Debate (6th Day)
Moved on Wednesday 9 May by
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, first, your Lordships might like to know that this summer, which will be a very busy one in this nation, we expect to welcome and look after about 120 foreign leaders and Prime Ministers and their entourages for the Olympic Games, as well as some 40,000 foreign media personnel. I hope that there will be no doubt in your Lordships’ minds that we at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be working hard to look after that lot.
On Tuesday last, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary set out the Government’s two principal foreign policy aims: first, to respond to urgent challenges and crises in a way that promotes Britain’s national interest and our democratic values; and, secondly, to equip our country to be a safe, prosperous and influential nation in the long term, in the service of poverty reduction and conflict prevention, and in the upholding of human rights, religious freedoms and environmental safeguards.
To do this successfully, our nation needs to adapt. Wealth and power are shifting globally, so once again in our history we need to look beyond our traditional partners of recent decades to the new and emerging economies of Asia, Latin America and Africa. The world’s pattern of energy resources and energy powers, too, is being transformed by new gas discoveries and low-carbon aspirations. To make the most of the enormous opportunities that these shifts offer, we must move to reinvigorate and refocus our diplomatic network and our policy priorities.
Of course, that does not mean forgetting old friends. The United States of America will remain our strongest ally; our relations with our European partners will remain an essential pillar of our foreign policy; and we should recognise the growing importance of the Commonwealth, which is evolving into one of the most relevant networks in the changing world, embracing some of its most dynamic economies. I have called it the necessary network of the 21st century. It is certainly one of the key gateways to the great and rich new markets of the future, in which we must succeed.
I will say a word about the Arab spring and the developments of the past 18 months. Obviously, 2011 was a momentous year. Already, the Arab spring has brought huge changes to the Middle East and north Africa. Significant challenges remain, but the Government are optimistic about the road ahead. This summer, Libya is set to hold its first democratic elections in more than 40 years. Egypt’s citizens are about to choose their next President, and we hope that this will be an important step towards building a prosperous and stable future for the Egyptian people. Bahrain has committed to a reform process and has made some progress, although there is a good way to go. Peaceful reform is under way in such nations as Algeria, Jordan and Morocco.
However, there is still much to do. The region now needs to consolidate and build on these gains, taking further economic and political measures to entrench stability. The events of the Arab spring have also made ever more pressing the need for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. We urge both sides to avoid any steps that would undermine the prospect of successful negotiations. In this House on Tuesday, I welcomed the news of the Egypt-brokered deal on the Palestinian hunger strikers.
The Government will continue to support the process of reform that is under way in the Middle East and north Africa. In February last year we launched the Arab Partnership Initiative, which aims to support long-term political and economic reform in the region. We committed £110 million over four years through the initiative. Last year the joint FCO-DfID Arab Partnership Fund funded more than 50 projects in 11 countries in the region. We intend to intensify that work over the coming years.
Meanwhile, Iran’s stance and influence remain dangerous. We have yet to see any firm indication that it is willing to take concrete action to address concerns about the potential military dimension of its nuclear programme. We want Iran to take steps to build confidence in its nuclear activities, and we will maintain the pressure until genuine progress is made, including through sanctions and the current EU embargo on oil imports.
In Syria, the situation clearly remains completely unacceptable. More than 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed and many thousands displaced or detained. While we welcome the deployment of UN monitors in Syria in accordance with Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, which is already having an impact, it is deeply concerning that the violence continues. The Annan plan remains the best chance to find a way through Syria’s crisis, but we will not hesitate to return to the UN Security Council if rapid progress is not made.
I turn now to the broader pattern and the rise of Africa and the emerging powers. The positive developments in north Africa reflect a broader trend on the continent as a whole: that is, the gradual realisation of Africa’s enormous potential. Significant challenges, of course, remain in sub-Saharan Africa, as we all know. We are very concerned, for example, by the rise in military tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, and urge both parties to comply with the African Union’s action plan. In fact, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated groups in Africa remain a threat, particularly across the Sahel. We have seen an increase in terrorist attacks in Nigeria, and the Sahel and the Horn are suffering food and water crises.
These developments, however, should not dilute the broader message: it is a time of significant change in Africa. Many commentators need to catch up with that new reality. Infant mortality is down; foreign investment is up. The IMF forecasts that the African economy will grow by 5.8% this year, which sounds a lot from our perspective here in Britain. The continent has an increasing presence on the international stage. South Africa, a member of the G20, is playing an increasingly active role globally. Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana are the new potential stars. I visited Ghana the week before last. Nigeria, with its wealth of natural resources, is unlocking its potential as a considerable regional energy power. Even in Somalia there is new momentum in the political process following the successful London Conference on Somalia. It is right, therefore, that we develop and strengthen our relations with Africa.
Equally, we need to raise our game in the emerging and already advanced economies of Asia, particularly in China and in Latin America, but also with the Korean and Japanese giants and world leaders. We have already increased our efforts to promote trade in these markets. In 2011, UK goods exports to Columbia increased by 35%. In India the figure is 37% and Indonesia an impressive 44%. We believe that we can do even better and will intensify our efforts. We have to recognise and work constructively with massive Chinese involvement and investment right across the globe, including in the UK, and not forgetting our continuing ties with Hong Kong.
In doing so, we will not lessen for a moment our focus on human rights, which remain at the core of Britain’s values. In particular, discrimination and violence against women and girls remain among the most widespread human rights abuses. Tackling these issues is a priority for the UK and central to our work to advance gender equality and empower women.
It is Britain’s leadership, supported by our international partners, that has helped to secure tangible, real reform in countries such as Burma, where we are finally seeing a hopeful path forward and which my right honourable friend visited only recently. Meanwhile, nearer home, Europe is seeking to recover from the biggest financial crisis for generations. In Chancellor Merkel’s words, we are in a period of great uncertainty. That is very apparent.
Europe faces two big economic challenges: resolving the eurozone crisis, if that is possible, which remains a major obstacle to our economic recovery, and responding to the relative shift of economic power to the east and south—all predicted by some of us 15 years ago and to which rather slow-learning commentators have at last woken up.
While it is for each eurozone member to decide how to handle the crisis, particularly the immediate Greek crisis that fills our newspapers, we continue to believe that control of public finances and structural reform to increase productivity and competitiveness are the only realistic ways forward. We have just introduced a Bill to approve an amendment to the EU treaties and confirm the compatibility with the treaties of the eurozone-only European stability mechanism. We have ensured that the UK will not be liable through the EU budget for any future EU eurozone bailouts once the ESM comes into force.
We share common values and interests with our EU partners, and can use the collective weight of the EU in the right situations to increase our impact on the international stage. But the European Union must reform as well, and we will play a strong part in that. The EU must support peace and stability in the western Balkans. We look forward to Croatia’s accession to the EU, due in July 2013, and will bring forward a Bill to approve this. We will also continue to develop our co-operation with Russia.
On Afghanistan, my noble friend Lord Astor will have more to say on this issue and on our defence dispositions when he winds up this evening. However, I would like to pay a very strong tribute to all the British personnel who have lost their lives or been injured serving their country there. The process of transitioning security control to Afghan forces is on track, and we expect the ANSF to take a lead on security responsibilities across the country by mid-2013, with ISAF moving to a supporting role.
The Chicago summit later this month will focus on the size, make-up and funding of the Afghan national security forces. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has already announced that Britain will contribute £70 million a year from 2015 to fund the ANSF. As the transition in 2014 approaches, it is more important than ever that we engage with Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan and the central Asian states, and this we are most certainly doing.
A common theme in what I have outlined today is the role of networks in the modern, globalised world. States are increasingly organising themselves into networks, ranging from the political—I have already mentioned the European Union—to the economic, social and cultural. Let us take one of the world’s greatest networks, the Commonwealth. This Government are committed to making more out of the Commonwealth, an organisation uniquely placed to advance our foreign policy and trade objectives. This is why Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed in Perth last year—a meeting I attended—to some of the most significant reforms in the organisation’s history. More than ever, now is the time, as we celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and welcome the world’s leaders here, to make the most of our Commonwealth connections.
We will in due course publish the Government’s new White Paper on our relations with the UK’s overseas territories, another important network. Their future welfare forms part of our larger determination to assist small island states, not least those in the Commonwealth in the Caribbean, which face major challenges; for example, climate issues and crippling energy costs. I stress that we remain absolutely committed to the rights of the people of the Falkland Islands to self-determination and to develop their own economy.
That brings me to the network of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office itself, my own department. Over the past year we have taken steps to substantially reinvigorate our diplomatic network. We have put the Foreign and Commonwealth Office back at the heart of government in the making of British foreign policy. By the end of this Parliament, we will have deployed 300 extra staff in more than 20 countries around the world, and we will have opened up to 11 new British embassies and eight new consulates or trade offices in the emerging nations. We are achieving this while making £100 million per year in savings in the Foreign Office budget, as required by the FCO’s spending review settlement.
At this point I would like to pay a warm tribute to the FCO’s committed staff across the globe, often operating in very difficult conditions, and those of the Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence, who work tirelessly in support of our country around the world.
In security terms, the same kind of attitude and priority shift as on the economic and trade fronts is warranted. There is no dispute that America remains the most powerful hard-power military nation and ally, but in a world of dispersed power, cloud information stores and e-enabled, non-state threats, new instruments and techniques of influence and persuasion are required to underpin security and prevent the exercise of hostile force against British citizens and interests. We need, if I may quote Her Majesty’s own words, the,
“camaraderie, warmth and mutual respect”,
of other countries, which our overidentification with past policy and approaches failed to deliver and, in some cases, repelled.
Instead, we need to rely on new network and soft-power intimacies through: local government links; educational links; language links; cultural links such as our museum activities branching out from the UK; the BBC World Service and the British Council; parliamentary links; common judicial practices; common law similarities; common professional standards in medicine, science, accountancy and advanced research of all kinds; civil society networks, religious and faith ties; and the enduring power of ideas and innovation in all fields and every kind of service and design package that our creative and original thinking can generate. Alongside all this, we have become, in the words of the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, a “development superpower”. It was good that, last year, no fewer than 143,710 Commonwealth students sought to come here. More British students should be encouraged to go to the great new universities of modern Asia.
Sixty years after Dean Acheson’s jibe about Britain having lost an empire and not found a role, we are now finding a role, despite misplaced American comment to the contrary. Britain is emerging as an agile new network power, positioning itself consciously and effectively in line with the new global patterns of economic power, trade flows, markets and influence. We are becoming a safe haven for the world’s investment and wealth.
Europe is our region and neighbourhood; America is our ally and friend; the Commonwealth is our family; and the changing world is our stage. If we are clever, wise and patient, we have every chance on this stage of maintaining and building on our prosperity and contributing decisively, as we must and should, to world stability and peace.
My Lords, I, too, thank FCO and MoD staff around the world for their extraordinary service and dedication. I know from my own time as an adviser in the previous Government that their professionalism, discretion and judgment are huge assets to this country in good as well as difficult times.
When the Prime Minister and his team came to power two years ago, they made it clear that their foreign policy would not be driven by any doctrine or philosophy. Instead, the Foreign Secretary pledged to be hard-headed and pragmatic. Not for him were wild fancies of reform of the architecture of international institutions, or visions of the future of Europe or the Atlantic alliance. Instead, the direction of foreign policy has, at most, been characterised by certain themes: taking emerging nations seriously rather than the traditional preoccupation with the troika of Europe, the Middle East and the USA; putting Britain’s commercial interests at the heart of foreign policy; and focusing on building up a portfolio of strong bilateral relationships rather than investing in multilateralism.
Many observers will support these themes and may have sympathy for underpromising on the vision front when it comes to foreign policy. But the modesty of the Government’s overall approach to foreign policy has, I fear, become a liability rather than an asset. Although muddling through may have been an adequate approach in normal times, it is an approach that looks rudderless in the times of extraordinary and unexpected changes that we are living through.
We are living in times where Europe finds itself in a protracted economic crisis that has become a political crisis, in which democracy and growth have been weakened while austerity and anti-political sentiment have strengthened. The Arab world has seen an uprising against non-democratic regimes—a popular rejection of the false choice between radical Islamism on the one hand and stability based on repression on the other. Yet there is continuing uncertainty about what comes next. We have witnessed the death of bin Laden, widespread war-weariness in response to the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, a shift in American priorities to trans-Pacific rather than transatlantic relations and, recently, Brazil overtaking Britain as the sixth-largest economy in the world.
These are dramatic changes in the landscape and Britain has a reasonable expectation to know the Government’s strategy in response to them. Where do they see Britain’s place in this changing world? Where should we concentrate our efforts and where should we be less engaged? You would be hard pushed to find their answers. It is one thing to boast the absence of doctrine and quite another to lack coherence. Yet that is what the respected Atlantic Council earlier this week concluded about this Government’s foreign policy. It said that the,
“coalition government has yet to develop a coherent strategic vision for the United Kingdom’s role in a changing global landscape”.
It went on that,
“British foreign policy vision and strategy remain unclear,”
“threatens to leave London isolated”.
There is no better example of that than the Government’s approach to defence. Their 2010 strategic defence and security review failed to provide any genuine strategic rethinking of Britain’s role in the world and did not survive its first contact with reality. It delivered aircraft carriers without aircraft—an extraordinary outcome that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, described as,
“little more use than a pub with no beer”.
It made our Libyan operations dependent on a frigate planned to be cut and Tornado jets set to be reduced. It was characterised by a rapid lunge for savings rather than a considered review of strategy, and the recent U-turn on the Joint Strike Fighter—reinstating a Conservative cut to the procurement plan inherited from Labour—shows what happens when decisions are taken too quickly and ends are not supported by means.
When it comes to European matters, I confess initially to having been baffled by what exactly the Government thought they were doing. There have been consistencies, in particular the Conservative part of the coalition’s determination to plunge cavalierly into isolation within Europe. It began back in opposition days when, as is now widely known, David Cameron made a deal with his Eurosceptic—more accurately, Euroseparatist—Back-Benchers to pull the Conservative Party out of the mainstream centre-right grouping in order to form a new grouping of what might politely be called maverick parties further to the right. The result has been diplomatic isolation of the Conservative Party in Europe.
Late last year came the decision to pull out of participation in the process of drawing up a new fiscal compact. British business was crying out for influence at a time of economic turmoil but the Prime Minister once again chose isolation. He said that he could not receive guarantees on behalf of the City of London but then walked away, ensuring his inability to protect its or any other British interests in the continuing series of monthly discussions that followed. He apparently thought that fellow non-euro countries would join him—they did not. He then claimed that he had managed the extraordinary achievement of vetoing a treaty before it had even been written. The Deputy Prime Minister disagreed, saying:
“The language gets confusing. Veto suggests something was stopped. It was not stopped”.
Indeed, it was not: something that walked, talked and smelt like a treaty got signed earlier this year by euro countries whom it affected. Non-euro countries that stayed in and ratified the arrangement without being affected by its terms got the right to attend and participate in some of the eurozone meetings on wider issues of competitiveness and institutional arrangements. Britain is not there. The Prime Minister’s team said, “Ah, but by not signing this ‘non-treaty’, we ensured that it would not be justiciable in the European Court”—except that they had not. Article 8 of the new treaty made clear that the ECJ’s rulings on issues brought to it under the treaty would be binding. The whole episode has been a mess, a sacrifice of British influence for the sake of keeping the Conservative Party from splitting at the seams.
Not content with institutional isolation on an unprecedented scale, recent months have seen the Government develop a penchant for diplomatic isolation inside the EU as well. The Prime Minister twice declined to meet—even informally—with Mr Hollande, first in Paris and then in London. Instead, Mr Cameron took the unusual step of endorsing Mr Hollande’s opponent, President Sarkozy, in Le Figaro. That approach caused consternation not just in France but in the ranks of our own Foreign Office. One senior diplomat told the Daily Mail:
“We put all the chips on one card and it turned out not to be the ace … It was an error of judgment and not what was advised”.
What is the Government’s approach to the current crisis of the euro? On Sunday, George Osborne angrily warned of the self-fulfilling dangers of speculating about the demise of the euro. Today his boss, the Prime Minister, said it was time for leaders of the euro to make up or break up. Which is it? Is the Government’s policy that the euro should survive, or that it might be better if it breaks up? The Government want us to believe that the problem of the euro lies in the design and policies of the euro area alone. We all know that there are problems galore in that area, but the Government want us to believe that it is just their problem and theirs to sort out. The British public, however, as well as the electorates of France and elsewhere, know that there is a second element to Europe’s economic crisis: the failure of a politics of austerity of which the Government are a champion, not simply a spectator.
Rather than continue this mixture of thinly veiled Schadenfreude, issuing dramatic ultimatums to Merkel, Hollande and others from the sidelines and calling those who disagree with government policies dangerous, does not the Minister agree that the Prime Minister would be better advised to engage in helping to find a solution to this crisis, and at least contemplate the possibility that his approach to recovery through austerity is just not working?
Finally on Europe, in the gracious Speech, the Government outlined their plans to approve Croatia’s entry into the EU and to remove future UK liabilities for European bailouts. We will work constructively with the Government when we see those Bills, but is the Minister confident that his own party’s Back-Benchers will do likewise? Given his party’s record on rebellions over Europe, including what I believe was the largest post-war Commons Back-Bench rebellion, is he 100% sure that there is not trouble ahead for his Government from those who see even the slightest treaty change as reason either to say no or to demand a referendum?
I turn to the Middle East, where the most pressing and worrying issue is the continuing oppression and violence in Syria. We have supported the Government’s approach since violence began last year, including their support for the Annan peace plan, but it is difficult to view the continuing cocktail of oppression by the Assad regime, inter-ethnic violence, recurrent terrorist attacks, and, just last weekend, spillover of violence into northern Lebanon, with anything other than serious pessimism. Does the Minister remain confident that the existing approach of the international community will achieve any success in limiting the violence and halting the spread of the conflict?
When it comes to Israel-Palestine, I am pleased to say that all sides of the House share the ambition of helping to secure a universally recognised Israeli state living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state. That outcome can be achieved only through a negotiated settlement between the parties involved. Although the region is no nearer either peace or even a peace process than it was two years ago, the international community has a role beyond simply being interested spectators. We must continue to condemn the appalling rocket attacks from Gaza, and at the same time continue to call on Israel to cease settlement building on Palestinian land. We must also, in an atmosphere where militants committed to violence threaten to attract support away from moderates committed to peace, do what we can to strengthen the hands of the moderates. In that context, we felt it right last year to support the recognition of Palestine in the context of its application to join UNESCO. Does the Minister continue to think that the Government’s refusal to recognise Palestine was correct, and can he clarify whether he speaks for both parties in the coalition if he answers that it was?
We recognise the continuing threat that Iran’s policy towards its nuclear programme poses to Israel and to the wider region. That policy must change, and the Government’s support for strict sanctions on the regime is entirely right and welcome. However, will the Government clarify whether Britain is seeking to postpone an EU ban on insurance for ships carrying Iranian oil, as has been reported recently? Perhaps the Minister would also clarify what is the UK government’s agenda for the P5+1 talks with Iran in Baghdad next week?
In Afghanistan Britain has nearly 10,000 troops actively engaged, and our gratitude to them for their extraordinary bravery and sacrifice cannot be repeated often enough. Again, we welcome the fact that a cross-party consensus, even in the most trying and difficult times, has been maintained. Progress has been made, in particular with the growth in the size of the Afghan national army, but, as ever, serious challenges remain, and as NATO nations’ attention turns to exit dates and the logistics of winding down their military commitment, the nature of those challenges is changing.
While we support the Government’s actions in Afghanistan, I confess to having concerns that the Prime Minister’s commitment to making it his “number one priority” is slightly at odds with the fact that it is nearly a year since he made a parliamentary Statement about it. First, the NATO summit in Chicago takes place next week and, in light of recent announcements by the Australian Government, the incoming French President and President Obama, one key issue for Britain must surely be to ensure that NATO brings order to bear on individual countries’ dates for withdrawing their forces. Secondly, Chicago must provide greater clarity about the status of forces agreement between Afghanistan and those forces remaining in the country after 2014. Thirdly, there are widespread concerns that insufficient international diplomatic efforts are being applied to the task of achieving a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan. It is a subject we have heard little on from this Government, and there is no standing process in place to reassure Afghans and the wider region that it is the focus of the international community’s attention. We know from experience in Iraq of the dangers of not planning sufficiently for building a lasting peace. There can be no basic stability in Afghanistan without serious work to build self-sufficient political processes.
My colleague and noble friend Lady Kinnock will address issues around development policy and Africa later. I would like to finish by looking at the issue of the Government’s approach to multilateralism. It is fair to characterise the UK’s approach to engaging with the wider world as bilateralism writ large. With economic as well as strategic interests in mind, it has picked a selection of countries and focused its diplomatic and commercial efforts on building better links with them. It is an approach captured in the beautifully vague phrase in the gracious Speech that the Government will build relations with the emerging powers. However, where does this leave the Government’s approach to multilateral institutions? The challenges we face as a country—climate change, global economic instability, terrorism, food and water supply issues, and a gradual, cumulative shift in wealth and power to the east and south—do not observe geographical borders. We are moving from a world where military, diplomatic and economic power is no longer concentrated in one or maybe two great powers but is becoming de-aligned, fragmented and uncertain. These are challenges to which bilateralism writ large cannot provide an adequate response.
This is why the case for multilateralism embedded in strong international institutions and based on consent in the international community is so strong—and so much in our national interest. Yet multilateralism is not in great shape at the moment: Doha has been stalled for years; the international climate change agreements are making inadequate progress to meet the scale of the challenge we face; prospects for an arms trade treaty do not look very promising; and the G8 and G20’s response to continuing economic uncertainty in the last two years has hardly encouraged faith in those forums’ capacity to mount a fight-back against collapsing growth, fragile banks and low confidence. This is a time for Britain to lead in helping to restore faith in multilateral institutions, but the Government are showing no leadership whatever at the multilateral level. I would struggle to find any even semi-seasoned observers of the Government’s foreign policy to tell us what their plan of action is for the upcoming G8 summit, let alone what they want to achieve when the UK takes over the chairmanship in 2013. I know that June is next month rather than this, and so a long way off, but I have not got the first clue what Britain wants out of the G20 meeting in 32 days at Los Cabos.
The Government may eschew doctrines as flights of utopian fancy, but sometimes doctrines are revealed by silences rather than speeches. The Government’s continuing failure to take multilateralism seriously is not the hallmark of realpolitik but a failure to take a hard-headed, long-term view of the British national interest. Oscillating between isolationism and rhetorical bursts from the sidelines does not add up to a foreign policy. If the goal is, as it should be, to serve our strategic and economic interests by building stronger institutions and more effective rules in the international arena, foreign policy must be much more than simply an occasional opportunity to seek domestic political advantage at home.
My Lords, let me start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, on his new responsibilities at the Dispatch Box. Given what we have just heard, one thing we can be sure of is that our foreign affairs debates in this House will become perhaps not less controversial but certainly more interesting.
I want to pick out one or two points from the gracious Speech on Afghanistan and the Middle East. We look forward to the NATO summit in Chicago next week and hope that the French will be persuaded to set aside their campaign promises to bring their nearly 4,000 troops home even sooner. The challenges of securing a stable Afghanistan have increased with the problematic situation in Pakistan, coupled of course with the intransigence of the Taliban. It was inevitable, once the US announced a date for drawdown in 2015, that combat troops from other countries within ISAF would seek to go earlier. If the American intention, beyond political domestic audiences, was to suggest to the Taliban that they could have their country back from 2014 and therefore sit it out, it has palpably failed as the body count continues to rise. Indeed, recent attacks in the centre of Kabul have demonstrated evidence of their capability to infiltrate the Afghan national army at its heart. The rise of green-on-blue attacks, where the numbers are already nearing those for the whole of last year, are clearly jeopardising the joint-training module. Our forces are to be congratulated on their success in upskilling the Afghan national security forces despite these setbacks.
Views have been divided about the extent to which the Taliban can be trusted to honour their commitments at the negotiating table. I confess to some optimism last year with the announcement of talks and the opening of a political office in Qatar, but the suspension of those talks is a setback that demonstrates that the younger and more radical Taliban have the upper hand for now. The danger persists that while they may not be strong enough to rule the country, it is now inevitable that after 2014 they will be strong enough to thwart constitutionalism and the rule of law, particularly where women’s rights and human rights are concerned.
With regard to our own situation in Afghanistan, I welcome the Government’s negotiations to expand the options available for our own withdrawal. The stakes are high for our own successful exit, with 9,500 UK troops and some $5 billion of equipment.
For a Liberal, it is difficult to countenance rewarding some of the nastiest human rights-abusing regimes in central Asia with contracts and treasure, but given the difficulties of the supply routes through Pakistan, it is pragmatic to have these options, not least to demonstrate to the Pakistanis that they are not the only game in town. Nevertheless, if Pakistan’s co-operation can be secured and the safety of our troops and materiel guaranteed, it is clearly in our interest to use the least expensive option that that provides. When my noble friend concludes his remarks, he might be able to tell us whether the Government’s talks with the Pakistani Prime Minister earlier this week were fruitful in this regard.
I turn to the situation in Syria. After 14 months of violence, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we still find ourselves in a stalemate. Despite the Annan plan and the so-called ceasefire, the Assad regime continues to kill its own people, often within view of the monitors, and is slowly succeeding in doing what the Serbs did in Bosnia: giving false assurances, bidding for time, scaling down activity while monitors are around and then cracking down brutally when their backs are turned—in other words, to be assured that, with the protection of Russia, things can be strung along long enough for progress to be made on the ground to wipe out the resistance. I therefore regret that Mr Putin has decided not to attend the G8 at Camp David. A disengaged Russia does itself no credit and endangers its legitimacy on the United Nations Security Council.
We cannot stand aside and let this situation continue until an exhausted Syrian people simply give up. Too much blood has been shed for them to go back passively to life under this regime, and the infiltration of the real terrorists in the shape of al-Qaeda has begun. The American academic Anne-Marie Slaughter is right to call for the UN to up its game. One of the things that she proposes it might do is set up a recording unit of the atrocities as a means of delegitimising the violence. Bearing witness through the recording of acts of violence and the images of the people who commit them will allow for justice to be done when the worst individuals are brought to trial through the International Criminal Court.
Diplomatic recognition is also an important element of sanctions, along with the others that this Government have initiated through the Security Council. I want to press them further on the actions that they can take against the Assad family. Have we considered withdrawing Asma al-Assad’s passport? I appreciate that she is a UK citizen by birth, but I believe that she also carries a Syrian passport. In this case would it not be a powerful symbolic and judicial step to indicate that her complicity in the regime’s atrocities make her an unworthy carrier of UK citizenship? I wonder whether we have taken legal advice in that regard.
Can my noble friend also update us on progress to form the various opposition groups based in Turkey and France into a cohesive opposition force in exile? We should accept that after decades of authoritarianism it will take time for a democratic political culture to emerge where there has been so much distrust. However, Syrians must themselves realise that when they seek democracy they must demonstrate a cohesiveness of intent and a steadfastness of purpose in the greater interests of their country.
In conclusion, let me pick up an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield. He expressed disappointment about the modesty of this Government’s foreign policy. I say to him respectfully that, given that his party took this country into two major wars in under two years, a little modesty would probably be welcomed in this country by our own people at this point.
My Lords, I want to talk about African agriculture. When I say “Africa”, please read “sub-Saharan Africa” for the sake of brevity. Africa contains 13% of the world’s population but 25% of its undernourished people. It contains 23 out of 30 of the world's least developed countries. Of its population, 80% depends on agriculture and 70% of these farmers are women.
If one can focus on turning Africa’s smallholder subsistence farmers into very small but money-earning farming businesses, then one can kick-start their rural economy while helping to feed the people from their own resources. One can empower these lady farmers to take control of their own lives, which is an agenda in itself. One can ensure that they bring up children whose health is based on a varied diet. Above all, one can ensure they have the means to educate their children. You ask any lady farmer who has been taught how to earn money from her farming what she is going to do with that money, I can promise you 100% that she will answer, “I am going to educate my children”. And they do.
The point I am trying to make is that every single one of the millennium development goals can be met by focusing on farming. The potential for successful African agriculture is huge. Agriculture and agribusinesses already represent nearly 50% of the GDP of Africa. According to the World Bank, the African urban food markets will grow four times between now and 2030. Africa, with 60% of all unused agricultural land in the world, and its barely used water resources, represents a great opportunity for science, business and agriculture to combine to transform a continent.
How do we realise that potential? How do we overcome the greatest poverty of Africa, which is a poverty of information? How do we get the information to transform lives through agriculture, to the people whose lives need transforming? To me, that is the key to unlocking the potential. Yes, we need roads to carry goods; yes we need markets and storage to ensure that good food gets to the right places undamaged and at the right price. But, above all, we need farmers to know how to access the best seeds, to know when to plant them, to know when it is going to rain or not going to rain. There are very few weather forecasts for farmers in Africa and, if you think about it, such information is the difference between life and death to a farming family. We need farmers to know how and when to treat the crop so that they get a quality product which sells well in the marketplace. Above all, we need farmers to know how to sell their product and get a fair price.
To some extent, this information can be distributed via the various Governments’ agricultural extension services. But, frankly, if you have 250,000 farmers per district, as in some parts of Africa, these underpaid, underincentivised and often undertrained national extension officers are never going to do much more than touch the surface. What you need is to encourage more agribusinesses to take on the risks and the role of supplying smallholder farmers not only with seeds and fertilisers but also with the knowledge required to bring their crop to fruition and, above all, to market.
These businesses will need help to understand that they have to work patiently with local communities. Patient capital in Africa often requires many years to take effect, many years to prove the benefits of every change to local practice and many years to encourage the necessary co-operation among smallholders. However, once you establish the lines of communication and the supply lines, for seeds and fertilisers in and harvested crops out, much of the other information on weather, timings of crop treatment, prices and collections can now be accessed on mobile phones. Crop insurance and money transfers can also be done on mobile phones. You do not need banking arrangements or cash, both of which leave room for corruption along the line. You pay a farmer directly on to her mobile phone. She uses her mobile phone to buy food in the shops as well as to pay for her seed and also—do not forget—to educate her children.
All this is now possible and happening in certain projects in Africa. We just need to scale it up. Of course, we need the right business environment to exist in the countries involved. No government control of inputs, please: we need free competition so that inputs are delivered to the farmer at the cheapest possible price and, most importantly, without any politicians taking a rake-off on the way through.
However, even if we manage to persuade national Governments to deliver this competitive business environment, there is still a great risk to the agribusiness involved. Food is a perishable commodity, and the endless official and unofficial delays and transport difficulties of doing business in Africa mean that the risks will remain high.
There is no one exact solution to how the UK Government can best help agribusinesses minimise their risk. There will be a multiplicity of solutions—different ones for each business, each country and even each district. Already the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund does work of this nature and is one of DfID’s very successful conduits for its aid. However, now is the time to look again at the work that this fund does, to see how it can better sell itself and better assist all sorts of agribusinesses that specifically target smallholders. They are the key; I underline that point. If it can promote much more agribusiness activity with smallholders in Africa, the economic and social gains to huge swathes of the African population will be enormous.
My Lords, I shall return to issues of defence and international security. Last Sunday afternoon I gave an address at a memorial service for Corporal Jake Hartley and Privates Anthony Frampton and Daniel Wilford. All three died in that most deadly incident involving an IED in early March this year, along with three other soldiers, two more of whom were from Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Regiment has borne more than its fair share of casualties. We salute and pay tribute to its soldiers’ courage and the sacrifices that they have made. Amid all the feelings of tragedy and grief on Sunday afternoon, there was a palpable feeling of pride, too. All had given themselves for a safer and more stable world. In this context, it was encouraging to read of the £70 million set aside to support the Afghan national security force beyond 2014. It would press us beyond tragedy if the lives lost in Afghanistan in the past 10 years were seen to be of no avail by allowing that country to slide back into anarchy, civil war or fragmentation into provinces ruled by dangerous warlords.
However, the other question that is posed concerns the true viability of a lasting peace without effective engagement with the Taliban. The presence of US bases and special forces until 2014 seems to rule out the possibility of such engagement. Peace will come only with realism about this factor and not simply by force of arms. What is the Government’s response to this aspect of the peace process?
The commitments outlined on the Horn of Africa and the Middle East are also welcome news. Having sailed through the Gulf of Aden only last year, and engaged to my full extent in pirate practice on board ship, the realities of the instability and dangers there were very immediate in our minds.
Only a brief visit to Eritrea opened one’s eyes to the acuteness of the suffering and poverty in this part of the African continent. The fragility we encountered is far exceeded in Somalia.
Although Her Majesty’s Government’s briefing do not mention commitment of military resources here, two issues remain relevant. Is the Royal Navy committed to contributing to the patrols in these dangerous waters while other efforts are made to bring greater stability to failing states? Secondly, if Syria, Bahrain and other Middle Eastern states remain unstable or in civil conflict, what ancillary resources and reserves do we have should further action be necessary? Libya produced challenges that could not have been predicted at a time when the defence budget was being drastically reduced following the recent SDSR. Indeed, the continued implementation of the SDSR with a planned cut in manpower of 20% alongside continuing gaps in procurement as we await the arrival of the two new aircraft carriers raises questions of how Britain sees her role in the unfolding unstable international landscape.
We have been very well served in this House in the rigorous and transparent briefings that we have received. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his untiring work and courtesy in all this. Questions do, however, remain. First, there has been widespread welcome for the enshrining of the military covenant in law. A significant number of noble Lords from all parts of this House contributed much time and focus upon the covenant. My instinct is that the covenant is all the richer for the efforts expended within this House. Thus far, however, the delivery has been modest. Expectations remain high, and understandably so. I began with the families suffering greatly from the continuing casualties in Afghanistan. How will the challenge of caring for the physically and mentally wounded from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan be met after combat operations cease?
Secondly, Her Majesty’s Government have not thus far made clear how they see the future role of Britain in international defence and security with the severe reductions in resources. Not only is morale, especially in the Army, very low, following the reduction of resources and the planned future reduction, as well as the cut-backs in manpower, there is also no real clarity about how the aims set out in the SDSR of a continuing high-profile role for Britain in international defence and security and how that is to be made into a reality. Now more than ever it seems important to develop our co-operation on defence issues with our European neighbours. My fear here is that the United Kingdom’s negotiating strategy puts such a step at risk.
The commitments to limiting nuclear proliferation are very welcome. It was good to hear the Minister in his introductory speech talking about Iran in particular. The restraint that the Government have shown in response to those developments in Iran and North Korea together with the robust commitment to non-proliferation is comforting in a volatile international theatre. Can we be given some indication of how we intend to work with the United States of America and the European Union in moving forward efforts to secure positive responses from both the Iranian and North Korean Governments?
We are living in unstable and unpredictable times. The continuing economic volatility adds to the danger of social unrest and military adventurism. The signs, as far as they go, in the gracious Speech are encouraging. But if we are to look toward a clear role for Britain in defence and security, we need a sharpening and filling out of the scenario with regard both to strategy and securing resources for the future. I hope that the Minister can encourage in us a real optimism in his response to these unanswered questions in his summing up this evening.
My Lords, this debate is taking place at a very appropriate time in advance of the NATO summit this weekend, which will discuss NATO forces 2020. That is clearly an extremely important moment; Mr Rasmussen, the secretary-general, in the Times this morning says that it is dealing with,
“increasing security challenges but decreasing defence budgets”.
My noble friend the Minister said that the Government looked on the world situation with some optimism. I do not want to ruin everybody’s morning, but I hope that in the wind-up my noble friend may help to destroy some of my sense of gloom about some of the things going on. I took the opportunity to look at the first Queen’s Speech debate that we had in this Parliament. Given some of the events that have taken place since then, sadly there is no question that the world is a significantly less stable place and in many ways a more worrying place. We have of course the economic crisis, which suffuses everything and affects every country in the world in one way or another. And we have, undoubtedly at the moment, a significant number of countries that, if not actually failed states, certainly lack a secure and established Government. Greece has to have a temporary Government to hold the fort, and a number of other Governments are finding that they are rapidly defeated at the ballot box when they try to bring in measures that they consider necessary to restore the situation.
The Arab spring has certainly not become an Arab summer. One looks at the situation in Egypt and at the increasingly worrying situation in Syria today, with the reports that America is now intervening, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, providing more weapons to intensify the conflict there. It looks as though Kofi Annan’s initiative is of pretty dubious benefit at present. There is the suggestion that the conflict is spreading across into Lebanon as well, and there are continuing difficulties in Iraq—and then of course there are the problems in Libya and the uncertainties in Sudan and South Sudan as well. One of the least attractive parts of the Libyan legacy was the departure of a huge number of mercenaries—I think some 10,000s—who went with their weapons on the run, having been recruited from Niger, Chad, Mali and other territories and are now on the loose in those areas, making them extremely unstable and dangerous.
Then there is the Sahel. A distinguished United Nations spokesman talked of the prospect of famine there, saying that we may see a famine like the world has never seen, with possibly 13 million people affected. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who talked about an abundance of water in Africa. In thinking about what I might say today, I came across one staggering fact. Lake Chad used to be 25,000 square kilometres and is now after barely 20 years 1,500 square kilometres, with all the implications of that for agriculture in the future. Into that dangerous area, al-Qaeda has moved. We have talked about that organisation moving around, and the dangers of associated bodies in northern Nigeria and the problems they are causing there. Then we have AQIM—as my noble friend referred to it—which is al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. These are very dangerous situations.
On top of this, we add the issues of population explosion. We have gone effortlessly from 6 billion to 7 billion and are heading for 9 billion in the world by 2050. We are also facing the issues of climate change. That throws into the equation the issues of food security and energy security as elements of tension threatening the world. Undoubtedly that means more unemployment, and we are seeing serious levels of youth unemployment in the world.
This debate covers a range of topics but in the brief time that I have I want to concentrate on just two. My first obsession is the situation in Israel. The situation in Israel has changed since we had the previous Queen’s Speech. It has lost the only two friendly neighbours that it might have had in the shape of Egypt and Turkey, which makes it much more isolated. I despaired of what I thought was the totally negative attitude of Mr Netanyahu and his previous coalition Government, egged on by AIPAC in the United States, which makes even Netanyahu look like a moderate at times. Given that situation, I wondered whether change could occur. However, developments have occurred such as the apparent agreement over the hunger strikers, the apparent willingness to enter into peace talks and the extraordinary move on the part of Mr Mofaz and the Kadima Party in forming a giant coalition. I wondered what it meant, particularly in relation to Iran. My other deep concern, which I am glad to see is echoed by a number of significant voices in Israel, is that an attack on Iran would be disastrous, given the unstable and chaotic nature of this area of the world. I know that Her Majesty’s Government are doing all they can to convey that message as clearly as possible. I think that President Obama is trying to make efforts in that direction as well. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, has said in this House that there are worse things than Iran getting a nuclear weapon. The chaos, confusion and proliferation that could follow an unsuccessful attack on Iran are certainly some of them.
The other issue that I want to address is Afghanistan. I listened with great interest to the speech of the right reverend Prelate, who set out his objectives: namely, the stabilisation of the Government and the avoidance of civil war and sectarian strife. One could have all sorts of ambitions, such as Afghanistan becoming a better, more civilised, place that was more aligned with objectives and ideals that we could share. However, I noted that the Statement which was made on the Kabul conference in July 2010, just after the previous Queen’s Speech, said that it had been rather a bad month. That speech was made virtually two years ago but the current month is also pretty bad.
There is no question but that I am unstinting in my praise for the courage of our forces and what they have done. I am wearing the tie with the Light Infantry Bugle. The unit used to be called the Somerset Light Infantry, then became the Light Infantry and is now The Rifles. I think that The Rifles have suffered as many casualties as almost any other unit in Afghanistan and have shown great bravery. However, the truth is that the objective for which we entered Afghanistan has been achieved. That objective was to make sure that it was no longer a place in which terrorist groups could be trained and recruited and in which they could plan their attacks on the United States and the western world. However, I am told that not a single al-Qaeda person has ever been found in Helmand. The idea that we are still fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is not true, and we have become caught up in other issues that are outside the original objective. Therefore, I say to the Government that given the threats we face from the Yemen, the issues arising in the Sahel and the southern Sahara, to which I have referred, and the risk of al-Qaeda emerging in other areas, we must be flexible in our response. I know what the Government’s plans are for withdrawal from Afghanistan and it is vital that we stick to them. And in that withdrawal, it would be absolutely intolerable if Pakistan did not agree to suitable arrangements for extricating all the equipment.
We face a dangerous time in the world. We need to face it with our NATO allies, all of whom face severe economic and financial challenges. That is why we must be flexible and mobile and, given that our defence capabilities are limited, we must achieve as many objectives as we can by means of soft power, as my noble friend said in his opening remarks, and as William Hague said yesterday. We must make sure that our defence capabilities are available to be used in different areas and that we do not get bogged down—we are coming up to our twelfth year in Afghanistan—so that when other threats emerge we can play our part in tackling them.
My Lords, it is perhaps appropriate that I should follow the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, in this debate, given his concerns about what is happening in Israel, since I want to speak about the occupation of the West Bank by Israel and the continuing harassment and humiliation of the Palestinian people that this entails. In doing so, I ask the Government, through their membership of the EU and other international bodies, to use their best efforts to put pressure on the Israeli Government to stop the expansion of settlements and to adhere to human rights in their treatment of Palestine.
Having recently returned from the West Bank and Jerusalem, I was shocked by what I saw. There are now 500,000 settlers on the West Bank, and their numbers are growing every day. The size and number of these illegal settlements make a two-state solution, to which the Minister referred in his opening speech, more and more difficult because they deny the prospect of territorial integrity for a prospective Palestinian state. There has been no progress in the peace process. The Israeli Government give the impression that they wish to continue the status quo, modified only by even more settlers taking over land which at the time of the Oslo agreement was deemed to be set aside for the Palestinians.
GDP per head in Palestine is now only at 1994 levels. It has been calculated that the Palestinian economy would be six times greater in size were it not for the effects of the occupation. These effects include the inability of Palestinian businesses to export their products without very high costs imposed by barriers placed by the Israeli Government on the transport of goods from the West Bank into Israel. As a consequence, there is little interest from foreign investors, and Palestinians living abroad, who have attempted in the past to invest, have been unable to make a profit and in some cases have lost large sums of money.
Palestinian agriculture has been seriously damaged by loss of land to settlements and by the failure of the Israeli Government to ensure that water supplies are maintained. Water consumption by the settlers is hugely greater than that of Palestinians. The building of the wall has cut off Palestinian farmers from their olive groves and from their land for horticulture. In turn, this has led to a high proportion of the Palestinian population becoming dependent on food aid. This is mainly provided now by the EU and consequently means that British and other European taxpayers are having to fork out to pay for the consequences of the Israeli Government’s irresponsible policies. More than 80 per cent of national income in Palestine is now development aid, half of which is humanitarian aid, from which, of course, there are no long-term benefits.
The Palestinian people have for many years been committed to education, which they see as an important contribution to economic growth. However, stagnation in the Palestinian economy means that many educated young Palestinians have to seek opportunities overseas. The universities suffer from unacceptable harassment. For example, when trying to update equipment for their science and engineering laboratories, they order items from a standard catalogue used by scientific and technology faculties from many countries. Israeli customs dismantles the equipment and removes key components, which it justifies on the grounds that such equipment could be put to “dual use”. However, it gives no adequate evidence for this and leaves these important science and technology departments with expensive equipment that is unusable. All universities of any quality around the world now recruit their academic staff internationally and thus have many academic staff from overseas countries. The Israeli Government refuse to allow Palestinian universities to recruit from overseas, thereby damaging the quality of their teaching and the fulfilment of their research potential.
The military courts’ treatment of children who have been arrested for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers is little short of disgraceful. An international NGO has recently documented what happens to these children in a searing report entitled Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted. I recommend it to those of your Lordships who are interested in the humane treatment of children and in what happens when they suffer verbal abuse and humiliation as well as physical violence from those who have arrested them and are holding them in custody. The long-term effects of treating boys in this way cannot be underestimated. The bitterness and resentment they feel is no surprise and, of course, damages any prospect of good relationships between Israelis and Palestinians in the future—a prospect that we all must want.
The lack of time means that I cannot go into the issues around the use of administrative detention on more than 300 adult prisoners in Israel, the completely unacceptable prison regimes and the keeping of numbers of these prisoners in solitary confinement. However I welcome the fact that, following the recent hunger strikes, the Israeli Government have responded to these protests and promise reforms. Nevertheless, it is important that international bodies continue to monitor what happens to these prisoners, following decisions made this week.
Many other aspects of the occupation cause great distress and damage and disrupt the economy and people’s everyday lives. This includes the daily humiliation of going through Israeli-manned checkpoints to get to work, to go to school or simply to visit friends and families. The main checkpoint in Jerusalem is a particular cause for concern, with Palestinian workers herded like cattle through pens surrounded with metal fencing. The delays can be up to three hours. They affect the population at many different levels, from senior officials in the Palestinian Authority to schoolteachers who cannot get to school in time to instruct their pupils, to those undertaking semi-skilled and unskilled jobs in Israel. In parts of east Jerusalem settlers are taking over land and housing from Palestinians against their will. Elsewhere, Arab houses have been destroyed to provide yet more land for settlers.
The situation that I have described cannot be in the long-term interests of Israel. The more it goes on, the more other nations will refuse to support Israel in international, economic and political fora. Plenty of Israeli citizens wish for and deserve something better from their Government with respect to the treatment of Palestinians under the occupation. We owe it to those citizens, as well as to the Palestinians, to put pressure on the Government of Israel, first through economic sanctions—particularly on exports coming from illegal settlements—and, secondly, by upping political pressure for a change in Israel’s policies in occupying for more than 40 years territory to which it has no right.
My Lords, in my contribution I should like to concentrate on developments in the international aid sector.
For some years now, there have been extensive efforts across the aid and development sector and the recipient community to develop monitoring and assessment techniques and evaluation procedures to measure and gauge aid and development effectiveness—be it in the African Sahel, the impoverished plains of the Indian desert or in the infant classroom of a Chinese village school, or whether it be for the relief of famine, combating disease or for providing education, skills or training.
The pursuit of an effective and accepted global system of aid and development monitoring has proved as exhaustive as the outcomes have been elusive. Through a series of international fora, initially with the Paris agreement and then with the Accra agenda—it sounds rather like a quiz show—international agreement has finally, some 10 years later, been reached at the fourth high-level forum in Busan, in the Busan Partnership. All the international governmental delegations have signed up, even China—thanks in no small part, it has to be said, to the determination and persuasive talents of Andrew Mitchell, our Secretary of State for International Development. All the major charities—for example, the Global Fund, the Gates Foundation, the World Bank and many more—have signed up. The post-Busan interim group now meets in Paris at the OECD under the chairmanship of Rwanda and the United Kingdom. It has agreed on seven themes that should guide the selection of global indicators for the monitoring of the Busan commitments—the set of indicators which will monitor the progress on the prioritised themes. The proposed set of indicators brings together: first, indicators that are measured through country-level progress; secondly, indicators that are global in nature or draw on existing global data; and thirdly, indicators that do not require data collection at the country level or aggregation to inform global monitoring.
Given the intense pressure and often ill-informed criticism to which aid and aid projects can be subjected, an objective, quantifiable and measurable international methodology for monitoring effective development co-operation is essential. There is, however, one extremely important component missing from this formula—the one component which, I would argue, has the strongest interest in measuring the effectiveness of an aid programme, in measuring its cost-effectiveness and value for money and in deciding whether the programme or project really does meet needs of the community it is designed to serve. That component is clearly the people themselves or their elected representatives. Yet there is hardly a mention of parliaments, enhancing parliamentary capacity or strengthening parliamentary capability to better monitor and hold to account the activities of national and regional governments who direct these aid programmes.
I suggest that one way of making sure that aid does indeed work is to allow the recipients to take ownership of the aid programmes—which are, after all, theirs—by ensuring that their citizens can acquire the skills and talents they need to drive forward their economies, drive their communities out of poverty and break the dependency in conflict-affected and fragile states which historically had more than 40% of the land under fertile agriculture but in which the figure has now fallen to around 10%, with 40% of the population being dependent on food aid.
Parliamentarians were represented at the Busan forum, albeit in small numbers, including just a handful from development recipient parliaments in southern and central Africa and representatives from the International Parliamentary Union and AWEPA in Europe—perhaps three dozen in all. The international governmental delegations, aid organisations, lobby groups, functionaries and so forth, I am told, numbered several thousand, which confirms just how little sensitivity, involvement or awareness the aid community seems to have of the communities that it ultimately serves.
Reporting back to the final plenary session at Busan on behalf of the parliamentary forum, I and others called for donors to support a parliamentary platform on aid and development effectiveness that engaged donor and partner countries’ MPs. They should engage in a dialogue on knowledge and experience for joint monitoring, mutual peer learning, risk assessment and management, and policy coherence. We also called for all stakeholders to recognise that effective institutions and policies must start with the separation of powers in order to prevent abuse. We believe that this is essential. We called for Parliament to provide the meeting point for civil society, the private sector and local government on issues as diverse as climate change mitigation and combating corruption.
That leads me to the closing part of my contribution. Much is made of the proportion of our wealth that we allocate to aid, and of the decision to raise it in this country to 0.7% of GNI by 2013. That has been an international target since, I think, 1970. I appreciate that, 40 years on, that is something to be aspired to by many countries. Of course, the actual cash that we are passing over these days is somewhat less than it would have been a few years ago, given the fall in our GNI. People should remember that 0.7% is not a static figure. I want to put this in perspective and compare it with the potential wealth of some of the developing countries that we are aiding.
The DRC is estimated to possess mineral assets of precious metals worth in excess of $24 trillion. Yet in the UNDP’s Human Development Index last year, the DRC was again listed as 187th out of 187. It is estimated that less than 5% of the real value of the minerals exported from mines in the DRC finds its way to the state treasury; the rest disappears through a network of shelf and offshore companies registered in zero corporation tax havens such as, but not limited to, the BVI.
I am running out of time but a similar situation, but on an even greater scale, exists in Zimbabwe with the Marange diamond fields. Surely we should start to take seriously the naked international theft and corruption on an industrial scale which takes place in these fabulously wealthy countries, whose citizens are left in poverty.
My Lords, it is quite clear and quite right that the Government’s main effort over the coming Session will be on the economy, in particular the search for growth. I intend to speak today about the wider security concerns that were touched on last week in the gracious Speech, but I am in no doubt that in the long run our ability to respond to those concerns depends very much on our economic strength, and that is likely to be slow in building, given the continuing levels of public and private indebtedness. Nevertheless, there are some difficult near-term challenges that loom large on the international scene and, despite our straitened circumstances, we must be prepared for them.
In many cases, the press of events is likely to deny us the luxury of delaying our response until more prosperous times. First, there is the unfinished business of Afghanistan. The next two years will see a decline in our contribution to combat operations, with the Afghans assuming the lead across the country by 2014. This is in my view still the best option for achieving long-term stability. It was never possible for us to solve Afghanistan’s problems. The only people who can do that, if anyone can, are the Afghans themselves, and the sooner they take on the responsibility, the better.
However, I am concerned at the growing sense, not just here but more widely in the international community, that after 2014 we will pretty much be able to wash our hands of Afghanistan. This, I think, is wrong on two counts. First, the Afghans will continue to need expert support in many areas, not least militarily. We may end our direct combat role in 2014 but that does not mean that the Afghan national security forces will be able to operate entirely unaided. The number of people we have deployed will of course reduce dramatically, but we must be prepared for a long-term engagement with the Afghans. We will have brought them to the start line, but they have a long race yet ahead of them, and they will need our help in running it.
Secondly, and even more importantly, we have to resolve the issue of long-term funding for Afghanistan. People often talk of the collapse of Afghan governance following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, but what they sometimes miss is that the Najibullah Government managed reasonably well after the withdrawal of the troops. It was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent end of foreign aid that brought about the regime’s downfall. If the international community fails to put Afghan funding on to a sustainable basis post-2014, I suspect that a similar collapse will be inevitable.
It will of course be difficult to persuade many nations that they should go on footing the bill for Afghanistan when their own financial position is so uncertain. That will no doubt be true here in the UK too. However, having expended the lives of so many of our own people and so much of our national treasure in Afghanistan, it behoves us to sustain the necessary financial commitment to turn that sacrifice into lasting benefit. I would not say that if I thought that progress in Afghanistan was a lost cause; I do not. Indeed, I think that progress will become slightly less difficult once we disengage from combat operations and the Afghans become ever more responsible for their own destiny. It will not be pretty, and it may follow political paths that we did not foresee or would not have chosen, but continuing economic development and increasing levels of education will, in the long run, be good for Afghanistan and good for the region.
That means that they will also be good for us because although we might just feasibly be able to ignore Afghanistan, we cannot ignore Pakistan. The ties that bind us—and there are nearly a million of those ties in the form of UK citizens with family links to Pakistan—are simply too strong. Pakistan’s future is connected, inter alia, with that of Afghanistan. The challenges in Pakistan are to my mind even greater than those in Afghanistan, but neither can be viewed in isolation from the other. So Afghanistan will remain a long-term security interest for the UK, and we must treat it accordingly. With that in mind, I hope that over the coming months the Government will bend every effort to get international agreement on adequate long-term financing for Afghanistan.
The other issue that I want to address is Iran. I do not know whether the ongoing diplomatic efforts to persuade the Iranians to forgo highly enriched—that is, weapons-grade—uranium will be successful. What I am sure of is that a military attack on Iran’s facilities is unlikely to delay the programme for very long and that the consequences of such an attack are unpredictable but likely to be extremely unpleasant for everyone. I know that the Israelis see the issue through a rather different prism, and I have some sympathy with their concerns, but many Israelis would agree with the assessment that I have just put forward. I am also clear that sanctions against Iran are having a real and serious effect, and that this stick, if combined with suitable carrots, may just be enough to cause the Iranian regime to change course. Therefore, I hope very much that we see some substantial progress coming from the imminent talks in Baghdad.
However, in the line of business that I have followed for most of my life, we always reminded ourselves that hope is not a plan of action. No matter how much we might be against an attack on Iran, such a decision is not in our hands, so we need to be prepared for all eventualities. We need to remember that Iran views us with considerable suspicion, which is not entirely unreasonable given our previous form in that country, and that, if attacked, it could retaliate against us and our interests, no matter how loudly we protest our innocence. We must be able to respond if challenged in this way, and the more obvious it is that we are able and willing to respond, the less the chance that we will actually have to do so.
There are of course many other serious challenges to international order and stability, such as in the Yemen and the Horn of Africa, that could affect us here in the UK. Our first response in each case should be through diplomacy and aid. Indeed, I would resist strongly any suggestions that we should increase our military involvement unless such an option were inescapable. We should always be cautious about committing forces, bearing in mind that the outcome of such commitment is always unpredictable.
Nevertheless, the use of military force is sometimes necessary. Our military capabilities have been stretched very thin in recent years, and continue to be so. Of course, at present the Armed Forces are putting a lot of effort into containing costs and managing redundancy programmes. I do not deny the need for this. Balancing the MoD’s books was a necessary task, but defence does not exist merely to keep the books balanced. It exists to serve the nation in times of need, and this requires not just the right equipment and numbers of people but commensurate levels of training for the wide range of contingencies that those people may be called upon to face, none of which can be secured quickly or at no cost.
So, even at a time of such financial stringency, it is crucial that the Government keep their eye very firmly on the international scene and the risks that we face, on the responses that we may have to make to those risks and on the capabilities that we will require to underpin those responses.
My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that I want to say a few words about Libya. It is hard to believe that it was only last year that that nation was in turmoil and a bloody revolution to remove a vicious dictator was in full swing. I am pleased that our Prime Minister and Government took a robust stand against Gaddafi and led the world in the attempt to prevent the further enslavement of the Libyan people.
For decades, Gaddafi ruled by fear and violence. He was reviled and isolated by much of the world, but in more recent years he underwent something of a change in status. After he renounced the drive to obtain nuclear weapons, he was welcomed in western capitals, pitched his tent as appropriate, and growing trade relations were gradually being established, led in part by Britain. However, memories are short. It was not that long ago that we witnessed, within walking distance of this Chamber, the brutality of the Gaddafi regime when its agents shot dead PC Yvonne Fletcher.
That action was but the tip of the iceberg as far as the Gaddafi regime’s crimes against the people of this country were concerned. Gaddafi began to ship weapons to the Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s and the interception of the vessel “Claudia” by Irish defence forces in 1973 was proof positive of his hatred of this country. Following our support for President Reagan’s actions in bombing Libya in the 1980s, Gaddafi decided that he would wage war on the United Kingdom using the proxy of the Irish Republican Army. This was not the first time that our enemies have used the vehicle of Irish republicanism to attack this country. It happened at least twice in the 20th century alone. However, Gaddafi’s supply of vast quantities of weapons and explosives to the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s was by far the most audacious and effective in recent years. Intelligence sources estimated that boatloads of arms and explosives were landed in Ireland, with the interception of the “MV Eksund” in 1987 being the only success in that decade. Intelligence sources conceded that that had been a serious failure and very costly.
In addition to vast quantities of rifles and other arms, the supply of the explosive Semtex was the greatest boost to the terrorist arsenal. These explosives allowed the IRA to conduct a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain for many years, and were its most potent weapon. Events such as the bombings of the Baltic Exchange and the Arndale centre in Manchester, and numerous attacks on soldiers in buses and even on the Blues and Royals on horseback were fuelled by Gaddafi’s largesse to these terrorists.
This context leads me to my main point. The Minister knows that I have raised the issue of compensation for the families of those killed and wounded in this House and elsewhere for some time. I began by writing to the then Foreign Office Minister, Mike O’Brien MP in 2002 and 2003 as well as to Prime Minister Tony Blair. Since then, I have met officials dealing with this matter and believe that a situation now exists where we can make some progress. When the newly elected Government of Libya are established, can the Minister confirm that there will be a UK Government-led initiative to ensure that the victims of the Gaddafi regime’s crimes get compensation?
I know that there are some third-party actions, led by lawyers acting for a number of victims, and I know that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is facilitating their meetings with the National Transitional Council. But well and good as that may be, I want an assurance that Her Majesty’s Government will lead the main negotiation with the new Government of Libya and not leave it to random groups of individuals and lawyers to take up the case. If this were to happen, many people in this country would lose out. It needs to be led from the front by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I hope that the efforts made by the United Kingdom to free the people of Libya will not go unnoticed by the newly elected Government. The United Kingdom took great risks and, at the start of the revolution, the Prime Minister was being briefed against by our American allies and others. Many western democracies such as Germany did not lift a finger to help and left it to us, the French and eventually the United States, with some Gulf support, to carry all the risks. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Germans and others will be queuing up in Tripoli to get contracts and do business despite their lack of effort. They did the same in Iraq and I hope that our business leaders and other government departments will not allow us to be left behind again.
I fully understand that massive problems exist in Libya, with much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed and many unresolved tribal issues. The pressure on a new democratic Government will be from their own constituents who will want jobs and services restored. Nevertheless, a marker must be put down that we want a positive outcome to the question of compensation from Libya to the United Kingdom for the crimes of the previous Government of that country. There can be a debate about what form that should take, whether cash or other offset deals involving contracts or trade but, at the end of the day, we want justice for the people of this country. Other nations have pressed their cases in the aftermath of air hijackings and so on and we must be just as resolute.
Although most of the victims are to be found in Northern Ireland, I have always avoided seeing this as a provincial issue. Many other citizens of the UK were victims also. All the regular soldiers who were killed and injured and returned to Great Britain are the most obvious example. However, people were also injured in some of our cities, such as London, Manchester, Birmingham and Warrington, to name but a few. As victims can be found all over the United Kingdom, it must be dealt with as a national issue by the national Government. I trust that the Minister can give the people of this country the assurances and guarantees that I am seeking.
My Lords, I apologise to the House and to my noble friend Lord Howell because I had to attend to a puncture on my car while he was addressing the House.
This will not be a very long speech. I am really concerned with the position that was taken on the origins of the gracious Speech, the debate on which is being concluded today. It created a torrent of dissent, not only in my party, but also among the loyal Opposition and the Cross Benches. It concerned imposing a Government who would abolish this House, curtail the primacy of the other place and assuredly destroy the relationship established between our two Houses. Inevitably, that will cause dissent.
I am not criticising any particular person and certainly not the Leader of the House. By mentioning it today, I am seeking to ask the other place to consider retracking this coalition. At the moment it is not effective.
The voices and votes of people who support the coalition were not heard at all—certainly not the other day in the council elections. If one looks carefully, one realises that the coalition does not reflect anything that the electorate particularly want. In fact, they rather object to it. I take that as my theme today. I know that it will be thought that I am criticising the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but I am not. I have to make this clear because it may be taken that way, but that is not my intention.
One could go a little further because this is a debate on defence. My question relates to this. Defence of the realm is not something that just happens today; it happens for quite a time ahead. Foreign affairs are the same. They should both take fair precedence on government expenditure. However, they are both dependent on the state of the economy—and the state of the economy is and has been for some time a stalemate. This is relevant to adequate provision for defence and foreign affairs, which all relate to government expenditure.
There is not much that I wish to say beyond that. An amendment to the Motion was tabled yesterday by the Opposition. It made some points that I would like to make today. One is that there are no settled means of providing growth for the economy—none. There is no reference to them in the gracious Speech—none at all. If there is any reference to encouraging growth, there is no mention of effective means. Not only that, but there are no settled means of easing our mammoth debt. Every month we have to borrow more to pay interest on it. We are doing what we can—up to a point—but we must try to do a little more and ease the economy up. Then we will have a chance to deal with all these things.
This is the last day of debate on the gracious Speech. The Statement on the second day was something of a shock. I have made my points and I hope that the other place will help the coalition reset itself to reflect the voice of the people.
My Lords, I have the great privilege of being the chair of the House’s European sub-committee on external affairs, on which I have been helped many times by the Chairman of Committees, who is in the Speaker’s place and whom I thank for his assistance over the past few years. Today I will go through some of the issues that the committee has felt strongly about and has reported on, and will ask the Government a number of questions on them.
South Sudan and Somalia are both in the Horn of Africa, which is one of the areas that we looked at and about which we have concerns. I will deal with the Horn of Africa first. We very much welcome the fact that our Government, together with the European Union, are bringing together a much more overarching strategy for the region—one that is not just based on naval forces against piracy but encompasses security sector reform, with personnel based in Uganda but for the benefit of Somali troops, as part of a much broader Horn of Africa strategy.
In particular we noted that in the past two weeks there was an incident where EU forces in the Indian Ocean, as part of Operation Atalanta, attacked onshore pirate facilities in Somalia. I am sure that I speak on behalf of my committee when I say that we welcome that bolder-than-usual step forward towards making sure that we stem the problem at the source rather than trying to solve it in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean. It is a major step forward.
We were very iffy—if I may put it that way—about the civil arming of merchant ships, which is being introduced with government approval. There, perhaps, the committee will have to eat its words. If it is done with sufficient training and is successful, it will be another step forward that we will welcome.
A Question was asked earlier in the day in the House on South Sudan. It is a key issue. Matters have got worse. We thought that perhaps they could not get worse but they have. The committee is very aware that the problem is not just with the Sudanese Government; the South Sudanese Government, too, have been reckless in this area by cutting off oil revenues to the north and by their occupation, however provoked, of Sudanese oilfields for a temporary period—as well as all the other issues in South Sudan.
We wish South Sudan every success in its independence, but at the moment the situation is going the wrong way. We know that both the European Union and our Government are very concerned to make sure that the matter is resolved peacefully. Again we ask them to bring China constructively into the conversations, because China is the main market for both countries’ output of commodities, so that we can somehow resolve the issue without all-out war between the two nations. It is a very difficult topic, but if it goes wrong it will threaten much broader regional instability that will spread into Uganda and other parts of that area of Africa.
Another area that our committee is involved in is not directly European but covers the UK-French defence treaties that were agreed at the end of 2010. It is probably not known by the House generally that my committee, together with the Defence Committee of the other place, meets the Senate and the National Assembly every six months to track the progress of the treaties and to give a parliamentary overview on whether they are fulfilling their objectives. The overview was demanded more by the French Administration than by us, but was very much supported by the MoD as something that would help us in our negotiations. Of course, the Libyan war was an example of bringing together our forces. Instead of practice through exercises, there was close co-operation between our two armed forces during that time.
We are very keen that those defence treaties should continue to be successful. There has been much progress with them over the past year: they have been deepened. But I would be interested in the Government’s view on how the change in aircraft specification for our own aircraft carriers away from cats and traps will affect that interoperability and whether it will in any way sour the potential defence relationship. Has there been any initial indication from the new French president in the Elysée Palace as to whether he is equally dedicated to this very noble cause of two great European powers making sure that together they are able to exercise their military influence in times of budgetary difficulty?
I would like to bring up an area of personal interest as chair of the All-Party Group for Guinea-Bissau, which is a small ex-Portuguese colony in west Africa. It has been an independent state since the 1970s. It has all sorts of issues. I was due to go out as an election monitor for the second round of presidential elections last month. Unfortunately, those did not happen because of a military coup. My APPG was part of the monitoring of the first round of presidential elections. The tragedy was that that election was carried out perfectly—as well as any election in this country—yet the military did not approve of the likely result and intervened. I want publicly to thank the Foreign Office and the ambassador in that part of Africa, who is based in Senegal, who helped that election monitoring to work and be successful. I can do no more than endorse European and British sanctions now on Guinea-Bissau and on those individuals in the military until that situation is resolved.
I was going to talk about the European military situation and the NATO summit in Chicago coming up, but I do not have time. However, it is imperative that the EU and NATO work together for Europe's defence now that America is cutting its own budgets and looking towards the Pacific theatre. We have huge resources in Europe and we should use them better, which means that they should not cost us any more money to be effective.
My Lords, it is now just over 18 months since the Government announced the outcome of their strategic defence review. Much criticism was and still is heaped upon it, suggesting that the outcome was driven by the financial difficulties that the country was facing and was less than a fair appraisal of the Government’s strategic perceptions. The vision—no more than that—of a new defence capability to be achieved around 2020 was projected, but without certainty, until after the next SDSR in 2015, that the additional forward funding required to match these aspirations is going to be provided. Last Monday's defence budget Statement said that the proposals for planning round 12, which will take the programme as far as 2021 were,
“reflecting the planning assumption agreed with the Treasury of a 1% per annum real increase in the equipment and support budget from 2015”.—[Official Report, 14/5/12; col. 141.]
Note, please, that that is not the same as an increase in the overall defence budget. Will that 1% have to be found from elsewhere in the defence programme? Perhaps the Minister can elucidate on that point.
Given the great unease and uncertainty about the economic situation, I wonder whether even a modest increase in the equipment spend of 1% will be achievable come the day. Meanwhile, today our Armed Forces are involved in considerably more expeditionary activity than they were to expect or to plan for, and at the same time all three services are embarked on redundancies and redeployments of major proportions.
An essential part of any defence programme must strive to ensure that commitments and capabilities are matched. If they are not, sooner or later the overstretched equipment has to be replaced or refurbished far more quickly than planned for and at additional budget cost. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House more about the next stages in the coalition’s defence thinking, not just about the gradually more imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan. Do they, for example, accept that for what are termed wars of choice there has to be a protracted period of disengagement or an absolute minimum of new operational commitments? That is particularly so for the Army, which seems likely to have to rely on the safe recovery of much of its equipment that is now deployed in Afghanistan, although if press reports at the weekend are to be believed, £2 billion worth of this army kit is to be left behind and handed over to the Afghan Army.
For the rest, if the problems over logistics access through Pakistan persist, and with no credible alternative route to shipment home by sea, the long and tortuous overland route north and west from Afghanistan will be even more of a challenge. Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the Government have contingency funds earmarked to replace army equipment handed over to the Afghans or that does not make it successfully back to this country from Afghanistan.
One of the most unsatisfactory decisions announced at the time of the strategic and security defence review was the scrapping of the maritime patrol aircraft Nimrod mark 4. I set out my reasons when your Lordships debated the review back in November 2010 and I do not intend to dwell on them again in detail. But since that debate, I was concerned to learn that the public line being taken by the then Defence Secretary, Dr Fox, had been inaccurate and misleading. What really took so many by surprise was the decision not only not to proceed with Nimrod, but to cut all the airframes up immediately for scrap.
That caused a great deal of disquiet. Attempts were made by the Government to explain away this crass decision. For example, in a BBC TV broadcast on 27 January last year, Dr Fox said that the Nimrod had not passed its flight tests. The story was being put about that the Nimrod was 10 years late, was unsafe, that there were doubts that some of the technical difficulties could be resolved and even that the aircraft had not flown. If those were the points being briefed privately by the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister during discussions of that defence review, then he was being seriously misled about the true state of the programme. While I accept that rightly or wrongly the financial pressures faced by the Government forced the decision not to bring the Nimrod into service, it does nothing for the credit of those taking these decisions to attempt to mask it with such misleading statements.
The true state of the programme, admittedly after years of difficulty, was, by autumn 2010, well advanced. Five airframes had been flying, the first getting airborne in August 2004. The second, which first flew in December 2004, was used extensively for missions system testing and had completed more than 230 flights. Three further aircraft with mission systems had been flying by 2010. Apart from the first airframe that did not have a mission system fitted, four aircraft could have been ready for operational use by last year or this one. The first aircraft was in fact delivered to and accepted by the RAF in March 2010.
None of that suggests that the aircraft was unsafe or that any teething technical problems could not have been dealt in the normal way when a new type enters service. Apart from its primary role in maritime operations, the earlier variants of Nimrod demonstrated the versatility, variety and flexibility of such air platforms fitted with state-of-the-art electronic aids and weapons. Nimrods proved their worth hundreds of miles inland over Afghanistan as much as they did providing security cover for our deterrent force submarines or co-ordinating search and rescue missions far out over the Atlantic. In last Monday’s Statement there was no mention of a plan to meet this particular role. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that the roles abandoned when Nimrod was scrapped have not been forgotten.
Are there plans for a new maritime patrol aircraft with the range, endurance and sophisticated mission systems associated with its predecessor roles well to the fore in the future equipment programme? The cost of providing new platforms and mission systems for this role will probably far exceed that of putting the nine Nimrods into storage until the funds to bring them into service could have been found—a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision if ever there was one. Indeed, there seems to have been a waste of resources on this programme and on the “will we, won’t we, will we, yes we will have” the F35 STOVL-variant and the £100 million additional nugatory cost of preparing for the now redundant cats and traps system on the carrier.
The current reliance for critical maritime surveillance tasks on a mix of Merlin helicopters, surface ships and a Hercules aircraft can do little to match the reach and variety of roles of a maritime specialist aircraft. The sooner their more modest capabilities are replaced and enhanced, the better for our national security. I hope that the Minister can reassure the House.
My Lords, Ascension Day is a good time to focus on international development because the Ascension marks the moment when Christ’s command to care for our neighbour becomes universal, crossing all geographical and tribal boundaries.
For some years, the millennium development goals have eluded our grasp. Successive Governments have discovered that without a financial commitment these goals, though widely welcomed, could prove unreachable. It was one of Gordon Brown’s great achievements to commit the then Government to 0.7% of our gross national income in aid by 2013. At the last general election, all three parties made the commitment to enshrine this international target in law. The Government reaffirmed this commitment in the March Budget, meaning that the UK will meet this long-standing international commitment for the first time in 2013. The UK will be the first G8 country to have achieved this target. Given the current state of the economy, this is a remarkable achievement.
Naturally there has been some lobbying from the development agencies. They are worried that the lack of draft legislation might mean uncertainty for the poor throughout the next parliamentary timetable. However, the Government’s commitment is clear and to be welcomed. In April, the Secretary of State for International Development wrote to the heads of UK aid agencies, saying:
“The Coalition Government’s ‘Programme for Government’ also made clear that it would enshrine the 0.7% in law”.
So why the lack of any draft legislation?
The Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House recommended in March that the Government should drop their commitment to 0.7% being spent on overseas aid from 2013. Its report warned of the risk of skimping on value for money and accountability. We all have horror stories of money that has been given and then misused. A friend of mine runs a charity called Operation Sunshine that takes container-loads of useful goods to people in one of the poorest spots in the world. At present all the containers are being held up by bureaucratic customs officers in the receiving country and no one seems able to shift them. I also remember contributing to a fund seeking to buy a bike for every pastor in an extremely poor diocese. All went well until we heard that the bishop had absconded to the US with all the proceeds.
However, for every occasion like that, most of us have dozens or even scores of stories of wonderfully creative ways in which aid has been used to transform lives. A Lent project in my Midlands diocese has produced enough money to enable young people in a very poor African township to go for higher education. All of us who go out there from Lichfield reckon that we in the still-rich West are the ones who gain the most from these twinnings. If that is so in our small church-led projects, surely it can also be so in the use of much larger intergovernmental schemes.
Next year the UK takes over the chair of the G8. With the UK in the international spotlight, 2013 is a vital year for Britain to demonstrate leadership in the fight against extreme poverty. Perhaps it is as well to recognise that aid is only one dimension of our struggle to prevent famine, infant death and all the other millennium targets. The parable of Dives and Lazarus reminds us that when the difference between rich and poor gets to a certain point it makes God angry and that poverty arising from injustice is structural and cannot be rectified by charitable giving alone.
The churches have been cautious about legislating for what are essentially moral commitments, but in recent years they have found themselves moving beyond the aid debate to look at the broader question of tax justice. For example, Christian Aid estimates that developing countries lose approximately $160 billion a year to tax avoidance by multinationals. It is exciting that the Government’s decision to meet the 0.7% spending commitment next year means that a modest proportion, about a penny ha’penny, of every pound the Government spend will be on aid. This has the potential to put nearly 16 million children in school, provide more than 80 million children with vaccines, save the lives of 50,000 mothers and provide better nutrition for nearly 10 million people.
It is therefore a little disappointing that parliamentary time has not been made available to do what has been promised, and it would be good to hear why from the Minister. I am sure that there are many noble Lords who would welcome reassurance that parliamentary time will be made available before the next election. To enshrine this commitment in law would create an excellent platform for the Government when it comes to talking about trade, immigration, environmental protection, corruption, peacekeeping and global security. It has been well said that we dare not build our own economic recovery on the backs of the global poor.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and to support everything he has just said—although I think we were all horrified to hear about the absconding bishop and we pray that it may not happen again.
The level of the aid budget may not seem as compelling as some issues of foreign policy but it affects millions of people’s lives as well as our own. It is in the coalition agreement and all parties are signed up to it. “We will legislate when parliamentary time allows”, say Ministers. Where have we heard this before? The Bill to enshrine the United Nations 0.7% target in law is a bit further down the list than Lords reform but it is one that already commands consensus and will need very little parliamentary time. Indeed, if the Bill is already being drafted, as I hear, it would be a good candidate for pre-legislative scrutiny. Can the Minister say when he thinks it may come forward?
We know from the Secretary of State’s interview last month that he is personally behind the Bill and that his party will support him, judging by a show of hands in the 1922 Committee. Politicians of all hues know that there is massive public support for the aid target, and aid agencies are pressing for the Bill. Thanks to Ministers like our own noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, who was here earlier, poverty eradication is now firmly Conservative philosophy these days and one of the keystones of the coalition. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mention Africa and my noble friend Lord Cameron explaining what actually works in Africa, and we need to hear more about that. Plenty of things work.
However, as we have heard, there are critics of the legislative route, including some close to home. The Economic Affairs Committee’s report does not accept that meeting the UN target by 2013 should be a plank of aid policy and gives four reasons: it prioritises the amount rather than the results of aid; it makes spending more important than effectiveness; speed reduces quality, value for money and accountability; and there is an increased risk of a corrosive effect on local political systems. The report claims that it deprives future Governments of the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. I do not agree with these points, which are rather academic, and I will be happy to respond on them when we have a full debate on the report. I suspect that the then Minister will dispose of them fairly quickly, saying that legislation will in no way alter the quality of aid or impact on other Governments and that it gives the givers and receivers of aid more stability and confidence in the aid process.
Meanwhile, the Lords report has been ferociously attacked by the Bond group, which represents all the leading aid agencies. It argues that aid is already making a difference, saving millions of lives and ensuring growth and good governance. It says that we need targets such as the millennium development goals to halve poverty and reduce infant mortality by at least one-third. These and some other targets have already been met, thanks partly to an international campaign but mainly because of the efforts of certain Governments and of the poor themselves.
The 0.7% target was set by the UN more than 40 years ago. Although progress has been slow, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have now reached it. The UK stands high in the esteem of other countries and was commended by the OECD only two years ago for an outstanding aid programme. It will certainly be expected to be one of the next countries to attain the 0.7% target. I was especially impressed by Christian Aid’s recent comment that Britain had the largest share of aid through the Marshall Plan after the war and that we now had the opportunity to “pay it forward” to others, finding a new role as a “development superpower”, as the Minister put it earlier.
Finally, the aid agencies remind us that world recession has hit the poorest in all countries hardest through rising food and energy prices. In countries suffering from conflict, the internally displaced can expect no future without the assistance of the international community. In South Sudan, we are hovering on the edge of another humanitarian disaster, as we heard earlier. In Kosovo, we have helped another new nation emerge beyond those disasters. We have high hopes for Afghanistan. I spoke to a delegation of Members of Parliament from Afghanistan yesterday, who gave me much confidence about what we are achieving there. In other words, we already have a moral duty, as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate, to maintain our aid programme and this should be turned into a legal requirement. It is also in our own self-interest that we keep up our international obligations, many of which also bring us greater security as well as political, diplomatic and trading advantages. We heard some of these arguments from the Labour Front Bench, too.
At the same time, we need to reconsider our aid targets such as the MDGs, which are coming to the end of their time. The Prime Minister is due to co-chair the post-2015 review, which will build on their successes and look forward to a new set of sustainable development goals.
The advocates of these SDGs, as they will be called, will have to tread carefully if they are not to founder, as Rio is foundering, on one basic paradox: developed countries are trying to reduce world consumption and carbon emissions while developing countries, led by middle-income countries, are going for growth and trying to increase them. The climate change agenda is getting bogged down in this paradox, and it would be better for the world if we stuck to people-based poverty reduction as our primary development goal. Churches and aid agencies have focused correctly for years on integrated development and the relationships, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Cameron, between soil and water, between nutrition and healthcare, between small farmers—most of them women—and entrepreneurs, following attainable projects. Good governance and human rights are also important. I know that DfID is very good at these, but in every programme we must look first at the participation of the people, because they will ensure their own success.
My Lords, I am honoured to be able to contribute to the defence part of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. I am becoming much more positive about the direction in which British defence is going. Far too much money was wasted under the previous Administration, and I am pleased to see the coalition taking a common-sense approach to procurement and making sure that the defence of our country and protection of our brave service men and women are always our first priority.
I applaud the MoD’s recent decision to carry on building both aircraft carriers for the Navy. We never know what the threats of the future may be and, as we know from the past, warfare is changing all the time. Ensuring that we have the capability to fend off any situation thrown in our direction is imperative. Therefore, having two carriers is a must. No matter how sophisticated the weapon, all such apparatus requires maintenance and, eventually, major refits.
In the case of a carrier, it is vital that maintenance is thorough and not rushed. Great care must always be taken, and while one carrier is out of action, there must another one to plug the gap. Will the Government confirm that both carriers will come into commission more or less simultaneously? I know that it is hard to be precise, but can the Minister tell us the latest estimated cost of these carriers up to date and what the eventual total might be?
Can my noble friend say a little more about the interoperability of these carriers with the French and, indeed, with the Americans? Can he confirm that the initial three Joint Strike Fighters scheduled to be delivered to us will all be the STOVL versions? The right honourable Secretary of State, in his Statement on the 10 May, said that the relatively short range of the STOVL JSF would be less important because of the use of air-to-air refuelling. Where will the tanker aircraft fly from? And what tanker aircraft will we have in eight years’ time, when we should be able to start using the carriers?
How many JSF fighters do we have on order and how many will we eventually be able to deploy? How many will be usually stationed on each carrier? How are we going about training personnel for all this new equipment, so that as soon as the carriers and the JSFs are ready, time is not wasted with training? Have we indeed started, as I think I have read, sending key personnel to America to begin to learn the ropes on the American carriers?
Can my noble friend tell me the latest estimated date for the first JSF fighter being delivered and, therefore, when training can begin in the United Kingdom? What thought has the Minister had for the future of these carriers and the types of equipment that we may have to accommodate as warfare changes? I imagine that, as the years pass, warfare is bound to become even more technical and space on these carriers will be needed to accommodate new and developing technology over their 50-year life expectancy. Will the Minister ensure that there is spare room available to accommodate extra gear if required? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I follow on from the excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield on our Front Bench to ask what this Government’s vision is of Britain’s place in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, spoke eloquently earlier about Britain as a network. Fair enough, that is essential in a multipolar world but being a good networker is not the foundation stone of an effective foreign policy. That depends on firm alliances in a world where our position is that we will soon represent only about 2% of global GDP.
The transatlantic relationship has been the central plank of our foreign policy for my lifetime. It is what I grew up to believe in. To what extent will that still be the case in the decades of the Asian century now unfolding? What will be the impact of the coming US debt crunch on its defence budget, commitment to Europe and vital ability to help us, as it did in the recent Libyan operation? Alongside America’s reduced resources and increasing shifting focus to the Pacific, there is also every sign of increasing inwardness in the United States. Just look at the defeat of the excellent Senator Lugar in the Indiana primary last week—a man who contributed a lot to internationalism and Atlanticism in his distinguished career.
Yet, at the very moment that America’s Atlanticist commitment is visibly diminishing, the present Government appear to have set a deliberate course of loosening Britain’s ties with the European Union. Last December, we had the Prime Minister’s infamous non-veto—a petulant walk-out on our European partners that is already damaging our interests, for example on the recent financial services regulation. I fear that this is not a one-off. Look at the Government’s decision to focus precious Foreign Office time and resources not on the questions of how we strengthen the European Union and its role in world affairs or secure Britain’s role in what is increasingly an inner core/outer core European Union, but on how we weaken those ties. What else is the meaning of all this babble about repatriation of powers and renegotiation of the relationship, or, in coalition speak—the Liberal Democrats still have some power to change the words if not the substance—rebalancing of competences?
Last year, when the European Union Bill made its way through this House, Ministers assured us that the purpose of the referendum lock was to draw a line under the process of European integration as it affected Britain and enable the Government to go out on the front foot and make the case for British membership of the European Union. Since then, we have waited with bated breath. I was glad to see the reference in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to membership of the EU as an essential pillar of our foreign policy, but can the Front Bench opposite point to a single speech or newspaper article in which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe or any other member of this Government has made a substantial and sustained argument—as opposed to a glancing paragraph—in which they argue the case for British membership of the European Union? I will of course apologise if I am wrong and these speeches and articles can be put in the Library of the House, but I would love to see them.
It is almost 65 years since the mighty, magnificent Ernest Bevin, in the wake of the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, declared that “Europe must unite or perish”. I am thankful that we are in a very different world now, but the basic message remains the same. Today, the challenge is of potential decline: decline in Britain and Europe’s relative economic power; decline in our political clout as power shifts to other parts of the world; and decline in what, for all those terrible episodes in Europe’s past, has been the overall civilising influence of European culture and values. Decline may not bother some people if they think that they will be comfortable in their own lifetime and cosseted by our social model and welfare states, but I fear that this sense of comfort is illusory. The economic crisis we are witnessing now—in Britain as much as in the eurozone—may be deeper and more fundamental. It may be the end of the promise of betterment for future generations and the start, particularly for the low skilled and less fortunate, of a long process of squeezed living standards in response to a doubling of the labour pool available to global capitalism.
The question facing the nations of Europe in this harsh new world is: do we want to be pushed about and powerless, or will we unite to defend our interests and values? We can work together to deepen a single market and invest in research and knowledge that creates a dynamic and vibrant economic base that can withstand more global competition. That is a single market that takes the high road to competitiveness and, through the social and environmental standards of decency and sustainability that it sets and robustly defends, defies a global race to the bottom. That is a united Europe that will not be brushed aside at the world’s top tables on questions of energy, climate change, resources and development. That is a united Europe that can spread the benefits of democracy and stability to its wider regions, be capable of defending its vital interests, and be a force for good.
To conclude, in the next decade, Britain faces a stark choice about its global role. Do we succumb to the false seductions of comfortable little “Britzerland”, or play our full part in rebuilding Europe’s unity and strength? For all the problems of Europe and the eurozone, and all the EU’s difficulties in terms of its bureaucracy and the need to renew and restore its legitimacy, somehow—for the sake of our national interests—we have to make Europe work.
My Lords, I will speak about the current situation in Cyprus. The reunification process is now 40 years-old. During that time, important changes have taken place on the island, but not any settlement. In particular, civil society has matured, and matured faster than the political systems. The economic gap between the north and the south has grown considerably and now there is the important fact of the discovery of large natural gas reserves in Cypriot territorial waters. But the reunification process itself is, at best, stalled.
Alexander Downer, the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General, said in Cyprus two weeks ago:
“It is clear to me … that the negotiations have recently come to something of a standstill”,
“I explained to both Leaders that there could be no more business as usual”.
He also said:
“The Secretary-General has told the sides that it is never too late for bold and decisive moves and new ideas or innovative proposals. But if none are taken, then obviously there will be no further convergence on core issues”.
The questions that arise from all that are: why has the negotiating process failed and what can be done to give it a prospect of success, so that it is not simply a rerun of what has been tried many times before?
It is entirely possible that negotiations have failed because of a lack of political will to succeed on both sides. In fact, a reasonable interpretation of the current position might well be that both political sides are essentially quite happy with the current arrangements. Perhaps, too, the negotiations have failed because they have been essentially political. There has been no wider involvement of the citizens of the island or, indeed, of its business communities. That is a great pity, because 70% of the island’s inhabitants, both north and south, want the negotiations to succeed, but only 15%, north and south, believe that they will succeed in their current form.
The stalemate over reunification is more dangerous now than it has ever been. Three new factors make it so. First, the economic conditions of the north and south continue to diverge in a way that will progressively make reunification less attractive to the south. Secondly, the recent gas finds in Cypriot territorial waters are already a real cause of tension between the communities and their supporters. Thirdly, the whole region is significantly more troubled than it has been for many years.
All this argues for some urgent, fresh initiatives, some fresh approach, before the situation descends into partition, open conflict over gas finds or, paradoxically, the unnecessary impoverishment of the island because of the impossibility of exploiting the gas reserves in a politically unstable area of contested territory. But what forms might new initiatives take?
On Tuesday evening, I attended a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues on this very question. The meeting was full of members of both diasporas and was called to listen to organisations of civil society from both the north and the south. The speakers, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, offered this perspective. They were certain that the people of Cyprus wanted reunification. They were equally certain that the people of Cyprus felt excluded from the negotiating process. They were absolutely confident that the current negotiating model, which they characterised as “two old men in a room with United Nations”, would continue to fail. They told us that that model was understandable enough 40 years ago, but that civil society had matured, was stronger now and needed to play a role. They told us that negotiations should not proceed in the search for a master settlement where nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. They made the case for a progressive, gradualist, continuous series of small, positive changes. They told us of the existence of cross-community civil society groups, bi-communal activities and projects. They saw the extension of those efforts as a new way forward, a practical way of aligning the citizens of the two communities and a way of building the trust and familiarity that the political parties had so obviously failed to build. They wanted our help, as a guarantor power, and the continued help of the EU and the UN, in doing that. They wanted our help in strengthening those civil society projects and in giving them a standing and legitimacy that their own political establishments had been reluctant to concede.
Those representatives of Cypriot civil society seemed to me to make a compelling case. That well-known Californian novelist, Rita Mae Brown, once remarked that a good definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen. This must not be the case with Cyprus. I ask my noble friend the Minister to give careful consideration to these proposals for a new approach to negotiation.
My Lords, I would like to make some comments and pose some questions to the Minister about European affairs. As I always do, I declare an interest in that I spent the greater part of my career in the United Kingdom Civil Service on European affairs and a smaller part in the European Commission, as I have pensions from my work.
I begin by noting that in the gracious Speech, the Government will seek approval of Parliament relating to the agreed financial stability mechanism within the euro area. The Bill, which is commendably short, will have its Second Reading on 23 May, and I shall give my comments then, but on examining it briefly, the procedure seems to me to comply fully with the European Union Act of the previous Session and to be strictly limited to the euro area which, happily, we are not in. Subject to further examination of the Bill, I do not see the difficulty.
In the debate today, I recognise that many issues concerning the European Union now relate to economic policy. We have only to open the daily papers day after day to know that that is the case. To that degree, they might have been thought appropriate to the subject matter of yesterday’s debate, but these issues—in particular, the probable departure of Greece from the eurozone and, following the election of President Hollande, a change of emphasis elsewhere in the eurozone towards a stress on economic growth—are extremely important to the United Kingdom’s economy and the world economy, so we need watchful monitoring on the part of the Government, although I realise that they are not susceptible to an immediate answer from the Minister.
For myself, I think that the likely result after a while will be the creation of a lender of last resort in the euro area and, within strict limits, the issue of eurobonds, which would considerably restore an element of stability, which is clearly in the interests of the United Kingdom.
The points I wish to make, however, go wider than the economic performance of the European Union, the eurozone, and I think that the Minister will find the relevant to the UK’s foreign policy and our relationship to our European neighbours. I want the Minister to set out clearly what are the key positive priorities—I repeat, positive priorities—for the Government to obtain advantages for the United Kingdom in our relations with the European Union and in the development of the EU policies in the years ahead. There clearly are such priorities, but I do not see them reverberating around the country or in the media in a period when disillusion with the European Union is clearly strong.
In the previous Session, the Government introduced, and Parliament passed, the European Union Act, which ensures that any transfer of powers or competences to the European Union cannot take place unless the British people, in a referendum, decide to do that. That is a defensive wall, but I do not think that public opinion has fully registered it. It is perhaps inevitable in those circumstances that the debate should move to the assertion that the current powers of the European Union are almost all-embracing. That is surely not correct. There are very wide areas of our public life in which the role of the European Union is marginal: for example, education health and housing. For that reason, the European Union Act was a very important piece of legislation.
I come now to where we are today. It appears that our position on discussions in the European Union is mostly directed to resisting proposals which we do not find acceptable. Of course, we have to do that, although the objective should always be to nip them in the bud and to maximise the number of our allies. I take as an example the current EU budget proposals which, in a period of economic meltdown, are too high. It is said that some of the costs results from projects, such as some regional development projects in new member states, which are now coming to a conclusion so bills must be paid. Is that true and, if it is, where have we identified corresponding savings in other areas?
I yield to no one in recognising the need for a tough stance where necessary. I am proud of the small role which I played in the negotiation of the United Kingdom rebate, which has so far brought about £68 billion to the United Kingdom—figures are always nice to cite—and which cannot be changed without our agreement.
However, my main point is the need to present well our positive objectives within the European Union. Here are some examples. First, there is international trade, in which the European Union is immensely important. Where are we looking for more bilateral agreements to open up trade between the European Union and other nations such as South Korea, Brazil and elsewhere, and what are our priorities? Secondly, there is our influence in foreign affairs—a point I put particularly to the Minister. The decision to put the external delegations, which were under the control of the Commission, into the European External Action Service with input from member states is an important challenge. How do we rate the challenge and what advantage is the UK getting or aiming to get from it? How far has it helped in relation to, for example, the Arab spring and, in particular, the disastrous situation in Syria?
Thirdly, there is maximising the advantages of the world’s biggest single market and the need to encourage growth of the member states’ economies. Of course, the excessive level of public spending in the member states and the high level of unemployment have different causes. That is why I am a bit more positive and optimistic about the future of the euro. Both Spain and Ireland were in fiscal surplus before the crisis hit; their problems stemmed from the massive and unsustainable housing and construction boom. The Italian economy, which we are hearing a lot about, has been running a primary surplus for many years but is overburdened by the legacy of public debt, which predated the euro. Now we have to look to see what we can do in the relatively short term to encourage, if not to create, greater growth within the European Union. Perhaps a growth compact, as suggested by some leaders in the eurozone, could be an advantage.
To summarise, my main point is that the Government should identify and, where appropriate, make public their priorities for advantages for the United Kingdom to be sought and gained within the European Union. This should be at the forefront of government thinking in the year ahead.
My Lords, I want to focus specifically on our relationships with other countries, our overseas aid provisions, our drive to extend global stability and the need to undertake more overseas trade. As outlined in the Queen’s Speech, this Government’s first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability. I believe that this will be the key to successfully implementing many of our other important policies, including in foreign affairs. The more economically stable our country is, the more we are able to help others across the world.
One of our notable commitments on foreign relations is to support the extension of political and economic freedom in the Middle East and north Africa. I have visited several countries in these areas and spoken with the heads of their Governments. I have established close links with their ambassadors and held discussions with them, and with citizens of these countries, regarding their relationships with the United Kingdom and the challenges facing their countries. We cannot expect other countries to adopt our form of government and no attempt should be made to do so. However, our involvement in any overseas country must be soft and we should therefore exercise soft influence. Although we can provide assistance where there are problems, the people themselves must find solutions and form a system that suits their circumstances. We can, however, help in building institutions, which are important if these countries are to achieve progress. In addition, we need to help bring in peace and stability and assist in the achievement of democracy and economic growth, which will result in the creation of jobs.
I am a strong believer in the empowerment of women and the need to deal with issues relating to poverty. It is also important to improve the standard of education and provide free primary education for all. It is important that we do not underestimate the extent to which politics and economics are intertwined in helping these countries to make their transitions. We have seen in several countries that political freedom often follows the opening up of economics. While these countries open up their own economies, it is important that the wider international community engages with them on an economic level. When countries are trading with and investing in each other, they are developing relationships and stakes in each other’s peace and stability. From a British point of view, I want to see more of our goods and services exported overseas. We need to be looking for new opportunities in these emerging powers; our manufacturing and service industries can help build these new democracies, while helping increase our export base. There will be mutual benefits to our country and our trading partners. This will also result in the building of people-to-people connections.
In addition to our duty to support countries in transition, we have a moral obligation to assist poorer countries to begin realising a state of transition. I have always been supportive of our pledge to commit 0.7% of gross national income as development assistance from next year, and I was pleased to hear this included in the Queen’s Speech. I have visited a number of developing countries where DfID is involved, and where a large part of my work has been in looking at the widespread impact of diseases on poor communities. I appreciate that this Government have made several bold commitments on this, including vaccinating children against preventable diseases and providing access to safe, clean drinking water for millions of people. There is still a level of consternation among the public over our ring-fencing of the aid budget. It is crucial that we not only continue on our course but take even greater care to ensure that this financial assistance gets through to the right places. In addition, the Department for International Development must be clear in showing us that our money is being put to good use, not being misappropriated.
Although I am in favour of providing aid to foreign countries, we must consider providing support, including financial assistance, to properly organised trade missions. It is essential that we organise trade missions made up of businesspeople who can look for opportunities overseas and undertake more business and trade. I am strongly of the view that aid and trade must be simultaneous and that our high commissions and embassies can play an active part in this regard. As a businessman, I have promoted the need for us to undertake more overseas trade. It is essential that we do not undersell ourselves in trade but actively enhance the position of UK plc. We have unique services and products which we can offer to the world, and, although the Government can create conditions, businesspeople must take the initiative and be proactive in undertaking more business overseas. I firmly believe that we can overcome our financial difficulties by the application of austerity measures and appropriate taxation, and by undertaking more business at home and overseas. This includes the sale of defence equipment to responsible Governments.
More can be done to promote our trade with Commonwealth countries. Furthermore, we need to look for more markets in South America, Asia and Africa. Trade must be two-way traffic, which means that not only should we go abroad to look for business but we must encourage others to come to our country. I was pleased to hear this morning that Vauxhall Motors will invest considerable capital in building new motor cars at its Ellesmere Port plant.
In closing, with reference to all overseas matters on military intervention, trade and development assistance, I emphasise the need for greater co-operation and more joined-up thinking between the relevant government departments.
My Lords, today the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the Arab spring, the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan. I was hoping that the regional stability of South Asia would also have been mentioned due to the great challenges faced by ISAF, NATO and Afghanistan’s neighbours. I realise that there are experts in your Lordships’ House who understand defence and foreign relations strategy much better than me. However, I have made a number of observations about the current situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the unresolved issues between India and Pakistan, particularly the right of self-determination for the Kashmiri people as well as the current bigger role cut out for India and the perceived isolation of Pakistan.
I am chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kashmir. We have received the report by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir, which documents the buried evidence of 2,700 unknown and unmarked mass graves containing more than 2,943 bodies across 55 villages. These graveyards contain victims of murder and fake encounter killings between 1990 and 2009. The bodies include those extrajudicially, summarily and arbitrarily executed and the victims of massacres committed by Indian military and paramilitary forces. Even in the past 18 months, over 100 peaceful demonstrators have been killed.
Kashmir has remained to be the longest outstanding internationally recognised dispute, and the UN Resolutions of 1948, 1949 and others have remained unimplemented for decades. I welcome the recent dialogue between India and Pakistan; however, the issue of Kashmir must be resolved. The Kashmiri leadership needs to be consulted and included in all future talks by both India and Pakistan. This is essential for the 12 million Kashmiris as well as the over 700,000 British Kashmiris who have consistently supported a UN-sponsored free, fair and impartial plebiscite to decide the future of their people.
Peace and regional stability in South Asia depend on how stakeholders are consulted and their interests sought. According to various media reports, India has been playing an ever increasing role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, which is detrimental to cohesion in South Asia. Pakistanis feel sandwiched between their eastern boarder and the Afghan border.
Our forces, ISAF, NATO and DfID have contributed greatly to the cause of Afghanistan and the development there. It is important that this legacy be better protected and honoured. The training of the Afghan military in India or by the Indian Army inside Afghanistan can cause unrest with Pakistan. The presence of Baluchi nationalist militants in Afghanistan also concerns the Pakistan authorities. I welcome the invitation to Pakistan to attend the Chicago summit. I understand that there is some progress in discussions with the Government of Pakistan to reopen the Afghan border routes for NATO supplies, which it had closed after the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers at the border.
It is important for any relations to create trust between the countries, but unfortunately there is a problem of trust between Pakistan and its old friends. For example, I understand that in private meetings, the Pakistani leadership has never objected to drone attacks yet, publicly they have always condemned the US for violating the country’s sovereignty. This has sent out the wrong signals inside Pakistan. The current elected Government in Pakistan are weak and dysfunctional, which is why, unfortunately, they lack direction and credibility abroad.
It is right to mention that Pakistan has made a bigger contribution in the loss of lives than any single NATO country or ally. As the front-line state in this “war on terror”, Pakistan has lost over 30,000 civilians and over 5,000 soldiers and police officers. Many estimates of economic and financial losses go beyond $75 billion. We have to remember that Pakistan has housed over 4 million refuges from Afghanistan since 1979, and even today there are more than 2 million refugees in Pakistan. We have to remember that Pakistan has 4 million to 5 million heroin addicts, and the tribal areas have occasionally become no-go areas for the state. Many in Pakistan believe that this is due to the direct influence of its neighbour.
It is in that context that I urge Her Majesty’s Government to continue supporting Pakistan. Geo TV, a Pakistani channel, reported last night that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was in a meeting with our Prime Minister last week, agreeing terms for resuming NATO supplies through Pakistan. Will the noble Minister confirm whether progress was made in relation to this?
I congratulate the Government and thank them for considering Pakistan and making it the largest recipient of British aid over the next three years, focusing on education, which is desperately needed for the training of teachers, for giving females more opportunity in schools and for helping Pakistan to achieve its millennium development goals. Has Pakistan has been consulted on its role in Afghanistan? Have Her Majesty’s Government encouraged both India and Pakistan to find a permanent solution on the issue of Kashmir?
My Lords, I wish to address two issues that came up in the gracious Speech a few days ago: international development assistance and state pension reform. I have struggled to find a link between the two since we can speak only once, and I hope that I have found a tenuous one—noble Lords will probably spot it.
I support the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, in seeking to get a response to the request for the legislative locking in of the commitment to 0.7% of GNI. That is in the coalition agreement, which says that we will make it a legal requirement to stick to that commitment, and we need that reassurance so that not only are this Government committed to that but future Governments cannot move away from it. The Government are to be congratulated on reaching that target as we are one of only six countries in the whole world, and by far the largest of them, to have done so. We can pat ourselves on the back since we have achieved it well ahead of many other developed large economies.
I would like to suggest to Ministers some ways of spending this money slightly differently from how they are doing it at the moment. It will not come as a surprise to the Minister that I am going to talk about Lesotho. I declare my interest as honorary president of the Dolen Cymru Wales Lesotho Link; my pecuniary interest is that my wife is an employee of that charity. It is in its 27th year and it links Wales with Lesotho, a country-to-country link that brings together the third sector, the state sector and communities and third-sector organisations. In their consideration of how they will use international aid, I hope that the Government will consider the needs of this poor and ravaged country. It is the only Third World country completely surrounded by a developed-economy country—in this case, South Africa. Twenty-seven years ago Lesotho was roughly the same size, and had roughly the same population, as Wales, but it has lost one-third of its population because of HIV/AIDS, which still has a 24% incidence rate, and its average life expectancy is 40. Less than a quarter of the population has electricity. Most of the population are subsistence farmers. There has been massive soil erosion, which has made food security a critical issue. Half the population now receives help from an internationally aided feeding programme.
However, Lesotho is a Commonwealth country with a developed democracy and a multiparty system. In nine day’s time, there will be a general election. It shares the same electoral system as Wales and Scotland. Unfortunately, UK Governments have progressively backed away from this country. I know that the Welsh Government are seeking a way of building a new partnership with the UK Government to see whether they can assist in this matter. I understand why DfID is reluctant to work with relatively small pots of money when it wants to work in partnership with its funding and get a bigger return. I hope the Government will commit themselves to looking favourably upon a relationship with Wales and the Welsh Government to see whether they can lever some of the additional funding that has been announced towards this very poor country.
One of Lesotho’s primary concerns is that it has a very poor private sector. Here, I want to address microfinance. Lesotho’s economy has been built upon subsistence farming, and it has to develop. It has large water resources, nearly all of which go to South Africa. It has diamond mines, yet most are owned by companies in the West, including in the United Kingdom. It needs to build its private sector, and to do that, it has big microfinance needs. As in other countries, there is a huge demand for small-scale financing. There is apparently about $40 billion of microfinance funds around the world at the moment, but demand for them is growing by 20% to 30%, which is outstripping the core sources that we can all think about in the way that this money has arrived. There are 150 million to 200 million recipients of microfinance, but the UN suggests that that figure will grow to 1 billion. Only one fund has so far worked its way through in providing that money through the whole lifecycle. It had a 6% return. So what organisations in the United Kingdom might provide funds? Pension funds look for a long-term, steady return, and if they could get a 6% return, they might be able to come up with some of the financing to make sure that that growing demand is dealt with. I hope the Government will encourage pension funds.
That is my link to state pension reform. People in this country are living longer. One person in six now lives to the age of 100, yet fewer people are saving for retirement. Our current system also supports inequality as women, the low paid and the self-employed tend to lose out, usually having lower than average state pensions. Ultimately, a pension scheme that has been changed by means-testing and other changes has become very complex and people do not know what they should do. Consequently, they are not saving enough for their retirement. It used to be calculated that people could expect to retire on 45% of what they were earning, but by 2055 their state pension will be only 32% of their earnings during their working life. The single-tier system greatly simplifies the system. It provides a clear outline of what people can expect from the state at present and in retirement. It provides a firm foundation for saving, reinforces our commitment to auto-enrolment and balances the risks of defined contribution pension systems. People will qualify as individuals. It will provide people with a clear incentive to save. This is the citizen’s pension that many on these Benches have been campaigning for and pressing for for many years, and we are about to see it come to fruition.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the Prime Minister on his appointment by the UN Secretary-General to chair, along with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, the high-level panel on what should follow the millennium development goals. I hope that he will find the time among many commitments and occasional distractions to focus on that task because it matters, as does meeting the present millennium development goals. In that context I, like my noble friend Lord Sandwich and the noble Lords, Lord Sheikh and Lord German, am glad that in the Queen’s Speech the Government reiterated their intention to meet the target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance. I am less concerned that that target may not be enshrined in legislation. I regard it as a policy rather than a legal issue, and I share the view expressed in the House a couple of days ago by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that we have a bit too much legislation before us.
Meeting the 0.7% target matters, just as meeting the millennium development goals matters. To take one example, a recent article in the Lancet showed that in 2010 over 5 million children died before the age of five from infections and largely preventable diseases, with pneumonia the leading cause of death. Half of those deaths were in Africa. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, there has been huge progress in Africa, but there is also huge need. Reducing that toll of childhood death requires consistent and concentrated action and consistent and concentrated funding. Britain under both recent Governments has built up a justifiably strong international reputation for its commitment to aid. Despite the understandable pressures to renege on that commitment, I sincerely urge the Government to stick to it.
Having praised the Prime Minister and the Government, perhaps I may, as is perhaps proper for a Cross-Bencher, balance that by coming a little closer to home and saying that it was surely a mistake for the Prime Minister not to see soon-to-be-President Hollande when he was in London before the recent French election. Whatever one thinks will happen to the eurozone or about the future of the European Union, the position of France will be crucial. In foreign policy and defence, relations between France and Britain, within the EU and NATO and bilaterally, will be crucial. It is therefore wholly in Britain’s interest to get to know and to talk to serious French presidential candidates. For some months before the election, it was pretty clear to French policy watchers that it was at least possible—to many of us, probable—that Monsieur Hollande would become President of France.
If I may for one moment sink into my anecdotage, I remember that when I was ambassador in France, Tony Blair, as leader of the Opposition, came to see President Chirac and Prime Minister Juppé, both leaders of the French right, just before the 1997 election. At the end of the meeting with Prime Minister Juppé, at which Mr Blair had expounded British prospective economic policy, Prime Minister Juppé replied, I thought rather wistfully, that he feared that such a policy would be far too right wing for France. I do not for a moment suggest that if Monsieur Hollande had expounded his economic policy to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister would have responded in the same way; none the less meetings of that kind are important and useful. I hope that in future the Prime Minister will see his way to meeting prospective French Presidents or, indeed, prospective German Chancellors if, as may often be the case, they are passing through London.
Finally, on our own embassies around the world, when I look back to the run-up to the war in Iraq and its aftermath, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that we suffered from having no embassy in Baghdad between 1991 and 2003. We did not have that feeling and understanding for the country, its rulers and its people which comes from day-to-day contact with even the most detestable of regimes. We were, as a consequence, less well able than we might have been to judge the likely consequences of our actions. I therefore find it worrying that we currently have no diplomatic staff in either Tehran or Damascus, in two countries at the very heart of our foreign policy, or in Bamako in Mali, a country which, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said earlier in the debate, is at the heart of instability following the conflict in Libya.
I entirely understand and support the need to put the safety of our staff first. Particularly in Tehran, after the invasion of the embassy compounds, evacuation was the only course open to us. The question now is how we can get our staff back securely to Tehran, Damascus and Bamako in order to report, influence, protect and promote our interests. There are ways in which that can be done, step by step. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us at the end of the debate that it is indeed the intention that our staff should return. I hope also that it will be the aim of the Government to preserve our staff securely in other difficult and sometimes dangerous places such as Kabul, Khartoum and Juba. Their presence will continue to be essential to protect and promote our interests and, in particular, to meet the objectives set out by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in his speech at the beginning of this debate of responding to crises, focusing on poverty reduction and increasing our interests in Africa.
My Lords, I return to a European Union theme. I declare an interest as a vice–president of the Conference of European Churches.
From these Benches I warmly welcome the inclusion in the gracious Speech of the European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill—that is a nice mouthful, is it not?—although I note the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wood, about support for it in another place. I have also listened carefully to the careful and informed speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, on this matter.
The European Stability Mechanism will replace earlier and apparently ineffective mechanisms. Although the ESM will entail no UK budget liability—that of course remains the responsibility of the euro member states—all European Union member states must approve the amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, so confirming that the mechanism is legally compatible with the treaties. This is rather technical but it is very important.
Your Lordships’ House will not include many who think that European economic stability and the future of the euro in Greece or Spain or Italy, or even the future of the euro itself, is a matter of indifference to the United Kingdom. Of our exports, 40% are to the euro area. This is no new thing. My own diocese, largely in Surrey, was once big in wool. The arms of the bishops of Guildford include several woolsacks because the wool came from the North Downs, down the River Wey, down the River Thames and over the North Sea to Flanders, where it was sold for the cloth trade. Economically, we are still intrinsically bound up with our fellow European states. Whatever differences there may be among Members of this House on the extent to which we should be involved financially in supporting the euro—that is complicated, as the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, mentioned this morning—I welcome the intention of presenting this legislation shortly, and of supporting the eurozone states in their internal endeavour to secure the stability of the euro and of Europe, of which we are a part. It would be my hope that both Europhiles and Eurosceptics—in and out of government, in this House and elsewhere—could unite on this at least.
It can be no comfort at all to your Lordships’ House to contemplate the enormous difficulties we have seen in the forming of a permanent Government in Greece, or this morning’s news in at least two papers of the beginning of a rush on the Greek banks. Then there is the continuing social unrest there in the land, and indeed in the city, of the birth of democracy. That is significant. Nor can we contemplate with equanimity the disturbances in Spain. I therefore invite the Minister to say a little more on how the United Kingdom Government can continue, no doubt behind the scenes, to be of assistance to the eurozone states, as they have been, perhaps somewhat robustly, in the discussions leading up to the decision about the ESM.
I also welcome anything the Minister can say on the way in which the United Kingdom is to keep in touch with what may develop following the meeting this week between President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, as well as, of course, exchanges between the new French President and our own Prime Minister. The Chancellor and our Prime Minister are not for turning on austerity. That is clear, but Chancellor Merkel also spoke of the possibility of an add-on growth policy. Once again the UK, as I am sure the Minister will agree, is not isolated from the common need of all European countries to move out of recession. That will not be easy, as the Governor of the Bank of England has recently reminded us. My plea is that we move beyond slogans to a more mature discussion about the troubles of Europe—of which we are part—and how we can move forward together.
Finally, my concern is not only that the United Kingdom is intrinsically linked economically with Europe. It is much more than that. The Christian faith and all that goes with that culture came with the Roman soldiers and merchants to Britain. It came again with the Celtic missions from Ireland and Scotland, and again from Rome itself to Canterbury. We in turn sent missionaries to what is now the Netherlands, north Germany and Scandinavia. Irish missionaries travelled all over Europe. This is relevant to a forthcoming appointment: archbishops of Canterbury came from what is now Turkey, from Aosta in north Italy and Normandy. A Yorkshire priest-scholar, Alcuin, was Charlemagne’s chief adviser and confidante. The Reformation came from Württemberg, Geneva and Strasbourg. The royal families of England were conjoined with the royal families of Aragon, of Castile, of France and later of Holland and Hanover and, most recently, Greece.
I look forward to this rather technical legislation as a sign that, despite differences of approach to fiscal union and the disputed question of direct support for the euro, the United Kingdom remains committed to the fact that we are part of Europe, not only financially but historically, culturally and religiously. Consequently, we have our political and economic part to play therein.
I am pleased to be here today in your Lordships’ House, adding my support to international development, an area that has great resonance for me. I am delighted that the Government have committed 0.7% of gross national income for international development from next year. Not only does international development encompass my own ideology in helping to promote and achieve the impossible in situations where there is a great need for support from the international community, but it can work for good in other directions too. This can be seen in the way that the lives of people who commit to helping are enriched and enhanced for the common good. The enrichment can and does bring benefits to wider communities by bringing together different cultures and societies and promoting a better understanding of the needs of people in other countries. What international development can bring to us in the United Kingdom is not often recognised. It is more often than not looked on as a one-way street of giving with no taking, which does not bring back benefits of any kind.
Allow me to give an example. I have led trade delegations from Northern Ireland to India for the past 10 years. The most recent, to promote business initiatives and investment between the two countries, was in April this year. The delegation comprised First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Economy Minister Arlene Foster, 20 companies and two universities from Northern Ireland. It was supported by the British high commissioner in Delhi and the deputy high commissioners of Mumbai and Bangalore. This is international development from a different angle that is, at present, exciting, dynamic and bringing great benefits. It is a two-way street that is helping to develop part of the United Kingdom and strengthen its international presence, while building on historical links and the many years of previous financial support.
The success of such initiatives shows for itself. India is now the second biggest investor in Northern Ireland, employing nearly 5,000 people, and there are 49 Northern Irish companies doing good business in India. We met the Chief Ministers for Mumbai and Delhi and, as a result, they are looking forward to the further development of industrial, educational and tourism links. This shows how important development grants can be for future trade with a country as it grows.
However, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Last week the “Living Below the Line” campaign raised awareness of how much of the world’s population subsists on around a dollar a day. A recent article on the BBC website cited as many as 1.3 billion people as still subsisting at this level. This emphasises the importance of continuing international development for the bigger picture of the global economy, and that there is still a need for a concerted effort by the developed countries to tackle this problem.
Official aid figures do not include contributions by private trusts and individuals. A great deal of unofficial aid is given by charitable and philanthropic organisations from this country, about which little reliable information is available. I cite the example of, and declare an interest in, my charitable trust, which has been funding a university project in a village called Sanghol in Punjab. This is archaeologically a very famous site in north India. The settlement goes back around 5,000 years. There were no facilities in the area for children to acquire graduate or postgraduate education. We started with a greenfield site and now there is a 25-acre campus, with nearly 2,000 students spanning six institutes that offer graduate and postgraduate courses. It employs 200 people, plus another 200 construction workers, and it is still growing.
My vision was to create a village society that, in its fusion of native values and culture and modern sciences, would be a model for the whole community. The intention was that it would bring international development to the heart of the community and give it a lifeline with which to combat the problems and injustices that living in a rural part of India brings. It is very humbling to see first hand how this makes a difference to the lives of many young people. Nearly half the qualifying students are girls, who would have little chance of a university education without this initiative.
The trust’s efforts have been supported by the UK-India Education and Research Initiative in setting up a vocational training institute in collaboration with VTCT—Vocational Training Charitable Trust, UK—in April this year. It has helped to bring together educational establishments in both countries. In this, the British Council has done a great job to help. Assistance from UKIERI and the British Council works at the grass-roots level and gives aid to the beneficiaries more quickly. Perhaps DfID would consider working with philanthropic initiatives in the same way that UKIERI and the British Council do. This would speed up the process and help more young people in the field of education. Providing good-quality education goes a long way in alleviating poverty and empowers people to compete in the global market.
My Lords, nearly five years ago my late noble kinsman Lord Lyell of Markyate rose at the Conservative Party conference and made a much briefer speech than I shall be able to make today. He just said that the first duty of any Government is the defence of the realm. The rest of his remarks were drowned out by bad manners as everyone took off, but I suspect he was absolutely right.
I have the very good luck to be in your Lordships’ House and to be a member of its defence group. We are beautifully led by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, who keeps me and many other ex-servicemen—people go right back—in shape and in the best condition to understand exactly what is needed by, and can be done for, defence in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere.
Perhaps it is appropriate that today’s debate was instituted by my noble friend Lord Howell. Together with our principal doorkeeper and the late Sergeant Kiwi Clements, who 55 years ago licked me into shape as a young national serviceman, he belonged to that great regiment, the Coldstream Guards. The motto of the Coldstream Guards is “Nulli Secundus”. Sergeant Clements put me under close arrest for thinking it meant “no second helpings”. It does not; it means “second to none”. Those words apply to my noble friend the Minister on the Front Bench, who will be winding up the debate. My noble friend gives all of us with any interest in defence, let alone those of us in the defence group, constant briefing advice and one-to- one contact with the Ministry of Defence. For anyone who has any interest in defence, it is top-class. I also know that all the work that he has done has brought many others in your Lordships’ House much closer to defence and one aspect of it that we are discussing today.
My noble friend Lord Luke referred to aircraft carriers. The Minister will have to cope with the budget. I hope that he will not worry about my speech for one second of his winding-up speech; he can write to me in due course. I know that he will write to my noble friend Lord Luke about the aircraft carriers. One recent development in aircraft is that the Ministry of Defence has chosen the F-35B as its vertical and short take-off and landing model. If I am wrong my noble friend can correct me—probably in writing—later, but I understand that this will enable both aircraft carriers to be in constant service, and that it will be a great saving in the budget, costing far less than the cat and trap.
Equally, at sea, it is very encouraging to read of the great success of the Type 45 destroyer. It was three years ago that my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford and I went down to Portsmouth and viewed HMS “Daring”, which was the first of the Type 45, with its outstanding commanding officer, that man of Fermanagh, Captain McAlpine. He set the standard of his crew for what is now being done and it is already a major success in the Royal Navy. I just hope that the Type 56 frigate, when it comes out, will be an equal success.
I turn to the Army aspect of defence and the SDSR. I understand that the Army will be reduced over the next 10 or 12 years to about 82,000 personnel—my noble friend the Minister may be able to explain that today or at a later stage—but the apparent good news that has come out in the past two or three days concerns the Scottish regiments and what I would call the cap badges. I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has taken the question of cap badges, particularly as it refers to Scotland, very seriously indeed. He is not with us today, but the noble Earl, Lord Stair, was fighting with the Scots Guards 30 years ago at Mount Tumbledown in the Falklands. The noble Lord, Lord West, is also not here today, but he, too, was there. For Members of your Lordships’ House who have been in a situation like that, it hammers home to them, as it would have hammered home to me, that you are together with your friends—as we said in the services, your muckers. When it is one to one on a dark night in winter in the Falklands, you are with people with whom you have formed a very close bond, and that gives you that extra pace in defending the realm and in what you have to do.
I quickly turn to Afghanistan. There has been more and more decent news recently over the kit, the supplies and the support of our forces all over Afghanistan and on the way out and back. Indeed, there is an interesting article today in the Financial Times about the situation in Afghanistan and the kit referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. It seems quite encouraging.
The House of Lord defence group is not, I hope, all red leather Bench warriors. Certainly we take an interest in other things—my training goes on, as I started out as an accountant, seeking the truth—but we are very concerned with the families of servicemen all over the world, here and elsewhere, and their quarters, housing, children and support. For families but also for the wounded service men and women, Headley Court is second to none and does a wonderful job. Our group made at least two visits; I hope that we are able to do that.
I was fortunate five years ago, with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to visit Birmingham, which is the first stop for injured service men and women returning to this country. The work that is done there and continues to be done is really very encouraging and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some support either today or at a later stage.
When we discuss defence today or at any other time, here in the comfort of the warm leather Benches, I hope that I as a humble national serviceman can say thank you and pass on my gratitude to each and every one of the service men and women all over the world—in Afghanistan, under the sea and elsewhere. We think of them and think of the frightened, startled recruits who are starting their training, and to them we say our thanks.
My Lords, most people in the world do not believe the agendas of international deliberations are their agendas. Repeatedly these agendas are seen as those of the traditionally powerful and privileged and dominated by a determination to preserve their advantage. Reform of the United Nations Security Council and its membership is long since overdue to make it representative of the world as it is rather than the world of 1945. Its credibility depends on this; so, too, do the arrangements for governance in the international financial institutions and climate change negotiations. The world as a whole has a stake in the outcomes, and this must mean that it has a stake in the making of the agendas.
Transparency and accountability in the appointment arrangements of the United Nations Secretary-General and the chief executives of the other global institutions is crucial. The world also needs a United Nations Economic and Social Council with clout and of the same status as the existing Security Council.
Consider the acute threats to humanity across the world, as 1.3 billion men, women and children are trapped in absolute poverty, struggling desperately to survive and not knowing when or where they will have their next meagre meal, let alone any other basic essential. Consider, as the noble Lord, Lord King, powerfully reminded us, the Sahel. There are between 18 and 19 million people in imminent danger of starvation, with hardly half the required emergency assistance yet provided. This is no time to consider modifying our aid commitment—in other words, reducing it. Of course we must constantly strive to ensure the best possible use of the resources that we provide, but to ensure that it is essential to listen to the experience, the truth as seen by them, and the priorities of the disadvantaged themselves. They are tired of being hectored and lectured on what they must do; they want to be heard and to share in the ownership of the solutions. This is something that the Prime Minister would do well constantly to remember in his new role on the United Nations high-level panel to design a post-2015 development framework. To succeed, the panel must speak with and for the dispossessed and poor, not about or at them. The world needs solidarity.
How can we settle for less than a world in which every new-born child has a meaningful prospect of reaching its full physical, mental and creative potential? With all the ingenuity, information technology and expertise on hand, it is obscene to settle for anything less. That is why I am glad that, despite the regrettable absence of promised legislation in the Queen’s Speech, the Government remain committed to the 0.7% of GNP target. It is high time that we joined Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden in demonstrating that this is an imperative.
Of course, the battle for a stable, secure and just world is not just about aid but about fair trade and fair access to limited and finite resources. In other words, it is about social priorities in economic policy. At times of stringency these matters become more essential, not less. Monetary disciplines and social justice are never incompatible. To claim that they are is blinkered, fatalistic nonsense. We shall have neither stable, secure societies nor the basis for sustained economic well-being and progress unless this is understood, as must be the indispensability of prioritised and targeted investment to ensure our future.
In our highly unstable age, with its threats of terrorism, the cause of global social justice has never been more vital. So also, of course, is the cause of human rights. Terrorist potential may be impossible to eradicate, but it can be contained, minimised and marginalised. It is no exaggeration to say that where there are few human rights issues, the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism can be marginalised. Where there are significant human rights abuses, the breeding ground for terrorism will always be present. Human rights are not an optional extra for society; they are a muscular indispensability for stability and security. We erode or neglect them anywhere in the world, not least in the UK itself, at our peril.
That is why institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights are so essential. They establish an agreed shared commitment in a wider context. That is why they must be properly resourced. It is also why ruthless action by the Russians or their surrogates in the North Caucasus, or by Israelis against Palestinians, about which my noble friend Lady Blackstone spoke so well today, not least the military detention of children, is so inexcusable and wrong. It fans the flames of extremism. It is never irresponsible, and always right, to ask why people are recruitable as suicide bombers.
We must also beware counterproductivity here in the United Kingdom, with the pressures to amend and streamline our well tested legal principles and systems. The pitfalls of counterproductivity should always be uppermost in our analysis when confronted with abominations such as the Syrian or Gaddafi regimes. Have we always researched as thoroughly as we should have what we are intervening in and what the longer-term consequences will be? Did we get that right in Libya? Did we have in place what was needed in time to make a success of Kofi Annan’s peace initiative in Syria? These situations are too complex to be seen largely as just a matter of ridding the world of a particularly nasty tyrant.
I conclude by reflecting for a moment on the arms trade treaty, in which the United Kingdom has played such a commendable role and on which it is planned to have its final diplomatic conference in July in preparation for its adoption. It is a highly desirable, urgently necessary treaty when we are faced with so much conflict, and possible conflict, crushing the already disadvantaged people of the world. Do the Government agree that it is better to have no treaty than a weak treaty? Is not the essential principle that states shall never transfer arms where the end-use cannot be guaranteed and where there is a clear risk that they will be reused to commit violations of humanitarian and international human rights law? Will the Government refuse to compromise on this and resist the subtle pressures—or sometimes the blunt pressures—to settle for words such as “take into account” as compromises? What progress is being made in these respects to bring Algeria, Syria, Iran and the United States itself on board?
My Lords, in the area of defence, we received the welcome news that under the coalition the defence budget is now at last under control. We know which aircraft we are going to use; we know which ships are in, or will be in, service; and we know what equipment our forces will deploy. The trouble is: have we forecast what conflicts we will need to cope with? Are our forces, who are equipped to fight in Afghanistan, able to use the same equipment in a conflict with a vastly different terrain and climate? Are we treating our service personnel decently, as was debated by your Lordships during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill? Are we ready to provide the housing that is required by service men and women coming back to the UK from Afghanistan and Germany? Are those obliged to leave the armed services prepared for civilian life?
One area of strife that we debate and debate in this House is the Middle East. British rule and influence have historically been strong, whether in running Egypt at the turn of the century or the Palestine mandate. This month, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, has seen a threatening hunger strike about conditions of detention in Israeli jails brought to a welcome end that was brokered significantly by the Egyptians. This month has seen a remarkable coalition Government—in this instance, I do not refer to the UK but Israel—where the two largest parties, Likud and Kadima, have come together with others to form a strong coalition Government that could have the will and power to further the peace process. This month has also seen one of that Government’s first acts, in seeking negotiations with the Palestinians without any preconditions. I can only hope that our Government do all they can to encourage both sides to the negotiating table and to hammer out a lasting peace formula that will give the Palestinians a sovereign state, sitting alongside a secure state of Israel. It is a fact that neither side will get all that it wants, but that is the price of negotiation and compromise.
The noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, said a lot with which I agree on this subject. However, he mentioned admission to the United Nations. I also wish to celebrate, in time, the admission of the Palestinian state to the United Nations. However, I believe that it is a prize you receive by sitting down at the negotiating table. You do not get your prizes ahead of sitting down. That is the price of negotiation. But I will be there cheering that admission when it takes place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke very eloquently and movingly about alleged wrongs and so on. In the time I have for this speech, I cannot deal with her comments—I hope she understands. I throw into the melting pot that wrongs always go around, and one fact that, of the 850,000 Jews who fled Arab lands, 600,000 found a place to stay in Israel. A lot of problems can be sorted out only by sitting down at the negotiating table.
There was welcome news a few hours ago that President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has made new innovative appointments to a Cabinet, which may be part of the formula at the moment. A former leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, was once said to miss no opportunity to miss an opportunity. This should be a time when we actually take that opportunity. There are people who say that the Netanyahu Government of Israel are not sincere in what they say about sitting down at the negotiating table without any preconditions. My advice to everybody—Israelis and Palestinians—is, “Sit down; trust that sincerity and see whether it is there”. If you do not actually sit down and have negotiations between people who are nominally against each other, or who are against each other, you will never succeed.
We often debate people’s rights across the region—those of Christians, Jews, women, gay people, different types of Muslims, Kurds and other ethnic minorities. It is right that the Queen’s Speech, as referred to by my noble friend the Minister, expresses the Government’s ongoing desire to support such rights across the Middle East and north Africa. In 2011-12, the UK Government funded projects to increase women’s political participation in Egypt, protect freedom of expression in Tunisia, increase young people’s role in policy formulation in Morocco, bring prisons up to international human rights standards in Algeria, and support public service broadcasting in Iraq. That was not just morally the right thing to do but in our national interest in terms of prosperity and security.
On 9 December last year, we debated the desperate plight of Christians in the Middle East. I took part in that debate, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi. It is appalling how Christians are treated in so many countries in the Middle East, and we often stand by and say nothing about it. Much of the discrimination and prejudice comes from Governments themselves, including in the Middle East and north Africa. I therefore applaud the fact that Her Majesty’s Government will support the extension of political and economic freedom in countries in transition in the Middle East and north Africa.
Other noble Lords have spoken about the problem of Iran. Her Majesty said that her Government will work,
“to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, including in Iran”.
Iran’s ambition to be a regional power makes it a meddler and a sponsor of terrorism in the region and beyond. Just this week, Iran stands accused of smuggling arms into Syria. Should such a regime gain nuclear weapons, the region’s other Governments would feel that they must also have such weapons, sparking an arms race that would drag in many countries in the wider world, from Europe to Latin America. It is vital that we use all peaceful means to prevent such an outcome.
My Lords, my brief remarks today will urge Her Majesty’s Government to do all they possibly can to engage with China, especially in Africa and on the Korean peninsula and on questions of human rights.
Yesterday, with my noble friend Lady Cox, I met Bishop Macram Gassis, whose whole life has been spent working with the Dinka and Nuba people in Sudan. I subsequently spoke by telephone with the Minister for Africa, Mr Henry Bellingham MP, and relayed Bishop Gassis’s description of the murder and mutilation of children and the rape of women in South Kordofan.
Earlier today, along with my noble friend, I drew the attention of the House to the recent assessment of Dr Mukesh Kapila CBE that the second genocide of the 21st century is now unfolding. More than 1 million people have been affected as a regime, led by a president indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, systematically kills its own people. In parenthesis, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who responded to the Question earlier today, that what makes Sudan unique is that President Omar al-Bashir is the only head of state anywhere in the world to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. To have business as usual, including the visits of parliamentarians and business leaders to Sudan promoting business interests in Sudan, cannot be right when in Darfur 200,000 people were killed, in South Sudan 2 million people were killed and now, today, the second genocide of the 21st century is being played out in South Kordofan.
On 26 March I described the paralysis of the international community in addressing this issue, and nothing has changed. It is now a year since I told the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about the situation there. He said in response:
“Reports of such atrocities will have to be investigated and, if they prove to be true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]
Nine months later, he said that,
“we continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]
However, no one has been brought to justice, the bombs continue to rain down, a genocide is unfolding, and a plane last tried to take in aid in November last and was pursued for 50 miles by Sudanese war planes.
So what can we do? Seventy per cent of Sudan’s oil is in the south and most of it is bought by China. While the killing continues, the oil will not flow. More than any other country, China is in a position to insist that the bombing stops, that humanitarian relief is allowed in, and that all sides participate in peace talks, which China should broker.
North Sudan is also considerably indebted to China. It has external debts of around $38 billion. Both China and the United Kingdom should use the leverage of debt relief to insist on an end to aerial bombardment and access for humanitarian aid. It is unconscionable that Britain should write off Sudanese debt while it kills with impunity, and I hope that when the Minister responds he will tell us that he concurs with that view.
China is in Africa because it has a scarcity of oil, minerals and food. Africa provides a solution. The big question will be: can China avoid the age-old temptation to exercise hegemony and, instead, use its statecraft to resolve conflict? Short of the arms trade treaty, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, a few moments ago, it would make a dramatic difference if China and the United Kingdom stopped the flow of arms—many made in China—into Africa. However, if we need to engage with China in Africa, we must also encourage it to use its diplomacy and genius elsewhere too.
Last night, at a meeting of the North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group, which I chair, we heard from Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Mrs Sun-young Park, a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. I have sent the Minister a copy of their papers. Three million people died in the last Korean War, including an estimated 400,000 Chinese soldiers and, I might add, 1,000 British servicemen, more than in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands combined. We need to engage with China to encourage the United States formally to end the state of war with North Korea. This does not imply appeasement—quite the reverse. It is what we did with great effect during the Helsinki process. There are some welcome harbingers.
China's recent decision to repatriate North Koreans to Seoul is to be welcomed; so is their admonition to North Korea to look after the welfare of their own citizens rather than to promote nuclear ambitions; China’s decision not to obstruct the recent United Nations Human Rights Council's statement on human rights issues in North Korea; and the Security Council statement on the recent rocket launch. What is really needed is a Beijing peace conference where old hatreds are set aside and constructive, but critical, engagement seeks ways to achieve a lasting peace, prosperity, reconciliation and the reunification of the Korean peninsula.
In addition to China’s role in the world, I want to mention one other question concerning human rights. The world's attention has recently been focused on the plight of Chen Guangcheng, the blind civil and human rights activist, jailed for four years after challenging China's one-child policy. I have raised this case in your Lordships' House many times. Having taken sanctuary in the US Embassy in Beijing, Chen is now held in a hospital unit. The Economist, in its editorial last week, said:
“At rare moments, the future of a nation, even one teeming with 1.3 billion souls, can be bound up in the fate of a single person”.
It said that what happened to Chen,
“matters enormously to China's future”.
That also matters to the United States. If they have removed Chen from safety but failed to secure safe passage for him and his family, it will cast serious doubts on American diplomacy. Have they let a brave man down? Have they been taken for fools? If Chen is punished and the US humiliated it will signal a troubling shift in superpower relations.
Chen's case also matters to countries like our own. We have aided and abetted the very policies that led to Chen's imprisonment in the first place. It has taken a blind man to see that to which we have shamefully closed our eyes. This remarkable Shawshank has caught the public imagination and blown open a policy of coercion and eugenics, a policy which I sought to outlaw the last time we had a Bill on development aid before your Lordships’ House. Over three decades, British aid given to UNFPA and IPPF has gone to the China Population Association. The CPA, in turn, has implemented a one-child policy that makes it a criminal offence to be pregnant and illegal to have a brother or a sister. It is a policy which has led to an estimated 400 million babies being aborted or killed through infanticide; a gendercide policy which favours the birth of male children so that one out of every six girls is aborted or abandoned. China is a country where 500 women take their own lives every single day. China has the highest suicide rate for women anywhere in the world.
China is a great nation, but it does itself no credit with something like the one-child policy. We must engage with China both on human rights questions and on its role in the world, not least on the Korean peninsula and in countries like Sudan.
My Lords, it is no secret to Members of this House that I have been in disagreement with many of the policies of the coalition Government over the past two years. I have moved temporarily from my party’s naughty step to access the microphones—there is no more significance to it than that.
One shining beacon, however, has been the actions of the Secretary of State for International Development and his department. The commitment to enshrine in law 0.7% of GDP to overseas aid, with an additional £740 million to be spent on maternal and child health and an emphasis on family planning, was very welcome. However, although the commitment was in the Queen's Speech, there is no legislation yet to make it law. I suppose that there was some nervousness about doing this in the current economic climate, and I know there has been opposition from some newspapers and members of the public, but I live in hope.
I would suggest that the Opposition would understand the arguments that we have made for aid to the poorest countries of the world if we ensured that it was spent even more wisely. For example, although more than 50% of global overseas aid comes from the European Union, much of it goes to near neighbours of the EU such as Turkey and Morocco, which are hardly the poorest of the world. EU aid also goes to Palestine to rebuild its infrastructure, destroyed by Israel, only for that infrastructure to be destroyed again. Taxpayers all over Europe might think well about our overseas aid if it were not being used to subsidise the illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Why does the European Union not have a poverty focus for all its aid, as we do, and as has recently been recommended by the Select Committee for International Development in its recent report on EU assistance? The poor should be our focus.
There is also still widespread concern that overseas aid does not reach the people and projects for which it is intended but ends up in the back pockets of politicians in those countries. I was privileged yesterday to meet a group of women Members of Parliament from Afghanistan, brought here by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, to which I pay tribute. These brave women told me that they had huge concern about the disappearance of aid in their country but as women MPs had no means of tracking where it had gone. Their message, which I promised to relay, was that the projects that had survived had made a difference to women’s lives in Afghanistan, but that they feared they would have to “disappear back into the shadows or be killed” once ISAF had left. It is a chilling thought.
Much more needs to be invested in the women of Afghanistan if the Department for International Development’s aim of peace, stability and prosperity is to be brought to that country—yet there is no budget line for maternal health and family planning in that country’s operational plan for the next four years. The maternal death rate in Afghanistan is among the highest in the world: 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births. Many more women suffer chronic illness following unassisted childbirth. The contraception rate is 2% among women of childbearing age, and family size averages 6.9 children per woman. How can women contribute to their country’s “peace, stability and prosperity” if we do not help them? Perhaps if the Minister cannot answer these points he will write to us after the debate. DfID, after all, will have its Golden Moment in July to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised women in the world are given sexual and reproductive health services and family planning. The all-party group that I chair supports this initiative and is delighted with it. I hope that it will be extended to Afghanistan.
I emphasise the importance of ensuring that the 215 million women in the world who would use family planning if it were available to them get what they need. If we can meet this need, as DfID wants us to, it will reduce the growth in world population—and it will do so voluntarily, without the type of coercion mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that occurred some years ago in China. The reduction in the growth of world population is crucial if Africa, for example, is to feed itself—and it must happen if we are not to be engulfed by climate change and global warming. The issues are interlinked: population growth, consumption in the developed world and the environment.
Finally, I will put in a plug for our own royal society. It produced a magnificent report recently, People and the Planet, which dealt with all these issues. I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister will read it before he attends the Rio+20 conference on our behalf in the near future.
My Lords, I will speak about Britain’s relations with two very different countries, neither of which has been mentioned in the debate today—although the noble Lord, Lord Alton, came very close a moment ago in his reference to human rights in China. I will first ask a simple question about Ukraine, in the context of the European football championships next month. The Minister will be aware that a number of heads of government, in particular Angela Merkel, said that neither they nor any of their ministerial colleagues would attend matches played in Ukraine unless Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison. Do Her Majesty’s Government plan to adopt the same approach? If so, will they offer similar advice to the President of the Football Association, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge?
I wish to speak mainly about the United Kingdom’s relationship with Taiwan. I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Taiwanese Group. My co-chair is the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, who leaves this evening at the head of the delegation of nine members drawn from all political parties in both Houses. They will attend the inauguration ceremony on Sunday for President Ma Ying-jeou, who was re-elected for a second four-year term on 14 January in what most observers regarded as a fair and open contest.
In terms of the relationship, I start with the positives. In a number of areas, it is excellent. Last year, Taiwan purchased £1.5 billion-worth of British-made goods and another £1.5 billion-worth in services. There are 16,000 Taiwanese students at British universities and they and their parents contribute £0.5 billion in tuition fees and living expenses. Some 80,000 to 90,000 Taiwanese come here as tourists. Numerous Taiwanese manufacturing companies have located here. HTC, for example, which manufactures smart phones, has expanded from employing five people to 500. On 23 April, I attended the annual meeting of the Taiwan Britain Business Council and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, make an enthusiastic and positive speech from his standpoint as Trade Minister about British opportunities for doing business with Taiwan. He visited the country in his official capacity last year and it would be a great pleasure if we heard him speak more often in this House on issues such as this.
That is the positive side of the relationship. There is another, deeply unsatisfactory side as well. I do not have time today to discuss the wider “one China” issue, which in my view is in urgent need of review. We will need to return to it on another occasion.
I need, however, to talk about the United Kingdom Border Agency. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had a most uncomfortable time answering questions from his noble friends about its shortcomings. Your Lordships may recall that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, described how a CPA meeting yesterday with a Tanzanian parliamentary delegation had to be cancelled because the UKBA had denied the delegates visas. Similar problems are experienced on a regular basis by staff employed by the Taipei representative office in the UK. The visa waiver for citizens of Taiwan who come to the UK on holiday does not apply to them. The staff have to apply annually for a visa extension and are required to surrender their passports when doing so. Because UKBA often holds on to these passports for up to four months, when an emergency arises such as the need to visit a sick relative back home or attend a heads of mission meeting called at short notice, the individual has to decide whether to abandon the trip or submit themselves to a so-called fast-track option, for which the application fee is £648 but it still takes weeks to complete. By contrast, British staff at our office in Taipei receive a three-year multiple-entry free gratis service, which is processed within 48 hours.
There is a straightforward way through this, and that is to establish a privileges and immunities protocol that sets out very clearly the status of Taiwanese Government staff working in the UK and their British counterparts in Taiwan. A good starting point is the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who I am delighted to see on the Bench, when speaking from the opposition Front Bench in January 2003. He said:
“I am sure that we all appreciate that because of respect for the ‘one China’ policy and our relations with the People’s Republic of China, we do not accord Taiwan full diplomatic status. Can we at least be assured that we give Taiwan representatives in our country and the sort of causes that we are discussing in this Question the same support and encouragement as are given by our neighbours, particularly France and Germany, in their dealings with Taiwan? Are we as effective as they are in maintaining good relations with this remarkable democracy?”.—[Official Report, 20/1/03; col. 432.]
That is a very good question to which we still do not have a satisfactory answer.
The best examples of what is possible are found in the Commonwealth countries of Australia and New Zealand, both of which have the same common-law legal system as we do. The Australian Government, which has a much closer relationship with China than we have, has in place a remarkable set of rules called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (Privileges and Immunities) Regulations 1998, which grant the Taiwanese staff in Canberra and Sydney virtually all the same benefits as other diplomatic missions to which Australia grants diplomatic recognition.
It is worth noting that, as Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organisation, if there were ever a WTO ministerial meeting in the UK, Taiwanese participants would have to be given exactly the same privileges and immunities as all other participants, but we cannot, apparently, bring ourselves to grant them at any other times. That alone surely undermines any argument about possible legal implications.
I would appreciate it if the Minister can give an undertaking that the FCO will look at a privileges and immunities protocol for Taiwan, and also promise to look at the problems of the United Kingdom Border Agency and its treatment of Taiwanese Government employees. We will have to come back to the question of the “one China” policy at another time because that is in urgent need of review.
My Lords, I want to speak about our relations with our partners in the European Union. The eurozone crisis is the worst problem we have faced for many decades. As a non-member, Britain has little direct influence. However, our reaction has been to lecture our colleagues, the eurozone Governments, and more often than not to insist that whatever happens we will resist any infringement of our sovereignty. The first is uncalled for and merely serves to irritate our partners. The second increases Britain’s isolation and gravely damages our national interests.
It is worth looking back at why Europe has achieved what it has achieved. The European Union is based on sharing a degree of sovereignty for the common benefit. It replaces national rivalries with a mutual interest in co-operation. This benefits all members in a number of ways. First, it benefits us economically, through the single market. Even the most sceptical anti-Europeans agree that the single market increases our prosperity. However, there would be no effective single market without qualified majority voting—that is, without a degree of shared sovereignty, which we originally supported. Incidentally, we have never been outvoted on qualified majority voting.
Secondly, the EU benefits us through promoting free trade. Without a common European position in trade negotiations, world trade barriers would be much higher than they are. Protectionism is a constant danger, especially at a time of recession, and even some EU countries would like to bring back a degree of protection, but the EU treaty and competition law stop them. Thirdly, it benefits the environment. The European Union, as a group, is the strongest force in the world for action on manmade climate change.
On the political front, co-operation has made least progress, but even here there are huge achievements. The democratic values that the EU stands for have spread to the ex-communist countries and former dictatorships. Enlargement has been one of the EU’s historic achievements, in which we have played a major part. Incidentally, if Greece is forced out of the eurozone—and possibly out of the European Union—it is quite possible that it will return to the dictatorship that ruled before it became a member.
The European Union could act more effectively as a counterweight to the United States and China, which would greatly benefit the world. Both those large countries want a more united Europe with a stronger voice; they are not interested in a Britain which becomes more and more isolated from the Union. We could play a much more effective part in the Middle East, for example, where America’s role as a mediator is hampered by the influence of the Zionist lobby in Congress.
However, successive British Governments have refused to recognise the advantages and importance of sharing a degree of sovereignty. They have talked constantly of red lines; they boast about the battles won against the dastardly continentals trying to do us down. What has been the result? It has been a constant erosion of our influence. Gradually, we are edging more and more into the sidelines. The European Union Act of last year stopped any further moves to more effective sharing of sovereignty, even in cases where it is in our interests. The so-called veto of last December achieved nothing except to exasperate our partners, including our closest allies, and isolate us further.
Soon, we will face crucial decisions for our future. Will we contribute extra funds to the IMF? It seems that the Government are disposed to do so. Will they stand firm against the anti-European lobby, which has proved a very powerful influence in the past? It is likely that, next month, there will be a European Union growth pact, separate from the new treaty. Will we back it? It is vital that this should be a pact of 27, not of 17, and certainly not one of 25 or 26.
We will face decisions on the future of banking in the European Union, crucial to the future of the City. What will happen to the fourth capital requirements directive and the plans for a banking union, with its system for shared guarantees? What will our position be? Of course we have some special interests that we cannot ignore, but they must be considered in perspective. They must take account of our common interests with the rest of the European Union and, above all, the grave danger and damages that would be a consequence of our isolation.
Outside the eurozone, we are already without a voice in the measures to save it. In other areas, the eurozone will take decisions that affect us in important ways. We have placed our negotiators at a huge disadvantage by virtue of last year’s European Union Act, but we still have important cards to play. Germany does not want to be left alone to fight protectionism and dirigisme. France and Britain together can still provide a basis for a European Union defence policy, despite recent divisions about aircraft for our carriers. However, what we badly need is a sense of direction and vision, not a self-defeating obsession to preserve every inch of sovereignty.
My Lords, I shall confine my remarks to the Middle East, a region where for the past five years I have worked for the United Nations and Her Majesty’s Government.
As the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wood, and others have remarked today, the crisis in Syria shows no sign of abating. The UN mission led by Kofi Annan, for whom I have great respect, not least because he was my former boss, is clearly in trouble. The number of monitors is still barely above that of the much maligned Arab League mission and, after some early decline, the level of violence is on the rise again. More importantly, the 10 April deadline for removing heavy weaponry and troops from residential areas in their entirety has clearly passed and not been met. Yesterday, President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Russian television and showed no sign of compromise. There is no sign that he will accept the political accommodation necessary and implicit in the Annan plan. Having met the President many times, I regret to say that I do not believe that accommodation is in his DNA.
It is of deep concern that the crisis in Syria is already migrating to neighbouring Lebanon—a dangerously fractious country at the best of times. Some 10 people have died in the northern city of Tripoli in the past few days in clashes between the minority Alawite and majority Sunni communities. The leader of the Alawite community, Rifaat Eid, one of the less attractive Lebanese politicians of my acquaintance, is quoted in the Lebanese press this morning as saying that,
“calm in Lebanon can only be restored through the intervention of an Arab army … No one is capable of doing”,
this “except the Syrian army”. One of the greatest achievements of the UN was the 2005 withdrawal of that army after a 30-year presence. I regret that it is again time to look at other diplomatic options. I hope that this can be done at the Chicago NATO summit and the Camp David summit next week. Above all, Russia and China need to be cautioned that their continuing support for the Assad regime is as useless and short-lived as the support that they rendered to President Milosevic of Serbia in the late 1990s.
I was pleased that the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, recently received the beleaguered Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, who needs our strong support in these difficult days. We also need, with our partners, to make it absolutely clear that the international community will not accept any Syrian interference let alone intervention in Lebanon. As the trial of General Ratko Mladic has just started in the Hague and that of Charles Taylor is just ending, we need also to remember our commitments with regard to the established international norm of the responsibility to protect.
It is more than 30 years since the Israeli/Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, 10 years since the creation of the quartet which brings together the US, EU, Russia and UN and almost five years since the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, assumed the post of quartet envoy. It is difficult to imagine a more powerful body on paper than the quartet but, having sat through many quartet meetings, I can think of no time in the past 20 years when the situation was more difficult if not bleak. It was not always thus. I take this opportunity to regret the withdrawal from politics of former Israeli Foreign Minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who tried under the last Government to advance the cause of peace. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprised his own people with a political coup of great consequence in forming a coalition with the Kadima party now led by Shaul Mofaz. This gives Mr Netanyahu unparalleled political strength that no Labor Administration has had not for years but for decades. We must all hope that he uses this strength to accept and advance the two-state peace process.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke eloquently earlier of the conditions of the Palestinian people— conditions I can confirm, having lived and worked there. I also believe that peace is vital for Israel itself. The progress of the Arab spring has highlighted Israel’s isolation in the Middle East. Governments once close to it, such as the Egyptian Government of President Mubarak, have toppled. Few Arab Governments now can speak openly in favour of Israel. It is time to see the peace process between Israel and Palestine advance again.
My Lords, like other earlier speakers, including my noble friend Lord Williams of Baglan, I shall speak about the Middle East and the Arab spring. I suggest that it is too soon to dismiss the latter. Demands for personal dignity or honour will not just go away, but will find ways to express themselves. Islamic politicians, once in office, will find means to address the real needs of their people. The United States, on the other hand, now sees most of its old policies in ruins. That is true from Turkey to Egypt to Iraq. Its enemies in Iran and Syria manage somehow to survive, even if under great difficulties. As to Iran, it would be good if Britain and the EU could help to lay the ghosts of the US embassy siege and the more extreme anxieties over nuclear weapons.
Egypt, as we all know, has the largest population of any Arab country and is in many ways the pivot. What, I wonder, has the United States gained from its huge annual military subsidy? Perhaps only poverty and discontent. It would be rash to forecast the future. So much will turn on the results of the elections for president, the willingness of the military to hand over to civilians and on the balance between the president and the parliament. Could a large IMF loan for inward investment and the unfreezing of blocked state assets together improve the economy in a big way? That would be in everyone’s interests. I note that the unfreezing issue is both urgent and delicate because of its colonial overtones.
Following my noble friend, I now come to Israel. How do the Government interpret the addition of Kadima to the existing coalition? Will the next 18 months be used to create the conditions for peace? Will illegal acts and provocations by settlers and others be reduced and, if possible, eliminated? Will the blockade of Gaza be ended? Will military occupation of the West Bank be reduced, and will the status quo in East Jerusalem be maintained? I suggest that all such acts could produce very favourable reactions among both Palestinians and Arab states.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, made a most important speech which should on no account be overlooked. She underlined the practical problems arising from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, not to mention the continued blockade of Gaza. I join her in urging the friends of Israel here, in the United States and in Europe, to stop defending every action of every Israeli Government. Instead, they should campaign against illegal and provocative acts. That is absolutely necessary if Israel is to be accepted as a normal part of the Middle East, making a vital contribution to the prosperity of the whole region. I do not expect the United States to exert itself significantly until a new Administration, of whatever colour, is fully installed next year. Until then, perhaps the United States could quietly encourage Palestinian national unity.
Meanwhile, there is much that Her Majesty’s Government can be doing. We should continue our traditional diplomacy, promoting our basic interests, which happen to coincide with the common good of the Middle East and north Africa. We should remember the positive impact of all strands of our considerable soft power—reference was made to this by several speakers this afternoon. By contrast, our military exports create no prosperity at all. I suggest that soft power includes a full understanding of the relevance of religious faith to behaviour, culture and politics.
A more prosperous Middle East is a vital concern of both Europe and the United States. Unless increased employment happens in all countries, but especially in the larger ones, the fruits of the Arab spring will be bitter indeed. It is very much in the interests of the oil and gas-producing states that employment and prosperity should rise throughout the whole region. If well used, their sovereign wealth can produce good results. The sooner this can start, the better. The task is urgent. I trust that Her Majesty’s Government agree that we should all address it in the most co-ordinated way possible.
My Lords, on 29 March this year, addressing the lord mayor’s Easter banquet, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, in a speech that ranged over most of the world:
“Britain is a transatlantic nation and a European nation. But our … interests go beyond that to be global. We have to forge new partnerships beyond our traditional alliances … This in no way means we are moving away from our indispensable alliance with the United States and our deep partnership”,
with Europe. He continued:
“Our ties within Europe are also vitally important. Despite Europe’s current economic”,
“the extension of … democracy is a success few dared to hope for thirty years ago”.
This is a message we hear frequently; we heard it from my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford in opening today. We should indeed cultivate the wider and developing countries. We should embrace the Commonwealth as an important forum and network but, at the same time, remember that its members—which now include some who do not share the common history—have diverse interests in different parts of the world. It is not, nor is it likely to be, a substitute for the European Union as a political, trading or defence organisation.
The Foreign Secretary could have added, as a European Union success, the peace that Europe has enjoyed and which cannot be attributed solely to NATO—peace not only among historic enemies but in the peaceful changes from dictatorships and communism, inspired by the prospects of membership of the European Union. When critics count the cost of the European Union, perhaps we should count what it has saved the continent in other ways. My fear is not that our wider interests are being neglected by too great a concentration on the European Union but rather that we are taking the relationship with the European Union and its achievements for granted.
The gracious Speech, at a time of economic and political turmoil, contained only two references to Europe: namely, Bills to deal with the accession of Croatia and legislation to deal with the European financial stability mechanism, which we have already approved but now have to do again because of the European Union Act of last year. Despite being delivered in the middle of a deepening and widening crisis, there is no statement of intent to work constructively with our partners in the union to find a way through. We need to give leadership, as my noble friend Lord Taverne said, not merely lecture others to give leadership because their problems are hurting us. What other solutions do we offer, since the EU solutions and those of Chancellor Merkel, to date, are based very much on our own economic policies?
What leadership is the United Kingdom prepared to give over the crisis in Greece? The problem is not just for the eurozone. Truly, in this instance at least, we are “all in it together”, and the calls by the popular press to let our European partners stew in their own juice or lie on the bed they made will not change that. It is no good saying that we will not be involved in any solution because, in the past, we told you that the euro would not work and that the structures to make it work were lacking or flawed. Maybe if we had not been so hands-off in the beginning, some of the mistakes would not have been made but we are where we are, however wise we may now be after the event. The stability that we have taken for granted is now threatened, and we see the rise of nationalism and worse in Greece and elsewhere. Some states, specifically Greece, will undoubtedly need help to come through their present problems. Yes, they have lessons to learn, reforms to make and deficits to reduce but, without some investment and help to earn and grow, the downward spiral will not end and the consequences will be felt by us all.
We have made commitments in the past to help people in other parts of the world when their problems were not necessarily of our making. Does the resistance to being seen to help flow from antipathy to the European Union and the euro? I hope not. What is our attitude to help through the IMF, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the European Investment Bank? What do we propose to help stave off not just financial meltdown but a social breakdown that could have consequences as yet unforeseen? Britain has never been able to stand aside from the problems of Europe and we must ensure that we do not leave it too late on this occasion.
Leadership is also required in other areas. We were willing to lead some of our EU partners in Libya, but what of other areas of great concern in our own backyard that are in serious need of attention and need to be brought up the political agenda? It is a long list: Serbia and Kosovo; Ukraine, which has been mentioned already today; Moldova; Transdniestria; Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Macedonia, where Greece alone is holding up progress on that country’s candidature for the EU. Membership of the EU for the states of the western Balkans is supposed to be a key element of our foreign policy.
What about the problem of Cyprus, where we are not only a partner EU state and a fellow Commonwealth state but one of the guarantor powers? Unresolved, that problem creates problems within NATO and between NATO and the EU, and with claims about the entitlement to possible oil rights off the coast of Cyprus there is the potential for even more tension in a region where, without help, one state faces a possibly disastrous future.
Governments of all persuasions like high-profile world-stage foreign policies. It is eye-catching to be photographed with victorious forces or powerful, iconic figures in foreign parts. I accept that there are not too many front-page photo opportunities in the problem areas in Europe that I have just mentioned. We disregard our own immediate neighbourhood at our peril, but unfortunately successive Governments have failed to give a lead to the British people, and have not explained that the EU is more important than just a trading bloc but has achieved a great deal as a unique institution created voluntarily by its individual member nation states. They have failed to advise people of the EU’s advantages for fear of upsetting the Eurosceptic minority. That policy has totally failed—the real Eurosceptics will never be appeased—and, as a consequence of the failure of leadership and the generally lukewarm enthusiasm for the EU, we see the rise of UKIP.
The Chancellor famously has said of the Labour Party on a number of occasions that it failed to fix the roof while the sun was shining. To pursue that analogy, I fear that the desire to have a magnificent front door on the wider world and a large doorstep on which to pose, secured by state-of-the-art locks and security devices, is leading to leaving our own back door to Europe dependent on a rather badly maintained rim lock. We should get it fixed before it is too late.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing pleasure at the Government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national product on development assistance starting next year. I do not share the concern that some of your Lordships have expressed at the fact that this is not in the legislation. I am pleased to accept the solid commitment that our Government have made, from which I do not think there is any possible chance of backsliding. We can wait for the legislation until some time later in this Parliament.
Our aid programme is one of the most cost-effective in the world, and as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia, I particularly congratulate the Government on being the largest contributor to the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Jay, on this subject. None of the money which we contribute to the GAVI Alliance goes into someone’s back pocket. That is one of the reasons why I applaud the Government’s decision to be the largest contributor to this project. I am very proud that we are helping to protect the lives of children, among others, in the Somali refugee camps of Dadaab in Kenya and Dolo Ado in Ethiopia, which together hold some 650,000 refugees.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh and Malcolm Bruce MP were in Bangladesh last year on World Pneumonia Day urging that country to press forward with its plans to vaccinate children against pneumonia and rotavirus, which together kill 1.5 million children every year. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, was in Ghana only last month helping to celebrate the rollout of vaccines against both those diseases. Will the Government continue to respond to the GAVI Alliance’s appeals as new vaccines are developed, such as the two which have now been approved against HPV, the cause of cervical cancer that kills many hundreds of thousands of women every year?
The gracious Speech says that the Government will work to bring greater stability to the Horn of Africa, and the London Conference on Somalia in February was a great success, not least because it allowed for independent participation by Somaliland, which is already de facto a stable and democratic state with which I am glad to say the UK has close relations. I understand why the Government are not going to be the first to recognise Somaliland’s independence, but can we not encourage moves within IGAD and the AU towards regional and continental acceptance of Somaliland’s right of self-determination? I also welcome the EU’s helicopter operations against pirates, which have been mentioned, and I hope that now we have these assets off the coast of Somalia, we might consider, with the EU, also helping AMISOM, which has no helicopters, in the operation that I hope will take place to occupy Kismayo and deny that port to al-Shabaab.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that we will uphold human rights and religious freedom. With Pakistan’s universal periodic review coming up soon, I hope the Government will be taking a robust line on the failure to protect minorities in that country. The blasphemy laws bear harshly on Ahmadiyya Muslims. They are denied the right to vote, and the law brands them as non-Muslims. In the armed forces, or if they apply for a post at a university or in the civil service, they suffer discrimination, and there is a glass ceiling above which they will not get promotion, whatever their merits. Worse, there is a chorus of hate speech against Ahmadis from Salafist mosques and madrassahs, and from a perfectly lawful organisation, the Khatm-e-Nubuwwat. Regularly, members of the community are assassinated in cold blood or are arrested on trumped-up charges and gratuitously tortured and Ahmadi mosques are destroyed by terrorists. My noble friend says that we make frequent representations to Pakistan, but this does not work because the situation of Ahmadis and other religious minorities gets worse every year. Can we not consider more effective methods of bringing home to Pakistan and, for that matter, to Indonesia and other Islamic states, that religious pluralism and freedom are mandatory, not optional extras to other human rights?
Bangladesh has not been infected so badly with the virus of Salafism although it has periodic outbreaks of persecution. As co-chair of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, I am particularly concerned with the failure to implement the CHT peace accords of 1997 in accordance with the pledge in the Awami League manifesto, which has been repeated several times since the election by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The military remain present in the CHT in force, land grabs by settlers against indigenous people continue and violence against indigenous people is perpetrated with impunity. What can we and the European Union do to help Sheikh Hasina solve these problems, and particularly to sort out the dysfunctional land commission?
In Bahrain, after 15 months of bloodshed, torture, extrajudicial executions, and arbitrary detention of human rights activists, there is no sign of an Arab spring. The four leading human rights activists in the country are in custody, two of them awaiting retrial before a civilian court having already been tried before a military court and held, pending that trail, incommunicado for weeks and finally sentenced to life imprisonment. Yet Ministers were content to let the Formula 1 race go ahead amid the misery and mayhem. Worse, they advised Her Majesty the Queen to invite King Hamad, the hereditary dictator, to come here for the Jubilee celebrations. I realise that diplomatic requirements have compelled Her Majesty to meet some gross human rights violators over the 60 years of her reign, but is it not nauseating that in this Jubilee year she will have to shake the hand that is stained with the blood of dozens of the regime's victims? Let it be clear to those who believe in human rights and democracy that King Hamad is not welcome at the Jubilee celebrations.
Finally, on the Chagos Islands, the European court will soon declare on the admissibility of the islanders’ claim for the right of return to the outer islands. The Foreign Secretary was in favour of a “just and fair settlement” when he was in opposition, but now he says that the FCO’s policy is not to be changed until after the Strasbourg court gives its decision. Meanwhile, the judgment is expected imminently in the judicial review proceedings against the Foreign Office in regard to the marine protected area. Colin Roberts, then FCO director of overseas territories, told US embassy political counsellor Richard Mills on 12 May 2009 that,
“establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents”.
According to the Government’s thinking on the reserve, as Mr Roberts put it,
“there would be ‘no .. Man Fridays’ on the BIOT’s uninhabited islands”.
This was the real reason for creating the MPA. I ask my noble friend whether the FCO’s position can be reviewed now that its motive has been exposed and whether it will now reconsider settling out of court rather than persisting with expensive trials on which it has already spent over £3 million—not counting the cost of the Civil Service and Treasury solicitors—in which its chances of success must be reduced?
My Lords, I will focus on recent developments in Sudan and South Sudan and in Burma. I return to the former having already raised it in Oral Questions today because a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent, the statistics should be compelling and the need for a response is so urgent.
First, in Sudan, half a million people are displaced from Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile by Khartoum’s ground and aerial offensives, with many sheltering in caves with deadly snakes or in forests, many dying from hunger as they cannot harvest crops and many killed and injured by bombs. In Blue Nile, on 11 May, Sudan Armed Forces—SAF—bombed a mountainous area crowded with internally displaced people near Baw with missiles fired from east and west of the county. Last week, over 3,000 IDPs fled from south-west Baw county and were trapped at the border without transport or food. More than 240 IDPs had already died in the first week of May, including Chief Haj Jabir Dafalla and his family. Many more lives will soon be lost unless humanitarian assistance reaches the area within days, but the Khartoum Government have denied access by aid organisations to those in need.
Secondly, 250,000 refugees have been forced to flee into South Sudan by Khartoum’s offensives. I recently visited Yida camp, where there are now at least 30,000 refugees, with 700 arriving in a single day, many ill, having walked for seven days without adequate food or water. With the imminent rainy season, there will be no access for food supplies. In Jamam camp, with nearly 37,000 refugees from Blue Nile, Oxfam’s director of emergency response calls the situation desperate, saying:
“There is simply not enough water and we are running out of options and we are running out of time”.
We have also met refugees from Abyei who fled last year’s fighting. Khartoum’s forces have defied a UN Security Council requirement to withdraw, thereby preventing people from returning home for fear of atrocities perpetrated by SAF last year, including murder, rape and torture. We visited camps in Bahr el Ghazal without clean water, food or other essential supplies.
Thirdly, tens of thousands of people are suffering from al-Bashir’s commitment to turn Sudan into an Arabic, Islamic state and to evict those deemed “southerners”. The BBC estimates that there are more than 500,000 ethnic South Sudanese in the north. Following an 8 April deadline from Khartoum to formalise their status or leave the country, many fled to South Sudan. Some 15,000 were stranded in Kosti, unable to take boats to South Sudan because of restrictions from Khartoum. They are now being airlifted to Juba, to an unknown fate. Others who have previously fled include thousands in camps near Renk. When we visited them last month, they were living in makeshift shelters, which will never withstand the imminent rains.
Fourthly, Khartoum is also bombing targets across the border in South Sudan. On 23 April, while we were still there, two MiGs bombed a market in Bentiu. On 7 and 8 May, locations in Unity, Upper Nile, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states were bombed.
When independence was achieved in South Sudan, the war had left a dire humanitarian situation. Now this new nation also has to cope with the massive influx of refugees and forced returnees and the aerial bombardment of people by its northern neighbour. I ask the Minister whether a more robust response to Khartoum’s aerial bombardment is not now needed, such as targeted sanctions, including, for example, the refusal of diplomatic visas to government members. At the moment, they are carrying on their policies with impunity.
Too often there is a response that implies moral equivalence between the policies of the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan. There is no such equivalence. As my noble friend Lord Alton has highlighted, Sudan’s President is indicted by the ICC. He has dismissed the elected governor of South Kordofan and replaced him with another ICC-indicted war criminal. As has been highlighted time and again, he is also carrying out constant aerial bombardment of civilians in his own country and transgressing an international border to bomb civilians in South Sudan. He is pursuing a ruthless racist policy of intimidation, with the expulsion of citizens deemed to be “southerners”.
In contrast, the Government of South Sudan have many problems and inevitable weaknesses but they are not guilty of any such abhorrent policies. South Sudan was fiercely criticised for taking the town of Heglig. However, it was being used by Khartoum as a base for attacks on the South. President Salva Kiir has withdrawn his troops, unlike Khartoum, which has refused to withdraw its troops from Abyei. South Sudan has also been criticised for closing the oil pipeline, but this can be seen as a desperate response to Khartoum’s imposition of extortionate prices. This morning the Minister confirmed that DfID has withdrawn or reduced its development aid for South Sudan in response to the closure of the pipeline. Will the Government rethink this harsh policy? The humanitarian needs of South Sudan are legion and have been detailed in previous debates, so I will not repeat them. However, it cannot be acceptable for DfID to reduce development aid to a nation that is trying, albeit with many problems and fallibilities, to develop democracy and civil society in face of massive challenges, many inflicted by its northern neighbour with impunity.
I turn briefly to Burma, and especially to the plight of ethnic nationals, whom I have visited twice this year. There is much to commend and celebrate in today’s Burma, including the freedom and political engagement of the heroic Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of hundreds of political prisoners. However, the plight of ethnic national peoples, such as the Shan, Kachin and Rohingya, is still cause for great concern. We were in Shan state when the brief ceasefire was broken by intense fighting, and Kachin state is experiencing some of the most intense conflict and violations of human rights in Burma’s recent history. The oppression of the Rohingya people remains as brutal as ever.
Deep concern was graphically expressed by one of the leaders of Shan state, who said that when the light went on in Rangoon, everyone ran to the spotlight and did not wait to see them hiding in the darkness. The ethnic national peoples fear that, as the Burmese Government gain credibility, the country will be open to massive aid and investment, which may be used to exploit further the ethnic national people’s resource-rich lands. For example, the plans for 25 new dams could force tens of thousands from their previous homes with no compensation and destroy the environment. Many voices express caution about premature optimism and lifting of sanctions—rightly so.
Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government will reassure the ethnic national peoples that they will be fully included in all discussions about the future of Burma, so that they no longer feel marginalised, vulnerable to exploitation and left in the darkness. Only then will we all be able to celebrate with genuine joy and integrity the new-found freedoms of the beautiful, but in many places still tragic, land of Burma.
My Lords, towards the end of the gracious Speech there are the somewhat opaque words:
“My Government will build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers”.
I would have liked that to refer specifically to our friends in the Commonwealth, but I was very heartened by what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, had to say in his excellent opening speech. To me it is particularly relevant in the face of the likely impending break-up of the eurozone and the impact that that is likely to have on European economies and our relations. The immediate and most important foreign affairs issue is what is happening on the continent. There is the obvious fight to the death between economic and market forces and political commitment, where the lessons of history tell us that major economic forces tend to prevail. There is the obvious point that many have made before—that for disparate economies to share a currency is extremely difficult at the best of times. Indeed, I was surprised to see an article arguing that the Commonwealth was likely to be a more successful group of economies to share a currency than the EU countries.
Everyone knows that if you are going to share a currency you have to have transfer payments from the more successful to the less successful. It boils down to whether Germany is willing to make the necessary transfer payments on a regular basis to the uncompetitive economies, which would amount to some 35% per annum of German GDP. That seems pretty unlikely. We live at present with the likely impending default and exit from the euro of Greece. I expect that a firewall will probably prevail in the near term to protect Spain, Portugal and Italy, but that does not address the fundamental problem of lack of competitiveness. These economies cannot recover and grow, and they cannot put their public finances right, if they are 35% uncompetitive against the successful parts of Europe. The issue is whether the break-up will be chaotic or orderly. We all hope that it will be orderly but, whatever, there would be economic pain in the short term, although once the necessary devaluations have occurred and these currencies are competitive again, do not understate their ability to bounce back within two or three years.
What British foreign policy needs to focus on right now is what our attitude is towards the EU in the wake of these likely events. What will be happening is centrifugal forces. The nation states of Europe with their own currencies and central banks returned will need to follow economic policies appropriate to their circumstances. Some may even need to impose capital controls. The EU, which has been centralising for 40 years and trying to move towards a single political unit, is suddenly going to be pulled in the other direction. What is our view towards this? What would be our view if there were an attempt to leap towards political union? I very much doubt it, but that obviously could be one reaction.
What the UK has always wanted to see is an area of free trade and co-operation, achieving consensus, not enforcing policies but moulding more and more European co-operation together over time—but naturally and not coming by command from the centre. It will also need a much cheaper EU. I checked with the Treasury, because I could not believe a report in the newspapers that in 2013-14 Britain’s net contributions to the EU would be £31.3 billion. The Treasury confirmed that figure to me. I thought that it was still only £12 billion or £13 billion. It is not a sum of money that this country can afford. But, more than that, I cannot see that Italy and Spain, the countries that are going to be experiencing problems with the euro, will be willing to make large financial contributions to a massive EU structure. We may not necessarily say it in public, but this country needs to think about the political implications of the euro imploding and what policies it will adopt in that event.
For some time the EU clearly has not been the engine of growth that people thought it would be when we first applied to join it way back in the 1960s and 1970s. It has turned out to be a relatively failed economic region. I go back to where I started. We need quickly to develop effective commercial and investment relations with the emerging BRIC economies, in particular with the Commonwealth economies. As I have pointed out before, my particular plea is for a much closer relationship between this country and India—politically, economically and potentially even defence-wise. The University of Cambridge will tell you that the only two countries that matter in terms of our universities and their quality of students are America and India. The Prime Minister of India has virtually indicated that he would like to see a special relationship being established for top postgraduate students coming to this country, which would enable a lot of the hassle of the visa process to be handled in a friendlier fashion.
I can think of other areas where there is considerable scope for special relationships between this country and India. We are all aware that certain problems need to be resolved but I do not think that they are insoluble. The Indian community is a successful and dynamic part of this country and there is a great deal of sympathy between the people of India and the people of Britain. It is time to galvanise that while not ignoring the other members of the Commonwealth. Important things are going on in Africa and in the older members of the Commonwealth, particularly Canada, where there is much scope for this country to find commercial partners.
There is a nice commitment in the gracious Speech. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Green, is travelling the world doing his best to generate trade deals on the ground, but more needs to be done in terms of political initiatives. We need to face up to the fact that the Europe that will emerge on the back of what is likely to happen to the euro will not be a great economic engine for this country.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield on taking up his new responsibilities, on which he made a very distinguished “maiden speech”. I sincerely hope that we will hear more from him in the future, as our debates will be enriched by his contributions.
I wish to tackle only two issues, one of which I have not talked about before in your Lordships’ House. International terrorism constitutes a threat to all of us. It is a threat to Shi’ites, Muslims, Pakistanis, Arabs, Mr Putin and to every civilised country. So far as I know, outside South America it has spread almost everywhere. However, I am concerned that up to now I have seen no concerted attempt on the part of international Governments to take on this threat. We spend a huge amount of money on physical protection at our airports and that sort of thing and on making sure that we can deal with any suicide terrorists—it is the suicide terrorists that I am talking about—before they detonate their weapons, but we do nothing to prevent their being poisoned into believing that suicide terrorist acts are worthy things to do. These terrorists are not just indifferent to death; they actually welcome it because they are taught to do so by some very evil men. I do not for a moment think—I am sure that neither do your Lordships—that all mullahs are tainted in this way but quite a lot of them are. It is high time that we organised the international community to tackle this issue. I hope that this Government will take a lead in letting the world know precisely who are the mullahs responsible for indoctrinating young men and women into the belief that suicide terrorism is an admirable thing that will produce material rewards for them and their families. It is up to us as an international community to try to silence them by whatever means necessary—I would not be too squeamish about that myself—and I do not see any sign of it. We should also make sure that the message they put out is countered by the whole international civilised community.
The other matter that I want briefly to talk about is aeroplanes—the C-17—which should not surprise those noble Lords who have heard me speak before on defence matters. A couple of days ago, the Minister teased me, quite fairly, about the A400M. I am quite happy to be teased by him about that, but he should do so on the right grounds. I have no objection whatever to the A400M in terms of its capability; I am just absolutely convinced that it is not the plane that this country needs and, much worse, if we have it, we will lose the C-130 and our interoperability over a whole range of air transport capabilities, as he knows.
More importantly, I want to draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that the C-17 is a remarkably capable aircraft that is now being run by Australia, Canada, India and this country—to say nothing of the United States. It is a remarkable plane, in that it has an excellent short-field capability and can get into airports that are quite inaccessible in mountain areas. It has a very good turning capability on the ground, and is also good at handling non-tarmac runways. All in all, it is a piece of kit that would go down extremely well in international aid missions.
I have said privately to Ministers in the past—and I am now saying it publicly—that they should talk to our Commonwealth friends to see if we can get a group together, consisting of all the countries I mentioned that fly the C-17, including Australia, India, ourselves and Canada. It is admirably available for dealing with natural catastrophes, and we are shortly about to acquire our eighth C-17. I think the last one is being delivered in response to what the noble Lord, Lord King, talked about earlier, regarding whether or not we would be able to get all the kit that we want out of Afghanistan. I am delighted that we are acquiring the plane for that. If we get the kit out by C-17, there is nothing that the Pakistanis could do about it, even if they wanted to. That is a wholly admirable development.
I suggest that the Minister holds talks with the countries that I have named. Although I have not counted them, they cover many degrees of longitude on this planet and, for that matter—with Australia in the southern hemisphere—many degrees of latitude. That is the footprint of where these planes are based. Not only are they enormously valuable in themselves, they are extremely well placed to run international aid missions after catastrophes. I very much hope that the Minister can tell the House that he would be prepared to talk to his colleagues in other Commonwealth countries to see if we can set up a proper group based on the C-17 to engage in that sort of activity.
My Lords, one consequence of the extraordinarily long opening Session of this Parliament, which has just ended, is that this is, in fact, the first opportunity that we have had to debate the coalition Government’s performance and foreign policy priorities. If I had to sum up that performance in one phrase, I would be a little tempted to turn to Winston Churchill’s lapidary comment:
“This pudding has no theme”.
In so doing I am not, I hope, falling into the error of suggesting that one can draw up a blueprint for foreign policy and simply apply it, come what may. But the lack of strategic objectives in the main areas of Britain’s foreign policy and the absence of a clear public narrative are becoming increasingly apparent, and increasingly a source of weakness and waning influence. Too often, the Government seem to be following Lord Salisbury’s description of Britain’s foreign policy as floating down a broad river, occasionally fending off the banks. Well, that policy ended in far from splendid isolation at the time of the Boer War, and 21st-century Britain can even less afford to be isolated than it could then.
Nowhere has that sense of drift been more apparent than in the handling of Britain’s vital relationship with the European Union. Last December, whether by bad luck or bad judgment—and I suspect that it was a combination of the two—we stumbled into a completely unnecessary confrontation with all but one of our 26 partners. It was never going to be easy to handle the European dimension of the great world financial and economic crisis that began in 2008, with some countries within the eurozone and some countries outside it but all depending crucially for their future prosperity on achieving the right policy mix, but it cannot be said that any of the parties to it, including ourselves, have so far emerged with a lot of credit.
Now a new phase is opening with much churn in European politics, and a major debate is beginning over how to put a proper emphasis on growth while still moving decisively towards a sound and sustainable fiscal balance. It is surely vital that Britain plays a full and constructive part in that debate and that it is a full party to any growth strategy, which should be composed of structural reforms, further development of the single market and well targeted use of European financial instruments. In that way, too, some of the damage done last December could be repaired. I hope that the Minister replying to this debate can assure the House that that—a full British involvement in and contribution to the discussion and agreement on the growth strategy—is the role that Britain intends to play in the extremely important weeks ahead of us.
However, the problems over the Government’s European policy go far wider than the eurozone crisis. There is simply a complete lack of an overall sense of direction to it. There is no articulation of the sort of European Union that we would like to see set out in terms that would appeal to other member states which attach a similar insistence and importance to the completion of the single market, to further enlargement, to freer and fairer world trade, and to a European Union able to play an effective role in the diplomacy and security of its own region and more widely.
A vision composed exclusively of red lines, no-go areas and referendum locks is going to appeal to no one—not even, I suspect, to our own electorate. This is surely a moment when, with a new French President in office, we should be thinking about what more we can do to strengthen Anglo-French defence co-operation and how we can use that to strengthen overall European performance in a field where the policies of austerity require us to do more together or, alternatively, to see ourselves sliding into irrelevance. That was the clear message of the report of your Lordships’ EU Select Committee, recently distributed.
Looking beyond Europe and its immediate neighbourhood, I cannot say that the picture there is entirely encouraging either. Some brave and successful decisions have been made by the Government—for example, over Libya. Policy towards the ferment in the rest of the Arab world, including towards Syria, where no easy choices exist, seems to be on the right track, although a long and probably painful route remains to be travelled. The twin-track policy towards Iran, pushing active diplomacy while strengthening economic sanctions, is the only one with the slightest prospect of avoiding much worse outcomes. However, in this wider field, too, a lack of strategic vision—a tendency to regard pragmatism as an end in itself and not a method—does seem prevalent.
Such indications as the Government have given about the governing principles of their foreign policy seem to be either a little naive or contradictory. Take the often-repeated mantra that we live in a “network world”. What on earth is that meant to signify? Is it simply a blinding glimpse of the obvious reflecting the communications revolution through which we are living which reinforces the concepts of interdependence and globalisation? Or is it a faint echo of something that I first came across nearly 40 years ago in Chairman Mao’s Beijing, where the government hotel’s lobby was adorned with the slogan, “We have friends all over the world”? Take, too, the frequently repeated phrase, “We no longer live in a world of blocs”. Really? Britain’s ultimate security rests today, as it has done for more than 60 years, on NATO, which is certainly a bloc; and its prosperity depends to a great extent on the European Union, which is another bloc. We also look to a number of regional blocs—the African Union, the Arab League and ASEAN—to share the burden of international security, so what on earth does that phrase signify? I suppose it is just another dog whistle to the Eurosceptics on the government Back Benches.
There is then the Government’s claim to have reinvented bilateral diplomacy. I warmly welcome and commend the extension of our bilateral diplomatic network which is being achieved, despite the pinch of austerity. But bilateral diplomacy and multilateral diplomacy are not an either/or choice for a middle-ranking power with worldwide interests like Britain. They are a both/and necessity.
I urge the Government to put rather more emphasis on the need to strengthen the great multilateral institutions on which we depend for our security and prosperity. Here I join with what the noble Lord, Lord Wood, said. Every one of them—the UN, NATO, IMF, WTO— sails through troubled waters; every one of them needs reform and needs to adapt if it is to operate successfully in the emerging multipolar world. Yet the Government’s response—indeed, in some cases, the Opposition’s response—to the IMF’s recent call for increased resources was pusillanimously feeble. Surely it is in Britain’s interest that these rules-based organisations should be sustained against the increasingly shrill calls to turn back the tide of globalisation and to revert to protectionist and isolationist policies. Surely on that ground there is a cause that the coalition Government should make their own and where they should give a lead.
My Lords, I think we can all agree that we have had a very interesting, wide-ranging and excellent debate across a whole range of foreign policy, defence and international aid issues. I strongly support the analysis by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, of Africa, the BRICs, South Sudan and other concerns of this House. As always, the Minister showed commitment to working to build global peace and security.
As other noble Lords have done, I pay tribute to the excellent presentation made by my noble friend Lord Wood, who gave us a compelling overview on a range of issues of concern to noble Lords. His strong and realistic analysis of the UK’s current relationship with the European Union was timely and very interesting for many of us to hear. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, my noble friend Lord Wood and other noble Lords mentioned Afghanistan, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. I trust that we will hear more from the Government today about the need to ensure that women’s voices are heard and that they are invited to join the deliberations on Afghanistan post-2014. Women in Afghanistan tell us all the time that they fear for the future and they fear that they will lose what has been achieved for women in Afghanistan, which includes women parliamentarians, some of whom visited this building this week.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of hunger and famine in the Sahel. Urgent action needs to be taken to tackle hunger; 170 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition, which leads to physical and intellectual stunting. The noble Lord, Lord King, raised these issues. There is no shortage of food; it is a realistic ambition to feed the world.
A number of noble Lords eloquently—the word was used in particular about my noble friend Lady Blackstone—drew attention to the problems of the Palestinians, and to the wider problems in that region. The overriding message we took from those noble Lords was that peace was about securing justice. I pay tribute, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, who correctly drew attention to the need for the commitments at Busan to be honoured, and to the fact that effective monitoring was essential. As he knows, I particularly support his point about the need to do more to support parliaments in developing countries, because they are responsible for holding Governments to account and scrutinising budgets. Those important tasks fall within their remit.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, again revealed his strong and informed commitment to international development, as did the noble Lords, Lord Jay, Lord Sheikh, Lord Rana and several other noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Judd shared with noble Lords his usual insights and magnificently made the case for solidarity with the world’s poor. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, drew attention to the suffering of the people of Sudan and South Sudan, and the violence and aerial bombardment that they are suffering. As the noble Baroness said, it is a humanitarian catastrophe. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned the issue of the oil pipeline that I raised today at Question Time. Noble Lords should understand that there may be a problem with what has happened, but it is not acceptable that the poor people of South Sudan are penalised for the actions of their Government, which is absolutely the case. To withdraw long-term development assistance in education and health and to fail to meet the other needs of South Sudan would be untenable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, was, albeit briefly, liberated from the naughty step. We were very thankful that she was and that she found a microphone and gave us again the benefit of hearing her, especially on the need for the world’s women to have the status and respect that they need and deserve.
I will confine my remarks to international development. The reality is that we are living in an age of unprecedented human development. We celebrate the fact that millions of people have a better, more fulfilling and healthier life than their parents did. On every continent, including Africa, precious children’s lives have been saved. More are surviving infancy and, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, more are being vaccinated against deadly diseases. More are going to school, and real progress is being made on child well-being generally, as UNICEF and Save the Children confirm. Children have so much more than their parents had. Even in Congo, Haiti and Burma, infant mortality rates are lower than they were in any country at the beginning of the last century. Those are the conclusive facts.
Those who claim that aid does not work should try telling that to mothers of children in Africa who sleep safely under antimalarial bed nets provided directly by aid—to take just one of countless examples. Every day, 485 children are saved by these nets, which are paid for with aid. That is the equivalent of 80 primary school classes a week. With those realities in mind, the argument has to be that we should do more and do better so that we succeed in underpinning what we all ultimately seek: shared prosperity and security.
The tendency has been for there to be too much focus on income levels rather than on key indicators such as health, education and the general provision of basic services. Of course we should recognise that progress has been patchy, but we must also assert that Congo and Zimbabwe are not actually the norms. That is why aid works. These “aid works” arguments must be made and we must emphasise that people’s lives are longer and better because aid enabled them to have access to income, education, social protection and better government.
On that last point, we have proof. The recent advances in Brazil, for instance, show that growth with redistribution can act as a powerful force for greater access to equity within countries. That is obviously in everyone’s interest. We know that new forms of organised violence and conflict thrive on inequalities. I want to hear the whole Government and not just DfID civil servants referring much more to the need to combat inequality within and between countries. That is especially important when people here and abroad face such terrible shocks and crises. The well-off and the elites are of course better able to weather the storm. It was ever thus.
The UK has for many years been recognised as one of the world’s most effective donors and has pushed concerns about action against poverty up the international agenda. That has rightly brought with it substantial diplomatic benefits to the UK. The international commitments that we have had for many years have, we know, brought to the UK prestige, trust and respect. That again means that it makes sense to continue to promote fairness, social justice and moral responsibility to retain our country’s reputation for practical fairness and international responsibility. It is essential to our efforts to define what Britain stands for and what Britain wants to improve—whether trade, information, protection against and prevention of security threats, including terrorism, organised crime, climate change, pandemics and the instability that affects us all when there is violent conflict.
Development also gives us a chance to tackle some of the knock-on effects of globalisation and the implications for all of us of state fragility that generates so many perils for all of us. We have to ask ourselves how we can not continue to push international development and poverty up the international agenda when it is an integral part of the UK’s overall global priorities and foreign and security policies.
At this time, most poor countries are not on target to meet their MDGs, and that must remain at the top of the UK agenda. Now the Prime Minister has a critical opportunity at the G8 and in his new role chairing the UN committee to show that he can offer real leadership by a UK Government such as we saw at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005. That is sorely needed now, at the G8 next year and of course as other noble Lords said at the UK-hosted G8 next year. In many ways, we are awaiting confirmation of the vital aid/GNI credential, but also a clear determination to actively leverage real change.
I said earlier that aid works and the clear evidence is that quality aid has substantially reduced aid dependency. One argument that people make against aid is that it creates aid dependency, but dependency has fallen from 47% to 27% in Ghana, for example, and from 85% in 2000 to 45% in 2010 in Rwanda. That is evidence of real transformation, and many Governments are now in the driving seat, pressing for fairer agricultural trade, combating tax evasion and climate change, promoting technology transfer, regional integration and managing migration. Those are their priorities and they are pressing them.
However, we still have work to do to justify 0.7% and the ring-fencing of development aid in the context of the so-called fiscal crisis. We have to tell the good news story, which is true and encouraging, and also point out that, after all, UK aid currently accounts for about 1p in every £1 of tax revenue. Frankly, it is nonsense to say that we cannot afford it when so much is achieved by it. Aid works and it is the smart thing to do.
The 0.7% target is arbitrary in that it is linked to specific MDG financing plans, but I would argue that the same could be said of any other area of public spending. However, we must never let up on the task of winning over public opinion and explaining how aid fits in to the wider vision of equity and fairness. Will the Government now frame a public dialogue on what aid has done and is doing and what the challenges are? It really is time for an informed debate on these issues.
It was a considerable disappointment to many of us that the gracious Speech did not contain a reference to legislation for 0.7% at any specific time. At the previous election, the Conservative manifesto said:
“We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013”.
That was subsequently included in the text of the coalition agreement in 2010, which said:
“We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and enshrine this commitment in law”.
Those undertakings were emphatic and explicit. However, two weeks ago I was told by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the commitment would be legislated for only “when time allows”. In addition, she said that time could not be found in the last parliamentary Session because of the time that had to be given to what she described as
“reforms to tackle the fiscal deficit”.
I must say that I found that explanation rather unconvincing when the 2010-12 Parliament was actually the longest in post-war history. This Session really should be no such impediment to progress on the 0.7% Bill, and the Government must urgently seek to redeem themselves first and foremost by guaranteeing that the target is reached in 2013 and, secondly, by ensuring that legislation giving legal force to that commitment is enacted in this parliamentary year.
Let us be clear: the Bill exists. It has already had pre-legislative scrutiny from the Commons International Development Committee. It is not complex. It has a few clauses. It is short. There is agreement between the coalition parties, and they know that Labour will co-operate fully in legislation, so why do we not just get on with it?
Of course, I have heard the Government claim that the intention to reach the 0.7% figure is so strong that legislation is not really necessary. My response to that claim is to ask: if legislation is not necessary, why bother to promise it in the first place? Why was it vital to “lock in” the commitment? Why was it essential “in the first session” to “enshrine” the undertaking? The answer, as everyone knows, is that specifying the 0.7% in statute is a solemn undertaking, an expression of multiparty irreversible seriousness, and that is what we are looking for. It is as vital now as it was on the day we started to demand it. The reasons for that are clear and compelling, as noble Lords have said.
Let us stop swapping contradictory numbers, peddling gloomy aid pessimism and exchanging negative anecdotal information about aid. Like most things, aid is clearly not an unmitigated triumph, but there are remarkable successes and real progress, as we have heard, and much more prominence should be given to the plain truth. We welcome the Government’s commitment to wanting to reach the 0.7% target. Now the paramount need is to see that that commitment is fulfilled, as promised, in 2013. As we work for that, we need to ensure that the guarantee that it will be sustained in real terms is given statutory force.
Not long ago, Andrew Mitchell said:
“On the whole, politicians should do what they say they are going to do”,
and he confirmed that legislation would take the 0.7% commitment beyond doubt. I agree with him, so let us do it.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to close this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. The many issues raised today are a powerful reminder of the dangerous and uncertain world that we live in, as my noble friend Lord King pointed out. We are lucky to have men and women of calibre and commitment across the FCO, DfID, MoD and the agencies working tirelessly on our behalf. It is worth remembering that many of them are working in difficult and sometimes dangerous environments. We are grateful to and proud of them.
I pay tribute in particular to our Armed Forces. We ask a lot of them and they always deliver. Their professionalism and courage are inspirational, and we owe them and their families a tremendous debt of gratitude. It is a job which often carries many risks, as we know from our current operations in Afghanistan.
Earlier in the debate my noble friend Lord Howell said that we have a foreign policy with two clear aims—to respond to urgent challenges and crises in ways that promote Britain’s national interest and our democratic values, including human rights, poverty reduction and conflict prevention; and to equip our country to be a safe, prosperous and influential nation in the long term. We will continue to honour our commitment to the world’s poorest people, and we will enshrine that historic commitment in legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Tackling poverty is not only the right thing to do but is in the interests of Britain’s own security. If we do not invest in countries before they become broken, we end up paying the price in terms of terrorism, crime, mass migration and piracy. That is why the Secretary of State for International Development has a seat on the National Security Council and why the Government’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy recognises the crucial interplay between defence, diplomacy and development.
It is the role of defence to support this effort as we look to the future. Indeed, defence diplomacy is now a central pillar of our defence effort, and is important particularly when it comes to maintaining support for operations as well as upstream conflict prevention. Defence diplomacy is also an important part of my ministerial portfolio, in particular my membership of the cross-Whitehall Gulf Initiative ministerial team, led by the FCO. I am grateful to those noble Lords from all sides of the House who have given me the benefit of their advice and knowledge of this region which is of such strategic importance to this country.
Defence has a clear mission: to protect this country, project power and provide the ultimate guarantee of its security, as well as helping to protect our interests abroad. For the first time in decades, we have a balanced defence budget. We can now get on with the important job of transforming defence and building the Armed Forces of the future. We are, and expect to continue to be, in the top four military spenders in the world. Our intent for Future Force 2020 is clear: the development of versatile, agile and battle-winning Armed Forces supported by a professional Ministry of Defence, with people ready to lead, accept responsibility and spend wisely. We need the right equipment, support and force structures to deliver military success on operations whether that be overseas or here at home, where we are always in readiness to support civil contingency work, as demonstrated by our recent preparations in training military personnel to replace striking fuel tanker drivers. Of course, this summer our Armed Forces will support the security effort for the Olympic Games. That is a sizeable undertaking, involving around 13,500 service personnel at the height of the Games.
Our main effort will remain focused on Afghanistan. We are now in the final phases of our military mission there. International forces are gradually handing over security responsibility to the Afghans, who will have full responsibility in all provinces by the end of 2014. The last of the three districts in the UK’s area of operations, Nahr-e Saraj, has now entered the transition process. This is testament to the increasing capability of the Afghan national security forces and to the impressive work of the British and allied troops who have trained and partnered them. Of course, Nahr-e Saraj remains a challenging area and the ANSF, supported by us and our international partners, will continue to face difficult and challenging days ahead. Yet we should not allow that to cloud the real and tangible progress that has been made and which will now continue under an Afghan security lead. The UK will be out of a combat role by 2014, but we will continue to support Afghanistan. We will provide £70 million a year to help support ongoing development of the Afghan national security forces. We will also take the lead in the setting up and running of the Afghan national army officer academy. As the Prime Minister has stated, our goal will be to leave,
“Afghanistan looking after its own security, not being a haven for terror, without the involvement of foreign troops”.
I will do my best to answer all the specific questions and issues raised during the debate, but I am in no doubt that I will run out of time. I will undertake to write to all noble Lords who asked me questions.
The noble Lord, Lord Wood, seemed gloriously unaware of what we are doing in NATO, the Commonwealth, the United Nations and rows of other international bodies. I will try to answer his questions. The first was whether the eurozone should survive or break up. As the Chancellor said, resolving the eurozone crisis would be the single biggest boost that the British economy could get this year. It is in our national interest that there is a coherent, comprehensive and lasting solution. The noble Lord also asked about Palestine and the UN. We see negotiations as the best way of achieving the two-state solution. We reserve the right to recognise the Palestinian state bilaterally, at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace.
The noble Lord asked if the Government are seeking a ban on protection and indemnity insurance in relation to Iran. We are committed to the dual-track approach of engagement and increasing the pressure on Iran through far-reaching sanctions. We strongly support the unprecedented package of EU Iran sanctions that were agreed earlier this year. The EU is taking time to review aspects of the protection and indemnity insurance ban before 1 July to ensure that the pressure on Iran is maximised while avoiding any undesired impact elsewhere. We are in discussion with several other EU member states on this issue. On our agenda for the P5+1 talks in Baghdad on 23 May, which we look forward to, we now need agreement on urgent, practical steps to build confidence that Iran will implement its international obligations and does not intend to build a nuclear weapon.
What are our priorities for the G8 and G20? We take over the presidency of the G8 on 1 January next year. We will say more about the priorities for our presidency nearer the time. The British Government are working closely with G20 partners to deliver a meaningful and successful summit in Los Cabos in June. It is fundamental that the G20 takes the necessary actions to address ongoing risks to the global economic recovery and secures strong, sustainable and balanced growth which supports employment and job creation.
The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, mentioned the C17. In my department, we agree 100% with him. We have just ordered an extra C17 which, from memory, is coming in July. It is a wonderful aircraft and I will take back with me the noble Lord’s suggestion about approaching Commonwealth countries.
My noble friend Lady Falkner asked about Syria and whether we had considered withdrawing the passport of the President’s wife. She raises a valid point, and I will convey her concerns to my Home Office colleagues, who have responsibility in this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked about support for African countries. Many of DfID’s 18 country programmes in Africa have a strong focus on supporting rural and small-scale agriculture. We are co-chairs and strong supporters of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund governing council. We gave it £44 million between 2008 and 2011, which has helped about 1 million rural farmers in Africa.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield asked about the viability of a lasting peace in Afghanistan. We encourage all parties to take forward reconciliation, a process that must be Afghan-led. That includes members of the Taliban who are prepared to renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution. He also asked about the covenant and how the challenge of looking after families and injured personnel will be met after combat operations in Afghanistan cease. Our commitment, in particular to those injured on operations, is for long-term operations. Just as their difficulties will not disappear at the end of 2014, neither will our support.
The right reverend Prelate also asked, if unrest in the Middle East persists, what contingency do we have to respond? We have a range of contingency plans for the Middle East and maintain forces at readiness to deal with and respond to contingencies, depending on the circumstances. I am sure that colleagues would not want me to go into too much detail on that issue.
My noble friend Lord Chidgey asked: what are the Government doing about international corruption in the DRC and Zimbabwe? We believe that a combination of voluntary approaches by business and existing legal and regulatory methods will provide sufficient incentives to achieve greater transparency. However, we are interested to see how the United States Government will implement their new legislation on conflict minerals, and are monitoring it very closely. My noble friend was also concerned that poor people are not benefiting from mineral wealth in their countries. Her Majesty’s Government are a strong supporter of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which enables people to hold their Governments to account for mineral revenue. We are also working with countries to strengthen their public financial management systems and the capacity of their tax departments to stop tax avoidance.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, asked: has there been international agreement on long-term financing for Afghanistan? The continued support of the international community for Afghanistan after 2014 is vital for our shared national and international security. At the Bonn conference last December, the international community reiterated its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. The UK announced in April that we would provide £70 million per year, as I mentioned, and international partners have announced significant contributions in the build-up to the NATO Chicago summit this weekend. However, our support to Afghanistan will be more widely focused than on security elements alone. We look forward to the Tokyo conference in July, where the international community will deliver long-term commitments for development assistance.
My noble friend Lord Teverson and several other noble Lords asked about South Sudan and the Sudan crisis. My noble friend was particularly interested in China’s involvement in discussions. It is significant that the UN Security Council resolution was unanimously supported by all members, including China.
My noble friend also asked what the commitment is of the new French Government to the UK-French treaty. We are pleased that initial contacts with the new French Government suggest that they remain committed to the co-operation which we agreed in 2010.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked about the 1% increase in defence spending. That increase in spending on equipment and equipment support in the period beyond the spending review brought over £3 billion of new money into defence over the 10-year planning period. The increase applies only to equipment and equipment support. In balancing the programme, we have assumed that the non-equipment programme will increase in line with inflation. An exact defence budget for the years beyond 2014-15 will be set during the next spending review.
The noble and gallant Lord also asked what the next stages are in the coalition’s defence thinking. The SDSR concluded that we should assume an adaptable strategic posture, which means that we will remain ready to use armed force where necessary to protect our national interests. However, we will be more selective in its use and focus our Armed Forces more on tackling risks before they escalate and on exerting UK influence as part of a better, co-ordinated overall national security response. The SDSR also made it clear that we must give priority over the next decade to recovering capabilities damaged or reduced as a result of overstretch. This takes time and investment but is needed to rebuild the strength and restore the capability of our Armed Forces to react effectively to new demands.
The noble and gallant Lord asked about Afghan gifting. We are currently examining options for the future of equipment procured as urgent operational requirements for Afghanistan, but no decisions have yet been made and we will not dispose of equipment that is required as part of the future contingent capability.
Finally, the noble and gallant Lord asked about the MRA4. Following the removal of the Nimrod from service, the department has conducted a number of studies into the resulting capability implications but no decision has been made on whether a long-term manned or unmanned replacement for the marine patrol aircraft is required.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned the 0.7% commitment and the timing of legislation. We will continue to honour our commitment. That is why we will not only enshrine that historic commitment in law—the Bill is already prepared—but be the first G8 country to deliver.
The noble Earl also asked about the post-MDG framework. We are delighted that the Prime Minister has been asked to co-chair the Secretary-General’s high-level panel on a framework to replace MDGs, alongside the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia. We will do all we can to support the UN process to secure global agreement on a successor framework that will help meet the needs of the world’s poorest people.
My noble friend Lord Luke asked a number of questions about the carriers and the JSF, which is an important issue. As a result of the recent decision to switch back to the stable variant of JSF, we will have two carriers capable of flying stable aircraft and thus the ability to deliver continuous carrier availability. As we set out in the SDSR, a final decision on the use of the second carrier will be taken as part of the SDSR in 2015. Overall, the Queen Elizabeth-class carrier costs will be subject to a detailed review and thorough scrutiny by the MoD approving authorities. Until this work has been undertaken, it is too early to comment on the revised cost of the programme. I think that my noble friend’s other questions were covered in the Statement that I made last week on the carriers.
My noble friend Lord Sharkey asked about Cyprus. Successive UK Governments have long been advocates of a comprehensive settlement. We are committed to assisting Cyprus in its preparation for the EU presidency.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, asked how useful the EEAS is. The Government see it as an important tool to support member states of the EU in making the best use of their collective weight in the world, in areas where we agree to act together. The real potential of the EEAS lies in its ability to mobilise the combined resources of the EU institutions and the member states. This is apparent in the Horn of Africa, where we are beginning to see an effective, comprehensive approach that brings together the EU’s diplomatic development and CSDP mission activities into one approach.
We must adapt to stay ahead, configure our capability to address tomorrow’s threats not yesterday’s, build more versatile and agile forces for the future and ensure that our people have what they need in this important endeavour—the defence of our nation in a changing world. I beg to move.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente, and the Lord Chamberlain was ordered to present the Address to Her Majesty.
House adjourned at 5.36 pm.