House of Lords
Wednesday, 26 May 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.
Several noble Lords took the oath or affirmed.
Academies Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision about academies.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Wallace of Saltaire, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Local Government Bill [HL]
A Bill to prevent the implementation of existing proposals made for the purposes of Part 1 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, to revoke the Exeter and Devon (Structural Changes) Order 2010 and the Norwich and Norfolk (Structural Changes) Order 2010, and to make provision consequential on that revocation.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Hanham, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Defamation Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the law of defamation; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Dog Control Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision about the control of dogs; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Redesdale, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Re-Export Controls Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the regulation of the re-export of military equipment and goods further to their original exportation from the United Kingdom.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Alton of Liverpool, 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 or blood products, and of 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.
Building Regulations (Review) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for a review of the Building Regulations 2000 with regard to the installation of automatic fire-suppression systems in new residential premises.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Harrison, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
House of Lords Reform Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the appointment of a commission to make recommendations to the Crown for the creation of life peerages; to restrict membership of the House of Lords by virtue of hereditary peerage; to make provision for permanent leave of absence from the House of Lords; to provide for the expulsion of Members of the House of Lords in specified circumstances; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Steel of Aikwood, 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.
Committee of Selection
That, in accordance with Standing Order 63, 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, L Shutt of Greetland, L Strathclyde, L Wakeham.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to an urgent Question asked in another place earlier today. The Statement is as follows.
“Mr Speaker, I am extremely grateful both to you and the shadow Chancellor for this opportunity to update the House on the urgent and decisive action which the Government have taken to tackle the economic mess which we inherited from the last Government. I refer the House to the Written Ministerial Statement that I laid in the House this morning, which sets out the details of this early action.
The last Government were borrowing an extra £3 billion each week. These huge public debts threaten financial stability and, if left unchecked, would derail the economic recovery. We need not look far across our own continent to see that action to tackle our budget deficit is both urgent and necessary. This is only the first step in a long road to restoring good management of our public finances.
I have set out in a Written Ministerial Statement this morning the details of the spending cuts that we will make for government departments in 2010-11. We have found cuts totalling £6.243 billion—£243 million more than originally targeted. However, the budgets for health, international development and defence will not be reduced, and we have been able to take the important decision to protect the budgets for schools, Sure Start and spending on 16 to19 year-olds in 2010-11.
The devolved Administrations will have the option of making their savings this year or deferring their share of the savings until the next financial year. They will also receive their share of the additional spending as agreed.
We will help local government to deliver their savings by removing the ring-fences around over £1.7 billion of grants to local authorities in 2010-11, consistent with our belief in giving more freedom to local government.
Our first priority is to cut out waste. We cannot expect difficult decisions to be taken on spending until we have eliminated waste. We expect departments to make savings which include: around £1.15 billion in cutting discretionary areas such as consultancy, advertising and travel costs; £1.7 billion from delaying and stopping contracts and projects, including immediate negotiations to achieve cost reductions from the 70 major suppliers to government; £600 million from cutting the costs of quangos; and at least £120 million from freezing Civil Service recruitment. We will drive these and other savings through a new Efficiency and Reform Group, drawing on expertise within government and funded from within existing budgets.
This action is designed to send a shock wave through government departments, to focus Ministers and civil servants on whether spending in these areas is really a priority in the difficult times we are now facing.
As well as reducing waste and the costs of government, we have started work to scale back lower-priority spending. We will pass legislation to end child trust fund payments that will save £320 million in 2010-11, rising to £520 million in 2011-12, but the House will be pleased to learn that some savings will be reinvested to provide respite breaks for disabled children.
Quangos across government will have to make major savings in their budgets. Regional development agencies will have to cut back on spending which has the lowest economic impact.
Finally, we have decided to allocate £500 million in 2010-11 to measures to invest in improving our growth potential and building a fairer society, and £150 million will be used to help to deliver up to 50,000 adult apprenticeship starts.
Following the shambles under the previous Government of the colleges capital programme, an extra £50 million will be allocated to help to fund capital investment in those FE colleges in most need. We are also allocating an additional £170 million to fund investment in social rented housing in 2010-11 to help deliver 4,000 social housing starts, and we will freeze backdated business rates payments under the eight-year schedule of payments, including businesses in ports, until April 2011. We will consider any further action in this area and bring forward any plans before the freeze ends.
These are only the first steps which we will need to take to put our public finances back in shape. The public and the House will welcome the fact that we now have a Government who have the determination to act but who will also cut with care”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for repeating the Answer given by his right honourable friend in another place. I congratulate him on his new responsibilities, and express the hope that he will display the same forensic ability in economic affairs displayed by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in the previous Parliament.
It is an axiom of sound financial management that actions have consequences. What is striking about the Statement made by Mr Laws is that the consequences of the expenditure cuts are not spelt out at all. Instead we are presented with £6 billion-plus of cuts in government expenditure, but not told what the true consequences will be. Of course I can understand the sheer delight with which the Chancellor imposed swingeing cuts on the Department for Business—or should it now be called the department for closure? That will teach Vince Cable to declare earlier this year that,
“cutting spending further … would be extremely dangerous”.
Try a cut of £836 million on for size, Vince!
The rationale for the cuts is declared to be,
“to start tackling the UK deficit and secure the recovery”.
The Chief Secretary cites the United States as following a similar policy. That is arrant nonsense. On the very day that Vince Cable suffered the unkindest cut of all, President Obama announced a £30 billion new initiative to support small businesses. Has the noble Lord read the speech of Professor Christina Romer, chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, delivered at the William and Mary College last week? Professor Romer said:
“I worry that policymakers may take the return of growth as license to withdraw the support that has been essential to the recovery. That is exactly what happened in 1936 and 1937. President Roosevelt, Congress and the Federal Reserve switched to fiscal and monetary contraction before the recovery from the Great Depression was complete. The result was a second recession in 1938 that pushed unemployment back up to 18 percent and delayed the return to normal for another three years”.
That is the potential cost of this Government’s deficit hysteria.
So will the noble Lord tell us, first, what is the Treasury’s estimate of the increase in unemployment directly attributable to these spending cuts? Secondly, what is the Treasury’s estimate of the number of business failures that will be directly attributable to these spending cuts?
The Government claim continuously to be protecting front-line services—a laudable objective. To enable your Lordships' House to assess the Government’s achievement, will the noble Lord give the House a precise definition of what is a front-line service? A precise definition would enable your Lordships to assess whether the £1.7 billion of the contracts and projects delayed or stopped are front line. Can the noble Lord tell us exactly what the contracts and projects to be stopped might be? Can he also tell us exactly what are the £1.7 billion of local authority services that are no longer to be ring-fenced? Are they front line? Is the removal of funding to underwrite children's futures in the children's trust fund front line—they look jolly front line to me.
The Government have presented a policy without consequences, because they are unwilling to spell out the true consequences. It is a pretty poor start to open, transparent government. What is transparent is the evident relish with which Mr Laws wields the budgetary axe. He revels in the policy of shock and awe. Mr Laws is the Donald Rumsfeld of economic policy, and we can expect his activities to achieve equally constructive consequences. Lloyd George would be ashamed of him.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for his Question, and indeed for his kind words when he opened his speech. I congratulate him on his new role and welcome him to the Dispatch Box. He says that the consequences of the cuts are not spelt out. I respond by saying that I understand that it is a subject about which he and his noble colleagues feel strongly. I point to the advice from the Governor of the Bank of England, who has said that he does not think that £6 billion of cuts will dramatically change the outlook for growth this year and that indeed they reduce some of the downside risk. That is backed up by advice from the Treasury. The Governor of the Bank of England has also said that the bigger risk at present, given the experience of the past two weeks, would be for the new Government not to put in place clear and credible measures to deal with the deficit.
The noble Lord asked specifically about cuts to the business department. In that regard, I simply say that cuts in specific departmental budgets have been agreed with the respective Secretaries of State. All of them are committed to ensuring that those cuts are made in a way that does not jeopardise front-line services. The noble Lord and his noble friends will have ample opportunity in the debate on the Queen's Speech to ask the respective Ministers about their position on these cuts.
The noble Lord also asked about the projected increase in unemployment and the likely effect on future business failures. He is quite right to say that these matters are extremely important. The Government's response is along the lines that the Governor of the Bank of England suggested: if the cuts were not pursued, higher interest rates would inevitably follow, which would lead to a worse situation for business and for employment.
As regards local government, we on these Benches believe that giving freedom to local authorities will enable them to meet the real priorities that they see locally. As the noble Lord will know, the LGA has said in its response to these spending cuts that it knows that they are necessary. It has identified substantial savings and welcomes radical decentralisation and the removal of ring fencing.
The noble Lord asked about child trust funds. Given the country's unprecedented budget deficit, we must make tough choices. In that context, the Government believe that it is not affordable to spend more than half a billion pounds each year on the child trust fund, when that money is not even accessible to people for up to 18 years. We believe that it is right to focus resources on spending, support and services to people now. However, the money that was allocated for extra payments into the child trust funds of children entitled to disability living allowance in future years will be recycled into other forms of support for disabled children. The noble Lord suggests that my right honourable friend revels in shock and awe. I respectfully remind him of the words with which the Statement closed: that the cuts will be made with care. They will be made with sensitivity.
It is your Government!
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I think that is the protocol. I have two further questions for the Minister. First, is he aware that, as an annualised rate, the deficit—all this is premised on the huge increase in the deficit—was 2.5 per cent 18 months ago and is now 11.1 per cent? That has created a hole in the economic output against trend of about £50 million. Does he not find it totally incredible to say that that is the fault of public sector workers? Is it more likely to be the fault of the top 0.1 per cent of the population whose average wage is over £2 million? The benefit is going to those people, but the cost is because public expenditure has got to go up to pay for unemployment benefit and tax revenues will go down because of lower income tax and lower corporation tax.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, for his question. He quite rightly points to the huge size of the deficit. He suggests that the Government somehow imply that it is the fault of public sector workers. There is no question that that is the suggestion. We are all in this together. I take his point, but there is no suggestion that public sector workers should bear more than their fair share of the burden.
Over the next few weeks, we will meet to decide exactly how we intervene in debates and, indeed, exactly where we sit. For today, we agree that it was necessary for the Government, in the light of the European economic circumstances, to take quick action to demonstrate their resolve on the budget deficit. On a specific point, I urge the Minister to abolish quickly those regional development agencies that are to be abolished, and to confirm quickly the status of those that are to remain so that they can continue with their valuable work.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will take that back to the department. I am also sure that at some stage he will come back to the noble Lord and tell him what he has to think. However, my main question right now goes back to the beginning of his Statement when he did again what he did in opposition: rubbish the British economy. While that was depressing in opposition, it is positively dangerous when you do that in government. There is a real danger of a double-dip recession. This is more like the 1930s, because of its international style, than the Conservative slumps of the 1980s and early 1990s. Will the Minister not confirm that if you talk down the British economy, people will believe you and you will help to trigger the second recession which just about everyone in industry and commerce generally is desperately trying to avoid?
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for his question. I absolutely reject the assertion that the Government are talking down the British economy. I reiterate that the Governor of the Bank of England himself has said that he does not think that £6 billion of cuts will dramatically change the outlook for growth this year. He has also said that, given the bigger risk at present and the experiences of the past two weeks, it is absolutely crucial to put into place clear and credible measures to deal with the deficit.
My Lords, does my noble friend not think that, as we as an incoming Government now face the biggest mess that this country has had to face for years, it might have been more appropriate for the noble Lord speaking on behalf of the Opposition to express contrition for the mess that they have left behind and which the Government now have to tackle? Given the situation in Europe now—a very grave situation brought on in part by the fact that some Governments have failed to face up to their responsibilities and are not taking action early enough—it would have been criminal of this Government not to have taken early action to face this situation. It is incredible in this situation to see that the Opposition still appear to support the policy of no action yet. Would that not be the most disastrous approach for this Government to take?
May I confirm to the Minister that we on this side of the House do not favour inaction but oppose wrong action very strongly and will continue to do so through the coming months of examination? Will he answer my noble friend Lord Eatwell’s specific questions on outcomes, as the Government have been silent on this, despite opportunities? Will he for instance tell us the cost to the public purse of breaking or suspending contracts to the private sector? We have heard nothing on that.
Neither have we heard about the consequences for employment and small businesses of the action taken to make cuts this year of £6.25 billion. These issues are vital for a reason which I am sure the Minister will recognise; we are about to get 15 times £6 billion of cuts at the very least over the next few years. If the course that is now set is continued, I put it to him that we will get not a coalition for fairness but a corrosion of jobs, opportunity and growth.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, is very experienced in these matters. I agree with him on opposing wrong action, and we on these Benches look forward to the debates that he promises over the next few months. The Government wholeheartedly agree with him about the effect on employment and small businesses, but we differ in that we believe that high interest rates are what will really adversely affect small businesses and employment and that it is absolutely crucial to make the cuts about which we are talking. He asks a very specific question about the cost of breaking contracts. I am not in a position to answer that now, and I will do my best to respond to him in writing.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the removal of ring-fencing of certain funding to local authorities. Is he aware of the concern that sometimes local authorities will emphasise services such as waste removal and roads above services to vulnerable children and families because they are the most apparent to their voters? Will he monitor the effects of that change and ensure that it is not unfairly disproportionate on the most vulnerable? Will the removal of ring-fences directly affect services to vulnerable families?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his point. As I have said, the Government believe that giving freedom to local authorities will enable them to meet the real priorities in their local areas. I assure him that these matters will be monitored closely and that the most disadvantaged in society absolutely must be protected.
My Lords, is it not astonishing that, on listening to the questions from the opposition Benches, you would have thought that we were running a surplus? We are running an enormous deficit. Will my noble friend please encourage his colleagues to continue in attacking the most appalling economic heritage since Denis Healey, Mr Callaghan, Philip Snowden, Hugh Dalton or anyone else you care to mention in Labour Governments in the past who have left us in a similar mess to that which we are in now?
My Lords, any such cuts are likely to bear disproportionately on those who depend on public expenditure, notably the poorest people in the poorest regions of this country. What formula is being used? How does the noble Lord seek to protect vulnerable people and areas such as Wales which depend disproportionately on public expenditure?
My Lords, I have just said that the Government agree that we must pay closest attention to the effect on the most disadvantaged in society. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, specifically asked about the devolved Administrations. At this stage, all that I can say is that we acknowledge that these cuts must be fair. While savings are to be made as a top priority, they must be done sensitively.
My Lords, will my noble friend encourage the Government to produce soon an accurate figure of the total accrued national debt, including the off-balance-sheet debt, such as the total PFI liabilities and the massive sums owing for unfunded public sector pensions? I am sure that that figure would help us in debates such as this.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Burnett for that point. As he is aware, there will be a Budget shortly, which will tackle the task he has suggested. There will also be established an Office for Budget Responsibility. Its job will be to root out and identify the items to which he specifically referred.
My Lords, given that many Conservative-controlled authorities have a zero-rate increase this year and cuts already, will the Minister explain in greater detail which of the services not ring-fenced do not assist the most vulnerable people? Which services specifically do his Government consider to be un-ring-fenced and therefore expendable?
My Lords, will my noble friend be robust in rebutting the assumption from the opposition Benches that reductions in expenditure necessarily lead to reductions in outcomes? Does he accept that most businesses in this country that have to control their costs every year are well aware that removing waste and inefficiency is normally a way of delivering better services, by re-engineering the processes? Does he accept that, after a period of unparalleled growth in government expenditure, there is a huge target to go for in improving efficiency while improving services in this country?
My Lords, I welcome the new Minister to his role and wish him well in the future. One of the issues that the coalition Government will face will be unemployment. Will he again consider giving a better answer to the Front-Bench questions about the consequences of this action and the number of jobs that will be lost? I advise him that if he cannot do so today and unless we get the full facts, this side will not let go of the issue of the options on jobs that will disappear when cuts come. The Government should take note that they will be required to tell us what the consequences of each of their cuts will be in future.
My Lords, I share with the noble Lord a grave concern about unemployment. I point out to him that, at the end of 13 years of Labour government, unemployment was higher than it was at the beginning. We will do our level best to tackle unemployment and keep it under control.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the current national debt amounts to some £893 billion run up by the party opposite when they were in government, and that the responsible cuts that he is proposing today therefore amount to less than 1 per cent of the total? Would he care to speculate about the consequences for small businesses, for unemployment and for the most vulnerable if firm action were not to be taken to tackle the debt mountain that has been left for us?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bates is quite correct. I have said that the Government believe that the effect of not making cuts, feeding through into higher interest rates, would be vastly worse for small businesses and for unemployment than the effect of making those cuts.
My Lords, I shall follow up on my noble friend Lord Blackwell’s point. Does the Minister accept that one of the problems that the economy is facing is falling productivity, and that this is caused by the wall of money that has been thrown at the public sector? There would be enormous opportunities to make savings if actual productivity were raised in the public sector, and that would not affect front-line services.
My Lords, the Minister has not been his usual frank self in responding to the question about front-line services, which are crucial to this debate. Nor has he been frank when he maintains that introducing cuts at this stage may not do irretrievable damage to the economy with a double-dip recession. After all, his party argued that in the general election and did not achieve a majority, while two other parties—the Liberal Democrat party included—argued the danger to the economy of cuts at this point. Why, therefore, is he persisting with this position?
Debate (2nd Day)
Moved on Tuesday 25 May by Earl Ferrers
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 a privilege to open the days of debate ahead on the humble Address. I want to begin with some of my own tributes. My first tribute, echoing that of the Leader of the House yesterday, is to the outgoing Leader of the House, now the acting Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon. I am thinking of my time on the Front Bench opposite, when she led your Lordships’ House through some intensely difficult moments with the greatest skill. We all owe her our thanks. We also extend our deep sympathies to her for her tragic loss.
I also salute the work of my predecessors in the role I am now fulfilling over the past years—it is been about nine years now—including the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, who I am happy to see in her place and who was doing my job before; the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown; and, particularly, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. They all set very high standards which I shall be hard pressed to follow, but I will do my best.
For the sake of my own career prospects—which, I admit, are extremely limited—I should also pay tribute to the two ex-leaders of the opposition parties, now the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the House, who have come together with such grace and speed, sacrificing the joys of opposition for the chill exposure of government. I acutely realise that from now on I shall have to pick my words with exceptional care, otherwise I may attract some distinctly uncoalition-like rebukes from my noble friend Lord McNally about my general abilities, qualifications and grasp of events, if not more.
I am pleased to be dealing with foreign affairs alongside my new noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. To claim that we have always seen eye to eye on such matters as the future development of the EU and the Lisbon treaty would be stretching credulity beyond limits, but he is a towering authority on international issues and it is a privilege for me to be working with him. Finally, I am glad that my long-standing colleague, my noble friend Lord Astor, has been appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence and will, of course, be winding up at the end of today’s proceedings.
We are witnessing a huge change in the way states and Governments face and interact with each other, and it is desirable now that Britain should be at its most agile, innovative, ingenious and constructive at operating within this quite new international milieu. First, while the Cold War is obviously decades behind us, with its grim threat of mutual nuclear annihilation, which some of us grew up with, the post-Cold War phase has brought new dangers of nuclear proliferation. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Mr Hague, announced this morning, after only a few days in office, a highly significant departure in the UK’s strategic weapons policy—namely, by publishing for the first time the full number of nuclear warheads in the UK stockpile. In future, our stockpile will not exceed 225 warheads.
The Government will also launch a review of the UK’s nuclear posture; that is, its so-called “declaratory policy”. None of this will affect our national security, but it should all help considerably to boost the climate of trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states which has been so signally lacking. All of this further affirms the full commitment of the coalition Government to the current Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review going on in New York while we speak, where we are playing a strong role and which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is attending.
A second major factor that we must now recognise is that the axis of international power and influence is shifting, not merely to the so-called “emerging powers” such as the BRICs—that is, Brazil, Russia, India and China—about which I shall say more in a moment, but also to increasingly significant players such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and to groupings such as the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. The growing significance of the G20, alongside the G8, also clearly reflects this trend.
Thirdly, when it comes to our military strength—our hard-power capability—the shield of Achilles has today to be raised not only against visible enemies but also against the cowardly viciousness of the roadside bomb and other murderous methods. At the same time, the work of the military is increasingly and inevitably intertwined with reconstruction and civil repair. The Taliban and its Pashtun backers are one vivid and present example of these challenges. The wind-up speech of my noble friend Lord Astor will focus on the many specific questions and issues related to the Afghanistan war which I know are on your Lordships’ minds and on which we intend to give regular and comprehensive reports to Parliament on a quarterly basis.
Successful power deployment today—that is, power to protect and promote our people, national commercial interest and prosperity and yet at the same time uphold our values and maximise our contribution to global peace in a heavily interdependent age—therefore rests overwhelmingly on diplomacy in all its forms. That means operating not just through government-to-government relations but also, increasingly, through every kind of sub-governmental, non-governmental, professional, informational and commercial linkage. It demands a continuous spread of cultural diplomacy and soft-power deployment throughout the globe and the international institutional network. This dense mass of connections is the new global network in which we have to operate. What people call our enlightened self-interest in this new context is no narrow affair. It involves being an effective force for good in the world, fighting poverty, meeting or adjusting environmental and climatic threats as well as seeking the very best for our own nation and society. At government level, it requires an intricate web of diplomatic relations with nations large and small, conducted with the maximum mutual respect and underpinned by a highly active, informal latticework of connections.
Of course, we want a strong, close and frank relationship with the United States of America—to use the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State—and, within our own region, with our fellow European Union states. We want to use and strengthen the combined weight of the EU wherever we can. However, in the international landscape, the channels for power and influence will lie also in our bilateral network links with a whole variety of new players and not only with and through the main transatlantic duo.
This is a coalition Government and a lot of views are shared. I shall come to European Union matters in a moment. Not every detail is shared, but the majority are. I assure the noble Lord, who has considerable experience of these things, that what I shall say represents the united view of the coalition on how we go forward on the crucial question of the European Union.
The same new pattern goes for our energy security. An entirely new pattern of energy supply is in the making, which invalidates old priorities. Nations such as Poland, with its shale gas, Brazil, with its enormous new oil finds and its sugarcane biofuel, and Canada, with its tar sands, shale, biofuels and Arctic oil and gas, all come to the fore as the key sources in the new era. Norway, too, will be increasingly our lifeline. But Russia, on the other hand, may come to have a less dominant role in Europe’s energy supplies—which is all to the good.
We will need to consider the redirection of diplomatic resource, in all its forms, to countries and networks which seemed scarcely to feature on the global priorities map a decade or so ago. We have to work out how scarce resources can best be deployed towards nations and networks such as the Turkish republic and the republics of Central Asia and the Caspian region, such as Azerbaijan. We must build stronger, reinvigorated and more structured ties with the Gulf states—our close friends in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE, for example—with North Africa and with Japan, still an economic titan, in which the Secretary of State has asked me to take a special interest, with Latin America and especially with the whole vast Commonwealth network of linkages, both governmental and non-governmental, with India and Pakistan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Malaysia in the lead, while fully respecting the interests of smaller Commonwealth countries as well.
I am sure that we all welcome Her Majesty's forthcoming visit to Canada, a leading Commonwealth member, and to the UN in New York, with the Duke of Edinburgh in June. Her Majesty’s own words that the Commonwealth is, in lots of ways,
“the face of the future”,
are worth keeping in mind.
I should add that we also warmly welcome the official papal visit to this country. I understand that there was a pastoral one before, but this is the first official one.
Our links with India, one of the world’s fastest-rising economies, will be of particular importance to us. The gracious Speech confirms that we will seek a truly enhanced partnership with the Indian giant, again a central Commonwealth member.
These will now be the priorities of diplomacy in its new guise. Experts may talk about the shift in wealth and power now taking place globally, but it is time to grasp what this really means, where the new power and influence centres really lie, and how we relate to them to our best possible national advantage.
I come to some specific issues concerning us all, although, obviously, I cannot in the time available—and noble Lords would not want me to—cover every aspect of the scene. I turn to the point raised about the European Union. There will, no doubt, be many debates ahead on the development of our relations with the EU, but I confirm that we will be energetically involved in the EU’s external policy challenges of today and tomorrow, although, of course, these form only a part of our overall global positioning and strategy. Some of us were not overenthusiastic about the new European Union external action service, but now that it exists we want to see it play a really positive role for the EU and its member states.
The EU is clearly facing great strains at the moment, which go well beyond the problems of Greece and the euro, and it is in our interest that it gets on top of these challenges before they drag us all down. But the coalition is agreed that any proposed future treaty that transferred further areas of power or competences from the UK to the EU will be subject to a referendum, and we propose to seek amendment of the European Communities Act 1972, accordingly. In addition, we will ensure that an Act of Parliament will be required before any ratchet clauses within the Lisbon treaty—the so-called passerelle clauses, which veterans of the debates will remember all too well—are put into effect. Any major transfer of powers by this route would also be subject to a referendum.
We also plan to examine further the case for a UK sovereignty Bill, to establish that ultimate authority remains with our Parliament. All that is very much in the spirit of the Laaken declaration, which wished to see the EU less remote from and nearer to the people of Europe. We all want to see parliamentary and democratic scrutiny, control and accountability for the European decision-making process maximised, and I believe that this is the way forward—for us and for the Union as a whole.
Turning to Iran, we support tougher sanctions to deter that country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions, but the question is whether China and Russia will co-operate fully, because they are in a position to undermine them. At present, those two great nations back sanctions, but also encourage deals such as the Turkey and Brazil nuclear fuel deal, which appears to do little to promote a more responsible attitude by Iran. There is also the new Iraq-Iran oil pipeline deal, which could weaken sanctions in the future. All those developments remind us that regional as much as western issues are at stake.
In Iraq, we now have post-election political stalemate. There has been an election, and democracy has worked in that sense, but there is now a stalemate that could be dangerous and bring yet more violence. A positive aspect is that oil investment is set to go ahead in what has been described as one of history’s biggest transfers of oil territory into the oil production and supply chain. Either way, whatever happens—some people have talked about output as big as 12 million barrels a day, which would make Iraq much bigger than Saudi Arabia—commercial opportunities are clearly opening out on a major scale. BP is already leading boldly with its investment in the Rumaila oilfield, although BP is currently facing nightmares elsewhere, as we have all read in the media.
In Sudan, where we have been spending—and this figure surprised me when I read it in my brief— £250 million a year on humanitarian aid and development, our hopes remain resting on the comprehensive peace agreement and, looking ahead, on the south Sudan independence referendum. In view of the heavy Chinese presence in Sudan, perhaps it would also be right to call your Lordships’ attention to the major spread of Chinese investment and trade activity, not only in Africa but worldwide, and to note that the UK is the biggest outside investor in China, while Chinese investment here is also growing rapidly. So while we stand solid on our principles in relation to human rights, we need and intend to maximise our relations with China and are happy to have inherited an already strong showing at the great Shanghai Expo, where by all accounts the British pavilion is a popular marvel.
There are numerous other dangerous and tense situations around the globe that require our attention and which doubtless we will address in the months ahead. Some require continuity of the policy of the Government from whom we have inherited them and some need vigorous new directions. I refer briefly to the many obstacles still blocking the path to a Palestinian state and to the miserable situation in Gaza. We must keep close track of the increased tension as expressed in yesterday’s and today’s papers over North Korea’s latest unprovoked act of aggression, which we deplore. We extend our sympathies over the death of 46 sailors on the torpedoed “Cheonan” vessel.
We will keep a close watch too on the renewed dangers of disintegration in the west Balkans, and we are also addressing the nexus of hazardous issues in the Horn of Africa, including the continuing piracy problem. Burma, too, we have to watch carefully, and the rearming of Hezbollah may raise tensions again in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Thailand is torn by riots and other horrors are reported daily in the media. The list, I fear, goes on and on. This is a dangerous and precarious world.
As for hopes for recovery in long-suffering and misruled Zimbabwe, we will give all the support that we can to the reformers and encourage stronger help from Zimbabwe’s neighbours, particularly South Africa. Our priorities must also include UN reform, on which we back permanent seats for Japan, India, Germany and Brazil, as well as African representation. I add what I hope is obvious to your Lordships: in all our affairs, this Government will never condone torture, complicity in torture or rendition leading to torture.
I have spoken almost long enough. I see on the list of speakers today those who are in the front rank of authority on many of the issues that I have mentioned, such as the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Anderson, Lord Hannay and Lord Owen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, as well as many others, all of whom offer specialist wisdom by which we should be guided.
Rather than taking more of your Lordships’ time, I conclude by saying that today our distinctive positioning in this world of major and often brutal transition can and will define and unite us here at home. It can give us what we need, which is clear purpose and identity in this nation. Strength without is strength within. Security without is security within. The two cannot be separated.
The Prime Minister has established a National Security Council to bring together strategic decisions about foreign policy, security policy and development. This will be a powerful centre of decision-making. It has already met three times in the two weeks since the coalition Government were formed and will be a major means of involving domestic departments, which have an increasingly international aspect to their work, in the pursuit of our foreign policy objectives.
It is with this underpinning that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is moving vigorously and swiftly to see that he and his department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—I emphasise “Commonwealth”—work very closely with his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development to ensure the best possible co-ordination and deployment of all our overseas resources, diplomatic, military and developmental, to meet and serve the nation’s international priorities and worldwide interests and purposes effectively and efficiently. That is what this coalition intends and that is clearly what the country wants.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford was so swiftly out of the trap in his eagerness to address the House that he beat me to the Dispatch Box, so I am afraid that I have been unable so far to assist the House in explaining how one might arrive at a happy rising time of 10 o’clock. I promise to take better exercise so that I can beat him to the Dispatch Box in future. Forty-four speakers are signed up for today’s debate. If Back-Bench contributions are kept to seven minutes, the House should be able to rise this evening at around the target time of 10 o’clock.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his appointment as Minster of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He has a long personal and political record of commitment to international understanding and security and, while we might strongly diverge about aspects of policy, I am certain that he is decently and patriotically motivated. I wish him well in his new duties.
We are now confronted by a national coalition Government, a condition that our British gift for understatement compels us to call “interesting”. Nowhere is the contrivance more intriguing than in foreign, international development and defence policy. Time forbids detailed examination on this occasion, but some points irresistibly invite a little prying. To establish a general disposition, for instance, does the Minister retain the opinion that he expressed in this House just last November that the Liberal party’s policies are “boring and frankly incomprehensible”, or has the elixir of coalition now made them fascinating and perhaps pellucid?
More specifically, last week’s coalition agreement to,
“create new mechanisms to give British people a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent”,
patently sustains the Conservative policy of distributing aid programmes,
“in proportion to how many votes they receive”.
The Save the Children Fund describes that as development policy run like “The X Factor”. Since it is the coalition’s approach, what is to be the size and qualification of the electorate? What will be the method and duration of the voting? Will the balloting be financed, perhaps, from the aid budget? Indeed, will the returning officer by any chance be Mr Simon Cowell?
There are also concerns about the coalition’s commitment to introduce a new stabilisation and reconstruction force. The purposes of such a force in post-conflict conditions might appear worthy but development aid should not and must not be diverted to subsidising military operations. Security, development and humanitarian objectives must not be muddled. The proposal therefore begs the vital question: how would the force be financed—by new money, money from the MoD, or from DfID funds, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, announced last January? We need to hear the essential detail and now would be a good time to give it.
Similar questions arise about financing adaptation and mitigation efforts in poor countries to combat climate change: the Liberal party commitment to new additional money was clear, the Conservative Party was evasive, but no undertaking not to siphon off development assistance funds has come from this coalition. Can we therefore now have an undertaking that the coalition Government will not raid the DfID budget to fund climate change measures? May we also be assured by the Minister that FCO responsibilities will not be shuffled in a way which enables gaps in that ring-fencing around the DfID budget to be created? Since that budget must be sustained if Liberals and Tories are to fulfil their solemn promises of 0.7 per cent of GNI for development, will the Minister confirm now that the commitment will be enacted in legislation and not relegated to a parliamentary resolution?
I am very proud of the Labour Government’s sustained commitment to development, particularly to efforts to foster security and justice for women and girls. In too many parts of the world it is more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier. That tragic reality is the reason why Gordon Brown gave me the cross-departmental role of special representative on violence against women. I hope the new Government will also now give priority to tackling all gender-based violence. That would, I believe, have the strength of consensus in this House.
Time is short and I will have to leave Sudan, Congo, the Middle East and many other matters—including Afghanistan, where we all strongly support our forces and their mission—for future discussions in this House.
I therefore move briefly to the coalition’s perspective on the European Union. Overall, it seems to have more smoke than an Icelandic volcano and more mirrors than Versailles. First, I strongly agree with the call to fix the sole seat of the European Parliament in Brussels. In 15 years as a Member of the European Parliament, I repeatedly voted to end the Parliament’s costly and time-consuming odysseys to Strasbourg. However, that city was specified as a city of the Parliament in the Maastricht treaty agreed by Prime Minister John Major. Changing that would require unanimous agreement. France will never vote for it; neither will Germany. The coalition Government know full well—as anyone else in Europe knows—that it is not a possible objective.
Secondly, the referendum lock adopted by the coalition was described by Liberal Democrat leaders—when there were such people—as “nonsense, ludicrous and bizarre”. When all the member states have agreed that there will be no treaty change in the foreseeable future, we should also now call it redundant.
Thirdly, the coalition policy of introducing primary legislation to control any UK use of the European Council passerelle procedure, to which the Minister referred, is equally superfluous: apart from the veto, which would prevent the use of the passerelle, we have the 2008 Act which requires majorities in both Houses of this Parliament to permit UK support for a passerelle. In short, strict passerelle control already exists and everyone but the most obsessive of what Sir John Major would call “Euro illegitimates” recognises that.
On all grounds, assessment of the coalition's “consensus” on the EU shows it to be a series of tokenistic gestures made by the leaders of the coalition to mollify Europhobes in the Tory Party. The election debate description of those people and their new group in the European Parliament by the Deputy Prime Minister enjoys justified fame. Before that, the new Energy Secretary, Mr Huhne, had called them “wackos and weirdos” and perceptively added:
“You can tell a lot about a party by the company it keeps”.
Charity prevents me making the same observation about the company currently being kept by the Liberal Democrat party.
Ours is a world riven by economic and social division and menaced by crime, climate change, religious antagonisms, political hatreds and terrorising violence. It is a world overarmed with large and small weapons, rapaciously exploited, plagued by oppression in countless places and poisoned by distrust. That is why our foreign, development and defence policies must respond to these imperatives and must continue to focus on securing global equity, freedom and justice—the essential components of global stability and prosperity.
My Lords, we live today in a dangerous and unpredictable world: a possible nuclear Iran; an ever widening terrorist threat; a tinder-box Korean peninsula; an unstable and unsettled Middle East; a fragile Pakistan with nuclear weapons; serious piracy; a growing cyber warfare threat; and significantly increasing military expenditure by China and Russia.
Our country faces the twin pressures of overstretched Armed Forces bravely fighting the incredibly complex and bloody war in Afghanistan, following on immediately from Iraq, and a massively overcommitted defence budget with up to a £30 billion shortfall.
We welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to,
“fully support our courageous Armed Forces and undertake a full Strategic Defence and Security Review”,
“work to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation”.
Obviously, we welcome the openness on our nuclear stockpile, referred to in the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I personally am delighted that the coalition agreement between our two parties commits to a number of measures to improve life for our Armed Forces from doubling the operational allowance for personnel serving in Afghanistan to providing extra support for veterans’ mental health needs and the laudable aim to reduce MoD running costs by at least 25 per cent. However, no time indication is given in relation to that 25 per cent. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Astor, to his new post and hope that when he replies to the debate he will refer to the 25 per cent time aspect.
However, the Strategic Defence Review will be no panacea. The current problems of overstretch and overcommitment will still haunt us. Frankly, our new Government face a nightmare task in trying to balance the books. At least it is reassuring that defence spend this year will not be cut. Whatever the merits of our two new carriers under construction, surely it was irresponsible of the previous Government to order them knowing that the MoD was effectively “bust”. Any cancellation of procurement orders across the range of MoD capital spend will be very expensive, given the near certainty of heavy penalty clauses in contracts.
We had been hoping for an SDR setting out a full and frank assessment of the United Kingdom’s defence and diplomatic role in the years ahead—free of Treasury influence. However, a recent headline in the Financial Times was not encouraging. It stated:
“Treasury to have say in defence review”.
A defence figure was quoted as saying:
“What I would hope for is that we end up with a defence settlement that sees ambition deferred—not ambition deleted. We accept that we will muddle on for a bit, but hope we can raise our game when times get better”.
I fear that the Strategic Defence Review could end up as a range of options with a range of fudges.
As is known, our wing of the coalition is somewhat Trident-sceptic. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Astor, whether the “full Strategic Defence and Security Review”, mentioned in the gracious Speech, will actually include Trident.
While the United States will probably always be our major ally and our ultimate military protector, the time is right to build a major military partnership, or similar, with France—indeed, I believe that this would be welcomed by the United States. Both our countries have similar defence budgets—in total, 40 per cent of European defence spend, almost 50 per cent of the equipment budget and two-thirds of research and technology spend. We have comparable ballistic submarine capability, a comparable number of escort vessels, and much duplication in our Armed Forces and in transport and supply aircraft.
Over the years, there has been much talk but little progress. The St Malo agreement failed to deliver, the high-level working group made some progress, we have had some success in missile co-operation, the A400M transport aircraft struggles on, but we have hardly scratched the surface. The stark truth is that both our nations cannot afford to maintain a complete range of independent military capability. President Sarkozy has courageously brought France back into NATO’s military structure and has made a number of overtures to the United Kingdom for greater military co-operation. At a recent Franco-British-RUSI seminar in London, Michel Miraillet, the French defence policy director, said:
“More than ever we are ready to co-operate with the United Kingdom”,
“is the UK ready to cross the Rubicon? That is the question”.
It is a question of leadership and political will. By way of example, let us take our new carriers. There will be a number of constituent parts—rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, the crew, escort vessels and submarine protection. Surely there could be a role for the French here. Is it not time to begin to think outside the box? We cannot go on as we are.
I understand that on 18 June President Sarkozy will come to London to commemorate General de Gaulle’s 1940 appeal to the French people via the BBC. It will be the 70th anniversary of that event. Does this not present a great opportunity for our Prime Minister to hold out the hand of serious military co-operation and drive it forward, as only a Prime Minister can? Without prime-ministerial involvement, little progress is likely to be made.
My Lords, there was disappointingly little in the gracious Speech about the Government's future commitment to Afghanistan. Some indication of timescales would be helpful to inform Parliament and the public about government thinking. Perhaps in his response the Minister will be more helpful—not only on this but on the timescale for completion of the Strategic Defence and Security Review on which so much of the long-term future for the Armed Forces will hang.
When I was Chief of the Air Staff 25 years ago, the RAF had almost 90 stations, including some 28 main flying bases. Uniformed personnel totalled around 100,000 men and women. Today there are just 30 stations, of which only 14 are operational flying bases. Manpower, too, has fallen dramatically, and is now less than 40,000. In 1985, the RAF had 1,450 airframes of all types. Today's figure is just 700. In particular, there has been a large net reduction in operational fast-jet aircraft since 1985. A total of almost 550 has been reduced to less than 300, even allowing for the still-to-be-introduced latest Typhoon. On the maritime side, nothing is left of the 29 Nimrod mark 2s held in 1985.
The reductions in defence budgets over the past 25 years—from more than 5 per cent of GDP to a little over 2 per cent—account in part for this large-scale retrenchment: but within this overall reduction, the cost of some of the critical support activities of the Royal Air Force has increased relative to that of fast-jet, front-line numbers. Additional, more capable support helicopters—Chinooks and Merlins—have replaced the old Wessexes and some of the Puma fleet. Air transport, while still burdened with old and unreliable VC10 and Tristar airframes, has benefited from the increased capabilities of the large but costly C17s. Much improved surveillance capabilities, including airborne early-warning Sentries, have taken on a far greater global role than was possible with six very aged AEW Shackletons. In short, in the past 25 years, RAF effort increasingly has switched to the in-support role, at the expense of the more traditional fighter and offensive air power capability. A question for the future is whether this balance in the Royal Air Force is right: should it be moved even further to in-support roles or has it gone too far?
Those who advocate that there should be no further investment in Typhoon, for example, are taking the view that there is no call or need for adequate preparation to fight for and maintain control of the air. In the relatively benign airspace over Afghanistan and elsewhere on our recent expeditionary operations, the threat to our ground and seaborne forces of attack from the air has been negligible; but I and others who were in the services in the 1980s had a salutary reminder of the importance of effective control of the air. That salutary reminder was our experience in the Falklands.
While our air defences operated with great valour and determination, they were sorely tested by far-from-outstandingly equipped Argentinean air forces. Even though the Argentineans were operating from mainland bases at the extremities of their range, they bombed and sank four front-line warships and the “Atlantic Conveyor”, which went down with war-fighting stores, and all but one of the Chinook helicopters sent with the task force. Other ships were badly damaged and put out of action—the noble Lord, Lord West, can bear personal witness to that. At Fitzroy, the Welsh Guards were bombed while about to disembark, suffering a large number of casualties and 51 killed. Naval and Army units suffered because we lacked effective control of the airspace over our forces.
With our experience in the Falklands and the ever-present Argentinean aspirations to acquire them, the key to our ability to protect them is the safety and security of the airfield at Mount Pleasant. If that were to be seized by an Argentinean coup de main, we would no longer possess the capability to return in force by sea. Indeed with the capture of Mount Pleasant, the Argentineans would deny us any reinforcement of our available forces in the Falklands, and their aircraft would have a large forward-operating base from which to repel us. The Typhoons at Mount Pleasant, and a demonstrable ability to reinforce very rapidly by air from the United Kingdom, are the key deterrents to such an outcome. Nor should we overlook the requirements of today and into the future to police the skies around the United Kingdom. RAF Tornados and Typhoons have been scrambled regularly this year and last to investigate Russian long-range bombers operating close to our national airspace; and 9/11-style terrorist attacks from the air cannot be ruled out, either.
So what contribution do air forces make to strategic defence and security, including to expeditionary engagements? While boots on the ground have had a vital part to play in most of our recent overseas involvements, the cost in blood and treasure of prolonged major deployments and their support, particularly by much reduced front-line forces, places a considerable and worrisome strain on those involved. These levels of operation cannot be sustained indefinitely at our present, let alone a reduced, level of resources and capability. If this Administration aspire to a global presence, alternatives for the future need to be considered.
The contribution of air power—for some 17 years over Iraq between the two Gulf Wars—is an example of what can be done successfully and without being seduced into, or bogged down in, lasting and expensive operations on land. As we face the unpredictability and uncertainty of future threats, the inherent agility and adaptability of air platforms and their supporting systems should be treasured and encouraged.
Combat ISTAR is becoming one of the core competencies, providing assured intelligence and situational awareness not only to on-board offensive systems but to all types of operation by other joint forces. Indeed, the advantages can be spread to other non-military authorities and agencies caught up in an operation. Combat ISTAR is a fine contemporary example of how the inherent flexibility of air systems are re-rolled to engage in new defence tasks, giving greatly ongoing and added value to the original investment in these equipments.
In our more straitened circumstances, the case for reducing, rather than increasing, the number of ground forces, while maintaining an ability to contribute more widely and strategically by air and space, and by maritime, means to an allied expeditionary capability, should be weighed in the balance in the Strategic Defence Review. I look forward to learning that this Administration are taking such a structured and broad look at what options there are for our future strategic stance.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities, as I welcome the slender commitment in the gracious Speech—overshadowed as much of it was by a concern for economic survival—to “global collaboration” and to,
“nought point seven per cent of gross national income in development aid from 2013”.
I believe we must all hope and pray that a new-found determination among Members of your Lordships’ House to work together for the good of all will extend beyond the inshore politics of these islands and become again a model in tackling what I consider to be the most important question before us—how we are to live together in peace and uphold justice for all in this fragile and small globe.
I shall speak, first, of the dangers to this very high ideal. My fear is that preoccupation with the severity of budget cuts will divert attention from our proper concern for our ideals. First, there is the prevalence of failing states and the danger, in turn, of failing regions. This is not a local or European phenomenon but a worldwide one. Secondly, there is the changing character of conflict—to which the noble and gallant Lord referred when he spoke of the importance of our power—from conventional to irregular warfare. That undermines traditional military power and challenges past orthodoxies that military victory leads sequentially to human development and nation-building. Thirdly, there is the risk of irreversible climate change that threatens the very existence of some nations and contributes to conflict both within and between nations over competition for increasingly fragile and scarce resources.
Instead, it must be clear that we need a discussion that extends beyond considerations of national interests and the obligations of government to involve questions of national self-perception, international influence, national autonomy and moral purpose.
The Minister referred to the Sudan. The comprehensive peace agreement there has indeed survived the first elections and we await with bated breath the referendum early next year on the division of that country into two. The Minister also referred to China’s increasing interests there and elsewhere. However, it is not just the lust for oil which has destabilised that region that we should be concerned about; it is the basic commodity for life and growth—water—and the emerging struggle over control of the Nile waters between the Sudan and Egypt, most of which we assigned to Egypt in the 1950s when we were a colonial power.
As well as referring to reasons why we might find regions of the world destabilised in future and people going to war over something that we see only dimly over the horizon, I hope to turn our attention to the difficulties that the Government will find as they get caught between two points of view. The Foreign Secretary has already committed himself to a certain extent to a pragmatic way of moving forward, as he talks about serving our practical interests. But he is also on record in a speech to the IISS last September as accepting that if Britain’s ability to shape the policies and actions of others declines over the coming decades, it will become ever more important for Britain to set an example that can both inspire and challenge others, and that that may be a more significant contribution to make to the policies of the world. He said:
“Our values also include playing a pre-eminent role in the eradication of poverty and the spread of prosperity to less fortunate nations”.
I am glad to see the commitment in the gracious Speech to 0.7 per cent from 2013. However, if we accept that Britain’s approach to national security needs to be grounded in a set of values that define who we are and what we do, it is important to consider—when we are not driven so much by current emergency economic measures—the questions of who we are, what our dominant values should be and how they should inform our national security policy. The absence of clarity on those two related issues creates its own problems. In the absence of a values-based context, the default position when things get tough is likely to be fear-based. That crosses the very lines that we would have agreed not to cross if we had talked about values and identity first. It is easy to be driven by what seems to be an immediate threat, but only if we can step back and consider what we really think are the important contributions that we have to make are they likely to hold when we are under pressure.
I shall give a further example from the Sudan. I believe that in the future under government constraints, NGOs will find it increasingly difficult to obtain funding from DfID. In this context, as the Archbishops’ Council’s submission to the 2009 DfID White Paper argued, the Labour Government recognised the utility of working with faith communities but consistently shied away from working with the churches. We have to recognise that the major structural player in southern Sudan is not the fragile would-be Government of that region, but the churches that are responsible for funding and running education at primary and secondary school levels. It is an area that is twice the size of France but the number of its secondary schools is in single figures. That is the sort of pressure that the country is under, where partners with whom the Government are not used to working are the most reliable, not only in giving information about what is happening but in holding civil authority among a disparate and diverse group of nations and tribes in that troubled region.
I urge the incoming Administration to work with their partners—including some unlikely ones—not just to make a coalition between two political parties in this country but to think of other agencies with which they can work to bring effective, immediate and value-based decision-making to the forefront of our common life.
My Lords, having been a Member of one or other House within this building for the past 45 years, I thought that the speech that we heard from my noble friend Lord Ferrers yesterday was undoubtedly the best speech from the mover of the Motion on the Address that I have ever heard, and I congratulate him on it. He used one phrase that I particularly liked. He said:
“Governments consider it a matter of pride to pass more laws”.—[Official Report, 25/5/10; col. 11.]
Having read the gracious Speech, I have a feeling that our coalition seems hell-bent on doing that. There was a very long list of future legislation. I really hope that they are not overdoing it so that we will find ourselves suffering from legislative indigestion before very long, because that has a big effect on the outside world. When, years ago, I found myself in charge of a department, I said to the Permanent Secretary on the first day: “Please remember: I am not interested in legislation except where it is vital”. It may be that that is why I never moved on to take charge of another department after that.
Turning to today's debate, I add my warmest congratulations to my noble friend Lord Howell. It must be rare, I think, for one so expert and experienced in foreign affairs and government to become a Foreign Office Minister. I had the enormous pleasure to serve for 10 years in another place on the Foreign Affairs Committee under his chairmanship. Over the past 13 years here in your Lordships' House, I have admired his expertise on foreign affairs from the opposition Front Bench.
In particular, he has a great enthusiasm for the Commonwealth. I remember a study that we did on that down the other end of the Corridor many years ago. I have always admired his great enthusiasm for the Commonwealth, and I am glad to see that among his responsibilities is responsibility for Commonwealth affairs. I was sorry that yesterday, in the Speech, I was unable to find the word “Commonwealth” expressed at all. I hope that that was an oversight, and I hope that my noble friend’s influence will bring Commonwealth issues more to the fore in future.
To turn to my noble friend who will be winding up the debate, I want to make a few comments about defence, and NATO in particular. I hope that, when he winds up, he will be able to say something about our strategic defence and security review. It has already been delayed because the previous Government put it off until after the election—which is culpable. There are massive questions to answer, and a number of them have already been raised this afternoon. There is the huge question of whether in these straitened times we can afford both an updated Trident and new aircraft carriers. I do not know; I have considerable doubts as to whether we can. If my noble friend is able at this early stage to say something about that, that will be most helpful.
I am particularly concerned that as the strategic defence and security review proceeds in the months ahead, it takes place in conjunction with NATO's current moves to revise the alliance’s strategic concept. The Albright committee has already reported with a draft of its proposals to the North Atlantic Council on the alliance’s strategic concept. The new Government will have already considered this. I have a copy of it. It will clearly lead to consultation, with, I hope, the prospect of an agreement in Lisbon in November. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us an undertaking that it will be done in conjunction with our review. Can he tell us who will represent us after Mr Hoon’s departure from the Albright committee? I imagine that the committee will continue its work, and it would be interesting to know who will represent the United Kingdom.
That takes me to the matter of parliamentary oversight of defence issues. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly does a thorough job in this field. It so happens that this weekend I shall be presenting to the assembly in Riga—I am rapporteur of one of the committees—a report entitled Maritime Security: NATO and EU Roles and Co-ordination. I have spoken to your Lordships before about the problems of NATO and EU co-operation. I know that some people blame it on the Turkey/Cyprus problem and that other people say that things are improving. However, the issue needs very firm direction and I hope that the new Government will provide it. The Albright committee was pretty firm on this. I was glad to see that it said:
“NATO and EU leaders should do everything possible to prevent disagreements from interfering with effective cooperation between the two organisations”.
There are far too many overlaps and parallels between EU military affairs and NATO that need dealing with.
Lastly, in their final days the previous Government did something that ought to have been done a long time ago: they decided to wind up WEU. It was rather like deciding to put to sleep an old dog that had been useful in the past but had withered away to skin and bone. For the past few years the parliamentary arm of WEU floundered about trying to find a new role for itself, and it took on parliamentary oversight of the European Union’s common security and defence policy. When he winds up, will my noble friend tell us whether the Government continue to favour any sort of parliamentary oversight over CSDP after the demise of WEU, and, if so, where it should be taken? It should clearly not be taken in OSCE because of the Russian involvement, and it is not really a matter for the Council of Europe. I suggest that the Government look carefully at the prospect of finding a way, if possible, of attaching parliamentary oversight on CSDP to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I hope that the Government will consider that.
My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on his appointment and on his opening speech. Of course I wish my party were still in government; but given that we are not, it is a real pleasure to see him at the government Dispatch Box and to know that his experience and wisdom will be brought to bear on the coalition’s policies. He is a sensible and good man with a real gift for insightful observation.
I also look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, at the end of the debate. He has demonstrated great commitment to the Armed Forces and was a very faithful opposition spokesman. The original omission of a Lords defence Minister in the government list of Ministers appears to have been remedied, but the coalition’s apparent reluctance to appoint a Lords Minister for defence was unfortunate, especially given the unequivocal statement in the coalition document that, “We”—
that is, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister—
“are agreed that the first duty of government is to safeguard our national security and support our troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere”.
I note, too, that so far there is no Lords Minister for the Department for International Development. Perhaps that is another omission that is later to be remedied. I hope so. DfID has a huge budget that is ring-fenced and, we are told, likely to grow, unlike that of most other government departments. Ministers have to be accountable, and the fact is that there is greater expertise and greater experience in international development across all parties in your Lordships' House than in another place, and we can if necessary hold Ministers to account every day at Question Time.
I will make one other point about the ministerial composition across the FCO, defence and DfID. There are six Ministers in the FCO, five now in the Ministry of Defence and three in DfID: 14 in all, and not a single woman. That is a record to outstrip even the Senior Salaries Review Body, but it has far more serious implications. There will be no single woman Minister talking on these subjects to our interlocutors overseas. For a Government who want to lead by example, this is really appalling.
The coalition document says on page 22:
“We will recognise the vital role of women in development, promote gender equality and focus on the rights of women, children and disabled people to access services”.
Those are very fine words, but by their actions we shall know them, and promoting gender equality abroad rings very hollow indeed when we do not practise it at home.
We know that work is already under way to review the defence and security policies, and we look forward to hearing of progress there. We also know from the coalition document that Tory plans for Trident have survived and that Liberal Democrat plans for reinvigorating wider Franco-British defence co-operation have disappeared. There are no surprises there, but the defence passage of the document says nothing at all about NATO. NATO is mentioned once, and only then in a very short list of organisations with which the Government want to work over foreign affairs. Will the noble Lord, Lord Astor, when he answers this debate, tell us whether NATO will continue to be the cornerstone of our defence policy?
Will the noble Lord also tell us whether we will continue to deploy our service men and women to common security and defence policy missions? There have of course been 23 so far. Finally, will we continue to act independently in matters of defence procurement in delivering the 25 per cent cut in MoD running costs that is provided for in the document? I am really not asking him about Typhoon, the A400M, the Joint Strike Fighter, the aircraft carriers or anything else. I accept that those are matters for the defence review, but the points that I have raised here are points of principle that should underlie the way in which the defence review is carried out.
I will say a word or two about security as it appears in the foreign policy parts of the document. Will the Government continue to be committed to building strong national institutions in countries of concern to target al-Qaeda’s activities in, for example, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Middle East? Dr Liam Fox may think that the education of girls in Afghanistan has nothing to do with security in the United Kingdom, but the unbridled and unchecked message of hatred and extremism that lies at the heart of the al-Qaeda movement manifests itself in killing defenceless, uneducated and unprotected Afghan women as much as it does in killing our own soldiers in Afghanistan and our own nationals on our streets at home. The opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, certainly show that he understands that very well, and I hope that there is some straight talking with his less experienced colleagues in another place.
People want our Government and our security forces to be vigilant and to keep them safe, and they want their children to go to school in safety and to be able to go shopping in safety, but the same people also want the freedom to live their lives as they wish: to travel, to meet their friends and to have access to the media and international communications. They want government to be transparent about how security is dealt with, and they want government to be accountable for what actions are taken to protect them. That is a potent and contradictory mix of expectations and it lies at the heart of the unavoidable dilemma that the Government, like all Governments, face in balancing security and civil liberties. It is all the more difficult for coalition government. It is a real dilemma and at times a personal one.
Frankly, another piece of advice which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will give to his less experienced colleagues is on personal security. The Prime Minister’s no doubt well-intentioned decision to do away with his personal security is completely misguided. It is wrong both for him and for the country he leads. It will enhance the chances of his becoming a terrorist target and, as importantly, may put in jeopardy those who are meant to protect him and others around him.
My noble friend Lady Kinnock has dealt with a number of questions on Europe. However, I hope that the coalition will address the huge issues on stability, peace and justice that the coalition document says it wants to address. I hope that very particularly in relation to the Middle East. As the House of Lords Select Committee clearly demonstrated, Europe has a role in the Middle East peace process. The Conservative Party has signed up to that role, as the Liberal Democrats have done a trifle more willingly. American foreign policy is, of course, the crucial cornerstone in this conflict. However there is a toxic mixture of security challenges in which we, the British, as Europeans, have a real political role to play, in effect to establish a worthwhile Middle East peace process.
This conflict remains one of the most potentially dangerous for the security of all of us, complicated as it is by Iranian aggression and, to a lesser extent, by Syrian uncertainty. It is too important to be left to a US-Israel or US-Palestinian axis. We in the United Kingdom have a key voice in this European mix. I hope we will encourage more European-Arab dialogue as well as pursue our bilateral relationships, and that we will engage in real political relationships with Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Maghreb countries and, yes, even Syria.
We all know that both parties opposite are on a bit of a tightrope over Europe; their original manifestos demonstrate that very clearly. Europe runs like a golden thread through the Liberal Democrat manifesto whereas the Conservative manifesto seems to demonstrate a desire to put it in a box and shut the lid very tightly. Will the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, tell us whether Mr Cameron will now break the relationship with the partners his now deputy described as,
“a bunch of nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes”?
He went on to say that it does not help Britain, and he was right. Will David Cameron change his friends or will Nick Clegg change his mind? I would also be interested to know from the noble Lord what is likely to happen over aid to China—a country which is much richer than us, which has an enormous sovereign wealth fund and to which we are giving aid that could well be deployed elsewhere.
I wish noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, who now have to shoulder some very awesome responsibilities, well. I hope and believe that they will keep this House well informed and that we will have many more opportunities to discuss these issues.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. She was very incisive and effective as a Minister and a great role model to women in leadership, and I am glad that she spoke as she did on the lack of a woman in DfID today. I also particularly welcome the Minister’s comments on the announcement by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State on the number of nuclear weapons about which we are going to be open and on the fact that there will be a nuclear posture statement. It is an incredibly important step at exactly the right moment. I have not had time to look at the announcement in detail.
There are greater experts than me in the House today who I am sure will speak on the nuclear proliferation treaty, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. I must declare an interest: I am speaking as the co-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, of which I will speak a little more later.
The timing of the NPT conference has been difficult. It has meant that we in the UK have had our minds on other things such as elections and coalitions, and even minor things such as where we will sit, so following it from a distance has been quite hard. Perhaps the Minister could give us some indication of where he thinks the draft resolution is. As far as I can see, among the P5 it seems that Britain, China and Russia will accept the language in the current draft that relates to the UN Secretary-General's five-point disarmament plan as well as references to a nuclear weapons convention. That is very encouraging, and it would be good if the Minister could confirm it.
There are conflicting reports, however, on the positions of the United States and France. There is clearly a deep division in the US between those who want to maintain the old 20th-century position and those of vision. We saw that vision in President Obama’s tremendous initiative last September when he chaired the summit of the Security Council that adopted a far-reaching resolution on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The ambition of that resolution is important, but I want to concentrate on the steps taken towards it. If you think of nuclear war as a sheer cliff-face that you are in danger of falling off, then it is every step taken away from the edge that is really important—perhaps more immediately important than finding yourself back at your destination. The small steps are important too because, even given the divisions within and between countries, it is the small steps that take us on to common ground, which is a good place on which to build.
In this context, everyone agrees that there are more nuclear weapons around than are possibly needed; even those who believe in deterrence think so. Everyone agrees that the proliferation of fissile material is highly dangerous, much more so in a world of terrorists and unpredictable states than in a world of two superpowers. Everyone agrees that a nuclear accident would be a terrible thing.
Practical steps that move us towards a safer world in nuclear terms are not so hard. Here in the UK, under the last Government, we made an historic start with our co-operation with Norway on verification. I hope that this Government will energetically follow up the Research into the Verification of Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement Initiative. Last week the noble Lord, Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, made the case clearly when he called for much more effort in this area. He said that weapons inspectors need gadgets that can identify live warheads, while other technologies are required to confirm via satellite and other remote means that countries do not hold any clandestine nuclear weapons materials or bomb facilities. As he said, in many cases the scientific difficulties have already been overcome, but there has been no concerted effort to design and build suitable devices. This is an area of work where the UK can lead the world. We have the capability and we have the moral imperative—now we must ensure that we have the political will.
There are two other important practical steps. The first is de-alerting our nuclear warheads. Five thousand weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within 15 minutes. Even with the best command and control and safety systems in place, that is 5,000 accidents waiting to happen. There are some truly terrifying accounts of how near the world has been to accidental disaster.
I spoke of building on common ground to move us towards a future where a nuclear convention sees a world free of nuclear weapons. To do that we need both grass-roots civil movements and informed parliamentarians who can stand behind our leaders. I pay tribute to the work of the All-Party Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation and the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, who has arranged for truly inspirational speakers to speak to that group. I am glad that we have had word that it is continuing—its work is incredibly important—and now there is a top-level group of former Defence and Foreign Secretaries and those with particular expertise, who I am sure will keep the momentum going with the Government.
We need to replicate that at an international level. As I mentioned, we have Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, a group of more than 700 parliamentarians from 85 countries—including Russia, Israel, Iran, France, New Zealand, Canada and the US—which is important because those parliamentarians are realists and used to negotiation. It is a forum away from Governments, where real conversations can take place and posturing is left behind. We need our world leaders to be ambitious to make the world a much safer place. To achieve that, we need well informed parliamentarians to stand behind them, to question and to encourage, and to demand that they do not accept a world where an accident or a small regional conflict can become an immense global disaster.
We also need to be reminded of the horrors of nuclear war, and those Hiroshima survivors who still go around telling the world of the realities of surviving such a thing are incredibly important. Above all, we need honesty. I am extremely sorry that Israel has seen fit to further punish Mordechai Vanunu for coming forward and making a statement. This is a time for openness and, whatever Israel may have thought in the past about that, it should leave it in the past and allow him to live his life.
My Lords, I intend to speak only about two aspects of defence: first, the full strategic review mentioned in the gracious Speech; and, secondly, picking up a phrase from the Speech, in support of our “courageous Armed Forces” and what is called the military covenant. Before doing so, I join in the tributes paid, quite rightly, to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his appointment as Minister; I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor, whose appointment reflects the enormous amount of hard work that I know he put in as a spokesman in opposition.
I shall focus on generalities rather than detailed analysis because that will come when we have the debate on the review. If I had a magic wand, as I have mentioned in a previous debate on the probation service, I would like the clocks now not to say “0.00” but “PANT”, which stands for “People are not things”. I say that because I invite the House to remember, when considering our Armed Forces, that despite all the technical wizardry now available to them our Armed Forces consist of men and women.
When considering the selection of an aim for something like a defence review, various factors have to be considered. One is uncertainty, which will never be satisfied; and the second is affordability, which is a reality which must not be ducked. There are two definitions of “affordable”: one is, “Can you afford it?”; and the other is, “Can you afford to give up what you have to give up in order to afford it?”. I fear that in the past that second definition has been too often disregarded.
Military equipment has to be robust because it has to withstand the ravages of war and is therefore built to last. This means, inevitably, that today’s commanders are saddled with expensive, out-of-date equipment, planned for a different circumstance, which costs men and money to maintain. Would that we were in a “clean sheet of paper” situation, which we are not and never can be.
The previous two defence reviews were conducted in the shadow of the Cold War and the equipment that was ordered during the Cold War period. Our national outlook now, since 9/11 and with the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, is very different from what it was in 1998 when the last review was conducted. This suggests that a major review is both timely and essential and that no sacred cow should be excluded from it—even the existence of three separate Armed Forces—if it is necessary to produce what is required in the national circumstances of today.
In an interview for the Times on 22 May, Dr Liam Fox, the Secretary of State, said that the review was,
“an opportunity to totally reset what we think of as Britain’s global role. First, the MoD must work out what threats the country faces”.
While I welcome those statements, as I do the formation of a National Security Council, I contend that the review should not be an internal MoD exercise but should be conducted by a team representing all aspects of both our global role and our defence and security needs.
However, before such an exercise is embarked on, one other important decision needs to be made which will affect the outcome. I refer of course to the nuclear deterrent. I and many others, including my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall, have spoken out about the proposal to replace the expensive and unusable Trident system instead of opting for a less costly alternative. We are disappointed that, as in 1998, it appears likely to be excluded from the review. To exclude it is not only illogical but also denies the Government the opportunity presented by the review to take a step that has long been needed. Possession of a nuclear deterrent is a political issue, as is its use. The defence budget is currently unbalanced by the nuclear deterrent being included in it. I do not envy those with the task of conducting the review, a task made more difficult by the inclusion of the cost of the nuclear deterrent. Surely that cost should be taken out and put elsewhere, allowing the defence budget to concentrate on non-nuclear requirements.
The term “military covenant” did not exist when I was serving. In essence, the covenant means the nation’s repayment of the debt that it owes to the members of the Armed Forces in return for their preparedness to lay down their lives for the nation. Its most obvious public expression is in the frequent tributes sadly paid to the returning dead at Wootton Bassett and in response to the Help for Heroes appeal. Within the military, it is reflected in the loyalty borne upwards by service men and women to their political and military masters in the expectation that that loyalty will be reflected downwards to them.
I have therefore found it very distressing that this downward loyalty has been in question during recent years. Too many senior officers have resigned complaining of shortage of resources. Promises made by Ministers that all operational needs would be provided have gone unfulfilled. The Ministry of Defence has been required to pay back money made available to satisfy urgent operational requirements. There have been many complaints from families about living conditions. Two senior officers, General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger, were traduced in a published inquiry for their alleged responsibility for cuts that were part of the Strategic Defence Review and were held to have played a part in the tragic loss of a Nimrod in Afghanistan. The Armed Forces are accustomed to taking the rough with the smooth, but they are made up of people. They are not things and should not be treated as things.
I draw attention also to the position of veterans. I commend the previous Government for the appointment of a Minister for Veterans but regret that he was placed in the Ministry of Defence and not in the Cabinet Office. In America, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is in the Cabinet. My alarm at the growing number of veterans in prisons has alerted me to the inadequacy of the systems and organisations that could have prevented them being there by helping their resettlement into civilian life. A Minister with the authority of the Cabinet Office would be better able to influence all those organisations that can help with this process. I urgently ask the Government to consider such an appointment.
It is inevitable that the Strategic Defence Review will focus on money and things, but I hope that the Government will not forget their obligation to the courageous men and women who make up our Armed Forces under the terms of the military covenant. My ancestor, Sir John Moore of Corunna, laid down the ethos of the Light Division as being a mutual bond of trust and affection between all ranks, which the officers had to earn. Unless government earns the trust of their Armed Forces by honouring their obligations, I fear that they could respond with their feet, which would be calamitous for the defence and security of our great nation.
My Lords, many of us in this still great country of ours feel that that we have lost our way and our standing in the world. Countries worldwide still look to us for moral leadership, in particular from the Commonwealth, which has contributed so much over the centuries to the enrichment of our nation—most importantly, with their blood in two world wars. They still look to us for leadership in international trade, defence and, perhaps most of all, diplomatic leadership in this difficult and increasingly dangerous world in which we live.
The Strategic Defence Review, which has been heavily delayed, can be meaningful only on the back of a clear, long-term, far-sighted foreign policy, clearly determining this country’s future role in world affairs, our vested interests and moral responsibilities being key. This review must be long term—say, 30 years—if our armed services are to create, build and, most importantly, train appropriately in order to carry out the requirements of government and Parliament. I, for one, am optimistic that we will deal with our short-term financial difficulties, probably sooner rather than later. The world is not coming to an end, and this country’s wealth will grow again. Indeed, world container trades are already indicating that global expansion is again taking place. This is, of course, subject to Governments making sensible long-term decisions on how to deal with sovereign and private debt. I am saying this because it would be hugely short-sighted to base our long-term needs on short-term expediency. The present defence needs have been heavily undermined by the continual chipping away at the defence budget, which was recently 4.6 per cent of GDP but is now close to only 2 per cent. Our defence chiefs are having to use money allocated to future capital commitment to meet today’s needs. Of course, procurement must produce value for money, but our defence chiefs must have an effective structure in place to deliver its commitment to government policy. Ultimately, the dedication of our serving personnel and the quality of their training and, most importantly, their morale is what make our armed services some of the best in the world.
A lack of long-term commitment of funds, both capital and revenue, is the main cause of friction and is dangerous in the long run. The defence of the realm is the key responsibility of a Prime Minister and the Government of the day. I look forward to David Cameron as Prime Minister, William Hague as Foreign Secretary and Liam Fox as Defence Secretary delivering clarity and total commitment to these vital needs.
I am strongly supportive of our involvement in Afghanistan. Containment is vital in order to stop the possibility of the Taliban creating a situation whereby a truly extremist Government could take over and therefore have access to nuclear weapons. The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and others have said in the past that this containment was essential in order to stop further problems within our own communities at home. There is a bigger picture. Being somewhat familiar with the region, I believe that the key reason for our involvement is that spelt out by Henry Kissinger a couple of months ago before the surge. There is great tension on the India/Pakistan border, with hundreds of thousands of troops already deployed. India will not tolerate such a dangerous development in Pakistan, as well as being conscious of the effect that it could have on its own Muslim population and its increasing Maoist problems in the north-east and in the other central Asian Muslim states in that geographical area. The possibility of a much greater conflagration in that area could suck in other major countries on their borders, with all that that would mean to world peace. For me, that clearly spells out the case for containment, and nobody could possibly say that that scenario is not of vital interest to this country.
Having said that, I am troubled by views that the Afghanistan campaign is typical of conflicts that we will need to fight in years to come. The ongoing argument, therefore, is that the Army, which is of course doing a superb job, should become the key service for the future and be funded accordingly. I would be surprised if that is the official view as our armed services must have a balanced capability, always preparing for the unexpected. They work together in an integrated system of delivery.
The Navy, for example, is organised and trained to be inherently deployable and deployed at a moment’s notice. That was demonstrated during the Falklands and Sierra Leone campaigns. In Afghanistan alone, for example, nearly 900 naval personnel are deployed to Operation Herrick, including 40 Commando and detachments from the Naval Air Squadron. A naval squadron of Sea Kings is also involved in battlefield reconnaissance and counter-IED support. The Fleet Diving Squadron, bomb disposal teams, medics and engineers are also there.
When the rest of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines returns to Afghanistan early next year, 10 per cent of the total naval service strength will be in theatre, namely 3,500, amounting to about one-third of the total UK forces in Operation Herrick. The Royal Air Force also has deployments there. Our future naval carrier groups will give this country great flexibility being both a major deterrent capability and, when needed, a highly effective fighting force, working together with the Army and the Royal Air Force. That investment must be continued together with rebuilding our fleet of frigates, which is down to a totally unrealistic level, taking account of our present needs.
My deep interest in world affairs is in the main due to my business involvement in world trade and shipping in all its forms over some 40 years. It has brought me alongside the Foreign Office, the armed services and, in particular, the Royal Navy. This country’s interests over the centuries have always been interwoven with the great trade routes. Indeed, in the main, we created them, crossing the oceans of the world. It should never be forgotten that 95 per cent of this island’s trade today is by sea. The success of our defence industries—whose interests, by the way, are much wider than defence—is largely linked to our defence procurement needs. This is critically important to UK plc. The companies themselves and hundreds of subcontractors employ some tens of thousands of the finest brains in this country, mostly emanating from our finest universities. It is a key area for our future economic growth. I do not think that it is generally known that the defence position in economic terms is very positive on many fronts and not a drain on financial resources. I understand that a committee created by the former Government and chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, recently came to a similar conclusion.
Pacifism is a proven danger and many of us in this country still feel that we have a rightful role to play on the world stage. I have no wish to become, sad to say, a Belgium. This is a proud country and over the centuries these windswept islands have contributed hugely to the world at large. It is a great compliment that we are still expected to play an important world role. I am sure that many here will agree that it is still part of our destiny. In order to be able to achieve that, strong leadership will be the key.
I noticed that our manifesto referred to this country as Britain. I hope in the coming years that we can become Great Britain again. After all, even our French friends still call us Grande-Bretagne.
My Lords, at my age I am encouraged by the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. He has great experience and I am confident that he has a great future before him. I congratulate him and my noble friend Lady Kinnock on two very good speeches.
My question is simple. After 13 years, there has been a change of Government. What new things can we expect in foreign policy or in defence and international development policy from the new Government? Clearly, on the domestic side, there have been radical changes, most notably seen in respect of education. Are foreign affairs different? Much of the context of foreign affairs is outside our control. However, there is continuity and traditionally there has been a bipartisan approach, so what might we expect? We at least have the advantage of the coalition document, but I should give a disclaimer: documents will tell us only part of the story. Had we read the speeches made by members of the Labour Government in 1997, we would have known nothing of the Iraq war or Afghanistan. Foreign policy is very much a response—a principled response, one hopes—to the problems that we face as a country.
The foreign affairs section of the document lists a series of problems, beginning with Afghanistan. Afghanistan was not a particularly good start for this Government. I suspect that the mandarins at the Foreign Office gave the advice, “You will not influence people or make friends on the eve of a visit to Afghanistan by describing it as a ‘broken 13th-century country’”. They would have said that, if three Ministers were to visit, they should at least sing from the same hymn sheet to ensure a degree of harmony.
The introductory paragraph of the section on foreign affairs talks of,
“working as a constructive member of the United Nations, NATO and other multilateral organisations including the Commonwealth”.
That is rather puzzling, as normally the European Union would be included in such a list. There is nothing exceptional on defence or international development, but there is no mention of the political consequences of what might happen to the Foreign Office budget and the importance of foreign policy, particularly in relation to conflict prevention. I look forward to hearing the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on that.
The document also contains the heading “Europe”. A phrase from the introductory paragraph shines out. The document talks of striking,
“the right balance between constructive engagement with the EU … and protecting our national sovereignty”.
When I read the phrase “constructive engagement”, I thought, “Where have I heard that before?”. I recalled that it was the phrase used by the Government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in the 1980s in respect of apartheid South Africa. The phrase is also now used by France and the United States in respect of Syria. It gives the impression of a bilateral relationship between us and an external organisation—worse, if one thinks of South Africa and Syria, a rather dubious organisation—called the European Union. Who would think that we have been a member of the European Union for well nigh 40 years? One cannot have a bilateral relationship with an organisation of which one is a full and influential member. Perhaps this is not a puzzle after all, but something that leads from the Government’s view of the Union.
The rest of the section on Europe is essentially negative. The context is the decision of the Conservative Party to leave the EPP for what the Deputy Prime Minister called “a bunch of nutters” and the failure of the Conservative Party to realise that, in our national interest, we have to work with appropriate political families. That is how the European Union works. It does no service to the party or, more important, to our national interest to leave a grouping that includes Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy.
The truth is that our external influence is much enhanced by our working together through the European Union. We are no longer capable of acting alone; the Falklands was perhaps the last such unilateral initiative. The document also mentions the Middle East, but we are a member of the quartet not as Britain but as a member of the European Union. It mentions Iran, but in relation to Iran we are not there as the UK but as a member of the EU3. It mentions the western Balkans as a priority but in the western Balkans we work through the European Union’s special representatives. There seem to be a coyness and reluctance to recognise those realities.
In defence there is no mention of co-operation with France and certainly no mention of the CSDP. We know about this because it is a British admiral at Northwood who is heading Operation Atalanta. On international development there is no mention that much of our aid is channelled through the European Union. Are we, then, going to have a rerun of 1994-97, when we were pretty well marginalised in Brussels? Probably not, of course, because the Liberal Democrats will, I hope, moderate the anti-EUism of much of the Conservative Party and at least prevent major sprats being thrown to the Europhobes. That is why there was some relief in Brussels at the general election result. I hope the breathing space will be used constructively by the Government to learn some of the realities.
Yes, let us campaign against Euro-waste. Let us campaign against the excessive directives and aim for democracy in respect of, for example, parliamentary accountability on defence. As the former French ambassador to the UK wrote in a recent article in the Financial Times, there are choices to be made. There are,
“two options. Either we can return to the past … or we can take another route and see what the UK and France, together with other partners in Europe, can propose to make the European Union more relevant to our citizens’ needs at home and more respected in the world”.
That is the challenge; that is the choice—to work, as far as we can, in harmony with partners, and not constructive engagement with an external entity.
My Lords, in terms of the United Kingdom’s engagement with the developing world, particularly the African continent, I for one take great pride in our continued commitment to achieving 0.7 per cent of gross national income in the aid budget. Two major respected reports published yesterday—by the Africa Progress Panel, headed by Kofi Annan, and to the monitoring agency DATA—highlight the efforts made by the UK. The United Kingdom is the only G8 country to have delivered on its G8 commitments and be on course to meet the 0.7 per cent of GNI goal by 2013. The United Kingdom continues to be the second largest country contributor of budget support to sub-Saharan Africa and has pledged major sums to the education and agricultural sectors annually over the next five years.
In this short contribution I wish to raise issues for the Government to address in several UK development aid destinations in Africa—for example in Uganda and in Congo—and stress the work of the All-Party Great Lakes Group. I seek assurances on the effectiveness of aid reaching its intended destinations; of evidence that robust audit trails are in place; that anti-corruption, transparency and accountability procedures are embedded; and, most importantly, that funding is granted on the basis of measured effectiveness in achieving project goals for the people intended on the ground, where it matters.
The coalition Government’s programme states:
“We will support pro-development trade deals, including the proposed Pan-African Free Trade Area”.
In the DRC, where the UK is the largest bilateral donor, one of the key elements perpetuating the conflict in the region is the revenue gathered by armed groups engaged in the illegal extraction of the DRC’s minerals. Trading for Peace is an important part of achieving stability, but to see results we must be able to regulate United Kingdom companies to prevent them trading with armed groups. I urge our Government to ensure that strong due diligence standards are in place for UK companies trading ore and refined metals from the Great Lakes region. It is widely accepted that this is inherent in preventing the investments which the UK is making in education, infrastructure and security sector reform being jeopardised.
In the coalition Government’s programme, the Government are committed to providing,
“a more integrated approach to post-conflict reconstruction where the British military is involved … creating a new Stabilisation and Reconstruction Force to bridge the gap between the military and the reconstruction effort”.
In 2007, the United Kingdom signed a 10-year, £700 million development partnership deal with Uganda to help the country rebuild after decades of civil conflict. The peace, recovery and development plan for northern Uganda was initially published with a 2007 to 2010 timeframe. Implementation saw a slow start, with complex funding modalities still being worked out well into 2008. Only in 2009 did progress start to be made, with DfID support. Observers in Uganda and in the international community remain concerned that development in the north of the country—despite significant donor investment by the World Bank, the United States, us, and others—is very slow. Questions are being asked more and more frequently, and with increasing firmness, about where the money is going. I urge the Government to take these concerns seriously and to accept that this is a clear example of the need for transparent accountability and an effective audit trail.
In his opening speech the Minister mentioned Sudan. Do the Government agree with the Sudan All-Party Parliamentary Group that to avoid a contested secession and the risk of a return to full-scale conflict, they and other international guarantors should concentrate now on the January 2011 referendum—in particular, reaching agreement on issues such as citizenship for southerners or northerners settled on the “wrong” side of the border, oil-revenue sharing, border demarcation and crossing rights along the north-south boundary?
Returning to the DRC, reports from Human Rights Watch released in Washington last week confirmed that there has been no let up in the LRA's atrocities since its appalling rampage through north-eastern DRC in December 2009. Between January and early April, 96 civilians were slaughtered and dozens more, mainly children, were abducted. Human Rights Watch is calling on the US Government to swiftly implement new legislation to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians from LRA attacks. Research has confirmed that the atrocities were carried out by LRA commanders reporting to General Ongwen—who, along with two other LRA leaders, has been subject to an ICC arrest warrant, outstanding for nearly five years.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, MONUC, has few troops in the area and, hampered by poor local roads, rarely leaves town. It is unable to prevent, let alone respond to, the recent attacks. The Congolese and Ugandan armed forces also have a presence in the area but, with poor logistics and communications, they too have been unable to provide adequate security for civilians. Human Rights Watch is calling on the US and other donor nations to help the Congolese improve communications systems in the LRA-affected areas, permit UN peacekeepers and others to respond quickly to attacks and pinpoint where LRA leaders are hiding.
Human Rights Watch claims that depending on the Ugandan army to end the threat of the LRA is a strategy that is not working. It is calling for the US, other Governments in the region and other concerned states to go back to the drawing board to develop new policy options to end the LRA’s violence and, in particular, to find more effective strategies to apprehend the wanted LRA leaders.
MONUC’s recent mandate, UNSCR 1906, expires on 31 May 2010, and the local population are fearful that without MONUC there will be no identifiable security service in the DRC at all. President Kabila continues to press for a full MONUC drawdown by August 2011, prior to the presidential elections. Many observers warn of creating a security vacuum and a return to instability.
As my final observation, I urge that the Government endorse the extension of MONUC’s mandate for a further 12 months and support proposals to broaden its mandate with regard to cross-border LRA apprehension operations. Do the Government agree with the many Security Council members who would like to see MONUC take a stronger role in co-ordinating security sector reform within its commitment to stabilisation?
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the new Government, and particularly the element of continuity represented by the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, as their principal spokesman in this House for international relations. He may have crossed the Floor literally if not in party political terms, but his views and experience are already well known to all in this House and, I believe, are greatly respected.
The world into which this new Government have been born is pretty troubled. A lot more problems than solutions are in sight. The multipolarity which succeeded that brief and unhappy period of US unipolarity has yet to take proper shape, with some of the main emerging powers seemingly uncertain as to whether to assert their increasing influence in efforts to work for the collective common good, or whether to push ahead in a mercantilist way and frustrate attempts to strengthen the multilateral institutions on whose effectiveness so much of our and their future prosperity and security depend.
At the same time we and other European countries have been punching a good deal below our weight in recent months; and the Obama Administration, who set their course so hopefully 18 months ago, and whose main international objectives still seem to be admirable ones which we largely share, remain heavily preoccupied by domestic issues and are only too likely to be weakened by the mid-term elections in November. No wonder if there is a sense of drift, cynicism and disillusionment about the international community’s joint capacity to face up to the global challenges before us—whether they are from trade protectionism, terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation or the shortfall in meeting the millennium development goals.
Making a serious contribution to dispelling that sense of drift must surely be a priority for the Government. I hope that the Minister will, before too long, say a bit more than he has been able to say this afternoon about how the Government intend to set about this task—what their aims are for the two G20 summit meetings already scheduled for later this year; how they plan to extract the Doha round of trade negotiations from the doldrums in which it is becalmed; and how they intend to move the climate change negotiations beyond the inadequate and fragile deal struck at Copenhagen on to the firmer ground of a legally binding set of commitments, properly monitored and verified on an international basis. I have to say that the coalition agreement on the climate change point was singularly fuzzy and vague. How do the Government intend to pursue the twin aims of nuclear disarmament and proliferation and deal with the threats to the non-proliferation treaty from the policies of North Korea and Iran? In that context, I warmly welcome the statement by the Foreign Secretary, which the noble Lord referred to, about our warhead assets and our nuclear posture. In fact, I wrote to the previous Foreign Secretary before the two big nuclear conferences this spring and suggested that we should do just that. He did not do it and he did not reply.
No one reading those parts of the two parties’ election manifestos which dealt with the European Union can fail to be struck by the sharp contrast between them, as several others have said before me. The Conservative document was a long litany of negatives—a list of things that the European Union must not be allowed to do or, perhaps even less realistically, must desist from doing. The Liberal Democrat document set out many objectives which any supporter of our membership would applaud. Producing one policy out of those contradictions will not be an easy task, but the coalition agreement seems to represent a first hesitant step down that road. What this country cannot afford is to zig-zag between two unreconciled sets of European Union policies. But nor can it afford to have no EU policy objectives at all, which is what a cursory reading of the gracious Speech might lead one to suppose was the situation.
I hope that the Government will not head back down the long dark tunnel of institutional wrangling from which the EU has only just emerged with the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. Surely it is better to concentrate on the substantive policy areas where our objectives and those of the EU broadly coincide—on trade, climate change, energy security, completing the single market, resuming growth and increasing productivity—so that we are not left far behind by the emerging countries that are coming out of recession much faster than we are.
Pursuing further enlargement, against the views of the doubters, is another policy that we should support, along with preparing carefully for the next major budgetary negotiations, which will be upon us before long, and building up common policies towards Russia and in support of US efforts to achieve progress in the Middle East. All these are surely far more urgent requirements than tilting at the windmills of further and unspecified treaty changes.
Any foreign policy worthy of respect requires a minimum of resources if it is to be effective. The outgoing Government have left the Foreign and Commonwealth Office well short of that minimum, and with the prospect of falling even further short as the wider pressure builds for drastic cuts in spending. What seems not to have been appreciated is that, by removing the protection for the foreign and Commonwealth budget from exchange-rate fluctuations, and as a consequence of rising, legally binding international obligations such as UN-assessed contributions for peacekeeping, the FCO has been facing proportionately far greater cuts than any domestic department, at a time when Britain's relative decline in economic weight increases the need for a nimble, effective diplomatic effort. When a country is rising up the international league tables, everyone beats a path to its door; but alas, the contrary is also true. Surely now is not the time to starve our diplomacy of resources. I hope that the Minister will assure us, when he winds up the debate, that the extremely welcome strategic defence and security review that the new Government have set in hand will cover the issue of resources for our diplomacy, and that meanwhile no irretrievable damage to our resource base will be allowed.
The Government have set themselves the laudable objective of finishing a five-year term. That must be welcome from the foreign policy point of view, because short-termism is inimical to an effective foreign policy. I welcome it also from a wider constitutional point of view. However, we cannot afford a period of introspection, of turning our backs on the world's problems. Glib remarks about Britain not being a global policeman sound pretty odd at a time when we are providing 200 to 300 peacekeepers to a United Nations that has deployed roughly 100,000 worldwide. We need to set out now, with realism but also a degree of ambition, to make the most of our partnerships and alliances in Europe, across the Atlantic and in the Commonwealth. We must remember that, hard-pressed financially though we feel and undoubtedly are, we are still a country that, working with others, can make a difference; and that we have a responsibility so to do.
My Lords, I will devote my remarks to current developments and challenges in southern Africa. While the gracious Speech made no mention of Africa, it did mention Her Majesty's Government's commitment to development aid. I wholeheartedly support the Government's agenda for international development, as outlined in One World Conservatism. At a time of economic uncertainty, when budgets are tight, the focus on aid effectiveness and value for money becomes all the more critical. To this end, I welcome the establishment of the independent aid watchdog, which is an excellent move towards results-driven aid and a re-evaluation of where the money goes. I was also pleased to see a commitment to more involvement of the private sector, and to public/private partnerships, in an effort to achieve the millennium development goals. I firmly believe that aid should be linked with trade when considering the needs of Africa.
There have been many extremely encouraging developments in Africa over the past 20 years, from 1990 when there were only four elected democracies to the peak in 2005 when there were 24 elected democracies. That is all very encouraging but, in its quest for greater democratisation and economic growth, the continent is still dogged with the problems of corruption and a lack of transparency and accountability, as well as a lack of infrastructure and power shortages. Sadly, in some countries such as Zimbabwe, political hardliners are clearly more interested in their personal wealth and prosperity than in the interests of their people.
In just over two weeks’ time, South Africa will be hosting the World Cup. In the words of President Jacob Zuma:
“This is the single greatest opportunity we have ever had to showcase our diversity and potential to the world”.
I firmly believe that after years of doubt and criticism, the World Cup will confound the pessimists and be a resounding success. Preparations for the World Cup have not only taken the country’s infrastructure to new levels, with new airports, ports, roads and rail links, but have also provided a focus for social cohesion which could—I say “could”—and, I hope, will result in the social legacy that is the most important thing of all.
Thankfully, South Africa emerged from the credit crunch and global recession in considerably better shape than many of its trading partners in the G8 and avoided the worst effects of the economic contraction. However, while the country boasts many economic achievements, it desperately needs to tackle the deep-seated problems such as skills shortages, high unemployment and poverty. That is why I was very encouraged by the recent budget speech by the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, in which he focused on five priorities—healthcare, education, housing and rural development, tackling crime and, finally, promoting job creation in a sustainable way.
Inadequacies in the power supply in southern Africa will continue to be a serious constraint in the growth of business and inward investment into the region. Just as important as power supply are water management and distribution issues, which are also likely to become major constraints in the region.
Great strides have been achieved in southern Africa in tackling the spread of HIV/AIDS. Of course, South Africa has the worst statistics in the world when it comes to HIV. However, in my opinion not enough has been done to tackle the scourge of malaria in the region. I was, therefore, delighted to note that £500 million will be pledged every year to tackle malaria.
A lot was achieved by the recent state visit of Jacob Zuma here in March. This was all incorporated in the joint declaration on 4 March. One of the subjects—a point raised by the Minister—was the need for South Africa to play a more proactive role to complete the implementation of the global political agreement in Zimbabwe, paving the way for free and, one hopes, fair elections there.
Many would argue that Zimbabwe is in a state of stalemate. Although I have some reservations as to the road map and the timetable for full and fair elections in the country, over the past year the transitional Government have achieved some major breakthroughs. Following the implementation of the de-dollarisation of the currency in January last year, gone are the days of hyperinflation, where a 100-trillion dollar note was worth just £2.50. This has had a knock-on effect with an improvement in agricultural performance, a doubling of tobacco production and a mild economic recovery. Also, all the schools and hospitals have now reopened. Hospitals have far better access to clean water, and food is more readily accessible on supermarket shelves. However, the political hardliners—the likes of Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister; Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Minister of Defence; Chiwenga, the Minister of Police; and of course Robert Mugabe—have clearly been stalling the process towards elections.
While talks have started on agreeing the constitution, progress has been extremely slow. Much needed inward investment has been stalled by political uncertainty and the recently introduced Act on indigenisation and the poor state of infrastructure—particularly the lack of power and the skills shortage, with more than a third of all Zimbabweans living out of the country—has certainly not helped the situation.
Following his recent state visit here, President Zuma visited Zimbabwe. It is encouraging that following that visit and the meetings with President Mugabe a human rights commission, a media commission and an electoral commission have been established, the membership of all three having been agreed by all three parties.
With ZANU-PF being in a state of disarray, with several factions being held together by Robert Mugabe, and with the President being 86 years old—many would say 86 years young—there is a real opportunity for a breakthrough. It is well known that Robert Mugabe had a major dislike for the Labour Government and he has made it clear that he would like to work with the Conservative Government. I hope that we can have a full debate on current developments in Zimbabwe in your Lordships’ House. On that note, I pay tribute to the contributions of the late Baroness Park and the late Lord Blaker, both of whom have made major contributions in your Lordships’ House and who are sorely missed. I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his ministerial appointment. He certainly has deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in Zimbabwe.
In conclusion, democracy, trade, technology and regional integration are certainly transforming Africa. It will not achieve the key millennium goals, but lack of money is not the key issue. Focus must be on good governance, transparency and accountability—in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, “robust audit trails”. I wish our coalition Government good steer in implementing their ambitious programme.
My Lords, before contributing to this debate I should mention my business interests and their international operations set out in the register. It is a great privilege to speak in this important debate at the start of a new Government. Like others, I am delighted to follow on from the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Howell, who brings great experience and wisdom to his resumed role as a Minister and whose speeches and writings on this topic I have greatly admired over the years.
I am conscious that much of what I have said in this House over recent years on foreign affairs has focused on our relationships with Europe. I hope that the House will forgive me if I say very little about that today because my message is that we risk being overly fixated on Europe at the expense of looking outward to the exciting opportunities in the wider world. We are, of course, a European civilisation. Europe is the family home in which Britain has been shaped and grown, but while Europe is our past, it does not define and should not constrain our future. Our future lies beyond Europe in the global opportunities in the wider world.
Important as Europe is, we need to recognise that it is now the continent that over the next few decades will experience some of the slowest growth—slowest economic growth, slowest population growth and slowest wealth creation. That will be exacerbated if old Europe clings to its attachment to inflexible social and economic policies and inward-looking protectionism. The growth, excitement and innovation over the next century lie elsewhere in the world. Britain, with its historic trading skills and global connections is almost uniquely placed to benefit from that new world order. We are still, in our own right, one of top five global trading nations. We must build on our huge advantages, inspire young people with the vision of Britain as not only one of the premier global trading nations but as a huge force for freedom, common understanding and partnership around the world.
The statistics speak for themselves. The growth rates in India and China mean that by 2050 those two countries together are likely to account for roughly half of the world’s GDP. We should welcome that. Just as the development of North America drove world growth in the 19th and 20th centuries, these countries will lead the development of world prosperity in the century to come. Both India and China now produce more graduates in science and engineering than either the US or Europe and the gap is widening. Their investment in research and innovation is rapidly catching up and is likely to outstrip the US and Europe in the next few years, fuelling their own knowledge-based economies. It is the same picture with many of the other fast emerging economies around the globe.
During the past two decades, some two-thirds of the increase in the world’s GDP came from growth in the existing industrialised nations. Over the next decade two-thirds of the world’s growth will come from the newly developing economies. It is those markets that provide our prime opportunity for growing trade and investment. Sharing in this growth must be top of the UK’s priorities. Fortunately it is an opportunity for which Britain is particularly well placed. We only have to travel the world in a business context to appreciate the advantages that come naturally to us.
First and foremost is the English language. Because of that and our historic links there is often a shared base of English education. There is respect for our legal traditions and our democracy, and of course, for the BBC World Service. We are blessed with a strong band of skilled and respected expatriates, often from families with a history of overseas service. Here in Britain we have skills, talent and reputation in many global service industries, such as financial services, of course, but also in arts and culture, biotechnology, engineering, law, and many others. These may seem soft benefits but their impact on the real world of trade and commerce should not be underestimated. These same factors have made Britain still the primary European destination for inward investment from India, China and other developing nations. That makes another invaluable linkage.
Yet in most of our post-war period, in particular the previous decade, it has seemed as if we have been turning our back on our historic connections, letting our reputation and influence decay, while other nations have jostled to take our place. We need to cast off the prejudices and myopia of the post-war generation and look at the world through a new prism. An important part of that is to reset our national mindset to see the Commonwealth not so much as our past but as a core part of our future. The world has changed from the days of huge power blocs. The fundamental building blocks of a prosperous and peaceful world order in the 21st century are stable and secure nation states at ease with themselves and able to forge links and co-operation from a position of self-confidence and recognition of common interests. The 21st century, with global internet communication and economies built on trading knowledge, lends itself to a global network of co-operating nation states that share values, language and common interests. It is the era for which the Commonwealth could have been purpose-built, encompassing one-third of the world’s population and already more than a quarter of the world’s GDP, including many of the developing economies such as India, Malaysia and Singapore, with the fastest economic growth, and countries such as Canada and Australia which are rich with natural resources—a 21st century club of co-operation, partnership and mutual respect
Yet it has been treated almost as an embarrassment and a reminder of a colonial past rather than as a gateway to the future. When the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—despite it name—last set out its priorities in the 2006 White Paper, it included just one passing reference to the Commonwealth on page 23, but the Commonwealth appeared nowhere in the nine government priorities. Spending on embassies and representation around the world has been squeezed to focus resources on Europe. At the same time as cutting back, we are committed to funding a massive expansion of the EU’s own diplomatic service which aims to build representation in 136 countries and employ thousands of staff. Co-operation between friendly nations to look after each others’ interests in far flung locations is always sensible, but this goes much further and it is inevitable that Britain’s commercial interests will at best be diluted if not pushed down the queue. Equally, the BBC World Service has been treated as an easy target for cuts, instead of valued as one of Britain's most powerful and envied assets.
By contrast, the post-war vision of creating an integrated regional power bloc in Europe is an idea whose time has passed. Indeed, the attempt to force the nations of Europe into a centralised political and monetary union built in its own tensions, and the cracks are now showing. That is why I support the Government’s clear stance against shifting any further powers from the UK to Brussels. We need a constructive relationship with a stable Europe in our back yard, but Europe needs a different model for changed times, and the UK needs a fresh start.
I welcome the statement in the coalition programme that, alongside a strong relationship with United States, we will strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for democratic values and development, will work to develop a special relationship with India and closer engagement with China and intensify our cultural, educational, commercial and diplomatic links with other nations beyond Europe and North America. Those are targets which the Government should see as core to their purpose.
I end by citing briefly from a paper published by the Centre for Policy Studies in 2006, the author of which was none other than my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. In that paper, he stated:
“Britain badly needs a new foreign policy appropriate to the twenty-first century. Specifically, our international stance must become less narrowly Eurocentric and be adapted to make much more use of the more modern and far more adaptable Commonwealth network which is at our disposal”.
I could not have put it better and I look forward to supporting my noble friend in pursuing those aims in government.
My Lords, I too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his appointment as a Minister. As he has demonstrated today in his opening address, he has a masterly knowledge of the areas that he will be covering and will be very much welcomed by this House. I particularly warmly welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, to his responsibility for defence. I would have preferred it to have been unencumbered by the responsibilities of being a Whip as well, but the years of hard work and commitment to defence and the honest manner and balanced judgment with which he approached it in opposition was a credit to him, to his party and to this House. I know that that will carry through to his appointment as a Minister. I look forward to working with him and hearing his many contributions in this Chamber—starting with his first winding-up speech as a Minister.
My noble friend Lady Kinnock demonstrated her enormous knowledge of the topics that she covers. I was delighted today to see that the feisty approach that she has to topics that are so close to her heart, but also ruled by the head, which is a marvellous combination, will be carried through in opposition.
I very much welcome the announcement of the Strategic Defence Review in the gracious Speech. That decision had been taken by the Labour Government, and I am delighted that the coalition Government will follow it through. The last time that we had a defence review, we were in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, and it was conducted on a completely different basis from what we are expecting from our Armed Forces today.
We on these Benches have always supported the brave and courageous men and women in our Armed Forces, who have demonstrated clearly that they are prepared to pay—and many have paid—the ultimate price. We will continue to support them and support the coalition Government on any policy which is to the benefit and in the best interests of our Armed Forces. I welcome the announcement today that the defence budget for this year will be maintained. I read into that a limited commitment; we will be watching that very closely.
Although we on these Benches are a bit out of practice in opposition, we are quick learners and we will be following very closely and analytically how the Government deliver on the policies that they have promised, not only in the election manifestoes of both parties that form the coalition but in the coalition document itself.
The reference in the gracious Speech to the Strategic Defence Review is one of the shortest paragraphs in the Speech. It does not refer to timing, process or intended outcomes. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Astor, to cast some light on that when he winds up. Neither it nor the coalition document refers to the 2007 commitment given by the now Defence Secretary when he was shadow Defence Secretary that a Conservative Government would increase Army personnel and manning by three new battalions. That was confirmed again in 2009, but there has been no reference to it since, so I ask the Minister to confirm that that promise will be met.
The coalition document refers to MoD running costs being reduced by 25 per cent. That is a substantial amount. We know that to get anything like that reduction will take time. Therefore, in the mean time, will there be new money for the announcement of the doubling of the operational allowance for personnel in Afghanistan, or will it come from somewhere else? If it comes from somewhere else, where is that in a badly stretched MoD budget? We talk about Afghanistan because it is a huge issue for us, but we have Armed Forces personnel in operational theatres throughout the rest of the world. I question whether it was the right decision to announce that doubling to the exclusion of personnel in other operational theatres—I am talking about Iraq, but not solely Iraq. Is it being considered whether to extend it to other personnel?
The coalition document also states that they will look at scope to refurbish Armed Forces accommodation from efficiencies within the MoD. Are those efficiencies in addition to the 25 per cent? Where are the efficiencies intended to come from? Will they come from operational Armed Forces or civilian staff?
In the Armed Forces Pay Review Body report this year, which the Labour Government accepted, the chief executive of the defence housing services informed them that last year saw the largest expenditure ever on Armed Forces accommodation—£50 million was brought forward from future years' projected spending. Do the coalition Government intend to stick to that? If so, that is adopting a Labour Government policy. What is the intention behind the coalition document? The document goes on to say that the Armed Forces’ pay is included in plans for fair play. I think that that was a Liberal Democrat policy, but what does it mean? I do not know what that means, especially as the Armed Forces have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Is it intended to change its remit? If so, why? Is it intended to interfere in the work that it is doing? Those questions need answering.
I was pleased to see the trio of Ministers go to Afghanistan so quickly. That said, I suspect that David Beckham's visit at the same time got more airtime, TV minutes and bigger smiles on the faces of the Armed Forces personnel. However, I was always brought up to believe that if you go into someone's house, you adopt good manners even if you do not agree with them. The statement equating Afghanistan to a 13th century medieval country was a foot in the mouth by the Minister concerned. Let us hope that we can get over that and start to have good relations that will help our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. We owe much to our Armed Forces. In return, I am pleased that the new coalition Government are talking about the importance of the military covenant. That is how we repay to them what they are prepared to give to the country.
We will have many debates on the Strategic Defence Review; I look forward to them; but both the gracious Speech and the coalition document raise more questions than they answer.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a member of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, in her remarks about and compliments to the new Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. In the many debates we have had in this House, I have always been very struck by his great ability to see the world as it changes and to grasp that it is beginning to alter radically. He has always reminded us of that by telling us about the emergence of new countries, such as China and India, into real prominence, and about the vital importance of taking their interests and influence into account. He is right in that. He is a man with a wide grasp of what is going on in the world. Many of us have come to deeply appreciate him over the years in which we have had the great benefit of hearing him contribute to debates on international affairs. Let me also say that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, shares the amazing characteristic of her husband in being able to equate her passionate commitment with her brilliant eloquence. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing what she has to say as the opposition spokesman on these matters.
It is important to say things that are true about parties other than our own in this House. One of the missed opportunities was when the former Prime Minister, the right honourable Gordon Brown, who had established a considerable international reputation in the field of nuclear non-proliferation, inspection and, not least, verification, decided in April, because the election was so proximate, not to declare what he was inclined to declare; namely, that the United Kingdom would not use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear country that was in alignment with its requirements and in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It was a long step forward in the long battle to have a more civilised approach to nuclear weapons. Understandably, the former Prime Minister felt unable to make that statement at the United Nations in New York because the election was so close. Only a few weeks later, we had such a statement from President Obama in the nuclear posture review. In taking the position that he took, he repeated that commitment to non-nuclear-weapons countries in compliance with the NPT. That was an important step forward for the United States.
I was at first concerned that, as a country, we were not taking a sufficient lead in this matter, not forgetting that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference will end in two days’ time, on 28 May, and that we might therefore lose the opportunity to be heard internationally on an issue of the greatest importance. I was therefore very pleased that the Foreign Secretary in the coalition Government said what he said today in the House of Commons, and I hope that every possible step will be taken to convey that speech to those still engaged in negotiations in New York. He said that he would state openly the number of nuclear warheads that the United Kingdom has in deployment and in active alert status at present and expects to have in future: 225 nuclear weapons in total and as a maximum. That was an important statement and bore out the commitment of the P5 nuclear powers to be transparent with the rest of the world, which is a crucial element in building trust.
The second thing the new Foreign Secretary said in another place today was that the new Government will take the view that the nuclear posture of the United Kingdom should be radically reviewed. In other words, we will look at it again in the light of the movements forward in the fields of international relations, foreign policy and so forth. I was delighted about that because various messages have reached me in my capacity as a member of the international commission that our position in the discussions and negotiations in New York was substantially hardening on the issue of disarmament. It therefore meant a great deal to me that the Foreign Secretary took this position with regard to the nuclear posture in future. We know that the nuclear posture review in the United States led to a restrictive interpretation of the use of nuclear weapons, and I hope that we will see a similar development here in the United Kingdom so that we can encourage what may be a once-in-a-century opportunity to move towards reductions in nuclear arsenals and a more sensible attitude towards the alert status of so many nuclear weapons in the world.
In that context, I shall add one other important point. As the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference moves towards its final statement on 28 May—the presidential outline of the conclusions is already available—I hope that it will set out a series of specific, concrete steps that can be taken to push on from the review conference towards further treaties and agreements on reducing the prospect of the use of this terrible weapon.
I shall quickly say a few things about specific cases. First, I welcome the decision by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference to call for a conference, headed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, on the Middle East. As all of us in this Chamber know, the situation in the Middle East has become rather like something caught in the choking mechanism of a human being—that is to say, unless it can be removed, sooner or later the world’s prospects for peace will decline rapidly. The situation has gone on year after year, and we still hear a great deal of talk about the two-state solution as it begins to disappear more and more rapidly as a result of—forgive me—such things as the increase in settlements and the blockade of Gaza.
The second issue I want to touch on is equally controversial. It would be helpful if the Government looked more closely at the Turkish-Brazilian agreement with Iran for a large part of its low-enriched uranium to be passed to Turkey—a loyal member of NATO—for processing, thereby removing a large part of the LEU stocks from Iran to a country that is much safer from our point of view. It was dismissed too easily and quickly without sufficient concern being shown or given to the prospect of finding some way out of the endless misery of our relations with Iran. North Korea seems to be passing into a period of extreme irrationality, and we have to think about how to deal with that almost impossible situation.
Finally, let me echo the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who said that a substantial number of clubs and organisations have been set up in this House and in Parliament—in particular the top-level group, the parliamentary committee to which the noble Baroness referred—that are concerned to move forward the prospect of greater reductions in nuclear arsenals and all the rest of it in every way that they can. I believe that that has been an important contribution by this House as well as by the United Kingdom. We have a long and distinguished record of contributing to disarmament negotiations and of recognising that there are more ways than simply warfare to deal with the world’s conflicts. In that context, I echo what the noble Baroness and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Ramsbotham, said about Trident. We need to look at that decision in the light of the movements in the world as a whole towards, we hope, a different kind of world. That decision should be made in that context and in no other because, as was said so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, we want a foreign policy that is appropriate to the modern world, not one that simply harks back to the Cold War.
My Lords, I have always been extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for his tremendous encouragement and support when I have raised various issues in your Lordships' House, particularly at Question Time, and to the noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I therefore join others in welcoming them to the posts that they now hold. I know that they bring invaluable experience and great weight to those offices. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock of Holyhead, for her terrific support, not least on issues connected with Africa, especially Sudan.
Recently, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, gave weighty support to a proposal, which I placed before the Chairman of Committees—the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara—that a House of Lords Select Committee on international affairs should be established. I hope that that will continue to enjoy the support of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Today’s debate once again underlines the phenomenal experience that such a Select Committee will be able to harness. Happily, such a reform will not require an Act of Parliament, or indeed a referendum.
In judging the new coalition Government, we might do worse than bear in mind the response of Zhou Enlai, who was once asked whether he thought that the French Revolution of 1789 had been a success. He said that it was far too soon to say. The jury is still out on the coalition Government, of course, and will be for a long time to come, but all of us who have spoken in the debate today have made it clear that we wish the new Administration well. We do not underestimate the sacrifices that both parts of the coalition will need to make if it is to succeed and endure.
I hope that among the priorities that the new Administration will ensure will be the upholding of human rights, including the rights of free speech and religious belief, and I hope that they will become a central characteristic of our international policy. They could do far worse than implement the excellent recommendations of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, including the appointment of a special envoy, with a mandate to uphold the right to freedom of belief that is enshrined in Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Foreign Office, with its vast team of officials, has only one person in its human rights team who is responsible for religious liberties issues. That might explain the unfortunate and shallow remarks made by Foreign Office officials about the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI. Religious diversity and tolerance should be stable-mates in a democratic and open society. The struggle for religious freedom is concomitant with the struggle for democracy itself. Equally, contempt for religious faith and ignorance of its tenets can, as we know, have calamitous consequences all over the world.
The main part of my remarks follows the penultimate comment by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about North Korea. I want to talk particularly about North Korea in the context of our relationship with China. It may be appropriate to mention this issue today—the day on which the new Chinese ambassador has presented his credentials to Her Majesty the Queen. Clearly, engaging China in the struggle for human rights and freedom in countries such as North Korea, Burma and elsewhere will be central. China is well aware that its international reputation suffers when atrocities occur in countries such as Burma and North Korea. It is well aware that its reputation suffers when there are demonstrations about the treatment of dissidents, the imprisonment of bishops, or Tibet. Last September, after pressing for some time, I was impressed when the Chinese authorities allowed me to organise a visit to Tibet. I was accompanied by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and two Members of another place. I hope that the new Ministers will study our recommendations closely. Our initiative had the approval of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. If a political settlement on Tibet is not reached during his lifetime, it could leave a very dangerous vacuum.
Surely most pressing of all in seeking China's involvement is the need to deal with the deteriorating position on the Korean peninsula. The sinking in March of the South Korean naval vessel the “Cheonan”, with a loss of 46 lives, was a shocking and tragic development. China is right to have urged restraint, but it needs to be more outspoken and insist that those responsible will be brought to justice. China was right to describe North Korea's decision to test a nuclear weapon as “brazen”, but this is of a similar order. Both our countries must stand with the victim and condemn the aggressor. A common front could transform the situation in North Korea and deliver reform and hope for its beleaguered people.
North Korea has experienced enforced disappearances, executions, arbitrary detentions, a lack of religious freedom, a lack of freedom of movement both domestically and internationally, a lack of labour rights, the non-implementation of legal codes, a lack of judicial oversight of detention facilities, the severe mistreatment of repatriated persons, violence against women in detention facilities, a lack of freedom for enterprise especially for farmers and food merchants, the lack of a fair trial, a lack of press freedom and a lack of the right to food for persons in prisons and labour camps. There is a need for economic and health care, a need for more women in public affairs, a need for more access by the World Food Programme, the need for a national human rights commission, and so much more.
Tony Blair recently said:
“The biggest scandal in progressive politics is that you do not have people with placards out in the street on North Korea … The people are kept in a form of slavery, 23 million of them, and no one protests!”.
There are 3 million to 4 million North American Koreans, and there is a small Korean diaspora in the United Kingdom. Just as the Jewish community galvanised international opinion about life in the Soviet Gulags, the Korean diaspora needs to catch our collective imagination and create a worldwide movement for change—a process in which we should assist.
China still refuses to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the border areas, in violation of Article XVI of the 1995 China-UNHCR treaty and in opposition to the recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, who incidentally will address a meeting on 21 June of an all-party group in your Lordships' House which I chair. The harrowing plight of refugees, which Professor Muntarbhorn has regularly raised, is graphically caught in a perceptive and insightful new book called Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. Demick weaves together a narrative that gets beyond the statistics—the 2 million people who died in the famine during the 1990s, and the 300,000 people who are estimated to be in the Gulags today. Statistics and figures can be numbing, but the personal stories that the statistics represent are of a different order.
China knows that if the North Korean regime went into free fall, there would be an enormous influx of refugees. China might well decide to intervene militarily, with potentially disastrous consequences for the Korean peninsula. There has always been an assumption in North Korea that it would be the Americans, with perhaps as many as 28,500 troops on the peninsula, who would intervene militarily, but in reality it is China that has the most to lose from North Korea and it is losing patience. There is even open talk of the annexation of North Korea by China.
Some circumstances are unique to North Korea, but the underlying Helsinki principles of critical engagement, dialogue and the insistence of respect for human rights should be paramount. I hope that the Minister will tell us this evening whether the Government will place the sinking of the “Cheonan” before the United Nations Security Council, whether they will call for the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity, whether they will press for an evaluation of the egregious violations of human rights in North Korea, and whether they are in direct discussions with China and Japan on these matters. As I end my remarks, it is worth reminding your Lordships’ House that it is 60 years this year since the beginning of the 1950-53 war on the Korean peninsula. Two million to 3 million people died in that war, including 1,000 British servicemen. We all have a great stake in ensuring that history does not repeat itself.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Astor of Hever on their very welcome appointments. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Ferrers and my new noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine on their excellent speeches yesterday in moving an humble Address.
Not only here but across the developed world, markets are extremely fragile and confidence is shattered. In these circumstances, it is surely a good thing that my right honourable friend David Cameron and my new right honourable friend Nick Clegg have so quickly been able to agree a common programme to tackle the extremely serious structural budget deficit and spiralling national debt that was built up over 13 years of Labour government. I had not realised that my new noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches had also recognised that government has become much too large and overarching and must urgently be slimmed down, thereby releasing scarce resources for investment in what we all hope will be a resurgent private sector.
I do not believe that the manifesto of any of the three main political parties adequately recognises the severity of the public sector cuts that will have to be made. Now that the election is behind us, I am confident that our new coalition Government will face up to the Herculean task that they face. I am heartened that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said yesterday that the Opposition will, where appropriate, seek to co-operate, help and support. We shall see.
I must declare an interest: I am employed by Mizuho International plc, a subsidiary of the Mizuho Financial Group of Japan. I am thus doubly unpopular, being both a banker and a politician. But I believe that politicians are trying to pin too much of the blame for the financial crisis on the banks. I understand that the taxpayer is already in the money as far as the shareholding in RBS is concerned and that, if investors can recover a modicum of confidence in the stock market, the prospects are that Lloyds Banking Group will also show a healthy profit.
Corporation tax revenues from the City of London alone have in the past covered our defence budget by 150 per cent. Of course, we need to create the conditions where our manufacturing industry can also thrive, but this will not be assisted by the adoption of policies intended to rebalance our economy away from financial services. There is already evidence that the new powers recently given to the FSA are excessive and harmful. I believe that it is essential that the FSA should show more restraint in the use of those powers. I hope that the Government will review them and consider whether they are appropriate or not as they prepare the draft legislation to reform financial services regulation. I am happy that the FSA has been reprieved and that it must submit to oversight by the Bank of England in respect of micro-prudential regulation.
Much more serious than the question of how far the FSA is subordinated to the Bank of England is the shocking realisation of the fact that it no longer has any power to make any new regulation. Our regulators are, or will shortly be, the European Banking Authority and the other two EU-level regulators. It is also shocking to realise that EU Finance Ministers and the European Parliament have both adopted versions of the alternative investment fund managers directive demonstrating that they now have the power to regulate our alternative fund management industry, which includes UK investment trusts and property funds—indeed, everything which is not a UCITS. That has serious negative ramifications for the City’s future prosperity and I trust that the Government will not let matters rest there.
It is my privilege, utterly unmeritorious, to enjoy the appointment of honorary Air Commodore of 600 (City of London) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force. In the past, I served in the Territorial Army for 10 years. The Reserve Forces provide excellent value for money. I hope that the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review will consider the possibility of increasing further the contribution to our defence effort made by the Reserve Forces. They can also make a tremendous contribution to the Government’s intention to create a big society, and to encourage individual and social responsibility.
I was happy to learn that defence programmes have been protected from the £6.2 billion efficiency savings, because the Ministry of Defence has not benefited from the previous Government’s profligacy in the way that some other government departments have. We are very good at defence and universally recognised as such. It is one of the reasons we punch above our weight as a nation and our economic recovery depends on maintaining our position in our areas of excellence. I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to support fully our excellent Armed Forces—support which they both need and deserve.
I sometimes wonder why so many of our senior FCO mandarins are somewhat deprecating about our ability to continue to exert influence for good around the world through our embassies or acting alone, as well as co-operating with others. I lived in Japan for more than 11 years and have been closely involved in the establishment of financial businesses in China and Korea. In these endeavours I know how greatly I have been helped by the background of the UK’s strong bilateral relations with those countries and the effective presence of our high quality diplomats on the ground. I do not agree with those who think that we can exercise influence around the world today only by combining our diplomatic representation with that of our European partners through the EAS. I regret that the FCO’s budget is to be severely cut back at the same time as spending by the EU on diplomatic representation is being massively increased. This is unhelpful to the perception of the United Kingdom and the promotion of British interests abroad.
The gracious Speech contained a commitment,
“to spend nought point seven per cent of gross national income in development aid from 2013”.
I found this a surprisingly precise commitment compared with other spending cuts. It caused me to wonder why DfID is maintained as a separate department of state. I remember when it was headed by a Minister of State and was operated as a division of the FCO. I notice that it enjoyed an increase of funding in real terms of 12 per cent in 2008-09, whereas the FCO was forced to accept cuts of 11 per cent.
I wholly agree that we should, even in these straitened times, continue to provide development aid to genuinely poor countries, but I would ask Her Majesty’s Government to examine what savings could be achieved from downsizing DfID and merging it into the FCO, which should also ensure that its disbursements are more closely aligned with our national interest. If this were done, perhaps we might find that we could afford even more than,
“nought point seven per cent”,
of GDP for international aid.
Finally, I want to refer to the references to constitutional reform in the gracious Speech. I do not think that the people will thank the Government if much time is spent on debating these matters in contrast to the time that Parliament must commit to solving the acute economic and fiscal problems that the country faces. I welcome the sensible decision to reverse the previous Government’s misguided decision to carve the hearts out of Devon and Norfolk.
I regret the commitment to a referendum on AV and, in particular, the pressure being applied by my new noble friends to bring forward to 2011 the date for such a referendum. I have not liked the AV system since I was not elected to the executive of the Cambridge University Students’ Union in 1972 despite receiving more first preference votes than another one, or perhaps two, candidates who were elected. I believe that most people have only a very superficial understanding of the merits and demerits of various different voting systems. I think that matters such as this should rightly be decided by Parliament. It was so much more appropriate that there should have been a referendum on the Lisbon treaty than that there should be one on AV. It is no surprise that the gracious Speech informed us that proposals will be brought forward for a reformed second House that is wholly or mainly elected on the basis of proportional representation.
Japan replaced its partly appointed and partly hereditary second Chamber with a second directly elected House. I believe that it would be a serious mistake if we were to do the same thing. Another place represents the people and we should never compromise its sole right to do so. We in this House are summoned to advise the monarch—that means the Government. Our role is to scrutinise legislation, to use your Lordships’ undoubted expertise to improve it and to ask another place to reconsider when we believe that is in the national interest. Ultimately, we must defer to those in another place because they are the people’s representatives and we are not.
My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the recommendation from the Chief Whip at the beginning of the debate was that we should keep to seven minutes. Having myself in the past often spoken one or two minutes longer than I should have done, I say this diffidently. But if we want to finish by 10 o’clock, we need to hit seven minutes or certainly no more than eight minutes.
My Lords, I too have long admired the experience and expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in the field of foreign affairs. I have also admired his agility over the years in outflanking the right-wing Eurosceptics on his Back Benches, and I hope that he forms a coalition within the coalition with my Liberal Democrat friends to ensure that that is reinforced.
I would have appreciated it if the Minister had been present when the trio of Ministers set off for Afghanistan and fell out within that narrow coalition, such that Dr Fox told us that the British Government were not there to promote women’s education as an example of soft power and Mr Mitchell replied that he was. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, whom I also welcome to the Front Bench, could explain what the line is.
I welcome the fact that the international development section of the proposal says that the Government will honour the aid commitments, particularly to live up to the 0.7 per cent gross national income ambition by 2013—a very early date. This is indeed ambitious; the Labour Government achieved a change from 0.28 per cent to 0.52 per cent over the period of their government, and I would like to know what the Minister is planning in order to achieve that. If it is inscribed in legislation as something that has to be done, what happens if there is a failure in such an ambitious plan?
One of the purposes of aid has been demonstrated by the commitments given by Prime Ministers Blair and Brown, especially about Africa in the Gleneagles agreement. This week we have had a report from the One Campaign, headed by Bono and Bob Geldof, to demonstrate that Africa is changing because aid has been put in and more democracies have appeared. That is very welcome, and let us see what happens in future. As the Government are proposing that Africa has a seat on the United Nations Security Council, perhaps the Minister will give us some ideas about how the representative might be chosen.
I welcome the commitment to the Commonwealth, strengthened as a focus for promoting democratic values and development. That is good, but what are the new ideas and what are some of the challenges ahead? One such challenge is that in time the Queen will no longer be with us, much to our regret, but it is not true that Prince Charles will inherit the position of head of the Commonwealth. What is the coalition’s thinking about that?
In terms of new ideas, I would like it recognised that this House is very much the House of the Commonwealth. We have many representatives of those who have been brought up or lived their lives in the Commonwealth and have great engagement with it. Does the coalition agree with that? Can we strengthen some of those ties? Let us be a bit imaginative. Could we invite members of other Parliaments elsewhere in the Commonwealth to attend here on an occasional basis?
Added to that, I caution colleagues opposite in the coalition that if they are to reform the House of Lords in the way that they describe: please do not lose the baby with the bathwater. We have enormous expertise in this House regarding not just the Commonwealth and foreign affairs but Europe. I give as an example the late Lord Dahrendorf; he was a German commissioner in the European Community of those days and ended up as a distinguished Member of this House who enormously improved what we could do. Please do not lose that.
What plans does the coalition have about appointing Peers? I thought that it was an excellent innovation by our Labour Government to appoint some excellent Members to the peerage to represent us on the Front Bench. I give just one example: the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, brought in from the United Nations. That was very good.
The Commonwealth is also represented here by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I hope that the coalition can try to deal with some of the scepticism found in the British media and press. I give the example of the CPA visit here to witness the elections. A very dusty and sceptical interview took place on the “Today” programme. Sad as I was that we made mistakes during the election in terms of not having sufficient ballot papers and not enabling people to vote, it showed that we have things to learn from the Commonwealth—it is not just a one-way matter.
I bring to the attention of colleagues opposite the fact that I recently attended the British Islands and Mediterranean conference as a regional executive of the CPA. There is much to learn from the smaller and the new Administrations that are represented there. They, like small businesses, often have the ability to innovate, change and think afresh. I was pleased when I visited our Dutch friends last year—I hope that this too will be copied—that our then Foreign Secretary David Miliband had visited them and that his visit had gone down very well. We must take care of the smaller countries within the European Union as well.
Represented at this conference on the Isle of Man were of course the Channel Islands, Malta, the Isle of Man and Cyprus. The Minister will know that today the Cyprus talks have been reconvened, with the Turkish Cypriots in the north no longer represented by President Talat, for whom I have great sympathy, but by Mr Eroglu. I hope that we do whatever we can. Here is an opportunity for the new coalition to try to help the restarted talks and see whether some initiatives can be made there.
I was sorry to see that in the document produced by the coalition there was no mention of the single European market and its completion, or at least its further deepening. This to me is a classic example of where we could coalesce as a House of Lords by promoting the lodestone, in my view, of the European Union: to create that open and free market, which would be of enormous benefit to all those who work within it.
I am sorry to say that I have not been able to make remarks on the growth of the Members of the European Parliament. I hope that we are better engaged with those. I praise our own spokesman, my noble friend Lady Kinnock, who is a distinguished former Member of the European Parliament, as now are members of the coalition Government, such as Nick Clegg and other colleagues. We should re-engage with the European Parliament. I hope that the Conservatives will rethink their allying themselves with some of their stranger bedfellows on the European continent.
My Lords, I welcome the new coalition. I suppose that I may, being descended on one side from Disraeli’s long-serving Chief Whip and on the other from Prime Minister Asquith.
Today I draw attention to the importance of religious factors in foreign and defence policy. Ministers and advisers, used to our secular and scientific culture, can find this very difficult. They sometimes think that religion and faith are important only to children and old women. They are quite wrong, and show ignorance in much of today’s world. An extreme example was in 2003, when some very senior people in the United States simply did not know about the important differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
I have spoken before in this House about the folly of the so-called “war on terrorism”. One can sometimes fight terrorists but it is madness to try, using military means, to fight against an “ism”. It is usually a case of winning hearts and minds, as many wise military men know. At home, I urge those reviewing the previous Government’s Prevent Terrorism programme to keep this clearly in mind.
The second need is to distinguish resistance fighters, who may sometimes use terror methods, from ideological terrorists seeking world revolution and, if possible, world domination. The Anbar Awakening in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine are good examples of religious resistance groups. They wanted to end brutal and oppressive foreign occupation but not to fight for world domination. Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, on the other hand, can seldom be satisfied as they aim by violence for a completely Islamic world.
In the 1970s and 1980s in Northern Ireland I had my first experience of religious factors in conflict. It was not, of course, an old-fashioned war of religion. Politics, identity, culture and religion had, however, become so tightly interwoven that nominal religion served as the identifier in a deeply divided society. To a lesser extent, this is still the case today. Since then, I have made many visits to Israel and Palestine and their neighbours. I believe that it is only religious faith that has given Hezbollah and Hamas the strength to resist oppressive military occupation. Similarly, religious and ideological zeal inspires some Israelis to live in hardship on hilltops in order to colonise someone else’s country, to which they claim a kind of divine right. I have already mentioned the Sunni Anbar tribes in Iraq who agreed to fight with the Americans, whom they had previously resisted, because they saw the greater threat posed by al-Qaeda.
The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, in which I have a non-financial interest, has been working for years in Iraq with the most senior religious leaders—Sunni, Shia and Christian—towards national reconciliation. This process has produced joint statements, which are being filtered down so as to reduce the general level of violence. Further mediating work is still needed with the political parties and with other opinion formers.
In Kosovo, I have an indirect interest through the British charity The Soul of Europe. There, it is surprising that UNMIK, EULEX, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union in Brussels had barely attempted to resolve the problems surrounding the UNESCO-listed, enclaved, Serbian Orthodox monasteries. These splendid buildings, with their frescos and living communities, stand surrounded by barbed wire and protected by NATO troops against the potential ill-will of their Albanian neighbours. Fortunately, the charity that I mentioned has been invited to mediate by both parties. The hope is that it will be commissioned to do so by the European Union. This religious and political issue has huge symbolic importance as the monasteries were founded at the height of the medieval Serb kingdom and in its very heartland. The issue has great immediate urgency because the enthronement at Pec in Kosovo of the new patriarch of all Orthodox Serbs is being planned for October in the presence of many bishops from all the Christian Episcopal traditions. Your Lordships can imagine the security worries and the dangers of misperceptions if a good modus vivendi is not quickly established. In the longer term, the resolution of the problems affecting these monasteries could speed up the accession of Kosovo to the EU while also helping tourism and the economy generally.
I will give only one more example of constructive inter-religious work in process. The Nyon process is bringing together in dialogue Sunnis and Shias, together with western secular leaders and American evangelicals. The combination is so diverse that many have never been in the same room before. The process has the support, I am glad to say, of the UN Alliance of Civilizations and of the Governments of Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia. Nyon has produced a practical first fruit in the form of additional help for eye surgery in beleaguered Gaza. Its potential for mutual respect and co-operation is almost unlimited.
From my personal experience and the examples I have given, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to treat religious factors with the seriousness that they deserve. This can only benefit our policies in Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Like my noble friend Lord Hannay, I particularly ask this Government to listen to Hamas. Secondly, will they support and encourage unofficial diplomacy and conflict resolution wherever these can improve conflict and post-conflict situations? I was encouraged by what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said in opening this debate about sub-governmental bodies and new global networks. Perhaps the answer is yes.
It is an honour to participate in this important debate and I pay tribute immediately to the new Ministers on their appointments on foreign affairs, European affairs, international development and defence. Special tribute must be paid to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, whose wise guidance and leadership on many foreign affairs issues I have always studied and often followed. I pay special tribute also to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, whose experience on international development is widely known. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, whose special work on sub-Saharan Africa and development issues in the European Parliament I was often given the opportunity to support.
The electorate have given both Houses a unique and unexpected opportunity. The Conservative election manifesto promised to deliver a “liberal Conservative foreign policy”. The accident of coalition government has given the possibility for a Liberal Democrat-Conservative foreign policy to be achieved. I welcome this new and enhanced focus on Britain’s foreign policy. The new Government’s commitment to fundamental values, democracy and the rule of law in all of the UK’s overseas activities is well reflected in the declaration in the gracious Speech of anticipating the building of richer and fuller partnerships with our fellow democracies. A stronger and leading role in the European Union, a more powerful partnership with the Republic of India and a firm and steady continuance of our historic and close partnership with the United States of America are very welcome developments.
The UK must aspire—and we have the capacity —to become a more capable, more coherent and more strategically effective international power than we are today. Clear co-ordination of foreign policy with other departments, including the Department for International Development, UKTI as well as the MoD, is surely the key. Your Lordships’ House has immense potential to help to achieve the new Government’s foreign policy goals. This House contains a deep well of extraordinary foreign policy experience and of experience in all related fields. Your Lordships’ knowledge is unmatched on an historic and continuing basis elsewhere in our UK institutions and globally. Might it be right now to create a foreign affairs committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already mentioned? What better forum on foreign policy can we offer the British people than such a committee here in our House—impartial, trusted and probing in a constructive manner as this House always does? For there is much to do, and yet, without a committee of this nature, your Lordships’ House is seriously restricted to gracious Speech interventions, to Questions and to short debates. Surely we have much more to offer.
Your Lordships have, too, a matchless parliamentary record on EU matters through the exceptional work of the EU Select Committee. Continued challenge for the EU Committee lies ahead. EU expenditure is rapidly expanding. The European External Action Service, while I hope that it will bring a more co-ordinated foreign policy, will drive up expenditure. Lisbon, for all its many faults, is offering the European Union a legal identity. That gives immense new horizons to the European Union. Britain should and, I hope, will, play the fullest possible part in all this growth. Will the Government confirm that we will take a very powerful stance on all these issues?
There is widespread corruption in some member states of the European Union. This will soon need European Union intervention, which must be backed strongly by key member states, including Germany, the UK and France, if it is to succeed. I cannot help but wonder whether our new Government would be strengthened by the return of the UK Conservative Party to the group of the European People’s Party. I noted with pleasure that a good relationship developed immediately between our new Prime Minister and Mrs Merkel. I had an excellent letter this week from President Buzek, President of the European Parliament. I know how much the European People’s Party would welcome the return of British Conservative parliamentary colleagues to their fold.
European enlargement is not over, but is an ongoing process with key European countries such as Turkey or Moldova left outside the Union. I believe strongly that countries such as Turkey and Moldova are very important strategically both for the European Union and for the UK. We should work there to promote the values that this Government have endorsed. I have seen the wonderful work of British embassies here and in other nations and I, too, rue the decrease in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget, which was sharply felt and bitterly regretted in all our embassies around the globe.
I also seek from this Government a more active foreign policy in Iraq. The gains of liberty have now been underpinned by three elections and equally regular changes of government and members of parliament. The gracious Speech gave a firm commitment that Her Majesty's Government will,
“fully support our courageous armed forces”.
The extraordinary and heroic efforts of the UK’s Armed Forces in Iraq, which included nation-building of an exceptional kind, are well recognised and honoured by the Iraqi people. I was asked recently to deliver a message from Prime Minister Maliki and his office and Cabinet of enormous and continuing gratitude to the British people for the great sacrifices and the noble work of the UK’s Armed Forces, as well as its politicians and diplomats, in gaining freedom for the Iraqi people.
Surely those gains must now be consolidated by business development and capacity-building. The previous Government overlooked that despite the obvious and free-market imperative of British business and industry’s early return to Iraq. I have an honorary position in chairing the Iraq-Britain Business Council. I see there the immense difficulties that businessmen have in gaining visas to come to the UK and the even worse problem that Iraq has not been a priority country for the UK. Yet Iraq is the largest global untapped market. It is a former British protectorate; English is the second language there; and Iraqi businesses and Government, as well as the people, express strong preference for working with UK partners on every level. Iraq remains a high defence and security issue. Her neighbourhood is highly volatile; her stability is keenly linked to our own and to the future stability of our fellow member states in the EU and of the world’s democracies. Iraq provides a good example of the need for much closer co-operation between DfID, FCO, MoD and UKTI, with the pre-eminent requirement for the foreign policy of the British Government to be in the lead.
As the “liberal Conservative foreign policy” set out in the Conservative Party’s manifesto stated:
“We have great national assets and advantages … We will engage positively with the world to deepen alliances and build new partnerships”.
I fully support those sentiments. With the full participation of both Houses, the coalition Government can achieve them.
My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his appointment. I have always valued the great wisdom and sensitivity with which he has approached many of the complex issues with which I am sometimes associated. I also appreciate how those characteristics were similarly demonstrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock.
I shall focus on three countries which I have recently visited: Sudan, Burma and Nigeria. I was in Sudan in February with my small NGO, HART, working with local partners in southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains. We found many causes for concern, including a desperate humanitarian situation. For example, one in seven mothers in southern Sudan dies in pregnancy or childbirth; one in seven children dies before the age of five; and only 17 per cent of the population receives immunisation, leaving people vulnerable to such preventable conditions as tetanus, measles and diphtheria. The situation for the Beja people in eastern Sudan is even worse.
I welcome the significant funding of £250 million that the United Kingdom has provided for Sudan and to which the Minister referred. However, in the areas where we work, there is little sign of it. Many people ask where those resources are going. Could a review therefore be undertaken to ensure that the money which DfID has given really does reach the most unreached people and will be used in the most effective way to address the very disturbing situations reflected in those statistics?
The recent elections were inevitably plagued by many problems but they are a critical step in the CPA process, leading to the referendum for southern Sudan. They have therefore been generally welcomed. However, the plight of the people in the Nuba Mountains is dire. Although the Nuba Mountains were officially renamed South Kordofan, the local people prefer the traditional name, so I use it. The comprehensive peace agreement put the Nuba Mountains under the administrative control of Khartoum, causing such dire problems that the people there claim:
“We were better off in war than under the CPA”.
They are now forced to be primarily dependent on Khartoum for aid and claim that Khartoum manipulates that aid with its Islamist political agenda—in ways resented as much by the local Muslims as by Christians and traditional believers. Attempts by Khartoum to impose Sharia law in Kadugli were met with robust opposition from all the population, Muslim and Christian as well as traditional believers.
However, the concerns of the people of the Nuba Mountains have been exacerbated by the lack of information about the substantive content of the “consultation” which was their lot under the CPA rather than a referendum for self-determination. They are so worried that some of their leaders believe that if the south votes for secession, the people of the Nuba Mountains will be so vulnerable that they may feel that they have to resort to a new war. The particular fears that they have identified again and again are: forced Islamisation, Arabisation and the loss of their precious, historic, rich, African Nuba culture. What measures are being taken by the Assessment and Evaluation Commission set up under the CPA to address these justifiable concerns for the people of the Nuba Mountains and the other marginalised areas of Blue Nile and Abyei?
The recent report by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan, On the brink: Towards lasting peace in Sudan, highlights many issues, some of them identified by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. It also highlights especially the need to prepare for the post-referendum situation, particularly with capacity-building in many spheres.
I turn briefly to Burma, where the SPDC military junta continues to deny free and fair elections and to pursue its policy of brutal oppression of the democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, of the imprisonment of large numbers of political prisoners, forced labour, use of 70,000 child soldiers, military attacks with a shoot-to-kill policy against the Karen, Karenni and Shan peoples in the east, and of military occupation affecting other peoples such as the Chin, Kachin and Rohingya, with extrajudicial killings, rape, forced labour, theft of land and livestock. The Chin people also suffered when their bamboo crops flowered three years ago, bringing an infestation of rats which devoured the crops and created such a critical shortage of food that many people suffered and died. I take this opportunity to express great appreciation to DfID for the £600,000 of life-saving resources that it initially provided, followed by another £200,000 last year. Will it monitor the situation and consider further support if needed for people in remote areas who still have not received any help?
On the SPDC’s cynical manipulation of elections, which are a travesty of democracy, will Her Majesty's Government support the resolution passed by the European Parliament on 20 May, calling for the European Commission to reverse cuts in funding to refugees on the Thai-Burma border; immediate release of all political prisoners; the UN to focus on securing genuine tripartite dialogue between all parties, including the ethnic groups; the European Commission to start funding cross-border aid to parts of Burma where the regime blocks aid; the EU to work to build global support for a UN arms embargo on Burma; and Bangladesh to improve its treatment of Rohingya refugees?
I turn briefly to the disturbing situation in northern Nigeria and Plateau state, with reference to a Question that I asked in your Lordships' House on 30 March, highlighting the recent slaughter of up to 500 villagers near Jos. This was just the latest in a series of attacks by Islamist extremists. On a recent visit to Jos, I met both Muslim and Christian leaders who were very interested in an initiative which I had the privilege to help to establish in Indonesia some years ago. It has the long name the International Islamic Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction, which mercifully abbreviates to IICORR. I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, if she was aware that the Foreign Office had funded some years ago a symposium for an interfaith delegation from Indonesia which helped to contain further conflict and was very successful. I asked whether Her Majesty's Government would consider a similar initiative for the Muslim and Christian leaders in Jos. I was very encouraged when the noble Baroness invited me to send her a proposal, which I have sent to the Foreign Office; subsequently, I have had discussions with staff in the Foreign Office. I therefore express the hope that the Minister might be willing to consider this initiative. Any help given to local leaders in that very troubled situation could help to protect their own people and to protect Nigeria from destructive destabilisation, especially at a time when Nigeria is facing many other challenges that could make it very vulnerable.
The situation in Sudan, Burma and Nigeria is critical and the needs are great. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some sympathetic consideration to these issues and suggestions.
My Lords, I congratulate my colleagues on the new Front Bench, each of whom I respect greatly. I shall concentrate on one country. It is not a large country, with a population of under 20 million, but it stands at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean, and it is a country with which I have been associated for nearly 50 years. I refer to Sri Lanka, and the changes that have taken place there in the past three or four months. Those changes should bring new confidence to relations between the UK and Sri Lanka.
I start with an aside. Sri Lanka has had a presidential and a general election and in both cases the turn-out level was one we would welcome enormously in this country. There were hardly any troubles at all, except in one polling area where the election commissioner was brave enough to say that the vote was null and void and it was re-polled. One only hopes that a returning officer in the United Kingdom in future might be brave enough to make a similar judgment.
What was really interesting was the comment from a greatly respected Indian publication, the Hindu, which congratulated Sri Lanka on its free and fair elections and said that a decisive mandate had been given in Sri Lanka for President Rajapaksa, whose party got more than 60 per cent of the vote.
What has been happening over the past three or four months? First, there has been a total relaxation of the emergency regulations, which is an absolutely vital step forward. In particular, they have been relaxed for the media, which was a bone of contention, as well as for meetings of people, for the restriction on the rights of the security forces and on curfews. Not only has there been a statement to that effect, but the journalist called Tissainayagam has been released, and I am happy to say that he has been released totally unharmed. Secondly, there is a new commission on the lessons learnt in reconciliation, which is based very much on the South African framework. In the north, there are 45 humanitarian agencies working like absolute beavers, and there is an enormous amount of good work happening there, based around the Jaffna area. I put on record my compliments to my right honourable friend in another place, Dr Fox, who has had the initiative to establish a Sri Lanka development fund to focus on the Tamil-speaking areas.
De-mining is such an important part. Colleagues may recall that after the war there were nearly 300,000 refugees who had fled from the Tamil Tigers and who had to have somewhere to live and were in camps. Those figures are now down to 60,000, but they cannot reduce any further until the mines are removed from the area around Kilinochi, which is roughly in the north-central part of the island, across to the sea. I congratulate all those who are actively removing mines. Obviously, the burden falls largely on the Sri Lankan and Indian armies, but there is additional help from Holland and the UK, with the HALO Trust, and that work is moving forward. My only wish is to put a tiny bit of pressure on my noble friend on the Front Bench, given that we are sticking at 0.7 per cent, to find the odd extra £1 million to get some more machinery in there to get those mines removed so that those remaining 60,000 can return to their homes. Despite the banners outside on Parliament Square, they are not concentration camps; people can come and go as they wish. All the NGOs are working there; in particular, the Red Cross has helped enormously with its work on hospitals and on the medical side. Schools have been set up there. Nobody wishes more than the Sri Lankans for those 60,000 to return to their homes.
So what of the future? The last British Government had four major concerns about the country—on elections, media freedom, independent judiciary and the equality of rights, including minorities. I would argue that there never has been a problem with elections in that country, nor has there been any real challenge that there has not been an independent judiciary. On the other two areas, media freedom is an important area, but that has now been addressed, or that is the universal view, with the release of the journalist that I mentioned. I have spoken to Sri Lankan friends, who were not necessarily friends of the Government, and certainly their Sunday Times is just as strong as our Sunday Times—that is perhaps the way to put it.
That leaves the equality of rights. There is more work to be done, but some encouragement is needed to go further. I put it to my friends in the coalition Government that the UK now has to think again about the punishment of suspending GSP Plus, which is an incentive to help Sri Lanka to trade with the EU. If that is to continue as a punishment, it will hit well over 1 million civilians—mainly women, and a substantial number of them Tamils. There are wider issues, and my noble friend on the Front Bench has rightly mentioned India, which wants a strong democratic Sri Lanka and must be worried by the increasing influence of China on the country, although that is mainly caused by the fact that over the past two or three years we have turned our back on it. Whatever we say or think about it, the war against the Tamil Tigers is over and the leaders are dead. They did kill two presidents, including President Gandhi, and they recruited child soldiers. When I read the International Crisis Group report, which calls for an extensive war crimes investigation, it seems illogical when, as it is said, quite rightly, the main perpetrators are the Tamil Tigers, and they are gone now, so it would be rather a one-sided investigation.
In my judgment the UK must be vigilant in helping Sri Lanka return to being a proper, normal, democratic country, which it basically is and wishes to continue to be. That means some vigilance over the diaspora here in the United Kingdom, particularly the new Global Tamil Forum and, underneath that, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. None of us can want a Northern Ireland or Cyprus in that part of the world. India does not want that and nor do any of the other south Asia countries. It cannot be in our interests, so we have to be very vigilant. Sri Lanka has a new foreign Minister, Professor Peiris, who many of us know. We should welcome him when he comes to London and look for a means of going forward to rebuild our relationships.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Saferworld and as a governor of the LSE who serves on the advisory board of its Centre for the Study of Human Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has a long and respected record of wise concern for international affairs. Only a few days ago, I was looking at a photograph that he recently sent me of a meeting we had together with U Thant as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lady Kinnock, but sad that she has not had longer to bring all her commitment and experience to bear directly on foreign policy in government. It is absolutely clear that she will effectively bring it to bear indirectly from the opposition Benches.
As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, the first inescapable truth of our existence is interdependence. That is evidenced in economics, migration, environment, climate change, security, culture, education, health and other dimensions. However, we have to recognise that globalisation can be seen as threatening and disempowering for countless people across the world. The challenge is to find a dynamic formula for enabling people to establish a sense of security in their identity and immediate community while recognising that the numerous strategic issues that overwhelm them can be solved only by effective co-operation at local, regional, national and international levels. It is not either/or. The need is to appreciate interdependence and then find ways of most effectively handling it. That is central to economic, foreign, security, overseas development and defence policies.
Co-operation in Europe must not falter. The consequences of failure would be as disastrous for the British people as for anybody else. We have to start from where we are and the euro cannot just be wished away. However, we should perhaps look for a change of approach to Europe’s future. Arguably, we will have a stronger European Community if it is more confederal in style, with more emphasis on co-operation by its member nation states, rather than having a centralised, imposed bureaucratic style. Co-operation and co-ordination should be the essential culture. That will demand strong leadership and while we must all hope that the coalition can provide that, there will inevitably be anxieties about how the Liberal Europhiles will work effectively with the Conservatives and their rejection of the European Christian Democratic tradition in favour of the eccentric and extreme right of the European mainland.
We are all rightly concerned about security. A redefinition of the ingredients for security is long overdue. It must include economic, social, environmental and related matters. The National Security Council to be established by the coalition is interesting but the needs are greater. Arms control, conflict resolution and security sector reform are key parts of all that, as is pre-emptive diplomacy. Human rights are absolutely central to it. Where there are few human rights abuses, the danger of alienation and extremism will be less; where there are serious human rights abuses and failings, the recruitment of extremists will be facilitated. Human rights are not an optional extra. They are the muscular core of relevant security policy. To be effectively fulfilled, they must be seen as valid universally and never partially. That is why the UN convention, the European convention and the European Court of Human Rights reflected in our own Human Rights Act are so critically important.
For those reasons, our own anti-terror legislation has to preserve a demonstrable and unswerving commitment to those standards and principles that make our society and its system of justice worth defending. I am glad that the coalition has staked out its intention to tackle issues such as secret tribunals and the current inadmissibility in open court of intercept evidence, worries about the nature of control orders and the detention of children in the operation of our immigration policy. The presumption of innocence and justice being seen to be done are central pillars to our system. We erode them at our peril.
In specific country terms, there are two vivid examples of the dangers of counterproductivity in Israel and, as I recently saw on a visit for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, in Russian policy in the Caucasus and Chechnya. Russia and Israel, by their oppression and repression and by their abuse of human rights, are recruiting for international terrorism and widening instability. There is an urgent need to work with courageous and enlightened people in both countries who understand that and seek to change course.
It is encouraging that the coalition has committed itself to 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2013. In an age of boundless technological developments, it is shameful and grim that millions of people still go prematurely to their graves never having begun to be what they might have been. Sustainable economic prosperity is obviously related to global stability and security. But these challenges are at least as demanding at the global level as at the individual country level. Global, environmental, trade, economic and migration policies are as critical to sustain development as anything done at the country level—often more critical. There is a growing resentment among many well educated and highly articulate people at the way in which the advantaged nations of the world, often partly advantaged by the exploitation of the less advantaged, remain determined to manage the world and impose their agendas in the global international institutions. That is very much related to the alienation that leads to extremism and threats to global security. The agendas need to be felt to be every bit as much the agendas of the disadvantaged. To limit the disadvantaged to responding to our priorities, however enlightened we believe them to be, is to perpetuate hostility and non-co-operation.
The coalition has its defence review to come. As a former Defence Minister, I endorse every word of appreciation to our service personnel and their families. The real validity of the review will be a willingness to look honestly at the future and at the threats and challenges to come and to ask what we must do to prepare for the future. What will we have to be prepared to do and how will we do it? How do we ensure that invariably the equipment and resources to undertake the task can be guaranteed before we undertake it? There should be no exemptions to the review. Faced with daunting financial challenges and restraints, why should the immensely expensive Trident renewal be ring-fenced? Alternatives must be properly examined, as I understand the Liberals are arguing in the coalition.
The case for the aircraft carriers has to be seen in the context of what we see as our role, if any, in deploying rapidly and flexibly across the world to play our part with the international community in sustaining peace and stability. The case for the carriers could be very strong in such a context, providing as they would free-standing platforms from which we could operate. But the overriding responsibility of the review must be to identify the task ahead. It would be utterly appropriate in doing that if the review were to encompass an analysis of the vital contribution to defence, peace and security to be made by arms control and disarmament policies and what should be our role in pursuing those in the nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional spheres.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my colleague the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who has an outstanding record on the issues that he mentioned.
We often think of international development as a matter of commerce, possibly as aid and trade. I suggest that it is much more than that. It is about people’s aspirations and dreams; it is about how we can help people to achieve their potential and realise what they could become.
At different times in history, the world has been deprived of so many people. We have had wars, great hunger and humiliation, when people have been obliterated. A little while ago, we were remembering what happened at Katyn in the forests of Poland, when the military leaders who could have led Poland into a new era were destroyed. We have suffered because people have not been allowed to achieve their potential. Not one of us here has suffered the terror of a Holocaust or has waited in dread to see what might happen to our families and children. We have not seen people being treated in a totally inhuman way. However, one thinks of the possible Einsteins and Mendelssohns who were not able to achieve any of their potential.
The UN charter reaffirms,
“faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.
The individual is absolutely crucial and is to be safeguarded in our civilisation. I will not take too much time this evening, but I wish to speak about two issues: the status of migrants and that of asylum seekers. Through exit and entry checks on those who come to and leave this country, we hope to regularise the situation of migrants and especially asylum seekers. In this new situation, we can help to give people an opportunity to achieve their dreams and to develop their abilities in the fullest possible way. We have the opportunity to restore dignity to the most vulnerable in our communities and to remove the stigmas and fears of the past.
People from the European Union come here completely legally but, especially in the present economic situation, they find even existing here a challenge that they often fail to meet. One organisation, Barka UK, visits Polish people, including rough sleepers and those who have lost their jobs. Last year, it found in a garage in Brent 20 penniless and homeless Polish men who were cooking rats—this was in the present era—for their meals.
There are things that we can do to improve the situation. For example, we need to look at the benefits system. I suggest that people from the European Community who have paid contributions in their own country should be able to draw on those contributions anywhere in the European Union. If they are unemployed or ill, they should be able to draw on contributions paid in, say, Lithuania even in Wales. Things can be done where Europe can lead the way. A clause in the pensions and benefits system might make this possible at no cost at all to us. I hope that the Minister will instigate an investigation to try to remove struggling migrants from destitution.
I come now to asylum seekers. However bleak the economic crisis, it must not be used as an excuse to undermine those who are already among the most vulnerable. The Queen’s Speech promises to,
“end the detention of children for immigration purposes”.
I would vote for that all the way. At Yarl’s Wood and other places, this has been a tremendous concern. Our responsibilities to the most vulnerable are now being met in a more positive way.
I finish by mentioning the City of Sanctuary movement, which aims to make our towns and cities welcoming places for people who are seeking sanctuary in the United Kingdom. I am proud that Swansea was the second city in the UK, after Sheffield, to become a city of sanctuary. Over the past two years, Swansea’s City of Sanctuary initiative has gathered the support of 105 local organisations, including faith communities, small businesses, South Wales Police and the local newspaper. The City and County of Swansea passed a unanimous resolution of support for this status and is working in every way possible to implement it throughout local government.
We need to make people feel that they belong here and that we welcome them. Let us change hostility into hospitality. People are here and they have a right to be here. We must make them feel that they are part of our communities. We need to give all sections of the community hope and the real possibility of achieving their potential. A major task is to remove people’s suspicion of life outside their communities and to help new arrivals to be comfortable in the wider society. That would enable them to contribute much more effectively to the life of the community. As a Parliament, we have the opportunity to help people to realise their dreams and to fulfil their aspirations.
My Lords, I shall speak mainly about Africa, but first I warmly welcome all our new Ministers to the Front Bench, especially the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has stood behind the Dispatch Box on both sides for many years, demonstrating great skill and patience. I do not envy any of the new Ministers, who will regularly have to face such a line-up of well informed and sometimes forceful speakers. I am thinking especially of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, whom we also welcome back to the Front Bench, albeit on the other side.
I am pretty confident that the Minister and the noble Viscount share the view expressed by my noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Alton that the House has a considerable number of experts in foreign affairs and development who could be effectively deployed in a Lords Select Committee on specific issues without antagonising or duplicating the work of the Commons. That is matter for the House, but I am sure that those noble Lords will add their voice to this argument when the time comes and it is discussed in the Liaison Committee.
The Minister said that, in conflict areas, international development, foreign policy and defence often have to work together and be carefully co-ordinated. Afghanistan is the most prominent example of that, but there are three countries in Africa—Sudan, Kenya and Congo— where I know from personal experience that DfID and the FCO have had to be careful not to tread on each other’s toes. At some point in this Parliament—I hope that it will be soon—we are bound to have a full-scale debate on international development. Now that the DfID budget is, we assume, ring-fenced by both coalition parties, I hope that the Government will be careful not to upset the departmental balance.
I welcome the new emphasis on civil society and the funding of smaller NGOs, as has already been recognised by charities. In the coalition manifesto I noticed a sentence, which is potentially disturbing, about stabilisation and reconstruction in Afghanistan. I hope it will not lead to any rebranding of development projects that appear to be more in our own strategic interests than in the interests of that country. The noble Baroness has mentioned that.
The coalition faces a troubled and unstable world in which, I suggest, internal migration is always a key factor. I concur with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has just said. The latest figures are not encouraging. We now have the highest number of internally displaced people ever, growing from 17 million in 1997 to more than 27 million worldwide. The region most affected is Africa, with 11.6 million. It is significant that Sudan has the highest number of IDPs in Africa, with 4.9 million, more than half of them in Darfur. That excludes nearly 400,000 refugees from Sudan who are abroad. Taking just the most recent numbers, only eight countries account for 90 per cent of the 6.8 million people displaced in the world last year. Of those, 3 million are in Pakistan, 1 million are in Congo and more than 500,000 are in Sudan. These figures come from the Norwegian Refugee Council’s displacement monitoring service.
While world security after 9/11 focused on the Pakistan frontier, relatively little attention has been paid to Africa, particularly the region of southern Sudan and the Great Lakes. One reason for this is that although some of Africa’s more vigorous refugees make it to the Mediterranean ports, migration to the UK chiefly derives from Europe and south Asia so, as a nation, we tend to be more concerned about direct threats to ourselves. We are therefore much less aware of the effects of conflict in east and central Africa, unless we happen to follow closely the work of the humanitarian agencies. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned Congo. I hope the Minister will confirm that we will support the extension of the vital UN MONUC force there.
This is the year of reckoning in Sudan. In spite of continuing violence, the comprehensive peace agreement has held sufficiently to enable the Governments of north and south to prepare for fundamental change and a referendum next January that is likely to lead to secession. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the all-party group’s report on Sudan, launched by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, on 18 March. It argued that, because of the elections, there have not been enough preparations for the referendum. It seems vital that north and south draw up contingency plans now. Even if they separate, the south will continue to depend on the north for natural resources and, more specifically, for revenue from foreign oil companies in the south, which still goes through Khartoum and is unequally shared in spite of the injunctions of the peace agreement.
Nearly half of our bilateral aid to Sudan is in humanitarian assistance. A further 37 per cent is in governance, so not much is left for on-the-ground development. Those figures speak for themselves. Without emergency relief from countries such as ours, and without the strengthening of government in the south, the country would be even more destitute. The vast tracts of scrub and savannah in the south are among the least hospitable on earth but, given stability of government, there is potentially sufficient fertile land to feed, house and educate the population, even without oil revenues. DfID and the Government of south Sudan must try to decentralise their assistance away from Juba further towards the states and regional centres where security allows. I wholly endorse what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury said about the role of churches. It is essential that aid agencies make the best use of civil society and the latest techniques of self-reliance to ensure that the south has a secure future after the referendum.
There will undoubtedly be diversion of funds, corruption and a lack of accountability; this is a sine qua non of working in the very poorest countries of the world. However, a new LSE study—I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was behind some of its work—says that a legal education and enforcement of the rule of law will ensure, in a country such as Sudan, that even a highly traditional tribal society can build up the necessary structures to make development work. Even after years of civil war it is possible to reach agreements based on the latest models of conflict resolution derived from experience in other countries. This strategy is also true of Afghanistan, if only we could follow it.
My Lords, I am delighted to see the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Astor, on the Front Bench. We have been friends and colleagues for a long time and it is a great pleasure to see them both on the government Front Bench. Secondly, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, for what she said about women. I am very pleased that she was appointed a special representative to look after the interests of women. I am delighted and hope she will continue to do that in her capacity as shadow Minister.
I will speak also about rats and Poles, and human rights. I am not impressed by the frankly ridiculous example of these Poles eating rats. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is not in his place. Everybody talks about human rights but they forget that half the population of developing countries have no human rights. That is what I want to make clear. Who and what are we talking about today? As far as I know, nobody has mentioned women except the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. They are half the population of developing countries but they have no rights and no life. One woman dies in childbirth every minute of every day. Sixty-five thousand die in botched abortions.
When I went to the conference in Addis Ababa—the latest of those which started with the Cairo conference—the Saudis and the Holy See refused to allow the term “women’s sexual health” into the communiqué. If men had to give birth at least once they would not have done that. Whose sexual health is important? Men do not have those problems. It is only women who have such problems with sexual health. Many women who do not die suffer all their lives from problems which arise from childbirth because they have no access to the services that we have access to. Professor Fathalla, a director of the WHO, said a long time ago that women were dying of diseases not because we could not cure them but because we do not think they are worth treating. Is it not time for men to start thinking about such women? It cannot be left to women; women cannot do it. We have been trying to tell men about these poor women for many years, but we have not been able to get their support or the power—which they have and we do not—to help us.
When Gordon Brown returned from his first visit to Africa, he said that women are the agents of change. Indeed they are, but they have not been treated as such. They have not been given the opportunities to be agents of change. They are not only agents of change but at the heart of everything. They are at the heart of population increase because 41 per cent of women have no access to family planning.
In 1950—60 years ago—this planet had 2.6 billion people. In 60 years the population of this planet has risen to 6.8 billion and is expected to go up by between 2 and 3 billion more by 2050. Where is the water to come from? Where is the food to come from? Nine million children already die before they reach the age of five. Another thing that Gordon Brown famously said was that if you do not save the mothers, you cannot save the children. You have to save the mothers to save the children. You have to help them to have control over their own fertility. If they do not have control over their own fertility, how can they stop having children who then die of hunger, disease and malnutrition? India has the largest number of people with malnutrition. Forty per cent of Africans go to bed hungry every night. Those are the facts you should keep in mind. Of those 40 per cent of Africans, you will find that 30 per cent are women.
Seventy per cent of Africa’s agriculture is looked after by women at barely subsidence level. If somebody had the sense to go there and set up small co-operatives, they would feed Africa. Why is the money not being spent on those things? I agree that we have to have defence but we are all on the same planet. If we do not do something, we will all suffer. We talk about climate change and this, that and the other. The poor do not consume very much—that is the way it is put. The Americans consume because they have the stuff to consume. The poor do not consume because they have nothing to consume, but whatever they have, they consume. Trees are being cut and the land is being turned into—I have forgotten the word, but it does not grow anything. We have to think about those things. That is the future—children and women dying of malnutrition and diseases and nobody cares at all.
We heard about South Africa where the World Cup will be held. Have you seen how many women get raped in South Africa? Most women get raped possibly at least once a week. It is just endemic. That is the world we are looking at and that we have to change. It is only 30 years since DfID—it was the ODA then—started building the gender factor into all its projects. We have to see what we can do for women because they will do the rest for all of us.
My Lords, if your Lordships have read the newspapers over the past few years, you could be forgiven for believing that we had an army, possibly a small air force, but probably no navy. Yet our Armed Forces, as we all know, are an integral whole and are always dependent on each other for support in the various diverse circumstances when they may be called upon to fight for Queen and country. In the future this is likely to be even more the case. It is therefore absolutely essential that all three services are ready and fully equipped to meet whatever contingency may arise at any time in this uncertain world. We must now naturally look first to Afghanistan where our forces are fighting a particularly unpleasant war very bravely and with great competence. But are we winning? If not, why not? What can we do now to rectify the situation and at the same time always try to avoid heavy casualties by constantly improving equipment and perhaps changing practices?
One of the key items in our armoury is the Chinook helicopter. We have all heard a great deal about it in the past few years. It is a staple in our Army, as it is in that of the United States. It is truly a maid of all work. It has saved, is saving and will go on saving many lives just by transporting troops by air without the risk of roadside bombing. It is, of course, large, expensive and extremely reliable. Do we have enough? Are the seven Chinooks that were being renovated by Boeing now in service? I know that some of them are; I am not sure whether they all are. What about the 22 new Chinooks that we have heard about? When will they start to be deployed in Afghanistan?
Our medical and recuperative services are without doubt the best in the world. We must strive to maintain them as such and improve them if possible. Our Army in Afghanistan comes first and rightly so, but the future is upon us and I should like to know how the aircraft carrier project, which is so vital for the Royal Navy in particular, is proceeding. The two great ships will allow the Navy to project power across and around the world. What would they then do? They would protect our sea lanes and therefore our trade. They would enable us to keep the peace merely by the threat that they would convey. They would be a very important factor in conveying humanitarian aid to any part of the world, as has been very recently demonstrated in Haiti. What is the latest in-service date for each carrier and will it coincide with deliveries of the Joint Strike Fighter, which will provide both defence and assault facilities for the carriers? Are we retaining flexibility in the construction of the carriers so as to encompass conventional takeoff and landings as well as short takeoff and landings? Do we have the prospect of enough trained soldiers to man both great ships as well as they should be, as well as new destroyers and RFAs coming on stream? The carriers will carry aircraft, helicopters—assault and rescue and transport—marine commandos and landing craft and have an enormous capability for the 21st century. We must have two; we cannot get by with one. Of course, we might sometimes be in a position to lend one to France. We need to retain and provide enough destroyers to protect them and the RFA vessels required in theatre maintenance. In current circumstances, that is a big ask, but essential.
This has been a remarkable debate, largely unreported, and has in my view demonstrated the value of this Chamber. None can be more remarkable than the speech of my noble friend Lady Flather. I thought it was fantastic. In paying tribute to her, I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Kinnock. I thought her speech was equally fantastic and I thank her very much for it.
Yesterday, the Leader of the House spoke of the coalition’s duty to promote “freedom, fairness and responsibility”. How does that maxim apply with regard to the European Union? In its statement, the coalition said, rather remarkably:
“We will ensure that the British Government is a positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners”.
Virtually every action that the Government have taken and every statement uttered by the Conservative Party regarding the European Union before and during the election belies that intention. The reaction was grudging. It was sour. They were playing unashamedly to the anti-European Union lobby which dominated the Conservative Party and, I believe, still does.
The Liberal Democrats took an opposing stance. They are, without doubt, pro-European. I can only believe, therefore, that this particular paragraph was inserted to appease them. But what of the majority of Tory MPs and Peers? How can these two irreconcilable views come together? What of the Bill Cashes of this world and their ilk who are now in a majority in the Conservative Party? We come to the next paragraph in the coalition document. It states:
“We will ensure that there is no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament”.
But what if there is a change of circumstances and virtually the whole of the EU opts for a transfer of powers? Are the Government prepared to stand apart? Will we still have a referendum if only UKIP and other right-wing extremists are opposed? What a waste of money that would be.
I recall only too well how the then Danish coalition reacted in the middle of the 1980s. The Farmers’ Party, a small minority, was able to hold up pretty well all European legislation on transport. I know that because I was the Commissioner at that time. It led to the fury of all other Members. We could make progress only when we could operate according to a qualified majority, but that was not always the case. The Danish Parliament, led on these matters by the Minister concerned, was able to destroy the credibility of the Commission and the European Parliament. Are we in for another dose of that, except that this time it will not be the Danish Parliament but the Tory Party here and in another place which will be held responsible?
My noble friend Lord Anderson referred to the Tories’ choice of ally in the European Parliament—what Nick Clegg described as “a bunch of nutters” and racists. This was vehemently rejected by the Tories, and all other right-wing democrats recoiled in horror at what they were proclaiming. Nick Clegg was 100 per cent right on that. What does the coalition now think? The noble Lord, Lord Howell, for whom I have a great regard, lived down to this nadir. He did no duty to the House. He of course said he would return to my intervention, but he never did. In my opinion, he has not filled his role with great dignity today, notwithstanding the plaudits which have been hurled around this House.
The EU is going through a crisis, as are many others. It is at times such as this that we have to stand by the EU as staunch, somewhat critical, supporters, rather than as foes, which the Conservative Party is at present.
I wanted to speak of international aviation—for a few more days, I am the president of BALPA, the British Airline Pilots Association—but time does not permit that. However, the coalition Government are not able to hide behind that particular excuse. Through omission, they are failing the future of aviation, which I am convinced will constantly improve. Even more unfortunately, the coalition is risking the future of this country. It cannot ignore aviation as it does in this statement and in the contributions made today in this House by government Ministers.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend Lord Howell to his deserved place in the Government. He is an acknowledged expert in foreign affairs. It is also a great pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever on his appointment as a Minister in the Ministry of Defence. He served with great distinction as a shadow Minister, and I hope that the House will forgive a short reminiscence.
My noble friend Lord Astor was serving in the Life Guards in Hong Kong in about 1967 when violent rioting broke out with surging unrest. There were not many British forces to cope with this growing crisis. My noble friend first saw me, not on some enchanted evening and not across a crowded room. I was standing on the flight deck of a commando ship steaming into Hong Kong with 650 other members of 40 Commando Royal Marines, all in full fighting order. We had just come back from Aden and we had all our weaponry on the flight deck in full display. Everything from then on went quiet and we all had a wonderful run ashore. In fact, if my memory serves me right, we had a series of wonderful runs ashore.
There are valuable lessons for us from that incident. First, you never know what is going to happen and you have to plan for every eventuality. Secondly, one needs flexible Armed Forces with a strong amphibious capability, including support ships. Thirdly, you sometimes need a resolute and robust show of force that can defuse the most difficult situations. As I said in the defence debate on 6 November 2009, I take the view that defence spending should not shrink—especially now in the light of the dangerous state of the world. We certainly need greater efficiency in defence expenditure, but I hope that expenditure will remain the same and grow with inflation.
In that defence debate, I welcomed the decision to order four replacement submarines for Trident, with appropriate ballistic weapons systems. I welcome balanced multilateral reductions in warheads and we all hope that one day the world will be free of nuclear weapons. However, we live in an era where more unstable regimes are acquiring nuclear weapons. Trident and its replacement have a full strategic range of many thousands of miles and, unlike other alternatives, it is a credible weapon which is exceptionally discreet and almost invulnerable to countermeasures.
We shall shortly be embarking on a Strategic Defence Review. We must decide the level of our national ambition. What does this country want from our Armed Forces in the future? We must look at defence in its widest sense: not just at the teeth arms that serve us so well, but also at the tail. How many personnel, and how much equipment, are needed to fulfil our defence objectives? How many ships, and of what type, do we require, and what personnel do we require for the ships we seek to deploy? How many fighting brigades do we need from the Army and Royal Marines, and how many deployable aircraft from the Royal Air Force? What will provide us with the best value, flexibility and effect? If we decide on our ambitions, we must pay the full cost of implementing them. Ministers must take personal charge of the defence review. If they do not, there will inevitably be unsatisfactory and unworkable compromises.
We must now look ahead to the next one or two decades. We cannot base our plans solely on recent and current conflicts. As I said, we must find out what are the likely future threats and how to meet them. We need aircraft carriers to give us the essential political and military flexibility, given the major problems of securing overflying rights and the huge flexibility that these carriers provide. They can be deployed as troop carriers as well as fixed-wing and helicopter platforms. They can be deployed as support ships for humanitarian operations.
We in this House and country are united in admiration for, and gratitude to, the Armed Forces and their families for their courage, loyalty and stamina. We owe it to our Armed Forces and their families properly to prepare and equip them for all the tasks that we ask them to undertake. The British people will not forgive a Government who cannot provide powerful support for our many nationals overseas, our trade and our allies. The British people demand a Government who will guarantee the safety and security of our country.
My Lords, in congratulating noble Lords on their appointments as Ministers, I warmly welcome the clear commitment to international development that I see coming from the coalition Government, despite the financial circumstances—and perhaps, even more importantly, because of them—and their clear determination to maintain and even enhance the leading role that the UK has played over the years. The UK has been a leading player in international development in recent years. It will be encouraging to see that supported and continued.
I will talk about health and development, and I will touch on foreign policy. I will make three points. The first is about health workers, the second is about using UK experience and expertise and the third is about links to global security. In all of this, I will stress the interdependence of rich and poor countries. This point should underlie all UK policy in this and other areas.
There is a desperate shortage of health workers. I was sorry to see that this point was not mentioned in the brief coalition statement on international development. It is mentioned strongly in the Conservative Green Paper of last year, and I hope that it will be returned to in subsequent policy documents. It should be one of the most important areas for international development. Health is very much about human contact. It is about access to the advice and knowledge that health workers can produce. Too often in poor countries, we see children dying of diarrhoea because nobody knows how to rehydrate them. We see a lack of immunisation. We see the dreadful problems, referred to by my noble friend Lady Flather, of pregnancy-related illness, injury and death. Some of these things are very simple for trained professionals to deal with, while others are complex.
Moving from the personal to the general, I will say that we will not achieve the millennium development goals without more health workers in these countries. I am not talking about the same staff mix as you would have in the UK. This is not about many more doctors and nurses. It is about massively increased numbers of community workers—people trained to mid-level, nurses with extra skills that allow them to do Caesarean sections—and some more professionals. It is not about just transferring our model abroad. Nor is the problem simply one of migration. In the UK, we have benefited from large numbers of people from poorer countries coming to work in our health system. However, the best estimates show that over the past 35 years, 135,000 people who first had some health training in poorer countries have come to richer countries. That is a big number, but the need is for somewhere between 1 million and 1.5 million more in sub-Saharan Africa. Dealing with migration will deal with only part of the problem. In that context, I congratulate this and the last Government on the fact that the World Health Assembly last week passed a new code of conduct on health migration, to help to manage the problems that come from that.
The biggest issue is getting more people trained. It is about helping people to be trained in all those areas, whether they are community workers, mid-level workers or fully trained professionals. That must be part of the wider set of policies to retain, support and employ them. Training them is something with which we in the UK can help.
I turn to our expertise and experience. If the Government want to put a greater emphasis on getting more health workers into poorer countries, they can do so in many ways. One is simply to give more priority, with their partners, to the issue. PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has made a commitment to train 60,000 health workers over the next five years. It can ensure that all its programmes embrace the need for more health workers. It can also use the extraordinary experience, expertise, tradition and history that we have in the UK of training health workers. Still today, our royal colleges and other institutions are part of the training and accreditation systems of health workers around the world. We have a great tradition and history to build on. We also know that there is great willingness among health workers in the UK to help. Can we not do more to put this together? Can we not make something of all the small-scale efforts that are happening in the NHS and in the universities? I refer to places like King’s in London, which is working in Somalia, or a hundred NHS organisations that have links with African countries. They are only part of the solution, but a valuable part.
I also acknowledge a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about how much the world is changing. I spend a lot of time in Africa, and I see that poor people with creativity, without all our baggage of history and without our resources, can innovate. They can teach us things that we need to know about how to run health systems. I have written about this. I note that the private sector is starting to develop ideas along these lines. GE Healthcare, for example, has identified a number of products that it has developed in poorer countries for translation into richer countries. McKinsey, the management consultancy firm, has also identified that many of the greatest innovations in healthcare today are developing and being created in poorer countries. This is a win-win situation.
I turn finally to security. At its simplest, building relationships and partnerships and links across the world will help. We see it all over Africa, where there are many strong links. Before I started to work in Africa, I did not think that the Commonwealth was terribly important. I now understand how important it is in forging the links between this country and many countries in Africa and elsewhere. We also know that poor health services, and poor services generally, foster discontent. We know that there is great unfairness in how health resources are shared—unfairness about patents and about how drugs and health workers are shared around countries—which builds tensions. On the positive side, we also know that health can improve the economy, that an improved economy can build stability in a country, and that health can play a bigger part in future in the Government's plans for post-conflict resolution and reconstruction.
On global security, there is the question of the risks of disease. We know that new diseases will develop in the poorest countries. They will develop where health systems are poorest. It is in our interest that those countries have reasonable health systems, so that they can protect the security of the world and not just of themselves. That is why I echo other words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell: international development is about not just moral imperative but enlightened self-interest. He talked earlier about mutuality and respect. When we put this together, we are in this together. We should be talking much more about co-development and not just about international development, where we are seen as doing things to and for other people.
On a personal level, I shall be seeking discussions with other Members of your Lordships’ House to see whether there is a need for an all-party group on global health. There are many specific groups which deal with specific issues but nothing as yet that looks at all the issues that join us together globally in health terms, at our interdependency and at promoting thinking and appropriate policies.
Finally, I urge the Government to do three things: first, to embrace the notion of interdependence and the linked point of co-development as underlying policy, taking further the previous Government’s work on Health is Global as their global strategy; secondly, to embrace and promote the need for more health workers—do not let people die for lack of simple advice and help—and, thirdly, to use the experience and expertise here in our universities and health service, as people are ready to play a role and people are ready for a lead.
My Lords, a few months ago, we all hoped that the financial crisis that engulfed the western world in 2008 and 2009 was at last fading into history. That hope was, sadly, misplaced. The past few weeks have witnessed growing economic turmoil in Europe, and Britain is suffering from that turmoil. It is in Britain’s fundamental economic interests that the difficulties in the eurozone are resolved. However, instead of expressing concern, the Government bask in self-satisfied complacency, crowing that because Britain has not adopted the euro the eurozone’s problems are not our problems. Nothing could be further from the truth, for three fundamental reasons.
First, the economic health of our economy is inextricably tied to the economic health of the rest of the European Union. It is obviously in our interest that those to whom we sell more than 60 per cent of our exports should be prosperous, providing a growing market for British goods. But perhaps of even greater importance is the financial stability of Europe. If the eurozone were to collapse, the resultant financial apocalypse would engulf us all. Europe’s financial stability should be a major goal of British foreign policy.
Secondly, it has become evident over the past few weeks that the economic institutions of the European Union in general and of the eurozone in particular require fundamental reform. Without major changes to the institutions of monetary and fiscal management, the persistent weaknesses of the past decade will persist, and we will all be buffeted by recurrent storms.
This need for reform is the third reason why we in Britain have such pressing concerns. The necessary reforms will require at the very least treaty revision and perhaps a new treaty to strengthen European institutions—a treaty that will require Britain’s active participation.
The shape of necessary reforms has been defined by the emerging difficulties of the past few months. The mismanagement of the Greek economy, exacerbated by the collapse of world trade and hence the collapse of shipping revenues, led to cumulative severe pressures on the bond sales necessary to fund the Greek government deficit. Since Greek government bonds are denominated in euros, investors faced no currency risk. However, they did face increasing fears of default.
The reaction in European capitals was to initiate a protracted, indecisive debate on raising the funds for a Greek “bail-out”. As vague pronouncements were piled on indecision, the fear of default increased, so that when the €40 billion bail-out was at last agreed, it proved inadequate as a defence against the rising tide of default pessimism.
The incompetent handling of the Greek crisis stands in stark contrast to the rapid and effective measures taken by the United States Government in the Mexican crisis of December 1994, which was very similar. In the latter case, investors in Mexican government tesobonos faced a complex mixture of currency risk and default risk. Yet the $50 billion package assembled by the Clinton Administration in a few days, predominantly in the form of guarantees, stemmed the run and rapidly restored confidence. As Alan Greenspan recounts in his autobiography:
“Mexico ended up using only a fraction of the credit. The minute confidence was restored, it paid the money back—the United States actually profited $500 million on the deal”.
If a credible eurozone institution had guaranteed Greek bonds at the outset, the immediate crisis would be over, at negligible cost. In the face of continued European paralysis, it took a telephone call from President Obama to avert disaster, if only temporarily. At last a €750 billion guarantee fund has been established, with the assistance of the IMF. However, delay has fed the flames of volatility and it is now not clear that even this sum will be enough. A more damaging sequence of events would be difficult to imagine, but worse is to come.
Having at last chosen to follow a sensible guarantee strategy, the eurozone Governments, led by Germany, plan to resuscitate the growth and stability pact—an Orwellian label if ever there were one for a pact that has delivered neither growth nor stability. The eurozone has been gripped, as has the coalition, by deficit hysteria, with all Governments being forced to commit to massive precipitate cuts in public expenditure. The path to recovery is to be paved with unemployment and bankruptcy. As the Financial Times leader argued yesterday,
“growth is a precondition for stability, not something to be traded off against it. Putting countries on the rack of debt deflation will not stabilise their economies, only destabilise their politics”.
To avoid these disasters for Britain, fundamental European reform is required. It therefore serves Britain ill that on his first visit to Berlin since assuming office, Mr Cameron chose to wave around his veto like a virility symbol. He said that,
“any treaty, even one that just applied to the euro area, needs unanimous agreement of all 27 EU states, including the UK, which of course has a veto”.
How proud and grand. I am sure that Mrs Merkel did not need to be reminded of the coalition’s customary negative approach.
Britain must make a positive and substantial contribution to the institutional and regulatory reform required in Europe. Our financial services industry depends on it. Pretending that it is nothing to do with us, obstructing progress and flaunting the veto will achieve nothing.
My Lords, it may surprise the previous speaker that, although I have vigorously opposed Britain’s membership of the eurozone—and I thank our lucky stars that we are not members of it—I agree with almost everything that he has said. It is a great folly for those of us who oppose the eurozone to take any delight in the circumstances that it faces. If the eurozone continues with its present difficulty, it is bound to impact on the UK economy.
However, I do not think that it is quite so fair to single out the fact that we have a veto. There will, in my view, have to be treaty amendment. I think that Angela Merkel is right. Apart from anything else, there is the German constitutional court, which, although it has never done it yet, will, I believe, this time rule that it is not compatible with Article 125, which is against a bail-out, to take the measures that are being taken. Britain must not therefore stand against reform of the eurozone. However, this time we have a Government who will be fairly robust on some of those aspects of the Lisbon treaty on which this country was not consulted, and the Europeans will have to listen. I think it is perfectly legitimate to point that out. For that reason and some others, I think that we are now likely to see a rebalancing of our foreign policy, which I welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has been paid many tributes, has been a long-standing and consistent advocate of a greater emphasis on the Commonwealth. That is not some romantic view. It is wise for Britain to work with our European partners, who are closest to us; it is also wise that we work with and can influence that substantial body of Commonwealth countries and bring the two influences together in our permanent membership of the Security Council. I hope that there will be no more closures of British missions abroad. I am scandalised by the number of missions we drop. If you wish to be a permanent member of the Security Council you must be represented, and I hope that we will go back to what I advocated a long time ago. One-member missions in a country is far better than no missions at all.
I also hope that there will be a real balancing of our relationship between the Foreign Office and DfID. It is sensible for DfID to operate as a separate ministry, but the degree of separation is almost to deny the existence of a foreign policy. Our development aid policy must reinforce, marry up with and work with our defence policy.
The Foreign Secretary in another place, in a Statement today, which is extremely important and which we should take account of, said that he hoped that there would be a greater degree of co-ordination of our foreign, defence and security policies than ever before. I come to the real nub of the matter. Much of this debate has been about spending money. Everybody has advocated their own foreign policy that they wish to protect. We have to face it. There will be a tough call on every aspect of expenditure, not least on defence. For that reason I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Astor, whose commitment to the Armed Forces has been very strong in opposition and I know that it will be in government. It will be very useful in this Chamber.
The Strategic Defence Review is like none we have seen in our lifetimes. There have to be cuts in the defence budget and I say that as someone who has advocated a 3 per cent increase in defence expenditure in the recent past. I know that projects that I strongly wish for will have to be cut. It was good to hear a robust speech from the noble Lord, Lord Burnett. Those who may think of the Liberal Democrats as the weaker partner can turn to his speech. There was not a single expense that he did not seem to advocate.
However, if we are to have that SDR, let me make a few suggestions. First, I hope that the Chief of the Defence Staff, seeing a new Government in place, will do the honourable thing and step down fairly soon. We need a new Chief of the Defence Staff who owns this review and will carry it through for the next three, four or five years. That is extremely important. The Ministry of Defence, to be frank, has not had a good reputation over the past four or five years. There have been far too many people advocating exactly what they desire and not what they can achieve. We have stacked up some contractual obligations that we can barely fulfil. The next people who I hope will own the SDR are, first and foremost the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as the Defence Secretary. This is not a review that can be pushed, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, as a purely internal review. It has to be a strategic review and I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, that it must take a longer view. If some policies have to be postponed, let us try to postpone those that do not impact on our longer-term future. On the question of blue water diplomacy, are we narrowed down to a purely European view of foreign and strategic policy? If we decide that we do not want that we have to back it with some resources. It would be a tragedy to go back on the aircraft carrier decision, although for the life of me I cannot see why it was necessary to replace our existing aircraft carriers with ever larger and even more sophisticated aircraft carriers.
I have spoken on the nuclear question before and I do not want to delay the House. I have published a book called Nuclear Papers, which examines the nuclear issues in 1977 and 1978. We needed an in-depth survey. The idea that you can leave aside that question and simply replace it with a ballistic missile system, with all the other cuts that will have to be made, is absurd. We have to look at all the options; we have to look at the review objectively and take as long term a view as possible. The review must consider that our strategic interests are not locked purely into Europe but are global and worldwide. As a trading nation we must marry up all the difficult decisions that relate to the defence budget, the Air Force and the Army. That will not be easy and the House will have to consider the review very carefully. It is also an urgent review but it must be owned by the whole Government not just the Ministry of Defence.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Astor, on their new positions on our Government’s Front Bench. I must say what a delight it is to be speaking from the Government Benches after spending the past 18 years on the other side of the House, first in another place and latterly in your Lordships’ House. It is also a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who has been a giant on the British political scene for probably more years than he cares to remember.
I shall confine my remarks to probing the new Government’s views in three areas; not a great deal about them was contained in the gracious Speech or in the coalition agreement document, but we have heard quite a lot today. First, I shall refer to the Government’s attitude towards the Commonwealth; secondly, their policy towards Africa; and, thirdly, their plans for the overseas territories. In addition, I pay tribute to the commitment of the new Government to improving the lot of our service men and women who carry out their orders in highly dangerous circumstances. I particularly commend the promised improvement to mental health facilities for service veterans. I admit that the recent terrible attack on Stephen Timms MP brought back some horrendous memories for me so I know from my own experience the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder from which many service personnel suffer after serving in conflict zones.
Let me turn to the Commonwealth. This diverse collection of nations and territories represents a quarter of the world’s population. We are immensely fortunate to be a member of such an organisation where we meet as equals and partners to work out solutions to difficulties and promote peace and democracy throughout the world. I hope that this Government will do more than the previous one in promoting the interests of the Commonwealth. In particular, I hope that there will be wholehearted commitment to the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the British Council to encourage parliamentarians in both Houses to play their part in improving relations with our Commonwealth friends.
Noble Lords may know of the splendid work that our branch of the CPA carries out, holding seminars here in London, to which Commonwealth Parliaments send delegates. I have been to difficult countries in the Commonwealth—for example, Sierra Leone—and know of the plans that the CPA has to help that fragile democracy develop following years of civil conflict. That work is important and I very much hope that the new Government will enable it to flourish.
Now I have a few words to say about Africa. Africa is not macroeconomic in world terms; it accounts for about 3 per cent of world trade but, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, emphasised today and explains very well in his fascinating book Turning the World Upside Down, Africa has far more than its share of poverty and disease. Helping the people of Africa to solve their problems in their own ways needs our support. The generous people of Britain support many individuals in Africa—for example, the Kambia appeal, initiated by doctors from Cheltenham General Hospital, has been in operation for many years, helping the people in an area north-east of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The appeal has provided medical supplies and an ambulance, paid for training courses for local doctors and badgered the European Commission to fork out for the replacement of the small local hospital after it was looted and set on fire by mindless rebels during the civil war. Then there is the Gabane community home-based care project in Botswana, which provides help to families affected by HIV/AIDS. Generous donors, including Barclays Bank and Gleeds UK, have helped to build a classroom building, which is now also used as a community centre by villagers. Projects such as those make a huge difference to the people living in difficult circumstances, and I hope that the Government will encourage support for projects such as those throughout Africa.
Finally, I turn to the overseas territories—the last of the pink bits, as Harry Ritchie calls them in his book. Most, but not all of the overseas territories are or have been financially self-supporting. That situation has now changed because of the global financial situation. Do the Government intend to carry out a detailed analysis of each overseas territory fully to understand their opportunities and needs to determine what support each territory requires to become financially sustainable over the long term?
I think in particular of St Helena, the island in the South Atlantic to which Napoleon was exiled and where he died, which has never been visited by a UK Government Minister. The previous Government promised in 2005 to build an airport on St Helena. At the moment there is little economic activity there. An airport is the only way in which the islanders can become self-sufficient by developing a tourism industry. The current annual subsidy to St Helena from the Treasury is about £30 million and rising. That may not sound macroeconomic at a time when the Government are looking to cut billions of pounds from public spending, but if St Helena remains without an airport, the cost to the taxpayer over the next 20 years is likely to total £1 billion.
This morning, I received an e-mail from a senior journalist on St Helena. He points out that after 351 years of British rule, during which time very little tangible advantage can be discerned for the island’s economy, an airport for St Helena will, in all fairness, provide the foundation from which economic opportunities can develop. St Heleneans are ready to act now; some have been ready for more than two years. Delays on the airport decision have been a considerable cost for the island’s entrepreneurs. St Heleneans want to accept responsibility to develop the opportunities that an airport on St Helena will offer. They want the freedom to create their own wealth, create their own jobs and improve their standard of living. They await with anticipation the application of the Government’s first priority: to restore economic growth. An airport on St Helena is the island’s best chance for economic growth.
Anguila has had to apply to the European Commission for loans to help to balance the budget. The Turks and Caicos Islands are in a peculiar position, because they were a prosperous overseas territory until just over a year ago, when the previous Government decided to impose direct rule following a report from Sir Robin Auld citing suspected corruption. I oppose direct rule. It has gone down like a lead balloon with the islanders and many CARICOM countries. Business confidence has collapsed and proposed developments have been abandoned. As a result, the TCI economy has run into deficit, costs are rising while a special prosecutor takes her time deciding whether any charges are to be made, and the many Haitian workers on TCI are living in dire poverty because no one can afford to employ them any more and there is no point going back to Haiti following the devastating earthquake there. What is the new Government's approach to TCI? When can the islanders expect elections and a return to democratic rule? Are any charges to be made against those suspected of corruption? If so, in what timescale? Who is going to pick up the tab for the catastrophic collapse of the economy?
Our new Government face many challenges in dealing with our service personnel, the Commonwealth, Africa and, not least, the overseas territories. I trust that they will carry out their duties efficiently and fairly.
My Lords, I too welcome the new Front Bench and in particular the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Astor, for whom I have great respect in these spheres. I welcome the chance to speak in this debate. I have spoken previously on the mental welfare of our ex-service men and women and our duty, through the military covenant, to them and their families. I make no apology for bringing this up again: it is the single most important asset that we have in the military. I last spoke about it during the debate on the previous Queen’s Speech, but on the health day. Today, of course, the subject is defence. I realise that we are addressing a new Government, and I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to hear that I shall not repeat everything I said previously.
The highest-quality care leads to good morale in our Armed Forces community and is vital to much of our foreign policy. That is why it is so relevant. Service men and women with physical injuries or mental problems while in service are already on the books, so to speak. I am addressing the problems of those who leave with no recorded symptoms and later develop mental health problems. I am aware that the NHS becomes responsible for veterans, but the responsibility to our service community through the military covenant involves all government departments, not one or two or slipping between them.
I have some later information from Combat Stress on this subject. The recent findings by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research are clear. The psychological impact of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan is being measured by the unit as a snapshot of a very long journey. One of the key points is that this is a study of, mainly, serving personnel, not veterans. It is important that we recognise that the roughly unchanged rate of PTSD and other common health disorders found by this study is still extremely significant to the nation, even if there is statistically no evidence of the rate increasing due to a short space of time, as I shall show in a minute.
The high number of service personnel being deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan indicates that in future there will be a substantial increase in veterans needing support for psychological injury. A prevalence of 4 per cent probable PTSD, when applied to 180,000 personnel who have served in these theatres, means, potentially, that 7,200 will suffer from this debilitating condition. When we consider that the research findings go further, showing a prevalence of 19.7 per cent for symptoms of common mental disorders and of 13 per cent for alcohol abuse, the number of ex-service personnel needing help in future could be drastically higher than the number that Combat Stress, the NHS and other providers are currently supporting.
Of the new veterans who came to Combat Stress for support last year, the average length of service was 10.2 years, and the average period between discharge from service and first contact with Combat Stress was 14.3 years. The findings of the study are the first chapters of a very long story. Fourteen years is too long to wait. What is being done to decrease this time and make sure that effective care and support are never far from British veterans who have sacrificed their peace of mind in the service of their country? What sort of targets would the Minister like to set for this in future?
It should also be noted that the King’s study had a low—56 per cent—response and could underestimate the true problem. It is interesting to note that there are differences between the US and this country. The US has higher PTSD but lower alcoholism, but it has a different culture about drinking while in the forces. We should not ignore the statistic about alcoholism as far as mental health goes, because people use alcohol to mask mental problems and it therefore tends to be the start of the trouble.
In Northern Ireland, we have the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Regiment Aftercare Service, in which I declare an interest as a board member. It leads the way in this field, although only certain aspects apply to the rest of the UK. The MoD is to start interviewing personnel leaving the services and scoring them for future reference and attention. We did that years ago in Northern Ireland. However, we have outreach in the aftercare service and can follow up the findings and keep in contact with the veterans thereafter. The results of the scoring are useful only if there is outreach follow-up. In Great Britain, as opposed to Northern Ireland, there is no such system in place. The MoD has created a new mechanism, the Army Recovery Capability, using the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and the Royal British Legion to track veterans through supported civilian life, the new term for post-service life. However, I believe that it has neither the manpower nor the funds, and the Royal British Legion is purely volunteer. From seeing the service work in Northern Ireland, I do not believe that that is adequate. We can monitor the movement of millions of farm animals within Europe, yet we cannot keep in touch with several hundred thousand veterans within the UK. That is an indictment of the systems that we have. When mentioning the aftercare service in Northern Ireland, will the Minister reassure us that future funding for that service will extend beyond 2012, which is where it currently goes up to? There is an increasing need for it, and it is recognised as being by far the most successful model in the United Kingdom.
I have one more veteran subject to mention quickly. As a result of the Troubles, we have in Northern Ireland a Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, who is currently funded to the tune of £36 million. Within this is an embryonic memorial visit scheme for service families who were bereaved during the Troubles to visit Northern Ireland. The aim is to provide a measure of comfort and reconciliation individually, not to develop commemorative events or ceremonies. A parallel to this scheme is the World War Two Heroes Return programme. The MoD’s support for this pilot scheme in Northern Ireland is required, and I ask the Minister to assure us that that will occur. The funds are already there, and a pilot project would indicate future need. The MoD funds will not be affected.
I hope that this Government will enable the country to fulfil its obligation to our veteran community by producing joined-up government to provide seamless support to it in the future.
My Lords, in United Kingdom European policy just now, many of us will consider that our Government should focus on three separate yet related forms of security and their interaction. The first is defence and the aim of maintaining European peace. The second is the goal of effective political and economic delivery towards and within the European Union's nation states. The third is the task of building up the confidence and well-being of families and communities in Europe.
No doubt the common factor among those three aspirations is economic stability. That is so even though a purist might insist that by definition military defence can never be the same as economic stability. Nevertheless, since the formation of NATO in 1949, the two have become ever more closely connected. Nor do we have to look very far to find evidence that since then defence policy in Europe has borne the most fruit through a strong and healthy link to democracy and economic stability. NATO could hardly have been formed at all without the disbursement of Marshall aid the year before in 1948. The Cold War would not have ended as it did in the late 1980s had the arms race not come to exert unacceptable pressure on the economies of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states.
Thus also at that time the Soviet bloc decided to elevate the concerns of its own economy above ideology and empire. By 2000, it appeared that the former Yugoslavia had done the same, in its case by putting economic stability before territorial acquisition and ethnic cleansing. In both examples, the change of direction had been precipitated by successful NATO containment or intervention; although it may be regretted that the international community, which through NATO in 1999 acted decisively at last, did not do so at the outset of the conflict in 1991, when it could have done so, and thus save countless lives.
Today, the priority which the former Yugoslavia’s republics continue to give to economic stability is reflected on the whole by their constructive responses in the stabilisation and association process. Nevertheless, there are setbacks. Bosnia and Herzegovina are failing to carry out necessary measures of constitutional reform, and it is unlikely that they will carry them out before their elections this October. Recent international efforts by both the US and Europe—the Butmir process—have made hardly any headway. In the ministerial group of the European Union, therefore, what plans do the Government have, both before and after next October, to encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to deliver constitutional reform?
Another setback is the slow pace of Croatia’s journey of candidature towards full membership of the European Union. Here I declare an interest as chairman of the UK parliamentary group for Croatia. A current requirement is for Croatia to demonstrate its co-operation with the ICTY. Last December, the Croatian authorities correctly raided the location of concealed military papers of the civil war of the 1990s, which are germane to the current ICTY inquiry. Nevertheless, Croatia’s EU journey is still held up. Will my noble friend the Minister say when it will be allowed to move forward again?
The second theme of European security is the desired aim of consistent political and economic delivery within the 47 member state Council of Europe boundary on which I focus as a Council of Europe parliamentarian.
However, within the 27 member state European Union boundary, we have the useful yardstick of subsidiarity. If that concept emphasises what nation states should deal with on their own so that the European Union can add value in other respects, from this nevertheless there is another positive inference.
Within the EU the practice of subsidiarity can greatly improve parliamentary democracy. My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford has already referred to this. It occurs when national parliaments become involved with EU decision-making processes, and at an early stage. Although in recent years in Europe such sentiments have met with approval, while lip service has thus been paid to the so-called subsidiarity check, does my noble friend agree that as yet far too little progress has been made? What steps will the Government take to help strengthen the scrutiny of national parliaments over proposed European legislation?
The third theme is confidence and well-being affecting the families and communities of Europe. A recent Council of Europe parliamentary debate addressed the challenge of reconciling wealth, welfare and well-being in a changing Europe.
Within political philosophy, and for 21st-century Europe, there may even be quite an easy and natural opportunity to strike a better balance between state and citizen. At first sight it could appear inconsistent that the state should serve the citizen rather than the other way around, yet if the state chooses to asses the quality of its performance not solely on its national GDP but also on included measures for improved welfare and well-being, to that extent its priority may become serving the citizen.
Nevertheless, the corollary of that points in the other direction. Those improved conditions of citizens will in turn elevate the reputation and integrity of individual states, hence achieving a new form of give and take between state and citizen in Europe. Be that as it may, well-being and welfare are obvious goals to seek to promote. What plans do the Government therefore have to assist Europe to develop standard measures which are not just confined to those of GDP?
In summary, on Europe as it is now and comparing it with previous times, we are fortunate indeed. It affords us opportunity to strengthen security in a wide sense and in one which includes an enhanced quality of life. It should be judged not so much on the presence or absence of its administrative complexities, but instead on its ability to protect and advance simple values. In that way it can prove to be a triumph for peace, for our history and for humanity.
My Lords, it is always a melancholy occasion to be a member of a party which has been defeated in a general election, but it is an experience I have had several times over the past 60 years. Therefore, I am slightly inured to it and there are always compensations, one of which is to see some of one’s old friends appointed to ministerial positions. Although I am not allowed to call them my noble friends in your Lordships' House, I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Astor of Hever and Lord Howell, will acquit me of impertinence if I say that I like to think of them as great personal friends. I have always admired their patriotism, competence and courtesy. I wish also to extend that to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who is not in his place. It may surprise your Lordships that he was the man who frightened me most when I was at the Dispatch Box a few years ago, for reasons that I have no intention of disclosing.
I have to say that I am rather pleased with some of the ministerial appointments. I was delighted that our new Foreign Secretary made it absolutely clear that he thought that the special relationship was extremely important and that our best friends and closest allies were in Washington DC, which has always been my view and I have no hesitation in saying so. I know that in your Lordships’ House the mention of the special relationship can produce toe-curling embarrassment on the part of some of our euro-fanatics, particularly those who are closest to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am glad to say that it is alive and well.
I shall give an illustration. I have always said that the most important parts of the special relationship were invisible, and I still think that. They repose mainly in the relationships between our sets of intelligence services and our technical people and engineers—I am glad to see that the former Minister, my noble friend Lady Taylor, is nodding her head in agreement—which are of frightful importance to this country.
I will refer, if I may, to the quite quixotic remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, who, if I heard him correctly, was saying that we should get much closer to the French. I am glad to get his acknowledgment. I wonder if the noble Lord noticed what happened to a certain Admiral Blair in Washington last week. No? That is a pity. Admiral Blair was director of national intelligence in the United States until very recently, but he has just been fired. It is sad; he is a very able man. Why was he fired? There were a few reasons—there have been certain mistakes and imperfections in the intelligence services of the United States—but the thing that apparently provoked the final breakdown was that Admiral Blair wanted to introduce between the United States and France a system of agreement by treaty that neither would spy on the other, a system that the United States has with this country. The person who prohibited Admiral Blair from doing that was President Obama himself.
There are lots of people who like to say that our special relationship is a fragile thing, built on superstitious little icons. They love to jeer at the fact that Winston Churchill’s bust is no longer in the central office in the White House that the President uses. I do not know what the room is called—
The Oval Office, is it? Thank you. Actually, the relationship between our intelligence services is rather more important than where Churchill’s bust is. The reason why Admiral Blair was not allowed to proceed is perfectly simple: the United States does not trust the French but it trusts us. There, I said it. That is the fact of the matter, and that is wherein reposes a considerable part of the special relationship. I am delighted that it continues to be in the forefront of Her Majesty’s Government.
I was pleased with the appointment as Defence Secretary of Dr Fox, whose Atlanticism is beyond question. I was also pleased with what the Prime Minister had to say on his visit to Europe.
Unfortunately, two of the three people who made the best speeches in today’s debate are not in their places, but I am glad to say that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, is. It always worries me when I agree so much with the noble Lord. I hope that I do not embarrass him when I say so, but on reflection I think I agree with everything that he said today, particularly his commentary on the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell.
The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, makes brilliant speeches here of immaculate, impenetrable logic—I should say “irrefutable” rather than “impenetrable”—and I could not agree with him more. There is no place for British schadenfreude in what is going wrong in the Eurozone; on the other hand, that should not lead us in any sense to be prepared to give any more of the sovereignty of this House to European institutions. We should help them but we should remain fiercely independent. Thank God—this is one of the few things for which I am grateful to the previous Prime Minister—he kept us out of the euro.
I hope that there will be one change in this Government from what was the practice in the Government that I supported. When people went to see Mr Blair about defence expenditure, he would say, “You have persuaded me, now you have to go and persuade Gordon”—I see that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has come in; I have been saying some nice things about him, but he can read about them tomorrow—to which the answer should have been, “No, Prime Minister, it’s your job to go and persuade Gordon”, but I am afraid that none of them ever had the guts to say that.
I shall say one or two things about the noble Lord, Lord Burnett. He gave a very good speech. I disagreed with only one thing in it: he seems to want to live in a nuclear-free world. I have no desire whatever to live in a nuclear-free world. I am very grateful that nuclear weapons were invented, that they were invented when they were invented and that they were invented by the Americans and not by the Germans. I have got that off my chest. If you like to think of a world without any nuclear weapons whatever—where no one has cheated—try living in Israel and see how comfortable you feel. I could think of one or two other places. As Jim Schlesinger says, nuclear weapons are in use every day of every year and they are keeping the peace. I, for one, was extremely glad when India and Pakistan both acquired a nuclear capability. The result we have seen: for the first time the Pakistani Army has been prepared to pull back considerable sections of its troops from the Indian frontier to go and deal with the Taliban threat in the north. You cannot ask for more convincing evidence of the stabilising effect of a nuclear bounce.
No, I do not have time. I am sorry.
I was going to talk about C-17s, C-130s and the A-400M. Your Lordships will know my views on the A-400M and I merely say that this a marvellous opportunity to cancel the damn thing. I also have some views on the last tranche of the Eurofighter but I shall not detain your Lordships on that subject. I hope—this is a question for the Minister—that we can have a guarantee that the contract for the seventh C-17 will go ahead because I consider that to be extremely important. I hope also that, if the Government cannot get out of the A-400M contract, they will at least look very carefully at flogging off the aeroplanes as soon as we get them so as to minimise the penal cost to us.
My complaint about the A-400M is not that it is several years late, not that it is up to 20 tonnes overweight, not that it is millions of pounds more than its original cost, not that its engines are unsatisfactory and not that it does not meet its original specifications; it is quite simply that we do not need the thing. In a Written Question, I asked Her Majesty’s Government,
“whether they have asked the United States Air Force how it performs the roles that Her Majesty’s Government envisages being performed by the A400M aircraft”.
I received a brilliant Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, which stated:
“The US Air Transport requirement is satisfied by various marks of C-130”—
that is the Hercules—
the old Galaxy, which is going out of use anyway—
“and the recently introduced C27J”—
which is a very small tactical transport aircraft. It continues:
“While the MoD has not undertaken detailed analysis of the US fleet mix, our understanding is that the capabilities we envisage A400M will provide are largely met through use of C-130s and C-17s, albeit using C-17”.—[Official Report, 25/1/10; col. WA 288.]
I rest my case.
I would like to point out that the India-Pakistan fighting has stopped because, first, Pakistan has realised it cannot win a war with India because of the difference in size. Secondly, Pakistani terrorism in India is still going on. Noble Lords will remember that just recently we have had two incidents.
My Lords, three daunting challenges, inseparably linked, face our country and must be treated conjointly: first, the economic crisis; secondly, the inevitable political and social fall-out following austere fiscal and economic policies; and, thirdly, the existential threat that the whole of the free world still faces from rogue states and from worldwide interstate terrorism. I cannot, I am afraid, agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, because of the distinction between fighting individual terrorists and not terrorist states or terrorist movements worldwide.
Iran is still a state that gives us enormous worry because if it were to have an atomic weapon, it would not only be a deadly threat to its neighbours but also to Europe. It is the fashionable concept that Israel is the main target and not Iran’s immediate neighbours or Europe, but the arch enemies of Tehran are, in descending order, the Saudi royal family, guardian of the holy shrines; the apostate Sunni clergy, wherever they may be; the great Satan, the United States; and, only fourth, the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Yet it is this fourth foe which allows Ahmadinejad to engage and incite the Arab Street.
We in Europe are in just as much danger as Israel—we should take note of this basic fact. I do not believe that Iran would throw a bomb at us, but it can, by use of blackmail, reverse the balance of power in Asia. Already the Government of Turkey, one or other of the Emirates in the Middle East and Brazil in Latin America—long-standing friends and allies of Washington —are shifting their stance, covering their flanks and shaping new alliances with former foes, because of the perception that the United States and President Obama are in retreat and that Europe is anxious, indeed impatient, to withdraw, even haggling over exact dates for withdrawal of its troops. It is that which tempts; it is an open invitation to our enemy to adjust its own timetables for redoubled offensives against us.
How does the West reunite to face these dangers? The Prime Minister was right to pay visits to Paris and Berlin. Warmer relationships with Germany are a priority and it is satisfying to note that the Cameron/Merkel talks seem to have been successful. The early dispatch of Mr Simon McDonald, one of Britain’s leading diplomats, as ambassador to Berlin was an excellent move. Having served successfully in both Saudi Arabia and Israel, he has a unique knowledge of the Middle East and has made friends on both sides.
Relations between this country and Israel are at a very low ebb. In terms of the attitude of European Governments to the Israel/Arab conflict, Germany is best positioned by being respected by both sides at the same time as being Israel’s best friend. It is followed by Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland and Holland. Even France, once one of Israel’s sternest critics and still very critical of her Arab policies, is in the forefront of fighting cultural and scientific boycott.
It is the common view in Europe that Britain, especially towards the latter stages of the defeated Labour Government, was the most unfriendly of all European countries, followed only by Sweden and Norway. There have been academic boycotts; speakers have been jeered and hauled down from platforms in elitist universities; a ludicrous law that would permit the arrest of a moderate Israeli politician such as Mrs Tzipi Livni as a suspected war criminal with the prospect of extradition to The Hague has not been repealed in spite of assurances by the outgoing Government. It is hoped that the new British Government will make amends. The Liberal coalition partner, both in the other place and in your Lordships’ House, has been distinctly cool towards the Israelis. In my 36 years of listening to debates in your Lordships’ House, some of the roughest tones have come from the Liberal Benches. I hope that we may not hear more malevolent tongues from a party with such a long-standing tradition of fighting anti-Semitism and discrimination.
Perhaps I may conclude with an up-to-date example of how ruthless propaganda taken up in our most illustrious media, including the BBC, can distort the truth. At this very moment, the so-called “Freedom Flotilla”, a nine-ship strong convoy, is heading to Gaza from Turkey with hundreds of passengers and claiming to carry more than 10,000 tonnes of supplies. I gather that it is due to arrive this weekend. It is almost certain to be turned away, for sadly very necessary security reasons. We have, of course, the opportunity to hear choruses of condemnation of the heartless, ruthless, warmongering Zionist enemy. It would perhaps interest noble Lords to learn what actually entered Gaza legally from Israel in the first quarter of 2010, January to March—94,500 tons of supplies transferred in 3,676 trucks. Just this last week, there were 637 truckloads containing 14,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid and 810,209 litres of heavy-duty diesel fuel. I could go on for a long time, but I am aware of the time. However, I am certainly happy to supply details to any the noble Lord who wants to know them, as well as details on the exact sources.
Noble Lords may readily see that mischievous and dangerous propaganda can also sometimes misfire and yield to defensible truth.
My Lords, several thousands of miles away, in a country most people have never heard of, in the remote highlands of that country, people have been celebrating. Dressed in the local costume, they were filmed holding up a large poster of David Cameron. The reason is that the new Prime Minister has met Benny Wanda, a West Papuan leader who was granted political asylum in this country, and because of this meeting these desperate people have raised their hopes.
We know from this debate that the new Government have many very serious issues facing them on their foreign policy agenda, but I hope that they will not forget minority groups and indigenous peoples, including the people of West Papua, whose hopes have been so raised by the election of David Cameron.
I remind noble Lords, if I may, of the situation of these people. West Papua, which is the western half of the island whose other half is Papua New Guinea, was once under Dutch control. At the end of 1961, West Papua held a congress at which its people declared independence, and raised their new flag, the Morning Star. Indonesia then invaded and, to cut the story short, held a forced vote. This so-called act of free choice consisted of 1,026 people being forced at gunpoint to vote for integration with Suharto’s Indonesia, and that being taken as the voice of the people. In a historic statement in this House, the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, acknowledged that,
“there were 1,000 handpicked representatives and that they were largely coerced into declaring for inclusion in Indonesia”.—[Official Report, 13/12/04; col. 1084.]
That crime has not been forgotten, even though many would like to forget it, because Indonesia is rightly seen as a relatively stable and vital partner in the struggle against terrorism. Furthermore, West Papua is rich in natural resources, which are being exploited to the benefit of Indonesia and the large international companies that are operating there, although not to the benefit of the West Papuan people themselves.
A brief word is necessary about the name. The Indonesian Government, on the old principle of divide and rule, have divided the country into three provinces, one of which they have called West Papua. But for the indigenous people, West Papua is what they call the country as a whole.
There are other reasons why so little is heard of West Papua in the rest of the world. One is that journalists and human rights observers are not allowed into the country, so little of the abuse gets reported. But it has been estimated that since 1969 more than 100,000 West Papuans have been killed and there are now some 9,000 refugees in Papua New Guinea. The Catholic Church’s Papuan Peace and Justice Secretariat reported that students who had been arrested after a peaceful demonstration had been interviewed without access to legal representation and had suffered physical and mental torture.
There are more than 100 political prisoners there, including Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, who were jailed for 15 and 10 years respectively for raising the West Papua national flag, the Morning Star, on 1 December 2004. They have been recognised by Amnesty International as international prisoners of conscience. More recently, Buchtar Tabuni and Victor Yeimo have been imprisoned for exactly the same offence. Expressing their desire in an entirely peaceful manner means that they are liable to 10, 15 or 20 years imprisonment. In the highlands at this very moment, there are sweeping military operations in which villages are burnt, people killed and livestock destroyed.
Another feature of the situation that is very distressing to the indigenous population is the way that the island is being repopulated. Apparently, the city’s hotels and shops are now being dominated by people who have been brought in from outside.
Despite the clampdown on news, the world is gradually becoming aware of what is happening. Amnesty International is campaigning. This very afternoon, I handed in a petition on its behalf at the Indonesian embassy in Grosvenor Square with more than 3,000 signatures. The embassy received us very graciously. There are now two significant bodies in existence, the International Lawyers for West Papua and the International Parliamentarians for West Papua.
The new Government believe in freedom. I very much hope that they will carry that conviction with them into the international sphere and in their dealings with minority groups and indigenous peoples, particularly the people of West Papua. A significant step would be to press for proper access to West Papua and elsewhere for journalists and human rights workers so that the world can become fully aware of what is happening. I am well aware of the necessity of realpolitik when there is a significant moral dimension. But there is a historic wrong. A people who made it clear that they wanted self-determination were denied it in 1969 and are still being denied it today. As a result, they are still trying to make their voices heard and are being suppressed. A large poster of David Cameron, our new Prime Minister, has been raised in the remote highlands of West Papua. I hope that the voices raised there will be heard in Downing Street and the Foreign Office.
My Lords, I have listened to this debate from the very beginning to this predetermined hour. It has demonstrated the great strength of this House in bringing to the discussions a wealth of opinion and knowledge from sometimes unexpected quarters. It has not been a partisan debate. We have heard a number of people agreeing with those sitting on different Benches. It is entirely appropriate that a coalition Government should be backed by that kind of a Chamber, which brings constructive recommendations and does not react in a purely dogmatic way to the great and troubling issues of the present.
In one sense, I welcome the coalition’s ending of what might have been seen as an increasingly presidential system, with policy too much dictated from the top—from No. 10. We are not seeing that replaced by a duumvirate, but rather by a recognition that the voices of those elected to Parliament and those with the responsibility of participating in these debates should be heard and taken fully into account.
I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, who has on a number of occasions thought it right to focus on the negative about the European Union, giving a rather positive suggestion that we should cast our eyes more widely and not simply focus on the European Union. As someone who, shortly after I entered political life at the age of 29, became the PPS to the last Commonwealth Secretary, the late Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who went on to become our first Minister for Europe, I have never thought that these things were inconsistent.
In opening the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, whose appointment has been widely welcomed, given his great experience of many aspects of foreign policy, recognised the extensiveness of the dangers that we face in the world today. We heard from him a long list of interests and concerns, which have been echoed and magnified throughout the debate. We heard about natural disasters, poverty, malnutrition, the exploitation of the less well off, the threats of disease, uncontrolled population growth, the settlement of disputes by force rather than according to the edicts or prescriptions of public international law and the lack of certainty about what the rules of public international law are or ought to be on the use of force in humanitarian crises. We also heard about the violation of human rights and many other matters. All these things require us to focus as a nation on what our priorities must be.
Never has that been truer than at the moment, when our economic weaknesses have been displayed in a humiliating fashion. We must intervene effectively in the global issues that have been discussed. We should not underestimate our capacity, but we have to be realistic about our capabilities and not exaggerate what we can effect beneficently.
I hope that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, on the Strategic Defence Review will be listened to. He has always been concerned about that aspect of our national interest. He made the important recommendation that the review should be far-reaching. He said that we should not accept any limitation on the commitments that we can afford and those that we cannot afford and that we should consider what makes most sense.
I want to speak in particular about the European Union, because I do not entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said about the danger of being locked into the EU strategically. I argue that our capacity for influencing the issues that have been raised in this debate will be immensely strengthened if the European Union speaks with one voice. As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out, we should not differentiate ourselves from and hold at arm’s length the economic problems of the eurozone. We must recognise that those problems impact directly on this country. The fact that we did not join the euro has, if anything, diminished our capacity to avoid the crisis and has to some extent weakened our voice in coming to grips with it. We must not for a moment stand back in a vain—in both senses of the word—attempt to proclaim a superiority that we certainly do not merit.
If the European Union is not embroiling and entangling us, but making a serious contribution to such matters as climate change, on which it conspicuously failed to make any significant impact in the outcome of the Copenhagen conference, there is a lesson for us. Our voice and interests—what has been referred to as our international network of historic contacts in the Commonwealth and other alliances—will be amplified immensely if we can come together with the European Union. If we recognise the limitations of our diplomatic capacity, which are reflected to some extent in the cuts that have been made in the departmental spending of our Foreign and Commonwealth Office, let us welcome the setting up of the External Action Service. Let us back that, where we can, with a political attempt to bring together the understanding of the member countries of the European Union, and utilise our connections and theirs—many of them also have colonial and imperial links—so that we can play a part in settling international disputes and holding risks and terrors at bay by exercising the weight that the European Union’s state of development really does require of us.
My Lords, I start by paying tribute to those in our Armed Forces who do so much to command our admiration and respect. I pay particular tribute to those serving in Afghanistan and, most of all, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. We must never forget them, or indeed their families.
Several people have commented that debates in this House on foreign affairs and defence are always extremely wide-ranging, knowledgeable and—speaking from experience—very challenging for the Minister, who aims to reply to the many and varied points that have inevitably been raised. It is, I must acknowledge, an almost impossible task. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor, on his appointment; I welcome him and wish him well in the future. I also thank him and the House for the tolerance and assistance that I received when I was in his place at that Dispatch Box. We will continue to have differences of opinion but I think our objectives, particularly in foreign affairs and defence, are the same. We may disagree on the means, but our objectives are to promote national security and our national interests. The good will that should go with that common objective should see us through some of the disagreements that we will have.
It is right that I should start with Afghanistan, an area that has such a high priority in the Ministry of Defence because of operations. Mention has already been made in today’s debate of the recent visit by the new Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for International Development. As has been mentioned, that visit seems to have led to some confusion about whether we need to redefine or clarify our roles. That was not a particularly auspicious start. I hope that the Minister this evening will ensure that he clarifies exactly what happened and, perhaps more importantly, will use his good influence to make sure that stories like that do not appear again. It cannot be in anyone’s interests—ours, those of our Armed Forces, or those of the people in Afghanistan—if the Government send out mixed messages about our mission there.
I said repeatedly in government, and will continue to say in opposition, that we are in Afghanistan for the sake of the security of people here in the United Kingdom. The danger of Afghanistan once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists is very real and it is not just the UK that believes that. We are there under successive UN resolutions and with more than 40 other countries. We will achieve our objective partly by beating the insurgents and partly, and essentially, by creating the conditions for stable government and development to be established. Some may try to divide these objectives but we have to get Afghanistan into a position where it is no longer a threat to us in the long term. That is the challenge that we face.
I have seen the Statement by the Secretary of State today—I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, for sight of that—and I am glad to say that I did not detect a new strategy there. I am pleased about that because we need to consolidate and build on the progress that we are making. We have to be clear that Afghanistan has been challenging to all of us all through. It will continue to be challenging and it is not a static situation. One of the frustrations of being a Minister in the Ministry of Defence is the simplicity with which some in the press seem to present complex issues.
I noticed that during his visit the Secretary of State made some general but rather sweeping statements about equipment. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Dean pointed out that he made a general statement about operational allowances. I give a friendly word of caution that we will be looking at all the details that will come from this. There are no panaceas, easy solutions or decisions that can be made at one time which will see you through the whole of the rest of that situation. We are fighting an insurgency where there are ever changing tactics and challenges and we have to work very hard indeed to be able to retain the upper hand and make the progress that we want. We cannot always anticipate what the next priority will be, so Ministers are wise to be cautious about any solutions which are offered.
I wish to say a few words about the Strategic Defence Review. A lot of work has already gone on in preparation for this, but I should like to make a few points. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and others said, much of which could be very constructive in terms of the way forward. I hope that the SDR—or the defence and security review, whatever we call it—will be policy-driven and not cost-driven because otherwise I do not believe that we can get the right answers. What we do in defence is based on our view of the world and the threats that we perceive exist out there which could be damaging to us. It is about our security and our foreign policy and it has to involve the whole of government.
The Green Paper Adaptability and Partnership, which we published in February this year, was well received on all sides of the House. Its analysis of global trends and its questions about the role that the UK must play to protect our interests is a very good basis on which to conduct the review. I am not pretending that affordability is not an issue though I remind the House that we have just seen, under Labour, the longest period of sustained real-terms growth in the defence budget for decades, and that is before we add the Treasury money that has come from the reserves for operations. What I am saying is that policy must be determined by threat analysis and then we must work out how we counter those threats, what we can do alone, what we have to do with others and in what circumstances. We cannot just say, “This is the equipment we have or we want, and so this is what we will do”. When I was in the MoD, I said that the SDR had to be policy-driven, and I say it again.
However, on a slightly different matter, I hope that it will be possible for the Government to continue what was started with the Green Paper—namely, to widen the debate—because these issues are important and deserve widespread consideration. The work of the Defence Advisory Forum, set up during the construction of the Green Paper, was extremely useful, and the themes in that Green Paper, including adaptability and partnership, will stand everyone in good stead when they are looking to the future and to the review.
I mentioned affordability and I want to say a few words about equipment procurement as a process. There is no doubt that a great deal of work has been done to improve procurement processes within the Ministry of Defence. There is also no doubt that the National Audit Office will still produce reports that are critical of certain projects for being over time and over budget. Some, although by no means all, of that criticism will have some justification. However, some developments within the MoD in the past few years have been helpful and we should build on them. The move to through-life capability management has been a good thing and must be developed further. There is still some way to go, but some progress has been made in terms of thinking about capabilities rather than platforms. Not everyone is totally sold on that idea, but it is there to stay and should be built on. There is greater scope not just for open architecture in design—with the concept of “fitted for”, not “fitted with”—but generally for a more incremental approach to procurement. All these, together with what we learnt from the very successful urgent operational requirement procedures, mean that we can move forward. I should be interested to know what the Government’s line will be on the commitment to transparency which the Labour Government gave in terms of future defence procurement plans.
However, I have one concern which I wish to share with the Minister at an early stage. I sometimes thought that if a project had enough noughts on the end of it, it was safe and could not be touched, but that projects with small-scale budgets were all too vulnerable. If we are to look at everything that is costly, we need also to look at some of the big projects.
While on the subject of small-scale budgets, I want to make a plea for proper consideration and priority to be given to what is generally called soft power. This area will be increasingly important, and we will pay a very heavy price in terms of all our interests if we neglect it. Future threats are not predictable. They may come from terrorism, failing states or, indeed, international crime. What we can assess, and what we said in the Green Paper, is that they are most likely to involve distant places, asymmetrical methods, complex political situations and complex security environments. The situation we face will be ever changing and ever challenging. Moreover, personally, I think that the public threshold for military intervention will be even higher. Therefore, we need even greater emphasis on conflict prevention and security promotion—which means soft power. It must be a mainstream part of defence activity, but we actually spend less than 0.5 per cent of our defence budget in this area. We get a tremendous return for it in terms of influence throughout the world, but soft power is so important and has so much potential that we would do well to consider what more we can do in this area. It is not a substitute for hard power—they complement each other—but we must ensure that we give soft power sufficient priority in the future.
Finally, I must say that it was a great experience to work within the Ministry of Defence, with so many professional and dedicated civilians as well as military personnel. I was also proud to work alongside my colleagues, in particular Bob Ainsworth, who, as Armed Forces Minister and then as Secretary of State for Defence, did so much for those in the Armed Forces. The service personnel Command Paper was the first time that any Government had produced a document, given undertakings and done such detailed work to improve the lot of those in the Armed Forces and their families. That work made great strides forward, as did our spending, referred to by my noble friend Lady Dean, on the backlog of housing problems.
We also introduced the compensation scheme, which has been criticised and improved—but we should remember that it did not exist until a Labour Government introduced it. It was right that we made such improvements, but a little acknowledgement is perhaps in order this evening. We created a strong basis in that area for the Government to build on. I do not expect us to get all the details this evening. I do not even expect the Minister to answer all the questions that have been raised on important issues such as mental health. However, I hope that he will continue the tradition of writing to those Members whose questions he cannot answer.
Ministers have big and significant responsibilities, and there will always be new challenges. I am proud of what the Labour Government did. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out yesterday, we will assist this Government whenever we think that they are doing the right thing. Perhaps there will be more examples of that in foreign and defence policy than in some other areas. We will also be rigorous in holding the Government to account. We wish all Ministers well in their new responsibilities.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to close this excellent debate—my first as Under-Secretary of State for Defence in this House. This is a huge honour. Noble Lords should have no doubt that I, as a former soldier, will do my utmost to support the Armed Forces from all services. I am always ready to listen to the advice from defence experts—which this House has in abundance—that has been offered to me by noble, and noble and gallant, Lords from all parts of the House during my six years as shadow Defence Minister. My doors are open to all noble Lords from all quarters of the House. I particularly look forward to working with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and with my noble friend Lord Lyell, who ran the All-Party Defence Group so efficiently.
I am sure that I speak for the whole House in also recognising the exceptional job at our Armed Forces do, wherever they are in the world, on behalf of our nation. Tragically, our people sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice. Tonight, I humbly offer the condolences of the whole House to the family and friends of Corporal Stephen Walker from 40 Commando Royal Marines, serving as part of Combined Force Sangin, who was killed in an explosion on 21 May. Corporal Walker was conducting a joint foot patrol with the Afghan National Army to reassure, and improve security for, the local population. It is also with great sadness that I report that a soldier from 4th Regiment Royal Artillery was killed this morning in Afghanistan.
I will say something about the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton. She left office with the admiration of the whole House, and has served this country well over many years. I have always admired her wealth of experience and her ability to make the most complicated issues accessible to all noble Lords. The noble Baroness will be a very hard act to follow. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, for the innovations that he brought to equipping and supporting our Armed Forces. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who often stood in for defence Ministers at the Dispatch Box and did a very good job, as did my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford, formerly the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman. I was always full of admiration for my noble friend and he always seemed to ask the questions that I wished I had thought of.
Finally, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing Black Rod well after his recent stroke. He took a great interest in defence issues in this House, and I know that he would have wanted to be here for a lot of today’s debate.
I should like to focus on Afghanistan and our plans for a much needed Strategic Defence and Security Review. We are in Afghanistan out of necessity, not choice. Let us be clear: our mission in Afghanistan is vital for our national security; it is vital for the security of the region as a whole; and it is vital for global stability. It was in Afghanistan that the attacks of 9/11 were planned. We must not allow Afghanistan to be used again as a safe haven for terrorists or a launch pad for attacks on this country or those of our allies. Earlier today, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, I laid a Written Ministerial Statement before this House, which sets out recent changes to the command arrangements to enable ISAF to make optimal use of the increased forces now deploying in southern Afghanistan. As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, the international coalition has a mandate from the United Nations, and 46 different countries are now providing forces.
As the Foreign Secretary has set out in the other place, our national objective in Afghanistan is to help Afghans to reach the point where they can look after their own security without presenting a danger to the rest of the world. Therein lies their security and ours. That is why the counterinsurgency strategy devised by General McChrystal last year is rightly focused on the Afghan people. Over the past two years, the authority of the Afghan Government has been extended from six to 11 of the 13 provinces in Helmand.
The training that the Afghan security forces are receiving will, over time, enable the transition of lead security responsibility from NATO’s mission to the Government of Afghanistan, starting in some parts of the country at the end of this year or early next year. This is part of a wider political strategy, including anti-corruption measures, improvements in governance and economic development, that will then allow us to bring our forces home. The Government remain committed to doing so as quickly as possible, but only when the time is right and not to some arbitrary deadline. To achieve this, the Government of Afghanistan as a whole must have the capacity to maintain a more stable and safer state. The Afghan national security forces must be able to stand firm on their own against the enemies of their Government. That means building the capabilities and confidence of the Afghan Government at a national and local level to bring leadership. That is where our comprehensive approach can be applied most effectively. By drawing on the skills across government, such as political understanding, reconciliation and development, a comprehensive approach is able to offer a more tailored response to the complex problems in Afghanistan. One thing is certain. Through their courage and bravery, our Armed Forces have dealt a severe blow to the Taliban-led insurgents and the terrorist networks supporting them.
I now turn to the Government’s defence policy. My noble friend Lord Howell opened this debate with an explanation of the underpinning of the active, hard-headed and practical foreign and security policy that the new Government will implement. This is the dawn of a new era for our defence policy. It is about acting in Britain’s national interest to shape the world, not just be shaped by it. The security environment can change rapidly. I have already mentioned that we face an increasingly diverse range of global security challenges. Keeping al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan is just one part of the campaign against international terrorism. Working closely with the Government of Pakistan to tackle extremism and its underlying causes in the border regions is another. We face many enduring and emerging threats. Iran and North Korea are examples of the former and cyber warfare is an example of a threat that is only now emerging. That is why the priority for our defence policy will be the strategic defence and security review.
As the noble Baroness agreed, defence cannot be immune from the economic realities that we as a country face. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, said that we face difficulties. All defence programmes, including equipment, will need to demonstrate their value for money, but we should use the difficult challenges to grasp the opportunity of radical thinking and reform. Let me reassure noble Lords that the SDSR will be a strategic, cross-government and comprehensive exercise overseen by the newly formed National Security Council to provide a coherent approach to security. We have to ensure that we have the right balance of resources to meet our commitments so that our service men and women have what they need to do what we ask of them. As a nation we have a responsibility to give our Armed Forces our full support in return for the selfless service and sacrifice they are prepared to make in our name.
Our objective is to double the operational allowance of those serving in Afghanistan and we are discussing how rest and recuperation leave can be maximised. We place great emphasis on giving a high priority to anyone suffering from enduring health problems as a result of service, particularly those with serious injuries and mental health problems. We will deal with the invisible wounds of war as well as the visible ones. We must make sure that every penny spent on defence counts.
I shall turn to some of the questions asked today. Some very important issues have been raised and there is no way that I can answer all of them, but both myself and my noble friend Lord Howell will do our very best. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, asked about our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent on development aid. This Government are fully committed to achieving from 2013 the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNI on overseas aid and we will enshrine this commitment in law. That was made clear in last week’s coalition agreement. Locking in our commitment on aid is both morally right and in our national interest. It will place our country in a position of clear international leadership and we will encourage other countries to live up to their commitment. Value for money will be central to everything that we do. DfID will use the power of independent evaluation, transparency and a focus on results to drive a step change in the effectiveness of the UK’s aid efforts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, asked about aid to China. DfID’s bilateral trade programme is planned to end by March next year and we will review which other countries should get UK aid and focus more on the poorest.
I can confirm to the noble Baroness that my noble friend Lady Verma is the international development spokeswoman in this House. I can also confirm that French co-operation has not disappeared. At the risk of disappointing the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, interesting discussions are taking place at a very high level with our French friends. I have some good news for the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert: the seventh C17 will go ahead with an in-service date of March next year.
The noble Baroness also asked me about NATO. Of course, NATO is the cornerstone of our defence policy. My noble friend Lord Lee asked me when the 25 per cent reduction in MoD running costs will be achieved. We are committed to that reduction and work is ongoing on how it will be implemented. With regard to Trident, the Government remain committed to the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent. However, as announced by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, that will be scrutinised for value for money.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, stressed the vital importance of effective control of the air. Clearly, that is vital to any military operation and the whole issue will be looked at very closely in the SDR—which, to answer the noble and gallant Lord’s question, will report by the end of this year.
My noble friend Lord Jopling asked who will replace Geoff Hoon on the Albright Commission. My understanding is that the commission has just completed its report, so he will not need replacing. My noble friend also asked about our position on the WEU. In March this year, the previous Government gave notice that the UK intended to leave the WEU. The following day, all attendant member states of the WEU agreed that we would move together towards closure in June next year. There is no longer any justification for paying the cost of a separate organisation such as the WEU given that there is now clear EU agreement that NATO has responsibility for collective defence. In the interim, there will be a period of consultation on the important issue of continued effective inter-parliamentary scrutiny of EU defence issues, on which we will engage fully with Parliament.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked whether the Army will increase by three battalions. That issue will be considered in the SDSR, and I would not wish to prejudge the outcome of the review. She also asked from where the money to double the operational allowance will come. It has been the practice for the operational allowance to be funded from the Treasury reserve. Detailed eligibility criteria are still being worked out.
My noble friend Lord Luke asked about the Chinook helicopters. Do we have enough; are the Mark III helicopters now in service; and when will the additional 22 be deployed to Afghanistan? We have constantly improved helicopter capability. Since 2006, we have almost doubled the number of battlefield helicopters and have seen flying hours increase by 140 per cent. The first aircraft from the Mark III conversion programme has already been delivered for training purposes, and a further five will be delivered by the end of the year. We expect to start taking delivery of the additional 22 Chinooks in 2013. Their deployment to Afghanistan is a matter for military commanders.
My noble friend also asked about the carriers. The expected in-service date for HMS “Queen Elizabeth” is 2016 and for HMS “Prince of Wales” 2018. The approved forecast cost is £5.2 billion. So far, equipment sub-contracts have been placed to the value of £1.2 billion.
My noble friend Lord Burnett gave a good example of the successful projection of power by a carrier, albeit some time ago. There is no doubt that the arrival of HMS “Bulwark” and the Royal Marines aboard her played a big part in restoring peace to Hong Kong during the difficult time of the cultural revolution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, asked about maternal and reproductive health and maternal mortality. We will put women at the centre of DfID’s aid programme and will ensure that they are given choices so that they can decide for themselves whether and when to have children. Investing in family planning is one of the most effective development interventions and the most cost-effective way to reduce maternal mortality. It is an international development priority for this Government.
The noble Lords, Lord Chidgey and Lord St John of Bletso, asked about aid effectiveness, accountability, transparency and value for money. DfID is committed to ensuring independent evaluation of aid effectiveness and transparent accountability for the British taxpayer on achieving value for money for development aid. These will be key responsibilities of the new independent aid watchdog. The new watchdog will strengthen independence and accountability and, as a result, ensure increased value for money from British aid.
These are challenging times for foreign affairs, international development and, particularly, defence. The Prime Minister visited the Ministry of Defence this morning and was candid that the period ahead will be exhausting. Afghanistan, the strategic defence and security review, how we equip and support our Armed Forces and how we look after their welfare, their families’ welfare and veterans add up to a huge amount of critical work. He acknowledged that his title includes First Lord of the Treasury, but he also reminded us that nothing is more important than the defence of the realm, a point that was echoed by my noble friend Lord Sterling. That speaks volumes for the priority that this Government place on defence and on supporting our Armed Forces.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 10.17 pm.