrorists before. When I was in Cyprus the EOKA started with 100 people, who then made friends with the Church. I was there between 1956 and 1958, by which time—and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know this—there were something like 100,000 troops. When we look at the experience of Suez and other interventions around the world, we have to think carefully. I see the great Russian bear stirring. When an ex-KGB Russian leader takes his shirt off and stands there looking muscular, there is a feeling that he is saying, “Let’s stir it up and see what comes out. We cannot lose”.
I was most impressed, as I always am, by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. As she is not in her place, I shall say that I was told the other day that normally when she travels she puts on a bunny suit. I never thought of her as being the bunny of the Labour Benches.
I represent not only the 19 million people who did not vote in the last election but another group—the 52 ambassadors who, on 27 April 2004, wrote to Mr Blair saying:
“We the undersigned British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israeli problem and Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States … The military actions of coalition forces must be guided by political objectives”.
What are the political objectives? I asked, in a Written Question, if we could have an answer to that question. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who has a considerable background in this field. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, more officials must now be involved in foreign affairs; more Foreign Office ambassadors, and more money. I would like an answer to that.
My final question addresses the sad departure of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. I did not think he was a suitable person when he arrived in the House, but when he left I thought he had done an extraordinarily good job. He and I had only one thing in common: my father spent most of his life, and all our family money, motor-racing—and he won Le Mans. But there is a sad note—and I hope this had nothing to do with the noble Lord leaving—in yesterday’s judgment that Fusilier Gentle was unlawfully killed. I would be grateful if the Minister felt able to comment on that, because the reports in the press are pretty damaging. If our forces are not provided with the right equipment we should ensure that they are, rather than allowing people to attack us.
My Lords, I, too, may say some things that I regret this evening, but not for very long, I suspect. I first pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who was an extremely good defence procurement Minister—one of the best that we have ever had and, as I said to his face, in some ways at least but not in every way, he was rather better than I was.
On a more serious note, this is the first opportunity that I have had to say how much I regret the absence of Lord Garden from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. His contributions to our debates were magnificent. I did not always agree with him, but I shall miss him very much.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Taylor on taking over what is one of the most interesting jobs in government; I am sure that she will enjoy it. I give her only slight warning that, the next time we meet, I shall be talking about the A400M; I suggest that she briefs herself on that subject before 22 November. I give her just one warning: that she will unfortunately find herself to a large degree a prisoner of decisions of her predecessors, which is one of the great constraints of being a procurement Minister.
When I consider some of the other appointments that have been made, I find my spirits lifted, because they prove to me that the Prime Minister has a sense of humour. Some of his appointments to this House are some of the most hilarious that I have ever seen anywhere. I had better not go beyond saying that at this stage, but I think that noble Lords will know to what I refer; if any of them do not, I refer them to an article in the Sunday Telegraph and one or two others for their entertainment.
However, while the Prime Minister disported himself with some of his appointments to this House, I took as very unfunny an appointment that he made down the other end. Here, I echo the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. The double-hatting of Defence Secretary with Scottish Secretary is one the most disgraceful appointments that I have ever heard of. I hope that the Prime Minister realises the damage that it is doing to him, to his party, to the Government and to people’s respect for government. There are people who have relatives serving in the Armed Forces—young men and women at risk. We all know that Cabinet offices in this country are part-time jobs, because one has a salary as a Member of Parliament and as a Cabinet Minister. That the Defence Secretary’s job has been divided further, so that he answers Scottish Questions, is—I am trying to find a moderate word—deplorable.
I note that there is not a single mention of the Armed Forces in the gracious Speech, which also is deplorable. I am glad that my noble friend Lady Taylor made reference to them in suitable terms, as have many of my colleagues from the Floor of the House today. There is no reference in the gracious Speech to NATO or our relationship with the United States. Those are significant indicators of the attitude of the Prime Minister of the day, which I do not find congenial.
I again agree with the noble Lord, Lord King, about the dismantling of DESO, which also was a great mistake. It is rare that I find myself agreeing so often with the noble Lord, Lord King. In fact, until today I had always thought that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, had showed impeccable judgment until I heard that he had been consulting the noble Lord, Lord King, on matters from time to time—and then for the first time I began seriously to worry.
While I have the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, in front of me, I say that I agree very much with a lot of what he said about the Commonwealth. However, I hope that if he reads Hansard tomorrow he will reflect on his remark that we should make greater use of the Commonwealth. I would have preferred it if he had said that we should make a greater contribution to the Commonwealth—and I hope that the noble Lord takes that on board.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is not in his place at the moment. He said that the United Kingdom could never move alone in important matters such as international affairs and security matters. I am sure that he is right. It was his reaction to that constraint that piqued me, when he said that he immediately thought of turning to his neighbours. That is not my first reaction—I would turn to my friends, who are not necessarily my neighbours, with the exception of our great friends the Irish, who share these British Isles with us. I was very impressed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, today. I do not think that the best friends of this country are our closest neighbours; not by one little bit do I think that. I know that there are some ex-Foreign Office types who think somewhat differently from me; I do not mind. I shall say it again: I do not think that our closest friends are our closest neighbours. Now I have got that off my chest.
There is just one other serious thing that I want to say, about Iran. I suspect that your Lordships do not fully appreciate how dangerous the situation is with respect to Iran and the United States at the moment. I was fortunate enough to be at an international conference a couple of weekends ago, where an American who had very close ties to, and was at one remove part of, the current American Administration described current American attitudes to Iran. They are very, very close to taking a decision to attack to Iran if it acquires nuclear weapons. If I am correctly informed, all eight of the leading presidential candidates of the two political parties have said that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is unacceptable. That language is unambiguous. I think that we all know what the current attitude of the present American Administration is.
I personally see no chance whatever of sanctions inducing the Iranians to come off their current course. I make no predictions as to the behaviour of Mr Ahmadinejad and I say nothing about how much influence he has in the Iranian Government, as there are others far better informed on that subject than I am. But if we—or the Americans, because I think that they would do it alone or with help from very few others—were to attack the Iranians, the consequences would in my view be absolutely catastrophic.
As your Lordships will know, I am not one who shrinks from supporting the use of force in circumstances in which I consider it appropriate, but this is a set of circumstances in which the consequences for all of us could be appalling. The Iranians clearly have the capability to close the Straits of Hormuz. I do not mind how many carrier battle groups the Americans like to put in the Persian Gulf, if the Iranians were determined to close them there is nothing that they could do to keep the Straits of Hormuz open without a land invasion of Iran—and just think about that.
I have taken too much of your Lordships’ time, and I apologise, but I hope very much that Her Majesty's Government will make it absolutely clear at all levels—on the Hill, in the executive branch, to Republicans and Democrats alike—that this country could not support our American friends if they decided to use force as a weapon to deprive the Iranians of nuclear weapons.
My Lords, it is daunting enough to be No. 40 on an evening like this, especially after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, with which so many noble Lords agree. I am sorry if my speech is an anti-climax; I shall have trouble competing with that of the noble Lord.
I should like to talk about the Armed Forces themselves and the welfare of our servicemen because they are the most important single element of our Armed Forces. Failure to recognise this would have a seriously detrimental effect on recruiting, retention and operations in support of much of our foreign policy. I am concerned about the effects of the present conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, indeed, any future conflicts, on our soldiers and their families in years to come when many of them may no longer be serving. However, the effect will still be there in the community.
I must declare several interests. I am honorary colonel of the Second Battalion of the Royal Irish, which were the Rangers, who are going to Afghanistan next year. I am president of the Army Benevolent Fund in Northern Ireland. This is all relevant to what I am going to say. I am president of the Ulster Defence Regiment Association and I am on the board of a brand new UDR and Royal Irish Regiment aftercare service, more of which later.
I shall not address the issues of battlefield casualties as they are already in medical care, except to join others in expressing sympathy to all those who have suffered and to their families. I am interested today in those who may seem unaffected in the short term but who in years to come may show symptoms and have problems which inevitably affect those most dear and closest to them. This is not a guesswork prediction but a certainty and will be a greater problem than we all expect.
Due to our experiences in Northern Ireland during the last 37 years—I accept that the conflicts are different—the military and the police are at the forefront of coming to terms with these problems. This is all well researched, in particular in a paper written by an HQNI command psychiatrist, Commander Ronald McKinnon, who was later a consultant on combat stress. The paper concerns the effects of cumulative stress, which is quoted by many experts today as “corporate suffering”. It is important to note that the corporate element here is the complete family circle of the service personnel. A measure of this is that we have had 62,000 people serving in our home service forces in Northern Ireland and we now have almost 6,000 live cases of many descriptions needing welfare support. Although the peace is only recent, this occurred some time after the major conflict.
The police in Northern Ireland were the first to tackle this issue. Under the Patten review they set up the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust in 1999. A point to note is that this is funded by the Government—outside the police budget—at £2.2 million per annum. The Government are also providing £2 million a year to the Northern Ireland Police Fund to alleviate suffering.
This year the UDR and Royal Irish aftercare service has been put in place based largely on the PRRT with a psychological, neurological and physiotherapy support centre planned to be co-located with the police facility. The cost of this package is approximately £2 million a year, to be reviewed after five years. I shall not go into all the details of it here and now; I just wish to establish the principle of the support that we should be demanding for our service community throughout the Armed Forces. The mission statement of our aftercare service is fairly simple—to provide and facilitate appropriate welfare, vocational, medical and benevolent support to ex-members of the UDR and Royal Irish Regiment (Home Service) and their families in order to reduce suffering. A service such as this should be available to all British service personnel.
Some have said that Northern Ireland is lucky and is a special case. I say that the provision of this service restricted to one regiment is not lucky, exceptionally earned or anything else. It is fair and justified, and it is only fair and justified to provide it to our entire service community in future. Some people—some are members of organisations to whom I have talked recently—say, “But we have regimental associations, the Army Benevolent Fund, the Royal British Legion, Combat Stress, et cetera”. First, we have all those in Northern Ireland. Secondly, we have a valuable UDR and Royal Irish Regiment benevolent fund that yearly disburses £700,000 in addition for deserving cases. We still need the aftercare service on top of all that. The Government often rely on charities to carry out functions that the public purse should fund, and they should look at that. They always welcome such charities as Help for Heroes, of which I am becoming a patron. It is a good charity, but no wonder people welcome it when it does the job that they should do.
You are often asked what the differences are in justification today compared to previous times and conflicts, such as World War 2, Malaya and Korea, let alone World War 1. Here are a few. National standards of social care and responsibility have dramatically developed since those times; we must remember that. We had conscript forces, so the whole nation was involved in everything. The whole nation is not as involved as it should be now. Families are the support that enables people to volunteer to serve; do not let us forget that they are heroes too, remaining quietly at home and suffering often in silence. Regiments are becoming more stationary, so people live more in the community and rely less on service providers and get their medical, spiritual and shopping needs from outside. Therefore they become more independent and less in communication. They will form circles of friends outside. Everything that they do will make them a little more remote, and the day they leave we will have trouble following them. When the serviceperson leaves it will only exacerbate the situation.
Today, we have small, professional Armed Forces and must treat them in a thoroughly professional and responsible way. Let us look briefly at the situation on the ground. The other day, newspapers showed that questionnaires were being offered to those close to bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why only those? That is not as revolutionary as you might think; we gave questionnaires to several thousand people who left the Royal Irish in the last year. They were evaluated, and we can now target those who may need assistance. Where is that for the rest of the Army and the forces?
A few days ago, an article in the Daily Mail started off by talking about the private suffering and anguish of families, saying that 32 per cent of families had noticed a negative change in family members coming back. That is only the start. I do not want to be depressing, but the real symptoms of stress other than the immediate ones appear seven to 12 years down the line. Units, regimental associations and other groups cannot cope in the longer term, especially after personnel have left the service. Apart from anything else, most people are not members of the associations. Many ex-soldiers are too proud to come forward for help through traditional lines, and our aftercare service is an outreach service with visits. One of its performance indicators is that it visits every family bereaved since 1970 two or three times a year. That does not happen in the remainder of the UK.
In the modern day, we need to establish a service that supplies support to the client base—people as they come into the services, while they serve, while they are leaving, and in their future life. That should be a seamless journey, not one punctuated by moving from one isolated silo to another with little or no communication in between. It must be a joined-up, holistic process and not be approached piecemeal. In Northern Ireland, the establishment of the aftercare service was only as a result of extreme pressure on the Government. Estimations of need for such a service must be made, and funds must be properly given. Therefore, it is up to us in Parliament as a whole to insist on and demand a comprehensive service and support for our service personnel and their families in future, or we will not have a service or a foreign policy.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, to her new ministerial office. She hails, as I do, from the north-west. I think that I am right in saying that Bolton, from where she hails originally, is twinned with Le Mans. Perhaps it is fitting that she takes over the driving seat from the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. I have to say that the handover was speedy and somewhat unexpected. Indeed, there may be a stewards’ inquiry, but we on these Benches wish the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, well in his motor racing career—or whatever career he wishes to pursue in the future. He was generous to me in my early days in this role.
This is my first wind-up speech in a Queen’s Speech debate, but 26 years ago, thanks to the invitation from the then Patronage Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, I was honoured to second the Queen’s Speech in the other place—which is a great privilege for a young Back-Bencher. I suspect that it is unlikely that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will follow me in my political journey, although I notice that he has a tendency to sit very close to these Benches.
Today, our world is neither equal nor safe. My noble friend Lord Wallace talked of these Benches being instinctively internationalist. I am proud that three of my noble friends, Lady Northover and Lords Avebury and Jones, raised humanitarian issues of poverty, AIDS and water in Africa. They were joined in that by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Crisp.
Last week, we observed the excesses of an opulent entourage. I contrast that with the alleyways of Gaza and the miserable and impoverished lives of many Palestinians there. Their conditions were referred to earlier by my noble friend Lady Williams, the noble Baronesses, Lady Ramsey and Lady Symons, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Let us hope that real progress is made at Annapolis. Failure to find a permanent peaceful solution in the Middle East lies at the heart of much mistrust, bitterness and terrorism that we experience today.
If the United States had been more sensitive and even-handed in the Middle East, things might have been very different. America, as the superpower, has done much good in the world, but it has made many mistakes—Vietnam, the Middle East, backing many unpleasant right-wing regimes in South America and, more recently, its policy in Iraq. Thankfully, things seem marginally to be improving there.
We now face a very dangerous situation in Iran, which was referred to a few minutes ago by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. We all pray that a peaceful solution will be achieved. The United States had an opportunity for dialogue some years ago, but spurned it. Iran is pursuing not only nuclear ambitions, but appears to be quartermaster to a wide range of insurgent activity. But we must remember that President Ahmadinejad and the mullahs do not represent all Iranians in a complex Islamic state. There is a significant reformist movement in Iran. More than 100 publications have been closed since 1997. Recently, 170 journalists released an open letter to the managing directors of newspapers, urging them to maintain professional ethics and to resist the regime’s pressures and illegal demands in news coverage. It is vital that we in the West talk and communicate with a wider Iran, parallel to more formal discussions with its Government. It is particularly good news that the BBC has obtained funding for a Farsi TV channel, which should be operational next year. The necessary staff are being trained. I only wish that this had been up and running somewhat earlier. I hope that President Bush consults a wider range of advisers on the Iranian issue than he normally does and looks for advice outside his usual inner circle of neo-cons and the Almighty.
On Afghanistan, there is cross-party consensus that the deployment is in Britain's security interests and is a tough but necessary mission. Everyone agrees that our forces are doing a magnificent job given their numbers and circumstances. Clearly there are insufficient troops for operations in such a vast country. With some honourable exceptions, too many countries have failed to deliver and too many have caveats about what they will do and where they will go. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, referred to 37 countries. Numerically that is correct, but one would wish that they were all pulling together and contributing in equal numbers. Similarly, if the ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, of NATO and Europe coming together were to be achieved, that would be extremely helpful. It is intolerable for our troops to take positions after fierce fighting only to know that, with too few troops to hold them, they are likely to have to retake them again in the future. I welcome the improvement in equipment, but as the Defence Select Committee said in its 7 July report, the United Kingdom helicopter operations in Afghanistan are not sustainable at present intensity.
My noble friend Lord Ashdown recently pointed out in an article that we are putting one twenty-fifth of the troop numbers and one fiftieth of the amount of aid per head of population into Afghanistan than we put into Bosnia and Kosovo. The state of emergency and the crisis in Pakistan, referred to by a number of noble Lords, is extremely worrying. It makes the anti-Taliban operations in the border and tribal areas of that country much more difficult and uncertain. It is quite clear that, at present, we have no clear policy on how to tackle opium production. If the Minister can contradict that I would be very grateful. When we debated the subject a fortnight ago the policy was not clear to me. I also ask the Minister where the Government stand on the appointment of a high-profile individual to co-ordinate the international effort, called for repeatedly, not least by the Defence Select Committee and many others.
Many Members of your Lordships’ House have talked on Europe. My noble friend Lord Wallace set out our position. On these Benches we have been consistently the most pro-European party. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, talked of the Official Opposition as having been “very good Europeans”. He did smile slightly. That is not the vision that I recognised in the mid to late-1990s when Conservative anti-European attitudes were one of the prime reasons for me bidding them farewell. I have always favoured the approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, with his progressive European policy.
I want to focus my later remarks on the overstretch of our forces. Currently, we cannot go on as we are. The nation has to match commitments to resources. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, said in July:
“The sustained operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan test our ability to maintain this level of operations over a period and I accept that this is beyond the planning assumptions”.—[Official Report, 25/7/07; col. 845.]
The think tank Demos reported extensively in this Monday’s media that the Armed Forces are “running on empty”. They need,
“a sustained period of time—perhaps a decade—to recover from the intensity of operations undertaken since 2000”.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, has warned of painful spending decisions. The reality must be appreciated across the political divide: it is that we have reduced our defence expenditure—which is now just over 2.4 per cent of GDP—and our Armed Forces just too far. About 70 countries now spend a greater proportion of their GDP on defence than we do. The policy was started by the previous Government and was continued by the present one, but it cannot go on. I recall that when I was a defence Minister more than 20 years ago, I spent hours trying to defend the size of the Navy against opposition and many Conservative MPs, and deciding whether we should say that the running fleet was “approximately 50” or “broadly 50” or “about 50”. We searched for a form of words to put the best interpretation on the situation, and I am sad to say that there has been a steady decline since then.
Let us look at some examples of overstretch. The majority of United Kingdom troops do not currently benefit from the Army standard two-year tour interval between each six-month tour. In 2006-07, 10 per cent of training events were cancelled, some on the grounds of cost. The number of helicopters is virtually the same as it was in 1997, and many helicopter crews are below strength. A number of people have suggested to me that had helicopters been under the control of the Army rather than the Royal Air Force—I am ignoring naval helicopters in this—they would have been given far greater priority. There is currently great concern about the safety of our Nimrod fleet, and a number of articles have been written about it. It is flying well beyond the original expectations. We have only 15 per cent of the Harrier GR7 flying instructors we need, 20 per cent of the radiologists, less than 50 per cent of the surgeons and 65 per cent of the nurses. There is widespread speculation that the MoD is facing a shortfall of £1 billion over the next three years. There has been a 1.5 per cent rise in the budget, but equipment and manpower costs are increasing at a much higher rate.
The former Secretary of State for Defence, the noble Lord, Lord King, passionately questioned the commitment of this Government to defence, and he was right. There are rumours of RAF cuts—a quarter of its front-line bomber force and the closure of two bases—and of naval cuts—all four Type 22 frigates and one destroyer. It was interesting that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, questioned the need for the two new carriers. I muse about whether the go-ahead for the carriers would have been given had the Prime Minister not represented a constituency fairly close to Rosyth. Now there are suggestions that within the overall defence budget there should be adjustments and reallocation with equipment amounting to about 40 per cent of the budget.
Demos, the think tank I referred to earlier, suggests diverting expenditure on high-tech equipment from antisubmarine warfare and high-level interceptors to the forces themselves. My noble friend Lord Addington in his excellent, passionate speech spoke of the military covenant and our need to do so much more for our Armed Forces. He was supported equally forcefully by the noble Lords, Lord Lyell and Lord Rogan, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough.
I have a specific question for the Minister about US missile defences, which were referred to by my noble friend Lady Williams. Was the United Kingdom consulted before negotiations on placing US missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic started? I would be grateful for a specific answer to that question.
By all means let us have another defence review, but we must always be ready to deal with the unexpected. In this dangerous and uncertain world, our international responsibilities are unlikely to diminish. We cannot ignore the threats that international terrorism and, possibly, Iran pose, nor can we ignore the significant increases in Chinese and Russian defence expenditure.
In a changing world, we have to recognise that the role of our Armed Forces also has to change. There are increasing peacekeeping, humanitarian and rescue roles. Perhaps we should consider broadening the title of Ministry of Defence, maybe to something like Ministry of Defence and Rescue, or Ministry of Defence and Humanitarian Relief, or Ministry of Defence and Peacekeeping. Similarly, we should look at how we in the Palace of Westminster acknowledge and recognise the achievements and bravery of our service personnel. Perhaps we should consider an annual Armed Forces day at Westminster where both Houses debate defence policy and MPs and Peers host representatives of the units which have returned from conflict and operations overseas. It is time for greater resource and greater recognition for those who defend us.
My Lords, the House has been treated to some outstanding speeches today. My noble friend Lord Howell has, in a characteristically well thought-out speech, covered important aspects of foreign, Commonwealth and European affairs and international development. I shall focus my remarks primarily on defence matters, but first I must pick up on one of a number of inaccurate comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. My party has absolutely no plans for this country to leave the European Union.
I, too, welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton. She comes to this position with a distinguished background and a real understanding of intelligence and security. I look forward to working constructively with her.
The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will be a very hard act to follow. He brought a fresh and commercial perspective to defence procurement. He will be remembered for the defence industrial strategy and for reforming various aspects of defence acquisition. He was responsible for the speedy introduction to operations of some vital equipment, and his departure will be received with dismay by the British defence industry. Like other speakers, including the Minister, I was somewhat surprised at the noble Lord’s abrupt departure, as I was told last night that he would definitely be opening this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked, are we really to believe that the noble Lord woke up this morning with a sudden overwhelming desire to go motor racing in America? I know that the noble Lord was embarrassed by the Prime Minister’s ill considered and unilateral decision to scrap DESO without consulting him. Having said that, I wish the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, well in his new career in the motor sport world. Can the Minister confirm that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, will also be the Procurement Minister? Our Armed Forces deserve clarification on that point.
As the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said, I know how much the whole House feels the loss of Lord Garden from this debate. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, as the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman.
The debate has given us the opportunity to join in paying tribute to our Armed Forces, which we as a nation have sent to engage on our behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our expression of support and appreciation for members of our Armed Forces, for their courage and their professionalism as they put their lives at risk in this way, is, I believe, absolute and unqualified throughout the House. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, rightly said that our Armed Forces continue to be a source of national pride. Sunday is Remembrance Day. We will remember, among many others, those who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should also remember those who have been injured, some very severely, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, pointed out. I also pay tribute to our reserves and their employers. The reserves have had their fair share of operations and I am proud to declare an interest as honorary colonel for the TA regiment.
We on these Benches are disappointed that the Government have dropped the coroners Bill from this parliamentary Session. The Government pledged in May 2006 to deal with outstanding inquests but, despite those promises, we now have the highest backlog ever. Will the Minister assure us that that will be dealt with swiftly to remove that unacceptable burden on forces’ families?
My noble friend Lord Selsdon mentioned the verdict of the coroner today in the case of Fusilier Gentle. I trust that the Government and the MoD will take on board the coroner’s comments and rectify any failings of the past. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm—if necessary, by letter—that the specific recommendations of Fusilier Gentle’s board of inquiry have been acted on.
Many issues have been raised today, and time does not allow me to refer to every speaker. A number of speakers mentioned Iraq, and assurances were sought on the protection of our Armed Forces. As the hour is late, I shall save my questions on Iraq for the defence debate later this month. However, in a very eloquent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, pointed out the seriousness of an attack on Iran.
On Afghanistan, several noble Lords commented on the lack of military support by other NATO members, which is undermining NATO. Our allies are not accepting their responsibilities. Twenty-three per cent of the British Army is committed to operations generally and 21 per cent of the American army is committed to operations generally, but the figure is only 5 per cent among other NATO members. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, mentioned NATO members’ different rules of engagement and caveats. Concern was expressed over civilian casualties, especially from American bombing and increasingly sophisticated IEDs. That is very worrying, as the Taliban is now apparently using $10 million of South Korean ransom to buy sophisticated weapons from Iran.
My noble friend Lord Lyell mentioned the All-Party House of Lords Defence Group; I compliment him on the hard work that he does as its secretary. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lords, Lord Ahmed and Lord Thomas of Gresford, drew the House’s attention to the perilous situation in Pakistan. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, made some very interesting observations about the Gulf region and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke on Burma and Sudan. My noble friend Lord Jopling was rightly concerned at the lack of co-operation between NATO and the EU. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon mentioned the revival of Russia. The re-emergence of its armed forces is an area that we will need to keep our eyes on in future. My noble and learned friend also gave us a fascinating insight into discussions with the Chinese over Hong Kong before 1997. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester spoke emotionally about the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the Armed Forces, the Minister painted a very rosy picture. However, as my noble friend Lord King pointed out, there is a real crisis of morale among our troops. The pressure on them is greater than at any other time. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, pointed out graphically the real problems caused by overstretch and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, spoke of the large number of service personnel needing welfare support.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, was concerned that the CSR settlement will not be enough and that something will have to be delayed or abandoned. He questioned the wisdom of going ahead with two aircraft carriers. We on these Benches support the carrier project. We believe that they will project our power and influence in the world for many years to come, but will they go ahead? There are concerns that the money to pay for short-term fixes will have to come from the equipment programme. The noble and gallant Lord is right to say that there are likely to be cuts. Cost reduction exercises are going on at the moment within the MoD. I understand that the Future Lynx programme is at risk of being cancelled. Will the Minister comment on this? What about FRES?
There is similar concern that the defence budget will not allow all the proposed naval programmes to be fulfilled to the level that service chiefs would like and that more frigates or destroyers will have to be mothballed. Having committed themselves to the carriers, can the Government give assurances about T45 destroyer numbers? The Government have pledged six; the Royal Navy wants eight. Will the Government comment on the numbers of Astute submarines and on progress on the MARS programme? This is essential if the Government’s expeditionary strategy is to be credible and if carrier-deployed special operations are to be possible in the future.
On Army equipment, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, mentioned the Mastiff, which has been very successful on operations. Will the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, give an assurance, if necessary by letter, that the suspension problems have now been sorted out? On the Royal Air Force, I was pleased to see that Typhoon has recently begun trials with heavy weapon loads. There have been safety concerns about Hercules and Nimrod, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, mentioned. We will return to this important issue in the defence debate later this month.
We welcome the Government’s current consultation proposals on limiting executive powers on war and treaties, and look forward to working with them on this vital issue. Will the Minister say when we are likely to see a draft Bill? Yesterday, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, we learnt that there will be a 30 per cent increase in PAX life assurance premiums. Fifty-eight thousand members of the Armed Forces have taken out insurance with PAX. In light of the real concern about this issue in the Armed Forces, I should be grateful if the Minister could say something about it in his winding-up speech.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, mentioned the military covenant, which is being cynically broken again and again by a Government who will wars but refuse to accept responsibility for their consequences, whether political, moral or financial.
The troops need something just as important: respect. The public, and worse the Government, all too often fail to understand or appreciate the sacrifices that our service men and women are making. Take the case of the Secretary of State for Defence and for Scotland, an appointment that was described by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, as most disgraceful. If the Secretary of State cannot devote his entire attention to working on his troops’ behalf, how can he expect them to give him their loyalty? No Prime Minister who truly understood and respected our Armed Forces would have reduced the great office of Secretary of State for Defence to a part-time job. As Chancellor, the Prime Minister showed himself to be indifferent to the needs of our Armed Forces. However, we read in the Daily Telegraph that he admires courage and the exploits of military heroes of the past, so I hope that he will now have the courage to ensure that the military heroes of today and their families are properly looked after in return for their sacrifices in the line of duty.
My Lords, this has indeed been a very rich debate. I had been warned that responding for the first time to the gracious Speech was an experience, the like of which one would not see again. I expected to have to answer questions on many subjects; I must say that I had not expected motor racing to feature as prominently in this debate as it has. I will return to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, about China later. As he said that he had first been to that country in 1978, let me remind him of how Chinese banquets were in those days. There were endless courses one after the other—each exquisite, many rather hot and spicy—which reminds me of the debate this evening; when you aggregate all the courses, it is rather long. With that in mind, I will try not to detain your Lordships for too long.
I begin by joining those of you who have welcomed my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton back to the Front Benches, but now in this House. On her behalf, I thank all noble Lords who said such kind things about her this evening, and I assure you that we will pass on to my noble friend Lord Drayson the many kind remarks that were made about him. I reassure noble Lords that, as is clear from the exchange of letters between my noble friend and the Prime Minister, there is every hope that he will return at a later date to the Front Benches; perhaps as Minister for Sport given his new skills. I assure those who see a conspiracy in the timing of his departure that only at the end of October did it become clear that this gentle Peer during the week was such a ruthless driver at the weekends that he succeeded in the UK GT series and therefore qualified for the Le Mans series in America starting next year.
I now turn to pick up the theme begun by the noble Lord, Lord Howell—that foreign policy is in many ways now global policy. In addition to our old bilateral agenda we now have to deal with so many issues to which old solutions are not easily applied—problems such as climate change or migration. Equally, there is a sense in which not only must we find new alliances and new ways of doing business abroad in the area of foreign policy, but even here at home the old distinctions between defence policy, foreign policy and development policy have broken down. We are now very much joined up. Issues such as terrorism and failed states, migration and many others are no longer amenable to old single-department solutions. Both abroad and at home, we work within a much more complex web of relations.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, defied anyone in the Chamber tonight to think of an international issue on which we would benefit from acting alone. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, talked about how foreign policy had metamorphosed into a network of states rather than the old bilateral approaches. We all recognise that we are dealing with a more complex world. One point made in that context was not to overlook one of the easiest and already formed networks—the Commonwealth. I completely endorse that point of view. It was pointed out that Prince Charles would join his parents in Uganda for the CHOGM meeting. I assure noble Lords that there will also be a strong delegation of Ministers. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other members of the Government will be attending—in fact there will be quite a crowd.
That recognises what a powerful network the Commonwealth is, although, as others have said, we must recognise that it does not agree on all issues. We will see its ability to apply the principles of good governance under test as we deal with issues such as Pakistan, to which I will return later. We all note the irony that the good governance principles of the Commonwealth are named after the city in which they were adopted and are known as the Harare principles.
Europe has formed a large part of today’s discussion. At times, I have felt some sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Howell. His situation has been more akin to that of a Minister in that his Back Benchers and those formidable former mandarins of the Foreign Office have attacked his position. I am almost willing to cede my right of reply to the man who has most to reply to tonight, if he would like to avail himself of that. Because we will have much time to discuss this European treaty in the coming weeks and months in this Chamber, I shall deal with certain issues that were raised, but I ask noble Lords to forgive me if I leave time for the rest of the important matters raised.
I should very much like to pick up on a phrase used by one of the noble Lord’s prominent critics who described this as an entirely sensible treaty. I shall respond also to those who said that perhaps the Government side are guilty of always being defensive and stressing the red lines. Perhaps I will be the first Minister to speak in some time on this treaty who feels that because of the way the debate went today I do not need to repeat the red lines. I am challenged instead to say something more unqualifiedly positive about the European Union. As we move on to look at other issues, such as Myanmar, Kosovo, Iran or Africa, let me respond to that challenge by saying that in none of them does British strategy not rest heavily on our European partnership. It is through our alliances with our fellow European Union members that we can put together the muscle and put a big enough chip on the table to be able to play in the front row and secure change, whether it is the adoption of sanctions against Burma, a combined approach on Kosovo or pressing Europe to support us in strong sanctions against Iran. In each case it is not Britain alone which punches sufficiently heavily on these issues: it is Britain with its European partners, through the mechanism of the European Union, that allows us to be a strong and effective voice on so many foreign policy issues.
On several more detailed and very specific foreign policy points relating to the treaty, I offer a couple of observations. I confirm again that there is no possibility under this treaty of Britain’s Security Council seat becoming a European Union seat. The UK welcomes the external service of the European Union—those working in this new service will work in close partnership with Britain and the other national diplomatic services of the member states, and it is an important supplement—as we do the regularisation of the position of the High Representative and the presidency to create a greater consistency of leadership in these top positions.
I was asked specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, about the passerelle votes. I quote from the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place:
“Members of Parliament would have a vote directly on the issue of whether or not to implement any of the passerelles”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/07; col. 25.]
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, raised the relationship between the European Union and NATO. We hope, through practical co-operation on the ground in places such as Afghanistan and Kosovo where we have adopted the comprehensive approach, to secure the kind of operational co-ordination which has been famously impossible across Brussels but hopefully in the field can lead to improvement. We should also be looking to see what President Sarkozy said today in Washington as an important contribution to improving those inter-Brussels relations.
Moving out from the core institutional issues of the European Union, I turn to the next circle of problems, within which my noble friend Lord Anderson raised the issue of Kosovo. I want to confirm his concern that while it is possible in conceptual diplomatic terms to see how we can bridge the differences between the two sides, it is the case that we are approaching a very important deadline on 10 December, and while Ambassador Ischinger has been extraordinarily creative in trying to find ways to reconcile the differences, there is still a lot of hard diplomatic work to be done.
I echo the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, about Iran. I do not want to comment on what the position is in Washington, but instead to say that the best protection against the situation in Iran and that between Iran and the United States spiralling out of control is an effective sanctions regime which satisfies the United States and others that diplomacy and sanctions comprise a viable way forward. Therefore it is enormously important that the agreement reached on 28 September in New York by the EU-3 plus Three is followed up in the event that both Mr El Baradei of the IAEA and Javier Solana are unable to report back positive outcomes from their discussions this month. If, as is likely, that proves to be the case, it is important that we return to the negotiation of a sanctions resolution in New York with not only the support of all of Europe, but also that of Russia and China. Without that, obviously the diplomatic effort risks becoming stranded, which could have dangerous consequences. But let me again confirm, as I have already said in this House, that for the British Government, credible sanctions is our way forward and our efforts are 100 per cent behind finding a diplomatic rather than a military solution to this issue.
I turn now to the Middle East. All of us wish to see the Annapolis meeting succeed. We recognise that it will be the beginning and not the completion of a process, but the fact that there is again a possibility of serious negotiations is one that the House would welcome. I share all the concerns that have been expressed about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. This is something of huge concern to us. I was asked about the DfID commitment. DfID has made an extra £1 million available to the ICRC for Gaza, and contributed £15.6 million to UNRWA. Also, through the temporary international mechanism, it has contributed to the running costs and the provision of services through the Palestinian Authority. Since 2002, some £310 million has been put through that mechanism by Europe as a whole, of which more than £15 million has come from DfID. So we stand second to no one in our concern to address the horrific humanitarian consequences of what is happening.
I was asked whether we have protested about the threat to energy supplies to Gaza. A joint statement was made on 30 October by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development making just that protest. It was combined with a diplomatic démarche in Tel Aviv the previous day. We have also made clear our concern about the closings of the crossings and other actions which have had the effect of throttling the economy of Gaza.
We continue to believe that Hamas must accept the quartet principles if it is to return as a political partner to the negotiations. We encourage it to do so because we recognise that, ultimately, there must be a political solution that includes everyone going forward. Hamas has ruled itself out of the political discussion at this time by its refusal to accept those quartet principles.
Turning to Iraq, my noble friend Lady Symons asked how we were going to cover the gap when, as she put it, $3 billion a month of American security is replaced by a much less expensive Iraqi security. There is only a two-word answer to that—“political reconciliation” inside Iraq. It is critical that the strategy going forward is not just a substitution of Iraqi security forces for coalition forces, important as that is. One should note the success of that strategy in Basra, but it has to be combined with a political process that settles the underlying roots of the conflict; we need to continue to press on both fronts.
Turning now to the men and women of our Armed Forces, I suspect that I shall not be able to answer all the issues that have been raised today. I know that my noble friend will wish to come back on a number of questions in writing after the debate. Let me say immediately that there is no one on our Front Benches in either House who would not both resist and be dismayed by the idea that the covenant between government and soldiers, between this country and those who serve us in our Armed Forces, is broken. We would resist that claim and would do everything that we could to make sure that it never happened.
In that sense, we recognise that there are issues of troop protection that we must continue to address. The tragic death of Fusilier Gentle is a notable example of a case in which both the coroner and the MoD’s own inquiry have confirmed that there were indeed mistakes in the logistical chain that meant that the vehicle was not equipped with the kind of devices that might have saved the fusilier’s life. We have expressed our deep regret to his widow. There were 12 recommendations; all have been accepted by the MoD and will therefore be implemented.
On a recent trip to Afghanistan and Helmand I was able to visit Camp Bastion and I saw the Mastiffs. These are new armoured vehicles that are being manufactured very rapidly and deployed as quickly as possible. At the time I visited some weeks ago, they formed a new part of the camp called the “Mastiff Camp”. Not being familiar with the term, I was not quite sure what I was going to see, and I was a little surprised when it was armoured vehicles and not Rottweilers. The soldiers were extremely proud of the new vehicles and pleased to have them there. They were very much a talking point in the discussions, and we obviously have to get more into theatre as quickly as possible.
I also visited the hospital, where a team of Territorial Army doctors who routinely worked in the NHS in York had just arrived. They demonstrated to me the extraordinary progress in battlefield medicine that has occurred. Of course, as a consequence, this has created a whole new category of patients—the severely wounded who nevertheless live. There are major issues of long-term care for these patients that we have to address because the system—I saw the same in the United States—has not yet fully come to terms with them.
One element of that is the issue of insurance, which has been raised. There is, as noble Lords will know, a basic insurance plan with basic coverage provided for injured soldiers, but soldiers and officers can take out supplementary insurance and it is correct that many of them do. It is also correct, because of the rising cost of injuries, that the firm that underwrites the scheme, AIG, has requested a premium increase, which is currently under negotiation. However, there has been some misrepresentation of the level of benefit from the private insurance and how it relates to the guaranteed arrangements provided by the ministry, which consist not just of a lump sum but of a payment—a pension—for life. While soldiers understandably wish to supplement that, one should look at the total compensation available to someone who is long-term injured but lives for the full course of their life. They will receive amounts of money that could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, as they properly deserve to if they have lost their means of livelihood.
I have already breached my own intention, which was to ensure that Africa, which, as many noted, did not get its own independent reference in the Queen’s—
My Lords, before the Minister leaves military topics, as today’s debate has been somewhat overshadowed by the quite unprecedented and abrupt absence of the Minister who was, until this morning, due to open the debate for the Government; and because there has been no explanation whatsoever yet from the Government of the decision to close down in the Ministry of Defence the DESO, which is much respected around the world—an announcement that has given great encouragement to the French defence industry, to the United States and to other nations that support their defence industries—will he for the first time give a clear explanation of that decision?
My Lords, I will certainly answer the noble Lord. Whether it will meet his standard of clarity, he will have to judge. Given that the British Government are involved in export promotion across many sectors, not just the defence sector, there was a feeling that it would be a better alignment to relocate it with the successor ministry to the Department of Trade and Industry, BERR, than to keep it where it was. The plans are now to be developed during the remainder of this year for implementation next year, and I have no doubt that there will be an opportunity for further consultation on the exact arrangements going forward.
In answer to a question that I was asked earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, has inherited the same responsibilities at the MoD as the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, had. She has exactly the same title—Minister for Defence Equipment and Support—and therefore the same responsibilities.
I should also note that, when I expressed condolences to Mrs Gentle, I should have made it clear that she is not the fusilier’s widow but his mother.
Perhaps noble Lords will indulge me for just a couple more minutes so I can say a word on Africa and Afghanistan. With regard to development in Afghanistan, which was raised by several noble Lords, I confirm that DfID considers us to be off-track for the achievement of all the MDGs in Afghanistan by 2015. However, the country remains the fifth poorest in the world. There is a huge development challenge ahead of us. Despite the remarkable achievements in school enrolment and other successes that have been mentioned, none of us should underestimate the fact that, in addition to the problems of insurgency and opium production that it faces, Afghanistan is a very poor country. We have discussed opium production, and we will do so many times more. I cannot do it justice tonight, but I expect noble Lords to challenge me on it all the way as we go forward.
The Foreign Secretary made a Statement on Pakistan in another place today. We have laid out clear conditions that we expect General Musharraf to meet: that he restores certainty that elections will take place in January, that he removes his uniform by 15 November, that he allows a free media again to operate, and that all political prisoners, including lawyers, are released. We hope that that will be the basis of a discussion in CMAG, the core group that will meet on Monday, and of conditions laid down by the whole Commonwealth to Pakistan. Pakistan’s compliance will undoubtedly be a matter for discussion when we meet in Uganda. We will continue to press on that issue.
It is six weeks since the demonstrations in Burma. There is a danger that they are already slipping from the front pages. It is incumbent on all of us in this House to make sure that we keep up public pressure on this issue, because the ability to say, “This problem is not going away; it is not going to slip again out of public sight”, is critical to securing Asian co-operation.
I cannot do justice to Africa, but I challenge the argument that we have somehow forgotten it. Prominent reference to the MDGs and poverty reduction was made in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister has declared an MDG emergency. Dramatic increases in aid volume were in the new CSR. We are on track to achieve by 2013 a level of 0.7 per cent of British GDP for foreign aid. We are again the world’s second-largest bilateral donor. All those are indicators that we remain deeply committed to both poverty reduction and conflict resolution in Africa. I fear that there is not the time to discuss the situations in northern Uganda, the DRC or Sudan, all of which were raised. I shall communicate in writing with all those who raised them. That we do not have time tonight to discuss those issues is not for want of respect for them, but rather a comment on just how large was the Chinese banquet that your Lordships fed me.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Darzi of Denham, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 10.53 pm and debate adjourned accordingly until Thursday 8 November.