Debate (2nd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, I am very honoured to open the batting after that Twenty20 on a rather sticky wicket.
We are indeed in very difficult if not dark days, both economically, as the gracious Speech recognised, and strategically, which is rather glossed over. In both areas, errors—some grievous—have been made, which makes progress from the position that we now find ourselves in that much more difficult.
In the economic field, the consequences of the errors and omissions were in some cases predictable. In the strategic field, the consequences and fallout from some of the military actions embarked on should have been wholly predictable to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history and the lessons of the past. As a result of mistakes as to the best way, or at least better ways, of anticipating, containing and progressively countering and eliminating the threat of terrorism, which had been elevated into the highest strategic profile and priority by the 9/11 outrage, we now find our Armed Forces employed in hazardous and costly operations, both in lives and money, without over a sustained period having the manpower, resources—sometimes the equipment; generally they are now very well equipped—and indeed the strategic machinery, if I may put it that way, to deal with these situations as effectively and comprehensively as they demand, and then only with great and continuing stress and stretch to our Armed Forces as a whole. This is despite the estimable leadership, courage, dedication and motivation shown by individual service men and women, which reflect credit on our commanders and the services’ traditional esprit de corps. Heroic efforts have indeed been made but, as yet, there has been too little to show for them in changing hearts and attitudes in the areas concerned.
I am not suggesting a withdrawal from Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. These are early days and persistence sometimes brings benefit in wearing down opposition, as it has in other areas. Moreover, politics apart, precipitate action would undoubtedly produce a psychological boost to those who oppose us and would probably damage and set back our longer-term interest in the area. However, we need to keep our uncertain strategy under constant review, clarifying and making more joined up, in military and development terms, the present unsatisfactory command arrangements so that the nations involved can all work to the common plan and tempo. Aid can be better directed and delivered, although that is not happening at the moment, and we can go on trying to improve local relations and not set them back, which area bombing often does.
A surge, as apparently advocated by the United States, may seem to improve security in the short term, but such measures are invariably transitory and, with our very meagre resources and current stretch, I hope that we do not follow down that path to any great degree. As the Minister said and as history has shown, more permanent stability can lie only in building up, supporting and paying for local forces, and in developing and delivering constructive and beneficial aid. In tackling terrorism, we should reasonably be in the business of helping friends or potential friends to help themselves but not, I think, essentially in that of imposing an alien political system on those who are perhaps neither ready nor suited to adopt it.
Certainly we must continue to work as closely as possible with Pashtun tribal leaders, and if that involves or provides the opportunity to talk to more moderate and reasonable Taliban, well and good. We must somehow get it across that we are there not to conquer and permanently hold Afghan territory, which will always attract resistance, or to kill Taliban just for its own sake but, with the Afghan army, to enforce a measure of security within which all Afghans can benefit from improved infrastructure and speedily delivered and life-improving aid. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, once so aptly put it:
“Breaking up the Taliban by winning over the moderates is a far better route to success than bombing and body counts”.
The hope is that a more stable and better way of life will lead, beneficially, to Afghanistan playing a more constructive, socially acceptable and helpful role in the wider international field, and that it will improve vital intelligence against al-Qaeda and enable us to keep our casualties down in what may still be a long haul. From the point that we have arrived at, and if we can make the improvements needed, it is the only way forward, well worth the sustained effort, and, for the moment, very much in the national interest.
We have, and indeed we welcome, a new Secretary of State, who would seem to have many qualifications for the job. Apart from his political skills, he is a keen student of, and writer about, military history, which must be an advantage. He appears to be very interested in the assignment and of course he can give these important responsibilities his undivided attention. It will fall to him to act in conjunction with the FCO and those responsible for overseas aid, because this joining-up must start here in Whitehall so that one can get a co-ordinated foreign defence/overseas aid policy. At the moment, it is a bit of a shambles and we need to improve it here, just as we need to improve it on the ground. As has been said, much will depend on the stability and intentions of Pakistan, as well as on the outcome of the presidential election in Kabul. We hope that different attitudes will emanate from Washington which will clarify and improve the strategy and place it on a more regional and partnership basis, which we found essential in the recovery of Kuwait and in handling the various crises in the Balkans.
Very serious consideration has to be given to how we can best support Pakistan in any fight against al-Qaeda, which, after all, provides a formidable threat to its security. This will require diplomatic tact and subtlety of the highest nature if pressure on Pakistan to do more is not to be counterproductive. Only recently, for the first time in decades, local traders have been allowed to cross the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir—a concession that appears to have been initiated from Delhi. Can we not seek to build on this and try, even in these delicate times, to improve Indo-Pakistani relations to the extent that the security situation there becomes less tense and so that Pakistan military units may be deployed on the North-West Frontier Province, where they are so badly needed? It may be clutching at straws but we have to do something to give some relief to Pakistan in its problems—not least of course in its traditional, almost obsessive, fears about India’s intentions in the whole area, and to some extent vice versa. The awful outrage in Mumbai has not helped but in fact only emphasises yet again how countries must pull together. Terrorism is, after all, international and countries must work with mutual support if we are to get on top of this problem.
Finally, the Secretary of State will also have the difficult task of getting the defence vote into proper balance. The realist may well say that in the present economic climate there will be little, if any, more money for defence, either in theory or in practice. That may be so but, if that is the case, an enormous funding gap of billions of pounds—a veritable black hole—will be revealed between the planned and, at the moment, needed requirements and expected financial resources. Of course, what is badly needed is a defence review to try to bring this country’s proper contribution on the world stage, and therefore its commitment, more into line with the resources that it is prepared to provide on a national basis or can guarantee on a pooled basis with allies. However, with a general election, which cannot be far away, that is most unlikely to happen. In the mean time, a closer look will have to be taken at the higher spending capital costs, which we most certainly cannot afford and which, after closer strategic assessment than they have had so far, we may not even need.
I see a dilemma because some of those high-cost capital projects due to be constructed in this country may come into the category of direct government expenditure, designed to blast their way through any recession on a New Deal basis, as well as providing employment in key north-western constituencies. Were they to go ahead on what could be called a priming-of-the-pump basis, irrespective of the strategic urgency and without extra funding for such projects, or at least a decision to delay some of them so far into the future that they do not impinge on the current funding cycle—some noble Lords may think that the successor to Trident could come into that category—it will be impossible to square the circle. If something on those lines is not done, what will happen is what invariably happens when one continues year after year to squeeze a quart into a pint pot that the accessible items—so many items for defence are inaccessible—fall off the bottom. The front line will continue to lack depth, sustainability and the latest equipment. Vital training for role and the equipment to make it possible will prove inadequate. The normal day-to-day functions of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force—the air bridge would come into that category—will suffer. Personnel and support areas, such as housing and comprehensive medical care, which are so essential to the improvement of the covenant will once again suffer and become shaming, as has happened in the past five to 10 years.
Implementation as opposed to intention of the now generally accepted military covenant and the high morale that it engenders will invariably depend on proper funding of the defence programme as a whole. The two cannot be dissociated. The Secretary of State will have much to engage him if the present defence policy and programmes are to break out of the doldrums and the drift that they are in at the moment.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my thanks to Members of the House for their kind and generous welcome. I also thank all the officials and staff for their courtesy and unfailing helpfulness to me and my family, particularly on the day of my introduction.
In the aftermath of the “Blackadder” television series, there are always perils for the bishops of Bath and Wells. I am constantly reminded of the alleged activities of one of my predecessors as a baby eater, as well as doing unmentionable things with a red hot poker. Entering your Lordships’ House has proved no exception, and the greeting from the Doorkeeper on my first day referring to these matters was capped only by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark seeing my five week-old granddaughter arrive and remarking, “The Bishop has brought his own lunch”.
I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in today’s debate on the gracious Speech. Having been a director of one of the church’s mission and development agencies for six years, I am particularly concerned to encourage the Government on matters to do with international development outlined in the Queen’s Speech.
The Jubilee 2000 debt campaign raised to popular awareness the issue of debt in the poorest of the world’s developing countries. This in turn led to Make Poverty History, a campaign that creates awareness of the ongoing issue of poverty, as well as raising the profile of the millennium development goals, a subject on which the Prime Minister addressed the bishops of the Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference.
We live in a world, to quote the words of the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, where:
“We cannot feast while others starve, we cannot be happy while others are sad, we cannot be fully at ease while millions suffer”.
As long as millions of people are in poverty in our world, our whole society is impoverished. The recent view of the world presented by the National Intelligence Council is that 63 per cent of the world’s population is expected to be poor in 2025—fewer people than today—but that the poor will be poorer. That emphasises the urgency of the challenge to meet the millennium development goals.
Prior to the launch of Make Poverty History, I was invited to participate in a small demonstration in the City of London entitled “Bread not Stones”. The idea was that a number of church leaders would take it in turn to ride in a donkey cart through the City, passing out bread, stones and leaflets to passers-by. The cart would be festooned with banners, stating, “Bread not Stones”, reminding people of Jesus of Nazareth’s question, “Would a parent give a child a stone instead of bread?”. On the day, the donkey and cart arrived but, embarrassingly, no banners or posters, no bread or stones and, I am afraid, no other church leaders, except the woman moderator of the United Reformed Church. Accompanied by two mounted City of London police officers we set off looking and feeling like prisoners being taken to the Tower in a tumbrel. After an excruciatingly humiliating half hour we drew into the churchyard that was our final destination. It was filled with church leaders, charity executives, banners, bread and stones. As we exited the cart, some climbed aboard and others surrounded it smiling at the assembled press corps. The resulting pictures were of an evidently successful demonstration.
I tell the story because it is easy to grandstand on poverty on the millennium goals, but the hard work goes on largely unnoticed or understood. The embarrassment of the failure of the demonstration was of no consequence, except perhaps to my pride. I am convinced, however, of the truth of the Haitian proverb: “God gives but doesn’t share”. We have everything we need to flourish. It is our responsibility to divvy it up. I believe that the first call on humanity as represented by Governments, nations and peoples of faith is identified by the priorities of the millennium development goals. This requires upside-down thinking. Along with the other bishops of the Anglican Communion during the Lambeth Conference, I marched down Whitehall on behalf of those goals. But I fear that the church’s obsession with internal agendas rather than with the priority declared in Jesus’s manifesto of,
“good news to the poor”,
will leave the church open to the charge of grandstanding. The church must think upside down and radically reprioritise.
It is in the context of the further elements of today’s debate, including foreign and European affairs as well as defence, that I plead for a continuing reprioritising by Government. Rightly, defeating terrorism is high on the agenda of western nations, but if we are to defeat the mosquitoes of terrorism we must drain the swamps of poverty and despair, which result in the stones of anger, hatred and violence. In welcoming the British Government’s support for the arms trade treaty, I urge the Foreign Secretary to call on the new United States Administration to sign up to that treaty. More than 695,000 people have been killed directly with firearms since the UN arms treaty process began in December 2006. That is about 1,000 people a day, illustrating the urgent need for worldwide compliance with the treaty.
In 2000, 189 countries adopted the millennium development goals with their aim vastly to reduce global poverty by 2015. While there have been some major achievements, most nations have defaulted on the promised 0.7 per cent of their gross national product and Her Majesty’s Government expect to reach their target by 2013. Today’s global financial situation provides little hope of a tipping point in favour of the world’s poor, but rather an increased downward spiral into deeper poverty and debt. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has observed that the global financial crisis,
“threatens to undermine all our achievements and all our progress. Our progress in eradicating poverty and disease. Our efforts to fight climate change and promote development … It could be the final blow that many of the poorest of the world’s poor simply cannot survive”.
In the diocese of Bath and Wells, we are committed to seeking ways of addressing the millennium development goals, but we are conscious that their title makes it difficult for them to be communicated simply and easily. I therefore urge DfID to look for ways of bringing the priorities of the millennium development goals into a popular and accessible form, so that readers of the red tops as well as of the broadsheets can engage in the task of remaking humanity.
Finally, Get Fair, which is a coalition of religious and secular groups, cites evidence in a recent survey that politicians must do more drastically to reduce domestic poverty and that it is in their own self-interest to do so. The poll indicates that 51 per cent of Britons, evenly spread across gender, age group, social class and region, say they would reward the political party that had the confidence to tackle poverty. Rising to such a challenge would ensure—in the words of Delboy in “Only Fools and Horses”—that everyone is a winner, and that is always appealing.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and congratulating him on his wide-ranging and very thoughtful maiden speech. One of our noble colleagues suggested earlier that he should be thanked twice—once as the Bishop of Bath and once as the Bishop of Wells—and I shall do so. I congratulate and thank him again. He introduced humour into a wide-ranging speech which reflected his experience in peacemaking in Africa, in Iraq and, closer to home, in Northern Ireland. He has experience not only within the church but also as a teacher, writer and broadcaster. Indeed, he has experienced the greatest of broadcasting tests: the Jeremy Paxman “Newsnight” grilling. He emerged from that experience not only unscathed and with his sense of humour very much intact but able to deliver a memorable maiden speech. I hope we shall hear much more from him.
It is now over a year since we in your Lordships’ House last debated the humble Address on the gracious Speech. In foreign policy terms, as in so much else, much has changed. The economic downturn which began in the financial services sector in the United States has now spread throughout the worldwide banking and financial services community and is already painfully evident in most countries in terms of job losses, productivity slowdown and business closures and failures. No country, however advanced its economy, is immune—not in Asia nor in the Middle East, Europe or the Americas as a whole. Indeed, the more sophisticated the economy the greater is its reliance on the success of its financial markets and international confidence and the greater its exposure to difficulty and failure.
Meanwhile our huge concerns about climate change have deepened and the international community’s willingness—or indeed its capacity—to deliver an international agreement seems as far away as ever, with the particularly depressing news only today that we in Europe are unlikely to reach an agreement on targets for emissions over the next few years. Our partners in eastern Europe, with their huge reliance on energy sourced from coal, balk at the implications for their future growth, and we learn that Signor Berlusconi in Italy has refused to confirm his predecessor’s agreement because such arrangements would, in his view, hurt the Italian economy. It is sad, bad stuff. If we in Europe who have debated these issues over and over again cannot give a lead on this, how can we possibly expect any of the emerging economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America, let alone our still-to-be-persuaded friends in the United States of America, to listen when we try to put forward credible and cogent arguments on these issues?
The economy and the environment are domestic issues, but they are issues that cannot be tackled with any hope of success without an international dimension and international co-operation and agreement. Domestic policy is foreign policy in so many respects, not only on these issues but on immigration, border control, counterterrorism, investment and trade, and the spread of disease. Our foreign policy issues per se—that is, what is happening in other people’s countries and how much we intervene through the encouragement of some, the criticism of others, or, frankly, direct action when we feel the need—continue to be a pretty familiar picture and a pretty gloomy one, too. Improvements in Iraqi security are hugely to be welcomed. Iraq’s increasing activity among the international community and its growing prosperity despite sectarianism at home and scepticism beyond its borders are very encouraging; but Afghanistan’s troubles seem to worsen, and its porous borders allow extremist activists and terrorists access not only to the West but also, of course, to the East—to Pakistan and further afield. The Minister painted a familiar and sobering picture in her opening remarks.
The appalling atrocities in Mumbai only a few days ago seem to have derailed the Indian/Pakistani rapprochement to the extent of some of the most bellicose exchanges between those two countries that any of us has heard for a long time. Meanwhile, Iran continues to thumb its nose at the IAEA as to whether its nuclear ambitions are really focused on domestic energy or are more sinister. Europe has tried reasoned dialogue. The United Nations has toyed, somewhat unconvincingly, with sanctions. Others shrug their shoulders and ask why Iran should not develop a nuclear weapon capacity when Israel has one. Talk of an international bank of enriched uranium, eminently sensible as that is, seems to fall on deaf ears.
At the same time, renewed wealth and energy capacity in Russia has boosted that country’s confidence not only in terms of its access to international markets and its ability to control the energy supply to others for political ends but in its bilateral relationships with its near neighbours and—let us not mince words—with us in the United Kingdom. For us, realpolitik means a dogged determination to keep the dialogue with Russia going through the EU and, where we can, bilaterally. However, we have to admit that Russia’s military intervention in Georgia earlier this year dampened the enthusiasm about Georgia and others joining us in NATO. We say that we should not be provocative. In truth, we know we cannot be, however much many of us would like to be fair to a small country that is looking for friends and protection.
In Africa, our worst nightmare—Zimbabwe—has worsened again. It is ruled by a despot who parades himself as a democratically elected leader. It has an inflation rate that sounds like a madman’s estimate until one realises what it means in terms of hunger and famine in that country. Cholera is now rife in Zimbabwe and is spilling over its borders into South Africa. However desperately some may care, and however hard some—and I include the Minister—may argue, the fact is that the world community, and I include the United Nations, finds itself able over and over again to turn its face away. It seems equally impotent to act in the DRC and in the Sudan, where daily misery, butchery and horror are visited on civilian populations.
Worryingly, in Israel and Palestine, matters are again dangerously precarious. Brave Tzipi Livni refuses to say, “Jerusalem is not negotiable”, in talks with Palestine and, as a result, now faces an election that she may lose to the hardline Mr Netanyahu. Hamas and Fatah live in uneasy proximity, with the estimable Salam Fayyad doing his very best to lead what seems to be the unleadable. Palestine's neighbours give support through rhetoric, but although some donate generously financially to deal with the huge deficit, others either fuel the unrest through payments to extremists or simply hope that Palestine’s unrest does not spill further into their own countries. Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria are all acutely aware that Palestine's political instability today can be their problem on streets of Cairo, Beirut, Amman and Damascus tomorrow.
In all this, we see a new President coming into office in the United States. We seem to be in a state of suspended animation at the moment. We all know that Condoleezza Rice is doing her best, but most of us really want to know what Barack Obama will do. How will he react to that sobering list of difficulties? Every appointment that he makes and every visitor he receives is pored over to assess the implications for the future direction of his foreign policy. I suspect that he, like most, will have to concentrate on the security and prosperity of his country, the United States of America. He may conclude that the best way to secure that objective is very different from that of the outgoing president—for example, on climate change, through engaging in dialogue about the root causes of terrorism, through addressing the security of energy supplies around the world, or through trying to strengthen the United Nations. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, talked about the importance of co-operation in partnership; I hope that that message will reach our friends in the United States.
This United States President comes in on a tide of goodwill—perhaps a relief from what has gone before— but with an extraordinary mandate to change the terms of United States engagement with the rest of the world. There will be high expectations which we all know cannot be met. Journalists and commentators will rush to judgment with all the lofty authority of those who have never had to take a decision about public life or take responsibility for the policies that they advocate. I hope that we have a clear and very short list of issues that we regard as the fundamental building blocks for security and fair dealing when we talk to the United States. I hope that that conversation goes on not only between officials but with political engagement.
I have one last point. The Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform are all indispensable means of pursuing our broader objectives, but they do not and must not replace the Foreign Office’s activity. They are simply no substitute for that. Frankly, the FCO cuts are plain short-sighted and—let me say categorically and for the first time for me—wrong. We need clever, hard-working, experienced men and women in our Diplomatic Service. In the end, we need talent and flair in this great public service. We need seriously clever diplomats like the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Jay of Ewelme, who will speak later. We do not want any dilution of that talent or ability. We must pay for it, not chip away at it; the scope and calibre of those individuals are crucial to that operation.
I hope that the Minister can tell us more about how we will tackle an unprecedented agenda and an unprecedented time for that agenda to be pursued.
My Lords, it gives me pleasure to be able to follow the noble Baroness in two respects immediately: first, by seconding the motion of gratitude to the right reverend Prelate that she proposed, as he is entitled to not just a proposer but a seconder; and, on her last point, she put powerfully and eloquently a view shared, I am sure, by many in this House that the once uniquely dominant quality of our Diplomatic Service is no longer what it was. That is an area of our overseas expenditure that we neglect, and have neglected, at our peril. That needs to be reversed as a matter of high priority.
Having made those simple points, I feel slightly diffident, speaking as an ex-Foreign Secretary, when I realise just how much I have been cut off from the area. It is almost 20 years since I had the privilege of working with those people and being fed, briefed, instructed and informed. Happily, many of my links remain, giving me some contexts in a striking curiosity of places.
One, for example, is Ukraine, because for a long time, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, I was on the advisory council for that country, trying to put it together again. I am still vice-chairman of the all-party group. Another, more recently and more coincidentally, is Georgia, a country that, I confess, I have not visited since 1988 but over which I became an enthusiastic partner with my opposite number, Eduard Shevardnadze, when he became president of that country. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is China—I am president of the Great Britain-China Centre—a country whose performance and transformation I have been able to follow since my first visit there 30 years ago. That is a subject to which I shall return in a moment.
I echo absolutely what my noble friend Lord Howell said about the extent to which we have discounted and disregarded the Commonwealth. That is an immensely important network. I know that my noble friend is fond of talking about a networked world; I am a little more organised than that, but this particular network is one that we can certainly share together.
One matter where I tend to move in a different direction from my noble friend is the setting in which we should be presenting Britain's foreign policy. Of course British foreign policy on its own has a distinctive impact because of our history and experience and our continuing position, but it is crucial to recognise that the impact of this country alone needs to be amplified, intensified and broadened if it is to be effective.
I take as my text on that point a remark made by Prime Minister Kaifu of Japan many years ago, when he said to me that, from the Japanese point of view, and that of many others, their relations with Britain are the keystone of their relations with Europe But that is not because of our independent separateness but because of our position as one of the four or five major powers in the European Union. It is increasingly obvious that it is in that larger setting that we can be most effective; and it is increasingly important to recognise that, for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and others. There is the emergence of a new American Administration, whose future direction we need to be able to influence, which we can do more in European partnership than on our own.
The gracious Speech and previous speakers have identified areas where European partnership is important and must be achieved: on economic conditions, on climate change, on energy but, above all, on the issues at the heart of foreign policy itself, the wider questions. I must express, as I have done privately, a certain dismay that the understandable frustration—expressed by the noble Baroness as much as by my noble friend—at the failure and reluctance of our European partners to get their act together as they should tends to spill over, in my noble friend's emotional approach, to an almost dismissive sidelining of Europe because it is so frustrating. It is a sad thing that, year after year, in Government after Government, there is a fluctuation in our commitment to the European Union. All too often, when we are addressing the hard tasks, we tend to withdraw from them and do not succeed in promoting our national interests and policy.
I remember being struck by that—I shall reminisce at great antiquity now—in the debate that I wound up in 1972 at Second Reading of the European Communities Bill. A striking example of this on-off pattern of British political behaviour is that, when in office, Governments learn that they have to co-operate with Europe. When they slip into opposition, they luxuriate, and heavy doses of Euro-scepticaemia set in.
I hope that I may be forgiven for quoting from my speech in that debate many years ago. The debate had been opened for the Opposition by Harold Wilson, and I was rounding up my remarks at the end of it. I said:
“There is a Napoleonic aspect in the posture of the right hon. Gentleman. The truth is that accession to the Communities—which he set in train on behalf of his Government in 1967 and which, as he has made clear in his speech this afternoon, he would again set in train on behalf of any future Government he might lead—is unacceptable to him only at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman himself acts on a classic Bonapartian text: ‘Not tonight. Josephine’”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/2/72; col. 662.]
That is how Oppositions and incoming Governments, or even outgoing ones, address this issue. It is disastrous, and I hope very much that the next incoming Government will be in no doubt about the necessity of maintaining all the time a positive, energetic, frustrating commitment to the European institutions with which we must work. There is no doubt that only in that framework can we hope to influence the shape of the world in which we want to live. This is clear in relation to the United States and to Russia—I will say more about that later—and in the wider world in relation to Latin America, to Asia and, above all, to China.
I have no hesitation in saying that I very much admire the success with which the Chinese Government and the institutions responsible for the Government of one-fifth of the world’s population are emerging, based on their own culture and history and, on many occasions, not exactly as we, with our own quite different but younger cultural history, would wish. They are, in fact, moulding a most impressive, determined and thoughtful government approach to the rest of the world.
I am, however, disappointed that the apparent willingness to conduct discussions with the Dalai Lama of Tibet appears to have faded following an apparent change in the stated position of Her Majesty’s Government. I very much hope that that position will not be maintained, as a country that has been capable of tackling even the modest problem of Hong Kong as imaginatively as China did may surely yet be able to tackle the very difficult but important question of Tibet.
China is, of course, important because of the extent to which it is engaging in world politics, and not only economically. The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which China founded about four years ago and which consists of China, Russia, Kazakhstan and the other three “stans”—with Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Iran as observers—is only one aspect of the important way in which China is developing her foreign policy, but it illustrates the importance of our having a setting in which our own influence can if not match China’s impact then at least have as much of an impact as it should have within this European framework.
Perhaps most important of all, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, mentioned, are the relationships between Russia and the West. They must be regarded as relationships between Russia, the European Union and the United States. Each of us in Europe and the United States will have different inputs to make into them, but we must keep in step with each other so far as we can.
I have lived, again some time ago, through two quite different eras of co-operation with the Russians. The first was the Cold War. Even at the height of the Cold War and a week before my first meeting with that charming man Andrei Gromyko, the Russians shot a Korean airliner out of the sky over the Sea of Japan—a shocking thing to have happened. The West, under the leadership of George Shultz in the United States, reacted robustly, critically and fiercely against that action. The United States, led by President Reagan, insisted that, notwithstanding that tension, the arms control talks that were taking place should continue. In other words, vigorous strength had to be accompanied by continuing diplomacy.
In the second stage, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were in command and we were reacting to the new hymn tune of Mikhail Gorbachev, when he talked about “our common European home”. In that atmosphere, the Cold War melted away. So, too, did the Warsaw Pact, and indeed the Soviet Union. In retrospect, we did not immediately recognise what Dean Acheson once said about us: that Russia,
“has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”.
That, to some extent, is her shortcoming at present.
I am glad, therefore, that Sub-Committee C of this House, which reported on this in May this year, said quite specifically that it was for the European Union,
“to continue to build on its long term relationship with Russia and to pursue a policy of engagement at all levels and across all policy areas to develop the necessary bilateral co-operation using a hard-headed and unsentimental approach”.
That is absolutely right.
I am even more glad about the extent to which that approach was endorsed only a few weeks ago in an article by two formidable characters, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, in the Washington Post on 8 October. They said:
that is, Russia—
“have sought, sometimes clumsily, is acceptance as equals in a new international system rather than as losers of a Cold War to whom terms could be dictated. Their methods have occasionally been truculent … But fairness requires some acknowledgement that the West has not always been sensitive to how the world looks from Moscow … Moving the East-West security line in a historically short period, 1,000 miles to the east while changing the mission of NATO and deploying advanced weapons technology on the territory of former Soviet satellites was not likely to be met with Russian acquiescence”.
Those are all very realistic observations that should condition the way in which we go from here. It is the right approach to recognise that.
George Shultz and Henry Kissinger also suggested positive conclusions:
“We do believe that the security of Ukraine and Georgia should be placed in a larger context than mechanically advancing an integrated NATO command to a few hundred miles from Moscow … we favor a rapid evolution toward E.U. membership”.
That is how we should handle this situation. It is manifest that our input can be fully effective only within the framework of a European Union, which we are free to criticise and which we should seek to energise with a well energised Diplomatic Service of our own.
Lastly, I support an even more ambitious objective of George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, supported by Senator Nunn and former Defence Secretary William Perry: the bigger, more important historic opportunity to reverse the reliance on nuclear weapons and ultimately to end their threat to the world. It is important that statesmen of that distinction are committing themselves to an objective that is longer term and more ambitious—with the changed position of nuclear weapons as they proliferate around the world—than the one that I have just sketched in relation to relations with Russia.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, whom I have always admired and respected—I did so in full measure today on his comments on Europe. I hope that his party listens to those wise words, although I fear that there is not much chance that it will.
I should like not to do the traditional tour d’horizon but to look a little wider at the context in which we conduct our foreign affairs as a nation and at the relationships in our world. These should cause us to think a little differently and to look at our structures to decide whether they are appropriate for the new world into which we are moving. I should like to touch on three elements in particular. If time allows, perhaps I will get on to Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the first element, although I could agree with almost nothing else in his speech, apart from the fact that the Queen’s Speech did not cover foreign affairs, which is strange given that all domestic matters have a foreign affairs dimension nowadays. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the shift of power that is taking place. When that happens, a period of great instability occurs. We are now seeing a shift of power that is at least equivalent to, but probably greater than, that which we saw when power shifted from Europe across the Atlantic to the United States. There is a massive shift of power from the nations gathered around the Atlantic shoreboard to the nations on the Pacific rim.
I do not think that this economic crisis is like previous economic crises from which we bounced back safely to where were. This is the beginning of a shift of economic power from the West to the East, which should have a profound effect not only on the balance of world power but on the extremely turbulent decades that lie ahead. It will offer us new threats and new opportunities. My guess is that the emerging mercantilist nations, India and China, want a world order. They want structure. A mercantilist power wants that kind of stability. We could work with them in order to provide that, although I doubt whether we would be able to enjoy the hegemony of western values, morality and structures in international affairs that we did in the past.
We made a catastrophic strategic error at the end of the Cold War. We had an opportunity to strike a new partnership with Russia. We chose triumphalism, which was in Russia seen as humiliation. The consequences were inevitable—Vladimir Putin. It will be disastrous if we do not reach out and we miss a second strategic opportunity to establish the kind of relationships that we need with the new emerging powers, but that will require difficult compromises on some of our values. We cannot expect to dominate international affairs from the West in the way that we have in the past.
The second element is not just the lateral transfer of power, but the vertical transfer of power. Power has now moved. It has migrated out of the institutions that we created to control it and to bring governance, regulation and law to the nation state. We can look at the vast amount of power that now rests in the global space. The satellite broadcasters, the international money changers and the transnational corporations all operate in that largely unregulated and ungoverned space. That brings its problems. Not just Citibank is there, but al-Qaeda is there, as is international crime and international terrorism.
History shows that an unregulated space helps the powerful for a bit but then is occupied by the destroyers. In reality, we understand now that we have to bring governance to power. That, too, is an historical lesson. If power remains ungoverned, the consequences are usually turbulent. Our capacity to live through a turbulent age will, in large measure, depend on our ability to recognise that, if the phenomenon of our age is unregulated power in the global space, one of the challenges is to bring governance to power, just as happened in the past.
That will not happen through the institutions of the United Nations, which is an important forum for dialogue, the legitimiser of international action and the developer of international law, although those are important factors. My guess is that bringing governance to the global space will depend much more on treaty-based organisations than on the invention of international organisations and agreements such as the WTO and Kyoto. The G20 was an interesting example of how nations come together to bring governance and regulation, and of the consequences of that not happening. We will see a lot more of that. That leads me to a baleful conclusion: there is a possibility that what will emerge is a conspiracy of the powerful from which the weak and the poor will be left out, were it not for the third factor. It is on that factor that I should like to spend the rest of my time.
The world is now interconnected in a way in which it has never been before. Of course, it has always been interconnected, which is what foreign affairs and diplomacy are about, but never as now. That is the big fundamental factor that we need to address. Perhaps I may put it this way. If I had been here 25 to 30 years ago talking about defence, in the days when I was a British soldier, I would have talked about three things: the size of the Army, the size of the Air Force and the size of the Navy. I would not have talked about anything else. Now I have to talk about everything. For much of this nation’s security, the Department of Health is involved because of the danger of pandemic disease. The department with responsibility for agriculture is involved, as we see in the consequences of food security. Industry is involved. The resilience of our internet systems to cyber-attack is involved, as is the Home Office. Everyone is involved. Everything is connected to everything.
Let us imagine that I am our great predecessor, Lord Roberts of Kandahar VC, in 1880 and I am talking about the second Afghan war. What would I be talking about? He would have talked about screw-guns, the number of soldiers and whether the sepoys would be able to last in the cold conditions. He would have talked about the tribal conditions in southern Afghanistan. Between the 1842 war and the 1880 war, there were 35 years in which to prepare and a great deal of time was spent getting the tribes together in southern Afghanistan. Why do we not learn these lessons? Lord Roberts would not have talked about the poppy fields. They were there, but they were irrelevant. They are not irrelevant today: they are connected directly to our inner cities. He would not have talked about a mad mullah in a cave preaching jihad. They were there, but he could ignore them. Today they are related directly to what happens in Bolton and Bradford. He would not have had to talk about whether he could knock down a tribal village, because it was irrelevant. The news did not get back until months later and it was not as important in those days as it is today in winning the essential battle, which is the battle for public opinion. Until we realise that we have to create the structures and the mindset to understand the interconnectedness of our present world, we cannot adequately deal with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
That means three key things. First, it means understanding that the revelation of 9/11 is that what happens in a faraway country of which you know little matters even to the most powerful nation on earth. Ignoring it means that you may get death and destruction delivered to your cities on one bright September morning when you are least expecting it. We are connected. We have to move away at least in part from a concept of collective defence, where we are secure when we gather together with others to make ourselves secure, to common defence, where we recognise that we share a destiny with our enemy.
We heard John Donne’s great precept in the speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells:
“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
That is no longer a moral precept; it is a fact of diplomacy and a fact of life. When Gladstone, in his second Midlothian campaign, saw that second Afghan war and said,
“remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God as can be your own”,
he was expressing something moral to us. It is something real: if you forget the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snow, you pay a price in public opinion today and in the opinion of the Afghan nation. Ignoring that means that you fail. You have now to think of common security and the destiny that you share with your enemy. If you do not, you will not succeed.
Secondly, unilateralism is over. At least, if you follow the unilateral pattern, you are much more likely to fail than to succeed. The last great exercise in unilateralism was Iraq and, even in the hands of the most powerful nation on earth, it could not work. You have to work with your fellow nations. You have to work multilaterally. The more you do it, the more you will succeed. The less you do it, the less you will succeed. Creating those multilateral institutions and understanding the way in which you work with others is the most important thing that you can do. Winning in Afghanistan is not a military operation today. You have to work with the NGOs and the other organisations to bring governance. It is people, not the greatest military force, who bring all the disciplines together in a co-ordinated fashion and thus win such struggles. Our failure to understand that and to put in place a decent co-ordination of effort in Afghanistan is now threatening an imminent defeat unless we put it right.
My last point is this: we need to alter our structures. Haldane’s principle was drawn up in 1904 or 1905 after the British Army’s massive defeat at the hands of natives using primitive weapons in South Africa. Haldane constructed the structures of government to imitate the vertical stovepipes of the Industrial Revolution. You had vertical hierarchies, specialisation of tasks and command structures. People did not work together. Industry has moved on and now has flat networks, but our Government are stuck in the vertical hierarchies of the Haldane committee and the Industrial Revolution.
The most important thing about what the Government do is what they can do with others. This is important for the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office is no longer an individual organisation dealing with foreign affairs. It is no longer about elegant people living abroad writing elegant telegrams back to London. I remember being criticised by that formidable lady, Anne Warburton, when I was a first secretary in the UK mission in Geneva, for having too many split infinitives in my telegram to London. I got rid of all the split infinitives, but she returned the telegram to me with a huge circle in red saying, “Another beastly hanging gerund”, at which point I gave up. The Foreign Office is today not a monopoly organiser of events; it is a manager of projects. It has to be the organisation that brings together the disciplines and enables us to utilise the NGOs, the MoD, DfID and all the other organisations capable of dealing with an international crisis and bringing peace after war.
The figures show that the number of conflicts around the world is going down but that the number of failed states is going up. That tells us something. We are good at war—maybe too good at war—but we are awful at building peace afterwards. It is a classic project management operation. If the Foreign Office and other government institutions are to be serious about building peace, they have to get themselves into the mindset of working with others and managing projects across the disciplines.
I finish with my central thought, which I shall call Ashdown’s first law: the most important part of what you do is what you can do with others. Until we realise that, we will not begin to cope with the world in which we find ourselves.
My Lords, I make no apology for returning to the subject of Zimbabwe despite it and, indeed, Africa itself being absent from the gracious Speech, because it is clear that the Zimbabwean Government’s policy of suppression of dissent and closure of any democratic space remains unchanged. The Zimbabwean Government have not met any of the benchmarks of the Cotonou agreement and are unlikely to do so in the future.
The presidential run-off elections in Zimbabwe last year created a crisis of legitimacy for Mugabe and an embarrassing difficulty for SADC—for example, the President of Botswana courageously refused to recognise Mugabe as head of state. Negotiations had to take place at the time; as Morgan Tsvangerai rightly pointed out, these were not about power, but about democracy. This in turn made it even more difficult for Mugabe to regain support from international institutions and the donor community, which were insisting on a return to democracy. Knowing this, the MDC could not have agreed to any deal that did not restore democracy and the rule of law, while Mugabe could not agree to anything that did.
Morgan Tsvangerai had also said that no deal was better than a bad deal, so when the agreement was signed in September MDC voters as well as ZANU-PF officials had reason to believe that the deal included a proper power-sharing arrangement. Of course, we now know that nothing of the sort emerged. The details were many, but it is reasonable to summarise what actually happened as follows. Mugabe had not ceded any real power. He and his party retained the power to allocate 30 of the 31 ministries. The portfolios were divided between ZANU-PF and the MDC, with all the key ones going to ZANU-PF. Under the agreement, Mugabe is obliged to “consult” the vice-presidents, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister. That is a meaningless process, due in part to the imprecise and ambiguous drafting of the agreement. The posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister do not exist in Zimbabwe’s constitution until an appropriate amendment is passed in the Parliament. The agreement that Mugabe should appoint Tsvangerai as prime minister has no effect in law unless and until constitutional amendment No. 19 is enacted.
The objective of the agreement is to restore democracy and the rule of law, but it lacks any articles that could serve as instruments to achieve this. Thus, even if the agreement were abided by, we would still be in the land of political posturing rather than seeing any real move forward. Furthermore, one should remember that the extreme violence of the farm invasions in 2000, the Murambatsvina clearances and violence throughout the pre-election periods in 2000, 2002 and 2008 were all carried out by a ZANU-PF Government committed to the rule of law and against violence. These are but some of the gross anomalies in the agreement and many more are being comprehensively analysed by the Zimbabwean Research and Advocacy Unit, yet there is still strong pressure to make the agreement work. I suggest that this is a fruitless pursuit and that we would do better to examine more carefully where the Opposition have some room for manoeuvre and leverage.
The only exception to the blatant lack of power ceded to the MDC relates to local government, but this, too, is extremely tenuous, as we know that Mugabe can, and often does, reassign the administration of various Acts to ZANU-PF’s advantage. However, the MDC has a majority in the House of Assembly, provided that the two MDC factions act together. This power remains even if the Cotonou agreement collapses. Thus, the MDC’s only real source of power lies in its parliamentary majority. This has implications for the struggle in the immediate future.
No legislation can be enacted without the MDC vote. This applies even to appropriation Bills or Bills that might be considered to be politically inexpedient. All public accounts have to be audited and agreed by the Assembly, including the authority to examine even so-called “inappropriate” accounts. Parliamentary committees can be set up to investigate past governmental practices and the activities of the Reserve Bank. The fact that the MDC has control over the parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders should ensure the establishment of an impartial, or at least a non-ZANU-PF, media and electoral commission, the latter even resulting in a thorough audit of the voter roll and electoral procedures.
Again, Mugabe, if threatened by a determined effort to enact these kinds of powers, could decide to prorogue Parliament for a period in order to regain control. However, the strategy that I would like the Minister to take back to the department, if it is not already there, is that every possible effort should now be made by the international community, including the UK Government, to direct energy towards supporting in whatever way possible parliamentary mechanisms of calling the Government to account and exposing the utter lawlessness with which Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe over past decades.
I conclude by thanking the Minister for his constant efforts to keep those of us with an interest in Zimbabwe informed and, indeed, for his genuine efforts to find solutions to the chaos and crimes that continue in that country.
My Lords, it is good to be in the House on the day when the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells has made his maiden speech. Those who know him will know that he is a person of rare knowledge and insight, humour and courage. I have no doubt that the House will receive much from him, especially when he is not constrained by the conventions of making a maiden speech. I look forward to the future.
Along with others, I was simply astonished that the gracious Speech did not contain the word “Africa” and paid no attention to the realities of Africa at all. What of the commitments of the Commission for Africa, of which the present Prime Minister was, after all, a committed and active member, whose report Our Common Interests—note those words—was published as recently as March 2005? The Government should surely have used yesterday’s most public of stages, and I am sure cheered Her Majesty up in the process, to emphasise the importance in the face of and through the present financial pressures of maintaining our commitments to the developing world with the G8 countries and others, countries which have been responsible for the greed and lack of forethought and care that have caused the present international crisis. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and others that this was surely a moment for highlighting the millennium development goals and trade justice; a moment to express what I understand from other correspondents to be the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the next generation of international financial arrangements takes more note of these commitments than those that have now broken around us.
I wish to speak about the Democratic Republic of Congo. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and appreciate the quality of the service of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, whose knowledge, experience, sheer hard work, openness and accessibility to parliamentarians and others are striking.
I shall not attempt to lay out the present situation, particularly in the eastern Congo. Noble Lords will have read the press. Although they may not have read some of what others have read, they will have read enough. They will have been following the development of the wretched situation in the central part of the eastern border, 400 miles south-north, 150 miles east-west, bordering the other profoundly delicate places of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. They will know that the immediate roots of the situation lie in the Rwandan horrors of 1994 but that the roots of it all are much deeper in the history of the region, colonial and indigenous. They will know, too, that it is a region like the rest of the country—if possible, more so—where there is no effective government and no infrastructure, even by central African standards. Like some noble Lords, I have been there, I have flown over it and I have been driven on some of its roads, which make transporting troops and anything else extraordinarily difficult. This fact is often missed by those who write about it in this country.
In the time that remains I wish to ask seven questions, all of which, and a few others, give substance to the urgency expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. By what means, through whose intervention and how soon can any persuasive encouragement be offered to the perhaps 1.2 million people in that area who are away from their homes, either in camps, in the forest, on the roads, and therefore vulnerable to every possible difficulty one can imagine, or crowded out with relatives and friends? What can encourage those people that it is safe, and will continue to be safe, for them to go home? How can such encouragement, such a level of security, be made to last through the considerable time that it will take to work through the complicated political questions? These include the building of trust and collaboration between the DRC and Rwanda; the disbanding of forces that exist because their members are convinced that they have grounds to fear those around them; the resettlement of at least some members of those forces, which depends in part on the resolution of conflicting claims to land; the repatriation of some to Rwanda; the integration into the national army of those not guilty of murder, rape and pillage; and the development of the DRC Government into a national Government in more than just name.
Will the Minister and the Government continue to encourage politicians, including, it sometimes seems, some of his colleagues, to allow that although there can be no military solutions to these delicate and complex issues, political solutions will for some time require an outside military presence to provide the security that only competent and reliable troops—which, among them, means first-world troops—with the right equipment and the right mandates, can guarantee and, if necessary, enforce? How soon will the recently agreed reinforcements to MONUC, the UN force, be in the DRC and in active service, with the necessary equipment, training and, critically, interpreters, and without the caveats that handicap some of the contributors in the DRC as in Afghanistan? What delay does the noble Lord consider acceptable granted the fragility of the situation, now and going forward? Put the other way up, what delay will make irresistible the clamour from Congolese NGOs and communities, let alone from friends outside the country, for a short-term, first-world force, the presence of which in the eastern DRC could free MONUC to attend to more of its mandates? In the light of their enormous financial commitment to the development of the DRC, should not Her Majesty’s Government be more positive about the need for such a force and about contributing to it more than the necessary command and logistics expertise?
Especially in the light of the very recently published Human Rights Watch report vividly entitled, “We Will Crush You”: The Restriction of Political Space in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which chronicles in detail the violence, torture and intimidation practised from the highest levels of the Government elected in 2006 on those they have seen as challenges to their security, how can this same Government be held to their commitments to the UK and other donors to do away with the effective impunity from any accountability which gross abusers of human rights have so far enjoyed across the DRC through these past terrible 14 years? How can there be an end to the recycling of such people, not just into the national army, the FARDC, but to high rank in it and to high office in the state; and how can that be made to impact on Laurent Nkunda, whose record, at least since 2000, is appalling?
Will the noble Lord ensure that his Home Office colleagues read the report that I have just named? Will he encourage them at last to listen to those of us—notably the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, some of my colleagues and others in this House and elsewhere—who have been telling the Home Office for some years that the UK must not deport anyone, whatever their asylum status, back into the DRC, least of all women?
All those who know the DRC agree that its wealth in minerals and forests—and its failure to keep this wealth out of the hands of a long succession of rapacious and violent extractors going back to the notorious King Leopold—is, perhaps, the major driver of the sufferings of many millions of its people, a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Are Her Majesty’s Government prepared to offer, with others, the necessary assistance to and pressure on the Congolese Government to enable them to put their own house in order and to get to grips with these realities? Crucially, are Her Majesty’s Government prepared to put an utterly different level of effort, resource and urgency than to date into their management of the OECD guidelines process and the UK contact point? Will they make adherence to these an absolute condition of government assistance and financial support to British companies trading in the resources of the DRC and of other conflict and post-conflict states? Will they appoint really senior civil servants to manage these processes and then hold those individuals accountable—and perhaps even a Minister for a period to change the culture completely and quickly—rather as the FSA has recently acknowledged that it was simply silly to use relatively junior officials to regulate the major banks?
The situation for millions in the DRC is dire and getting no better. As I have said, I respect the noble Lord for all that he is seeking to do, but there is more that can and should be done by the Government of which he is part.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown for the excellent leadership he provides in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, utilising his expertise when dealing with difficult situations around the world. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that his commitment, dedication and talent, as previously mentioned, are highly appreciated and a credit to this House. His office has been presented with challenging times in dealing with wars, hunger, poverty, human rights abuses, democracy and dictators, international terrorism, drugs and people-trafficking—the list goes on. However, I should like to concentrate on two areas desperately in need of attention from Her Majesty's Government: the situation in Gaza and relations between India and Pakistan after the terrible attacks on Mumbai last week.
Let me begin by describing the dire situation that has engulfed the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. It has been eloquently described by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and I thank her for her contribution. Three weeks ago I led a delegation of 11 European parliamentarians into Gaza via the sea. Israel and Egypt refused entry into Gaza to any politicians or visitors and I understand that Israel has now denied the BBC and the New York Times entry. Egypt refused 53 international parliamentarians entry to Gaza via the Rafah crossing, denying the Palestinian people the urgent medical supplies that the parliamentarians were hoping to take them.
We visited Gaza to show solidarity with its people. We visited schools and hospitals; we met with civil society and elected members. We saw children who are suffering in hospitals, some in incubators: their parents were nervous because they did not know when the electricity would be switched off. We saw children who did not have bandages or medicine. The slow death visited on the Palestinians in Gaza is finding its first victims among 450 cancer patients, 35 per cent of them children, who are being prevented from leaving Gaza for urgent medical attention in Israeli or Arab hospitals. Thousands of other patients are being turned away from hospitals suffering from a dire shortage of 300 different kinds of medicine. Lack of spares has put half the ambulances out of action in the territory and 95 types of medicine, as well as cancer drugs, are no longer available. Two hundred and twenty machines used for dialysis and treating other serious conditions, including CT scanning, are unserviceable.
On 25 November 2008, John Ging, the head of UNRWA operations in Gaza, described the situation as very desperate. He said that,
“people have been stripped of their dignity here, it is a struggle to survive for every body. 750,000 of the people here in Gaza are children of the one and half million population”.
Today, more than 600,000 children under the age of 16 are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The Red Cross report describes the effects of the siege as “devastating”. Seventy per cent of the population currently suffers from food insecurity. According to the World Health Organisation, 51 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip have died over the past year while waiting for permits to enter Israel for medical treatment or having been denied permission to enter.
I can give a lot of facts and figures. Under the Oslo agreement in 1994, Gazan fishermen were permitted to go 20 kilometres out to sea. Some 40,000 fishermen and their dependants rely on this form of livelihood. Israel has banned fishing off the Gaza coast and deprived local people of a proper diet. On Tuesday 15 November, three Israeli naval vessels surrounded three fishing boats off the coast of Gaza; 15 Palestinian fishermen were forced to strip naked and swim in the icy winter waters towards the naval vessels and were then taken in for interrogation.
We have seen what has happened regarding electricity and power cuts. Furthermore, at the end of October and in early November, Israeli tanks killed six Palestinians breaking a ceasefire that had generally held. I condemn those who fire shells into Israel as well, but we must put things into perspective and see who is suffering the most and who started this recent round of violence.
The quartet representative, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, has talked about putting responsibility with the new Administration in the United States. I believe that he has failed in his duty by not visiting the Gaza Strip even once. He has imposed conditions that we did not impose on the Irish people when we were asking for peace in Northern Ireland. Even then, elected representatives in Gaza are saying that they are prepared to negotiate. This is an impossible situation.
Two days ago the Prime Minister said at a Muslims for Labour dinner that he now sees a likelihood of a Palestinian state. How can that be when we are isolating half of the Palestinian people, depriving them of food, electricity, medicine and basic needs and depriving them of engagement with any political process? We went into Iraq and Afghanistan because we wanted to impose democracy. Gaza has elected parliamentarians we do not want to talk to because we do not agree with what they say.
Israel continues to enjoy special economic and political status under the European Union Mediterranean programme. I hope that the Government will consider suspending that special treatment now because of the situation in Gaza. The Israelis have used a policy of collective punishment, which is against international law. I hope that somebody will raise that and the violation of all the Geneva conventions.
Let me turn to the situation in south Asia. We were all appalled and shocked by the terrorist attacks on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and the heinous attacks on Mumbai last week. Terrorists do not spare people of a certain religion, creed or colour, so we must not assume that these fanatics attack only non-Muslims. We therefore need to remain undivided in dealing with these evil people.
India is a very large country, with complex political problems, from Nagaland to Assam and the Tamils to Punjab and Kashmir. There are people in India asking and campaigning for the right to self-determination and self-governance. Three months ago, the international community witnessed the horrific attacks on the Christian minority by Hindu fundamentalists in Gujarat. We also witnessed the killing of innocent Muslims and the demolition of the Babri Mosque. Now fanatics are targeting innocent people in Mumbai.
I urge caution until all the facts have been established. We must remain cautious in laying the blame at Pakistan’s door until Pakistani involvement can be proven and evidence is produced to its Government. Pakistan has a vast amount of problems on its western borders: terrorism, drugs, lack of education, inconsistent application of the rule of law, poverty and deprivation. Further pressure will only destabilise the democratically elected Government of Pakistan and may lead to a situation which the international community will not be able to control. We need to encourage India and Pakistan to work together in dealing with the evils of terrorism, in giving the right of self-determination to people who have been struggling for it, such as those in Kashmir, and in giving rights to people in Punjab, Assam and Baluchistan, and justice to Waziristan. My final request, therefore, is that Her Majesty's Government not only look at the dire situation of the Gazan people but also work for better relations between India and Pakistan.
My Lords, I shall focus on what our approach should be to what is or should be going on in the European Union in the coming months. My task is rendered much easier by the fact that, as far as my general stance is concerned, I so completely agree with what my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon said that I need say no more on that.
I raise, first, the adequacy of the European Union’s response to the current global financial crisis. Eurosceptics who are tempted to carp at that response should realise that their strong insistence that fiscal policy should remain overwhelmingly in the hands of member states inevitably means that a strong, single, common approach is virtually impossible. On the other hand, a co-ordinated policy applied in a flexible way by member states is desirable, feasible and wholly appropriate. That is what has been proposed by the Commission for consideration at next week’s European Council. The question on which this House could perhaps give its views, therefore, is whether Her Majesty’s Government should support that broad approach.
A complex set of measures is proposed, amounting to a substantial fiscal boost. Since the publication of the Pre-Budget Report, the attractions of a give-now, repay-later policy have diminished under detailed scrutiny. That is largely because we have spent and borrowed so much in this country that the costs and risks of that type of policy are enormous. Consequently, the scope in this country for a responsible fiscal boost is limited.
However, that is less true for countries which have pursued less profligate policies during the past few years. The attraction of what is proposed for the European Council is that it clearly recognises that what should be done by each member state must reflect the degree to which it has been fiscally responsible in the past. On the other hand, while allowing for that high degree of flexibility, the attractions of a common agreement that there should be a Europe-wide fiscal boost are considerable, and the description of the various instruments that might be used is constructive.
For my part, having been Chief Secretary to the Treasury—working with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon—in the early 1980s, when we did not go down that path and successfully followed a different one, makes me extremely cautious about any fiscal boost. However, the circumstances differ today. First, the global situation is much more serious than in the early 1980s. Secondly, it makes a huge difference if what is done in broad terms, recognising the differences in scale and specific measures between different countries, is done right across Europe, and in the United States and China. It greatly increases the chance of it working and leads me to believe that the Government should next week give broad support to the proposal for a co-ordinated, not a common, European approach to the crisis.
Some have asked whether that means that we should revisit the issue of Britain joining the euro. Most notably, the President of the European Commission, Mr Barroso, has raised this issue. I have always been in favour of Britain’s membership of the euro, but have to accept the political realities. The case for joining the euro certainly looks stronger today than it has in the recent past. One only has to think how Italy and Greece would be faring if they were not in the euro-zone. I suspect that the case will look even stronger in the next year or so, because, unfortunately, the IMF predicts that Britain will suffer a more severe recession than almost any other advanced, substantial-in-size western country. None the less, I do not think that the time is yet ripe to reopen the debate on the euro in this country, although it is getting much closer.
I want to touch on two other European issues. The first relates to the Lisbon treaty, which will be a very actual question in the coming months. I shall not go into the arguments for and against. As I have said in this House, I am in favour of the treaty and do not share the view of my Front Bench. The question now is how to move forward in the face of the Irish vote. All the talk of bullying the Irish is nonsense. The Irish recognise that there is a problem and are seeking to face up to it constructively. Other countries and individuals are perfectly entitled to express their views—that is not bullying. However, it is becoming reasonably clear that what the Irish will suggest, probably next week, as the way forward is a declaration or protocol stating that the treaty does not impinge in any way on their desire to remain neutral, does not lead to any derogation from their sovereignty on tax matters and does not involve anything that undermines their position on abortion. All those are easy matters, because, although they were raised during the Irish referendum, none of them was threatened in the treaty. Therefore, to say that nothing in the treaty threatens them is no more than to repeat the obvious, although it was not obvious to the majority of the people in Ireland.
It is also likely that the Irish Government will suggest reversing the decision, as can be done in the treaty, to reduce the number of European commissioners, so that Ireland will always continue to have a commissioner. I must admit that I had not realised when I was appointed to be one of the British commissioners that my presence in Brussels was quite such a precious national asset, but, in Ireland, that seems to be regarded as the case. The case for reducing the number of commissioners is strong and pretty obvious. Some years ago—quite a long time ago—I suggested dealing with the problem by having senior and junior commissioners, which I still think would be the right thing to do ultimately. But that cannot be done quickly. On balance, at least in the short term, the importance of getting the treaty ratified and moving away from consideration of constitutional issues is sufficiently great for it to be right to swallow the pill of leaving every member state with a commissioner if that is what it takes to resolve the logjam.
Finally, I shall say a word on European energy policy. I was recently a member of the Chatham House Commission on Europe after Fifty, which produced the report A British Agenda for Europe, which I can warmly recommend as I did not actually write it. The most far-reaching conclusions in the report relate to energy. I have always taken the totally pragmatic view on what Europe should and should not do collectively. I have suggested that Europe should be ready to hand back competences to the member states when the job has been done and it is no longer needed to act at European level. On the other hand, there are sometimes problems that can be resolved only by collective European action. If that is so, we as a pragmatic nation should not hesitate to favour such action, even if it means further pooling of sovereignty. If ever there was a subject to which that applies, it is the security of the supply of energy.
Valiant efforts to achieve a common European approach on energy have, so far, been embryonic, to put it extremely politely. Third parties, such as Russia, have rather successfully played one European country off against the other. That is why it is worth giving serious consideration to the report’s proposal that:
“Britain should push for a more coordinated European energy strategy in order to be in a position to better handle Russia’s dominant position within European energy markets … The most important step in this regard is to create a more physically integrated EU energy market which would have the potential to lessen EU member states’ vulnerability to supply disruptions. Interlinked EU energy markets could also deliver significant efficiency gains, principally through greater interconnectivity of national electricity and gas grids and through increased use of gas storage”.
The report goes on to make a strong case for establishing some form of European energy agency to help to implement the policies and, most controversially, says:
“Urgent consideration should be given to the idea of developing a common external energy policy in which the terms on which Russia and other energy providers secured access to EU markets would be negotiated centrally by the European Commission on a mandate from the member states and treating the EU market as a single whole”.
In other words, that would prevent Russia playing off one country against another.
These are radical ideas, but they are not premature. I hope that they, too, will be given serious consideration in the coming months, as well as the other issues that I raised in my remarks.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, I believe that in a short space of time it is possible to deal with only one topic, and I propose to follow that example. Tempted though I am to follow the examples of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester in lamenting the lack of mention of the Commonwealth or Africa in the Queen’s Speech, I shall set that aside and content myself by wearing the restrained tie of the Royal Commonwealth Society instead.
I turn to something that is actually in the gracious Speech, the sentence:
“My Government will press for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East”.
I wonder how many times a sentence such as that has appeared in the gracious Speech over the years. I hope that it is really meant—and I shall direct my remarks to that end.
As a Liberal in politics, it is not very often that you get criticised for what your party has done in government—an experience common to Conservative and Labour politicians. In the 1966 election, when I sought re-election a year after my by-election, my wife knocked on the door in rural Roxburghshire and was told by the lady who answered that, much as she liked what I had been doing as the local MP, she could not possibly vote Liberal. “Why is that?” my wife asked. “They wouldn’t send help for General Gordon”, the lady answered. So I lost a vote on that account.
I recall that when I became leader of the Liberal Party, a lot of my Arab friends said that the Middle East situation was entirely my party’s fault. “Why is that?” I said—and was told that it was because of the Balfour declaration in 1917. However, I always defend the Balfour declaration and the creation of the state of Israel. People forget what was actually in it. I quote the essential words, which are,
“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
Those very important words were echoed by that great Israeli statesman Abba Eban after the 1967 war. He was the country’s first UN representative and was then the Foreign Minister. He said, of the situation after 1967:
“The Jewish people fail to understand that there was something contractual in our entry into the world. We promised to share the territory. The present position (that is occupation of the Palestinian territories) is a deviation from our birth. I never knew of a country that could successfully throw its birth certificate away”.
We need to remember words like that, and the words of the Balfour declaration, when we look at the situation in the Middle East today.
I was very much motivated by interest in that part of the world in my experience as a very new, raw young MP attending a session of the General Assembly of the United Nations at a time, in 1967, when Lord Caradon was successfully negotiating resolution 242. I remember the euphoria in the British delegation at that time, and the great optimism that resolution 242 was the way forward to secure peace in the Middle East. That was 40 years ago, and we are nowhere nearer that peace.
In 1980, I made my first visit of many to the region. I see the noble Lord, Lord Wright, in his place. We arrived in Damascus when he was ambassador there, and he was very kind to this callow, inexperienced politician, blundering around the Middle East for the first time and meeting with Yasser Arafat at a time when nobody would talk to him and it was not allowed to do so. But I, as an opposition politician, could do so, and did frequently over the years. I had the great privilege, too, of meeting over the years two great peacemakers in the Middle East who paid with their lives for what they did—President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Rabin of Israel.
My most recent visit was earlier this year, in a group of European politicians. We met Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, and I came away feeling slightly optimistic. I thought that they were two people, certainly in private discussion, who recognised that they would have to make compromises on both sides if peace was going to be achieved, and they both appeared determined. Yet nothing has happened. The one ray of light in all this is that the people of Israel seem to be well ahead of their politicians, as every opinion poll shows that they are desperate to see a peace settlement with the two-state solution that has long been advocated.
I hope very much therefore that the sentence in the gracious Speech is meaningful, real and will be pursued with real purpose. The truth of the matter is that at present the Government of Israel are flouting international law in many respects, with the continued building of the settlements and the route of the wall. Of course, we accept that any nation has the right to create a wall to defend itself; 1,000 Israeli citizens have been killed in recent years by terrorist attacks and rocket launches from terrorist organisations. But the fact is that the route of the wall is illegal, not only in the eyes of international law but as specified by the Supreme Court in Israel itself. Its judgment says:
“Only a separation fence built on the tenets of justice will afford security”.
It also said that the security wall caused “unjustified hardship” to thousands of Palestinians. That is undeniably true. The Government in Israel are operating against both international law and the decision of their Supreme Court.
As for the situation in Gaza, that is an absolute disgrace. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who has been there recently, filled out in some detail what he found, because it saves me having to repeat what is happening, particularly in the hospitals, with the deaths resulting from cutting off electricity. The blockage of UN food supply trucks and fuel supplies for electricity generation is an absolute scandal. Indeed, the sewage treatment works are breaking down, with, as a result, poor quality drinking water and raw sewage spilling out into the Mediterranean. It gets worse than that; only two Sundays ago, the Papal Nuncio—the Archbishop of Jerusalem—who was going to Gaza to conduct Advent mass for the Christian community there, was stopped at the Gaza checkpoint for three hours and then turned away. The small Christian community there was deprived of its mass. These sorts of petty vindictive actions by the Israeli Government really should be denounced firmly by Governments. It is important that we operate collectively with our European partners. After all, we have an international trade association agreement with Israel which benefits that country. It is time that we said to it, “That international agreement is dependent on you sustaining international law”, and that the collective punishment being meted out on Gaza is quite unacceptable.
The same disproportionate response was obvious when I visited Lebanon also earlier this year and saw the results of the Israeli invasion. The scale of destruction in Beirut was simply unbelievable. Apart from the loss of life, the wanton destruction of road bridges throughout the country seemed absolutely extraordinary, and we allow a country to get away with this time after time.
Is there a chance of the peace initiative working? I applaud the recent visit to Syria of the Foreign Secretary; I hope that that was part of the process, but the Arab peace initiative of 2002 has not been followed up properly. Here for the first time was a statement by 57 Arab and Muslim countries, which said that they would establish full diplomatic and normal relations with Israel in return for a comprehensive peace agreement and the ending of the occupation. Surely it is time that we used all our collective strength to bring about that peace agreement. It is no use relying simply on the United States, although I hope that the new President will have a more sensible policy, but the countries with a real historic interest in the region are the United Kingdom and France.
We should be using our muscle power in Europe to bring about that peace agreement. If we do not, apart from the hardship to the Palestinian people, of which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has spoken, there are two other consequences of the failure to reach an agreement. One is the continued spread of international terror. I am not one of those who is naive and believes that if we could solve the Palestinian problem international terror would cease, but there is no doubt in my mind that all the fundamentalists, whether they be Islamic fundamentalists, Zionist fundamentalists or the Christian fundamentalists in the United States, feed on the terrible situation in the Middle East. As long as we fail to settle that, fundamentalism will continue to draw new recruits. The second consequence, of course, is the spread of a vile kind of anti-Semitism which we had hoped not to see in this country.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells quoted the Chief Rabbi, one of the great spiritual leaders of our country. He has said, even before the present blockade of Gaza, that things are happening on a daily basis in Israel which make him “uncomfortable as a Jew”. It is important that those of us who sign up as friends of Israel should be candid friends of Israel, and Governments who are friends of that country should be not just candid friends, but forceful friends.
My Lords, within this present grave global financial crisis, which will, I suspect become ever graver, are harsh and deep lessons which must be learnt and, sadly, relearnt. This is particularly the case for those of us who live within the sophisticated market economies, which some of us have long hoped and aspired would become social market economies. We hear much about the need for greater roles for government and for tougher financial regulation in the light of this disaster. It is worth reminding ourselves that, to her credit, the Federal Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, in a G8 meeting which she chaired only a few years ago, called for many of those measures, but they were sadly brushed aside, particularly by the UK and the US.
We are, however, in danger of ignoring the more fundamental lessons, forgetting the imperative to root out and to curb within our societies at every level—most importantly that of the individual—the greed, avarice, corruption and hubris which has wrought and will wreak so much havoc, not just in our relatively rich countries, but has its impact most unfairly on the poorer, unsophisticated countries. The record in the past few decades of some of our large banks, some of our large companies and some of our democratically elected Governments shows that global problems will not be solved by focusing only on global solutions. The problems are rooted in individual behaviour, and there is no greater example of this than in Zimbabwe.
I urge Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, and our Foreign Secretary to fly immediately to South Africa to talk to the outgoing President and the, almost certainly, incoming President, Jacob Zuma, about the situation in Zimbabwe, and to visit any surrounding countries which may be helpful in bringing to an end the present Government in Zimbabwe. If it is what is required, the threat of a greatly increasing cholera outbreak, which is growing faster by the day in that country, ought to be the real stimulus to action. If we need a precedent, 30 years ago in the midst of a bitter and bloody civil war, the then US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and I negotiated directly with the South African Government and many of the other Governments who surrounded the then state of Rhodesia. I truly believe that this is now a moral imperative, that this country has responsibilities, and that with the United States it can act, even during the presidency of President Bush, which is due to expire. It is worth recalling that one of the things that he has done which we can all applaud is to make a substantial financial effort in Africa in the alleviation of HIV/AIDS.
I turn now to the other great crisis that we face, which is, of course, in Afghanistan, which I link inextricably with Pakistan. Many speeches in this House have chronicled the history of the, so far, failed endeavours in Afghanistan. I do not see any point in going back over this. In the next few weeks we hope that General Petraeus will be able, soon after 20 January with his new commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, to come forward with new policies, new energy and new initiatives in Afghanistan—to which the British Government will have to respond, even though we are sorely stretched. We all know how difficult it will be to up our military contribution, but that will not be enough. Nor will it be enough, as I hope the United States will say, that the UN Secretary-General ensures that his representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide—whom I know and have worked with in Yugoslavia, and have great respect for—is given total responsibility for all the UN agencies that work in Afghanistan. It is intolerable that there is continuing divided authority, when one is dealing in a war zone with the complexity and intricacies of that whole country.
However, we need to go further and look at the diplomatic efforts that need to be conducted. I am not so sure that everything is new in this world. In fact, Afghanistan is a constant reminder of how history repeats itself. Afghanistan historically stands at the axis of central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. That country cannot be helped just by a few countries; it must be helped by a combination of countries. An attempt was made some years ago in the six plus two formula to bring the six countries surrounding Afghanistan, the United States of America and the Russian Federation together. That initiative died a death for many reasons. However, it had one important achievement: it was the forum in which the then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, met directly for the first time the Iranian Foreign Minister. A number of countries were missing from that forum which I believe are essential to cast the negotiating and diplomatic framework wider. It needs the presence of India; it also needs the presence of Kazakhstan; and it was—I do not think it overestimates the British importance—a weakness not to have the United Kingdom represented. We are, by a very large portion, the second largest contributor militarily in Afghanistan. It would be sensible to have all five permanent members of the UN Security Council involved in this overall framework, when France is playing an ever increasing military role—I welcome it very strongly—in Afghanistan. That new grouping is large, but, if it met on a permanent basis, it would provide the framework and the back channels for reinforcing negotiations on all the other complex areas.
The existing dialogue between India and Pakistan over Kashmir needs to be reinforced and re-emphasised. It is worth emphasising the very important statements made by the new President of Pakistan. Since 1947, Pakistan has never been so forthright. It is a surprising but welcome development. I met the President with his wife, who I knew well, some years ago. It may be that this man has the commitment, having watched his wife gunned down, his father-in-law hanged and remembering the extraordinarily close relationship which for a while developed between his wife and Rajiv Ghandi, to turn Pakistan towards the path of a serious dialogue at every level—over nuclear weapons, as he has indicated he is ready to do, over economic trade and industrial co-operation and over the politics of dealing with Islamic extremism.
It is important that the dialogue continues between China and India on its massive border, which is a disputed territory. It is essential that China is involved in this whole process, not just on its historically close relationship with Pakistan but also with India. It is worth building on the existing dialogue in the Shanghai framework co-operation of China, Russia and those countries, which all share a similar problem. There is common ground. We need to remember that post-9/11 it was thought that there was a common national interest in China, Russia, the European Union and the United States of America of coming together to face the challenges of Islamic extremism which we all saw burst suddenly on the whole world. That needs to be revived. Only if it is revived, and only if there is a common framework of diplomacy reinforcing that which exists and reinforcing the military endeavour that is to come, do we have any chance whatever of dealing with al-Qaeda and the problems of Islamic fundamentalism in that region.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, speaks as always with great experience and great authority on Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. I shall start on a somewhat broader note, comparing the mood of today’s debate with the mood of the debate that took place a year ago. The fundamental reflection is that of change—fundamental change—in that mood and in the world picture. It is associated not only with the financial downturn—the crisis—though that is clearly fundamental. The whole landscape has changed, and is likely to change further. In my judgment, there has been a major turning point, probably even a greater turning point than occurred in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which affected one part of the world—our Europe—at its core.
The financial crisis will directly affect all parts of the world. It will accelerate changes that were already under way, as set out in last month’s very important report by the US National Intelligence Council entitled Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World. In my judgment, that should be recommended reading for all of us as it is the likely context in which we as a country and we as Europeans will have to conduct our foreign policy over the next 15 years. It was a collaborative project, not confined to the US intelligence agencies but bringing in leading think tanks from around the world. The key message was that, yes, there would be these trends in international developments, but if we do not like them we can seek to change them. If we do like them, let us seek to promote them. The summary was clear. It stated:
“The international system—as constructed following the Second World War—will be almost unrecognizable by 2025 owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalizing economy, an historic transfer of relative wealth and economic power from West to East, and the growing influence of nonstate actors. By 2025, the international system will be a global multipolar one with gaps in national power continuing to narrow between developed and developing countries”,
and so on. It is a forecast that is likely to affect us all.
It is interesting to compare that intelligence report with the equivalent report four years ago. There are key changes. In its view, the US is no longer the dominant power but the first among equals. Energy supplies are no longer sufficient to meet demand; there will be energy scarcity. There will no longer be a calm position; there will be increasing shocks and risks in the international system, including the nuclear arms race in the Middle East and resource conflicts. That consensus scenario provides challenges for many foreign policy priorities.
The second change is, of course, the election of President Obama. Historians will judge the Bush Administration, certainly in international relations, very harshly. But it is not just Iraq. It is also a refusal to use leverage in key areas, the squandering of goodwill after 9/11, the missed opportunities to lead in arms control and climate change, and the often unilateral views tempered somewhat only at the end.
Now we have a President-elect who has made change his watchword, but perhaps it has to be defined rather more closely. There is a new prospect of co-operation with allies, a recognition that the US cannot act alone, and a new openness on key issues such as Iraq and Iran. The President will start with great expectations; inevitably, some will be disillusioned. First he will clearly have to deal as best he can with the world economic crisis; then probably with the contingent and the unforeseen, as one great historian called it. I recall what Michael Stewart, then Foreign Secretary, said to me in a very tired way: the thing that worried him was that at any moment of the day two-thirds of the world was awake and capable of causing mischief. Condoleezza Rice is rushing round trying to hold the ring between the two powers of India and Pakistan, so probably any great power can be knocked off balance by the unexpected. Then, of course, Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan are, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, intimately linked.
Even if the new Administration hit the ground running there will be a great hiatus that we in the European Union can fill, or not, as we choose. How we respond to that hiatus and the new mood in the United States is important to the European Union. I will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said in the article in today’s Le Monde, but there is much wisdom in it. It is a favourable climate. The overactive, or multiactive, President Sarkozy has drafted a letter to the US President. The ghosts of Iraq have largely been exorcised. The key test will probably be provided at the April NATO summit in Strasbourg and Baden-Baden.
When we are asked to provide more for Afghanistan, will our resources rise to meet our ambitions? How will we respond with financial resources or manpower to the demand to help tackle the looming greater crisis in Afghanistan? Will we allow the Americans to do the cooking and ourselves only the washing up, providing only the soft power which is also clearly important?
The new US national intelligence estimate reveals a bleak picture in Afghanistan, rather different from the picture painted by my noble friend on the Front Bench. The estimate talks of a “downward spiral” there, doubts about the ability of that Government to stem the rise in the Taliban’s influence, rampant corruption and the boom within the heroin trade. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, has said, that calls for new initiatives and a willingness to see if there is a sort of Sinn Fein among the Taliban—a willingness to look at the whole range of policies. Certainly, going by his past record, General Petraeus has the capacity to do that—to recognise that the battle cannot be won just militarily.
How will Europe respond? Will the US President enter into direct talks with Iran? Will the European Union, having been the first stage of the rocket, be sidelined? It is clearly significant that when the EU Foreign Ministers met in Marseilles on 3 November, transatlantic relations was the first item on the agenda. Then there was the Middle East peace process, stressing again the regional aspect.
Then there is Russia. We in this House recently had a debate on the EU Committee report, so I shall not go over that. Clearly, however, while responding robustly to Russian aggression, we need at least to avoid provocations, which we appear to be doing on NATO enlargement and perhaps on the siting of missile defence elements.
Finally, the Democratic Republic of Congo; as so many noble Lords have said, Africa is so often sidelined. The US intelligence report said that,
“sub-Saharan Africa will remain the most vulnerable region on Earth in terms of economic challenges, population stresses, civil conflict, and political instability”.
The European Union is best equipped to engage there. Are we prepared to do so? One test will be how we respond to the invitation of the UN Secretary-General to send a military force to North Kivu. I note that the Belgian Foreign Minister, with all that country’s experience, has at present said no.
So far I have mentioned the European Union, not the UK. Why? Because we cannot act alone; the Falklands conflict was the last such operation. We need allies and to work together. Obviously, the European Union is where, day by day, we mould our foreign policy at both ministerial and Civil Service levels. This is the 10th anniversary of the Saint Malo initiative. Now there are 12 European Union missions in action over three continents; that is a major change.
My concern is that although most sections of this House have recognised that, the Conservative Opposition have not yet done so. Who can forget those years in the 1990s when we in the UK were increasingly isolated in Brussels and unable to punch our weight? Will we have to pay that price again if the Conservatives ever return to government? I urge the leaders of the Conservative Opposition not to rush into the cul-de-sac of the Commonwealth as some sort of alternative to the European Union. There is no country in the Commonwealth which takes that view. It is an illusion and a failure to recognise where our interests lie in the face of those major challenges.
The Lisbon Treaty would have been a major bonus for us in streamlining the EU administration and showing a continuity of leadership. One of the European Union’s problems now is that we move over the next six months from the excellent French presidency of President Sarkozy, as shown in the Mediterranean and his initiative over Georgia, to the Czechs, where President Klaus, who is constitutionally responsible for foreign policy, has a totally negative view of the European Union. Without the changes of the Lisbon Treaty that, alas, is part of our problem.
In conclusion, we see through a glass darkly, but at least the US intelligence report maps out some of the increasing challenges that we face. There is much promise in President-elect Obama, and much possibility in our allies within the European Union if we are proactive. We have much to gain, mutually, by working together and concerting our policies across the board.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, who is no longer present, both of whom spoke about Zimbabwe, will feel that my comments add a little support to their expert speeches.
Mugabe controls just about everything in Zimbabwe except two things: Parliament, where Tsvangirai’s party has a small majority; and, since the past few days, elements of the army, which have been rioting because of low pay. Mugabe proposes to retain control of the police, the media, the intelligence service, the electoral commission, the health service and many other important bodies. However, the Administration is approaching a state of collapse. Inflation is running at 231 million per cent.
For many weeks now there has been a state of deadlock about the membership of the Government. Members of SADC are pressing for a compromise in the sharing of ministerial posts, involving in particular a division between Mugabe and Tsvangirai at the head of the department of home affairs. This would mean in practice that Mugabe would have a more powerful say in that department than Tsvangirai, since Mugabe has been running it, among others, for so long; and if the SADC suggestion were adopted, it would almost certainly lead to chaos as Mugabe would continue to have the major say in its affairs.
Mugabe is a world champion procrastinator. It is one of his most successful means of winning his arguments. He agreed at an early stage in negotiations on the broad principles on which the Government would be constructed, but he very carefully did not commit himself to any particular appointments. The process of having derived credit from the agreement in principle has left him free to negotiate ad infinitum, as is his normal way, about the things which really matter; namely, who gets what ministry. SADC has become bored and is keen to reach a compromise on any account. That is the situation we find ourselves in and I think it is what Mugabe has been aiming at all the way along.
SADC members have shown themselves collectively incapable of engaging with this crisis, which is effectively a crisis about the future of the Government. This is largely because Thomas Salomao, the Secretary-General of SADC, has behaved as an agent of Mugabe, orchestrating discussion—he has been doing so for some years—to protect the incumbent regime and drafting SADC communiqués from a ZANU-PF point of view. Another example of incompetence relates to the outbreak of cholera, to which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, referred, which has now led, in a short time, to nearly 600 deaths and 11,000 sick. Cholera is not normally a difficult disease to control but it is spreading fast in Zimbabwe because the sewerage and drainage systems are in a state of breakdown and there is a serious shortage of drinking water and the relevant medical drugs.
Many regional leaders, already intimidated by Mugabe, lack the political will to stand up and break away from the collective approach in SADC that has become an extension of ZANU-PF propaganda. I am not saying that every senior member of SADC takes that view, but the majority do and the rest do not seem prepared to stand up at the relevant time. It is apparent from the continuing arrests and violence being meted out to political and civil society activists inside Zimbabwe when they stand up to the regime, that there is no good faith on the part of ZANU-PF as a whole in its negotiations over power sharing.
Although he is Prime Minister-designate under the inter-party political agreement, Tsvangirai is still denied a passport and only very complicated arrangements make it possible for him to travel and present his case and to plead for international action to assist the people of Zimbabwe. This is an extension of the device that was used for years when Morgan Tsvangirai was prevented from travelling because he was on trumped-up treason charges. Yet South Africa seems to be colluding with this ploy rather than insisting that Harare issue Mr Tsvangirai with a passport immediately.
I find it deeply disappointing that from so many quarters where there has been a refusal to put any pressure on Mugabe, pressure is now being piled on to Tsvangirai and the MDC to enter into a vague and dangerously ill-defined power sharing Administration. It is already a major concession to ZANU-PF that the MDC is prepared to join a power-sharing Administration. Reliable analysts calculate that Morgan Tsvangirai won 56 per cent of the vote in the presidential election, which is a clear and decisive win. By rights, he should now be the undisputed President.
It ought to be a matter of great concern to parliamentarians everywhere that MPs arriving for their swearing-in to the new Parliament had to run the gauntlet of police at the doors of Parliament who had a “wanted” list of 17 MDC MPs. This was a crude attempt to whittle away the majority enjoyed by the mainstream MDC.
It is a great tribute to Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC as a whole that despite brutality, despite being banned from newspapers, television and radio, which are all state-controlled, the message still got through to the people and they refused to be intimidated when it came to the vote. If the MDC had resorted to violence, the international community would have intervened. It is wrong that only those who resort to violence should gain decisive external support.
Even the Elders, Kofi Annan, President Carter and Graça Machel, the wife of Mandela, have urged the MDC to make further concessions to ZANU-PF and to try and resolve their differences from within the government ranks. I have to say that this seems a mistake. ZANU-PF has adopted a policy of all take and no give. Sadly, and perhaps in frustration at the sense of impotence, much of the world has bought into that and advocates giving in to the ever more unreasonable demands of ZANU-PF. This is not only a recipe for disaster in Zimbabwe; it is a recipe for disaster in the world.
Earlier this week, speaking in Senegal, Morgan Tsvangirai said:
“Our vision as a party is to set a precedent on our continent: a precedent of fighting dictatorships through democratic means”.
President Khama of Botswana has pointed out that what SADC and the AU ought to be pressing for is a rerun of the presidential elections under international supervision and that if Mugabe says no to that, SADC should cut off relations with Harare and the AU should follow. Botswana goes so far as to call for the imposition by neighbouring countries of an embargo on fuel exports to Zimbabwe, claiming that this would very quickly dislodge Mugabe from power.
For as long as Mugabe was able to rig the elections, SADC and the AU told us that it was for the people of Zimbabwe to decide their future. Now that the people of Zimbabwe have voted and the outcome is unfavourable to Mugabe, we are told that we must accept concessions to him that are demanded by SADC leaders, concessions that are rejected by the majority, democratically elected representatives of the people of Zimbabwe.
It seems to me both unjust and dangerous that all the pressure should be put on the MDC, the party that won the elections and that cannot be held responsible for the multiple crises of corruption in governance, health, agriculture and the economy. Simply because Tsvangirai is a reasonable man who cares for the people of Zimbabwe, more and more pressure is piled on him, and he is an easy target. Meanwhile, Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF hardliners, who remain defiant and unmoved by the people’s suffering, get an easy ride.
Mugabe has a record dating back to before Zimbabwe’s independence of dealing in bad faith and subverting any trust placed in him during negotiations. It would be foolhardy in the extreme and a betrayal of the trust placed in the MDC by the people of Zimbabwe, who voted despite intimidation and threat of reprisal, if the MDC were now to enter into any power-sharing arrangement solely in the fond hope that Mugabe might suddenly change the habits of his long lifetime and cede power.
Our priority must be to alleviate the suffering and threat to life resulting from ZANU-PF’s ruinous and callous policies, and we must use every means at our disposal to isolate Mugabe from the means of patronage by which he clings to power. Not long ago, great hopes were placed on SADC resolving this problem. Indeed, the SADC treaty calls for this. But now the time has come for the world to move on to the African Union and the UN. They are the two organisations that have shown some inclination to respond. Time has moved on, and there might now be greater international support for the type of action proposed earlier this year at the UN Security Council. Sadly, those efforts were thwarted as result of lobbying by South Africa last time.
My Lords, going through the gracious Address, I discovered that there was comparatively little about our defence policy. Although one could agree, at least in part, with much of the noble Baroness’s opening speech, I feel that we should concentrate slightly more on the demands on our defence forces at the moment and what they are going to do in their immediate objectives.
We have got ourselves into a situation in which we are in Afghanistan on a long military campaign that looks like it is going to go on for a lot longer. Unless we direct our military thinking at what is primarily required in that major conflict, we will be in danger—at least in the majority of our efforts—of getting things horribly wrong. I am not saying that we can find a totally military solution but, if we fail there militarily, there will be virtually no room for a diplomatic solution, which is in our interests. We have to square up to that. If the Taliban were allowed to drive back the British forces and their Afghan force allies or defeat them in the field, the consequences would be almost beyond calculation. Therefore, we must concentrate our thinking and procurement on what is required there. If we do not, we will be in danger of falling into the trap of asking, “What if?”.
It is often said that generals are always tremendously well prepared to fight the last war, but they might be accused of lacking what might be called hindsight in dealing with the immediate problems that confront them. They need to think about how to win the current war, and a commitment to channelling all our procurement, training and support practices to the troops in the field now is required. We must look at our structuring programme and support our troops in facing the immediate problems. If we can achieve some form of military dominance and suppression of the Taliban—because total victory is almost certainly impossible—then the job of the diplomats will become much easier. We must at least hold sufficient ground to force the Taliban to the table. That is essential.
To that effect, it would be interesting to hear exactly how far into the future we expect long-term planning for our troops currently on the ground to go. For example, are we going to look at restructuring the way in which our Armed Forces are deployed in the immediate future? Are we considering the fact that we may have to shift away from traditional types of deployment and organisation to deal exclusively with Afghan-type problems? Is consideration being given to the possibility of mothballing some weapons systems which were designed for other types of conflict in order to deal with this one problem?
Another question is how to deploy the available troops. The noble Baroness said that overstretch was not a problem but we are still a long way from harmony, with the correct amount of rest between tours of duty that was initially recommended. Will that be a medium or long-term objective for our Armed Forces? If we assume that the situation in Iraq allows us to withdraw our troops, how long will it be before they are sufficiently rested to be at maximum efficiency? It has been suggested to me that that could take several years.
I move on to one of the other aspects raised in the Queen’s Speech—the situation with Iran and Iran’s nuclear programme. Will the Government try to encourage the new American Administration to think twice about putting emphasis on things such as missile defence and, instead, once again allow the diplomats to become involved? I doubt very much whether the people of Iran, even with their most bellicose leaders, have a suicidal urge to attack the United States or its immediate allies with nuclear weapons. The US and its allies would be quite capable of retaliating to a point where Iranian society would cease to exist. Are we going to encourage our most powerful ally to try talking to Iran in an attempt to stop its people feeling so frightened and threatened that they indulge in a suicidal arms escalation in the area which they cannot conceivably win? It would not be impossible, even with conventional weapons, to destroy that country as it currently exists. Can we look at that issue?
There is also the fact that missile defence has this wonderful aspect where one can say, “Oh, we are all safe now”, then we just press a button and it goes away. It is a few months since I did any heavy reading on this, but basically the assumption was that we might just get any missiles that are coming, provided that there are not too many of them. So there is an escalation factor.
When it comes to inspiring fear and illogical responses, there are people who seem to be quite happy at being frightening and bellicose. The current Russian regime seems to enjoy being frightened and intimidated by the deployment of weapon systems. It may be true that the missiles placed in Poland and the Czech Republic would be incapable of stopping weapons striking from the former Soviet Union, but the principle is there. Are we getting ourselves into an escalation of threat, which means that we are crowding out the space for diplomacy? Surely, any action to which we are party must allow for that space for diplomacy, whether it is action on the ground or the potential placing of weapons. Let us remember that if Iran decides to commit effective suicide on a national level, it does not have to launch a missile; it need only put a nuclear device on a ship and sail it to the American coast or, indeed, our coast. I am sure that they are quite capable of understanding that. Unless we are prepared to sink every ship in the sea—I will not comment on Somali pirates now—we cannot defend ourselves long term by simply having that sort of system in place. It can always be flooded by more missiles or simply circumvented by another form of delivery.
I shall be interested in the Government’s response. First, will we take on board in our entire procurement and training instruction, at least for the Army, that an efficient operation and successful outcome in Afghanistan is our primary objective? Secondly, are we prepared to step back to give Iran a chance to step back as well? Allowing that country to back down with good grace is the best outcome that we could conceivably have.
My Lords, I searched in vain in the gracious Speech for any mention of the fight against global poverty. It is right that the Speech should focus on the financial crisis and its effects on the citizens of our country and others, but it is right, too, to focus on those millions of people around the globe for whom $1 a day is wealth. In 2006, net global aid to the world’s most fragile states amounted to $16 billion. In that same year Wall Street paid out $24 billion in bonuses. To pick up a point made in the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, is that really the right way to divvy up the rich world’s wealth? I hope, and I am sure, that the Minister will give an assurance that the Government will give no lower priority over the next year to fighting global poverty than they have done so successfully in recent years.
I shall focus on one aspect of poverty: fragile states and conflict. It is a vicious circle: fragility leads to conflict; conflict reinforces fragility. The innocent suffer—more than 5 million have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past 10 years, almost all of whom were civilians. There are hundreds of thousands dead in Sudan, both in the north/south civil war and in Darfur. Somalia is in chaos and threatens our trade routes. Zimbabwe, incredibly, is getting worse day by day. I want to offer some practical suggestions for breaking out of this vicious circle.
First, our diplomacy must focus on fragility and conflict throughout this cycle. The recent focus on international diplomatic activity in the DRC, including visits by the Foreign Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, have been wholly welcome. But the seeds of today’s horrors have been evident for some time. They were certainly evident when I was in Goma and north Kivu a year ago. Might more active diplomacy earlier with President Kabila and President Kagame have prevented today’s crisis?
As other noble Lords have said, this focus on diplomacy must involve all parts of the Whitehall machine: the Foreign Office, DfID and the Ministry of Defence working closely together with financial arrangements that encourage co-operation on the ground as well as in London. Other noble Lords have mentioned the need for a better resourced FCO. It will not surprise noble Lords to know that I share that view; it is not sensible to have no proper representation in countries, such as Liberia, that are making real efforts to recover from conflict and to whom we are rightly giving aid.
Secondly, we should encourage and support regional groupings because their role is essential. The African Union has played an important role in Darfur, but the stronger it is, the better that role will be. SADC has tried, but failed, to intervene effectively over Zimbabwe. Ultimately, regional solutions will need to be found to regional problems. We should help the building up of regional organisations through encouragement, training and secondments. My suggestion is that we get the EU to put that at the heart of its diplomacy.
We should also lead by example; my third suggestion is that we need to get the EU and NATO to work more effectively together to plan and carry out peacekeeping missions. Ten years on from the St Malo agreement, there is real scope for the UK and France to lead on this, as President Sarkozy is keen to bring France back to NATO’s integrated military structure if European security and defence arrangements are strengthened, which is very much in our interest as well as in that of the EU and NATO. The present stately dance in Brussels between the EU and NATO with the occasional nod, but not much contact and certainly no embrace, is now wholly outdated.
Fifthly, and crucially, we need to strengthen the UN’s peacekeeping operations. The UN has more peacekeepers in operation around the globe now than ever before. The UN will remain indispensable for the future but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, put it in an excellent recent book, the risk is that the UN will be both indispensable and ineffective, which is a desperate combination. UN peacekeeping therefore needs to be strengthened. Peacekeeping forces need clearer mandates. There needs to be quicker deployment, ideally with a rapid deployment force. Will that be easy? No, it will not, but the arrival of President Obama, with his commitment to multilateralism, and Secretary of State Clinton, with her experience and toughness, surely provides a real opportunity for progress. I suggest that it be at the centre of US/UK co-operation on foreign policy with an immediate focus on ending the conflict in the DRC and Darfur and on preventing a new civil war between north and south Sudan.
Sixthly, I suggest that we should work to strengthen and put into practice the UN concept of responsibility to protect, which was adopted at the 2005 UN General Assembly. This seeks to redefine state sovereignty to include the duty of every state to protect its own populations from atrocities, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Where they fail to do so, it puts the onus on the international community to step in. That doctrine needs to become accepted as customary international law and to be put into practice as the basis for international action to confront crises such as Darfur. Had it been more widely accepted, it would have strengthened the will and the hand of Zimbabwe’s neighbours in bringing pressure on Mugabe. Responsibility to protect is a Canadian concept. My suggestion is that we work with Canada to build it up over the next year so that when in 2010—just over a year’s time—Canada takes over as the head of the G8, the G13 or the G20, whichever it has by then become, Canada can declare the concept operational.
Finally, we must all ensure that the aid that we give fragile states, in particular as they try to recover from conflict, is targeted at those who need it most, at building up capacity to provide basic services, is disbursed quickly, and that bilateral and multilateral aid agencies work with and through the many NGOs that know the situation on the ground at first hand and are doing a tremendous job, in often dangerous circumstances, to help the world's most vulnerable people.
Those are seven practical proposals in seven minutes for action over the next year and longer, of course working on our own but, crucially, with our partners and allies which, if implemented, could help to break the circle of fragility and conflict and save millions of lives.
My Lords, I have been heartened to hear so many of your Lordships address the subject of Europe. I intend to address that subject and to make one point, and one point only, in its midst.
I was greatly helped by some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when he talked of the need for us to come to terms with the diversity of Europe and to make Europe less remote. Those are important themes. Your Lordships will be aware that the Church of England has strong and growing links with churches right across Europe. We are in full communion with the four major national Lutheran churches in northern Europe. We have deep formal relationships with the Reformed churches in France and Germany. Your Lordships will be aware of the growing bonds of affection between his Grace the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and his Holiness the Pope. Alongside that are our deep and historic bonds with our Orthodox brothers and sisters in the eastern part of Europe. My diocese has a formal link with the Swedish diocese of Karlstad and with the Romanian Orthodox metropolitical diocese of Jassy.
We know that Europe today is a meeting ground for many cultures and faiths. We are sometimes prone to forget that it has always been like that. Europe has a significant Jewish history, which the 20th century brought so brutally to the surface, and an important Islamic history, which we are growingly aware of in the 21st century. In its midst, there is a strong secular thematic culture that arises from classical antiquity through to the Enlightenment, with its strong and passionate demand for liberty, equality and fraternity. Sometimes, both intellectually and actually, those cultures have fought one another. Every so often, even in our time, resurgent nationalisms tempt us back to old hostilities. The price of those, which can be seen in many of the graveyards of Europe, urges us to pursue peace, mutual affection and the guarding of the rights and integrities of all.
One of the great challenges of our time and our world is how we live well with diversity of history and culture. As has been evidenced in this debate, in many parts of the world we are struggling. My good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester has, with his usual commitment, taken us to the DRC in Africa, where tribes, cultures and diverse histories are in mortal combat. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, about the Middle East, Palestine and the Gaza Strip in particular. There is Arab and Jew; the tribal battles in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Sunni and Shiite; Chinese and Japanese; and, closer to home, Georgia and the Russians and the vexed question of how Europe relates to Turkey and its internal struggle over the meaning of its secular history in the 20th century. In our society, as we all know from the various places from which we come, we are not without our own tensions. These are many issues, but they draw us to the one agenda of how we find the values and the cultures that bring peace and mutual respect. This is the level at which Europe needs to engage.
We use the word “Europe” in our debates as if it were simply a set of institutions and functions. No wonder people are turned off and complain of distant and bureaucratic powers a long way away that are uninterested in their lives. If Europe is simply a set of pragmatic political and economic functions and programmes, it has no future. Its future lies only in renewing the deeper themes of its cultures. Of course it is possible to see European institutions as essentially secular. Indeed, many do, but that would ally these institutions to one particular intellectual tradition in European history, which would be disastrous.
We recently read in our newspapers about the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi going on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz, but they did so as public figures, not as people making a private journey. They were therefore engaging in the intellectual, spiritual and cultural politics of Europe. If we are to engage the people again in Europe beyond the level of finding some warm sunshine in winter, which is very attractive at this point in our weather system, European institutions and our leaders need to be seen to be drawing on these rich streams of cultural and faith history that make us what we are and that have the potential to shape our future. Politics, faith and culture need to re-engage with each other in Europe.
The churches are beginning to make that journey, but the journey needs to be widened to embrace the whole of our life in this diverse and changing environment. This is a new way of living well with diversity. I say gently from these Benches that we should not go down the narrow secular route of thinking that we can cope with faith and its cultures only by keeping them on the margins and failing to draw on the wealth of them all. The task is to build bridges across historical divides and to create new unities and opportunities where there has been division and conflict. I would be interested to know from Her Majesty’s Government and the Minister today what energy there is in government and in Europe for tapping into these deeper sources of life and energy in the traditions that have shaped our past and that have so much potential for the future. Our rich inheritance of both faith and the Enlightenment offers us real possibilities and our divided world needs us to engage in these things in our own time.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. I hope that he will forgive me for focusing not on Europe, as he did, but on the acute problems that face the developing world in this global financial crisis. I declare my usual interest as a member of the council of the Overseas Development Institute.
As my noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, said, it was quite appropriate that the Government should give overriding priority in the gracious Speech to domestic economic problems. However, unlike him, I was encouraged by the fact that the gracious Speech also said that the Government,
“will work for a co-ordinated international response to the global downturn”.—[Official Report, 3/12/08; col. 3.]
That position was spelt out in more detail by the Prime Minister in his report to Parliament on the G20 crisis meeting in Washington last month. My right honourable friend emphasised then that the commitments made to protect the poorest and most vulnerable countries would be upheld. He reconfirmed the millennium development goals and called, importantly, for a greater voice and representation for the emerging and developing nations at future meetings. This emphasis was, of course, consistent with his well established personal interest in the fortunes of the developing world. This Government, under both the present Prime Minister and his predecessor, have built a proud record on development in the past decade.
Interestingly, this lead has been supported by enthusiastic public opinion. Campaigns to help the poorest people in the world have attracted unprecedented support. In the past few optimistic years, at times it seemed that the iconic ambition to make poverty history could become a reality rather than just a rallying slogan. But what are the prospects now? As we have already heard from several speakers, the global crisis is bound to have a profound impact on developing countries, particularly, as my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea said, in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the past two months, the International Monetary Fund has downgraded its growth forecasts for 2009 by nearly two percentage points for both developed and developing countries. As noble Lords will be aware, world growth is expected to be only 2.7 per cent in 2009, compared to 5 per cent in 2007, and world trade is likely to stagnate. However we apportion responsibility for this dire situation, it is clear that the poor developing countries have played little or no role in creating it but are likely to suffer most and be affected most badly.
Research shows that net financial flows to developing countries may fall by as much as $300 billion, which is equivalent to a 25 per cent drop, even in the next 12 months. We should remember that even before this autumn’s financial crises the World Bank estimated that more than 2 billion people are now living on less than $2 a day. The dramatic food price rises that we have seen mean that an extra 100 million will be dragged back into the miserable destitution of less than $1 a day.
Of course, it is even harder to make exact forecasts for the next few years in the developing world than it is here. After all, if we look at the statistical projections in this country with our sophisticated systems and our many experts, we see that there are widely different opinions about how long and how deep the recession may be. In southern countries, the future is even more opaque, but I am grateful to the ODI and to the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, which have produced some rapid research analysis, Doing Development in a Downturn. The analysis suggests that developing countries will be affected, just as we are, by financial difficulties and a harsh contraction in their real economies. It seems probable that the effects will not be consistently bad. Experience may vary even between individual countries in the same region, particularly, for example, in south-east Asia. What is certain is that the poorest and most fragile places, the failing states, will suffer most. Somewhat paradoxically, at the moment they are insulated from one part of the financial hurricane. The success of debt relief initiated after the Gleneagles summit by this Government means that they are not burdened today by owing huge sums to foreign creditors.
However, none of these countries is insulated from a collapse in the volume of remittances from overseas. Many sub-Saharan African countries are highly dependent on remittances; for example, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Uganda are among those where they constitute more than 7 per cent of total gross domestic product. In Kenya, where a large volume of remittances comes from this country and the United States, the Central Bank has already calculated that there will be a massive drop of 40 per cent next year. Migrant workers faced with a squeeze on their livelihoods clearly will no longer be able to send payments to family and friends at home.
The credit crunch and economic downturn in the industrial north are also having a major impact on direct investment in the south. In 2007, foreign direct investment to sub-Saharan Africa amounted to $25 billion. Not surprisingly, that figure is projected to fall substantially in the near future. For example, in South Africa and Zambia, major mining projects are already under review. The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation has already severely compromised its investment plans. In general, entrepreneurial business activity is slowing down right across already vulnerable economies. Sudden withdrawal of foreign capital has also caused steep falls in exchange rates; for example, the South African rand lost 35 per cent of its value in one month, between September and October.
Equally at risk are the exports of developing countries, particularly of primary products. The price of Zambian copper exports has collapsed dramatically, down by 40 per cent since July. Ghana’s cocoa prices, which make up a significant percentage of GDP there, have fallen by 24 per cent. The same is true of the coffee trade in Kenya and Uganda. The crisis in these countries is compounded because several of them have very few reserves.
None of this bleak assessment is unexpected, given the current global retrenchment. Even the emerging giants of China and India, which are usually vast importers of primary products, are indicating that their needs will be less. However, that makes some kind of immediate success in the Doha trade round even more urgent. Again, the Prime Minister’s assurances after the G20 meeting were encouraging. On 17 November, my right honourable friend noted the vital importance of a ministerial meeting this month to reactivate the stalled Doha talks, saying:
“To ensure the trade round truly is a development round which benefits the poorest countries, it will be accompanied by a $4 billion aid-for-trade programme to invest in the infrastructure of those developing countries”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/11/08; col. 23.]
Even more recently, my noble friend Lady Ashton, in her new role as EU Trade Commissioner, expressed confidence about achieving an immediate deal. She said:
“In this economic climate, any move towards inward-looking protectionism would be dangerous”.
“The consequence of not being able to complete the round in these circumstances would not only be a shame but a tragedy”.
I hope that these strong European sentiments are echoed on the other side of the Atlantic. Some of President-elect Obama’s campaign rhetoric was alarmingly protectionist and the incoming Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, took an even harder line in the primary elections. Optimistically, one has to assume that in office the Obama Administration will pursue a more open global policy. After all, we all know that in a hard-fought general election public opinion polls are a powerful influence. Although, as I said, there is widespread support for international development, that support is broad but shallow. It is naturally vulnerable to how people feel about their own jobs and livelihoods at home. In a recession, the tension between altruistic concern for the world’s poorest and how people want their taxes to be spent is often especially focused on the overseas aid budget.
As noble Lords will recall, at the G8 Gleneagles summit in 2005 world leaders ambitiously pledged to double aid by 2010, now just a year away. Those promises have been repeated many times since, but action has not followed the words. Actual delivery of more aid is currently 30 per cent below target. The British Government have once again demonstrated leadership by sticking firmly to their commitment, but France and Italy, as well as the United States, have fallen well behind. The Italian Government have now proposed to cut aid by half in their latest budget and no doubt as the world recession deepens pressure will grow on other donors to follow suit.
However, some economists are now arguing that, in spite of the political difficulties, aid budgets should be increased rather than cut. At its simplest, this is a kind of international Keynesianism. Aid may not just prevent poor developing countries from sliding back on their modest economic and social growth of the last few years and protect social stability, but could also provide an additional welcome stimulus to currently frozen trade flows.
Ever since the Brandt commission in the 1980s, we have understood at least theoretically the economic interdependence of the rich and the poor worlds. In the last prosperous decade, this understanding of interdependence, combined with popular enthusiasm for the moral case for helping the world’s poorest people, has made it politically straightforward for Governments to give development policy the prominence that it deserves. Perhaps now, in a global recession, it is time to re-emphasise global interdependence not just in economics but in the current threats of climate change and potential disease pandemics. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, in thinking that in the broadest sense this is just as much about our own security as about threats of terrorism and military action.
More and better trade as well as more and better aid can undoubtedly create more international stability. We must try to achieve this by multilateral action and reform of international financial institutions so that developing countries are given a much stronger voice in global decisions. A densely interconnected world with 2 billion marginalised people will never be either secure or stable. The Government clearly understand this and have given a powerful lead over the past 10 years. Ministers need to maintain momentum at a time when the instinctive response is to look inwards and concentrate solely on the crisis at home. I know that my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown, who is to reply to the debate, will champion internationalism, as he has always done in his distinguished career. The United Kingdom has a great opportunity in 2009 in chairing the G20 group of nations and I am sure that the Minister, the Prime Minister and all members of the Government will seize it enthusiastically.
My Lords, I returned this morning from a visit to Chad that I made earlier this week. The purpose of my visit to the eastern border with Sudan was to see and understand the internationalisation of the Darfur conflict. For too long, the crisis in Darfur has been thought about and talked about in isolation. I have visited Darfur twice in the past two years and seen how bad things are on the ground. It is clear that the crisis has spilt across international borders, particularly into Chad and the Central African Republic. It is also destabilising the hard-won north-south peace in Sudan and contributing to tensions in the east of Sudan.
In Chad this week I visited Djabal refugee camp and Gourounkoun camp for displaced people. There are close to half a million refugees and displaced persons in eastern Chad. One hundred and eighty thousand of these are Chadian, forced from their villages near the border with Sudan by the Sudanese Janjaweed, who are propped up by the Sudanese Government and who have spread terror and unrest. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled across the border from Darfur.
I met displaced people who fear that across the nearby hills the Janjaweed and local militias roam freely. It is this fear that is preventing these displaced people from returning to their villages. Their frustration towards the international community is evident. One displaced person angrily approached me to ask why the camp receives visitors again and again and yet the situation never improves. Indeed, the situation for these people has deteriorated. They despair that the World Food Programme has not delivered food to Gourounkoun camp for the past six months and they try to survive a hand-to-mouth existence by selling firewood, of which there is little remaining.
In some cases, the refugee camps have now taken on such a permanent nature that the infrastructure—schools and health clinics—include better facilities than existed in the Darfuri villages from which the refugees were driven. This means that there is less incentive for them to return home, and certainly not while the insecurity and terror continue.
What recent discussions have the Government had with the French regarding the humanitarian situation in Chad? Will the Government give further information on the £5 million of British aid that is currently being spent in Chad? What are the Government’s plans for future spending there?
Meanwhile, across the border in Darfur, the international community faces intense embarrassment. The joint UN-African Union force for which we pushed so hard is a complete mess. There are supposed to be more than 20,000 troops on the ground; instead, there are nearer 10,000, few more than when the African Union was there on its own. The troops are woefully under-equipped and the people of Darfur are not being properly protected. Will the Government update the House on the latest efforts to beef-up the hybrid force in Darfur? Will they reassure the House that they are looking at the situation in Darfur holistically in the context of wider issues in Sudan, including the north-south peace process, and in the east of the country, as well as with regard to Sudan’s neighbours? Will the Minister comment on the latest state of play with regard to the indictment of President Bashir by the International Criminal Court and on the British Government’s position in respect of that? Until there is a peace agreement between the Governments of Chad and Sudan there will be no humanitarian solution—no hope for these displaced people and refugees.
There is an enormous difference between the rhetoric of the UN in New York and the world’s leaders about the responsibility to protect, and the realities which I saw for myself on the ground on the Chad-Darfur border. It is true that EUFOR is making a good contribution to promoting peace and security. The question is whether the successor to the EUFOR force, the UN—MINURCAT 2—force, will be able to build on that security. Will it be able to give confidence in the police system and the justice system so that the refugees and displaced people can return to their homes and villages? All this takes place against the background of a country which Transparency International regards as one of the most corrupt in the world.
Everyone understands that the Darfur crisis requires a political solution, not a military one. All those of us who have taken a close interest fully appreciate that. But having seen for myself over the past few days how this crisis has spilled over international borders, I urge the Government to play their part within the international community to secure a durable solution for the sake of the millions of people who are suffering so much throughout this region.
My Lords, I welcome the reassurance included in what has otherwise been described as a rather anorexic gracious Speech that the Government will press for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East. Given the frequency with which this reassurance has been repeated, I am bound to share some of the scepticism felt by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. But with a newly elected President in the United States who has vowed to restart the Middle East peace process, I hope that we can take an early opportunity to encourage our closest ally to take a fresh and balanced approach to the Arab-Israel problem.
As your Lordships know, I have repeatedly argued in this House that we should be ready to talk to more extreme elements, whether in Israel, Syria or Palestine, and that the quartet should no longer attach unrealistic conditions to our readiness to deal with Hamas—conditions which at least one of the quartet’s members, the Russians, have long since abandoned. The horrendous and despicable events in Mumbai last week will have done nothing to persuade sceptics in the United States or Israel that we should talk to Islamic extremists, still less to those wrongly identified with genuine terrorist movements. But having been accused at various points in the presidential campaign of being either a Muslim or—presumably an even more damning accusation—an Arab, President-elect Obama will, I hope, see the need to quell the disturbing growth of Islamophobia, if not Arabophobia, in the United States.
Those of us who had the privilege of hearing President Shimon Peres speaking in this House just over two weeks ago will remember that he called on Europe to put pressure on Hamas. How are we to do that if we continue our deeply mistaken policy of isolating Hamas? I am pleased to see that in the case of Syria, we have been prepared to distance ourselves from what I hope is the now obsolete policy of the outgoing Administration not to speak to those of whom they disapprove. Should our experience in Northern Ireland not have convinced us and our friends of the need to talk to those in the Occupied Territories who are now supported by majority opinion in Gaza and, increasingly, by many in the West Bank?
Let us not ignore the very real grievance and despair felt by all citizens of Gaza at their continued isolation and economic despair, so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed—the mounting frustration of Palestinians on the West Bank at the continuing effects of occupation, expansion of illegal settlements, restrictions on free movement and the continued detention by Israel of some 9,000 Palestinians, many without charge. All that contributes to the very real danger not only of a total collapse of civil society, but also of Palestinians, Israelis and other Arab Governments concluding that the aim of a two-state solution is no longer practical politics. That would be a serious tragedy for all parties, a disaster for Israel, and a shameful failure by the quartet to have achieved any tangible fulfilment of the hopes raised by the Annapolis conference almost exactly a year ago.
I turn to a more positive aspect. Can the Minister give the House the Government’s assessment of what Mr Tony Blair has apparently been able to achieve in the area surrounding Jenin in the north of the Occupied Territories, and say whether these apparently hopeful developments are likely to have any positive impact on the desperate situation elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza? It was not Hamas that recently broke its informal truce with Israel; incursions by the Israeli security forces into Gaza have yet again exposed the people of Sderot and Ashkelon to retaliation.
In six days’ time the Secretary-General of the United Nations will launch Human Rights Day in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under the theme of,
“dignity and justice for all of us”.
Surely this is the moment when we should make a fresh start at protecting the dignity, justice and security of all people in both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Unlike my noble friend Lord Jay of Ewelme, I have not been able to give your Lordships five practical proposals in five minutes, but I shall give you one: please, let’s talk.
My Lords, before I focus on the subject of my speech, I refer to recent proposals to disgorge your Lordships from this place while the House authorities refit and refurbish it, possibly over three or four years. In conversation last week, a former distinguished ambassador and I came up with the ideal temporary home for the House of Lords; namely, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Your Lordships could meet in the splendid Durbar Court, while Moses Room meetings could be transferred to the sumptuous Locarno Suite. The Foreign Office could meanwhile be transferred to empty office space in Canary Wharf. Strangely enough, the former ambassador is happy for me to take the entire credit for the idea, and I would be grateful to the Minister for his views on the proposal in his winding-up speech. I hope that I will enjoy the enthusiastic support of the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Wright.
The greatest challenges facing the world in the 21st century will be energy, food and water security. Taken together, competition for these resources presents the most pressing threat to global security, against the background of significant climatic change.
I shall focus today on energy security, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Brittan. I make no apology for raising the issue in a debate on foreign and European affairs, international development and defence. It is my contention that energy security impacts on all of those. I was pleased to note the reference, albeit brief, to energy security in the gracious Speech. In raising energy security, I refer noble Lords to my energy and other interests as recorded in the Register of Lords’ Interests, in particular my associate fellowship of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, in which role I am writing a report on European energy security.
Although the price of oil has dipped to around $50 a barrel, most agree that in the medium and long term, it can only go up. Although I do not believe in the concept of “peak oil”, particularly given the untapped resources of the Arctic and Antarctic, the world’s nation states will for the foreseeable future be competing for finite resources of oil and gas. Despite the new push for nuclear and renewables, we will all remain dependent on fossil fuels for some time to come, with gas and, particularly, coal playing an increasingly important part in our energy mix.
In Europe there has been a wide-ranging debate about energy security and securing future sources of supply, an increasingly difficult task as production declines in politically stable OECD countries. The European Commission has just published its second strategic energy review, and three reports of the House of Lords EU Committee have looked at the EU’s targets for renewables, the economic distortion that may arise from pursuing unrealisable targets and the EU-Russia relationship, to which a number of noble Lords have referred.
From all this work, a number of conclusions follow. First, political cohesion and developing a functional and liberalised energy market are essential tools in the struggle to avoid energy dependency and enhance security. I think that point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne. Secondly, the case for European dependency on Russia is overblown. If you look at the statistics, only 6.5 per cent of the EU’s total primary energy comes from Russian gas. A far greater threat, in my view, to energy supply and security is the fall in investment and production in Russia and central Asia, a phenomenon which is spreading to other parts of the world as energy and mining companies pare back crucial investment. Thirdly, while acknowledging the real threat of destructive climate change and the security issues that it may engender, the pursuit of unrealistic renewables targets, particularly focused on wind, may distort investment patterns and lead to energy shortages. These have already been witnessed in South Africa, which, despite energy blackouts, is scaling back plans to build a new generation of nuclear plants.
In the UK, if we do not focus on the achievable alongside the pursuit of renewables, with the development of new nuclear, gas and clean-coal plants, we will undoubtedly witness blackouts by around 2015. The current global recession should not blind us to the fact that demand will rebound, and when it does, the necessary investment based on current plans will not have been delivered in Europe or elsewhere. In the United States, President-elect Barack Obama has ambitious plans for a New Deal type of programme for renewables to tackle climate change and end the dependency of the United States on oil. That is to be welcomed, but alone it will not be enough to provide the energy that the United States needs and ensure its energy security.
There is no single magic bullet to solve Europe's energy security needs, whether through the Nabucco or other gas pipelines or the somewhat dubious proposal for a trans-Saharan pipeline that would be a security nightmare to protect. As I mentioned, only common action on a common policy and a properly functioning European energy market and grid will provide the necessary security. Apart from the geopolitics and political risks of energy security, whether in relation to countries like Russia, Georgia, Ukraine or others such as Nigeria and Venezuela, there are increasingly obvious military threats to Europe's energy security. NATO's Secretary-General has recently been writing and speaking about the alliance's role in guaranteeing security of energy supply, pointing to the despatch of a NATO maritime taskforce to the Gulf of Aden to protect shipping against piracy, alongside the EU initiative to tackle Somali piracy. NATO, he argues, should also have a role in developing training with partners to protect crucial national infrastructure such as refineries, pipelines and LNG terminals. Direct assistance could be provided in response to energy blackmail or terrorist threat.
The question remains: how proactive should NATO and the EU be in protecting our sources of supply abroad, even in partnership with the countries concerned, in often sensitive and hostile parts of the world? What is certain in a globalised world is that whatever happens to one important energy supplier and to one major supply route will have an impact on us here in Europe and the UK. We can only address these major issues together. So, three cheers at least for the perceived demise of unilateralism.
My Lords, I begin by echoing the comments of my noble friend Lord Howell when he said that one element that was surprisingly missing from the gracious Speech was any mention of the Government’s support for the activities of the Commonwealth. It is on one region of the world within which there are many members of the Commonwealth that I should like to dwell today—the South Pacific, in particular the South Pacific island states.
When I was a Foreign Office Minister some 20 years ago with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, as Permanent Under-Secretary, I was fortunate enough to visit the region many times; indeed, I was “recalled to the colours” three times subsequently to represent the Government at South Pacific meetings. This country’s involvement with the South Pacific Commission, now the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which we helped to found in 1947, provided the United Kingdom with an opportunity to maintain a close interest in the technical, professional, scientific, research and planning issues which the Pacific island states need to develop in the way that they would like.
I would be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply could tell me what is now the status of our interest in the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. We withdrew from it some years ago, we went back into it and, I believe, we have left it again. Does not any diminishing of our role within that organisation put at risk our perceived interest in the region as a whole and our responsibility for our one dependent territory in the Pacific, Pitcairn Island? What of the Pacific Islands Forum, formerly the South Pacific Forum, and the dialogue partners, of which the United Kingdom is one? Can the noble Lord confirm that United Kingdom ministerial attendance at the annual South Pacific Forum dialogue meeting is regarded as important and will be maintained?
I have visited the region twice in just over a year, and I am well aware of the important role played by major Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand in helping to maintain security in the region. For example, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have benefited enormously from the military and other support that Australia and New Zealand have been able to provide.
There have been worrying examples of instability within the region, and it is certainly not in our interests, or anyone else’s, for that to develop; but if it is in our interests to maintain influence and protect stability, it is certainly disappointing to note that a number of our Foreign Office missions have closed in recent years, including in Tonga, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Our support for those countries is centred on our embassy or high commission—depending on whether it is in or out of the Commonwealth—in Fiji. Can the Minister say with certainty that the staff in that post can effectively cover the region and fulfil all the elements that were perhaps much better achieved by individual posts in countries intensely loyal to the United Kingdom for many years?
One area of concern seems to be the complexity in the issuing of visas. For example, I am told that in Tonga, anyone who applies for a visa to visit the United Kingdom for education or any other purpose has to travel to Fiji for its issue. Can the noble Lord confirm whether that is so? If it is, it would seem to put an unnecessary, expensive and discouraging burden on legitimate travel. To mitigate the effects, might it not be wise to consider appointing at least an honorary consul, or honorary consuls in some of those countries, so that some of the more basic consular activities can be handled locally?
Lastly, I ask about our bilateral aid in the region. My understanding is that it has dropped markedly in recent years and is now mostly disbursed from our EU partners through some EU budget within the region. Can the noble Lord indicate the size of the overall aid budget, both bilateral and through the EU, how it is targeted and to what extent it is increasing or decreasing?
We should retain our long-standing friendships and influence within the region. One of the main pillars of our responsibilities for many years has been influence in and support for the South Pacific region. I hope that we can find some time during the Session to have a longer debate, whether a balloted short debate or a Question for Short Debate. The Government can then explain the matter more fully than perhaps they can today. I know that I have not given the noble Lord notice of these questions. Perhaps the Government will also take that opportunity to reaffirm their support for a region of the world that most certainly values the United Kingdom’s interest in its economic, political and cultural development because, if we weaken that, others will most certainly seek to fill it.
My Lords, a few hours ago the Minister said that we invaded Afghanistan to prevent it becoming a haven for international terrorism. She did not remind your Lordships that that was also one of the excuses given for the invasion of Iraq, which, as President Mubarak said at the time, was likely to create 100 bin Ladens. He was probably out by a factor of 10, but that has happened. It has also involved us, as the noble Baroness said, in a £700 million contribution so far towards reconstruction, has placed huge burdens on our Armed Forces, and is an ingredient in the motivation of terrorists across the world.
Although there might be questions about the precise identity of the persons who committed the atrocities in Mumbai, they share the mindset of those who attacked the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in the 1990s, and the perpetrators of 9/11, Madrid and the bombing of hotels in Jakarta and Islamabad, right up to the latest strikes on Indian hotels. All these acts are motivated by a particular aberrant Islamic worldview inspired by the fundamentalist ideologues of Qutb and Maudoodi. Apart from a need to bring the perpetrators of the offences to justice, we should address the problem of the hate ideology that damns the whole world of what they call Dar al Harb as wholly evil and corrupt.
It is a losing battle to deal with individual acts of terrorism while ignoring the hatred and violence that is, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, spewed out by thousands of madrassahs, which, I may add, are funded by oil money, and which churn out graduates indoctrinated with loathing for Governments and people who do not conform with their ideas of Sunni orthodoxy.
Therefore, the Foreign Secretary says that we must prevent Afghanistan again becoming an incubator for international terrorism. However, neither in the blog of his visit nor his interview with the “Today” programme, nor in the Prime Minister's recent meeting with President Karzai, nor, indeed, in the noble Baroness’s speech this morning is there any recognition of the fact that military solutions alone, which ignore the underlying ideology, are doomed to failure. My noble friend Lord Ashdown rightly said that winning in Afghanistan is not a military operation. With a huge effort, the Taliban may be contained, but unless we confront its underlying philosophy of loathing which not only spurs the Taliban but also al-Qaeda and other organisations like Lashkar-e-Toiba, it will simply be reincarnated in another form or another part of the world.
At the same time we need to address, as has been said by several noble Lords, the genuine grievances of Islamic populations throughout the world, and particularly the failure to arrive at a proper solution for the sufferings of the Palestinian people and to implement the declared intention of the international community to assist in creating a two-state solution.
In Somalia, we seem to have no idea what to do about the security vacuum that will be heightened by the departure of the Ethiopian forces at the end of the year. It spells the end for President Abdullahi Yusuf, and, as I suggested several years ago to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, when he was a Minister, we put too many eggs in the basket of the TFG without having a plan B.
The Secretary-General’s last-minute development of the concept of an international stabilisation force was not pursued by the Security Council’s November resolution, so that 3,000 AMISOM troops who had been hanging on in the hope of being reinforced are also certain to be withdrawn. They had been helping the Ethiopians to protect the two major cities of Mogadishu and Baidoa, leaving the rest of the country to the extreme faction of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, under Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is in fact on the UN list of terrorist associates. It is only a matter of time before these terrorists take control of the capital, making it impossible for the international community to continue its recognition of the TFG. The moderate Islamist leader of an ARS faction, Sharif Ahmed, who signed a new deal with a faction of the TFG last week, appears to control no territory at all. What does the Minister think that the international community should do at the end of this month, when all these things arise?
Eritrea's involvement in Somalia, which includes hosting Mr Aweys’s base in Asmara and probably giving him logistical help, may have been one way of its retaliating against Ethiopia for Meles’s prevarication over the boundary commission determination of April 2002. I remind your Lordships that, under the distinguished chairmanship of the British jurist Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, the commission tried to get agreement on physical delimitation but finally had to admit defeat in September 2006, contenting itself with expressing the border in terms of its co-ordinates. If the UN had been much firmer since then with Addis Ababa in calling for unconditional acceptance of the commission's determination, for removal of their troops from Eritrean territory and for demilitarisation of the legal boundary, it would have allowed both countries to divert enormous amounts of money and manpower lavished on their armed forces over the last six and half years into peaceful development. It would have meant that both countries might have been co-operating in the development of a peaceful political settlement for Somalia.
If the AU cannot persuade member states to reinforce AMISOM and the Security Council ignores the problem, the AU should consider how at least to protect Somaliland, which has been de facto independent for the past 18 years, now under a democratically elected Government. The Minister told me in a Written Answer that we were reassessing the situation in Somaliland to see how we can implement our programmes of assistance and opportunities of enhancing our support. One way would be to encourage the AU to recognise Somaliland, so that it would have the backing of international law against any attempt by Mr Aweys to occupy it, and to stabilise it against further acts of terrorism. Somalia is already a haven for terrorists and pirates, and we should at least seek international agreement to prevent them extending their control over a law-abiding neighbour.
The UN is already overstretched, and member states are having difficulty meeting requests for contributions to peacekeeping forces elsewhere in Africa. The Security Council decided on a Chapter VII mandate for Darfur as long ago as August 2006, but the hybrid UN/AU force deployment timetable has slipped yet again, as has already been mentioned, to reach 80 per cent of its final strength in March 2009. That has dire consequences for the region as a whole, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, has said. There has been deterioration in the security situation, including deadly attacks on peacekeepers. Their freedom of movement is undermined repeatedly by government-imposed restrictions. UN helicopters have come under fire several times and, although the Government say that they are committed to a ceasefire, they bombed villages in November, and, in the previous month, their militias attacked dozens of villages, killing 40 innocent civilians.
The long history of broken promises has not yet come to an end. The Security Council should insist that all aggressive operations by the armed forces of the country should cease and that the persistent obstruction of humanitarian agencies should also come to an end. One of the items on the “to do” list of Mr Djibril Bassolé, the UN chief mediator, should be to get agreement on independent international monitoring of ceasefire violations to resolve the arguments about responsibility that arise whenever civilians are killed or injured. It would be useful to know whether that has been discussed with Khartoum.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate and to raise issues regarding the international responsibilities of Her Majesty’s Government as they relate to the rights and dignity of women.
It may be true to say that our Government have limited direct control over some of these matters, but we certainly can wield significant influence through our historic experience, via international aid and in countries where we have a presence. I want to quote from the knowledge of some of the non-governmental organisations working on international affairs, and to seek agreement that our Government will want to learn lessons from some of that grassroots experience.
Your Lordships will know that there are many dangerous places around the world. Areas of conflict can be doubly dangerous for women, with the threat of sexual violence a day-to-day terror. The recent implementation of a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law punishment on a young Somali girl shocked decent people around the world, and in Somalia. Nearer to home, eastern European gangs buying and selling young women continue to enrage and disgust us.
One country where the United Kingdom has a presence, and therefore an opportunity to influence, is Afghanistan. I was comforted when my noble friend Lady Taylor confirmed the United Kingdoms Government’s commitment to remain and help in Afghanistan. Women for Women International, an NGO with 15 years’ experience of working with women in areas of conflict, has recently launched a policy brief entitled, Hope in Afghanistan, which quotes from a survey conducted with others to determine women’s views on their futures within that country; 1,500 urban and rural women were surveyed. It is important to note that all previously lived under Soviet rule, Taliban rule or no rule at all. Not surprisingly, therefore, 80 per cent of them felt that now their situation could be described as good. More than 50 per cent said that they had confidence in national government, but less than half thought that it was doing anything about women’s issues. Hope in Afghanistan. Hope, indeed, in a country where Taliban gunmen recently killed Afghanistan’s most senior policewoman, the head of the department of crimes against women. Hope, indeed, in a country where a woman dies from pregnancy- related causes every 27 minutes. Hope, indeed, in a country where the NGO, WOMANKIND Worldwide, has estimated that 80 per cent of women have experienced domestic violence, 60 per cent of marriages are forced and half of all girls are married before the age of 16.
Cultural pressures may, of course, apply, but many forced marriages are directly related to poverty; deals done to wipe out a debt. Poverty and powerlessness provide a fertile breeding ground for terrorism and lawlessness. The inclusion of civil society in rebuilding broken communities is essential to establish ownership of, and commitment to, those new communities. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, supported by the United Kingdom Government, requires the inclusion of women in rebuilding countries ravaged and broken by war and conflict. We must maintain pressure and use our influence to gain value from the spirit as well as the letter of the resolution.
Women for Women International calls for three areas to be addressed prior to the formal enactment of Resolution 1325. First, there must be a recognition that women can play a critical role here and that they must be at the heart of rebuilding and reconstruction. Secondly, there should be an active, organised local community of women’s NGOs that reaches all levels of society. Thirdly, there must be a commitment from the most senior leadership to the full inclusion of women at all levels of society, both in institutions and in decision-making.
I understand the view of our Foreign Secretary, who calls for all parties in Afghanistan to be part of the debate about the future of their own country. I would not understand for one moment any agreement that compromised the rights of Afghani women, both because it would be morally unacceptable and because it would be a short-term fix that would not provide a long-term, inclusive and stable future.
We must also maintain our commitment to the delivery of the millennium development goals. If we want developing countries to develop and grow and their internal economies to begin to prosper, we must press on, in particular with the second and third MDGs on primary education and the ending of gender disparity in education. The old saying, “You educate a mother and you educate a family” still holds good.
Finally, let me draw to the attention of noble Lords the Commission on the Status of Women, which will meet next March at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for its annual review of the Beijing platform for action. One of the two priority statements to be updated and agreed concerns the participation of women in public life. The Women’s National Commission, which is the official advisory body to government on the views of women in the United Kingdom, will as usual be co-ordinating the attending UK NGOs and will again as usual liaise with the official government representatives from DfID, the FCO and the Government Equalities Office. Lessons can be learnt from these NGOs, which are experienced in and directly knowledgeable of international matters as they affect women around the world. I hope that our Government will listen carefully.
My Lords, the economy is one of the most fraught issues facing this country, this Government and Administrations worldwide. At a time when economic pressures urge us to consider our own financial hardships, there is a risk that that we will forget and forsake the need of those in the developing world. That need is not only for international aid, charity or benevolence. It is a need to address the unfairness in trade relationships between developing or producing countries and consuming countries, such as the United Kingdom. Multinational corporations bring important work, income and opportunities to the developing world. This is a relationship in which the need for cheaper labour meets the developing world’s need for work, employment and income.
As we struggle to survive the recession, there is a very real danger that pressure will be increased on people in developing countries to subsidise us. What every recession has taught us is that the poorest of the poor, particularly in the third world, will be the hardest hit. We talk about the globalisation of trade, economics and commerce. We ought to ensure that there is more than fairness in the way in which we look at poverty.
People throughout the world will work for poverty wages where there is a scarcity of jobs, and any work is better than no work. The food crisis and the global recession have exacerbated this. With no legal enforcement of workers’ rights and no negotiating power, the cost of labour is driven down, keeping the impoverished poor. There are at least 12.3 million people in forced labour in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and approximately a third of the world’s labour force works in the informal and unregulated market. The majority of the informal workforce is in developing countries and more than 80 per cent of those workers are women.
We in the UK are direct beneficiaries of the continued impoverishment of communities in the developing world. In 2005, according to the World Bank, the wealthiest 20 per cent of the world’s population accounted for 76.6 per cent of total private consumption and the poorest fifth just 1.5 per cent. This boon for UK consumers has dire costs for us all. Apart from the moral dilemma of paying people poverty wages, the exploitation of poor workers has repercussions for us in the United Kingdom.
First, as consumers, we have become accustomed to purchasing products at unrealistically low prices, and that has led to a pattern of impulse purchasing and increased waste. It must be unacceptable that a third of the world’s population hardly has sufficient food to eat and that one third has a subsistence-level existence. The rest of us are buying what is unnecessary and the food that we throw away could feed the hungry children and women of the world. An official government website notes that, if everyone in the world lived to the same standard as people in the United Kingdom,
“it’s estimated that three planets’ worth of resources would be needed to support us. The energy and materials wasted in the UK put pressure on the environment here and around the world”.
This culture of consumerism, which thrives in part because of the low price of many of our products, is creating levels of waste that are unrealistic and a major contributor to global warming.
The second consequence is the rise of a disenfranchised, marginalised people. Out of this economic unfairness grows dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is a breeding ground for extremism, terrorism and violence. This is a lesson that we continue to learn in different parts of the world.
The current financial meltdown presents us with an opportunity to rethink and re-examine our trade, business and consumption practices and how they impact on those in the developing world, and indeed to question our whole lifestyle. There are two global movements in which the United Kingdom has a pivotal role. The first is the achievement of the millennium development goals and the second is the work of the UN special representative on human rights, transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
The first millennium development goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and younger people, and reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Achieving this goal requires not only aid but also co-operation with the UN special representative on human rights, Professor John Ruggie, who has worked on providing greater protection for individuals and communities against corporate-related human rights abuses. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to consider that the sustainability of the millennium development goals should depend not on benevolence and charity but on fair labour practices and the ability to organise decent wages for all.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rana, because like me he has strong connections with Northern Ireland. Not only that, his coat peg in the Hall downstairs is directly beside mine, so we have two items of common interest.
I am an optimist, not a pessimist, so I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wright, that I am very much in favour of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. I always have been and always will be, and I believe that it is one way to achieve lasting peace. At present there is not a great deal of publicity or news coming out of Israel. Many people would think that things were normal—if things ever could be normal in Israel. In Israel’s northern borders, Hezbollah has been stockpiling weapons and rockets to such an extent that on 26 November Ehud Barak reported that Hezbollah now had 42,000 rockets with a range to reach beyond Tel Aviv.
That is in direct contradiction of the United Nations resolution approved at the end of the Lebanese war in July/August 2006. Beyond Israel’s southern borders, Hamas is piling weapons into the Gaza Strip and the best reports reaching Israel are that these are coming in through tunnels from Egypt. There is no let-up in the amount of weaponry coming into the country. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who is not in his place, that Israel left Gaza in a decent economic situation with several industries and a lot of housing, and it has been turned into a nest for terrorists. In the so-called West Bank area Palestinian terrorists still try to get into Israel wearing suicide belts. Fortunately, practically all of them have been detected.
Rockets come into Sederot and to Ashkelon despite Hamas saying that there is a ceasefire. What other 60 year-old country has had to face extremism and violence every day of every year for 60 years? Is it any wonder that the Israeli public are opposed to peace deals when all the giving appears to be by the Israelis and the taking by the Palestinians? Is it any wonder that the captured soldier, Corporal Shalit, has not been released, despite huge numbers of prisoners in Israel’s jails being released? Is it any wonder that the entire population of Israel is sceptical about peace issues when their priority must be security?
Many people think that Israel giving up East Jerusalem, giving up all of the West Bank and allowing Palestinian refugees back into Israel will solve the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. I speak not on behalf of the Israeli Government but as a Jewish Zionist who visits Israel half a dozen times each year. I know the thinking of the politicians, I know the feelings of the people, and I know the huge desire for a permanent peace with our neighbours. But it must not be “give” only on Israel’s part. Yes, there must be compromise and I agree that compromise is always good, but Israel must be assured that it is not going to go through another 60 years of day-by-day terrorist incidents.
We have all been horrified by the recent terrible bombings in Mumbai, but little mention has been made of the Jewish outreach centre where half a dozen Jews were murdered purely because they were Jews. The rabbi, who trained in a Torah learning school, came from north Manchester. For him to be foully murdered when all he and his wife were doing was looking after tourists who came to the area on holiday sends a shudder down one’s spine.
We have to compromise, but the compromise that I suggest is as difficult for the Palestinians as it is for the Israelis. I do not believe that Jerusalem should be divided, but that East Jerusalem should become a kind of metropolitan area like we have in England. It should be able to provide its own services and have its own government and its own control. I am certain that Israel would dramatically encourage that. Noble Lords may not know that Jerusalem is of supreme importance to Jewish people. In our daily and weekly prayers, Jerusalem is mentioned more than 500 times. It may interest noble Lords to know that in the Koran it is not mentioned even once.
Now let me talk about another thorny issue: refugees. Palestinian refugees would entirely unbalance the State of Israel. I do not call them refugees because I believe that, in the main, they left Israel because the then Mufti of Jerusalem told them to leave. They were not forced out and 1.25 million live comfortably as citizens of Israel. Many serve in the Israeli army and quite a number of them are members of the Knesset. Therefore, I do not believe that there is any opportunity for one single Palestinian to go back to Israel, which Palestinians have long since left.
One of the other thorny issues is settlements, and I have considerable sympathy for Palestinians who point to outlying settlements on hilltops that are merely occupied by 20 or 30 people in a portacabin or a caravan. To me, and to the Palestinians, they are a bit like a red rag to a bull. I am in favour, and I believe that Israelis are mainly in favour, of such settlements being dismantled, but—and it is a big “but”—there are some so-called settlements that are towns in their own right, such as Efrat and Ariel. These are now reasonable-sized towns complete with their own infrastructure and will form part of a permanent settlement. I believe that the boundaries of Israel should be redrawn and these so-called settlement towns should be included in Israel proper, and that we from Israel should substitute land, which we have done on previous occasions, and redraw the boundaries. This should appeal to every reasonable person.
I know this speech might not receive approbation from everybody, but it is realistic and takes into account the current feelings of the people of Israel. Israel is due to hold an election in February, and current predictions are that Bibi Netanyahu will be the next Prime Minister. He has different views from those of my friend, Ehud Olmert, to whom I pay tribute for the two and a half difficult years that he has served Israel as Prime Minister. Bibi is a different type of person, and I believe he will display some more realistic approaches that will not please a huge number of people outside Israel but will please people inside Israel.
Just as Israel is having an election in February, so the United States has had its election, and I sincerely hope that Barack Obama and his recently announced Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will do their level best to try and resolve the morass that exists in the Middle East. I wish them success and I wish the Minister, who is not in his place, success in discussions. Deliberations should continue at a more advanced level than they are at the moment. It is my fervent wish that Israel can live in permanent peace with its neighbours without the fear of continual terrorist attacks, without the fear of rockets landing on homes and without suicide bombers appearing wherever they can find a soft target.
Finally, I hope and trust that the Minister will give sufficient impetus to resolving the problem. If there is any way in which I can help in that, I am more than happy so to do.
My Lords, the gracious Speech is a little thin on global issues such as world poverty and the millennium development goals. There has been no shortage of speakers in favour of international development; I welcome that. I intend to focus on a country that has suffered violence lately: Kenya, still emerging from a period of post-election bloodshed only last January. I was there last week with a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, visiting the Kenyan Assembly.
I hope that when he winds up, the Minister will confirm my view that we need to build on our close relationship with the new Kibaki-Odinga coalition, which underpins the security of the region. If it falls apart, things could go badly wrong. It is essential that Kenyans understand that the UK is fully behind them as they pass through this transitional phase of their history. The Obama family reminded us only yesterday that our colonial relationship with Kenya at the time of independence was not a happy one. British soldiers and police take a share of responsibility for some of the violence at that time. Land disputes are another legacy of independence.
Kenya is today a vibrant and prosperous nation composed of many ethnic groups, the largest of which, the Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin, now express their demands through the main political parties—albeit at the expense of the smaller ones. Kenya has generally made good progress towards the millennium development goals, but there is acute poverty in Nairobi itself and in many rural areas, such as Nyanza province. We visited some established NGOs there such as AMREF, the African Medical and Research Foundation, and community health projects. Families were having to cope on their own with the alarming effects of HIV/AIDS. We went to Kisumu, which is soon to become Obamaland, where hundreds of people had been burnt out of their homes or shot by vengeful or trigger-happy police. We met survivors of that violence at a displaced persons camp near Naivasha and marvelled at the resilience of people forced to flee in search of food and shelter.
The recommendations of the commission under Judge Philip Waki still hang in the air. Kenyan politicians have hesitated to proceed to a full-scale investigation by a tribunal of names on Kofi Annan’s secret list for fear of arousing new outbreaks of violence. The present coalition is a sincere attempt to re-establish a democratic state on a sounder parliamentary footing. There is an obvious object lesson here for Zimbabwe, and we must all welcome the strong statement from Raila Odinga today on that subject. Prime Minister Odinga has so far succeeded in pressing forward with reform without antagonising his allies in the coalition. A truth, justice and reconciliation commission on the South African model may be one way forward, but a new constitution is urgently needed to guarantee a more independent judiciary and a police force free from corruption.
Parliamentary reform is proceeding, but it is not yet complete. Even with the 70 per cent of new intake of MPs at the most recent election, there is huge public distrust of political patronage and of overpaid and inflated government. The media are relatively free to criticise from day to day, but they do not yet have the authority to lead the nation forward.
The Minister knows better than I do that we at Westminster are doing a lot to encourage reform and the political process. The value of exchanges at every level of advice and training in parliamentary practice is undisputed. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, with his strong connections, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with his background, and others have contributed their personal time to this. The FCO, DfID and the British Council are firmly behind it, and they need to maintain this momentum alongside other donors and civil society.
Kenya has been a remarkably tolerant society, open to suggestion not only from outside but from within Kenya—itself proof of a healthy democracy—and the churches and non-governmental human rights organisations are active there. Under new standing orders, members of the burgeoning select committees now confront their Ministers properly, and MPs must consult their own constituencies and local interest groups if they are to earn public respect. They are no longer simply the big men of the area. Equally, the political parties, especially the ruling PNU and the ODM, and the media have to reform themselves. The international community can play a stronger role there, too.
I emphasise that the wider east African region, including the Great Lakes, which many noble Lords have mentioned, is still in a state of ferment and that Kenya must remain a central force for peaceful change and careful diplomacy, as it has been for many years until last December. The regional bodies are growing in influence and are playing their part. We can help there, as we have alongside IGAD—the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development—in transforming the situation in southern Sudan.
One country that has come back into the spotlight is Somalia, which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned. Somalia is not only Kenya’s neighbour but the source of a large and growing community in northern Kenya, which is another flashpoint. The Ethiopia-backed transitional Government have failed, and neither an autonomous Somaliland nor the Islamic militia can provide a lasting solution. Is it not time for the UN to take on a more robust and permanent role alongside Ethiopia and Kenya? The latest Security Council resolution extending the mandate on piracy will help, but there needs to be a much stronger purpose in the UN and the African Union to find a diplomatic solution.
Somalia is of great concern to Kenya. Refugees are pouring over the border, which one local MP told me has become very unsafe; there have been Somalian attacks on Kenyan towns. Kenya is calling on us to raise the issue above the present level of indifference and inertia. Ten thousand civilians have been killed in Somalia in the past year, mostly in Mogadishu, and 600,000 people—more than half the population—have fled from the capital.
On 5 November, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said that we are trying to help but that we cannot act on our own. I hope that, for the sake of east Africa’s stability, we will keep trying.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on foreign affairs, although it is difficult to imagine what the future may hold for us all. These are very uncertain times. The United States President-elect has made it clear that his agenda is likely to be very different from that of his predecessor. He may be less inclined towards military intervention, seeming to favour negotiation instead. I am very pleased about that. I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and was always sceptical about the so-called liberal or humanitarian interventionism to which our former Prime Minister seemed addicted. Sending in the B-52s always threatened to increase the amount of human suffering, particularly among civilians.
Military intervention does not always assist western-leaning democrats. As a result of our intervention in Iraq, the fundamentalist Government in neighbouring Iran have been strengthened. They are a Government with an appalling human rights record. There are frequent public executions, women are repressed—indeed, they are still stoned to death for alleged offences—and there is repression of dissidents. I have supported those in all parties who have campaigned for the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran to be accepted by our Government as a legitimate political opposition to the current Iranian Government and I was pleased when court decisions compelled its removal from the proscribed list of terrorist organisations.
The present Government in Iraq have strong links with Iran. I welcome the decision to withdraw coalition forces from Iraq; it is clear that that is the intention of the forthcoming US Administration. However, in Iraq there is a concentration of Iranian dissidents and refugees in the city of Ashraf. They are at present covered by international law and the Secretary-General of the UN has spoken in support of their continuing to be protected. Our Government should seek to ensure that this protection is continued when coalition troops are withdrawn.
Despite my strong feelings about the Iranian Government and concern that a Government of this type should acquire nuclear weapons, I do not support military intervention; neither does the PMOI. But international pressure could be applied and due recognition given to those like the PMOI whose political agenda is very different and includes gender equality and opposes the brutality of the present regime.
On international co-operation, it is appropriate to consider the current state of our relations with Russia. I sometimes wonder whether our Foreign Office has really adjusted to the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists and that the Cold War is over. Russia is often represented in our media as aggressive, assertive and bullying, a description that is frequently applied to Vladimir Putin. He is often demonised in sections of our press. However, anyone who has visited Russia, as I have, knows that he is popular. Furthermore, as far as many Russians are concerned, there are good reasons for this. He has brought stability, following the anarchy of the Yeltsin years. The chaotic privatisation of Russian state-owned industry brought enormous wealth to a few and impoverishment, unemployment and humiliation to many. Things have improved in recent years and Putin is credited with having brought about these changes.
There is also no doubt about the way in which the last war, which they call the great patriotic war, still resonates with many Russians. Nearly 27 million Russians died and the Nazi armies reached quite close to Moscow. Leningrad, as it then was, suffered the most appalling siege and this is still remembered in St Petersburg. US missile sites in adjoining countries and the possible eastward extension of NATO give Russians the feeling that they are being surrounded, which is not surprising, given their recent history.
The Georgian dispute was presented in our media entirely, at least in the beginning, from the standpoint of the Georgian leader. His decision to invade South Ossetia did not emerge until much later. The dispute was reported originally as simply a matter of Russian aggression. Some years ago I visited Georgia and I was struck by the strong cultural links that existed with Russia. Many of the population still identify with Russia. Over the years there have been population exchanges and about 1 million Georgians now live in Russia. The same is true of the Ukraine, which has a substantial Russian population. The idea that these two countries—part of what Russia regards as its near-abroad—should join NATO seems absurd and is bound to be regarded as provocative by many Russians. After all, what is NATO for? What have these two countries to do with the north Atlantic?
I suspect that the CIA has been very active in both countries and has encouraged forces identified as being anti-Russian with a view to reinvigorating a Cold War-type stand-off. Now Russia is seeking to make contacts in South America, in the backyard of the United States, as a direct response to the missile sites and the eastward spread of NATO.
The fact has to be recognised that Russia is a major power, with vast natural resources and legitimate national interests. Fortunately, there is some understanding of this within the EU—hence the decision that has put NATO membership of these two countries on hold, at least for the time being. The whole notion should be dropped. The so-called neocons look set to lose influence over US policies in the future and it will be interesting to see whether the new Administration follow a different and more realistic course. I sincerely hope so.
My Lords, in my two years in your Lordships’ House I have seldom heard a debate so unanimously led by the spirit of peace, accord and humanity, with concerns expressed with such unanimity. It therefore strikes a discordant note to rise at this hour and talk about weapons of war and warfare itself, but the last two words of the title of this debate are “and defence”. I shall speak briefly on the subject and raise with the Minister two issues.
The first concerns the active front-line helicopter fleet available to our fighting forces at the present time. At the moment there are 512 such helicopters actively engaged, although that figure includes a number that are currently under maintenance, on long-term conversion or being upgraded. Those 512 helicopters comprise 159 that are entirely in the two categories of Lynx. The remaining 11 categories average 32 per model and must represent the most horrendous burden in terms of maintaining for so many fragmentary groups an adequate provision of spares and skilled maintenance. I cannot imagine a worse average number to have to cope with in terms of maintenance needs. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at this issue. Will she indicate how many of the 512 machines are actively available for service at any one time? What could be done to centralise spares on a smaller range? That would make a large economy, which might ultimately help to finance the increase of the fleet altogether.
In case any noble Lord should think that I must have a mole in order to get such accurate data, I should hasten to say that I have something much better than that—I have Hansard. The data were set out in Commons Hansard on 4 July at col. 478. Unless Hansard got the information from a mole, these data are absolutely good quality and beyond challenge.
My second concern relates to the defence technical academy at St Athan, the former RAF base that is being converted by a company called Metrix into the principal education centre for our defence forces. The work is being done at a cost of £16 billion. That is quite a large sum of money. It could fund the rescue of a bank or two and certainly cover the Olympics on the current estimate—we must hope that it would still prove sufficient. However, the figure is quite staggering in the context of the present MoD procurement budget, as this project will take up roughly half of it. My question is really one about value for money because at the moment we are facing huge procurement demands.
We have just heard the good news about the intended delivery in six or seven years’ time of the two carriers, which will be very welcome. However, when they come into operation, they will be in desperate and urgent need of adequate seaborne defences to protect them, particularly if, as we understand, they are going to be insertion carriers for amphibious warfare, which are in many ways the most difficult to defend. Instead of the traditional defence concerns and preoccupations of an ordinary carrier, when you look at the sky for dive-bombers and at the sea for submarines, you also have to look for land-based attacks. There is a triple direction of attack to defend against.
In one respect we are most fortunate, because the Royal Navy has just taken delivery of what may be the greatest ship in terms of technical capability that has ever come into its possession. It has been presented with the second ship in the category of Type 45 destroyers, which is seemingly a vessel beyond the wildest dreams of any admiral who ever set to sea. The first of the range had a few problems, but these have been ironed out in the second. I hope that we will see the rest of the order of six, once it has been fulfilled, all conforming to the second of the class. That information comes from publications such as Jane’s and other technical magazines that report on the subject and I have no reason to doubt it.
The carriers will cost over £1 billion each. On 21 July, the Minister for the Armed Forces announced that he is now taking a close look at the St Athan £16 billion budget with the contracting party to see if it can be cut. I suggest that it requires only a 12 per cent cut in the budget to finance an additional two Type 45 destroyers, which would take us to the target of eight vessels. As my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever has said before in this House, that is the minimum number required to provide adequate cover for the two carriers facing their triple defence concerns when they are seaborne in a dozen years’ time. These two concerns are fundamental to the future security of this invaluable and hugely influential addition to our fleet.
The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, in his days as Chief of the Naval Staff, gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph—I imagine that he does not do so too often these days—and said that the Navy needed 30 frigates and destroyers. When he said that, there were 35; today there are only 25 and in a year’s time there will be only 22. So we will have ultimately a net figure of about 27, which is not enough. I would like to know what the noble Lord, Lord West, would say wearing his present hat about the security implications that this carries. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to an Iranian shipborne nuclear bomb bearing down on our shores. I hope that we will have eight Type 45s available for defence when that hour comes, because we might then have a chance of stopping it.
These are serious concerns that go beyond other immediate budgetary concerns and procurement requirements; they are two paramount points with which the Minister should be concerned.
My Lords, last month I was privileged to visit Baghdad. The international zone in that city is a truly amazing sight—all concrete blast walls, razor wire and check points. Pedestrians are strongly discouraged, if not altogether totally forbidden, and helicopters seem to be two a penny. I am sorry to say that I saw nothing of the rest of Iraq, apart from the remarkable congregation of St George’s Church, Haifa Street, Baghdad, and Basra airport.
It is true that violence is now much less, even compared with last summer, but personal security and freedom of movement throughout Iraq are unpredictable and sometimes poor. Civilians still suffer severe shortages of water and electricity, and health services are not good because so many medical staff have left Iraq. Even though most schools are functioning, progress since the fall of Saddam can only be called disappointing. Far too many people are being detained without trial, both by the United States and the Iraqi authorities.
Because I was travelling with Canon Andrew White, I was able to see the reconciliation that has developed between the senior religious leaders—Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and Christian. They stated their agreement very clearly last August by issuing a joint Shia-Sunni fatwa against violence and, in particular, against suicide bombing and attacks on civilians. This was quite unprecedented. The religious leaders are acting together to curb and prevent the earlier and the recent attacks on Christians and other minorities. They wish to see a law-based state, one without corruption, particularly in the police and army, and an independent judiciary. I am glad to say that the religious leaders have committed themselves to meet every two months. Politically, the constitution and the oil law are controversial and therefore of great importance, as indeed are the agreements on the future status of external military forces.
Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, I suggest that better understanding of religious and spiritual motives and greater co-operation with religious leaders would be very helpful in other conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, not to mention the Horn of Africa. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, that Jerusalem is just as important to Christians and Muslims as it is clearly to Jews. It seems that agreement is needed for free access by all concerned to their religious sites and for some kind of time-sharing within the old city of Jerusalem.
I turn now to Israel and Palestine, where there is uncertainty because of the general election in Israel, the handover of office in the United States and the lack of unity on the Palestinian side. I can therefore only ask questions, although these relate to the urgent needs of the people, who have been suffering for far too long.
Has Israel yet responded to the European Union presidency statement of 14 November about Gaza? Will the presidency ensure that the whole civilian population of Gaza does not go on suffering further collective punishment, contrary to international law and the EU-Israel trade agreement? Has Israel acted on the request by our Foreign Secretary to allow entry for humanitarian supplies to Gaza and, more widely, to implement the binding agreement of 2005 on movement and access? Lastly, are Her Majesty's Government making progress in their request to Israel concerning the release of elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly? Of course the release of Corporal Shalit will be asked for, but even a caretaker Government should be able to resolve such matters. I look forward to the Minister’s replies on all those points, all the more because of the eyewitness account of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, which we heard earlier.
There is a further small step that could be taken now. Hamas, as has been said already, cannot be for ever excluded, even though nearly three years have been wasted since its election victory. Will the Government use their good offices to secure free movement for Hamas’s leaders? That would enable those in Gaza to meet those in Damascus and to meet both the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. This could be done quietly and without a fanfare of trumpets. Will the Government at least consult the Government of Saudi Arabia on this point? Your Lordships will recall the major efforts made by that Government to achieve, first, the Arab League peace initiative mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and, secondly, the short-lived Palestinian Government of national unity. I trust that I have made a practical and usable suggestion in the hopes of getting nearer to real peace instead of the endless and very frustrating process that has been going on for so long.
I conclude with one implication for home policy. British Muslims and others should be free to make political criticisms of the de facto military occupations of countries such as Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan without automatically being labelled extremists. To prevent this, our Ministers should consult regularly with the elected representatives of the Muslim population in England, Wales and Scotland, locally and nationally. We need much greater sensitivity and understanding of the links between foreign and domestic policy.
My Lords, some hours ago this debate started and, in his usual amiable way, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, made an attack on the Labour Government. It was long on condemnation but short on solutions. However, I agreed with his remarks about the new Administration in the United States. What he had to say about them was highly relevant. I hope that we will follow up his remarks carefully and practically.
Many years ago, I was a Eurosceptic. How wrong I was. I realised this long before I went to the European Commission, but my experience there underlined it in no uncertain way. Of course, meetings of Commissioners evidence disagreements; that also happens here when Ministers meet. Compromises have to be sought. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that; indeed, it illustrates how this aspect of democracy works. Differences have to be debated in private, but ultimately policies have to be defined and emerge.
Over the years, majorities in the Labour and Conservative Parties have largely reversed their positions, and the Liberal Democrats, under their present leadership, have become rather less enthusiastic about the European Union. For my part, not only do I think that there is no alterative to supporting the European project, I would fear for its demise in global affairs if Britain became ambivalent about it.
We are now confronting a global economic downturn. It is academic to ask whether, as I believe, we would have emerged from it in a better state had we adopted the euro—we are where we are—but joining the euro must be our ultimate aim. It is distinctly realisable once the credit crunch has been overcome.
What I find infinitely depressing is the stance of most of the Conservative Party. Some stress the desirability of leaving the European Union entirely, which would be fatal to the United Kingdom’s true interests. Others express the belief that, somehow or other, we can apply an ambiguous attitude to the European Union—that we can be both in and out. That seems to be the policy, if one can dignify it as such, of the Conservative leadership. But would other members of the European Union tolerate this attitude?
This section of the Conservative Party hopes that the Irish will not change their stance. But what will it do if they do not? Even if they do, would it be tenable for a leading member of the EU to adopt such a position? Its ambivalence or even hostility to the European Union may just be an electoral ruse—a device which it hopes will confuse the electorate and a device which, once it achieves power, can be conveniently overlooked. Such a plan would be both undignified and dishonest. However, there are others—notably, but not only, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke—who perceive that Britain has a leading role to play inside the European Union, helping to mould it into a vital cog in reshaping the world’s economic, financial and environmental policies.
What of the Government? How I wish that most if not all the opportunities to be a cardinal member of the EU had been seized over the past 11 years. However, at the very least, the Labour Government have shown their desire to be a prominent player, in marked contrast to the majority of the Conservative Party.
There can be no doubt that the EU has an indispensable task to fulfil in global affairs. Moulding an answer to the credit crunch crisis cannot be achieved unless there is a concerted approach, led by the United States and the EU together. That is surely the message of Barack Obama. The same is true of climate change. The hopes engendered by the election of a democratic president and congress in the United States, alongside an EU determined to promote effective change, provide real hope for the peoples of one world, far too many of whom are vulnerable to the challenges posed by global warming.
Britain must be, and I believe is, alive to such challenges. With others of similar inclination, it is prepared to do what is necessary to overcome those challenges. It follows that Britain must demonstrate its good faith by what it does at home. In this respect, the Turner report is highly significant. It is the first time that any developed country has addressed this topic in so positive a way. The report establishes detailed and exacting targets for cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, and the Prime Minister and his Government are to be congratulated on accepting it. To move to a reduction of 80 per cent by 2050, as against the 1990 level, and to achieve the reductions contemplated by 2020, is immensely demanding. I hope and pray that this will be achieved, although it will not happen in my lifetime.
What the Government have to show is how they will tackle the problem of fuel poverty which, without government help, so many will suffer.
The report has been criticised for not taking a tougher line on aviation, but new, quieter airplanes will certainly come on-stream fairly soon, accompanied by more stringent and different landing and take-off techniques. The adoption of flight paths that will affect fewer people on the ground is also highly relevant. Already the aviation world is undertaking more ameliorative measures, and the number of people disturbed by flights has declined by almost three-quarters in the past 20 years.
I have sought to describe how imperative it is to embrace the EU much more positively than has been the case in the past—for there really is no other choice—and to recognise that, given the right leadership and policies, the world can confront the challenges of the future with optimism.
My Lords, it is extraordinarily difficult for me to speak today, because I feel that I am something of an interloper. Normally, the subjects of foreign affairs and defence would be in the first part of the Queen’s Speech and that was why this day was chosen. I am not quite sure what I am going to say, and if I cause offence it is not intentional. I had intended to speak on identity cards, and was going to point out that that 12 noble Lords here are “of”s, and that if we follow the identity card rule, only the first part of the name will be on the card. The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, would become “Lord Wright of”.
Identity cards are a complete waste of time, so I turn more to the question of what is missing. I had intended to speak on trade, so in the list of Ministers on 8 October and in the list today there is no mention of trade—which seems to be the lifeblood of the nation. I tried to ring the Department of Trade, but could not get through; so I rang someone who I knew there and asked if they could put me through. There was no one there who dealt with trade. Someone politely said, “No, we’re called BERR now. It rhymes with something beginning with F, almost”. We are not interested in trade.
I thought of an initiative; I was told that in life you had better be careful when you show initiative, you must be even more careful if you take initiative, but you must never initiate unless you can give someone else the credit. My noble friend Lady Park dropped me in it—she has a capability in life of dropping you in it and getting you out of it—by suddenly announcing that I was to speak at the big maritime dinner with 220 people with all the gold braid. I know that all my life I have been the Snopake speaker—you go to a dinner and you scratch the menu to see which chap you are replacing at the last minute. I could not find out who it was, but I gave certain undertakings to the audience that I would restore trade. I am going to take up those undertakings.
I was so pleased when we had the President of the Board of Trade here the other day; I hope that he comes often. I told him afterwards that I would get him the flag that he could put on the front starboard mudguard—I have a copy of the flag that he is entitled to have. I thought that I would introduce a Private Member’s Bill to reconstitute the Board of Trade—I wanted to go into the Navy all my life. I had a short period of time in it, and was told then that we would never be east of Suez and that I should not join a declining industry. I then hoped that I might become First Lord of the Admiralty.
I thought that I would introduce a Green Paper. I was going to call it a “blue paper” about the maritime industry, but the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, a trustee of HMS “Warrior”, said, “No, it’s a Green Paper”. I take noble Lords back to the year 1621, when King James gave an instruction to the Privy Council to,
“take into their consideration, the true causes of the decay of trade and scarcity of coyne … and to consult the means for the removing of these inconveniences”.
That is very appropriate today. It was later written that the economic confusion of the last three months of 1721 had perhaps no parallel in the history of England. I am sure that in January I will be able to write about the economy of the past three months. Later, in 1922, my grandfather was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. Your Lordships will know that all great political leaders were either Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade or President of the Board of Trade—that included the Liberals. At that time, after the war, it was announced that the Department of Commerce would be concerned with the development of trade,
“with vigilance, with information, with the duty of thinking out and assisting national commercial and industrial policy”.
This year, we will have a balance of payments deficit of £100 billion on manufactures. They say that you can make that up with what we used to call invisibles, which were later called financial services. That is going to pot, too. So we will have major balance of trade problems. Does it matter? My economist friends say, “No, as long as we have the revenue coming in, it does not matter”. I made a terrible mistake. I kept thinking of trade as being exports. I forgot that throughout history we have been an importing nation and that in order to protect our imports we rely upon the Royal Navy. Hence, most of my contribution will be related to the Navy.
What initiatives can we actually take? We import almost all of our manufactures. Our main trading partners are the United States and south-east Asia. As a noble Lord pointed out earlier, we have to be worldwide. In considering that I wondered what seven points I could make, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Jay. First, we should get together with the Commonwealth. That is perfectly easy. If one takes a map of the Commonwealth, you will find that the 53 nations called independent states have the bulk of the world’s raw materials. The Commonwealth has the longest coastline in the world. At 44,000 kilometres, it is 720 kilometres longer than the former Soviet Union territories. That is the first initiative.
We then declare a 200 or 300-mile limit from all our Commonwealth territories and claim the seabed and all the rights therein. We then claim a limit of 50 per cent between our islands and the mainland. You will now see that very quickly we have dominated the sea, because the sea is perhaps two-thirds of the world.
If we think further and ask how we are going to protect our trade, we really do need the strength of the Navy. As regards piracy and the seas as a whole, you then say that the United Kingdom has certain advantages. We have the best possible maritime surveillance with hydrographics and so on. I should explain that I am the secretary to the Parliamentary Space Committee, which means that I can tell you that we have the ability to survey everything to do with piracy and to control things. My next suggestion is for the Minister to give the Navy responsibility for space and everything above the oceans of the earth.
Trade means exports and imports, and it used to be investment. Winston Churchill formed an organisation called the Export Credit Guarantees Department to guarantee the financing of trade. That has almost disappeared into oblivion. Last year it financed only 1 per cent of British exports. One of our great advantages was to finance development in other countries, which had raw materials and natural assets, where there was the combination of finance and, you could call it, “take and pay”. If you look at the natural resources of all the Commonwealth countries and of Africa and other parts of the world, often the poorest countries have the greatest natural resources.
I got involved in building a railway in Gabon. We were worried that we might be overrun. The suggestion was that we would ask the Grenadier Guards if they would guard the railway line. Out of that comes the feeling that when we are developing, one of the most important things is the defence of the environment in which the development is undertaken.
Sudan was pronounced the bread-basket of the Middle East. I spent a long time out there and it could be the bread-basket of the Middle East. The climate is perfect for growing dohra, and anybody would buy the end product. I have quite a lot of concern in these areas. The opportunities are still there.
I turn again to the map of the world; I put our territories, as I call them—this was 1911, the time of the British Empire—and the French Empire together and found that actually they covered over 50 per cent of the coastlines of the world. You ask why this is important. Is the sea with its oceans important? Of course the oceans are important—they carry our trade and the interruption of our trade. We are currently the biggest importing nation of the industrialised world. We are more reliant on imports than anybody else is. However, we always were—and that is where I had made a mistake.
Therefore, you look at the sort of thing that could happen when a Russian submarine surfaces in the Antarctic. Forty-six people are claiming territory there. Before it was only those who played rugby, such as Papua New Guinea. Actually, all the rugby-playing countries had claims there.
One of the worries is whether there will be wars about natural resources. I am not sure. In the new year, I shall be publishing my Green Paper, called Shipping it Green. It will have the help of the various bodies. I will circulate it to your Lordships. Then I shall introduce a Bill suggesting that the Department of Trade should be reconstituted as the Board of Trade. That has a First Lord of the Admiralty, every Secretary of State and virtually everybody—the Archbishop of Canterbury —and all the ingredients we need. If we also bring in the Commonwealth, it would be worthier of our future. I propose that we should reconstitute the Board of Trade, and I should be grateful if the Minister would ask the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, if he would give his approval.
My Lords, I first apologise to your Lordships’ House, particularly to my noble friend Lady Taylor and even to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, for not being present for their speeches. It is a sin upon me, and I trust I will never repeat it in your Lordships’ House.
Secondly, I found two encouraging things in today’s debate. One was a reference to the new President-elect of the United States. His national security team is of the highest quality, and we can all take great encouragement from that. The other encouraging thing I heard today fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Wright, but I shall not tell you what it was now; I shall save that right until the end and tantalise the noble Lord a little.
I am afraid that I am on my feet for one purpose and one purpose only: to discuss a procurement situation in the Ministry of Defence relevant to its strategic airlift capability. As your Lordships will know, the Royal Air Force currently has, basically, two types of lift aircraft. We currently have four C17s, and hope to be getting six. We have the C130 in two configurations: the C130K and the C130J, the old Hercules. For reasons that have never been clear to me, the C130K came before the C130J, but that is how Lockheed decided its business.
We have a problem with both C130s. When the C130J first came into service, my boss then, my noble friend Lord Robertson, had great difficulties. He had to summon the head of Lockheed and give him a right dressing down before certain problems were sorted. They were sorted, and the C130J is now an extremely good piece of kit. The C130K is very old, and we are currently suffering seriously in Afghanistan because we have lost four of them there. Because of the additional burden placed upon them, the wear and tear on the surviving ones is now becoming very serious indeed. The Ministry of Defence has identified our shortage of airlift capability if Afghanistan—I am glad to see the Minister nodding in agreement—as one of the most serious problems facing the Royal Air Force in that area.
The solution until now, of course, has been that we do not have to wait long before we are granted the use of an aeroplane called the A400M. I have spoken briefly about the A400M in your Lordships’ House before. It is a pernicious waste of money. I will not weary your Lordships with a detailed description of quite how delayed it is. I know we have delays in the introductions of all sorts of new aeroplanes or equipment; that is quite understandable. However, we have just had an announcement from the EADS—the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company—that it can give no date at all for when the A400M will be delivered—or even when it will first fly. This is down to the inability of the engine consortium—in which I am afraid Rolls-Royce takes a lead, but also involves Snecma and MTU—to deliver engines that can carry the relatively puny load required of them.
There is now considerable tension between Airbus and the engine consortium as to where the blame lies. However, the fact is that although the engine consortium claims to have delivered four engines on time, those responsible for building the plane have made it absolutely clear that not one of these engines is up to operating requirements. Nobody knows when the first one will be. There is not only the problem of marrying these huge new engines, the biggest turboprops ever to have been built, to the wings of the A400M, but considerable problems with the FADEC system, controlling how the engines operate, are yet to be solved at an unspecified time.
Noble Lords who have attended sessions of the defence group upstairs may think that this is purely a personal obsession of mine, but I assure your Lordships that it is not. I am well aware of other British Ministers for defence procurement who have wanted to cancel the A400M. Of course, my noble friend cannot possibly say that at the moment because she is committed to it. However, I well recall that when I was at the MoD and I tried to get this wretched plane stopped—I left the MoD for the last time nine years ago in 1999—officials said to me, “Don’t worry, Minister, you won’t have to cancel it. You won’t have to bear the obloquy of cancelling it. The Germans are going to cancel it for you because the German defence budget is so tight that they can’t possibly continue with all the defence procurement programmes they have at the moment. Don’t worry, you won’t have to take any of the obloquy”. We were already very unpopular because we had found out, unsurprisingly, that our programme for a NATO frigate was a disaster. On land, the FADEC system was another disaster and we did not want to get ourselves labelled as the bad boys who were always cancelling everything.
I have a solution. I was delighted to see in the Financial Times of 16 November that a Monsieur Gallois, the head of the EADS, said that,
“it would not make sense to abandon the troubled $20bn A400M project, Europe’s largest military contract, to contain costs. ‘If we stopped we would have to reimburse very significant sums to our clients’ he said”.
I found that an extremely encouraging piece of news because here is a solution: we go to Monsieur Gallois and say, “Don’t worry. We won’t impose any penalty payments on you for failure to deliver if you won’t impose any penalty payments on us for stopping the order”. It seems to me that the solution is self-evident and absolutely cost-free. I do not say that as a joke; I hope very much that I will get a serious ministerial reply to that point.
I should tell your Lordships why I am so enamoured of the C17, having had an opportunity to fly in one some time ago down in South Carolina. First, it will carry, at 77,000 kilograms, more than twice the projected load of the A400M. Secondly, it will carry it farther. Thirdly, it will carry it faster. Fourthly, it has a marvellous short-field capability. Fifthly, it is extremely manoeuvrable on the ground. Sixthly, it is very good at handling dirt runways. Seventhly, it has an ability to be converted into a medevac aircraft in a matter of minutes. It is an extraordinary sight to see the crew converting a transport aircraft, in part or in whole, to a medevac aircraft. This can be done with an aircrew of only three. I am delighted that we already have six C17s. I was also delighted to read that the Ministry of Defence is considering getting some more. In my view it has the flexibility to be used for tactical airlift requirements of the sort that we need in Afghanistan.
I promised your Lordships a final treat. When we have foreign affairs debates I always regret that the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, is not present. But, then, today I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, describe the United States as our closest ally. I cannot tell your Lordships what pleasure that gave me. I do not know how many other of his former colleagues at the Foreign Office could deliver themselves of those sentiments, but I can see that some of them look as though they would be sucking on lemons if they had to do so. I would be delighted if the Minister could bring himself to say that, but I understand how difficult he might find it.
My Lords, apart from the extremely short intervention of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in the gap, this has been a long and complicated debate, but it has been very rich in different contributions from many noble Lords. Congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells on a compelling maiden speech.
Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on European matters reminded me vividly of the sombre expressions of lack of enthusiasm from the Conservative Front Bench on European matters. While that was sad, in contrast we on these Benches became agreeably engaged by the noble Lord’s enthusiasm for creating the rest of the new world order, perhaps not so much in the image of the domination of the United States. That is an important theme for the future when we consider all these problems.
The economic and financial crisis in the whole of the western world, but also in Asia and elsewhere, has helped us to restore the sensible equilibrium between Europe and other parts of the world eastwards and the United States. In that, we have been getting away from the awful hegemony of the United States of recent years and all the mistakes that were made in United States policy in the two terms of President Bush’s Administration. However, not everything is perfect. Our enthusiasm was very great when Barack Obama became the President-elect, to be inaugurated in January. The voting scenarios in the United States in some of the rural areas, particularly in the south, looked like the first South African elections in the way that people were joining long queues to vote, often for the first time. It was a very inspiring moment.
At the same time, we were reminded that not everything is so simple and straightforward. When Barack Obama went to the Middle East when he was still a candidate, close to the date of the election, he spent two hours in Palestine with the Palestinian Authority and 22 hours of the 24-hour visit in Israel. I hope that that will not be so in the future, because symbolically that represents to the struggling Palestinians an imbalance in the old American tradition of recent years, but not in the days immediately after the Second World War, when there was a much more sensible attitude of balance between different groups and emerging countries in the Middle East. America is still at the very early stages of the new Administration-elect, and we shall see how it plays out from January. They will have many difficult and urgent things to do in domestic policy, but overseas policy will be paramount.
In the mean time, Europe played a leading role operationally in the financial and economic crisis. I hope that the Minister will agree later, if he has the chance, how united Europe was. I know that there was a drastic, emergency financial and economic crisis, but it was striking how, at long last, after all those complaints of many years of Europe not being united enough in centralised policy—centralised in all senses of the word—this time that happened, and Britain led the way. We were rather proud of the way in which the British Government handled that crisis on behalf of the nation.
I move on from there to a number of areas where I will be deliberately brief, and I will only refer to several areas, with apologies to colleagues who might wish that I would mention others, for which there will not be time. I do not want to delay the House at this late hour.
First, there were the references by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and others, to Lisbon and all that now has gone beyond that. I have just come back from an interesting visit to the European Parliament on Monday and Tuesday. I spent a lot of time with people representing all groups, all provenances and all the main committees and Members, and I saw very senior figures. The European Parliament is now developing with the interesting addition of the new European member states. There is a very strong feeling that Europe must move ahead on all these fronts, with the member states working together, and that the operational texture of the Lisbon treaty and its provisions are needed to ensure that that can happen smoothly. It is not a matter of excessive institutional obsession, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, suggested; it is the practical way to go forward with such a large number of member states. Therefore, I am sad that in the European context the only section in that Parliament which is against moving forward in that way, apart from UKIP and one or two small right-wing minority nationalist groups in other member states, is the British Conservative sub-section of the EPP. Apparently it is still poised to leave the EPP but we are not sure when and how that will happen. That is very sad for this country. It makes us wish that the Government would assert themselves more and more on the European front.
I move on to the financial background and the interest rate. While this debate has been going on, the Bank of England has cut the interest rate from 3 to 2 per cent. One full percentage point is a dramatic cut, and it means that the central bank rate is now down to as low as its 1951 level. At the same time, the ECB rate has gone down from 3.25 to 2.5 per cent, a reduction of 0.75 per cent. Therefore, for the second time, it is higher than the Bank of England rate, which traditionally has always been higher in order to prop up the pound and ensure that people buy UK Treasury and government bonds.
That major change must be a precursor to something else. Some of the very shrewd veterans of City practices are now saying, “My word, this means that the Government are already surreptitiously devaluing the pound”, which has fallen significantly from the summer pre-crisis rate to the present level. The pound has become a marginal international currency. There is no shame or excessive sadness in saying that; it is just the reality of the sweeping monetary movements that have occurred in the world over the past five decades. The pound sterling is now down to 4 per cent of total reserves. The leading reserve currency—the United States dollar—is now being approached more and more closely by the euro, which is emerging as the strongest currency in the world.
Although this debate concerns mainly foreign affairs, I am sure that the Minister would be prepared to refer, even briefly, to the question of Britain joining the euro—a matter that is moving more and more to the fore. Even if the British Government decide to submit that as a proposal, as we know, it would take some time for it to be achieved under the procedures of the European Central Bank. It would also be a very good opportunity for the Government to get rid of referendum-itis—the poison that is still in the British system—as they did, very bravely, with the Lisbon treaty. We on these Benches were glad about that and welcomed it, and we supported the Government wholeheartedly in what they did with that legislation. There is no intrinsic reason for the Government to hesitate on this matter. Therefore, I hope that there will be a strong Answer to my Oral Question, number 4, on Monday. President Barroso, one of the most respected Presidents of the European Commission, recently referred—rather provocatively, in the view of UKIP Members in the European Parliament—to the prospect of us joining the euro. He said that many more British politicians now want us to do so and would very much welcome it.
With apologies to my noble friend Lord Addington and others who mentioned important defence matters, I turn briefly to another major area that has emerged repeatedly in this debate—the Middle East and Israel/Palestine. This matter must now be tackled by our Government, as well as the European Union portion of the quartet. The recent meeting of the quartet in mid-November, with the French presidency taking the lead and Russia making much more of a contribution than usual, was encouraging for the first time. Russia will host the next meeting at the end of the first quarter of next year. However, when these matters were raised in the short debate on 13 October in the previous Session, there was nothing new to report. I say that with no disrespect to the Minister, whom we admire very much and welcome once again on this occasion. He has been a very patient listener to this long debate. He himself reiterated the position of the quartet and this country’s participation in it back in January and February. Now, surely the Government realise that there must be forward movement. I am sure that the Israeli Government realise it—there are signs of that.
I also saw Tzipi Livni very briefly at the European Parliament on Monday when she addressed the Foreign Affairs Committee. No one knows what will happen to her. Would she be Prime Minister if she managed to win? Perhaps it will be Mr Netanyahu instead, as people in Israel tend to expect. The polls in Israel show that people want to have discussions. They even want to talk to Hamas and the fringe parties in the Israeli political spectrum. The Shas and other parties privately say that they would like to talk to Hamas directly, behind the scenes to start with, but no one encourages them to do so.
It is not anti-Israel but pro-Israel to say that the time has come for that Government, and the new one after the elections next year, to seize this opportunity and do a deal. Israel has so much compared with Palestine. Palestine has 22 per cent of the territory left of the combined territory after partition in 1947. Now is the time for Israeli generosity, which will then help them to save the Zionist state of Israel, which I support, as does the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg. That is the only reality that matters. If they postpone again and look to the United States to give them artificial support by endless vetos of UN Security Council resolutions, that will be a blind alley that will eventually destroy the Zionist state.
Please, please, after so many powerful contributions made tonight—we are proud of the contributions from these Benches as well—can the Minister move forward and give us some powerful assurances that the quartet is not just a farce but a reality of international importance?
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. We have a very impressive speakers list, but one name is missing—my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, who, I know, would have wanted to be here tonight to speak on Zimbabwe and defence issues, which she always does so well. I hope that I speak on behalf of all noble Lords who have spoken in wishing the noble Baroness a speedy recovery and that she will be back in her place very soon.
Like other noble Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells on a truly excellent maiden speech. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for his excellent chairmanship of the European Union Committee and I welcome in his place the noble Lord, Lord Roper, who took over his responsibilities yesterday.
As my noble friend Lord Howell said, I shall concentrate on the defence aspects of this debate. I am sorry that time precludes me from speaking on some very important issues that I should like to have addressed, particularly Zimbabwe, on which we heard eloquent speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and my noble friend Lord Blaker. I congratulate him on his persistence on Zimbabwe issue. I listened intently to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester on the Democratic Republic of Congo, and on Gaza/Israel, about which we heard thought-provoking speeches from my noble friend Lord Steinberg and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed.
Over the past year I have been privileged to meet many service men and women from all three services. I have met people who have suffered life-changing injuries and those who have carried out significant acts of bravery. Every one has impressed me with their outstanding ability, determination and professional manner. The whole House recognises and pays tribute on sadly frequent occasions to those who have given their lives in the course of their duties in Afghanistan and elsewhere. At this time our heartfelt sympathy goes to the families of the two Royal Marines killed in Afghanistan last week.
I also pay tribute to the key role played by the voluntary organisations and the old comrades’ associations in supporting veterans and their families. They provide financial and other assistance to the families of those killed. We on these Benches welcome John Hutton as Defence Secretary of State and we are pleased that he does not have other ministerial responsibilities impinging on his time and attention. He will have to tackle head-on some very pressing issues, not least disengagement from Iraq, increasing pressure from the United States for a significant expansion in Afghanistan, procurement issues from the pressured defence budget and the latest figures showing the Armed Forces to be nearly 6,000 under strength. Happily, we are starting to see a real groundswell in public support for our Armed Forces, exemplified by the crowds that turned out in their thousands to support them and their families, the Royal British Poppy Appeal and the Help for Heroes campaign.
Many speakers mentioned Afghanistan. We agree with the Minister that we must be resolute. Abandoning Afghanistan is not an option. If we do not go to the Taliban, they will come to us. I share the welcome given by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, to effective French involvement. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced in the other place that a review of our mission in Afghanistan will take place. We await the result with great interest, particularly on whether our force size is to be increased and whether the current level of resources, including transport aircraft and helicopters, is sufficient.
However, it is clear that something must be done about the Afghan Government’s rampant corruption. Many returning members of the Armed Forces take this issue up with me. They ask what cause their colleagues are dying for as they see the Afghan Government spending their time lining their pockets. We are annually putting £1.6 billion in aid into Afghanistan and apparently less than 4 per cent of it works through the system to ground level, largely due to corruption. It is outrageous that so little of our taxes go to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. Far too much goes on luxuries such as cars and houses for Afghanistan’s new rich. DfID must urgently redirect its policy on this.
We on these Benches welcome the Government’s support for NATO, which was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. There are members—not least this country—who are doing a disproportionate amount of the funding, the fighting and, consequently, the dying. This is simply not sustainable in the longer term. For NATO to work properly as a security alliance, members need to understand that membership brings implicit and explicit responsibilities to ensure that their militaries have the capability and the will to fight and win on a modern-day battlefield.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, stressed the importance of a joined-up approach in Afghanistan by the FCO, DfID and the MoD, and also mentioned the air bridge. I know how much the Minister is aware of this problem and how much she is doing behind the scenes to try to resolve it. I do not often see the service personnel whom I meet get really angry, but their anger is palpable at the seemingly endless, and entirely unacceptable, delays in getting them home to their families via the air bridge. To them, the shortcomings of this essential service seem to reflect complacent indifference on the part of those responsible. It is essential that all those responsible within the Armed Forces, the MoD and the Government as a whole act on an issue that is enormously damaging to morale. Can the Minister say something about the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, of how the Government intend to plug the gap in strategic airlift capability caused not least by the delays to the A400M programme? As the noble Lord pointed out, this matters because the existing fleet of C130Ks is on its last legs and the Js and the C17s are being pushed to the limit by high-altitude flying. I share the noble Lord’s enthusiasm for the C17.
My noble friend Lord James was rightly concerned at the shortage of helicopters. He made the point that we are operating 14 different models as personnel carriers, which is ruinously inefficient for spares and maintenance rotation. He asked whether we should consider using civilian craft when the threat from increasingly sophisticated IEDs has grown and fewer than one in three of the Army’s Apache attack helicopters is fit for purpose for front-line operations or for the training of pilots in Britain. That helicopter is so essential to the mission in Helmand that troops rarely venture out on long-scale operations without its support. I hope that the Minister will urgently consider that issue.
We agree with the noble Baroness that real progress has been made in Iraq. I look forward to the noble Lord saying more on the timescale for withdrawal, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the long-term defence relationship and the training aspects, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howell.
Naval power, one of the most useful, flexible and historically successful arms of the state, continues to be run down with cavalier disregard for our total dependence on sea trade. As my noble friend Lord Selsdon said, the cold fact is that without sea trade, we would have little food, fuel, or goods. The Gulf of Aden is a vital pinch point in sea routes from the east, so we are very disappointed that the much trumpeted transport Bill to address the piracy problem off Somalia was not in the Queen’s Speech.
Senior naval officers are itching to deal with the dangerously underrated problem of Somali waters. They say that deterrence would not be too difficult with trained crews, fast ships and a clear mandate. In the mean time, we must not let antipiracy operations be hampered by multiple commands and institutions. Whitehall appears to be absurdly concerned with the pirates’ human rights.
The Minister mentioned UORs. I join her in paying tribute to the commitment and responsiveness of defence companies in reacting to UORs. Publication of the equipment review is expected before Parliament rises for Christmas. Can the noble Lord tell us when it is expected? It appears that the defence industry will not benefit from the fiscal stimulus package announced in the Pre-Budget Report. That oversight is very disappointing given the contribution that the industry will make to the UK’s economic recovery. The aerospace and defence sectors employ about 124,000 people in this country. I understand that Britain's defence companies have warned the Government that cutting projects jeopardises the country's reputation as a serious military power. We do not want to find ourselves in five or 10 years’ time unable to play a role in the world because we did not invest today.
It is sadly apparent that the Government have provided only grudgingly, at best, essential support for our Armed Forces to fulfil the tasks that they are sent to undertake on our behalf. It is therefore very welcome that my right honourable friend David Cameron, in a recent open letter to members of the Conservative Party, explicitly listed as the fourth of his six policy priorities his determination to offer our Armed Forces the support that they deserve.
My Lords, it is a great honour for a second year running to respond to this debate on Her gracious Majesty's Address to Parliament. I join those who have congratulated the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells on his marvellous maiden speech. We look forward to many future contributions from him.
Let me immediately address the complaint of several noble Lords that there were absences in the gracious Speech—insufficient or no references, it was said, to Africa or to poverty, or even to climate change, it was suggested in one case, which in fact is addressed in the Speech. In the first sentence of the Speech, the word “global” appears. It appears because the philosophy of the Speech is very similar to the one which the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, stated today: everything is global today. The theme of the Speech was a stripped-down emergency response to a financial crisis at home, generated by global conditions. In the vision of the Speech is the intention to respond globally to this crisis.
In that regard, I know that I speak for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and all of us in government when I say that we imagine the G20 summit, to be held here at the beginning of April, to be an opportunity not only to take steps to reform the markets but to take concerted, co-ordinated action to protect global jobs and growth worldwide, not only in the G20 economies. We need to find ways to reach beyond that and include the poorer developing countries as well. Although the Speech was, as I said, a deliberately stripped-down speech that focused on the crisis faced here and around the world, it was intended to be a very global speech that acknowledges our mutual interdependence. Our economies and our prosperity are interlinked.
I completely concur with those who have commented on the changed mood of our meeting today compared with last year. Last year, we spoke a lot about globalisation and the shift of power to Asia—a theme of which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, frequently and importantly reminds us. There was a more ominous tone to this discussion today—a recognition that the shift of power brings with it dramatic risk, which has been accelerated by this crisis. That risk may well mean not only that power shifts more rapidly than we had foreseen, as countries that are in surplus in a sense benefit relatively during this period of turmoil, but that the turmoil and the turbulence may not necessarily be simply a short-term matter of economies stabilising—they may reflect the fact that our world has entered into an altogether more dangerous time.
I was therefore relieved to be able to clutch at a few straws of continuity. I was delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester once more set me a very difficult set of exam questions on the DRC. I fear that I may not be able to answer them all today for lack of time. Like everyone else in this House, I commend his complete moral dedication to this and the fact that he keeps it before us, and I will try to respond as much as I can today and more fully thereafter.
I was also absolutely delighted that proof that the world does not change came in the shape of a former FCO PUS, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who gave me seven pieces of what he described as advice but which, as a junior Minister, I know to be instructions. They are well taken.
The other great theme that many noble Lords raised was that, despite the dark clouds that hang heavily over us in many senses at the moment, there is one astonishing beacon of light—the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency. It has energised the world, but it is much more than the remarkable and perhaps ultimately impossible expectations that people have vested in this individual; it is an astonishing tribute to the United States and its people after a very difficult campaign. As noble Lords have said in the Chamber tonight, he was accused of all sorts of things and was misrepresented in ugly ways on the internet by bloggers and others. People had confidence in this new and relatively untested figure, who came through an extraordinary route to the presidency, and gave him this mandate. That speaks not only to Barack Obama but to the men and women—the voters—of the United States. So many of us in this Chamber have said over recent years that we hope to see America leading again on the values of liberty, human rights and multilateralism around the world, for which it has always been so important. In that regard, I have no difficulty in confirming to my noble friend Lord Gilbert my extraordinary respect for the United States. Perhaps I may suggest to him that he is better on planes than he is on Ministers, because I have no doubt in acknowledging the very special relationship that the United Kingdom must have with the United States.
Iraq was addressed at some length, very comprehensively and well by my noble friend Lady Taylor when she opened this debate. Let us be clear: as everyone has acknowledged today, there has been a strong improvement in the situation in Iraq, as regards both our own mission and, more importantly, its political and security situations. The surge has paid off in ways which even a year ago many did not foresee. As to when our mission will be complete and when we will leave, it is impossible at this stage to offer dates, particularly as negotiations are under way on governing future arrangements between ourselves and the Iraqi Government to follow on the US negotiation of its status of forces arrangements. As the Prime Minister has indicated, we very much expect that we are now far advanced in the process of moving to a much more normal, bilateral defence relationship where we can provide support of different kinds but are not actively engaged in the internal security arrangements of Iraq. The political and economic progress made in Basra and elsewhere is a tribute to what our soldiers and others who have served there have been able to do in recent years.
Our involvement in Afghanistan is not at a point where we can say that the problems are behind us. Very challenging problems are still ahead. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and others spoke of the lessons of history. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, spoke of the complexities of the mission and the need to make sure that, across our development, foreign affairs as well as defence activities remain truly tied together. It was very much with that in mind that the Prime Minister made the announcement yesterday in the Commons. We recognise that these efforts must work together.
We have always recognised that this is a political as well as a military effort and that there is a solution only if military pressure can create the conditions for a successful process of political reconciliation. I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that often political reconciliation may in our minds be too limited as just a matter of winning over tribal leaders and those who are not committed to the ideologies of the Taliban, and that we need to do a better job of understanding the ideological dimensions of what is happening in Afghanistan.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Owen, referred to the situation in Pakistan. While a great focus is put on the review under way by General Petraeus for President-elect Obama on American strategy in Afghanistan and there is much speculation that it may involve a surge, at least as significant a contribution of that work will be to point out that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan without addressing the problems of Pakistan as well. For too long, as many have argued today and previously in this Chamber, there has been a bifurcated approach where there has not been sufficient attention to the very serious difficulties that Pakistan faces. There has been the extraordinary triumph over the tragic circumstances of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Elections were able to proceed. A democratic Government have come to power, but we see them challenged by a very difficult economic situation with high inflation in the economy and high food prices.
We see also a challenge to civilian democratic rule in relations with the military. Without wanting to speculate too much on what happened in Mumbai, I regret that I cannot be quite as sanguine as my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we should wait to see what evidence is produced. Already at this stage one has to acknowledge that there was clear involvement on the part of not—I repeat, not—the Pakistan Government but of groups based in Pakistan. That poses a challenge to the Pakistani authorities, civilian and military, to make sure that they fully co-operate with the Indians in the investigation of these acts, and if necessary in the turning over of suspects to meet justice in India’s courts. Many of us can recall the near-war situation that arose in 2002 when a similar terrorist incident was not followed by necessary co-operation between the two Governments.
I turn to the Middle East, a subject that the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, knows I approach with some trepidation because I will never satisfy him. I recognise the validity of his point—that on the last occasion we debated these issues we were perhaps not able to offer sufficient in the way of a new response to his challenges and those of his colleagues. In that regard, the recent visit of the Foreign Secretary to the region merits attention. It is not just that he visited Syria, but that he was able to advocate strongly support for the Arab peace initiative. He was able to press very strongly both publicly and in private for the end of the humanitarian siege of Gaza and for supplies to be allowed in. He also pressed on making sure that illegal settlements are not the source of exports through trade agreements to the UK or to Europe. I hope that it is clear that he showed an even-handedness of approach that was intended on his part to try to fill the gap as one American Administration leaves office and another comes in. He was able to demonstrate some UK leadership on these issues.
There is no escaping the appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza, about which my noble friend Lord Ahmed was able to give us a first-hand account, and which the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord Wright—or as we now know him, “Lord Wright of”—reminded us about. The final plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, for talks is one that I am sure is a theme that President-elect Obama will have in mind as he puts in place a team to move forward.
I want to say a word about Iran, which did not get much mention today. I shall say again that I think we all agree that there is an offer on the table to Iran, and more importantly there is now the clear intention of a new Administration in Washington similarly to take a fresh look at these issues and work out how to move forward effectively and successfully in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions while giving the country a sense of its own security, and thus allow it to progress, because progress so far has frustratingly eluded us.
Brief mention was made of nuclear issues and it is worth recording that the cluster munitions treaty, which is so important to many noble Lords, was just yesterday signed in Oslo by the Foreign Secretary.
I turn now to Africa, which many felt needed more attention. I have mentioned already concerns about the Democratic Republic of Congo. We had an opportunity to debate them last week, so let me be brief and make several short points. We are pressing to strengthen MONUC deployment. This is not an abstract activity in New York; we are ringing around the troop contributors, calling on them and offering logistical support to get them to the Kivus as quickly as possible. We are offering the MONUC mission support with planning and other niche staff activities and encouraging those European countries that may wish to contribute to a MONUC force to do so. We recognise the urgency of getting a more effective force in place as soon as possible—we have only weeks, not months.
We are similarly pressing heavily on the diplomatic front. I have been in touch this week again with President Obasanjo, who has made another round of contacts and believes that he has the early beginnings of an agreed framework between President Kabila and Mr Nkunda, but it will need a great deal of political support from us and others to turn it into an agreement. In that regard, the Prime Minister and I met this morning with President Kagame of Rwanda to again press on him the need for his strong support for these activities.
We have also, through DfID, been principal supporters of the continuing humanitarian efforts in the Kivus, which have led to some easing of the situation in the past week or so. But, as I argued here before, it is a precarious gain and the crisis is still very far from resolved.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of Somalia, as did others. The situation in Somalia is very bleak and, indeed, the Ethiopians have declared that they will withdraw. We do not know what the implications will be for AMISOM, the African Union force, but the speculation of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is not improbable.
At the same time that we face a security gap inside Somalia and a weakening transitional Government, we now have the new problem of piracy offshore. I hope we will have a co-ordinated and effective anti-piracy campaign and an EU force is close to being launched under British command. I can reassure the noble Lord that we are not that concerned about the human rights of the pirates; we are more concerned about a situation where we have to bring them to the UK and they are able to make an asylum claim at the end of their prison sentence. That is the issue we are trying to resolve through agreements to have them tried in the region, in Kenya and neighbouring countries.
I was asked to say a word about the elections in Malawi. I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that I am keeping an extremely close eye on the situation. I have met several of the likely candidates in recent months and have spoken to them about the need for the campaign to move forward in an effective way.
There is a need to offer an assurance to those who have raised the issue about our commitment to development more generally. A month ago, the Prime Minister repeated his commitment to overseas development assistance reaching 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2013. That has been echoed by the International Development Secretary and continues to be supported by the Benches opposite. Everyone recognises that it is a value-for-money investment keeping the global economy moving forward and making sure that, having worked so hard to lift people out of poverty, we are not faced with a relapse that would take decades to repair.
On Sudan and Darfur, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that we are trying to ensure the growth of troop levels in Darfur. It is a very disappointing situation at the moment, as the noble Lord saw for himself, with only 13,000 troops deployed. There is a promise of 60 per cent deployment by the first month or so of 2009 and, it is to be hoped, 80 per cent by the summer, but these numbers have been breached before. I can also assure the noble Lord that we have been clear on the ICC that we would not vote for an Article 16 deferral of indictments against President Bashir unless there was a dramatic—and at this point unimaginable—change in the political situation inside the country and a climate established in which the impunity ended, those indicted were sent to court and tried and the human rights of the victims in Darfur were addressed. For us, it seems a highly implausible outcome at this stage.
As for Chad, I would be very grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, could give me more details about the camp that has not received WFP rations because we were not aware of that. We have given some £5 million to Chad, as he noted, quite a lot of it through the World Food Programme.
One should never leave Zimbabwe till almost last in this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and other noble Lords who raised it would never forgive me. However, they would be sure to be back next week with another Question if I did. While the noble Lord, Lord Owen, offers an enticing prospect of another young Foreign Secretary jetting to southern Africa with his American counterpart to solve the problem, I worry that this is a very different situation. This is not Rhodesia that we are going to free and put on the path of majority rule, but Zimbabwe, whose leaders still insist that we are meddling. It must be others who lead and we must support, but support we will. The humanitarian circumstances that have opened up—cholera exported into neighbouring countries, pay riots among the army, 4 million people on food aid—are creating a situation where I suspect political change will gather a momentum of its own, way beyond what diplomats from outside can possibly achieve. Nevertheless, it will be our job to support it.
The European Union was mentioned by a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. We all enjoyed the observation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, that it is only when in opposition that parties are against Europe. Therefore, we can only hope that if one day David Cameron were to enter No. 10 Downing Street he would, in some warm, Bonapartian boudoir at the back of the house, say, “Tonight, Josephine”.
I turn very quickly to several of the questions that were raised on defence. A fuller answer will be provided in writing and by other means by my noble friend Lady Taylor where required. I say to my noble friend Lord Gilbert that we understand the difficulties surrounding the A400M and we are reviewing it with our international partners. It is a commercially sensitive issue, but we are well aware of the difficulties.
As for the airbridge, to which the noble Lord, Lord Astor, referred, we have just moved 8,000 people in a rotation rather successfully, but we are very conscious of the problems. Sixty per cent of flights are on time, despite the difficult flying circumstances and security conditions. We are also trying to improve the lounge and cafeteria arrangements because these troops have worked hard and the last thing that they deserve is a rough homecoming of this kind. We owe them more than that.
On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we are trying to make sure that the equipment for Afghanistan is prioritised and focused on in the right way. Much of what my noble friend Lady Taylor said about the £4 billion extra that has been approved for operational priorities reflected that.
Some noble Lords thought that they had heard that cutbacks at St Athan meant that we might be able to afford a few new destroyers. I think not, although certainly something larger than a row-boat. This is a £12 billion project, not £18 billion, but it includes operating costs for a 30-year life. It has not yet been agreed or signed with the commercial partner. Obviously we are looking to make sure that we get value for money, but the sums might be a little more modest than some had hoped.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the capacities of the modern Foreign Office; for example, it was suggested that we are unable to do as much as we were previously in the south Pacific. We hope that we are not stretched overly; we hope that we can serve the region from our reduced number of high commissions and embassies. We sent a Minister to the recent Pacific forum, so we are very engaged in the area. While our bilateral aid has gone down, European aid has gone up significantly.
Behind this lies the need to project the idea of a Foreign Office which is no longer concerned with just traditional diplomacy but which is made up of an extraordinary group of young men and women who more than ever need the language skills and local cultural knowledge to get out of embassies and into the difficult places around the world in which we work, whether it is Helmand or the Kivus in the DRC. We need diplomats who, if anything, are braver and more skilled than their predecessors. For us to be properly resourced to do that is a critical priority. The support of all your Lordships to achieve it is key.
I thank again all noble Lords who have participated in this debate and apologise for taking a little time to sum up, but I can only throw myself on your Lordships’ mercy: you asked a lot of questions, which is typical of debates here. I always complain to my colleagues in the other House about what an easy time of it they get on foreign affairs compared to the kindly and friendly punishment that your Lordships give us here. That just reflects the commitment of everybody in this House to an effective British foreign, defence and development policy. In that regard, we cannot have enough of these debates.
Debate adjourned until Monday 8 December.