House of Lords
Thursday, 19 November 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Digital Economy Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the functions of the Office of Communications; to make provision for the online infringement of copyright, for licensing of copyright and performers’ rights and for penalties for infringement; to make provision for internet domain registries; to make provision for the functions of the Channel Four Television Corporation; to make provision for the regulation of television and radio services; to make provision for the regulation of the use of the electromagnetic spectrum; to amend the Video Recordings Act 1984; to make provision for public lending rights in relation to electronic publications; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Young of Norwood Green, on behalf of Lord Mandelson, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for giving effect to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Bribery Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for offences relating to bribery; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Bach, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision relating to salaries, allowances and pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill [HL]
A Bill to establish a committee to advise on haemophilia; to make provision in relation to blood donations; to establish a scheme for NHS compensation cards for people who have been treated with and infected by contaminated blood or blood products; to make provision for the financial compensation of people treated with and infected by contaminated blood and blood products and their widows, dependants and carers; to establish a review of the support available for people who have been treated with and infected by contaminated blood or blood products; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Morris of Manchester, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Marriage (Wales) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision to enable persons to be married in a place of worship in a parish in the church in Wales with which they have a qualifying connection; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Morris of Aberavon, on behalf of Lord Rowe-Beddoe, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Live Music Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Licensing Act 2003 with respect to the performance of live music entertainment; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, on behalf of Lord Clement-Jones, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Children’s Rights Bill [HL]
A Bill to give further effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Walmsley, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Dholakia, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Building Regulations (Amendment) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the amendment of the Building Regulations 2000 to make it a requirement to install an automatic fire suppression system in new residential premises.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Harrison, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for societies to be registered as co-operative or community benefit societies and to re-name the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts; to apply to registered societies the provisions relating to directors’ disqualification and to make provision for the application of certain other enactments relating to companies; to confer power to make provision for credit unions corresponding to any provision applying to building societies; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Tomlinson, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Powers of Entry etc. Bill ]HL]
A Bill to regulate powers of entry and powers in relation to documents; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Selsdon, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Consumer Emissions (Climate Change) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision, with regard to greenhouse gases, for the setting of a United Kingdom consumer emissions target and for the reporting of United Kingdom consumer emissions.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Teverson, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Constitutional Reform Bill [HL]
A Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and the Human Rights Act 1998; to introduce binding referendum powers at national and local level; to require the approval of Parliament to enter into international treaties and to declare war; to make provision about the work of Parliament; to devolve legislative responsibility for certain policy areas to local authorities; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Willoughby de Broke, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Marine Navigation Aids Bill [HL]
A Bill to establish a Marine Navigation Aids Commission; to establish an Office of Marine Navigation Aids Regulation; to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1995; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Berkeley, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) Bill [HL]
A Bill to provide that certain asbestos-related conditions are actionable personal injuries; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Quin, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Committee of Selection
That, in accordance with Standing Order 64, a Committee of Selection be appointed to select and propose to the House the names of the members to form each Select Committee of the House (except the Committee of Selection itself and any committee otherwise provided for by statute or by order of the House) or any other body not being a Select Committee referred to it by the Chairman of Committees, and the panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees; and that the following members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the committee:
B Anelay of St Johns, L Bassam of Brighton, B D’Souza, B Goudie, L Hylton, L McNally, B Royall of Blaisdon, B Shephard of Northwold, L Shutt of Greetland, L Strathclyde.
Debate (2nd Day)
Moved on Wednesday 18 November by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is an honour to open this foreign affairs debate on Her Gracious Majesty’s Address to Parliament.
We have clearly experienced a year of turbulence in development, defence and foreign policy. The global economic recovery is far from complete and the world’s poorest countries continue to suffer most. The horrors of local and international terrorism persist in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, while in the Great Lakes, Darfur and other areas conflicts ruin millions of innocent lives. From the Philippines to El Salvador, there have been many manifestations of the devastating human cost of environmental fragility. Decades of instability and insecurity in Somalia have contributed to an increase in the number of pirates who target not only large vessels but also individual sailors regardless of nationality, including the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, who are currently being held hostage—the thoughts of the whole House will be with them and those working for their release.
Meanwhile, because of lack of progress in reduction of carbon emissions, global temperatures are rising. Five million people in the UK now live or work in properties that are at risk of flooding—a figure that could rise to 8 million by 2035, according to the Environment Agency’s latest figures. Countless millions more people across the planet are already enduring the trials and tragedies inflicted by climate change.
Truly, the past 12 months have been a time in which the people of Britain have seen just how closely events and trends on other continents directly affect their lives and livelihoods. A crisis originating in the United States brought the collapse of foreign as well as UK banks, hit the savings of British families and triggered the shrinkage or collapse of British businesses.
Against that background, the Government confirm our strong commitment to a resilient economic recovery, to combating global warming, to meeting international development goals, to defeating terrorism and to strengthening and reforming the institutions of the international community. I say to the House, therefore, that we are internationalists both by conviction and by necessity, because we know that the most difficult problems that our country and our world face are beyond the capacity of even the most powerful nations to solve on their own.
It is because we take seriously our duty to protect and promote the interests of the British people that multilateralism will remain central to our foreign policy perspectives and action. We can tackle the global challenges of climate change, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation or economic recession only if we remain actively and constructively engaged in all the multilateral institutions to which we in the United Kingdom belong—from the G20 to the European Union, the UN and the Commonwealth. To provoke unnecessary tensions with those closest to us or to retreat into an isolationist mindset would be a serious misdirection of our national policy at a time when, for the most pragmatic and self-interested reasons, our country needs friends and allies. That would offer the illusion of sovereignty paid for by the loss of our national significance and influence.
With less than three weeks remaining until the Copenhagen summit, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and other Ministers are determined to sustain pressure for a new and far-reaching framework for agreement on reducing carbon emissions. At the 2008 December European Council, the EU agreed its mitigation offer of a 20 per cent emissions reduction rising to 30 per cent in the context of an ambitious global deal. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was at the forefront of that effort to reach a common EU position. In addition, the G20 has pledged to significantly increase the scale and predictability of climate finance. Again, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was at the vanguard of that debate on what is needed. The challenge now is to leverage public and private finance to meet these commitments. That challenge has to be met.
Climate change is inseparably linked to the other major challenges of the moment: the global economic recovery and particularly the essential efforts to lift the world’s poorest out of poverty. If we do not succeed on one, we will fail on both. Some 1.4 billion people still live below the poverty line, with up to 90 million more pushed back into poverty by the global economic crisis. Ten million children die each year before their fifth birthday and 75 million of the world’s children are without access to primary education worldwide. That is why we will publish draft legislation to make binding our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on official development assistance from 2013. I hope that the whole House will share that objective and support a proposal that I think crosses all political boundaries. We will also remain committed to the millennium development goal targets in advance of the review conference at the UN next year.
I turn now to the threats posed by conflict and instability. Nuclear weapons continue to pose a major threat to our security and, in the run-up to the UN non-proliferation treaty review conference next year, we seek to strengthen global agreements on how we support progress, recognising, of course, the particular challenges posed by the continuing failure of Iran and North Korea to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. In the coming weeks, this House will have the opportunity to consider the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Bill that will pave the way for the United Kingdom’s ratification of that convention. The convention will prevent armed forces from using these weapons and create a legal obligation to destroy them within eight years.
The foreign policy issue that is naturally of pressing concern to this House, as it is for the country as a whole, is the security situation in Afghanistan. The cost has certainly been heavy, especially in the lives of British service personnel. We salute their courage and we grieve at the deaths and the casualties and send our deepest condolences to their friends and families.
Our goal must remain a stable Afghan Government with a democratic mandate able to secure their own territory from the threat of terrorism and protect their own people. As we do that, we have a responsibility to consider the consequences that would arise if al-Qaeda were able to re-establish its Afghan safe havens and to regroup and reorganise. Those who advocate an end to our military commitment undoubtedly do so for the best of motives, but what they have not done is answer the question of how a resurgence of al-Qaeda activity can be prevented if withdrawal takes place before local Afghan forces are strong enough to repel terrorism on their own.
In addition, no one should fail to understand the implications of a Taliban victory for Afghanistan’s neighbours, especially Pakistan, where militancy and terrorism continue to be grave threats to stability. We are working closely with the authorities there through the strategic dialogue and DfID’s £50 million assistance programme. However, our efforts will come to nothing if Afghanistan once again becomes a launch pad for violence and international terrorism. That is the task that we and our NATO and other allies continue to undertake. The threat has to be tackled at source; we cannot wait for it to come to us. As the Prime Minister said this week, the campaign in Afghanistan is a necessity, not a choice.
We have hoped for many years for a US President to devote himself and his Administration to the creation of a Palestinian state that lives in peace alongside Israel. With President Obama we have just that. We support him strongly on the Middle East and on so many other issues. Our relationship with the US will continue to be close and constructive.
I am aware that the House has shown consistent and commendable interest in developments in Sudan. In Darfur, several million people are still wretchedly displaced and the high levels of insecurity continue to affect ordinary people as well as humanitarian workers. In south Sudan, tribal fighting is intensifying. There has been little progress towards gathering information for the census and registering voters in advance of the national elections in April next year and the 2011 referendum on self-determination for the south. Urgent progress is needed on implementing the comprehensive peace agreement.
In Somalia, a protracted conflict in one of the very poorest countries of the world has caused a massive humanitarian crisis, migration flows and regional instability. We are committed to supporting the transitional federal Government and working with the international community to build a peaceful and stable Somalia. We know that failure to do so would have severe security implications, not just for the Horn of Africa but globally.
In Zimbabwe, the transition to democracy is far from over and people continue to suffer daily threats to their security. We are following progress after the SADC meeting in Maputo and trust that President Zuma’s mediation will produce positive results. In the Great Lakes region, there has been progress, particularly in the political rapprochement between Rwanda and the DRC, but human rights abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, continue, particularly in the east.
In Sri Lanka, we look forward to greater progress towards a more inclusive, long-term political solution where accountability is a basic part of any reconciliation process. We remain deeply concerned at the appalling human rights abuses and the lack of a credible transition to democracy in Burma. Together with the United States and the EU, we will continue to press for the release of political prisoners and for dialogue between the Government, the opposition and the ethnic nationalities.
Closer to home, the ratification of the Lisbon treaty brings to a conclusion nearly two decades of preoccupation with the institutional architecture of the European Union. It is now time for Europe to fix its focus on issues that deserve a higher priority: the promotion of a fairer and more stable global economy; the fulfilment of new carbon emissions targets; policies to meet Europe’s future energy needs; and greater effectiveness in dealing with countries such as Russia and China.
Those basic realities mean that calls for renegotiation of the treaties and a repatriation of powers from the EU lack relevance and intelligence. If pursued, they would make the UK the only member state wanting to prolong the institutional wrangling that has already absorbed far too much of the EU’s energies in recent years. That would, at the very least, waste precious political capital. There is no prospect that our EU partners will agree to unravel arduously established current arrangements. To believe otherwise would be to repeat the failed policy of threats, vetoes, vacant chairs and beef wars that were followed in each and every case by confusion and climbdown. There is no future in diplomacy by tantrum. The only result would be to alienate our allies with no positive outcome for our country. This policy is not being advanced in defence of the British national interest; it is an attempt to patch up a party schism. Our country should never risk being disabled by such political pettiness.
Obviously, the Government do not regard the European Union as perfect. Indeed, we support profound reform of, for instance, the common agricultural policy and the EU budget, but we also recognise that the EU is a success story that inspires admiration, as evidenced by the many countries seeking to join and by the fact that the European example of integration is being widely emulated in South America, Africa and Asia. This emerging trend of greater regional co-operation and integration is one that we encourage and support. We welcome the fact that the African Union, together with regional institutions in Africa, including SADC and ECOWAS, is emerging as a leader on conflict and governance issues within that continent.
In the 60th year of the existence of the Commonwealth, we recognise the need to maximise the potential of an unparalleled north-south relationship based on shared values and principles. The Commonwealth looks set not only to survive but to thrive for the next 60 years and beyond. We look forward to the summit in Trinidad next week.
The UN remains the only international organisation that is truly representative of the breadth of the world’s countries. The case for UN reform is clearly compelling. We will therefore pursue our efforts to ensure that the Security Council is more representative and takes account of emerging powers such as Brazil and India. We look forward to the creation of a single entity to address gender issues at the United Nations, so that across the work of UN agencies, from access to finance to agricultural support, the gender perspective is taken fully into account.
I recognise that the interests and expertise of this House range widely and deeply and I know that it is impossible in this short space of time to do justice to every area of concern, but my noble friend Lady Taylor and I look forward to our debate today and to our continuing discussions on these issues over the coming months. It remains absolutely clear that, as we tackle the international issues and relationships that matter to the UK, to go it alone in the 21st century means going nowhere. Britain cannot risk or afford that.
My Lords, I think we can all agree that debate on the humble Address got off to a very good start yesterday, which proves not only that our debates in your Lordships’ House are better than in the other place but that our jokes are as well. The humble Address was superbly proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde gave a masterly speech. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave an extremely witty speech, except at the end when he got on to Liberal policy, which is always rather boring and frankly incomprehensible. The Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, gave a very brave speech that defended a besieged Government as they near their end.
I greatly welcome the arrival of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, at the Dispatch Box. I think this is the first time that she has spoken at the Dispatch Box on a Queen’s Speech and an humble Address. She is, in fact, the fifth Member of the Government with whom I have had the honour of debating these humble Addresses over the years. They have indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, come and gone with amazing speed. I particularly miss the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown. I am not sure where he is now, but he was here and was very understanding. I think the whole House appreciated his skill, as it will the skill of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock.
I must say straightaway that we on this side of the House strongly support the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill. Two noble Lords deserve special mention. They got it yesterday, and I will mention them again today, for all the work that they have done. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is in his place, and my noble friend Lord Elton have struggled very bravely over the years, and the arrival of this Bill, which we all support, is a mark of and a tribute to their work.
There are those who say that there should be continuity in foreign policy between one Government and another. With a change of government likely in the next few months, I say that, on the contrary, this is the time for a real change in the whole direction, tone and priorities of Britain’s international policy. If we are to mend and unite our broken and fragmented society here at home, it is equally necessary to mend our broken foreign policy in the world, thereby giving back to this nation the sense of purpose, focus for its loyalties and confidence in its identity and potential that seem to have evaporated in recent years. In fact, knowing our place in the world means knowing who we are together. It is just as much part of the foundations of The Home We Build Together—to take the title of a book written by one of our new and distinguished colleagues, the Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks—as the so-called bread-and-butter issues which occupy domestic politics.
In the past few years—even in the past couple of years or so—the international landscape has altered fundamentally. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a lot of talk of the triumph of the West, but that is not how it has turned out in the 20 years since. Today, power and influence are shifting irreversibly away from the western or the Atlantic powers. The fastest growing and the largest trade flows are between Asian countries. The big five of the Asian economies have a GNP which exceeds that of Europe or America. In purchasing power terms, it is probably larger than both together.
While the EU economies, including ours, are still shrinking with the recession, the Asians and some Latin American giants like Brazil are registering 8 per cent, 9 per cent or double-digit growth. The gap is widening all the time while we are standing here. Capital flows, once west to east, are now starting to be east to west and east to south, as the Minister also mentioned, with Asia rediscovering not just its economic predominance but its cultural, social, educational, technical and scientific prowess after centuries of lagging behind. In Changchun, north-east China, where I was the other day, I was told that next year it will produce 10 million cars, many with new electric and hybrid technology. That is in excess practically of the whole European or American production.
Those who keep arguing here that our destiny lies in Europe do not seem to have grasped that our destiny will be increasingly shaped outside the European region; for example, our climate future and the whole question of carbon emissions, our financial stability, our energy pattern and security, and probably our national security as well. In short, if I have no other message today, it is to remind this House that the action has moved elsewhere.
Our interests now need to be defended as much on the shores of the Caspian, or the Horn of Africa, as in western Europe and the Atlantic. Thanks to a decade of Labour dithering over restarting the nuclear power programme we now face a major energy gap in the decade ahead. It is on areas such as Azerbaijan that future reliable gas supplies for much of Europe's daily electricity, and ours, will depend. Continuing to rely on Russia's Gazprom to keep our lights on is not a good idea, with too much of Russia run by dubious methods and utterly lawless interests. Meanwhile, countries such as Canada and Brazil emerge as the great new energy powers to rival Russia.
China, which was not mentioned in the gracious Speech, is racing ahead economically, in high technology and in innovation. Chinese currency decisions will make or break this country. These matters are not remote; they are central to our welfare. China is pouring billions into Africa, notably into Sudan, which the noble Baroness mentioned; into Zimbabwe, which I see now is registering economic growth in contrast to this country; into Zambia and west Africa, as well as into Burma and Sri Lanka. However, there is scant concern for human rights, which is an omission which the Chinese leadership will come to regret. Unfortunately, that is the position now.
India is acquiring British assets and is investing here and in South Africa, which is a reversal of the traditional roles of the 19th and 20th centuries. Meanwhile, destructive anti-westernism, contemptuous of human rights, led by would-be nuclear Iran, whose enemies we have conveniently and short-sightedly removed, is strongly on the rise. It is spreading like a virulent fungus out of Afghanistan, to which I will return in a moment, into Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, which are all now thriving al-Qaeda bases. We will also have to look in these areas in hunting down al-Qaeda.
Iran is feeding Hezbollah to undermine Lebanon; it is feeding Hamas and dividing Palestine; it is giving Mr Netanyahu and the Israelis an excuse to delay the peace process; and it is fuelling anti-western impulses still further. Meanwhile, it does not seem to have been noticed that Turkey is turning away from the West, befriending Iran and playing a new Middle Eastern role, which is hardly surprising in view of the cold shoulder it has had from Europe. Over in Latin America, which was once a key area of British interests before we decided to fold our tents and go away, Brazil’s President Lula da Silva says that the new great powers no longer need the dollar. China, of course, has been saying the same kind of thing. It is the so-called BRICs—the Brazils, Russias, Indias, Chinas—and the new power centres such as the Shanghai Co-operation Group, from which, incidentally, America is excluded, which begin to set the new global agenda. Everywhere the post-Cold War settlement, like the original Second World War settlement, is crumbling.
What have we to offer by way of adjustment to this radically shifting scene? The first answer seems to be more of the same. The political class of Europe has given us the Lisbon treaty and we Conservatives have been roundly criticised for not being too enthusiastic; for not going along with the elite in Europe and for questioning whether it really takes Europe and the European Union, to which we are fully committed, in the right direction. In particular, we have questioned the democratic credentials behind the Lisbon undertaking. We have said that if any further power transfers of a constitutional kind are demanded—which is quite likely—there will be a referendum. A Tory Government may well take the lead in crafting a major and much needed European reform package, with full voter approval, because that, too, is certainly needed.
Contrary to what the Minister said about the Lisbon texts settling matters, they leave a string of unanswered questions. This is not surprising as the texts are already seven years old and are hopelessly dated in a completely transformed international landscape. Even using the treaty’s highly contentious self-expanding powers—if anyone dares to—these so-called passerelle powers will not meet these new needs. The treaty will also give us what the French Minister, Mr Lellouche—who seems to be a little unfortunate with his vocabulary—calls the biggest diplomatic service in the world. That is what is coming, but I am not sure how we can pay for that when we can hardly afford our own.
A basic error of our critics on these matters is to assume that this debate is about the narrow issue of Britain’s bilateral relations with Brussels; it is not. It is about the kind of Europe which will best fit—and be fit for purpose—with the new globalised network in which power has shifted decisively away from the hegemony of the West; it is about defending and promoting our own national priorities in best fulfilling our role in the new and unfamiliar landscape and in new regions of the world. Of course there will be many things on which we will want to work much more effectively with our European neighbours, but there are many more in this new landscape on which we will need to work with others and we have to ask whether our policy is geared up to meet that. The struggle over the European Union, which will continue, will not be, as I know many on the left hope, between Conservatives and inside the Conservative Party but between, on the one hand, the oncoming facts and realities of a network world, with Asia again in the ascendant, and, on the other, the inward-looking, bloc-iste, overintervening, protectionist mentality of the European integrationist Bourbons.
I turn to Afghanistan, on which we all await Mr Obama’s decisions. Whether the three conditions for our own increased troop contributions have been met, I do not know—it was not clear from the Minister’s speech; it would be useful to hear it before the end of the debate. But what is certainly clear is that the present strategy is tragically costly of our own soldiers’ lives and needs revising. All the talk of exit strategies and NATO-authorised withdrawal strategies is not helpful either to the overall cause or to our brave Armed Forces on the front line. We need to be clearer about the objectives and leave the exiting and the ending for a later discussion.
We must at all costs help Pakistan, a fellow Commonwealth member, in defending its borders and resisting incursions and crossings both ways—I am glad that helping Pakistan was specifically mentioned in the gracious Speech. The central Government in Kabul must be upheld, but it is naive to think that western democratic models can be neatly grafted on to Afghan cultures and structures. Surely this country, with its own bitter historical experience, should be able to get over that message more clearly to our American allies and their strategic advisers.
The emergence of the G20 in place of the G8 gives some hope that new platforms on which these issues can at last be openly and sensibly discussed may be taking shape, but other reforms of our 20th-century, left-over institutions, with their heavy, 1945 bias, are plainly also overdue. The structure of the permanent membership of the UN Security Council is still frozen in 1945 time, although we want to reform it. The weightings of the IMF are out of date. NATO is struggling to redefine its role. Many countries are seeking new and better platforms on which to meet and co-operate. It is incomprehensible that we, the British, have not given more thought and support to developing the vast Commonwealth network of 53 nations, which embraces almost one-third of the human race and stretches across continents and faiths. I was very glad to notice in the Minister’s speech today a distinctly increased emphasis on our Commonwealth role, which is very welcome, albeit very belated. The Commonwealth’s membership includes some of the most dynamic economies on earth, with rising India at the centre. So here we have a glimpse of the new international system. It was at least mentioned in the gracious Speech this year, which is more than was the case last year.
The Commonwealth could become a huge new soft-power network which other countries would envy and many would like to be associated with—as my Japanese friends keep telling me. It would further defend our strengths and interests in the new global landscape. Yet the Foreign and Commonwealth Office forgets about it half the time and has hardly mentioned it in past quarterly or annual reports. We all know that the EU takes a lot of funds—many believe that it is overfunded and wastes millions of pounds—and it will cost us even more now with the budget rebate having been surrendered, apparently for nothing in return. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth is ridiculously underfunded. While we cannot increase funds, because we do not have any, a switch is certainly overdue.
Perhaps the most important and immediate issue of all is how to establish the right machinery to push forward the new agenda and to give our very able diplomats the right context in which to work. My noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, the distinguished former Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary whom we all hope to see back in his place shortly, spoke in our debate in February last of a “malaise” developing in Britain’s once much praised foreign service and of a hollowing-out of the Foreign Office in London. Both he and many other well qualified observers have expressed deep unease at the extraordinary imbalance that has developed between the tight funding of the FCO and the far larger resource allocation for the Department for International Development, which now has a budget four times that of the Foreign Office.
A robust foreign policy should both define and unite us, yet, instead, with the most optimistic view, one is left with a dispiriting picture. At a time when we should be forging new alliances with new sources of power and influence that will affect our destiny intimately; at a time when we should be vigorously promoting new and more flexible structures regionally for the EU, instead of talking of more centralisation; at a time when we should be building up the Commonwealth as the ideal soft power network of the future; at a time when we should be massively strengthening and modernising our security forces to meet asymmetric threats; at a time when we should be redirecting our development and aid policies, and thinking clearly about whether aid really leads to development in all cases—which it does not; at a time when we should be reconstructing our overseas ministries to get a better resource balance and upgrading our whole diplomatic resources—at this time, we are doing none of those things.
Above all, these ambiguities in our world stance divide and confuse us here at home, as both the Afghan and, I am afraid, the Iraqi involvement have divided us, adding to the multicultural mayhem and planting of deep doubt within our society. With our staggering public debt and enormous budget deficit, with the prospect of head-on collision with international bond markets looming and with our lost purpose, we are beginning to look like—and outside commentators are beginning to describe us as—a failed nation.
The global context has changed. Within it we need a new foreign policy direction based on a deep and intelligent analysis of the world conditions. We need new government machinery and a new Government to operate it successfully and with confidence and vigour. Our amazing country, built on its amazing and dazzling past, and still full of talent and vitality, deserves nothing less.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the strength of the Government’s commitment to multilateral action, in particular on climate change. We also welcome very strongly the Queen’s Speech inclusion of the Bill on cluster bombs, to which we will give our full support, as we have supported the work of the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Elton, and others in pushing for that measure.
We all recognise that Britain needs a radical shift in the assumptions that underpin its foreign and security policies. I share some of the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on the changes in the global situation around us but not, of course, the conclusions that he draws. Whatever shape of government emerges out of the coming election, under whatever party, we know that we will have to conduct a security review, put off until then. That security review will have to start by redefining Britain’s role in the world.
The world that we are in, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, is one in which the European region is no longer at the centre of global politics, and in which Britain cannot pretend to exercise the global influence on its own that it aspired to a generation or two ago. The United States now looks to China, not to Britain or its other European allies, as its most important partner, in a difficult but unavoidably close relationship. Any new Government will have to work with partners to protect their interests and pursue their aims; we cannot hope to achieve much by standing alone.
My noble friends Lord Lee, Lord Addington and Lady Falkner spoke passionately on British defence and Afghanistan in the defence debate the other week. I do not intend to repeat the points they made. I am very sorry that my noble friends Lord Dykes and Lord Ashdown are unfortunately unable to stay with us through today’s debate, but I look forward immensely to the speeches of my noble friends Lady Williams, on Afghanistan and nuclear weapons, Lord Chidgey, on Africa—on which I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester will also inform us—and Lady Northover on development and on Middle East.
I was amused this morning when the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, phoned me to apologise that he would be late in arriving because I had guessed several of the themes of his speech before he had begun to make it. I look forward with some trepidation to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, since he once was my boss and I have always regarded him with immense awe since then.
I shall concentrate on the strategic direction of British foreign policy and the resources that we need to commit to it. Most of all, I shall focus on the European core of British foreign policy, because no foreign policy is credible that is not rooted in close relations with our neighbours. British interests on most global issues are closer to those of our European neighbours than to any other potential partners: on climate change, on the Middle East conflict, on economic and political development in Africa, and on relations with the Muslim world. We cannot claim to be deeply committed to international co-operation if we are unwilling or unable to work closely with our neighbours. There is no alternative—to use Mrs Thatcher’s phrase—to a coherent European policy as the foundation of British foreign policy.
Liberal Democrats have understood that since the treaty of Rome was signed 50 years ago, and have argued the case for European co-operation as Labour and the Conservatives have wavered back and forth between realism and Europhobia. We do not believe that the EU is a wonderful creation, or that our European partners are paragons of political virtue; like all political systems, the European regional system is an uncomfortable compromise between incompatible objectives. We do not pretend that the Lisbon treaty is an ideal agreement, but it is the framework within which any British Government will have to work for the foreseeable future if they want to achieve key national objectives. Our party was not particularly enamoured of the proposal for a president or chairman of the European Council. We recall that it was accepted by other Governments as a concession to Britain and France. Our Labour Government saw it as a useful intergovernmental check on the influence of small Governments and the European Commission.
This Government are drifting, exhausted like the Major Government before them, to the end of their term. As Prime Minister, Tony Blair—following John Major, when he first became Prime Minister—began by declaring that he would take Britain,
“to the heart of Europe”,
but he was rapidly seduced by the glamour of Washington and the illusions of the special relationship. He redefined British foreign policy as providing a bridge between Europe and the United States, and ended up going to war in Iraq to demonstrate how loyal an ally we were to whatever Administration was in charge in Washington. He hoped that Britain would gain influence over American foreign policy in return, but sadly it is clear now that he failed to influence it to any significant degree.
In the process, his Government drifted to the margins of European co-operation, and the settled Euroscepticism of the British media and of so much of the British public was left to fester. The failure to reshape the foreign policy debate within Britain was one of the greatest failures of Prime Minister Blair’s time in office—but then, it was part of his pact with Rupert Murdoch, with foreign policy principles sacrificed for the favour of a right-wing magnate. I welcomed David Miliband’s speech to the IISS two weeks ago as the most intelligent and positive exposition of the case for European co-operation which any Labour Minister has made for several years. What a pity he left it so late in his term of office, and spoke to so small an audience.
In 1996-97, our neighbours and allies were waiting hopefully for a change of Government, freed from what they saw as the Europhobic nightmare that gripped the declining Conservative Government. This time, they have no such hopes; they see the Europhobes returning, obsessed with protecting British sovereignty from the continental threat. David Cameron’s response to the completion of the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, two weeks ago, was remarkably sensible and practical. He recognised the realities that any new Government will face, and kicked the demands for renegotiation and referendums as far into the future as he could.
It is evident that, like Tony Blair before 1997, Mr Cameron is not much interested in foreign policy, or at all prepared to negotiate with foreign leaders if he comes into office. He has certainly made no effort to build good personal relations with Chancellor Merkel or President Sarkozy, with whom he would have to work closely and immediately in NATO and G20 meetings, as well as in European Councils, from the day that he became Prime Minister. Yet behind him stand the passionate Europe-deniers, as irrational as the climate-change-deniers and UN-haters in the American Republican Party.
A new generation of Europhobe parliamentary candidates, hoping to join us at Westminster, has been brought up to believe the Euromyths they read in the Daily Telegraph—a newspaper whose passionate patriotism stops short only of its owners paying tax within the United Kingdom. Cameron as Prime Minister would thus find himself a latter-day Harold Wilson, trapped by his party into pretending to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union, knowing that this will be a charade: a wasted year of irritating our neighbours to win some symbolic concessions to satisfy the Benches behind him. I heard him on the “Today” programme this morning, resurrecting the issue of opt-out from the Social Chapter—I assume because that was the symbolic issue that the Europhobes used against Mr Major in the Maastricht negotiations 20 years ago. He hinted that he wants to take us out of the European arrest warrant and other agreements on the pursuit of criminals across national borders, defending our sovereignty at the cost of our security. I am very sorry that we do not have the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, here today to tell us what she thinks of that.
Will we really have to cope with a sovereignty Bill in a world where multinational banks and companies have locked the UK into tight interdependence? The only really sovereign states in the world today are Burma and North Korea. The Republican right in the United States rejects the application of all international treaties and conventions as binding on American law, as right-wingers like Justice Scalia have argued in the US Supreme Court. Are the Conservatives really going to slip down the same anti-international law, nationalist road?
Meanwhile, Mr Cameron has left the formulation of Conservative foreign policy largely to William Hague. In the days of William Pitt, the shadow Foreign Secretary's political hero, British foreign policy was fundamentally about France, the German states—Prussia and Austria—Spain, the Netherlands and Russia. Yet, in his last major foreign policy speech, Mr Hague managed to mention France only in passing and Germany and other European states not at all. No mention of Germany? I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, recognises that, as regards relations with China, Germany has much greater trade with, and much greater foreign investment in, China than Britain does. As regards Brazil, Germany has greater trade with, and greater foreign investment in, Brazil than Great Britain does. The idea that Britain is somehow more global than Germany and France, and the European Union is closed in on itself and protectionist, and not caring about the rest of the world, is one of those old Euro-myths recycled in the Mail and the Telegraph to which too many Conservatives cling.
The other William declared, in 1795, that Britain,
“must anew commence the salvation of Europe”.
This William appears to prefer to seek the damnation of Europe, with the No Turning Back group of Conservative MPs strongly represented in the shadow Cabinet, cheering him on. President Roosevelt, in his first inaugural speech, promised that he would pursue a “good neighbour” policy. The Conservatives wish to pursue a “bad neighbour” policy. Hague speaks with real enthusiasm about closer relations with China, and about a “special relationship” with India; but there is a hole at the heart of his speeches in his silence about the countries closer to home. He waxes lyrical about working more actively through the Commonwealth—as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has done today—urging in a speech last February that we should encourage Rwanda, Japan, Algeria and Yemen to join. I do not think that he is following developments in Yemen very closely.
The great attraction of the Commonwealth to the Conservatives is that it is not the EU. We all understand that the Conservative Party’s foreign policy, like Tony Blair’s, was to follow the Bush Administration wherever it took us. Well, now the Bush Administration has gone and President Obama has made it clear that he is interested in partnership with a collective Europe, not in competitive efforts at special relations by allies with pretensions to wisdom and glorious memories of their past. I understand that this message has been made uncomfortably clear to recent Conservative visitors to Washington.
Liberal Democrats accept the logic of the IPPR report on UK security strategy, jointly chaired by my noble friend Lord Ashdown and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. They argued that the United Kingdom must work to build closer European co-operation within NATO as the only way to maintain American commitment to NATO, which, the new Administration have again made clear, the US sees as a regional alliance of limited relevance to other global priorities. Last week's Spectator assured us, in contrast, that Liam Fox will take Britain out of the European Defence Agency, a body set up under a British initiative after St Malo and led by a British official for its first five years, but still too contaminated by continental co-operation to overcome Conservative suspicion.
The security and defence review which the Labour Government have put off until after the election will have to take some hard decisions about what defence and diplomatic efforts we need and can afford. The Gray report has made severe criticisms of the current Government's drift into an unsustainable overhang in their future defence procurement budget, now estimated at a massive £35 billion. In a speech at the end of July, William Hague referred to earlier,
“major, conscious acts of strategic shrinkage, such as the withdrawal from East of Suez in 1968”,
only then to deny that we are now in a similar situation and, specifically, to reject any strategic shrinkage in Britain’s role. He did not go on to explain how a Conservative Government would pay for the sharp increase in defence spending that this would require, nor for the expansion in FCO staffing and diplomatic effort, for which he also called. I hope that these will all be costed in the Conservative manifesto. Our post-imperial Conservatives, with their nostalgic vision of Britain as a world power in its own right, would do well to remember what Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations in 1776 of an earlier Tory Government who fostered illusions about the strength of their position in North America:
“It is surely time that Great Britain should … endeavour to accommodate her future views and designs to the real mediocrity of her circumstances”.
Liberal Democrats reject the nostalgia and Europhobia which infects the national debate on Britain’s international role. Sixty years after the Second World War we have to move on from Churchillian rhetoric and images of Britain embattled against the occupied continent. It is absurd and contrary to Britain’s national interest that it is acceptable in the British media and at Conservative gatherings to crack jokes about the French and Germans that would be considered racist if they were cracked about Jamaicans or Somalis.
The weekend before last we marked again our national Remembrance Day, with Britain standing alone. There were no contingents from countries that fought with us in either world war or since. The Conservative commitment to the Commonwealth might encourage them, for example, to support the inclusion of Indian contingents. India was the second largest contributor to British imperial forces then and the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping forces now. I have met many British Indians whose parents fought in those forces in the Second World War. We could invite Dutch and Danish contingents, since they are fighting and dying with us in Helmand. The French welcomed British units to their 14 July parade five years ago, but I regret that our Labour Government have not yet reciprocated. President Sarkozy welcomed Chancellor Merkel to the French commemoration 10 days ago—an act of statesmanlike reconciliation, of which British politicians of both other parties still seem incapable.
My party stands for closer international co-operation, not the embittered defence of national sovereignty. We stand for shared action on climate change, on the threat of overpopulation and on the shift to a more sustainable world economy; and in meeting the complex issues of population displacement, food shortages, cross-border criminal networks and international terrorist groups. That commitment to global co-operation in the face of global threats has to start with our own neighbours across the channel. I repeat, as Margaret Thatcher was very fond of doing: there is no alternative.
My Lords, it is gratifying to have the opportunity to speak about strategy and defence in the mainstream of the gracious Speech, rather than—as usual—it being shunted off into a short-notice Friday morning. The subject is of the utmost urgency. Our defence affairs are in a highly sensitive state and merit wide debate. On the one hand, we have a shooting war in Afghanistan which has not really been getting anywhere, despite the commitment, devotion to duty and, indeed, heroism of our Armed Forces. I had a chance to see the commitment and spirit for myself when I took the medal parade of the 2nd Battalion The Rifles on its return from Afghanistan, after suffering 14 soldiers killed and 60 wounded, 14 of them very seriously. However, they were in magnificent heart at every level and there was not a discordant note. Certainly, although improvements have been made, we are not, so far, making sufficient and significant gains in the areas in which we have set our aims.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Defence has an immense funding problem, brought about largely by continuing underfunding of the defence programme over the past 10 to 15 years or more, which has taken elements of equipment, materiel and logistic support out of the programme so that, when faced with an intense operational situation, when these very things have become urgently needed, they have had to be bought off the peg—helicopters and spare parts are a case in point—with money over and above the defence budget provided by the Treasury, which now, of course, wants its money back. Yet the repercussions of now adjusting the budget to meet Treasury rules will themselves be very serious. Not least it means that while part of the Ministry of Defence is doing its best from precious resources to provide our front-line forces with what they need to fight the war successfully, another part of the same department, at Treasury insistence, is having to cut those same resources substantially in order to reduce defence spending and squeeze a quart of current established requirements into a pint pot of authorised resources. This absurd, schizophrenic approach leads to confusion, inevitable cheese paring, with significant damage to the defence programme as a whole, and is exactly the sort of thing that gives the impression, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie pointed out recently, that the Government and the ministry’s heart is not really in the operations in Afghanistan.
As has already been said, what is now required, as admitted by the Government and promised by Her Majesty’s Opposition, should they be elected, is a comprehensive Strategic Defence Review, although for obvious reasons this is not possible before the general election. This would initially identify as far as possible Britain’s key international interests: home and European security; UN Security Council; NATO and natural resources; and identify potential threats, not forgetting, I hope, the inherent volatility of the international scene which has so invariably in the past produced responsibilities and challenges utterly unpredictable in advance. This review at Cabinet Committee level, with Chiefs of Staff input, should set out and approve the assumptions which would cover what might be required of our Armed Forces in the foreseeable future and the proper extent of their involvement. No major war for 10 years was not an unreasonable assumption in 1921 when it was made, but it was utterly unrealistic and irresponsible in 1936, when it was still in place, which underlines the need for continuous updating, which has not been done in the recent past. Only at this stage should it be possible for the Chiefs of Staff and the Ministry of Defence to try to match possible commitments to an appropriate size and shape for our Armed Forces and, most importantly, to the resources which the country might be prepared to allot to defence, perhaps in the form of an insurance policy, as a responsible and consistent proportion of GDP.
What must be avoided at all costs is the insidious underfunding by the Treasury of whatever has been decided at the highest political level. This has invariably degraded expectations, minimised political and parliamentary intentions, stored up immense problems for the future and rebounded disastrously not only on operational performance but very much on the lives, support and welfare of all members of the Armed Forces. Indeed, an established figure of, say, 3 per cent of GDP might be the only sure way of curbing Treasury enthusiasm, rather as in the late 1970s and early 1980s we had an agreed NATO target of 3 per cent growth in real terms out of which the Treasury could not wriggle.
Should this review involve, as it should, a truly joined-up foreign and defence policy, or if you like, security policy—with advantage taken of co-operation with allies and alliances; due regard given to intelligence operations after identifying threats; selective containment; and helping others with common cause to help themselves, rather than, as has been prevalent recently, charging in to prolonged interventions with formed bodies of troops to rearrange the pieces to some alien pattern—it may be possible to cut, in particular, the size of the equipment coat for our Armed Forces to be more in keeping with what Parliament might judge to be our political, social and economic cloth, while protecting the country’s proper interests and responsibilities. However, maintenance of peace over a prolonged period is bound to require numbers, flexibility and strategic mobility in those Armed Forces.
Even prior to a full review, it is it is essential to have a rigorous and intellectual analysis of why, when, if and in what number we want some of the higher-spend items of equipment in the present programme—including any precise successor to Trident—to smooth out the budget later on. However, if in the immediate future there is to be substantial squeezing of the current budget, which is overspent only because of operational emergencies, so that the Ministry of Defence can be seen as of now to be living within its means, one of two things is bound to happen. Either operations could not be enhanced and may suffer, with disastrous consequences, or the services will be forced—as the Secretary of State admitted in the debate on the Territorial Army in the other place—to reach for the only uncommitted areas of the budget which, although they may have a less serious effect in the very short term, would be serious if not disastrous in the longer term. Territorial Army training was a good case in point.
Cuts of the magnitude being put forward for the Ministry of Defence are also bound to have a debilitating effect on such things as the Defence Medical Services, which are already grossly under strength, suffering cuts in vital clinical training and professional development, and excessively reliant on the Reserve Forces and the National Health Service for the handling of battle casualties. Extra, not reduced, financial resources are required to rebuild them. Inevitably, because of accessibility, there will be cuts in accommodation, some of which is in a shocking state, and welfare in general. All of these directly impinge on the covenant, which is so sacrosanct in political eyes and in the eyes of the British people. If any such unpopular cuts are then cancelled for political reasons, you can be quite sure that the Treasury will recoup from somewhere else, and damage the programme.
The political machinery must be found—perhaps in a much-needed war Cabinet while the crisis in Afghanistan lasts and before a review takes place—to curb the Treasury in its insistence on its pound of flesh as regards defence overspend. Only once have I heard a Prime Minister tell the Treasury to back off; on that occasion, the Secretary of State for Defence said that he would resign at once if that did not happen. Let us hope that similar robustness and commitment can be found in that department.
Finally, I shall refer to operations in Afghanistan. Now that we are there, with a better balanced force than when we first rushed into Helmand province in pursuit of changing and largely unrealistic aims, we cannot, for a variety of compelling reasons, just walk away. Indeed, soldiers back from Afghanistan with whom I have talked recently would be horrified at the prospect; they feel that they have done a really good job and have improved things. Our best hope is to support the United Nations, wholly and to the limit of our resources, in a more enlightened approach, with less waffle about democracy and more practical emphasis on stability, proper protection of people in vulnerable areas, better direction and quicker delivery of aid, perhaps to regional governments, and above all dynamic diplomacy with meaningful negotiations with the aim of doing deals to separate hard-core extremists from moderates. We should also back the central Government in any deals that they will surely want to make.
Although many in Pakistan may feel that Western intervention has been part of their problem, the new strategy that will be required must be, as the Americans appreciate, within an Af-Pak framework, because the mainstream of international terrorism now lies there and the maintenance of a secular state is vital to contain it.
All this will require a temporary surge in troop numbers, as military advisers on both sides of the Atlantic have advocated, and will certainly require in the immediate future our very best shots in terms of effort, commitment, resources and the absence of that financial schizophrenia in the Ministry of Defence that I highlighted earlier. There must be a better stick to go along with a more intelligent carrot in our new strategy. We have no alternative if, at the end of the tunnel, we are to see any light that would enable us in the not-too-distant future to hand over the bulk of security to indigenous forces with our heads held high and with a reasonable assurance that al-Qaeda will continue to be marginalised, as it already has been in Afghanistan for a considerable time, and then properly contained and dealt with by other means.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s intention to draft legislation to make binding the spending of 0.7 per cent of national income on international development from 2013. I further welcome the commitment of other parties to the proposal, particularly with the national debt at its current level. It reveals the extent to which the matter of development and aid is a moral issue. The achievement of the target has been a long-held aspiration, but it is good to note that it follows the timetable agreed at the Gleneagles summit in 2005, which increased overseas aid funding in 2008 to 0.43 per cent. The aim of the Bill is to put beyond doubt the objective of meeting the United Kingdom’s target in respect of the millennium development goals.
The publication earlier this year of the White Paper, Eliminating World Poverty: Building Our Common Future, has been welcomed by faith communities; as has the recognition by the Government of the role of faith communities in the delivery of development aid in some of the most challenging situations around the world. A recent World Health Organisation study estimated that 30 to 70 per cent of healthcare services in sub-Saharan Africa are provided by faith communities, with an average commitment of more than 50 per cent.
Considerable challenges still face us. Regrettably, even with the delivery of the United Kingdom’s target, the total eradication of poverty cannot be achieved without concerted international effort, not least from the United States and members of the European Union. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that we cannot go it alone. Recently, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, expressed frustration at the relative paucity of funding set aside by the United States for development and reconstruction. Few can doubt that the mosquitoes of terrorism, genocide and violence against women have been bred in the swamps of poverty, neglect and exploitation.
It has been said that when all you have is a hammer, everything seems like a nail. The past century has witnessed an unprecedented investment of capital in arms, which has been seen in many Western democracies as a guarantee of peace. However, while such messages seek to guarantee safety, it needs to be recognised that safety is not peace and peace is not safety. Peacemaking is a great venture and, in one sense, it can never be safe. The elimination of poverty and building a common future go hand in hand with the challenge of peacemaking, which cannot and should not be confused with strategies to guarantee safety. Incidentally, I, too, welcome the Bill to support the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Much has been said in this debate and elsewhere at the moment about the military options in relation to the situation in Afghanistan. There is talk, in some quarters at least, of the possibility of withdrawal. Afghanistan is the poorest country in the world outside Africa. Decades of political instability have contributed to acutely negative poverty indicators across the country. More than half the country lives below the poverty line, and DfID has calculated that 40 per cent of Afghans cannot meet their basic food needs. The UNDP reports that about 70 per cent of the population lacks sustainable access to clean water, and several NGOs have argued recently that there needs to be international support for the people of Afghanistan to assist in the reduction and elimination of poverty in a country that has endured external intervention, which has all too often been characterised by primarily military objectives.
Prior to the visit by President Obama to Japan recently, the Japanese Government articulated a strategy on the primary need for humanitarian aid and development assistance. Acknowledging the need for security forces, the report spoke at the same time of some moderate groups that are willing to put down their arms in exchange for security assurance and economic independence. Tangible outcomes recognised by the people will be critical in areas of agriculture and rural development, infrastructure development, and education, health and other basic human needs.
Such an outlook reflects the view of the agencies on the ground, not least Christian Aid, which has today observed that a comprehensive strategy through a more substantial and sustainable allocation of resources into the development and reconstruction sectors oriented to reinforce Afghan institutions must be implemented. It said:
“The political settlement needs to involve a wide range of stakeholders from inside and outside Afghanistan, with only one precondition: that they uphold the security, dignity and rights of all Afghans”.
Christian Aid believes that it is not possible to have security without development.
Faith-based agencies and NGOs have highlighted the weakness of quick impact strategies focused on Kabul, while investment at the local level in a substantially rural environment receives a low priority. Put more simply, when people are wondering where the next meal is coming from, when they ate only bread yesterday and may not eat today, animal husbandry and income generation are critical activities.
What is needed now is a humanitarian and development surge—something supported by yesterday’s editorial in the Guardian. I do not think that we can simply pack up and come home. Unless we have been misled, there is a legitimate need to seek to protect from further acts of terrorism, but there is also a need to ensure that the welfare and safety of Afghan women and girls are protected from the Taliban, the necessity of basic health and welfare services, and the education of some 6 million children. DfID is of course contributing to this programme but the needs are much greater than the most generous individual programme can provide for.
I urge the Government, in the light of their commitment to the millennium development goals, to work ceaselessly with the international community, the World Bank and the IMF—which incidentally I am pleased to observe are less likely to impose economic changes on countries than used to be the case—and to resist any attempt at “aid by results”, which always impacts on the most vulnerable. I am encouraged by this intent and I hope that it goes to fulfilment under whichever Government are in power.
My Lords, I would like to cover three topics: cluster munitions, Afghanistan and relations between this country and the European Union. I enthusiastically welcome the Government’s policies on cluster munitions and the legislation that is to follow. Many people have been involved in the campaign, which I think has proved that lobbying works. The Government listened to many voices, when at the time there were clearly doubts inside the Ministry of Defence. In the end, the Government came to the right conclusion. It was very exciting being at the Dublin convention when we got news that the Prime Minister had finally said that Britain would sign up and many other countries followed.
We can discuss these issues more fully in the debates on the Bill. I say to my noble friend Lady Kinnock that I hope that she has a very long ministerial career but that, if she is in office for many years, she will never find such unanimous support for a measure as she will find on that for cluster munitions. I hope that she makes the most of it. The ban will save lives and limbs and it will make the world a better place for many people. There is still the need to influence those countries that did not sign up to the agreement: the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, just to name the main ones. I hope that the Government will see as one of its foreign policy objectives the need to persuade those countries to follow the example set by 119 countries in Dublin.
I turn to Afghanistan. Along with many other Members of both Houses, I had the chance to visit Helmand earlier this year for three days at the invitation of the Ministry of Defence. Although I said to the military there, “I hope we will not be getting in your way”, I was told, “No, we welcome the fact that you are coming to see what the conditions are and to experience, in a limited way, what is happening here”. The visit was confined to Kandahar and Camp Bastion. At that time, the Royal Marines were the main British troops. I thought that morale was excellent and I was impressed by the bonding, the positive views of the Army and the other military personnel there at all levels.
When we asked the troops about equipment, they did not criticise. They welcomed some of the new vehicles, although they pointed out that to go into some of the villages where the streets were narrow they needed smaller vehicles, which could not, by definition, be as well armoured as some of the vehicles that did not have to go into the villages. They had to accept that, if they were to patrol the villages in vehicles, they needed vehicles that were more vulnerable to the explosive devices.
The only comments that we received about equipment—we tested the Army quite a bit on this—were that the helmets and the body armour that the Special Forces had were somewhat better designed than theirs and they looked forward to that equipment being introduced, as I believe it is. There may be equipment difficulties, but we did not pick up such criticisms. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, who was there, is nodding. I was left with a very enthusiastic feeling about how well the Army is doing. My noble friend Lady Taylor organises such visits and my thanks go to her for making it possible.
We discussed the difficulties that the troops have in such a vast area. One of the big military difficulties is that, if they take a village from the Taliban, they do not always have the resources to stay there. The villagers say, “Please stay with us because we are vulnerable to the Taliban once the troops have gone”. Although we were told about forward positions that were intended to hold the ground better, they are clearly quite vulnerable. I could see the difficulties that the troops had in those circumstances.
We looked at the medical facilities in Camp Bastion and the way in which injured troops are medevaced out to Britain. I thought that the facilities were excellent. We saw the hospital at Camp Bastion, which has intensive care units, operating theatres and so on, and we saw two injured Afghans brought in. I do not believe that one could improve on the medical facilities provided for our injured troops and for injured Afghans.
We went out of the camp to watch the Afghan army training, which was good. I am not a military person but the training was somewhat desultory—perhaps that is all one should expect or perhaps not. We need to step up the training both in terms of the number of Afghans being trained and the effort put into it. Sending more troops to train the Afghan army would be a sensible investment. The only way out of this will be if the Afghan army is large enough, effective enough and well trained enough to play its part.
Of course, this is an impossibly difficult problem for us, the Americans and all the other countries involved but, as has been said, if we pull out, there will be risks. First, we would certainly destabilise Pakistan, which would have dire consequences, and, secondly, if al-Qaeda were to be allowed to return to Afghanistan, it would have a secure base from which to resume attacks on us, on America and indeed on many other countries.
Apart from building up the Afghan army, we need to use our maximum influence with President Karzai to ensure that corruption is tackled so that the people of Afghanistan have more confidence in their regime. No, we cannot impose western-style democracy on the country, but we can demand that the levels of corruption are significantly reduced. I believe that someone has to talk with the Taliban. President Karzai said that he would do that—maybe it is already being done—but the lesson learnt from other conflicts is that one has to talk to people to see whether there is some way forward or whether at least some of the people opposed to us can be persuaded that there is a better future on our side than there is with continuing the hostilities.
I turn to a point on NATO and Europe. I am a bit nervous that, in the enthusiasm to expand NATO, we may be encouraging the Ukraine and Georgia and other such countries to join. I would urge caution. In the recent conflict in Georgia, I am not sure that it would have been helpful if Georgia had been a member of NATO, as we would have been dragged into a conflict that should not have started. I do not know who was responsible—perhaps both sides were—but it is not sensible for us to say that NATO should expand into those areas unless we are prepared to live with the consequences of saying that we back those countries in a conflict, which clearly we would not have done in Georgia. We also ought to be careful about other countries in the region.
I wish that the EU and our membership of it would stop being the political football of British politics. It has been like that for too long. Frankly, unless we have the self-confidence as a country to treat the European countries equally and to be prepared to say that we are part of this—not a part of a federal Europe but a part of a Europe in which we are willing to co-operate—I fear that there will be more damage to this country and to Britain’s reputation. The Conservative Party has got itself into an enormous tangle about this, although I do not say that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has. I am not sure what sort of referendum is being considered for the future. Will we have a referendum to agree on Croatia’s accession to the EU or even Macedonia’s or Turkey’s accession? Is that the kind of thing that the leader of the Conservatives is talking about? I hope that, without a referendum, we can welcome Croatia and Macedonia into the EU before too long, provided that they meet the requirements of the various chapters, which I think they are well on the way to doing.
I would welcome Turkey’s membership provided that it meets the standards on human rights, market economy and so on. It is quite a long way off that as yet—it will have to change articles of its constitution and so on—but I believe that the Turkish Government recognise that. Surely, from our point of view, the worst outcome would be to drive Turkey towards seeing as its friends those countries further east rather than those in the west. I believe that, in the fullness of time, Europe with Turkey as a member will be a stronger Europe and safer for it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, particularly on what he said about the importance of pressing President Karzai to get a grip on the situation concerning corruption.
It seems to me that, at the moment, a great ball of anxiety is hanging over this country. In all conscience, there is plenty to be anxious about. At the centre of that depression lies our military commitment in Afghanistan, which featured strongly in the powerful debate in your Lordships’ House about a fortnight ago. It is so important that I do not apologise for returning to it today. It was common ground in that debate that we are at war in Afghanistan with the Taliban and, through it, with al-Qaeda. It is a war that I want to make clear I support; it is a war that we have to win.
However, support in this country for the war is dubious, at best, and the support that it attracts is repeatedly and understandably shaken by every fatal military casualty that it, like all other wars, exacts. I find that worrying, because you cannot sustain a modern war if you do not have the support of the country behind you. I remember a noble and gallant Lord saying to me once that the very first thing that soldiers on active service said to him when he visited them was, “Is the country behind us? Is the country behind what we are being asked to do?”. I can well believe that that is the case, so it is important to identify why this war increasingly lacks the support that it needs if we are to win it. I offer your Lordships two principal reasons and a possible remedy, or at least a signpost towards a remedy.
The first reason is clear: people, as yet, are simply not persuaded that their lives would be made more dangerous in London, Cardiff, Leeds or Liverpool if we were to pull out and the Taliban could resume control over the whole of Afghanistan. The Government, I fear, have signally failed to win acceptance to that. I say that with regret, because I am persuaded that the Government’s case is right, but it is not easy to persuade people of that. People ask whether, even if the Taliban were to be driven from Afghanistan—and that is a pretty big if, given the nature of the country—it would not simply transfer to Waziristan. They ask, “What is this we hear about Somalia and other places that it could go to?”. They ask, perhaps unjustifiably, “Is Pakistan really sufficiently to be relied on to help us, or is it more preoccupied with squaring up to India?”.
I am sure that the Government know that and have answers, but I do not think that they appreciate their need to do much more to convince people of their case. It will not be easy—not least because Ministers are so associated nowadays with spin, which is a disability that they brought on themselves—but they must publish as much supporting evidence for their case as possible. The consequences of failure are so great that some exceptional risks with intelligence may well be justified.
The second main reason why support for the war is falling away lies in the perception that our military commitment in Afghanistan is open-ended. We have been told that we shall be there for as long as it takes to hold the ring, as it were, until a secure and democratic Afghan Government are in place, capable of defeating the Taliban and running a decent country. I fear that after the fiasco, or worse, of the recent general election in that country, riddled with corruption and invalidated by it as it was, people find the fulfilment of that vision hard to envisage.
I am sure that the objective is the right one and that to leave before it is achieved would be—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, reflected on this in relation to his visit to the medal parade on his regiment’s return the other day—to squander the sacrifices that have been made and to throw away the progress that has been made. It would be to court humiliation and contempt on the world stage. Several noble Lords have adverted to that. The trouble is that people have not been given any sufficient idea as to how the Government and their allies propose to go about securing that much-to-be-desired development. That leaves their scepticism about the whole operation unshaken. It all seems so amorphous and unspecific.
My suggestion is that, as a first step, the objective should be given a much sharper focus. At the heart of it, a viable democracy must have public confidence that those who hold public office will do their jobs without being bribed and that, for those who proffer bribes to them, there will be no place other than prison. I suggest that the first step be to press President Karzai to put in place an independent structure to root out bribery—if necessary, with expatriate personnel to start with.
There is a well tried example in Hong Kong, where since 1974 there has been a specialised Independent Commission against Corruption. It was given from the beginning a clear and simple strategy to implement: all pursuable allegations of bribery are to be investigated with a view to prosecution and the public are to be educated about the evils of corruption and bribery and persuaded to support the fight. I know that Hong Kong is not Afghanistan—for example, the rule of law was already well established there—but can we afford to ignore the results of that exercise? In the 1960s and 1970s, Hong Kong was one of the world’s worst sumps of corruption; now, it is seen as one of the world’s least corrupt places. At an early stage, the public began to notice the difference and they approved. They moved from expecting a culture of bribery to requiring a culture of integrity. The commission is now an untouchable icon.
If we can secure the establishment of such a commission with such a remit, an essential foundation for a viable democratic Government will have been laid. If, on the other hand, we try first to put in place some comprehensive framework for good governance, any attempts to install specific reforms are liable to be frustrated by pre-existing and uneradicated corruption. I hope that when winding up the debate the Minister will offer some thoughts on that and, in particular, will say what significance the Government are inviting President Karzai to attach to the Hong Kong example of what can be achieved.
My Lords, I start by echoing the tribute made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, to our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. In particular, I pay tribute to the role played by our helicopter pilots and crews and those who support them. I do that for two reasons. First, the joint helicopter base at RAF Benson is just down the road from Ewelme, and I know well the sacrifices that they have made in Iraq and are making in Afghanistan. Secondly, when there is so much focus on the helicopters that we do not have, it is good to remember the bravery, sacrifice and professionalism of those who operate the helicopters that we have.
However, I focus today more on how we prevent future conflicts, conflicts which cause great humanitarian crises, damage our interests and may draw our Armed Forces into bitter and difficult wars. It is, alas, only too easy to see where tomorrow's risks and conflicts may lie, conflicts which would inevitably draw in the international community and whichever Government are in power in the United Kingdom at the time. I shall briefly mention three—in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia—all of which I have visited in the past couple of years as chair of the medical aid charity Merlin, an interest which I declare today.
First, I turn to Sudan. There is, rightly, a strong focus on Darfur, where the humanitarian crisis is acute, but there is an equal if not greater danger that in the referendum planned for 2011 under the terms of the comprehensive peace agreement between the north and the south, the south decides to secede, the north resists and a further bloody war breaks out. That is a really frightening prospect.
Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now focused in the east, in North Kivu province around Goma. Despite the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world today, recent fighting there has seen 1,000 civilians killed, 7,000 women raped and more than 1 million people displaced; and the prospects are not encouraging. I greatly look forward to the forthcoming speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, which I hope will touch on the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I turn, finally, to Liberia. Liberia has a functioning democracy with an impressive president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. However, the economy and political system are fragile after 14 years of vicious civil war and the prospects for the elections in two years’ time are uncertain. Guinea, to the north, is volatile. If that volatility should spread to Liberia, the impact on Sierra Leone, to the west, where we have invested huge amounts over the years, could be disastrous.
So how can we prevent conflicts in these and other areas in the future? My first suggestion, which I have made before—and to which I know the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, is sympathetic—is to urge the Government to work to make the UN doctrine of responsibility to protect a reality and not just an aspiration. Behind the jargon “responsibility to protect” is a UN principle of huge importance: a pledge by world leaders to protect their populations from genocide, from ethnic cleansing and from crimes against humanity, and to give the rest of us the responsibility to ensure that they do just that. It is of course controversial. It is seen by some as undue interference in the domestic affairs of others and even as a justification for military adventures. However, as the UN Secretary-General himself recognises, it is not that. It is a doctrine which, if widely accepted, could improve governance in some pretty dire states by putting pressure on leaders to abide by proper standards and by giving the international community as a whole the means to exert such pressure. Had it been in operation, the genocide in Rwanda, the conflict in Darfur and in Sierra Leone and the civil war in Liberia might at the least have been less likely.
The UN resolution adopted by consensus at the General Assembly in July was a modest step forward. May I encourage the Government to work with others—in particular the United States; Canada, whose idea it was; the EU and likeminded developing countries—to strengthen the doctrine so that it can play a real role in preventing future conflicts? This is an idea whose time must come.
Secondly, and moving from what is now still a theory to what is very much practice, I urge the Government, and any future Government, to ensure that Britain continues to play, and indeed increases, the active role it plays in present and future conflict prevention and resolution activities. This means supporting the UN in its peacekeeping activities. On one specific point, I urge the Government, when the mandate for the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo comes up for renewal next month, to work to extend it to cover peacebuilding as well as peacemaking and to work with the African Union to strengthen the capacity of the Congolese army to prevent future atrocities in that benighted country.
It also means working with the European Union, now that the Lisbon treaty has been ratified, and in particular with the new high representative, whoever may be chosen this evening, to put conflict prevention and resolution high on the EU foreign policy agenda—with, I would suggest, Somalia and the Horn of Africa, Sudan and the Great Lakes as priorities. This does not mean limiting our horizons to the EU but using our influence in the EU to further our interests elsewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said a moment or two ago, we must have the self-confidence to recognise and to act on that. I believe very strongly that that is in Britain’s interest, it is in Europe’s interest, and it would be greatly welcomed by the United States.
Finally, I urge the Government once again, as many of your Lordships have in recent months, to recognise that cuts in our conflict prevention budget are hugely short-sighted. I know the budgetary pressures. I know that there have to be priorities and savings. However, to cut small sums now that can prevent the expenditure of large sums later if conflict does, alas, break out, makes no sense at all. Surely that must be a point that all government departments, including the Treasury, recognise as common sense. But that is what we are now doing, alas—wrongly, in my view—in Liberia. The Government must find a way at least to prevent the erosion of our peacekeeping budget from the depreciation of the pound, which has a completely arbitrary effect on the activities that we need to carry out to prevent conflicts in the future.
I hope that the strategic defence review that will take place next year whichever Government are in power will ensure enough capacity in our force structure to enable Britain to play a major role in conflict prevention and resolution in the years ahead. This is an area of great strength for this country thanks to the professionalism and reputation of our Armed Forces, and we must capitalise on that. It would be good to have an assurance to that effect from both Front Benches at the end of this debate.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord. This summer in Kindu in the province of Maniema in Congo I had the privilege, with my wife and the Congolese Anglican Bishop of Kindu, of spending an hour or more at Merlin’s headquarters in Kindu, Merlin delivering medical services, effectively for the province of Maniema, in immensely complex conditions.
A hundred years ago today there was an enormous demonstration at the Albert Hall, with people queuing all around the block and the Albert Hall standing room only, chaired and organised by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, around what was then seen as the moral outrage of the situation in Congo. Today the Archbishop of Canterbury and my other friend, the Anglican Archbishop in Congo, Archbishop Isingoma, have published a statement about the whole situation. There was a celebration and a reiteration of that demonstration at the Albert Hall this morning, at which I had the privilege of speaking. My apologies, therefore, to the Minister and to noble Lords for missing the first four minutes of her speech.
In the terms of the Archbishop of Canterbury of a hundred years ago, the real hideous outrage is that the situation is today as it is, and not only in the east of the country—statistics on which have just been well given by the noble Lord. The LRA is rampant in the north-east—there have been hideous outrages both at Christmas and ever since—and in southern Sudan and in the Central African Republic. Even recently there has been a fresh outbreak of conflict in western/north-western Congo, with 21,000 refugees fleeing into the northern parts of Congo-Brazzaville—another hideous state, by the way—in recent weeks.
Today’s demonstration at the Albert Hall was particularly concerned with the levels of rape in Congo. The levels of sexual violence are appalling. To put it baldly, where you see the words “sexual violence” alongside “rape” it means the things that are done to women in addition to rape, with the ends of guns, with bayonets, with sticks and so on. At one meeting of 200 to 250 members of the Mothers’ Union in Kindu in the summer, many of the ladies had walked 200 kilometres to meet their bishop’s wife, their bishop, my wife and me. There was a second meeting after the first and after the lunch where those who had been themselves raped joined together to talk further with my wife and the bishop’s wife. Some 50 of those 200 to 250 women came to that meeting as having themselves suffered rape and sexual violence. Kindu, as the noble Lord will know well, is not at the heart of the war area by any means. The situation there, in that respect as in so much else, is appalling.
As for the outcome of the transitional process, the elections of 2006 and huge inputs of British and other aid, the Congolese Government are achieving little or nothing. Outside Kinshasa they are achieving a considerable reign of terror over anyone who shows any signs of opposing them. Corruption is pervasive. As a result of that pervasive corruption, as the noble Lord has again noted, the situation in the national army is utterly deplorable. It is, as armies are in so many other parts of the world, as dangerous as the rebels to local people. It is deeply and widely engaged in the management of the pillage of minerals and the making of money for that purpose. It is colluding with those with whom it is fighting; they are letting each other’s vehicles through checkpoints when they are full of minerals or ammunition, as Global Witness has recently publicised. There is a fearful level of impunity at every level for those who are committing human rights offences. There is almost everything to be done in the way of security sector reform. Churches and local NGOs, supported by external NGOs, are unanimous and clear that the present war in eastern Congo, called Kimya II, is a humanitarian disaster. It has recently been described by the protection cluster of Congolese NGOs as a massive, desperate scale of humanitarian fallout of the ongoing military operations through 2009.
I have talked to Roman Catholic and Anglican church leaders in Congo. There is a real danger that Her Majesty's Government’s continuing, though qualified, support for that war, alongside that of MONUC, is rapidly leading those most active in protecting the rights of local people to lose confidence in them and other western Governments. I think that extremely few of the 3,000 reinforcements for MONUC promised in October last year are yet in theatre. There is an acute shortage of helicopters and boats in a place where road travel anywhere more than about 10 miles outside any major centre is appallingly difficult, as I know to the cost of my rattled bones. It is important that other ways are found of bringing peace, other than that war.
As far as the needs of the country are concerned, I have already mentioned security sector reform. Although work is being done by DfID and the Chinese on the infrastructure, there is a huge amount to be done. There is no climate for economic activity. As you fly into Beni, Butembo or Goma, you see an alarming number of new houses being built, but my information from Congolese sources and from Her Majesty’s embassy is that next to none of those new houses is based on anything other than corrupt money, the pillage of minerals and the import of arms. That is very serious.
We have enormous responsibility. Her Majesty's Government and their European and American partners are the major donors to the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda. I believe that our Government need to give real sustained attention to the range of places that the noble Lord mentioned, among them the DRC and the Great Lakes region. It was not encouraging that for more than two months in the summer there was no Minister for Africa. We regret the loss of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, although we welcome the coming of the noble Baroness, but it would be good if there were a Minister for Africa. If we asked the noble Baroness to reiterate the range of her responsibilities later today, she would not have much time to say anything else because the Minister for Africa is responsible for a great deal else as well.
In the NGO community, both Congolese and expatriate, including bodies such as Human Rights Watch, Global Witness and a host of others, there is a strong sense that there is a crying need for British, European and American diplomacy to get on the front foot and be more active and incisive. There is a strong sense around in that community that Western diplomacy has become limp-wristed in Congo and that there is a need for pressured and clear talk to Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC Government, awash as it is with Chinese and Indian money. We cannot make peace with the continuing war. Peace negotiations must include minerals, weapons and mines if the people are not to be abused further. There is a need for energetic action to find out who is making the money, who is taking out the minerals and where they are going. The British Government, like other European Governments, have been very slow around the OECD guidelines to pursue British and European companies. In the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Europe and America there are people running the wars and the pillage. We have to bring all that to book if there is to be some possibility of peace in the land. I hope that we will see a fresh concentration of effort on this region and others by the present Government and by any Government who succeed them because 100 years is a long time and the situation has been appalling all that time.
Many of us on these Benches and elsewhere were very concerned about and, indeed, opposed the 2003 Iraq war because we felt that it would lead to a leaching away of attention and money from places such as the Great Lakes region. I believe we have seen that over the past six years, and we must redress the balance, whatever the seriousness of events in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
My Lords, I shall focus my remarks on the Middle East and on what roles the UK can play in that disturbed and disturbing region. I shall deal first with Iran where the dangers of nuclear arms in the hands of dangerous idealists are obvious. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made his intentions for Israel clear, and they are simply a first step in his plans for the domination of the Middle East. However, it is the threat he poses to Europe, which is now well within the range of his ballistic missiles, that should cause us concern. Our Government's position on sanctions is commendable, but Iran’s cynical disregard for any reasoned approaches gives little hope that it will change direction now. The regime's continuing inhumane treatment of its dissidents shows how little it yields to international pressures. Time is not on our side here, and we should avoid at all costs the proposals being leaked from a United Nations body to stop sanctions at a time when we should be encouraging our partners to increase them.
In Afghanistan, we seem to be losing heart, as many noble Lords have said, as the tragic losses of our troops mount up, but the Prime Minister's commitment and resolve have to be bolstered. The possibility that the Taliban could take over again, as they surely would if we came out now, is more than worrying but, more significantly, they are increasingly making their presence felt through their associates over the border in Pakistan, and the possibility of Pakistan, a nuclear power, drifting into the hands of associates of the Taliban is extremely dangerous. One fundamentalist regime in the region with nuclear capabilities is frightening enough, but two would be disastrous, so we have to stay there until such time as a stable, self-sufficient Afghanistan can be achieved and Pakistan can be helped to combat its own insurgents. It is often said that we cannot win in Afghanistan, and that may be true, but we should be able to hold the line until such time as strengthened local government can take over the responsibility.
On Israel and Palestine, there is a somewhat naive view that if this stand-off could be resolved, all the other problems of the Middle East would disappear. Of course, a solution here is highly desirable, not least for the Palestinians and Israelis, but we should not fool ourselves into believing that Iran would suddenly drop its fundamentalism and its malign anti-Western stance or that the Taliban and al-Qaeda would cease their terrorist activities. That is just too much to expect. However, peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be a godsend for both populations, and every public opinion poll there shows a majority of both sides strongly in favour of a two-state solution. Indeed a reasonably clear idea of what the final two-state solution might look like has emerged from a series of plans over the years—all variations on a theme, to my mind—but if the outline of a final picture is reasonably clear, the process of achieving it has been bedevilled by a series of events, by extremists on both sides, by variably committed leaderships and by external pressures from Iran and its proxies in Hezbollah and Hamas. The two sides are now as far apart as ever. There is considerable concern about settlements on the one hand, and Hamas rearming and splitting from Fatah on the other, among myriad other concerns.
Against this background, it is worth thinking about what we in the UK can best do to help them to achieve the common goal of their peoples. Although we have relatively little influence compared with the USA, there are opportunities for us to help. There are many positive signs of regeneration in the West Bank in which we can play a role. Unemployment is going down; the GDP is rising by about 7 per cent a year; many roadblocks and checkpoints have been removed; security is immeasurably better, so the IDF has been able to withdraw from many areas as the Palestinian police—trained with our, and it has to be said Israel’s, help—have taken over; and towns such as Jenin, which were previously no-go areas, have started opening up for tourism.
Now Mr Fayyad has been able to say that he aims to have an independent state within a few years with or without Israel’s agreement. Although this has created consternation in some quarters in Israel, and although it may be doubtful whether he can achieve it, the point is that he is now confident that the West Bank is increasingly developing the degree of stability, with security and the rule of law, that makes for a governable state. It can certainly put itself in a stronger position to negotiate with Israel, which really needs a stronger partner to talk to.
The UK, with the EU, can do much to assist the Palestinians in their economic development and in the build-up of their own police and security systems. In light of that, the boycotts of Israel proposed at the TUC conference recently seem ludicrous, especially when we hear that the Palestinian trade unions say that they would only harm their interests at a time when they have reached an agreement with Israeli trade unions on equal pay. How will a boycott of Israel help the Palestinians or the peace process? This is the sort of dialogue that we should promote. There are many other examples, some of which are supported by our Government and the Israeli Government, many of which are supported by voluntary organisations.
I shall give a couple of examples. For the first, I express my interest as a trustee of a charity that we set up last year in my late son’s name. The Daniel Turnberg Travel Fellowship Scheme is supporting 20 medical researchers from the Middle East to spend a few weeks in the UK learning new techniques, making contact with leading researchers and planning continuing research collaboration for when they go home. Of these 20, five are from the West Bank, seven are from Israel and the rest are from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. All are enthusiastic and keen to collaborate.
Of course, this is not the only scheme. Another, called Building Bridges, has brought two Palestinian and two Israeli trainee doctors to spend three months in the UK in specialist training. They live together in a flat provided for them, and the first group have become firm friends and colleagues. I know of similar low-key schemes for undergraduate students. One, at City University London, is for about a dozen students from Israel and Palestine, and there are others for lawyers and journalists, each bringing together people from both sides.
There is of course plenty of room into which criticism of both sides can grow, and each needs to look critically at itself, but for us in the UK so much more can be achieved by helping to build bridges than by destructive boycotts and criticism. The UK Government’s balanced approach and support for both sides is appreciated, but I fear that the sometimes unbalanced recrimination that often emanates from the UN and is heaped on Israel simply demeans the UN, reduces its influence in Israel and does little in the search for peace.
Finally, the situation in Gaza is dire. Hamas is firmly in control and vowing death and destruction to Israel. The poor population there is stuck between a rock and a hard place, as neither side seems prepared to blink, at least on the surface. Palestinians in Gaza will never forget or forgive their loss of civilian lives, and the Israelis cannot forget or forgive the thousands of rockets that fell on them in a continual storm for so many years. The question is whether we should focus all our energies on current senses of injustice or on putting some of that energy into looking for ways to move forward to solutions.
Surprisingly, there are interactions and links between the two. Most are unheralded, but we should try to build on them. When I visited two large children’s hospitals in Israel recently, I was struck by the number of Palestinian children from Gaza being treated there. In the Safra Children’s Hospital at Tel Hashomer, there are always 30 or 40 children and their families from Gaza receiving specialist care, and about half of all cardiac surgery at Safra is on Gazan children. A similar story is told at the Schneider Children’s Hospital. Indeed, a visit to any Israeli hospital reveals remarkable numbers of Palestinian patients being treated by Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses. This interaction at the grass roots is reflected in joint research activities between Israeli and Palestinian universities in Gaza, almost all of which are below the radar because of Hamas pressure to clamp down on collaboration.
It is often said that Israel should talk to Hamas—“talk to your enemies” is the phrase—but there is no evidence whatever that Hamas will talk to Israel. It is even at loggerheads with Fatah, largely because Fatah does speak to Israel. Clearly it will have to speak at some point, but it takes two to tango. Meanwhile, I can only assume that the informal backdoor discussions, which I know go on, have shown that the two sides are so far apart that direct talks are currently not feasible.
One remarkable story gives me some hope for the future: the terrible story of the paediatrician in Gaza who tragically lost three of his children when an Israeli bomb dropped on his house during the conflict in January. His remaining child and a niece were badly injured, but they were all shipped out in a helicopter that was sent immediately by the Safra hospital in Israel that I mentioned earlier. They were treated in intensive care, where they recovered, and were sent home. That paediatrician returned later and placed a memorial plaque to his three children in the hallway of the Israeli hospital, and he is dedicating some equipment to them there—a remarkable and touching thing to do. Of course, this terrible loss of civilian life is an awful consequence of any war, and one that makes it so abhorrent. Despite the horror, however, we should gain some faith that reconciliation is possible among ordinary people, and it should give us hope that endless cycles of violence and revenge can be broken. They are not always inevitable.
My Lords, I hope to return later to the very reasonable and thoughtful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg. First, I have a couple of comments to make about earlier speeches in this debate. I will then make very brief comments on the Middle East’s nuclear weapons and on Afghanistan.
One thing concerned me when I heard the moving speeches of the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Bath and Wells and the Bishop of Winchester. Both outlined the scale of disastrous civil war and violence that are occurring even today in much of Africa and sometimes in south-east Asia. One of the most terrible statistics that I have encountered recently came from the very same Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia to whom the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester referred. No less than a quarter of the women and girls known to have been raped in that country were children under the age of five. That tells one something about how desperate the situation is.
When I listened to both right reverend Prelates, I was very concerned about what the UK might do. That brings me back to the very eloquent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and to my great concern about it. She knows very well the issues of overseas aid and poverty in the world. She spoke about them with great eloquence and great sincerity, but I was very troubled by her reiteration of the Government’s pledge of 0.7 per cent of GDP to overseas aid, peacekeeping and other matters of that kind.
Let us be quite frank about this: 0.7 per cent has been an ambition of this Government since 1997. We have now reached a figure of 0.34 per cent, which, admittedly, is considerably better than that of many countries, including even the United States. But it is only half of 0.7 per cent. However, in that period we lived through times of great prosperity in this country and of substantial budget surpluses. Yet we have never got anywhere near achieving 0.7 per cent. That is why I ask the Government to take very seriously the pledges they are making and would even suggest that they become pledges in law because, frankly, I very much doubt whether, given the scale of our financial problems, that figure will be reached in any foreseeable period.
The one way in which it might be reached—I would commend this to the Government and would ask them to look at it much more closely than they have so far—is the proposal for a Tobin tax on financial transactions, which is now broadly supported by France and Germany. It is the one area where there might be adequate remuneration and revenues to achieve 0.7 per cent. For a reason which is beyond me, because of the nature of the support that this proposal has had, I do not understand why our Government do not look much more closely at it. It is estimated in a recent research study by Austria that it would bring in something of the order of £700 billion if it extended generally and £90 billion if it was limited only to the United Kingdom.
I very much agree with the spokesman for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on something that he has often reiterated to the House; namely, the rise of Asia and the significant increase in the proportion of world wealth and investment that now originates there. However, I thought that he slightly exaggerated the speed at which all this is happening. It is still true that the European Union is the single biggest trading block in the world, the largest source of overseas investment in the world and has the capacity to have a major impact in its negotiations in the WTO and elsewhere. I share the noble Lord’s analysis that Asia is rising and that the challenge to that is very significant. What is the possible logic of accepting divisions in Europe when Europe should be bargaining with the rest of the world for outcomes that will be beneficial to both? It is simply unjustifiable to pursue essentially historic arguments about sovereignty in the European Union when this is one of the few instruments we have to deal with some of the terrible violence and poverty in the world.
I agree with him very much that the Commonwealth had underused potential. That is true. The Commonwealth could be much more effective, given strong support from us and others. To give one example: I was recently in Islamabad and had the opportunity of talking to some of the leading foreign affairs figures in Pakistan. One could not help but grieve about why the Commonwealth has not been able to build any kind of effective bridge of discussion between Pakistan and India. These two great countries are still far too absorbed in their enmity with one another and one of whose survival—I repeat, survival—is, as many of us know, at stake.
I shall be brief on Afghanistan, because we have had some very distinguished speeches, including that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden. We have to live with the difficulties that have arisen from what I believe has long been a profoundly mistaken policy, which dates back to the Administration of President George Bush; that is, the belief that in some peculiar way Afghanistan can be a centrally governed and administered state. It never has been. All central Governments in Afghanistan have sooner or later to come to terms with the regional and sometimes almost feudal lords of the various provinces.
There have been some very effective contributions to this in recent years. One of the most profound and disturbing was the objection of Peter Galbraith, who was the American envoy in Afghanistan and a former ambassador to Croatia. He was inclined to speak with rather too much directness for acceptable diplomacy about the problems of having a central Government and president whose authority we were obliged to sustain, and who have been profoundly involved in corruption and possibly even in the drug trade.
How can we create a domestic situation which provides more support from the Afghan people for the attempt to deal with the Taliban? The answer has to lie in raising regional negotiations between ourselves and the domestic provincial leaders of Afghanistan in order to sustain their support for what we are trying to do. In that context, one of the most significant things—I very much agree here with what has been said during this debate—is to try to build rural strength and rural development in that country. I want to say one more important thing about Afghanistan. Given the situation in which the legitimacy of the Government is somewhat doubted, we need to try to restore some of the trust by sustaining and extending civic rights.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on the danger of a sudden pull-out. We would all like to see a big reduction in British troops and a timetable for their departure. I agree with those Members of this House who have pointed out that the repercussions on Pakistan of a sudden pull-out are so grave that we should not even seriously consider that possibility.
Pakistan has now got a weak civil Government, but they have at least established an agreed authority over the military. It is a country torn apart by the arguments in Pakistan about whether the Army should be devoted to trying to root out the Taliban in Waziristan and elsewhere. I agree strongly that we have to support economic development in Pakistan, but I also feel very strongly that we have to try to develop Pakistan’s discussion with her neighbours in such a way as to leave her less vulnerable than she is today. By her neighbours, I again mean, at least in part, India, where a relationship between the two, even if it is only a hotline, is of the most crucial importance.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, on his moderate and sensible approach to the Middle East, but I shall add one doubt. In the past few days, we have had the response of Fatah and of Mr Erekat, its chief negotiator, to the very close to outright rejection of an attempt to stop the settlements by the present Government of Israel. It is absolutely essential to have some movement by the Government of Israel on settlements, and on reducing the demand that they make on land and aquifers. With every day that passes, I increasingly doubt the possibility of a two-nation solution. A nation cannot be built on as little as is now being left of the West Bank and Gaza in terms of economic strength. We now have to face up to the fact that time is running out very fast indeed.
It is important to say that the almost outright rejection by Mr Netanyahu’s Government of the original request from President Obama for a complete stop in settlements was not resolved by Secretary of State Mrs Hillary Clinton’s rather extraordinary comment that Mr Netanyahu made a generous proposal. It was nothing of the kind. It was no proposal at all. Given the situation where the United States, for reasons I do not fully understand, seems to be unable to take any initiative with regard to the settlements, the EU has a great responsibility as the major financier of the Palestinian Authority, the major supporter of police reform in Gaza and, particularly, the West Bank, to intervene and to go directly into the issues of the Middle East and say, “As the substantial financier of the Palestinian Authority, we believe we should be heard on the issue of how we can get some kind of constructive talks going on this matter. We cannot accept the scale of the rejection of the settlement issue by the present Government of Israel”.
My final point relates to nuclear weapons. The road towards the abolition of nuclear weapons, to which we are all—including the United States, the United Kingdom and others—now broadly committed, lies through three pathways. The first is a ratification of the successor to START, which runs out at the end of this month. The Americans and Russians have extended their acceptance of the existing verification of the treaty, but discussions on the proposal for substantial reductions will now have to take place at the beginning of the coming year. United Kingdom support for that is badly needed and is widely offered but, frankly, much turns on whether the United States Congress will feel able to ratify such a treaty.
The second path, beyond that, is a treaty for a comprehensive nuclear test ban. However, there are substantial questions about whether in its present mood the United States Senate would be willing to ratify such a treaty. The third path is the review of the nuclear proliferation treaty in the spring of next year. The two treaties to which I have referred are vital to the success of that conference. To be successful, it would have to accept the additional protocols and accept much tougher limits on what can be done by countries such as Iran and North Korea. The only possible way of achieving that is to follow the route of the existing treaties that reduce the scale of nuclear weapons.
Although I vastly admire President Obama, we in this country tend to underestimate the scale of the difficulty he confronts in obtaining the domestic support that he needs. Some good will has gone in bitter arguments over health issues and health reforms and, therefore, the support that we can give to the American Government depends on how we, as a country, can help to persuade the Senate and others that these are crucial steps on the path towards world peace, and that world peace is now within our possibilities but is still very far from being certain.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, although I cannot compete with her global sweep. I shall focus, essentially, on Israel and Palestine. I appreciated the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, who brought some good news of modest improvements in the West Bank and encouraging words about medical co-operation. We welcome them very much.
I urge Her Majesty’s Government and those responsible for European Union policy to approach the Middle East with a proper and necessary sense of humility. We should recognise that our actions—and, indeed, our inaction—have led to the wasted years of a so-called peace process, with no real peace and at least three brutal and devastating wars, beginning in 2003. Since the Oslo agreements we have squandered millions of pounds in propping up doubtful regimes, only to see the buildings we had paid for destroyed and damaged. One lesson we might well learn is not to set unrealistic preconditions. My arguments in several previous debates in your Lordships’ House about including the Hamas movement now have, I am glad to say, the support of many far more eminent people.
Our new humility should include a sympathetic understanding of both Israel and Palestine. Israelis remember centuries of persecution, largely in European states, culminating in the Nazi attempt at genocide. They recall how nearly they were defeated in 1947-48 and how many wars they have had to fight since then. They say, with some justification, that when they pulled out of Lebanon and Gaza, all they got was rockets in return. They fear that similar rockets could be fired at them from the West Bank.
On the other side, we have to understand the pent-up anger and frustration of Palestinians over their sufferings. The Naqba, or disaster, uprooted Palestinians, who now number millions of refugees and exiles scattered through the Middle East and beyond. Gaza endured 49 years of occupation, four years of isolation from the rest of the world and blockade, and one month of devastating attack last winter. The West Bank has suffered 42 years of hostile military occupation, with ever increasing enemy colonisation and very limited freedom of movement. Some 9,000 Palestinians are now in Israeli jails, including 21 members of their elected Parliament, not to speak of women, youths and children.
Both sides long, however, for real peace, bringing with it mutual security, recognition and legitimacy. I was recently at a mixed joint conference in Jerusalem which produced some hopeful and useful ideas. The first encourages both sides to think beyond their own narrow national interests. Could they find and adopt transcendent goals in ways similar to the behaviour of the French, Germans and others following the Second World War, avoiding revenge but building the future? If this happened, the whole region would be transformed. Such a change is urgent, if only because of the huge proportion of the total population who are now under 25 and often unemployed.
Both Israel and Palestine, in fact or potentially, contain important national minorities. Israel has well over 1 million Palestinian citizens. Within Palestine, Israeli economic, rather than ideological, migrants could remain in the future where they now are, provided that they accept Palestinian jurisdiction. Each of the two states could come to see its national minority not as a liability but rather as an asset. This would, of course, depend on both sides complying with best international practice.
There is much talk and uncertainty about the Palestinian elections due in January next year. Could these be used most constructively to elect a new Palestinian Government rather than a Palestinian Authority, or the PLO, or the Palestinian National Council?
The religious leaders in Israel and Palestine have a distinct contribution to make towards real peace. More than 10 years ago, the noble and right Reverend Lord, Lord Carey, helped both sets of leaders to come together for the first time. They then jointly produced the admirable Alexandria Declaration. It is sad that there has been so little follow up to this. As religious people can be found among the hardliners on both sides, there is plenty of scope for including the extremes and consolidating the moderates.
Unilateral measures, taken by all sides and parties, could also be helpful. These are most likely to be constructive if they are carefully co-ordinated. Alas, this has seldom been the case in the past. I have in mind particularly the release of captives and detainees and the building of a transport link to connect Gaza and the West Bank. Mutual security and intelligence sharing is another area where small beginnings have been made but much more is needed.
The last important multilateral peace conference was held in Madrid in 1991. There are those who argue that the Arab League peace initiative, now seven years old, could form the basis for a new conference. If perchance a regional framework could in that way be agreed, it might become a little less difficult to work two states of Israel and Palestine into such a framework. Such an approach may require security guarantees, peacekeeping forces and effective inward investment. The resulting gains for Israel, Palestine, the region and, indirectly, for Europe and the whole world are so great as to be barely describable.
Our policy, as I suggested earlier, should be humble but realistic, understanding of basic needs and interests, and patiently working to include all parties in conflict resolution rather than in unsatisfying conflict management. Time, as has been said earlier today, is not on anyone’s side.
My Lords, I shall avoid the temptation in these unfocused debates of embarking on a Cook’s tour around the world in eight minutes. I shall try instead to focus on certain events of the past few weeks and draw perhaps some general conclusions from them.
My starting point is 8 and 9 November 1989 and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I recall—this is a corrective to those who like to forecast the future—speaking six months beforehand to a German woman MP whom I know well. She told me that Germany would never be reunified in her lifetime. Well, she is still alive and Germany is reunified and we have seen the most remarkable positive results since.
My own judgment is that historians will see the overall effects of 1989 as more significant than those of 9/11. The fall of the wall ended the post-war division of Europe. Perhaps we have not yet caught up with those changes in the political structures needed to support it, but they have had a most marked effect. It was the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the Soviet empire and almost the end of Soviet ideology. Proud nations that had the untidy, post-war interruption of being under Soviet rule were able to choose their own future. The country that I know best, where I was en poste in the 1960s, is Hungary. Its self-identity is that of the spearhead of the West against the East, of a proud country which has survived for 1,000 years with its own language in a Slav sea and which did not choose communism—it was where the Red Army had reached at the end of the war. Hungary now is able to flourish and we rejoiced with it and those other countries as the dam burst and it was able to resume not just business as usual but business on a better basis, being absorbed into the system of western alliances. There were therefore profound changes, so that not only parts of the Soviet empire but parts of the Soviet Union joined the European Union: the Baltic states are now part of it and of NATO.
We think less of the effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall on the third world. I attended a lecture earlier this week by former President FW de Klerk, who argued that, because the communist menace appeared less strong to the Afrikaner minority in apartheid South Africa, they were able to make changes and concessions that might otherwise not have been possible.
On the other hand, the fall of the wall has had some adverse effects for Africa. Pre-1989, there was superpower competition for votes of African states in the General Assembly of the UN. That competition has gone and, to some extent, Africa has become marginalised. I was delighted that my noble friend was able to indicate that the commitment to providing 0.7 per cent of GNI in development aid remains valid and strong for this Government. However, there came a time when I recall even Richard Dowden, one of the few eminent commentators on Africa in this country, saying that perhaps our only reason for being there was moral. Well, as we say in this Parliament, since then an amendment has been moved. Others have mentioned the competition for resources with China. We saw the recent offer of $6 billion of credit from the People’s Republic of China to Africa, a reflection of China’s willingness to move from its own region in the search for resources and, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, of the way in which economic power has moved from west to east.
It is probably also true not only that the West has suffered an economic decline as against the East but also that, over the past weeks, we have seen some signs of a political decline. There have been a number of adverse changes over that period. Let us think, for example, of Afghanistan. There were clear signs of public opinion in this country moving against our commitment to that war; there was uncertainty as to who the enemy is and how one measures success in the Afghan war. Perhaps one needs, as the noble Lord said, a sense of history, of the bloody nose that this country received in the 1840s in the first Afghan War. One needs also to read again one’s Kipling about the Great Game in the 1880s. One needs perhaps to revisit the bleeding wound that President Gorbachev’s Soviet Union got in its latter days. One needs to look at the old adage: one cannot buy the Afghans; one can only rent them. Indeed, one sees various press commentaries now that state that we are indeed bribing certain forces because of the fragmentation and turbulence of that country.
I am ready to accept the Prime Minister’s assertion that it is in our interests to help the other countries that may serve as nests for al-Qaeda activity—for example, Somalia and Yemen. It is some indication of the increasing linkage between domestic and foreign policy that the training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and in Afghanistan train people who will appear on our streets. I am prepared to accept that, however corrupt and fragmented that country is and whatever void exists at a national level, it is in our interests to bolster as best we can the Afghan regime. I accept that the likely effect on Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country, of a withdrawal and the boost that any precipitate withdrawal would give to worldwide jihadists are very important considerations. Therefore, I was pleased by what the Prime Minister said in his Lord Mayor’s banquet speech, which showed a realistic appraisal of the need not only to satisfy public opinion in this country but also to have a clearer strategy. What he outlined there, I very much applaud.
In the Middle East, we hoped that the new Obama Administration would adopt a more nuanced and balanced role. I was in Egypt just before the Cairo speech, when there were great expectations. Alas, those expectations have been somewhat dimmed as a result of the recent retreat by the Obama Administration on settlements. It is surely clear that there can be no peace between the Palestinians and Israelis without a two-state solution and that there cannot be a two-state solution while the areas occupied by the Israelis are criss-crossed by all these settlements and Bantustans. It looks as if Prime Minister Netanyahu has won a short-term tactical victory. Alas, the longer-term consequences may be sadder for Israel—and I yield to no one in my admiration for Israel, its proud democracy and rule of law and the fact that it faces an existential threat from Iran as well as the fact that the 1 million Palestinians living in Israel certainly do not want to be absorbed into a Palestinian Authority, as they show very clearly. But the consequences of that retreat on the settlements against pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu have been not only the projected resignation of President Abbas but new pressures for a Palestinian state and anger in the Arab world. The Arab peace initiative of 2002, which may need a clearer road map attached to it, has now been pushed aside and the politics of hope in Israel and Palestine, as the events of the past few weeks show, have yielded to the politics of management of a crisis to prevent it from getting worse.
On the European Union and the speech given by Mr Cameron, clearly the background was unfortunate. For example, there was the withdrawal from the mainstream centre-right family. Anyone who understands the European Union understands the importance of the political families and the need to be part of one’s natural family if one is to pull one’s weight, rather than creating some mishmash of funny groups with little or no attachment to core Europe. There was also, alas, from the shadow Foreign Minister the attack on Mr Blair’s prospects of becoming the president of the new grouping. There can be many cogent arguments against Mr Blair, but I think that there was consternation on the continent about the Opposition in this country seeking to stab in the back our own prime candidate, with the likely result that a Benelux federalist will have the position instead of a Briton who shares our views—an Atlanticist and someone who would walk tall, a general and not a secretary. That is the perverse effect of what the Opposition have done.
Furthermore, the pledges that have been made on a sovereignty Bill, the referendum and opt-outs tell one more about the internal party management than about realistic prospects. There is unlikely to be any serious prospect for further institutional change over at least the next decade. If one wished, for example, to add to one of the accession treaties something in relation to one of the several opt-outs being suggested, can one imagine the horror that it would cause on the continent? It would be totally contrary to the declared policy of seeking to encourage expansion to Croatia and the Balkan countries. Is one going to sacrifice Croatia and Iceland on the altar of trying to get our view on these opt-outs? We know, realistically, that the opt-outs depend on the support of all the other countries, which will not be coming. It is tilting at windmills and chasing dragons and is not worth a row of beans. The real tragedy is that, just to appease the Europhobes, any possible Conservative Government would feel the need to throw them fish from time to time, as they will ask for more, which can only make our position worse in relation to our partners. That said, those pledges mean very little. Any attempt to demand their fulfilment could only make worse our position on the continent.
I end on a more positive note. There was no attempt in Mr Cameron’s speech to rewrite the ESDP, which is one of the great and increasing success stories of the European Union. Perhaps that was the result of the lecturing of Mr Hague when he recently went to Washington. There was also no mention of the Commonwealth. I yield to no one in being a proponent of the Commonwealth; I have chaired the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for four years. I do not want to make the party point about how the Conservative Government in 1986 almost destroyed the Commonwealth over South Africa. I was at Marlborough House at that time and I remember it well—and the tirade in the Conservative press against the developing Commonwealth. No, I do not make that point. But this is clearly a pipe dream. Those who go to CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago next week will not find any appetite for this new grouping, which is not really a pro-Commonwealth suggestion but a desperate attempt to find an alternative to the only realistic position on the European Union. That said, I find much to commend in Mr Cameron’s speech, which will be seen historically as a rejection of not only the referendum but other referendums and a major recognition of where our future lies. Historians will see it as a major step, though a step only, on the road to reality.
My Lords, my purpose is narrow. I look forward to the promised draft international development legislation,
“to make binding my government's commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development by 2013”.
I wonder why the draftsman slipped in the accurate word “spend”. Surely, to be consistent, the word should be “invest”. Everything else is investment, is it not?
I declare an interest because I was the Commonwealth Development Corporation’s chief executive for some nine years, ending in 1994, in the days when CDC was of continuing and almost always friendly interest to Parliament. We were sometimes confused with the Overseas Food Corporation and groundnuts, but the OFC was summarily dissolved. CDC continues to this day and is still wholly owned by the taxpayer and a public corporation.
I shall return to CDC later, but first I refer to two very differing economic achievements over the past 50 years, in Ghana and Malaysia. These two are now a classic case of dramatically different performance, about which I was first asked in Accra long ago, in the early 1990s. A group of businessmen challenged me to explain how it was that Ghana and Malaysia started at independence with the same income per head, 10 million people each, a comparable stock of natural resources, similar education systems and the legacy of British administration and law yet, after 30 years, Malaysians were achieving 10 times the Ghanaian income per head. I did my best but, whatever the explanation then, this startling disparity has continued. Now, with 25 million people each and with progress in each, Malaysia is a middle income country. While Ghana is well ahead of much of sub-Saharan Africa, its income per head is still only one-tenth of Malaysia’s. Twenty-eight per cent of Ghanaians are below the one-dollar-a-day poverty line, but only 5 per cent of Malays.
I could offer an explanation, but it would be long and complex, following in the footsteps of Lord Bauer rather than those of Bob Geldof. No relevant comments can be found in the Africa Commission’s report of 2005, signed by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, nor in DfID’s 2009 White Paper, so I conclude that I am out of joint with the times, because I still believe in private sector economic development as the best and fastest way out of absolute poverty. Yet even if I am wrong, we need DfID’s explanation of the two completely different experiences of Ghana and Malaysia—or will the Minister provide the explanation today? It has already been the subject of discussion within Government.
Given the belief that economic development, primarily but not exclusively driven by the private sector, is the surest way to achieve sustainable reductions in poverty, why does it not come top of the list of DfID’s objectives? For some reason, DfID believes that it cannot be directly involved, for example in contributing to the acquisition or even in the provision of the necessary foreign capital. Aspects of that leverage between public and private money were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. No poor country is likely to find the capital it needs from its own savings—not on any acceptable timescale, at least—yet all that DfID believes we can do is to enable for some deferred future, pursuing good governance when we know it is very likely that people will govern themselves better when they are already better off. Indeed, I seem to remember that we were, from time to time, very critical of Malaysian governance as they progressed to middle income.
A second DfID priority is emphasising climate change to people who have no electricity. A third is looking for less conflict, when we know that people will often only think twice about starting a fight when they have something to lose. In summary, our policies look forward to the often distant days of top-down success when we know that a degree of prosperity is a necessary condition for the rule of law and its acceptance. In addition, we politicise development and so slow it down by demanding solutions to the issues that trouble us, rather than by identifying economic opportunities and then, in partnership, exploiting them to improve the lot of people. Indeed, our eventual success or otherwise in Afghanistan will, in my opinion, turn on our ability to improve the lot of the Afghan people. We urgently need to identify economic opportunities and to overcome the obstacles to their development, including security. I fear that DfID is almost completely unsuited to the Afghan challenge.
Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that I now come back to CDC, which used to find economic opportunities in places where, and at times when, there was not market capital available. CDC went into these gaps to fund companies where the risk-reward prospects looked unattractive to quoted market players, and where the local skills base was not yet sufficiently developed. In order to offset this high-risk profile, CDC received modest injections of capital in the form of long-term Treasury loans on favourable interest rates. There is no such capability available to DfID today. Indeed, and most unfortunately, CDC is the subject of controversy and misunderstanding, as the recent frustrating and frustrated dialogue between the Public Accounts Committee, DfID and CDC clearly shows. Only Private Eye comes out a carping winner from this sad dialogue. The frustration is understandable; no parliamentary committee likes to find itself questioning a wholly owned public body that has negotiated its way out of parliamentary accountability.
The history of its escape is revealing. In 1997, somebody advised Tony Blair to turn CDC into a public-private partnership, whatever that was meant to mean or to achieve. The public-private partnership written into the manifesto never happened. In its mistaken efforts to conform, CDC severely damaged its balance sheet. By 2004, it seemed to the Government that something—anything—needed to be done. It was then, by agreeing to CDC becoming a fund of funds in an attempt to clear up the mess made by the failed 1997 policy, that CDC escaped from its accountability and DfID was excused from a relationship that it found embarrassing.
In effect, CDC now subcontracts its developmental role to third-party fund managers. It only takes responsibility for those with whom it places its money, and then depends upon the financial results of the fund managers who deploy that money. CDC has thus given up its responsibility for what happens on the ground. It manages no assets itself, so nothing that it says or somewhat petulantly protests in its reply to the Public Accounts Committee will gainsay the way in which the parliamentary chain of accountability is broken, or gainsay the very indirect relationship between CDC and our aid programme. The Government’s handling of its relationship with CDC has been a disgrace. DfID appears pleased to be shot of it, yet CDC is still 100 per cent publicly owned. What now drives CDC is for others to say, but it is not the British public policy in sub-Saharan Africa, or in the more difficult parts of south-east Asia such as Papua New Guinea or the troubled Solomon Islands.
I believe it is high time that Parliament was told how the Government defend their stewardship of that public corporation. They should answer the question: where does hands-on economic development feature in DfID’s forward plans? At present, we seem to be overwhelmed by an inward-looking political agenda, with little time and space left for the vital task of economic development needed to lift the lost billion out of absolute poverty.
My Lords, the noble Viscount has opened a fascinating debate which I hope will be continued, if not today then in the future. If I might begin with Afghanistan, our casualties there and the tragedies of every family that has suffered remain uppermost in our minds. Coalition forces, especially the British, US and Canadian soldiers in Helmand, have felt exponential losses this year; many people, me included, want to see at least a partial withdrawal from the front line and a rethink of our present strategy.
We must put our own losses in perspective too. The Afghan people have suffered; their soldiers and police have borne increasing casualties, and we should remember that the number of civilians killed has also risen sharply. Most of these civilians die from suicide or roadside bombings but, according to UNAMA, two out of five were killed by coalition and Afghan forces last year.
I return to the reasons for our invasion in 2001. The Government constantly emphasise terrorism and homeland security, but I also remember the genuine public sympathy for the victims of the Taliban and the determination to rebuild what it had destroyed. Under the Bonn agreement of 2001, we solemnly pledged billions of pounds to reconstruct the country. We have done a lot of it: cities, transport and infrastructure have been rebuilt. Critics of the war and the recent elections tend to downplay the achievements of the Karzai Government and aid agencies in restoring power, water, food supplies, health centres and schools where there were none. The vast majority of Afghans, however dissatisfied with progress and however difficult it has been to restore good governance and the rule of law, recognise that the international community is there to help them.
The mistakes we have made, in my view, were to attempt to rebuild a centralised state and to focus democracy on an elected central Government. How did our political leaders think that they could reinvent one nation so quickly from so many different loyalties? In Britain, we tend to think back to King John and the Barons, but it is not a question of a few Barons. There are warlords over every mountain in Afghanistan. Terrorism itself is highly localised and subcontracted. Only a complex system of alliances and financial inducements, such as we have tried in Helmand, would reap rewards—and then only on a temporary basis. The coalition plainly does not have, and should not have, the capacity for this, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned. It is not a country simply to be taxed and governed in the European sense. It is a maze of districts and local councils to be empowered over time by a mixture of aid, civil society and devolved authority. Central and provincial governments can only rule and resolve conflicts by means of this subtle network of checks and balances. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly mentioned the importance of the regional neighbours.
The loya jirgas and the shuras have ruled Afghanistan for centuries and we should respect and use these as the principal channels of decision-making. The Foreign Secretary finally said as much two days ago, when outlining the new exit strategy. It is, in fact, the only way out.
The war in Afghanistan is not being won, nor is it being lost. However, the propaganda war is being lost, both in the UK and on the disputed borders where foreign forces will always be seen as the enemy. The perception on our TV screens is rather like that of a Beau Geste desert war that we can never win. What we never see in news bulletins is a national “hearts and minds” campaign in which Afghans are seen as our friends, although this is apparently part of our Government’s new strategy.
With the help of NGOs and others, we can still succeed in that “hearts and minds” campaign. DfID is supporting a range of initiatives, such as business links, microfinance and other employment schemes. What is it doing to publicise these? The National Solidarity Programme, created by the Afghan Government in 2003, is a major success story which has achieved results, through thousands of local councils, in road building, education and reconstruction of all kinds. Hardly anyone in the UK has heard of it. Why do we not make more of this achievement with the help of the media? It has had problems, like many projects. The new-style community development councils, as channels of funding, have sometimes confused the shuras with imposed western values, but this is inevitable. The NSP is learning from its mistakes and will emerge well from a World Bank evaluation.
On international development and climate change, I welcome the Government's renewed commitment. It is encouraging to see the UK rising in the charts of official development assistance. Within the EU, which provides two-thirds of all aid, the UK is now ahead of France and Germany in aid per capita, although still well behind Scandinavian countries. I also welcome this Government's increased emphasis on aid effectiveness through the non-governmental organisations.
However, the latest World Food Summit has pointed to a recent increase in the numbers of the malnourished, to around 1 billion. This is more than there were at the first summit in the mid 1970s, and close to one in five of the world's population. The scandal of these figures is not explained by the available food or distribution, or even by biofuels—which have presented a new problem—but by the drastic fall in OECD investment in agriculture. Can the Minister say whether the UK, at least, is pulling its weight in this sector and urging other countries to do the same?
The UK is now the leader among EU states in global health spending. This is significant when climate change is likely to have such a negative impact on world health. Seen more positively, the urgency of measures to combat climate change will provide a much-needed catalyst for the millennium development goals that are looming up for 2015. It is imperative that the poorest countries are helped now to prepare for the effects of climate change. Insidious temperature rises over the coming decades will bring increases in such diseases as malaria, encephalitis and dengue fever if nothing is done.
Higher temperatures, while only inconvenient and even beneficial to temperate climates, can mean much more severe floods and droughts, food and water shortages in tropical regions, as well as a lack of shelter and sanitation, all leading to higher mortality rates. Can the Minister spell out how the climate change budget allocated to developing countries will mean actual changes on the ground, meeting more millennium development targets, and will not all be swallowed up by their Governments' energy-saving and low carbon schemes, essential though those are in industrial zones?
Small farmers in arid lands are highly efficient, as has been said, because they have to be, both in land use and in conserving precious soil and water. Our climate change campaign would seem to be almost irrelevant to them, as they are doing it all the time. We need to pay much more attention to Africa and how it copes with climate change. While its farmers’ carbon footprint is generally light, its foresters and scavengers cause perhaps one-third of the world's deforestation, much of it timber for export.
Rich countries can earn carbon credits through forestry projects under the clean development mechanism and the reduced emissions schemes. However, according to one leading expert, Camilla Toulmin of the International Institute of Environment and Development, there is hardly any take-up of these projects. Again, I hope that the Minister can provide an answer, at least in relation to the UK's performances in this critical arena of climate change.
My Lords, I am, as always, delighted to follow the noble Earl in this debate, particularly his final theme of issues in Africa. Significant aspects of the UK’s foreign policy are to some degree influenced by the state of affairs on the African continent. It is worth looking at whether DfID and the FCO’s resources, in particular, are being effectively deployed in those areas. I declare my interests as vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Africa, a council member for AWEPA—European Parliamentarians for Africa— and the chair of the advisory board of the Commonwealth parliamentary studies unit.
Looking at key developments in Africa over the past few years, such as the advent of the NePAD initiative that also developed the African peer review mechanism, it is clear that that peer review, which was devised and overseen by the African Union, has yet to be established root and branch. Countries that have volunteered for peer review have tended to be from the traditionally democratic African states. There is therefore a view, particularly among African nations, that it has become something of a toothless exercise, much like the SADC review of Zimbabwe that has failed to influence the behaviour of President Mugabe in any strong way.
I will come back to NePAD later. I will now talk a little about progress towards meeting the millennium development goals. Senior African politicians are now very objective in their assessment of the effectiveness of, and progress with, the MDGs. For example, Graça Machel, the former Prime Minister of Mozambique, speaking in Cape Town just last month, pointed out that the international financial crisis and global recession has impacted more severely on Africa than on other parts of the world, not least because some donor countries have cut their funding targets in response. I note our Government’s commitment not to do that and to reach the 0.7 per cent of GDP target.
It is also unrealistic to think that all 53 countries in Africa will reach the MDGs on time. African politicians are determined that the failure of some countries should not be seen as the failure of the continent. Through the peer-review mechanism, they note that many Parliaments are struggling. Parliaments in Africa are under-resourced and unable to hold their Executives to account. They need support to develop monitoring capacity over national resources. They need, as Mrs Machel puts it, “to be more assertive” over the distribution of their national resources by their Executives. Mrs Machel begs the question: how many African countries are now allocating 10 per cent of their resources to agriculture? How many are now allocating 15 per cent to health, as promised in the MDGs? It is clear that the MDG target of halving the number living on a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to be met. Cutting aid budgets in the midst of a global recession adds to the African crisis of 200 million people going hungry every day and 33 million children being undernourished.
Achieving the MDG on poverty reduction is estimated to be postponed by at least three years now, over which time 400,000 more children will die. To quote Mrs Machel again,
“aid means saving lives, it’s not a luxury”.
The question for the Government must be: have they got the balance right between aid and foreign policy spending? We know that the DfID budget is set at something like £1.2 billion. The FCO’s budget is about £33.5 million for bilateral programmes for political stability and good governance in the longer term. Is that right?
This brings me to progress with parliamentary strengthening and democratic stability. Recently, several African presidents have changed—or are seeking to change—constitutional term limits that prevent them seeking a third term in office. Examples include Uganda, Tunisia, Algeria and Cameroon. In Uganda, President Museveni’s long rule has brought a degree of stability and peace, and a developing multipolitical party Parliament. There are nevertheless warning signs that this stability could be undermined—for example, the September riots in Kampala that left 27 people dead and more than 100 arrested, and led to the forced closure of at least five radio stations. That was followed by claims of the abduction and torture of senior journalists.
There is a sense among humanitarian organisations such as War Child that there is now a gap between the phasing out of emergency funding in Uganda and the lead-in to development funding. Human Rights Watch notes that there has been a lack of a cohesive response from the donor community to the events that took place in Kampala in September. It is against this background that the amendment of the presidential term limits from two to three in some countries is not seen as supportive of free and fair elections, but is, in Uganda in 2011, essential to retaining stability and peace in the region. Have the Government had any discussions concerning the changes that are taking place in Uganda’s presidential term limits?
We work very closely with the Ugandan Government. I would be interested to know what the Government’s reaction has been to, for example, the reappointment of the National Electoral Commission, which has taken place in spite of accusations of fraud in the Ugandan court. What plans do our Government have to provide technical or financial support to the conduct of the 2011 elections scheduled in Uganda? DfID is supporting and training counterterrorism operations in Uganda, but Human Rights Watch and others have meanwhile been highlighting allegations of repeated state-sanctioned human rights abuses. What action are the Government taking to support and develop reforms through current bilateral training programmes?
Looking at counterterrorism in the Great Lakes region, the Lord’s Resistance Army remains a threat to regional stability in northern Uganda, southern Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of the Central African Republic. Civilian protection must remain a critical priority. In this context, there is currently no coherent international plan to apprehend and remove the LRA from the Great Lakes region. However, the United States Congress has before it draft legislation entitled the LRA Disarmament and North Uganda Recovery Act. More than 150 members of Congress have signed up to it. Would the Government consider making commitments similar to those outlined in the draft US Act, which many consider to be an excellent model to follow? In that context, and with MONUC’s mandate due to be renewed shortly, do the Government support extending this mandate to include the apprehension of Joseph Kony and other LRA commanders?
The year 2010 will be crucial for the DRC and Rwanda. The DRC will probably hold local elections in 2010, with national elections in 2011. Respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions will need to be embedded to help those elections run smoothly. MONUC is doing a good job, but it needs to prepare for transition by focusing on institution-building, the role of Parliament, the judiciary and so forth. What role are our Government planning for the United Kingdom in institutional strengthening and electoral registration? Resource exploitation and corruption are the underlying sources of conflict in the DRC, as confirmed by DfID’s own report and studies into exports over several years. In some cases it was found that the export of minerals was more than double the volumes recorded for tax purposes—a clear case for international corruption investigation, if ever I heard one.
With regard to relations between Rwanda and the DRC, we should all welcome a meeting in August between Mr Kagame and Mr Kabila, but there are still concerns over Rwanda’s alleged support of rebel groups in the DRC only last year. We note that Rwanda has formally applied to join the Commonwealth; that application will be considered by a Commonwealth summit in 2010. Do the Government agree that before Rwanda is accepted into the Commonwealth, we must ensure that the criteria of Commonwealth core values of human rights, democracy and democratic institutions in an open and free society are first met?
Other noble Lords have mentioned climate change; I will comment briefly on Africa and climate change. Kofi Annan made the point when addressing the Global Editors’ Forum last month that it is a tragic irony that the countries which have done the least to cause climate change are those which are suffering, and will suffer, most from its impacts. Although Africa accounts for only 3 per cent of total global carbon emissions, it must now bear the brunt of climate change. The estimated financial impact could be as high as $130 billion in Africa. The impacts can already be seen in devastating floods in Burkina Faso and the droughts that have killed thousands of livestock in northern Kenya. However, African countries will barely be represented at the Copenhagen conference next month. Do the Government agree that African nations must have a more prominent role in future international climate talks?
Finally, I turn to Africa and China, which other noble Lords have commented on. China is heading to overtake the EU as Africa’s biggest trading partner. China is already beginning to exert political influence and power, akin to that of the western imperial powers in past centuries, since Chinese companies frequently plan with 30-year timescales as a minimum. This can be incredibly problematic for western nations, which put democracy, the rule of law and human rights into the mix of international trading agreements.
The worrying case in point is the Chinese position in a growing clash over diplomatic and trade relations with Guinea in west Africa. Guinea is central in the region’s trafficking of cocaine and other narcotics to Europe. A common initiative agreed between United Nations agencies and other west African coastal countries to curb this trade has already been compromised by elements of the ruling military junta in Guinea engaged in this very narcotics trafficking. In reaction to the presidential guard publicly raping and butchering more than 150 protesters in Conakry, the EU and the AU have imposed economic and financial sanctions, but their effects are being diluted by China’s decision to sign a $7 billion mining deal with Guinea, the world’s largest exporter of bauxite. The question for the West, and our Government, is whether China is straying into short-termism by striking secret deals with corrupt Governments and will discover that such investments are high-risk over time, and in any case do little to benefit Africa’s development.
The whole point of NePAD, the new economic plan for Africa, is to create sound investment criteria through transparency, the rule of law, democracy and human rights and to break the cycle of corruption, despotism and instability which marred the post-colonial period and made inward investment into Africa too high a risk. China, it seems, has to learn from the past mistakes that most African nations are steadfastly trying to overcome.
My Lords, I declare two interests as a non-executive director and adviser to a defence company and as the colonel of a regiment serving in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister is absolutely right to stress the importance of succeeding in Afghanistan, and to be disturbed by opinion polls here and in other NATO countries. The prospect of Pakistan collapsing—that is a real possibility, with an extremist, failed, radicalised Afghanistan slipping into war with India—and destabilising the region is a real possibility. Pakistan is a far more important and politically dangerous country than Afghanistan. War in the subcontinent would damage the whole world.
The reasons for our being in Afghanistan go far beyond keeping the streets of Britain safe. The Prime Minister is also right to promote a conference about Afghanistan, but it is key, although difficult, to engage the major countries in the region, not just NATO countries, as well as Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia and possibly China, all of which have a perhaps even greater long-term interest than we do in seeing a stable Afghanistan. We cannot be in the region for years at our current levels, spending the money that we do, and the Prime Minister is right to recognise this. There is, however, a real problem if one fixes and announces dates for an exit strategy. That may be seen as necessary to reassure public opinion at home but greatly assists the Taliban’s planning and timing. We may not have the time but it probably does, and can wait if we give it a date.
The military can only do so much and progress will depend on our commitments, the United States’ commitments, the determination of the Afghan Government and of a large number of the Afghan people themselves. The drive and commitment of a cross-Whitehall committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, will be crucial and needs to be very much more effective and active than arrangements have been to date. Our service men and women in the front line need to know that the Government and people are for them and that the Government are resolute. They do not want to see dithering—other noble Lords have used that word today—over the 500 who are still awaiting an order to go. That does not do any good. It seems to me that it would be so easy to send those 500. It should not be linked to the 40,000 American soldiers who are waiting to go.
It is not right, as many claim, that Afghanistan is a hopeless case and always has been. There have been long periods when progress was made and the country flourished. General McChrystal, who I know well and who is a very able United States commander, believes that 70 per cent of the Taliban can be swayed to support the Government. Many young Taliban fighters are just unemployed farmers who need the $10 a day they receive for fighting. Many could be turned provided we could guarantee them a better life and an escape from poverty. Aid and new business which would bring prosperity are a possibility. Afghanistan’s economy is growing at 16 per cent, admittedly from a very low base. We can succeed, as difficult as it may seem, but we cannot go on dithering; that must be understood. We must also ensure that the money and aid that we provide are delivered to the people to whom we intend them to go. We cannot lack direction and succeed. The risks of quitting too soon are huge and should not be taken. We dare not abandon Afghanistan. I suspect that if we do not succeed in Afghanistan, we will be faced with very great problems in the years to come.
A defence review is necessary. This will be very difficult. I agree with the remarks on defence funding by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who commanded me on a number of occasions in my career. The Ministry of Defence is vastly overspent and faces large payments. Very difficult decisions will have to be taken. A review should be foreign policy-led. We need to ask ourselves what we want to do in the world. It will be a very difficult time for the department, which has vested interests, and some cherished, nice-to-have projects must go, but if we try to do everything and to maintain forces and equipment to cover every eventuality, however unlikely, we will end up being good at nothing.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, is present, for several reasons: first, I have always had a high regard for him; and, secondly, he served the EC with great distinction for 10 years.
I was very impressed with the thoroughness of the European Union Committee’s work, which reflected extraordinary expertise. Few parliaments in the EU could have carried out this vital task in such a way. As a former European Commissioner, I am an unashamed supporter of the concept of the EU. Of course, like all political institutions, it has made mistakes, but its overall accomplishments have been impressive. France and Germany, once at each other’s throats, now work in harmony. Smaller states enhance their status and preserve their interests by co-operating purposefully in the enterprise. The EU is a major player on the world stage. I only wish that the UK had been rather more engaged. While we are an important member, we could have done much more to advance the EU’s salient work.
The Opposition—not all of them, of course—are prepared to put all this at risk. Frustrated by the EU’s unanimity over the Lisbon treaty, they ally themselves with some highly dubious political groups and engage in imprecise and dangerous policies vis-à-vis the EU. At least we know where we are with UKIP, and that is too dire to contemplate.
In the new Parliament, the Conservatives—I hope still in opposition—could be even more undermining. If elected, where would they stand in respect of initiatives proposed by the Commission and endorsed by the European Parliament? Save for those few issues which they have exempted, the Conservatives seem to relish the idea of Britain being sidelined and regarded as irrelevant. Nothing said by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, today weakens that point. His honeyed words cannot hide the bankruptcy of the Conservative Party’s ideas about Europe.
The Conservative Opposition charge that the Commission is undemocratic. That hardly chimes with reality. Every proposal and amendment is closely examined by civil servants within the Commission and by Commissioners, most of whom have been politicians in their own countries. Some have served with enormous distinction. Moreover, a Commissioner will invariably be accessible to those with wide experience of the subject being considered—including Ministers and those accountable to them. Even then, a proposal as amended will again be scrutinised by the Commission, interested parties and the European Parliament. Few legislatures undertake that degree of oversight, and nothing has been said about that important point by the Conservative Opposition today or at any time. Is all this, therefore, to be lost sight of? How practicable is the approach of the Conservative Opposition? To believe that Britain can stand alone or select whatever it pleases is simply fanciful. As my noble friend Lady Kinnock put it in this debate:
“There is no future in diplomacy by tantrum”.
That is highly amusing, but also deadly serious.
An enforceable agreement on climate change is possible at Copenhagen, but is regrettably unlikely. However, we should heed the advice of the vast majority of eminent scientists who advise us. If agreement at Copenhagen is elusive, we shall have to reach an accord at another venue in the very near future. There is no escape from that situation. If, by chance, the sceptics are right—which is improbable—what will have been lost? Lots of time and money. However, if they are wrong, which is more than a possibility, we risk much more—the future of our earth.
Other issues of magnitude were mentioned by my noble friend at the beginning of this debate: world poverty and disease, nuclear dangers and many others. She is right; we cannot tackle these alone. We need allies, particularly in the EU, but also beyond. Our opinion within the EU can help add weight to a successful outcome on many significant issues. But if we stand outside and simply complain or behave as a disgruntled observer, we will forfeit the influential situation that we should occupy—and which we are attempting to today.
My Lords, I wish to speak exclusively on Sri Lanka, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. I have been involved in that country for 46 years and for the whole of my political life of 35 years. There has never been a period under both Labour and Conservative Governments when relationships were as difficult as they are. I wish to make an appeal for a new start and a completely new look at the relationship between our two countries.
Some Members will have noted that at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony the eighth high commissioner to lay a wreath was from Sri Lanka, representing the eighth country in terms of losses in the Second World War—Ceylon as it was then. Not many Members of your Lordships’ House will know that when the vote was taken in the United Nations criticising the United Kingdom over our relief of the Falklands, only nine countries voted for us. I had the privilege to speak to the then Sri Lankan President, JR Jayewardene, and make a personal appeal on behalf of the All-Party Group for Sri Lanka to support the United Kingdom. It was not just my words that led to that support, but perhaps they added a little bit. That country stuck its neck out in support of this country, against the wishes of much of Asia, because our friendship goes very deep.
There needs to be an understanding of the results of 25 years of terrorism in any country, particularly Sri Lanka. The last war took place when I was a small boy, and it lasted for only five, not 25, years. Specific challenges, particularly regarding the resettlement of refugees and building up that economy, need to be addressed. GSP Plus is a specific issue; it is an arrangement to allow apparel and other products from Sri Lanka to enter the EU at an advantage. Two days ago, a decision was taken in principle to remove it and, in effect, impose sanctions on Sri Lanka at this very difficult time. Many, not just me, will want to question why 200,000, mainly female, workers from the villages—a good proportion of whom are Tamils—should be thrown into unemployment, with another 1 million affected.
I wish to highlight certain points that I hope that the Government will take on board and reflect on. At the end of the recent war—a successful war in terms of Sri Lanka—284,000 refugees voluntarily went into refugee camps. They had been used as human shields. They had been pushed from the west of Sri Lanka to the far east. Many had been shot by the Tamil Tigers while trying to escape. The war finished towards the end of May. As of 9 November, when I received the latest figures, 126,000 people had been resettled in their homes and about 30,000 were with families and other relations. That leaves 147,000 people. They are leaving at a rate of approximately 3,000 to 5,000 a week. Sixty-eight UN and international NGOs have access to the remaining camps; 173 media personnel have been in and out of them. DfID has been there, along with representatives of the UN and, most importantly and recently, Members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu has a very close relationship with the Tamil communities in northern Sri Lanka. If anybody was going to be highly critical, it would be the MPs from Tamil Nadu: but they came voluntarily, their report was produced by them alone and it said that they were comfortable with what was being done and hugely encouraged by the rate at which people were being resettled.
There remains the challenge of 2.5 million landmines, but reasonable progress is being made. The UK, through HALO and others, has helped. However, we are not high in the league of help-providers despite our long historic relationship. Now there is a major programme of infrastructure building.
As we look at our relationship with Sri Lanka, it is strange that, having sold guns to the Sri Lankan army, we did not supply ammunition—like the Belgians not supplying ammunition for our guns in the first Gulf War, in which my son served. Secondly, we did not support the application for an IMF loan. Of course it went through, because others recognised that if you are going to rebuild an economy you must have the help of the IMF. I do not take these things personally, but I have made recommendations to Her Majesty’s Government after all the visits that I have made. Sadly, none of my recommendations has been accepted. We also had the difficult episode involving the special envoy. However, that is all in the past.
Now we turn to the current issue. The resettlement is going well; de-mining is going pretty well; but overhanging it all is the cloud of GSP Plus. Two days ago, a decision was made by the European Union Committee—not the Council of Ministers—that the removal of GSP Plus should proceed. In about two months, Her Majesty’s Ministers will have to say whether that should continue. We in Parliament have just been visited by the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, leading Buddhist religious leaders and leading Hindu and Muslim leaders. They left a memorandum with Her Majesty’s Government, and with me. The final paragraph states:
“As responsible religious leaders, we are saddened by the fact that our European friends with whom Sri Lanka has always cherished such excellent and cordial bilateral relations, have given a larger than necessary sense of attention to certain groups with vested interests who are intent on destroying this country and pushing it once again into an abyss of political and economic confusion and chaos. Therefore, we appeal to our friends to stand by us at this hour and to help us guide our leaders and people towards a greater sense of spiritual and material progress. We appeal to you to help us in this matter and thank you for any consideration given to this very deserving request”.
The removal of GSP Plus would—this is no exaggeration—throw out of work 200,000 mainly young, female workers in the countryside, rather than in Colombo, many of whom are Tamils, not to mention the other people involved in that trade, who probably number 1 million. If they are to be disadvantaged and thrown out of work, what is the purpose? How does that help bring together the communities in Sri Lanka? Others will say that there are still political problems; but the Government know as well as I do that elections are coming, and it is for the new Sri Lankan Government to settle the political dimensions.
There are encouraging signs for all of us who are in contact with Sri Lanka. The Tamil community and MPs are talking to the President, to the governing party and to opposition parties. There are seeds of hope, and a general election should resolve some issues. However, if the EU proceeds to remove GSP Plus, all Sri Lankans of any creed and in all elements of society will increasingly wonder whether they should not look to China, Iran and those parts of the world that have helped them to defeat the Tamil Tigers. I appeal to Her Majesty’s Government to open a new chapter and to help Sri Lanka in its hour of need rather than kicking the people when they are down. They helped us at the time of the Falklands when we were down. Surely it is not too much for us to help them now.
My Lords, I was listening so carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, talking about Sri Lanka that I forgot that it was my turn to speak. Please forgive me.
I listened carefully to the opening speeches. There was little in them about development, although the subjects that we are discussing today are vast and, clearly, more important and pressing things were being spoken about. However, we heard that 10 million children die before they attain their sixth birthday. My figure is 9 million, although it is possible that it has gone up to 10 million, and it will keep going up. We heard that many millions of children do not go to school. It is important to speak about children, but we do not speak about their mothers and, if we do not speak about and help their mothers, the children will not achieve life and education.
There is an old and well known cliché that when you help a woman you help a family, but when you help a man you help one person. Unfortunately, in developing countries this is one of the truest clichés. Not only do you help the family when you help a woman, you help the whole community. If you help six women, they change a village. I have seen the results of helping women in poor countries and in villages. It is important for us now to start thinking about how change can be brought about. I believe that change can be brought about only by helping women to become part of the mainstream. In Africa and on the Indian subcontinent, women are not part of the mainstream; they are not perceived as wage earners and part of the workforce. In the Far Eastern countries that have made such huge economic strides, all the women are in the workforce. I have spoken to many people from Singapore and Malaysia. They say that having women in the workforce doubles it, so they can make much quicker economic gains. I am a firm believer in that.
Recently, the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health launched a booklet called Euromapping. It is a useful little booklet that sets out which countries in Europe give how much aid and for what. I am pleased to say that we come out well. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said—I think that I heard him right—that he was sorry that more money was being spent on aid than on the Foreign Office. However, that is one of the good things that we do and I hope that we will keep doing it even if there is a change of Government. It is very sad to think that it might change. Such aid is needed and is important.
Whatever aid is going to developing countries, aid from European Union countries is dropping per head of population. Very sadly, it has dropped by 5 per cent in the past year. There are 200 million women who cannot access family planning; tackling that is one of the most basic things that we can do to change women’s lives. One woman dies from childbirth every minute of every day and each year more than 66,000 die from unsafe abortions. Thinking that we cannot do much about that should make us feel very contrite, but the fact is that we can. I quote the famous statement from Professor Fathalla:
“Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat ... they are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving”.
That is a very important statement for all of us who consider these issues.
I have just come back from Addis Ababa, where I attended an international parliamentarians’ conference on population and development. When we produced the communiqué at the end, the Saudis and Sudanese made us take out the words “sexual” and “reproductive” from the phrases “women’s sexual health” and “women’s reproductive health”. They would accept only the term “women’s health”. One wonders what would have happened if the rulers of the universe had to go through what women go through. Would they have said, “Take out the words ‘sexual’ and ‘reproductive’ from ‘men’s sexual and reproductive health’”? We have to think about what women aged between 15 and 45 go through in this world. If men had to put up with that, the situation would be very different.
Most of the parliamentarians also complained that the Catholic churches were a great hindrance to family planning, with some Latin American countries being very specific about the problems that they were facing. Yet the Pope goes to southern Africa and says, “Don’t use condoms”. We are not living in year zero; we are living in the 21st century. Perhaps we should ask our former Prime Minister, who is a very important man, to have a word with the Pope. This is just not on.
There is a lot of talk about climate change. In 1950, there were 2.6 billion people on this planet. Today, there are 6.8 billion and there are likely to be 3 billion more by 2050. If that does not cause climate change, I do not know what will. I think that it is a question not just of emissions but of people’s bodies. Furthermore, with so many poor people in the world—we must remember that it always comes down to the poor countries—environmental degradation with the cutting down of trees and the use of wood for cooking goes on all the time. We cannot keep talking about climate change only in terms of emissions and saying, “You must do this and you must do that”; we have to think about helping certain countries to stop the increase in their populations. I am not talking about the way in which China has done it, although such a move would be good. We cannot do that, so we have to make family planning available to women and help them to learn how to use the system. That would make a difference for all of us.
In Addis Ababa, I also went to a hospital which deals with fistula. The cruelties perpetrated on women are unbelievable. I do not have time to tell the House about them and your Lordships would probably not want to hear about them as that might make them unhappy. A woman or girl may develop fistula if she cannot give birth and needs a caesarean or other help, but she then leaks urine and faeces and is thrown out. Some women just lie on the streets, as is certainly the case in northern Nigeria. However, this hospital takes everyone who comes to it; sometimes women walk for two or three days to get there.
It is time that we focused on women. In order for the MDGs to be successful, we have to focus on women. If we want the rate of climate change to slow down, we have to think about population and, again, focus on women. If we focus our aid on women, we will make far greater gains than in any other way.
My Lords, I am pleased that the Queen’s Speech gave a special reference to the Commonwealth this year, its 60th anniversary. I wish to focus my remarks on the Commonwealth, although I shall end with something that I consider to be a grave shame and a blot on Britain’s copybook—the treatment of the Chagos islanders.
The other day, someone who has had tremendous experience of the Commonwealth over the past 60 years said to me that we—not only as a Government but as a people—should see it as an opportunity. However, the sad thing about the Commonwealth is that we have not seen it as an opportunity; we have turned our backs on it and have been extremely unimaginative about it. The Commonwealth is a gathering of 53 countries with masses of different faiths—Muslims, Christians, Hindus and so on. It is made up of the rich and the poor, the developed and the less developed.
I am very glad that we are now carrying out a major review of what role we should play within the Commonwealth. That review is being led by the Royal Commonwealth Society, and I am pleased to learn that next week it will produce for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad its proposals on how we can revitalise the Commonwealth. It will focus on the principles of the Commonwealth and how we can promote its values; it will focus on the Commonwealth’s priorities and how it can give added value to other institutions and organisations; and, finally, it will focus on the heart of the Commonwealth, which is the people in it, and how, for example, the younger generation’s imagination can be sparked and how that generation can be encouraged to do business and develop its country and so on. I believe that the report will help to galvanise us into rethinking how we look at the Commonwealth.
As for the meeting next week, the Minister may want to say something at the end of the debate. In Trinidad, our priorities will obviously have to be on climate change in view of the forthcoming summit in Copenhagen, but we should remember that 50 per cent of the Commonwealth’s population is under the age of 25. I hope that there will be a lot of emphasis on how we can engage the interest of youth in the Commonwealth.
The third matter on which I hope we shall spend our time—something on which the Commonwealth is strong—is governance issues. If we do not do that, no one else will. The Commonwealth is well equipped to deal with that, together with peace-building and reconstruction. The other area to which I hope we will give party next week is development aid and trade, and I am glad that my noble friend Lady Flather spoke strongly about it. At the same time, I hope that within the Commonwealth we can take a hard-headed view about aid criteria. In recent months, a number of books and studies have been produced by Africans, as well as Europeans, on the subject of development aid. The current plea of many Africans is, “For goodness’ sake, don’t make us aid-dependent”. The criteria of aid must be to help a country to develop, so that it can stand on its own and not have to depend on aid for the whole of its future. Having been, a long time ago, the last British administrator in Kenya, I have the feeling that over these many decades we have been giving conscience money, whereas we need to give money for realistic aims so as to help our friends in Africa to develop themselves. I hope that the Commonwealth will focus on that.
I hope that it will also focus on an issue that has come up a lot today—China. On the one hand, one can only welcome the dramatic expansion of trade and investment by China in Africa, as it is good news, but, on the other, it is not good news if the issues of governance in those African countries are ignored. One only has to look at the Sudan to see how fuelling them with more revenue through the purchase of oil brings about the growth of militias and the dangers of civil war. One of the great strengths of the Commonwealth is to focus on those kinds of issues. It should embark on a dialogue with China to try to persuade it that it is important to recognise and have a framework of accountability in those matters.
In terms of development, I next want to comment on the diasporas, particularly the African diaspora. Since the Second World War, 20 million Africans have come to the western world. Living in the western world, they have developed great professional skills in a wide range of areas. Many of them are anxious to make a contribution of some sort to their countries of origin. There are diaspora groups in Britain, the United States and elsewhere who are becoming more and more sophisticated and concerned about what is going on in their countries of origin. Therefore, I am delighted that DfID is giving money to provide long-term support to those diasporas. I hope that the Commonwealth can play a part in this and I would like to see encouragement for those who want to return, even for a short time, to contribute to their countries of origin. That has nothing to do with the repatriation scheme but it would enable Africans to make a contribution to solving their own African problems. It is up to DfID to encourage them to return and to contribute for a time in whatever way they can. I am delighted that the Royal African Society is working strongly with DfID in that connection.
A year ago this week, I led a debate in the House on Commonwealth scholarships and the fellowship scheme. The decision had been made by the Foreign Office to end all Commonwealth scholarships to developed Commonwealth countries. The then Secretary of State for universities—they keep changing their titles and I have given up keeping track—intervened and said, “We will take over the support for scholarships for developed Commonwealth countries from the Foreign Office”, and it is all credit to the department that it did. Subsequently, I have been very glad that the British Government have contributed as well to the new Commonwealth endowment scholarship scheme, although after 2011 that arrangement will end. Will the Government assure us that they plan for that scheme to continue indefinitely, so that the scholarships that we provide go to the whole Commonwealth and not just to the developing part of it? It might be worth reminding ourselves that we have had an alumni of 16,000 over the past 50 years: 50 have reached Cabinet office; 50 have become supreme court judges, high court judges or ambassadors; 80 have been university vice-chancellors; and, believe it or not, one has been a European Commissioner. I believe that that demonstrates the enormous value of the scheme. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something positive about that.
Lastly, we must do something about a shameful problem that has been on our shoulders in Britain for the past 40 years. In 1964, Harold Wilson’s Government had an exchange of letters with the United States and a decision was taken to set up Diego Garcia. My quarrel is not with that decision at all; for all I know, the existence of Diego Garcia as a military base has made a major contribution to the security of the world. However, what brings shame on the reputation of this country is that 1,500 Chagos islanders, living in Diego Garcia, many of whose families had been there for more than one generation and some for three or four generations, were expelled from the Chagos archipelago. It was an absolute disgrace.
When, in 1982, as a Minister of State, I arrived in Mauritius to find a demonstration at the airport, I did not even know of the existence of these people. They were Chagos islanders who had been expelled and who were living in great poverty in the islands. I managed to get them £4 million, but I am ashamed to say that a condition of getting them that money was that they were asked to renounce their right of return. Events overtook us. The late Robin Cook restored their right to return, but that was then withdrawn by Jack Straw as Foreign Secretary and the islanders have now made an application to the European Court.
That is a blot on our copybook. It is a disgrace. There is now an all-party committee of 44 members. I very much hope that this Government will take on their shoulders the responsibility to restore the right of those people to return at the very least to the outer part of the Chagos Islands, which is a good 150 miles away from Diego Garcia and does not pose a security issue. I look to the Government to take a lead on that.
My Lords, I welcome the gracious Speech and the speeches of noble Lords across the House who spoke yesterday. I want to mention a few items today: the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill, Afghanistan, the international aid Bill and the G20. I declare an interest as patron of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and a member of the executive committee and board of Vital Voices Global Partnership.
I congratulate all in this House, in the other place and in the NGOs who have been involved in the very important cluster munitions Bill. Cluster bombs are air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapons that eject smaller sub-missions. They have been used extensively in recent conflicts around the world in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Lebanon and are still active in 31 countries. I ask the Government to put pressure on those countries which have not ratified the convention to do so, to stop the killing and maiming of innocent civilians.
I support the Prime Minister and the Government in their commitment to our strategy in Afghanistan, which is vital to Britain's national security. Along with the international community, the United Nations and the World Bank, we are the third largest donor and have committed a further £510 million over the next four years to enable the people of Afghanistan to develop their government and society.
Today, President Karzai has been sworn in for a second term. As part of his new presidency, I ask the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Douglas Alexander to insist that the president leads the fight against corruption at every level to ensure its eradication, and to ensure that he has regular meetings with Members of both Houses. To date, I am informed—I know—that he has not had positive meetings with elected female Members of either House. Female Members of the House do not have offices in Kabul, their offices are in their constituencies, so it is very difficult for them to form any caucuses among themselves or with male Members of either House. He must also promote education of girls and women’s rights.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to the international development Bill, which will make a binding government commitment to spend of 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development by 2013. That Bill puts beyond doubt the Government's determination to deliver on our long-held international development commitments, particularly at this time of global economic downturn, to meet the millennium development goals and to ensure a flow of aid to developing countries.
In June next year, the G20 will be meeting in Canada. The G20 has continued to play a crucial role in tackling the international financial economic crisis that we face. The global economy cannot recover or be rebuilt if half the world is left behind, or if half the world remains at risk of falling even further behind as a result of the global economic crisis. All recommendations emanating from the next G20 summit must be considered and developed, with a particular focus on the inclusion of women at all levels of decision-making and all aspects of economic empowerment.
To ignore women would not be smart economics. Invest in women and improve the world. Further, I ask the Government to request that two further items be on the agenda: maternal health—every woman must have the right to a safe birth—and that rape no longer be a tool of war.
My Lords, I have listened with some amazement to the strictures about the Conservative Party's attitude to Europe from the noble Baroness on the Labour Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and even my friend the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. I have certainly disapproved of a good deal of the recent history of the Conservative Party’s attitude to Europe. Much of it, I think, has been counterproductive and contrary to Britain's interests. Indeed, with a number of my noble friends, I found myself forced to defy a three-line Whip earlier this year, but those people who have been speaking about Conservative Party policy in this debate cannot have carefully read the speech that Mr David Cameron made on 4 November. I certainly agree that they can find passages in that with which I would not find myself in full agreement, but the speech has achieved two important objectives.
First, it has enabled an incoming Conservative Government to avoid getting embroiled in the sort of protracted domestic campaign and subsequent referendum—as well as the international negotiations which created so much difficulty for the Wilson Government in the 1970s—that it put much of the rest of their foreign policy in balk for the period. Had the Conservatives stuck with the principle of a referendum, it would have dominated the first two or even three years of a Government and left little room, time and energy for the other important issues that will confront an incoming Government next year.
The second achievement of the speech is that it sets out a policy on the basis of which a constructive approach to and engagement with Europe can be built. I base that judgment on the section of the speech that comes after Mr Cameron praises the European Union’s contribution to the spread of,
“democracy and the rule of law across our continent”,
in which he sets out the objectives that he wants to achieve.
I welcome his stated intention to be an active member of the European Union. I believe he sets the right priorities when he talks of working with our partners on climate change, fighting global poverty and boosting global growth. I think that he is right, too, when he commits his future Government to keeping open the European Union’s doors to new members and to standing for open markets and a strong transatlantic relationship, as well as open relations with rising powers like China and India.
I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Howell said in his opening speech about the importance of Asia, and I pay tribute to the fact that he was in many ways ahead of his time some years ago in drawing attention to that. But there is no zero-sum game between engaging with Asia and engaging with the European Union. Indeed, by building a constructive policy within the European Union, we will enhance our ability to engage constructively with the rising powers of Asia, and that should certainly be our objective. Contrary to what some members of my party might feel, I think that Mr Cameron will find a warm welcome for his approach when he enters Downing Street and will find that there will be allies with whom he will be able to work.
I would like to say also a few words about Mr Cameron’s ambition to restore Britain’s opt-out from social and employment legislation and from the charter of fundamental rights. I note that in making those points he says:
“If we want to make changes, we will need to do that through negotiation with our European partners, and we will need the agreement of all 27 member states”.
That is indeed true, and it is very different from the approach that some others have recommended in these matters. I would urge him, in seeking that agreement, to negotiate quietly and temperately and not to turn the negotiation into some sort of totem or virility test, as some will urge upon him. The more he does so, the harder it will be to achieve success.
I also think it is important to weigh the price of success. By that I mean that, once you start unpicking elements of the treaty, you do not quite know where it will lead. Others may be very happy to make concessions to Britain on the areas in which Britain is seeking concessions so long as they themselves can get concessions in other areas. We might find that the price of securing the objectives which I have just been mentioning is that others will want derogations from competition policy or from the internal market policies or from some other area to which Britain itself attaches great importance to the application right across the European Union. So by all means seek to bring about changes, but look at those changes in the context of the overall picture and weigh the price that might have to be paid in achieving them.
I should like to make one final point. All the member states of the European Union have suffered from the financial crisis in material terms, some more than us, some less. Britain, however, has in some ways suffered a double blow. All of us will remember the way in which the Prime Minister would go to Brussels and boast about the British model and our unprecedented record and hold out Britain and his policies as a model that others should follow. All will remember how he worshipped at the shrine of Alan Greenspan and the plaque which is up in the Treasury to record that fact. All will recall how he held up the way in which regulation was conducted in this country as the model that others should follow.
In many ways, Gordon Brown epitomised the zeitgeist of the boom years—a rather improbable association for such a puritanical person, but, none the less, he did in many ways embody the zeitgeist. As the boom years have come to an end and as some of the fallacies and mistakes of the boom years are coming home to roost, so Britain has suffered a reputational loss as well as the material loss. This is the point on which an incoming Government will have to do a good deal of work to rebuild our reputation and to pursue our policies with, I hope, a success but also a humility which the present Prime Minister has so sorely lacked.
My Lords, as chairman of the European Union Committee, I am not able to take part in partisan debate on these issues but, as usual, I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, extremely wise. In discussing the European Union, this year’s gracious Speech was able to move on from the incessant discussion of institutional issues to consider the effective role the Union can have in sustaining economic recovery and combating climate change. However, as we meet here, the European Council will be beginning to meet in Brussels to try to decide who will be the President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. I do not intend to discuss those names, but shall instead look at the way the implementation of the Lisbon treaty after 1 December will affect parliamentary scrutiny of European matters.
The first of these is the new powers given by protocol 2 of the Lisbon treaty to national Parliaments to submit reasoned opinions on subsidiarity to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The principle of subsidiarity in the European Union, whereby the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objective of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states at central, regional or local level has been explicit in European law since the treaty of Maastricht. It has been an issue that the European Union Committee has watched carefully, and it is interesting to note that in the past 12 months questions on subsidiarity have been raised by the committee in correspondence with Ministers no fewer than 31 times. A recent example was a proposal from the Commission for a Council recommendation on seasonal influenza vaccination that was considered by the sub-committee on social and consumer affairs last month. The sub-committee shares the Government's doubts about the compliance of this recommendation with the subsidiarity principle and has held it under scrutiny, but it has done more than that. It has notified other Parliaments and their scrutiny committees of its concern and understands that they have followed it up with their Governments.
The Lisbon treaty, which invites national Parliaments to submit reasoned opinions, also makes a provision whereby if a given proportion of Parliaments submit reasoned opinions arguing that a piece of draft legislation breaches subsidiarity within eight weeks of its publication, it will oblige the Commission to review the legislation and, if a majority of Parliaments have submitted reasoned opinions—the so-called “orange card”—it is obliged to resubmit it to the Council and the European Parliament. In addition, under Article 8 of the protocol that will come into effect on 1 December, we as a Chamber of a national Parliament are given the right to refer enacted legislation to the European Court of Justice in respect of subsidiarity. All of this represents significant increases in the powers of national Parliaments with regard to European legislation. In recent months, your Lordships’ European Union Committee has been giving a good deal of thought to how this will operate in practice. This is set out on its webpage and in appendix 8 of its annual report, which was published last week.
The second development following the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty will be effective parliamentary scrutiny of opt-ins. The United Kingdom has had the right to opt in or not to opt in to legislation on visas, asylum and immigration and the free movement of persons since the treaty of Amsterdam when those parts of the justice and home affairs areas ceased to be subject to unanimity in the Council. Under the treaty of Lisbon, unanimity will also come to an end on other matters of justice and home affairs; namely, police and judicial co-operation. The UK will now have the right to opt in to legislation on them as well. If the UK wishes to involve itself in the detailed negotiations on such proposals, it must indicate its decision to opt in within three months of the draft legislation being published.
Noble Lords may remember that during the passage of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008, both the European Union Committee and the Select Committee on the Constitution argued that there was a need to have a proper parliamentary procedure for considering UK opt-ins. Our then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, assured us that,
“except where an earlier opt-in decision is necessary”—
the example given was readmission agreements with third countries—
“they would not opt in during the first eight weeks of the three month period; that if during this period this Committee published a report on the proposed opt-in recommending a debate, time would be made for one”.
Such a debate,
“would be on an amendable motion, allowing for a vote; and that the Government, although not bound by the views expressed, would take note of them”.
As with the subsidiarity changes, this will clearly require changes not only to the working arrangements for the European Union Committee, which we have now agreed, but to the scrutiny reserve resolution that was passed by the House and to the committee’s terms of reference. We are in discussions with the Government about these matters, but we hope that there can be an early decision as your Lordships’ Procedure Committee will also need to consider changes to the procedures of the House.
An example of problems in the application of opt-ins can be seen in recent work by our sub-committee on justice and home affairs. When the protocol allowing opt-ins was negotiated as part of the treaty of Amsterdam, no thought was given to the situation that would arise if the Commission proposed amending a regulation or directive into which the United Kingdom had opted. What would happen if the Government did not wish the new version of the measure to apply to the UK and did not opt in? This is precisely the situation that arose earlier this year. The Commission is proposing entirely new versions of all the main instruments that govern the common European asylum system, and last December it proposed a new version of the directive that laid down the reception conditions for asylum seekers. The Government do not like it and have not opted in.
Once the recast directive applies to the rest of the European Union, will the existing directive continue to apply to the UK? For the Home Office, which believes that its repeal will extend to the UK, the answer is no. However, the committee pointed out that the repeal is made by a provision in the new directive, none of which applies to the UK because we have not opted into it. The recast directive includes the repealing provision. The Home Office was not persuaded by our arguments, but we sent our report to the Commission, whose response, which was received last month, comes down firmly on the side of your Lordships’ House. It states unequivocally:
“The Commission considers that the UK would remain bound by the unamended form of the Reception Conditions Directive. That directive would not be repealed for the UK”.
These issues do not seem to have occurred to the Commission or the Home Office until they were raised by the Select Committee, but they are not technical matters; they have arisen again in two further proposals received this month on the reform of the common European asylum system, and will arise increasingly when the treaty of Lisbon is in force and the UK opt-in applies to all justice and home affairs measures. In every case, if the Government do not opt into an amending proposal, there will be a difference of view between London and Brussels as to whether the existing European Union measure continues to apply in this country. Your Lordships’ European Union Committee intends to continue to pursue this matter to clarify this unsatisfactory situation.
The third consequence of the Lisbon treaty, as far as parliamentary consideration is concerned, is the significant increase in the amount of European Union legislation that will now be subject to co-decision by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. As well as extending co-decision to the remaining justice and home affairs issues, as I mentioned, it will apply in future to decisions on trade and agriculture, on which up to now the European Parliament has had to be consulted but has not had the right to co-decide. The distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure will also be eliminated, which means that the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament will have to reach agreement on all parts of the European Union budget in future.
Earlier this year, the European Union Committee conducted an inquiry into the impact of co-decision on national parliamentary scrutiny. We examined the suggestion that the growth in agreements between the Council of Ministers—in practice, between the country holding the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers—the European Parliament—in practice, the rapporteur for the committee of the Parliament concerned who worked on the dossier—and the Commission in informal “trilogues” made national parliamentary scrutiny more difficult. To continue to perform scrutiny effectively will require a regular flow of information from UK officials in Brussels to the committee and its sub-committees. It also raises the question of our continuing contacts with Members of the European Parliament. With increased co-decision these become more important.
The Lisbon treaty includes specific references to co-operation between national Parliaments and the European Parliament. The Speaker of the Swedish Parliament has convened a meeting of the conference of European Speakers in Stockholm in early December to discuss these and I shall represent the Lord Speaker. We already have COSAC, which brings together the committees dealing with European matters in the 27 member states and Members of the European Parliament. The future lies in developing that body and not in creating any new institutions.
My Lords, we are covering a wide-ranging agenda today and I want to speak about African agriculture. I sat on the APPG for food, agriculture and development, and chaired some of the sessions. We received evidence from a most eminent and international group of witnesses. I have spoken before in this House about world food security and I believe that the world as a whole will be able to feed itself over the next 40 years. But, without serious and focused investment, sub-Saharan Africa will not.
Africa contains 23 of the 30 least-developed countries in the world. There nearly 80 per cent of the population depend for their livelihood on agriculture. Yet Africa's agricultural performance is the worst in the world. It has appallingly low yields; it loses a high percentage of its crops, both before and after harvest; it uses only a tiny proportion of its rainfall for irrigation; and it has little infrastructure in terms of training, transport, microfinancing, crop storage or even local markets. The farmers, 70 per cent of whom are women, have little understanding of how to sell their surplus crops to earn an income and thus pull themselves out of poverty and their neighbours out of famine. However, there is huge potential for agricultural growth in Africa. It has abundant resources and 12 times the land area of India with only half as many people to feed. International Food Policy Research Institute data show that doubling the productivity of food staples across Africa by 2015, which is certainly physically possible, would raise GDP growth to 5.5 per cent, lift 70 million people out of poverty and turn Africa from a food deficit region to a surplus region with 20 per cent to 40 per cent lower food prices.
Most people now recognise that it needs an agricultural revolution to take Africa out of poverty. Asian Governments kick-started their green revolution by spending 15 per cent or more of their budgets on agriculture. This, for instance, allowed Vietnam to turn itself from being a net importer of rice into being the world’s second largest exporter and allowed China to take 400 million people out of poverty by focusing on smallholder agriculture. Smallholder agriculture is definitely part of the solution in Africa and should not be viewed as part of the problem. Agriculture is the key. The World Bank estimates that a 1 per cent increase in agricultural GDP in Africa reduces poverty by four times as much as a 1 per cent increase in non-agricultural GDP.
Donor countries now spend less than 5 per cent of ODA on agriculture. It was 18 per cent 30 years ago, but we took our eye off the ball. The UK gives a smaller share to agriculture than most others—a mere 1.37 per cent of its total African aid in 2005-06. With our own efforts so weak, how can we possibly chivvy African Governments to fulfil their vital 2004 Maputo commitment to invest 10 per cent of their budgets into agriculture? We have to get our own house in order.
We are at last seeing a turnaround of the outrageous slashing of agricultural R&D budgets which has occurred in this country over the past 30 years. However, the main point I wish to make today is that any R&D is still completely useless unless it is translated into work on farms and in communities. I know from my own experience in the UK that such knowledge transfer is a two-way process, a partnership between growers and scientists, and if the pipeline between the two is fractured then everyone is wasting their time. Blue sky research with no bearing on the grower’s ability to produce is pointless.
We used to have a revered reputation for agricultural extension in Africa, which we are losing. So, please, let us have less talk about DfID not having a “competitive advantage” in agriculture, which is, frankly, meaningless nonsense. As far as African agriculture is concerned, you do not need major scientific breakthroughs. Today’s seeds, with fertiliser and good practice, could double or triple production on many farms if only the lady farmer could find the training, arrange the finance package, find a way to improve her storage or to sell her crops and then have a road to transport them away, or even be able to own and register her land to allow her to invest in it, and so on. You hardly need trained farmers and scientists for that; you only need to apply concerted pressure and help to the different areas of local governance.
It is vital that DfID’s country programmes fully support the overall agricultural agenda. At the very least we should be putting 10 per cent of our ODA into agriculture in those countries that are upholding their Maputo commitment—that is, we should be helping those that help themselves. I repeat, agriculture is the key and DfID must be in there helping to unlock that potential.
My Lords, we are at a watershed moment in international affairs. Less dramatic, admittedly, than the last such moment when the Berlin wall came down 20 years ago, but nevertheless a watershed moment for Britain’s foreign policy, for that of the European Union and for the wider world. That brief unilateral moment when the US was the sole world power left standing has ended, its end hastened by the misconceived and clumsily executed policies of President George W Bush.
Many of the threats and challenges we face can be mastered only by concerted action at the global level, and yet the multilateral institutions we possess have so far proved inadequate to the task. Europe has yet to find its voice and to pull its weight but, with the imminent entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, it has an opportunity to further and safeguard more effectively those common interests which individual member states can no longer protect. Britain, bruised by the international financial crisis, by the toll of casualties in Afghanistan and uncertain of its sense of direction, risks turning in on itself and underperforming, as we last did in the 1970s. A lot is at stake in the period ahead and, by the time we next debate a loyal Address, a new Government will have taken office.
The first global challenge will come very soon; less than a month from now the Copenhagen conference on climate change will begin. The auguries for a successful outcome are far from brilliant. Preparations have lagged, cards have been held too close to negotiating chests and excessive time has been spent on rhetorical jousting between developed and developing countries. The European Union, at its meeting last month, may have been tactically astute in declining to put a figure on its potential contribution to developing countries, but it may also have made a strategic error because European leadership in all sectors of the negotiating package for Copenhagen is essential if success is to be achieved.
If the Copenhagen conference fails, the problem of climate change will not, of course, go away; it will simply get worse and more costly in the long run to handle. If the Copenhagen conference comes up with inadequate or quasi agreements; if it fails to establish a framework for legally binding, even if differentiated, constraints on future emissions by all; if it fails to provide the support in finance and technology which developing countries need if they are to accept such constraints; and if there is no adequate institutional machinery in place to address the implementation of the commitments entered into at Copenhagen, then we shall soon enough see the evidence of this shortfall and the damaging consequences that will flow from it. The Government’s record so far in these negotiations has been pretty good, but the hardest part remains and they will need to use all their determination and influence within the EU and more widely in the period ahead.
Not far behind that challenge lies a possibly even more daunting and complex one: that of putting flesh on the bones of the aspiration, endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council on 24 September, of working towards a world free of nuclear weapons. It will require much skill and political effort at the top level of government over many years. Assuming that a first, essential bilateral step towards nuclear disarmament is successfully achieved by the US and Russia next month, at some point further down the road, nuclear disarmament will need to become multilateral. It is welcome that the Government have expressed their readiness for that. Now they will need to prepare for it and to act in the meanwhile—for example, over Trident replacement—in a way consistent with the overall objective. There will be a need, too, to move into serious negotiation on a fissile material cut-off treaty, if necessary not allowing procedural obstacles at the conference on disarmament to prevent that. We shall need to give all the help and encouragement we can to the completion of the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Here, I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who pointed out the real obstacles that President Obama and his Administration face on the Hill and why countries such as ours, which have felt that it is in our national interest to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, should go across and tell our colleagues on the Hill why we think it would strengthen our own and the world’s position if they were to do likewise.
If we were able to make some progress in the next few months, it should create the necessary conditions for a successful Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference which will take place in May 2010—somewhat awkwardly, I suspect, for this country. It will be a crucial stage in the process that I have described of moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons, but by no means its destination. That conference will need to endorse the International Atomic Energy Agency’s additional protocol as a universal standard, made mandatory if necessary. It needs, too, to open the way to internationally guaranteed supplies of enrichment and reprocessing services so that the expansion of civil nuclear energy, highly desirable on environmental grounds, can take place without increasing the proliferation risk. It needs to make withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty, as provided for in that treaty, a costly, and not a cost-free, option. In parallel, some strengthening of the negative security assurances given by the recognised nuclear-weapon states to the non-nuclear-weapon states is highly desirable.
All this will need to proceed against the threatening backdrop of attempts by North Korea and Iran to move in the opposite direction to the rest of the world. The diplomatic route to heading off such a breakout must not be abandoned, but it may need to be strengthened by further sanctions if either of those countries rejects the negotiating table or uses it purely as an instrument for gaining time. Should such sanctions not be endorsed by the Security Council, which I would greatly regret, the European Union should be ready to act in concert with others such as Japan and the United States, which are likely to be pressing for them.
The third global challenge ahead of us is trade. So far, despite some backsliding, the economic crisis has not been accompanied by the disastrous slide into protectionism which characterised the 1930s. Unemployment is still rising, however, and protectionist pressures are there. To put them definitively behind us, successful completion of the Doha development round of trade negotiations needs to become a central feature of any exit strategy from the crisis. Our Government, along with their G20 partners, have been liberal with words to that effect but, so far, remarkably short on action. Surely, 2010 needs to be the year when those becalmed negotiations are brought safely into harbour.
Every one of these global challenges will require the European Union and its member states to pull together and in two out of three, environment and trade, to give a lead. Now that the Lisbon treaty, properly ratified by all 27 countries, is about to enter into force, it is surely in this country’s best interest to put the party-political quarrels of recent years behind us and set about using the strengthened institutions to good effect so as to secure the objectives that we share with the other member states. Any attempt to rake over the ashes of recent years and head back into the institutional morass is all too likely not only to infuriate our EU partners and the United States and to isolate us from them but actually to handicap our own pursuit of those substantive policy objectives that it is in our national interests to achieve. We will certainly not be able to achieve them on our own, nor will we do so by pursuing false alternatives such as the Commonwealth, which is an extremely valuable global network but in no sense a bridge strong enough or indeed ready to bear the weight of negotiations on subjects such as trade or nuclear disarmament.
That brings me to Britain’s own contribution to this complex agenda. Here the signs are distinctly alarming. No one doubts the need for a sensibly rigorous approach to public expenditure at the present juncture, but to spearhead that approach by squeezing the Government’s contribution to peace-keeping, conflict prevention and the support of multilateral institutions on whose effectiveness we crucially depend is surely an example of false economies. That point was made extremely forcefully by my noble friend Lord Jay of Ewelme in his earlier statement. It may save a few candle ends, but at what a cost. Having fought long, hard and unsuccessfully against an increase in the IAEA’s budget, we now appear to be in the vanguard of resistance to a tiny increase in the UN’s regular budget.
There may be good reasons for parsimony in handling some of these budgets, but the fall in the value of sterling, which, thanks to the perverse accounting practices imposed by the Treasury, has become the driver of our diplomacy, is certainly not one of them. The same problem arises on the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Luce, to which he referred—and I would add to the Commonwealth scholarships the shortfall in our financing of Marshall scholarships. It is surely high time, therefore, for the Government to try to find a way out of the self-defeating trap that they have created, and I ask the Minister to respond on this point.
Britain is still a leading player in the international community, even if our influence, to be effective, now needs often, or perhaps almost invariably, to be exerted in concert with others. We need to avoid losing our nerve at this difficult, watershed moment, and resist the siren songs of those who would wish us to turn our backs on the world and who hanker rather absurdly after our becoming another Switzerland or Norway. Let us hope that whichever party, or parties, is in government this time next year will find a way in which to master the challenges that we face, not run away from them.
My Lords, I thought yesterday that the gracious Speech, although graciously delivered, was rather drab. That feeling of drabness was compounded when I found myself sitting behind the Clerk of the Parliaments looking at the diplomatic Benches. It was as though someone had said, “Dress down”. It was a full ceremonial occasion, and they looked extraordinarily drab, so I went into Black Rod’s office just before 3 and asked whether the diplomatic community was there in force. “Yes”, he said; it was there in the Royal Gallery and upstairs. I think that he might have agreed that it was drab, although he would not have said so, and I wondered whether instructions had been given by the Government to downplay this thing and to dress down. I was also a bit concerned by the Supreme Court uniforms sitting in front of me; they were new, and I suddenly found myself a bit confused by the whole role of the House of Lords, until I listened to the speeches that have been made today.
I have a number of weaknesses; one is that I hate mirrors. I sometimes shave in the morning without looking in the mirror, because a mirror confuses me. It is either dyslexia, or because I get the left and right eye mucked up. I have a feeling that yesterday the Government were not looking into the outside world, but looking at a mirror and trying to preen themselves, to make themselves look a bit better. Over the past 18 months, I have looked into the outside world. I love the sea; it is in my blood. My family were traders right the way around the world, and we are all mixed up. Generally, with the Scots, when one female line dies out you take the name and make it triple-barrelled. Mine is Malcolm McEacharn Mitchell-Thomson. McEacharn was the first provost or lord mayor of Melbourne; my grandfather on the other side was a Scot, and provost of Edinburgh. The other ones were the Mitchells, who fled from England and did coal in Canada.
I was brought up in that sort of international world, and hence I love those parts of the world that are still linked to us. So, over the past 18 months I went back, got my maps and charts out, and had a word with the hydrographer and a few other people. I said, “Let’s look at what happens”. As your Lordships will know, we will be having a great event when the Armada tapestries are returned, repainted, and put up on the wall in the Royal Gallery. They will be here for a while; I talked to the Archives, and Malcolm Hay in particular suddenly thought that one theme might be the defence of the realm, because that is not just the military defence but the defence of our trade, of the wealth that we can create and of the added value that we can give. I then thought that, after the Armada tapestries and 1588, something was bothering me.
I had always liked the idea of the Board of Trade, which I thought still existed, but I found that in the Government now there is no mention of trade. The department of trade has changed its name gradually, and every three months it has a big makeover and spends £300,000 on rebranding. It was called BURP or something until recently, and now it is called BISSOFF or something—I do not know—but there is no mention of trade anywhere. So I thought that, with your Lordships’ approval, I would read a simple quotation, as when you have major wars like the Spanish wars you usually have a recession or a problem, and you need to do something about it.
After the Armada, King James suddenly found that things were quite difficult, so he formed a body to get together the first and original Committee of the Privy Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations. The brief was:
“To take into their consideration the true causes of the decay of trade and scarcity of coyne and to consult the means for … removing … these inconveniences”.
Things went on, and every 40 years there was another situation. Later on, Daniel Defoe suddenly realised the importance of other things, and said,
“Next to the purity of religion we are the most considerable Nation in the World for the Vastness and Extensiveness of Trade”.
I got the map up, then, and as your Lordships will know the world is nearly but really not quite round. There are 360 degrees, and in each degree a nautical mile is one minute, so if you want to know how far it is around the world, you effectively multiply 60 by 360 degrees.
“George III said with a smile,
‘Seventeen-sixty yards in a mile’”,
so I looked at it and said, “Well, if two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by the sea, what is the value of the sea?” I thought that it might be in global warming, or in fishery protection, or in access—or it might be in the oil underneath the sea. Maybe, I thought, we should take an initiative, so I got the map out again, and with a bit of help from the hydrographer worked out that the coastline of the Commonwealth is 44,000 km. I cannot translate those kilometres back into nautical miles, but that is quite a long distance. It is actually longer than that of the Soviet Union or of the United States, where it is about 20,000 km. And then I thought, “Well, what are these coastlines for?”. I thought again, and had a look. The former British territory is about 44,000 miles. I thought, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. The Commonwealth conference is next week. Let’s get the Commonwealth to declare a 500-mile limit and claim the rights on the seabed from all of its territories”. I am working that out at the moment. You can then look at fishery protection and all the other things, because most of the Commonwealth countries are based on the sea; five are inland.
If you deal with the sea, what can you get out of the Commonwealth countries, a subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, referred just now? Historically, we went there because they had raw material that we needed, for which we could create added value. Not least, and perhaps most important of all, was food. In order to produce food in difficult countries these days, you need stability. You need to defend the villages, the individual tribes and populations from harassment. You then look at piracy.
I thought, “What are we good at here in England?”. We have a balance of payments deficit on visibles—manufactured things—of £100 billion. We have a vast deficit with the EU and an enormous deficit with Germany. The biggest surpluses we have are with Ireland and the United States, but there are no more than 10 countries with which we have a surplus on visibles. Services, perhaps, yes, but visibles create more jobs throughout an economy. We perhaps need to think a little more on this sector.
Some of our high-tech areas are quite interesting. I have declared so many interests over a period of time. I think that this is my 47th contribution to a debate on an humble Address; I cannot really remember. However, I am secretary of the Parliamentary Space Committee so, instead of looking at the globe and the maps, I thought that we should look down from space. So, before this debate, I said, “Let’s look at piracy”.
Piracy, as your Lordships will know, has historically been in the Malacca straits. It was always in the Horn of Africa and certain parts of the Caribbean. By chance, this range runs from 0 degrees—the equator—to 24 degrees north. I would like your Lordships to know, and I am sure that the Minister would be willing to agree with this, that I have put in hand a preliminary order for six surveillance satellites from the United Kingdom, possibly in co-operation with Nigeria and India which are also in that business, and possibly also the Russians. They can pick up and deal with any form of piracy. I have been told that I can get six for £100 million, which is not a lot today. I thought that we might consider who we could name them after. However, £100 million for space surveillance to pick up any form of piracy is an extraordinarily good deal.
Yes, of course we are linked to Europe geographically. However, if you look at defence, we are not going to put aircraft carriers in the Channel. If there were a major problem, we reckon that most of Europe might be cut off. However if we look at the historical distances, all the European countries were in China at the time of the Boxer rebellion. Maybe they will be back there now, but the trade routes are going to change.
Now, within the Commonwealth, there is something else quite interesting: 29 per cent of the world fleet by tonnage—which is apparently more important than length—is effectively sailing under a British flag in one way or another. On trade, the Navy always says that 90 per cent of our imports come in by sea, but that is, oddly, thinking historically. We are a maritime nation, and we have that flag business where, if you have a British flag, you have the right of protection of Her Majesty’s plenipotentiaries, consuls, proconsuls, ambassadors and the Royal Navy. I think that we should charge a bit more for that protection.
On the future, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, is absolutely right. The Commonwealth is not just a group of friends, it is a collection of countries with which we have a historic relationship. They have the ability, with our help and with stability, to create added value. I got involved with the Sudan, which was to be the breadbasket of the Middle East. In Ghana at that time, my great-uncle was Stafford Cripps, who did the groundnut scheme that did not actually work. However, we could say that one of the roles of the United Kingdom, with the support of the Commonwealth and the EU, is to go to these countries with which we have a relationship, and give a forward order for so many tonnes, cubits or whatnot of production per year and sell it on the open market. Without stability, a country cannot produce.
I worry as I look at the devaluation of our pound. Our trade is getting worse. Eighty per cent of everything that is sold in the shops is imported with devalued currency. There are stars in the sky. If the Minister will agree, I will write to her. If the Ministry of Defence would give me an order for the use of these satellites, I would be willing to order them tomorrow.
As a separate favour to our Armed Forces, could the Minister ask the powers that be if our troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere could have a little more time on the telephone by doubling the bandwidth of Paradigm?
My Lords, when I listened to the gracious Speech yesterday I felt totally humiliated by the manner in which the Government showed such disrespect, not only for the ordinary citizens of the United Kingdom, but for Her gracious Majesty. They did not include a single word of recognition for those who serve our nation. Her Majesty, who never fails to acknowledge our serving forces, must have been dismayed by the absence of the Government’s sensitivity and compassion.
What is this nation of ours becoming as it is being led in confusion into chaos? There is neither clear direction nor conviction coming from the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence or the Foreign Secretary. Just look at the contradictory messages that they have been giving: “We are in Afghanistan for the long haul”; “We could be pulling out of Afghanistan in the foreseeable future”; “There are enough helicopters to meet operational requirements”; “We are going to have more helicopters”. Each utterance depends more on the public mood on any particular day than on understanding the mission that we have undertaken. Spin outstrips clarity. While the Government fight their knee-jerk war with the press, our troops are left to struggle not only with the enemy on the ground, but with our national inadequacies.
I had the privilege of visiting our troops in Helmand in 2008, when it was clear that the entire burden was being carried by our young men and women, such as those at Musa Qala who were for weeks on end, without respite, mentoring Afghan forces. Was there any strategic back-up, I asked? What was the long-term ambition for this new army when our troops were gone?
Everyone who has served during a terrorist campaign, as I have, will know that it is as remunerative for an Afghan to fight for the Taliban or al-Qaeda as it is for him to fight for the national Army, and that one day the young Afghan soldier must go back to his village. However, I am told that virtually nothing is being done about the education of these young men. Why have our planners not recognised that, besides learning to fight, these young men need to learn to live—to return home with status and a wider ambition for their families and community? That should be part of a strategy for at least beginning to normalise that region.
Another issue in Afghanistan that puzzles me is the use of UAVs. I am no expert, but where 10 UAVs, for example Predators, can be produced for the cost of one Chinook helicopter, it strikes me that control from somewhere in Colorado or North Dakota—7,500 miles away—is not, however good communications may be, the way to maximise this asset for our troops. Should British forces not have more UAVs in a surveillance role, responding to commanders on the ground and flown by operators embedded with units on the ground, to better and more immediately counter the situation where most of our casualties are the victims of massive dug-in landmines? Perhaps the Minister will explain why this Government appear to have, and to tolerate, this semi-detached approach to this campaign and to the defence of our troops.
In foreign affairs, the Government state that they will,
“work for security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and for peace in the Middle East”.
How, then, have we managed to withdraw from Iraq so ineffectively that the Prime Minister, Mr Nouri al-Maliki, and his Government are able to persecute—to see killed or tortured—the 3,500 Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf who oppose the dangerous mullahs’ regime in Iran? When I seek parliamentary Answers, I am virtually told by the Government, “Nothing to do with us—we’re out of there”. Is that not shameful and a slur on the memory of our young servicemen and women who gave their lives to make Iraq a safer place—troops taken there, it now appears, at the behest of this Government on a false or misguided premise?
In the short time still available to me, I turn to what I consider to be the greatest and ever enlarging blot on the character of our nation and an area studiously and consistently avoided by this Government; that is, the Government's persistent obduracy in respect of our obligations, as a guarantor power, to the island of Cyprus, our acquiescence in the 45-year denial of human rights to the Turkish Cypriot community and our mendacity in respect of our fellow guarantor and long-time ally, Turkey.
I will pose a number of questions that I hope the Minister will be more courageous in answering than has been the case in response to my Written Questions. Is J D Bowers, the international authority and respected American professor of genocide studies at Northern Illinois University, correct when he openly confirms that Greek Cypriots and EOKA-B, under the leadership of Nikos Sampson, were guilty of the genocide of Turkish Cypriots within the 1963 United Nations definition of “genocide”? Did the Akritas and Ifestos 1974 plans not spell out the means and methodology for that genocide? Was Turkey justified in its intervention in 1974 that brought an end to the killings, when we had turned our backs on our treaty obligation? Have the Greek Cypriots rejected every potential settlement for the past 35 years? Did the Blair promises of 2004 to Turkish Cypriots, following their acceptance of the Annan Plan, run totally and completely into the sand? Unless the Government and the EU face up to the truth of these questions no progress will be made and we will have to face up to a two-nation island; perhaps that is inevitable.
Finally, did not Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers snub those 371 of our troops who died during the Cyprus emergency of 1955-59, their families and comrades, by failing to attend the unveiling of the memorial to them—more than 300 of them travelled to Cyprus for the occasion—on Armistice Day this year? I acknowledge and appreciate that the high commissioner attended, but it was unforgivable that no Minister attended this unique occasion—and we all know why.
If the answers to my questions are in the affirmative—and they must be—will the Minister at least tell us why Prime Minister Brown even considered signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Greek-Cypriot President Christofias on 5 June 2008, in the midst of the Cyprus talks process? It was a memorandum that further fuelled and underpinned the aggression of the Greek Cypriots towards the Turkish Cypriots.
The Minister may not like it, but she will know that every word I have uttered is true. Otherwise, let her say so now. In the final analysis, I have to ask: is there any honour left in my country or are there any values left worth defending? Which is more important to this Government—the next election or the next soldier who dies in the belief that this nation is worthy of his sacrifice?
My Lords, I shall speak on the international development targets set out in the gracious Speech. I am tempted, given the range of the debate and its depth, variety and erudition, to steer into different territory from that which I had originally planned—given the comments, in particular, of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, about re-engaging and re-energising the Commonwealth and his support for the work of African diaspora people around the world in helping to support Africa, and given the comments of my noble friend Lord Cameron about agriculture. However, I should stick to my script.
As I shall focus on culture and creativity, I should declare an interest as a member of the Culture Committee of the UK National Commission for UNESCO. I am the chair of the Commonwealth Group on Culture and Development, set up by the Commonwealth Foundation and tasked with writing a declaration to be given to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad next week. I work also with the Ethical Fashion Forum as an ambassador. It is an organisation that, among other things, has initiated a number of projects, including Made in Africa, which seeks to provide trade opportunities in the design and manufacture of fashion clothing and textiles on the continent.
Alongside the task of conducting international dialogue about, and acting co-operatively on, development issues, three major challenges preoccupy Commonwealth Governments and other Governments: first, the current global economic crisis, involving the persistence and growth of inequality and devastating, deep-rooted poverty; secondly, dealing with climate change and its consequences and the need to create a model of sustainable development that is holistic and culturally aware; and, thirdly, the negative impact of globalisation on cultural diversity, cultural identities and social cohesion, including the loss of traditions, histories and the move towards cultural homogeneity, which is driven by the cultural production of rich and powerful countries and the encouragement of unsustainable consumerism.
The 2007 Commonwealth People’s Forum, held immediately prior to the last CHOGM, called for culture to be a central pillar of the Commonwealth, alongside development and democracy. Current models of development have failed to make the progress that they should have done, given the resources put into them. The millennium development goals will not be met and poverty and inequality continue to blight the lives of millions. A fresh approach is called for, which demands a new narrative of progress and a creative look at how development is practised. Because progress towards development is usually described in quantitative terms, important concepts such as human dignity, mutuality and respect, as well as fulfilment and aspiration, are downplayed or omitted altogether. It is vital to humanise development.
Culture and creative expression are crucial when considering cultural resources, connections and values, but they have often been left out of development analyses, with the consequence that too many interventions have foundered. The potential of culture to help to achieve the millennium development goals has not been realised in the past, nor has the human right to cultural and creative expression been taken seriously. The current economically focused development paradigm pays insufficient attention to the achievement of emotional and intellectual well-being alongside the fulfilment of physical needs. Sustainable, balanced growth can be ensured only by integrating cultural, economic and social development, whether investment comes from the public or private sector, or ideally from both working together.
Cultures, identities and different values have been viewed as a cause or accelerator of conflict by some politicians, sometimes with good reason. Is culture the bricks and mortar of walls or of bridges? How can we develop spaces where tradition, global modernity and intercultural dialogue can be juxtaposed without the spilling of blood?
In the face of these enormous problems, many of which have been outlined this afternoon, some may think that it is frivolous to bring into the picture the issue of culture and creativity, but I assure noble Lords that it is not. Investment in, for example, the development of local craft skills can empower people to articulate their needs and identify their own solutions. Examples from the work of the Ethical Fashion Forum are indicative of the potential in Africa, in particular in the clothing industry. Work in fashion and the clothing industry is labour-intensive, requires limited capital input and, with good design and traditional skills, generates a high premium. Particularly in Africa, but also in India and elsewhere in the developing world, there is an enormous reservoir of creative skill, which is evidenced in textiles, clothing and other products.
In Kenya, statistics show that every job in the garment sector generates five other jobs. In Lesotho, 94 per cent of merchandise exports were from the clothing industry; GDP per capita increased from $558 in 2001 to $3,000 in 2004. DfID notes of Bangladesh:
“The garment sector is one of the most important industrial sectors in Bangladesh, about 10 million people benefiting from the industry. The sector provides employment opportunities for approximately 2.3 million workers, of whom 80% are women. The sector contributes about 7% to the overall GDP and generates more than 75% of overall export earnings”.
A lot of that is generated by becoming a kind of sweatshop for the West, which is not the kind of development that we want to see. We need to skill up the producers so that they can produce material that is generated in those places for export and to boost trade. There are opportunities for this—in particular, because of the high participation rates of women, for promoting their advancement and employment, as was so ably expressed by my noble friend Lady Flather. This is particularly important and generates more than just the woman’s job.
While the economic impact is important, without other benefits its worth is diminished. As one Rwandan put it to me earlier this year: “I need to eat, but I also need to feed my soul”. Culture and creative expression are well placed to disseminate messages about health, develop community pride, raise educational standards and provide jobs, but more recognition in the form of strategic investment and interventions is needed in this sphere.
Through creative expression, other fundamental human needs, such as individual and collective pride in skilled labour, are satisfied, educational aspiration and ambition are boosted, local and regional cultures grow to challenge the dominance of western aesthetics and cultural hegemony, and traditional, sustainable practices that have limited negative impact on the environment are modernised. Creative expression can make a contribution to sustainable social, cultural and economic development.
DfID has launched a number of initiatives in this area that show a welcome recognition of the issues. However, a number of organisations and individuals with whom I have spoken—and I myself at times—have been frustrated by the seeming reluctance of DfID to accept fully the role that culture and creativity can play and to see how vital they are to development agendas in a systematic and engaged way. The benefits that relatively small amounts of investment in building the infrastructure of the creative and cultural sectors in many developing countries will bring to democratic ideals, environmental strategies, community building, civil society and the achievement of the millennium development goals urgently need to be recognised.
My Lords, when I was on my way to the House this morning, I spotted a Daily Mail headline at a newsstand that said, “Sharks off the English coast”. I thought, “Here we go again. Another attack on the European Union”. I therefore felt that I had some justification in speaking about the European Union in the House today. A lot has already been said but, as we near the end of the debate, I hope that noble Lords will indulge me if I add a few thoughts about the European Union, and I think that they will probably not be surprised that I do so.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is coming to take his place because my first point may be somewhat relevant to what he said earlier. Regardless of his motives, the leader of the Conservative Party did both the European Union and the United Kingdom a considerable favour in deciding not to go ahead with a post-ratification referendum. Whether he has done himself anything more than a rather temporary favour, given the fractious mood of his party and of his rank and file, only time will tell, and only time will tell whether “avoiding a bust up”, as he put it, with our European partners will survive the lifetime of a Parliament during which, if he were to become Prime Minister, he would hope to achieve his programme of six reforms to Britain’s relations with the European Union.
For a fleeting moment—and it was only a fleeting moment—I was tempted to focus on those reforms, or pledges of reform, in my remarks today, but frankly they are irrelevant to the current debate on Europe. Some of them, like the so-called “referendum lock” and the proposed sovereignty Bill, can be quite easily legislated—that is not the problem—but wherever their provisions imply amendment to the treaties, and most of the six do, not least in the complete and totally unnecessary opt-out from the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, then the Government will run into the buffers.
The ratification of the Lisbon treaty was the culmination of nine years of hard work, often very bitter wrangling, of unsuccessful negotiations and, ultimately, successful negotiations, leaving everyone physically, mentally and intellectually exhausted. Only someone living in cloud-cuckoo-land could count on the other 26 member states agreeing for at least a decade to reopen the treaties amended by Lisbon and embark on another round of wrangling over Britain’s special pleading. However, because we are a highly respected nation, it may be that at the margins a few concessions can be wrung from our partners by a Conservative Government, possibly in the form of political declarations which sound reassuring but carry no legal value and which would be scorned anyway by the more militant Eurosceptics.
So why irritate our European partners when there is so much that a British Government of whatever political colour can and should do to help to design and take forward an agenda for Europe that meets today’s challenges? Let us look at what those challenges are: global security, climate change, nuclear proliferation, energy security, economic co-operation, financial regulation, tackling cross-border crime and enlarging the European Union to the east. I could go on. Our European partners know that we have much to contribute to the meeting of these challenges, so let us not undermine their confidence in us by testing their patience with backward-looking demands and pointless provocations. As David Miliband has said, what Europe needs from us is our hard-headed pragmatism and global mindset. We can and should provide that.
I want to say a word about the presidency of the European Council, or chairman as I prefer to call it, and the post of the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, both of which posts may be decided tonight at a heads of state and government dinner in Brussels. What a bizarre procedure for deciding who will be the candidates for the two very important posts on which the Council will have to vote. One would not select a village cricket team with as much awkwardness and opacity.
It is also ridiculous that the search for the right man or woman for either job should be constrained by the need to balance the centre-right for the chairman's post with someone from the centre-left for that of high representative. Why can we not look for the best persons available for the jobs regardless of their political positioning? Why should people of the calibre of the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, a former EU Commissioner for external affairs, or Carl Bildt, Sweden's immensely experienced Foreign Minister, be excluded from consideration for the post of high representative simply because they are not from the centre-left? Meanwhile I greatly regret that our very able Foreign Secretary has declared himself not available. This is the really hard post to fill as long as the choice is confined to someone from the centre-left. I read with great approval, in this morning's Financial Times, Jacques Delors' appeal for less bargaining and a little more sobriety in the process. I do not think that is in particular reference to the working dinner that is about to be served, but you never know.
The Conservative Opposition, of course, do not want a chairman or president of the European Council anyway but they are wrong. The present system of a six-monthly presidency rotating among heads of government has not worked as well as it should have done. The Lisbon treaty's creation of a two-and-a-half-year once renewable full-time chairmanship will make the Council more effective at creating direction and action.
My reading of the treaty—I have read it an awful lot as it has been bedside reading for the past year—convinces me that the intended role for the chair of the Council is, first, to prepare the Council meetings, set the agenda, chair the meetings, report to the European Parliament on the outcomes and monitor the follow-up on the actions decreed by the governments in Council. He or she will also ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning the common foreign and security policy but—this is crucial—without prejudice to the powers of the high representative. In other words, the chairman's role is to supplement the role of the high representative in external affairs, not substitute for it or compete with it. Would one really need a traffic stopper to fulfil those functions?
We have been witnessing misguided efforts in some quarters to create an upgraded perception of the job to suit a particular personality rather than looking for a person to suit the job as envisaged in the treaty. I find that unacceptable and I have hidden my feelings from neither my own party nor the House at large. There are occasions when tribal loyalty just has to give way to principle. I also feel strongly that the first chair should come from one of the smaller member countries where there are a number of qualified candidates. This is not just of symbolic significance. The larger member states downplay the importance of the smaller states at their peril. The Union is not the plaything of the big European powers and must never be if the peoples of Europe are to be brought closer to the Union and the Union closer to the people.
I have one more point to make on the filling of posts. I share wholeheartedly the concerns expressed in the letter published in Monday's Financial Times written by European Commissioners Margot Wallstrom and Neelie Kroes and European Parliament Vice-President Diana Wallis. Why are only men likely to be nominated for the top two posts when there are excellent women candidates available? And why is it that the new Commission is likely to have fewer women than the outgoing one? I am delighted that they mention my noble friend Lady Ashton in their letter as someone spoken of as a good candidate for the post of high representative. The Council should heed the words of the Commission’s President Barroso when he calls for a better gender balance in appointing commissioners. Do not forget that women make up more than half the population of Europe; so why on earth are they so inadequately represented?
That is enough of posts and candidates. Those of us who believe passionately in the European project must admit that not all is well at the moment. Armand Clesse, the director of the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies, recently put it this way:
“The European project is now typified by uneasy bargaining, unstable arrangements and a constant search for some provisional fix. It is a triumph of ‘sacro egoismo’—sanctified self-interest”.
Recent indications of rising economic nationalism and a decline in the popular legitimacy of the EU and its institutions risk reinforcing each other. The citizens of Europe are asking whether the EU has the will and the means to deliver on its earlier promises. Popular consent for liberalisation was purchased with promises of solidarity. Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of the Union, said nearly 60 years ago that Europe would not happen in one go, nor as a whole construct; it would happen through concrete achievements and, first, by creating a de facto solidarity.
However, there is too little evidence of that solidarity today. If we want an effective European Union, it must have the full support of Europe's citizens, and it will not have that unless they are convinced that the grand bargain of liberalisation in return for solidarity has not been abandoned. The implementation of the Lisbon treaty will do much to enhance the Union’s efficiency and democratise its procedures. God knows that we need an effective European Union if we are not to wake up one day to find ourselves in a G2 world in which the United States and China shape the major decisions that affect us all and the European Union stands by begging for an audience.
What no treaty can ensure is the political will to put solidarity among and within the member states at the heart of its raison d’être. A thoughtful French politician recently wrote that Lisbon was a treaty content with clearing pathways rather than creating new visions and new horizons. He was right. Those pathways lead away from the idea of a federal superstate and towards the clear recognition that the political authority of the member states remains the motor for European policy-making. Although the Tory Opposition hate to admit it, the federalist tendency has lost the battle of ideas and has faded from the European scene. It is therefore the political authority of the member states—the motor for European policy-making—that must be collectively mobilised to respond to the needs of Europe's citizens and the demands placed on the Union as a crucial player in a globalised and multipolar world.
A Tory Government will bear a heavy responsibility in that. At present, the Tories’ leaders seem not to understand the principle of proportionality. Their planned assault on the treaties is out of all proportion to the gains that they can hope to make for themselves, the country or the British people. Perhaps, in a rather more light-hearted manner, I can explain to them what proportionality is. During the Belle Epoque in France, there was a famous writer of theatrical comedy called Tristran Bernard. One day, walking down a Paris street, a removals man came out of a house carrying a grandfather clock on his shoulder. Turning as he came out, he knocked the playwright into the gutter. Bernard got up, dusted himself off and said: “Why can’t you wear a watch like everybody else?”.
I hope that the Conservatives will get themselves a watch and stop blundering about on the fringes of Europe like a man with a grandfather clock on his shoulder. Will they? I have my doubts, but one can live in hope for another Labour Government.
My Lords, I see the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in his place. He will be missed from participating in this debate due to his missing the opening speeches. He was unavoidably detained as a result of his responsibilities this morning with London 2012. I know that he wishes to offer his apologies to your Lordships for not being able to participate this evening.
The situation in Afghanistan, while ominous, does present opportunities. Before offering some thoughts, however, I wish to underline the following. An outright Taliban victory would be disastrous for the region and the world at large. We are doomed if we lose the good will of the Afghan people and if they cease to perceive our help as being in their interest. They must know that this war is also for them. Our soldiers are dying for them.
I just wish to make a brief point and I do so having returned from Tajikistan yesterday, where time was spent considering the contribution of central Asian states to a peace process. Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan are key in carrying messages to the broader Afghanistan. There is now a recognition of the need to run a set of parallel approaches; a military-only option is wide of the mark and damaging long-term interests, with anti-western feelings being exacerbated in the Islamic world. Al-Qaeda is already considered a reality in many Muslim countries and the perception is that it is provided with a justification for its actions.
We in the West will never succeed in imposing our will. In addition, western support for—some suggest—a corrupt Afghan Government must end. However, since support is a reality, we must work to alter the manner in which they conduct their affairs. It is exactly that, and that alone, which gives the impetus to the Taliban to be accepted by the poverty-stricken country. Simply put, the support for the Taliban is a result of a sense of hopelessness existing throughout Afghanistan, where the Government are seen, for all the recent election process, as corrupt and imposed.
The UK and the US are looking at options to resolve and extricate themselves. I was therefore heartened by reading of the Clinton-Miliband proposals in Kabul this week. This runs exactly along the thinking of northerly neighbouring states. Three initiatives must go hand in hand: first, continue military options with well executed targets; secondly, an essential parallel programme of economic development should be immediately implemented—it should be remembered that Afghanistan was once rich in agricultural terms and that energy opportunities abound; thirdly, conduct a strategic-only dialogue with the—call them what you will—moderate Taliban and their supporters.
The northern Afghanistan ethnic Tajik region would be a perfect springboard for implementing a diverse programme for a number of reasons. First, the region is comparatively safe. Secondly, the so-called northerly Moscow route of drugs could be systematically addressed. There could be a programme of total eradication of poppy in the region by spraying under an altered ISAF mandate, run in parallel with a diversified crops programme and, most important, markets into which to sell. I will add to this the essential need to stem the flow of precursor chemicals, the necessary ingredient for heroin production. Thirdly, American-supplied bridge infrastructure is already in place and could be further increased by locally delivered projects to cross the river.
Fourthly, organisations such as the well respected Aga Khan Foundation could be supported to ensure that the chain of governmental structures is bypassed so that benefits reach those who are most in need. They have good relations with regional Governments, ground truth, local understanding and experience and connections with communities that translate into real opportunities, service delivery, incomes and jobs for people. This programme might start with strengthening local communities along the border areas and should include education. There will never be local representative systems in Afghanistan with the inability of its people to read and write.
Fifthly, we should stem the tide of northbound Afghan refugees into Tajikistan. I commend to the House the outstanding and effective manner in which Ilija Todorovic, the head of the UNHCR in Dushanbe, carries out an extraordinary task with practically no resources. Through his good offices, I visited the apartment blocks where the refugees are housed and met a number of families. The lack of international support for his activities is a—I apologise for using this word—disgrace. I undertook not to forget Mr Todorovic. Ilija, I will not.
Sixthly, I repeat that it is generally recognised that we must talk to the moderates. In years gone by, a member of the United Nations and I met the Taliban in Kandahar. It can be engaged with and official channels of contact can be established. From the perspective of the Taliban, its war against westerners is a holy war combined with a war of national liberation against foreign military occupation and a civil war against the corrupt ruling elite in Kabul, which they see brought to the table by the US and the UK. Among many messages that we must impart is that we are not about systematically disrupting or altering its deeply felt ideology. On our side, we must be assured that al-Qaeda will not be allowed to use Afghanistan for training and as a springboard for further atrocities. The Taliban must distance itself from al-Qaeda, and I suspect that it will use this as some form of final negotiation with the West. However, the practical reality is that the Taliban controls the everyday life of Afghans. As an example, last summer, the leadership issued strict guidelines containing rules on the behaviour of mujaheddin and commanders and on how prisoners must be treated and violators punished.
Central Asian neighbours are convinced that military-only options are doomed, so I conclude on a point about timing. The Taliban associates the military intervention of the US in Muslim countries that occurred during the Republican Administration with Christian fundamentalists. Democrats are not perceived similarly. For this reason, the Taliban could be more easily persuaded to enter into discussions with the Democrats. By a similar logic, a possible change of political landscape in the UK would lead to an immediate opportunity.
My Lords, as ever, we have had a stunning, and often moving, array of speeches today that were far wider ranging than the Queen's Speech, and it will be only a few months before we have another Queen’s Speech. However, I shall look at the specific proposals in this speech. The Bribery Bill will bring the UK into line with international anti-bribery rules by making it an offence to attempt to bribe foreign officials, and it is long overdue. It ought to have prevented the outrageous decision to halt the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into allegations of corruption in BAE arms sales.
Then there is the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill about which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, spoke and on which his campaigning has been tireless. It is also very welcome, although it is, again, belated. It was astonishing that the Government so dragged their feet over this issue. The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which the Bill will bring into UK law, is comprehensive. It was said, when DfID pressed for this under Hilary Benn but the MoD resisted, that this was not only because the UK possessed cluster bombs but because both the US and the UK had been using them in Iraq. Will the Minister say whether these weapons were used in Iraq? If they were, were they mapped and what is being done to remove them safely? The convention also provides for extensive assistance to affected individuals, families and communities, setting new standards for international human rights and humanitarian law. I trust that we will see all this in UK legislation. Will the Minister confirm that?
Then there is draft legislation,
“to make binding my Government’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on international development from 2013”.
Many noble Lords—including the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Bath and Wells and of Winchester; the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles; the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich; and my noble friends Lord Chidgey and Lady Williams—have mentioned this. Such a pledge is of course welcome.
The Prime Minister stated in his speech at his party conference that,
“what was once an aspiration—0.7 per cent of national income spent on international development aid, has become with Labour a promise, and will in future become a law. We will pass legislation that the British government is obliged to raise spending on aid to the poorest countries to 0.7 per cent of our national income. Others may break their promises to the poorest; with Labour Britain never will”.
This was a clever move that attempted to bind the next Government to meet this target. If the Conservatives won the election, they would have the difficulty and embarrassment of breaking the law, repealing it or implementing it, despite having clearly very mixed views deep down about this commitment. When they left office in 1997, the level stood at 0.26 per cent, and I find few Conservative MPs involved in development issues.
We have long supported the 0.7 per cent target—indeed, we were the first party to do so—but, as my noble friend Lady Williams has pointed out, under Labour we are nowhere near the target. I checked with the Library for the latest figures, and it gave these: 0.36 per cent in 2007 and 0.43 per cent in 2008. That is better by far than the Tories, but not brilliant. Will the Minister say how likely it is that a Bill with a 0.7 per cent target will reach the statute book by the general election? Does she agree that a commitment only to a draft Bill, with the election coming, is in effect the same as dropping the pledge? It would have been such a quick and simple Bill, but it is now a draft Bill.
The Queen’s Speech talks of,
“effective global and European collaboration through the G20 and the European Union to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change”.
Many speakers today have mentioned the potential impact of climate change. Where does the Minister think we are in reaching a deal in Copenhagen? Are we indeed backing away from a deal and into a “framework” for a deal—the term used by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock? What does that mean, and when might the strong commitments that are required be put into place?
Today, millions of people across the world are suffering from the effects of climate change. By 2050, if not enough is done to stem a rise in global temperatures, at least 30 million more people will go hungry and 250 million more people will be forced to leave their homes. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, mentioned regions of Africa, such as Sudan, Liberia and Somalia, in which conflict can be predicted even now. Let us now try adding in climate change. We already see that the conflict in Sudan is being worsened by the spread of the Sahara and thus by the displacement of the Janjaweed, which has caused such terror elsewhere. We can see the seeds of future conflict in climate change as people go hungry, migrate and target the land and resources of others. We know that it is in everyone’s interest to take this forward.
As Professor Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, pointed out at a DfID seminar the other day, with increases in population, urbanisation and development, by 2030, the demand for food and energy is likely to increase by 50 per cent and for water by 30 per cent. Add in climate change and we potentially face, as he put it, “a perfect storm”. Climate change will continue even if there is an agreement at Copenhagen. The differential effects of that, especially at the poles and therefore on water levels, are potentially disastrous. So in Africa you could see high levels of forest fires, droughts, water stress, soil salination and changes in disease patterns.
As my noble friend Lord Chidgey pointed out, it is the poorest who are the worst hit. You can see that now in the Horn of Africa where drought results in people selling their livestock, on which their futures depend, because they are absolutely desperate. As ever, it is women and children who often suffer, as in most conflicts, the first and the worst. We can already see the pressure on Africa’s farmland as large companies, particularly from China and the Far East, buy up tracts, which may or may not be in the best interests of those in the local area who may be displaced and not receive the food then produced. Will it need a catastrophe close to home to jolt people into action?
The speech identifies the need to work internationally on such problem areas as nuclear proliferation, which my noble friend Lady Williams and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, expertly addressed. It also addresses Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many in this debate have spoken of the dangers in this region. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and others have said, poverty and conflict are intertwined, and long-term peace can be secured in Afghanistan only by tackling this.
There seems to be much greater recognition that development is the long-term key to stability. Will the noble Baroness comment on the doctrine for stabilisation operations issued this week and on how the UK will draw in the Taliban? What can be done to minimise civilian losses? I associate these Benches with the condolences expressed by others about the loss of life and injury to our troops in very difficult circumstances in Afghanistan. Does the noble Baroness agree that the troops are overstretched and that this must be addressed? What can she tell us of US decisions in this regard?
A theme that has run through this debate has been the need to work with international partners. This is surely so in the Middle East. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, made a particularly moving speech and I salute his personal attempts to build bridges. Just as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, sees the development of the UN duty to protect as something whose time must come, so respect for international law must underpin what should happen in the Middle East. It seems to me that justice and hope are inextricably linked. The development of international law surely underpins this. That is why the Goldstone report is such a brave and important development. The fact-finding mission to Gaza was established by the UN Human Rights Council, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, former prosecutor in the Yugoslav and Rwanda trials. It found overwhelming evidence that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed particularly by Israel, but also by Palestinian armed groups. Surely they are right that these must be properly investigated. If they are not, these matters should be referred to the International Criminal Court. The UK Government have said that the report is flawed. In what way is it flawed? It does not seek to come to a definitive answer in particular cases; it says that these need to be properly investigated. International law should be applied fairly, whether that is in Israel and Gaza, Sri Lanka, Sudan or northern Uganda. Yes, we should engage and not boycott, but the very fact that an international court is even now considering crimes in Cambodia shows that no one can assume impunity.
We are looking towards a general election. There is much that might be commended in Labour’s record. Its commitment to international development was a real change, which should never be forgotten, compared with the lack of priority the Conservatives gave to it when they had a chance. However, Labour has dissipated so much international good will through its disastrous intervention in Iraq. This completely overshadowed action in Afghanistan, which had international agreement but which was sidelined, overshadowed and starved of funds by the Iraqi engagement.
Labour’s engagement with the G20, particularly over the financial crisis, and its recognition of the importance now of countries such as China, India and Brazil is welcome. However, its love-hate relationship with the EU has damaged our position there. There is so much more it could have done to explain to the British public why acting with this major bloc with its huge economic power in the world, was in our best interests. As my noble friend Lord Wallace pointed out, how can you properly address climate change, international terrorism and migration unless you do so on an EU-wide basis?
Where do the Conservatives stand? It is frankly astonishing, and it should be deeply troubling—not least to opposition Members in this House—to see that, in order to win selection as leader of the Tory Party, David Cameron said that it would break with its former grouping in the European Parliament and form a new group with right-wingers, whom they are now trying to shadow and silence. How could it possibly have thought it was in the UK’s or the EU’s interest to do this? What does it say about principles if they can be thrown to the wind in this way? Does it not give the lie to everything that Cameron says is the new Tory Party? What on earth does it say about how he will respond if he were to head a Government? What on earth would be the UK’s position in the world?
As we conclude the consideration of the foreign affairs, defence and international development part of the debate on the last Queen’s Speech of this Parliament, there is a huge array of challenges facing this country and the wider world. However, depending on the general election results, there has to be a major question mark over the UK’s ability in the future to play any kind of constructive part in international affairs, which surely can be the only way we can take forward any resolution to those challenges.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that this has been an excellent debate. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, to the Dispatch Box for the Queen’s Speech debate. However, one name is missing from the speakers’ list—my noble friend Lord Hurd. Like others, I wish him a speedy recovery.
I shall concentrate on defence issues. I start by paying tribute to those who serve in the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force, and remember those recovering from injuries, some life changing. I also pay tribute to their families, especially to those who have lost a loved one, and to our veterans.
We on these Benches welcome and support the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill. I echo my noble friend Lord Howell in complimenting my noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for the excellent and hard work that they have done on this issue. Cluster munitions have caused far too many indiscriminate casualties over the years. However, it is essential that the operational capability of our Armed Forces and their safety in a battlefield situation are not compromised. Some key countries have not signed the agreement. What progress has been made regarding negotiations with these countries? The US Administration have made some moves, but what about Russia, which, it is claimed, used cluster bombs against Georgia?
As I shall concentrate on defence issues, I am only sorry that I shall not have time to challenge many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I always listen carefully to his thoughtful speeches, so I was rather surprised that most of his speech today was spent criticising, mostly inaccurately, my party. Despite what the noble Lord said, I have never known relations between the French and my party to be as good as they are at the moment. I have been patron of the Conservatives in Paris for seven years and I cannot remember being approached, as I have been on numerous occasions this year, by so many French politicians asking to meet David Cameron and other senior members of my party.
Our defence debate earlier this month proved that Afghanistan remains the greatest challenge confronting our nation. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, rightly said that our presence there is a necessity, not a choice. I am proud to say that we on these Benches will continue to maintain our support for British troops in Afghanistan, and I hope that the Liberal Democrats will stick to their stance, too. We recognise the cost of failure in Afghanistan. This means that our goal should be an Afghanistan capable of managing its own security.
NATO tactics are evolving. Despite recent casualties, our forces are getting better at using smart optics to detect IEDs and at building up intelligence on the networks responsible for planting them. The battle for Helmand can be won.
I was fortunate enough to go out to Afghanistan this year; indeed, I travelled out sitting next to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I agree with the noble Lord that all the Afghans we met pleaded with us to stay, feeling very vulnerable to the Taliban. I also agree with him, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, about the importance of getting on top of corruption there. The soldiers to whom I spoke in Afghanistan were unanimous in their belief that it is in the national interest that we succeed there. We can make our contribution by ensuring that the Government give them the tools to finish the job.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said that the Armed Forces need to know that the Government and the people are with them and for them. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said that morale was high at the 2 Rifles medal parade and that he did not come across any discordant note. However, there is a growing sense of unease in the Army that the determination shown by troops on the front line is being undermined by the sense of gloom at home. Politicians need to understand the inherent dangers of war. I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell that continuous talk of an exit strategy is unhelpful. We cannot have a situation where soldiers on the ground start thinking, “What’s the point of losing your life for a cause that we’re abandoning?”.
This is not a reason to give up the fight, but a call for stronger leadership and clearer communication of military strategy from our Government. On the one hand, the Prime Minister says that our troops’ presence in Afghanistan is vital for our security and safety at home; on the other, he says that he will not,
“put the lives of British men and women in harm’s way for a government that does not stand up against corruption”.
Either their presence is a national security imperative, or it is not. Which is it?
The Afghan Government must trust that we are committed, but how can our own soldiers trust our commitment when the Government cut funding to Territorial Army training during wartime, and pledge 500 additional troops but set heavy caveats? I hope that the Minister will say something about where we stand at the moment with the three conditions that the Prime Minister mentioned.
The Prime Minister said very clearly that the request for 500 extra troops follows from,
“clear military advice from our chiefs of staff and our commanders on the ground on implementing our strategy and reducing the risk to our forces”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/10/09; col. 302.]
Yet a month after these words, those 500 soldiers and their families are still waiting for the Government to make up their mind. Having set a new target date for the training of Afghan forces, the Prime Minister has delayed the very means by which that acceleration can take place.
To achieve success, we on these Benches endorse NATO’s fully fledged counterinsurgency strategy, crafted by General McChrystal. Implicit in the general’s strategy is the training of Afghan forces. No counterinsurgency is successful without a capable host nation force comprised of military and police forces. The Afghan Defence Ministry’s army fielding acceleration plan now advances the full-sized ANA fielding target date to December 2011. What can be done to ensure the achievement of this goal? No less important are the Afghan police. The launch of the Afghan national development strategy last year and the subsequent Ministry of Interior police reform are two steps in establishing robust and capable police forces. However, as General McChrystal's recent assessment states,
“the ANP suffers from a lack of training, leaders, resources, equipment and mentoring. Effective policing is inhibited by the absence of a working system of justice”.
Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to incorporate the development of the ANP into the current strategy? What of other local auxiliary forces? Already there is a public protection programme in Wardak province that uses local citizens as static security forces for checkpoints and roadblocks. Has any consideration been given to establishing such a programme in Helmand, at least in the interim?
While it is the most pressing issue, Afghanistan is not our only challenge. Today, the British Armed Forces are participating in 15 international operations. We have 41,000 troops in 32 countries and overseas territories. It is therefore vital that we train and prepare ourselves for a wide range of conflicts. In the MoD, they speak euphemistically of “capability holidays”, which means that such things as air-to-air refuelling and unit-level para drops are being neglected. What message does that send to those around the world who wish us ill?
On equipment, the recently published Gray report reveals the Government's management of the equipment programme as haphazard at best and scandalous at worst. However, it is not all bad news on the equipment front. I am happy to see that, as a result of an initiative that I and the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, launched, the motorsport industry is applying its skills—and it is particularly adept at getting things done quickly—in support of the MoD’s urgent operational requirements. Some of these motorsport companies and their factories are now on a real war footing, and I congratulate the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on encouraging this important initiative.
On helicopters, the Government have told us that we have enough; then they admit that we do not. So, additional Chinooks are apparently being purchased in a hurry. Can the Government confirm the number? Is it 10, or is it 20? When will they be available? The future medium-lift helicopter, which would bring new aircraft into the inventory, seems to be a low priority; instead, we have an upgrade in Romania of the Puma, which can charitably be characterised as a tired airframe. Are the Government convinced that this expenditure is the best use of public funds, reported to be in the region of £300 million?
My noble friend Lord Selsdon mentioned sea lanes. During this Government’s term in office, the number of front-line ships has been reduced. We now see RFA ships undertaking the role properly ascribed to warships; the recent hijacking of the Chandlers’ yacht by pirates, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, mentioned, illustrates this point. There have been media reports that the MoD is planning to sell one of the new aircraft carriers to India. Could the Minister comment on that? Finally, we have the prospect of a Green Paper at some point in the new year. That will address many of the issues that we have been discussing today, and I very much hope that it will finally acknowledge that this country is engaged in a war.
My Lords, this has indeed been a very well-informed and wide-ranging debate. I will endeavour to cover as many topics as possible, but it may be impossible to deal with every item that has been raised. I am sure that the House will understand that I want to spend much of my time talking about Afghanistan, as the noble Lord did.
I am afraid that, as too often on these occasions, I must start by speaking on behalf of the whole House in offering condolences to the families and friends of those who have been killed on operations in Afghanistan in the past few days. They are Sergeant Phillip Scott of 3rd Battalion the Rifles, Rifleman Philip Allen of 2nd Battalion the Rifles, Rifleman Samuel John Bassett of 4th Battalion the Rifles, Rifleman Andrew Ian Fentiman from 7th Battalion the Rifles, and Corporal Loren Owen Christopher Marlton-Thomas of 33rd Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). It is right that we should start by recalling their sacrifice and, indeed, the sacrifice of others. I know that the House always finds that a salutary occasion, as I do, and I think it right to concentrate my comments on the operation in which they were engaged.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, began by talking about morale, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, has just mentioned. He talked about the devotion to duty of those who are on operations; we can all echo that, and praise those who have been involved. It has been a difficult year; 98 of our personnel have been killed, and the coalition as a whole has lost 473 people, but it has been extremely hard on the Afghans as well. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, reminded us, many hundreds of civilians and members of the Afghan national security forces have lost their lives this year, while NATO figures show that 223 Afghan military and police were killed in action in August and September alone.
It is right, then, to concentrate our attention on this particular issue and—as I think other Members of your Lordships’ House have said—we really have to keep reminding people why we are there. We have not to forget that nearly 3,000 civilians were killed in one day on 9/11, and that those attacks were planned in Afghanistan, which was a safe haven where al-Qaeda was able to plan and direct a major attack, as it has tried to do in other parts of the world. We are in Afghanistan to stop that happening again, and we are there as one of 43 nations in a United Nations-authorised and NATO-led engagement—all of those people having made the same judgment that we have made.
It is important to remember that when we come to the issue that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned: the need to make sure that we have public support. There is no doubt of the support for our operation on any side of this House, or, indeed, in another place. However, we need to explain to the public as often as we can exactly why we are there, and what the dangers of our withdrawal would be.
That means tackling some of the critics head on. Mention has been made today of corruption, which concerns many people. We are right to be worried about that. President Karzai had his inauguration today. It was good that he said in his speech that he needed to emphasise the need for Ministers to have integrity and professionalism. That applies not just to Ministers at national level, but to regional governments as well. We should not be naive and assume that because it was in that speech it will happen. We must all keep the pressure on to ensure that he moves in that direction. However, that is not an excuse for inactivity on our part.
Some are saying that, because al-Qaeda is now very much located in the borderlands of Pakistan, there is no point in staying in Afghanistan and we should just concentrate on Pakistan. However, if we were to abandon Afghanistan, who really believes that al-Qaeda would not take root and have an easy life there again? We might be involved in doing the same kind of activity all over again.
Some argue that we could just be “fortress Britain”, and that we should spend more money on our intelligence services, something that we have considerably increased our spending on over the past few years. The men and women of our Armed Forces are protecting us from terrorist attacks in Britain just as much as the police and the intelligence services do here in the UK, so we cannot think of “fortress Britain” as an alternative.
Some say that we should leave this to other countries. That would not be fair. We are vulnerable. No one country, even America, is big enough to take this issue alone.
Some people argue that our presence in Afghanistan is a boost to violent extremism around the world. I have even heard one commentator say that we would not have had 9/11 if we had not invaded Afghanistan, forgetting the timeframe. There is total confusion there, because people merge all these issues and make silly remarks. It would be a great boost to extremist ideology if we were to retreat now. We cannot do that.
Some also argue that Afghanistan is not the only country where there is a risk of terrorism taking root. That is true. However, our operation in Afghanistan does not mean that we are failing to work with other nations to counter terrorism elsewhere. It is true that the majority of plots made against the United Kingdom have had connections to the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is where the great threat to us is, which is why we must be where we are now.
There has been mention of whether this should be an open-ended commitment, and whether any progress has been made. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said that the public needed convincing both that it was not open-ended and also that progress could be, and was being, made. It is important to realise that we are now in Helmand, suffering all the difficulties and taking the hits that we are, because we are extending the whole area of Afghanistan that is under some form of control. Three or four years ago, Helmand was a no-go area. It is true that we do not have control over that entire area, but the major areas of population are now being taken back from the Taliban and developing their own internal government with our help. Some progress has been made, despite all of the difficulties.
Questions were raised about the conditions that have been laid down for the extra 500 troops; that is, 500 on top of all those that we sent for the election period. It is important to realise that there are good reasons for putting down those conditions. It is true that we have called up the 500, but we must also make the right preparations for their deployment—for example, by ensuring that the kit that is needed for the extra troops to deploy is ready in time. We would be criticised if we did not do that. The burden-sharing condition that we laid down has been extremely important in exercising some leverage on our allies. There is a real hope of extra contributions from others. We are working very hard and not deliberately delaying; we are planning sensibly and co-operating with our allies.
We are moving in the right direction. Our ultimate objective is exactly the same as it was in 2001—to protect our citizens from terrorist attacks by preventing al-Qaeda having a safe haven in the tribal belt in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. For us to be safe Afghanistan needs to be safe and Pakistan needs to be secure. As the Prime Minister says, this is not a conflict out of choice, but a conflict out of necessity. That is the message that we all have to keep getting through.
The issue of equipment has been raised somewhat, but the fact that it has been raised less than on some other occasions shows the significant recognition of the improvements that have been made. At the beginning of any campaign it is probably the case that there is a degree of readiness, but it is never going to be complete. You can never be sure exactly what problems you will face on a battlefield. Obviously, nothing can eliminate all the dangers of the battlefield. A counterinsurgency campaign is extremely difficult. Yes, there are issues as to how many helicopters we have. As our commanders have said, we have sufficient for operations. We should remember that helicopters are a pooled NATO resource; we do not use just our own. However many helicopters we have—and we could always use more—we cannot hold the ground from the air. Therefore, those risks will always be there.
Our forces are as well equipped as any professional Armed Forces in the world. The acknowledgement of that from a whole range of quarters has been good to hear. I know that those who have visited Afghanistan and talked to the troops there find that they say that very clearly. The amount of equipment that we have provided, much of it through urgent operational requirements and with much co-operation from industry, has been very important.
I am also pleased that we have managed in many ways to get closer co-operation on equipment from our allies. Indeed, the recent developments on the European helicopter initiative are extremely promising. It is a multinational initiative, which includes pilot training sponsored by the European Defence Agency, and with good co-ordination—as I know some Members will be pleased to hear—between NATO and the EU. More co-operation of that kind is something that we need to work on and do in the future.
Looking to the future, we are very heavily committed at present and we must be aware that we need to look, in the Green Paper and the Strategic Defence Review, not only at our experience of the recent past but at the whole spectrum of threats that may encompass us in the future. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, we have to think about our role in the world. I reassure him that we do not think that Britain should become a Switzerland, as he suggested it might. I hope that he finds that reassuring. The Green Paper, which will look at the whole spectrum of possible threats that we might face, will be very realistic and will help us to work out how we should be using our Armed Forces to defend our own interests and how defence itself must change to meet the problems that lie ahead.
There is some interesting thinking going on about the kind of issues that we will have to face. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, and others raised some of the problems, as did the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when he opened his remarks by talking about the spectrum of changes, the rise of Asia and all those other aspects that are going to be so important. There are many threats to which we will have to respond, including globalisation, interdependence, climate change, population growth, energy security and proliferation. The whole range has been covered during this afternoon’s debate.
We have the problem of many fragile, failing or failed states, asymmetric threats and non-state players. The world is very different and is changing at a remarkable rate. In such environments and facing such challenges, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, mentioned, conflict prevention and the promotion of security will always be important, perhaps increasingly important, because they are better than post-crisis cure. I hope that using soft power, anticipation and the information and influence that we have will be considered important because we have to look at what we can prevent rather than just at where we need to intervene. What used to be called defence diplomacy should perhaps be called defence and security diplomacy to enable us to explore these matters in the new circumstances.
We need to help the international community to improve its approach to all the issues that have been mentioned. We have discussed the need to protect civilians in conflict—we have been given some alarming and harrowing examples of that. Last week I was in New York, where the United Kingdom took a lead role in persuading the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution that strengthens the role of protecting civilians in peacekeeping missions. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, peace does not always mean safety.
We have to ensure that we improve the ability of the world community in undertaking operations to react to the whole range of new situations, dangers and threats that it faces. There is scope for progress and considering new ways forward. We recognise that we have to work with other partners on all these issues. We need to work through NATO, the EU, the UN and changing informal coalitions because, as my noble friend Lady Kinnock said at the start of the debate, multilateral solutions to global problems such as conflict and instability are not just the best solutions but the only way forward.
As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said, we cannot do everything alone; indeed, nobody can do everything alone. That means that we have to ensure increasingly that our international institutions are shaped in such a way as to allow for the planning and buy-in from other countries that we need without imposing too many stalling mechanisms and procedures. That can be a big problem.
There is no easy solution. We have to consider all the issues appearing on the horizon. We need to optimise our capacity-building capability through military training and education. The United Kingdom has a good record in that respect. We have to consider how we can use soft power—security co-operation and influence—to its greatest effect and make it part of mainstream Ministry of Defence activity. We also have to ensure that we have full co-operation among all government departments. I was particularly pleased that, in a paper published earlier this year, the Department for International Development rightly acknowledged that poverty reduction could not be separated from progress on politics and security. Defence can help to establish the conditions on the ground to make this happen. It is important that we ensure that all these elements work together. The other thing on which we have to concentrate is getting better co-ordination of effort within and between the international community and regional institutions. We have to work together as closely as possible on governance and stability issues.
I should say a word about personnel issues, especially as we have just held remembrance services. It is important that we build on the very good work in the service personnel Command Paper of last year. I am pleased that my right honourable friend the Leader of the Commons has today announced an initiative on the employment of service spouses, which has been widely welcomed and shows that we can build on the wide range of activity that we have carried out in terms of looking after those who serve our country in this way and their whole families. Whether in compensation, housing, employment, or health, significant strides have been made in the past 12 months, but we need to build further on that. In fact, we announced this month a new concept: the welfare pathway. We have launched a local pilot scheme with Kent County Council to try to make sure that there can be more co-ordination between all the agencies, whereby any service personnel or veteran knows where to go for an initial point of contact to obtain information in different ways.
In five minutes I should like to discuss and respond to many other issues. However, I cannot wind up without saying a word about Europe. I hesitate to do this in a House that has many experts, but I was very interested in the opening comments of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who said in passing that, in theory, he supported membership of Europe, but he could not quite bring himself to say anything good about Europe. When the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that you cannot want international co-operation and then turn your back on your neighbours, he summed up the tenor of much of that earlier contribution.
As regards the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, of the changing world, there was much with which we could all agree. Indeed, we can agree on the importance of the Commonwealth and its potential to be used even more in terms of soft power. That is one reason why I am pleased that at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next week, Britain will be represented not only by my noble friend Lady Kinnock, but by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. That shows that we are taking the Commonwealth extremely seriously and, therefore, that divisions should not be there. I am tempted to say that the tenor of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was, “be nasty to Europe, but be nice to the Commonwealth”. I did not think that that was a comprehensive foreign policy, and there was a touch of what my noble friend Lady Kinnock called “diplomacy by tantrum”, which is a phrase that may be used on many occasions in this House and elsewhere.
While I am mentioning Europe, perhaps I may say a word about ESDP, an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Anderson, and some of the work which is going on there and is sometimes ignored. Someone mentioned piracy; Operation Atalanta, which the UK hosts at its headquarters at Northwood, is an exceptionally good example of where the EU can be proactive, but can work with other players, including NATO and some of the large countries with which we do not normally work. And, lo and behold, we have managed to carry out that operation without the need for any great new superstructure. That shows that co-operation can and should go ahead, but we should not create unnecessary superstructures.
It is also interesting that the EU is considering what it might do to help the situation on the land in Somalia—not by going there directly, but by training some of its security forces out of country. That proposal was made recently and is being considered. It is not without difficulties, but it is certainly worth exploring.
While I am on the subject of Europe, perhaps I may mention the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, which were very detailed and technical to many people. We are in discussions with his committee about the new powers which the Lisbon treaty will give national parliaments and the undertakings that the Government gave during the passage of the European Union (Amendment) Act of last year. They will need to be considered by the Procedure Committee, and my noble friend the Leader of the House will take forward the discussions shortly.
There is a range of other issues, but I do not have time for them all. I will say one thing about development. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Earl, mentioned Africa and the need for food security. These are high priorities to which we give particular attention. There was a world food summit recently, which two Ministers from different departments attended. I assure noble Lords that we are apprised of the need for good investment in agriculture and for sustainability in these areas.
I will mention cluster bomb legislation, which has been welcomed throughout the House. I hope that the House and another place will pass the legislation quickly since it has general support. I will also say a word about the points made by my noble friend Baroness Goudie and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, about the role of women in development. The points were serious and the Department for International Development recognises them. If you can improve the situation of women by improving their health or giving them access to family planning or employment, you are more likely to change a whole community and ensure that progress is made.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, while the crisis in Afghanistan continues—it is a crisis, whichever way you look at it—the Ministry of Defence is having its hands tied behind its back by the significant sums that are being withdrawn from it on the basis of an overspend that has been brought about only by having to buy the emergency equipment that is so badly needed at the front?
My Lords, I am happy to clarify that point. It is not the case that the Ministry of Defence is overspent because of operations. The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been extremely important. It is significant that the money for those operations has come from the Treasury. It is a big commitment. Around £18 billion has come from the Treasury for operations since 2001, on top of the increasing budget that the Ministry of Defence has had year on year. There are problems with spend, but they are long-term and caused by decisions taken a long time ago, not by operations.
Debate adjourned until Monday 23 November.
House adjourned at 5.48 pm.