House of Lords
Wednesday, 11 June 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.
Debate (5th Day)
Moved on Wednesday 4 June by Lord Fowler
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, as we debate the gracious Speech, I have just returned from the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and attended by more than 148 countries, as part of our ongoing efforts to end the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Sexual violence destroys the lives of men and women, boys and girls. Its effects last long beyond the original act, and the culture of impunity that exists for such crimes is a major barrier to international peace and security. It is right, therefore, that we have put tackling these abhorrent crimes at the heart of not only our social and developmental policies but our foreign policy. I pay tribute to my right honourable friend for his dedication in bringing this issue to the fore and his success in turning the tide of global opinion so that we can make accountability for these crimes the norm. We can all be incredibly proud that this summit is being held here in London.
Preventing sexual violence is just one area where we believe that the UK has the moral obligation and the diplomatic power to act, to ensure that human rights—the values that are woven into Britain’s DNA—are, as we pledged upon taking office, indivisible from our foreign policy. Such rights are fundamental to the values we cherish: freedom, tolerance, respect and fair play.
That is why we utterly condemn the introduction of anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda, Nigeria, India and the Russian Federation. The safety of LGBT individuals in these countries, and anywhere where discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity exists, is of paramount concern. Our position remains that human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To render consenting same-sex relationships illegal or to discriminate against individuals based on their sexuality is incompatible with international human rights obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
We continue to lobby for greater human rights protections in all areas but in our six global thematic priorities in particular: women’s rights; torture prevention; abolition of the death penalty; freedom of expression on the internet; business and human rights; and freedom of religion or belief.
In addition to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, our commitment to protecting women and girls from violence and discrimination will see the UK co-host the 2014 Girl Summit with UNICEF, drawing international attention to the issues of female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage. In support of existing efforts, the Girl Summit will bring together Governments, civil society, international organisations, community leaders and the private sector from around the world to drive forward a global movement to end FGM and child, early and forced marriage everywhere.
Noble Lords will be aware that the last of the six global thematic human rights priorities—freedom of religion or belief—is a personal priority of mine. In a speech in Washington last year, I spoke of this as a global problem, requiring a global response from international institutions to grass-roots organisations. Progress is being made. UN Security Council Resolution 1618 lays the foundations for combating discrimination against people based on their religion but much more needs to be done.
I am sure that the continuing global trend towards official restrictions on religious practices will concern the whole House, as will the continued religious extremism in some parts of the world, which has been matched by a growing intolerance towards those who think differently. We have seen this in Nigeria with the slaughter, kidnap and human trafficking of innocent schoolchildren by Boko Haram. We have seen this in Sudan, where women have been sentenced to death simply for marrying across religious divides, and we have seen this in Burma, where religious and ethnic tensions continue to cause indiscriminate loss of life throughout the Rakhine province. In all its work, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office fights to protect the fundamental rights of every individual to practise or change their religion, or to follow no religion at all. Without these values, we cannot guarantee our security, our prosperity or indeed our international influence.
We continue to seek to influence others through our soft power: through the British Council, the BBC World Service, which is now funded entirely independently of government, and the “Great” campaign. We also do this through our development budget and defence diplomacy.
Over the past year the Government have adopted a new and ambitious approach to international development, which takes a fundamentally smarter approach to aid by mobilising private investment to multiply the reach and value for money of taxpayers’ funding, to drive growth and jobs and ultimately to lift countries out of poverty. In addition to our national efforts, we continue to promote economic development, prosperity, good governance and the rule of law; and to seek solutions to global threats from climate change to terrorism through international institutions—in particular, the UN and the Commonwealth. Of course, with Scotland the host nation for this year’s Commonwealth Games, we have yet another opportunity to build on the phenomenal success of London 2012 and display the best of British culture, hospitality and business to the world. Some 6,500 athletes and officials from 71 countries will compete in 17 sports over 11 days, but the Commonwealth Games is not the only international event that the UK will host this summer.
NATO remains the cornerstone of our national security and has been so for more than 60 years. We have no stronger allies or closer friends than the other 27 NATO members, so we are delighted that the UK will host the 2014 NATO summit. It will be another important moment in the history of the alliance: an opportunity for leaders to recognise the contribution and sacrifices made by our service men and women, as the ISAF mission in Afghanistan draws to a close, and to consider other ways in which we can support Afghanistan in the years to come. However, the summit will also be about the future of our alliance. It is an alliance whose purpose has been questioned in the 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell but whose role has been given enhanced significance following Russia’s act of flagrant disregard for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent neighbouring state in illegally annexing Crimea earlier this year.
The high turnout and decisive outcome of the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, despite inexcusable attempts by armed separatist gangs to use intimidation to deny citizens the right to vote, shows the Ukrainian people’s resolve to decide their own future without outside interference. Each vote cast was an individual act of courage. Ukrainians have sent a decisive signal of their support for reform and a new future for their country. We look forward to working with the new President on ambitious reforms that can meet the aspirations of the people of Ukraine.
Just as Russia’s actions have caused instability to the east of NATO’s borders, its support for the Syrian regime continues to cause devastation. The situation in Syria remains deeply troubling and the conflict has continued unabated. Although the Assad regime has made some gains in recent months, we do not believe that any side will be able to win this war militarily. The regime’s violence continues without mercy, with the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas causing hundreds of deaths and the displacement of many more people.
When noble Lords debated last year’s gracious Speech, fighting in Syria had claimed 80,000 lives. That figure has now doubled; 6.5 million people, almost half of them children, have been displaced and 10 million people are in dire need of basic humanitarian assistance. A political solution still remains distant. The elections held last Tuesday, in the midst of a civil war, were a grotesque parody of democracy. The outcome was predetermined and millions were denied a say. Our aim remains a more stable, secure and democratic Syria that can meet the needs and aspirations of all its people. While a political solution continues to be sought, we will continue to work to manage the humanitarian consequences of this conflict, limit the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom and ensure the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons. The UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response in Syria and the region. Our total funding for Syria and the region is now £600 million, three times the size of our response to any other humanitarian crisis. The UK has allocated £76 million for cross-border operations to provide assistance to areas that the UN cannot reach, and we will step up those efforts.
This year more than any other we remember the catastrophic effects wrought by war upon our shores. One hundred years after the first shots were fired in the First World War, we remember and pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for our country. It was not, as many had hoped, the war to end all wars. Indeed, last week’s commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings are still fresh in our minds. We may have lost the last of our Great War veterans but that does not mean that their cause—safeguarding democracy, freedom and security—was not just. Their struggle should be remembered and celebrated. We must continue to fight to protect these principles, for which so many gave their lives.
The reflections of history also give us cause to be grateful for both NATO and the European Union which have provided the basis for co-operation that has brought peace to much of Europe for three generations. We will continue to work with our allies to reform the EU to make it more open, competitive, flexible and democratically accountable, for the benefit of the UK and, indeed, the whole of Europe.
I am aware that a significant number of noble Lords wish to contribute to today’s debate, so I will keep my remarks short, if I may, by referring quickly to part of the FCO’s work that is essential, at times difficult and, apart from in times of serious crisis, often goes overlooked. I speak of our consular responsibilities. Tomorrow will see the first match of the 2014 World Cup. As many as 22,000 England fans are expected to make the trip to Brazil and, as always when Britons are abroad, FCO consular staff will be on hand should they, or any of the Britons who will make 60 million overseas trips this year, need assistance. In 2013, the Foreign Office dealt with more than 900,000 queries and provided 17,000 acts of consular assistance to members of the public, helping British nationals cope with problems such as natural disasters, bereavement, family break-up and many other issues. We already run one of the best consular services of any nation in the world and we are making it even stronger. I pay tribute to all the staff involved for their outstanding dedication and commitment.
These are just some of the areas on which the Government continue to work to promote Britain and her interests overseas, to keep our country and our citizens safe and make them safer, and to ensure that Britain remains a force for good in the world.
My Lords, the Queen’s Speech was notable not simply because there was so little in it; it was notable because of the fact that the whole political debate currently is conducted under the shadow of two significant matters that could change fundamentally and for ever the shape and size of the country and the manner in which it is governed. If the SNP had its way, this would be the final Queen’s Speech prior to the beginning of the end of Britain as we know it.
I firmly hope that my fellow Celts will vote to stay with us in September. Together, we are undoubtedly more able to defend our common interests. As Gordon Brown set out eloquently this week,
“we forget the uniquely progressive set of decisions agreed by Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the 20th century to pool and share all our risks and resources so that whatever your nationality, you have equal social and economic rights of citizenship in the UK”.
Scottish people should be able to take comfort from the fact that citizens will be protected when they are old, sick or unemployed—a progressive pact that is underpinned by the nature of the solidarity settlement which benefits all parts of the country. As Gordon Brown said:
“Economies are becoming more integrated, public recognition of the interdependence of nations is increasing, the power of people—through social networks and non-governmental institutions—is challenging the old nationalist fixation with the trappings of state power”.
If that rings true for Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK, it follows that the same should be true for the UK’s relationship with the EU. If UKIP had its way—and many elements within the Tory party—this could be the final term for a Government prior to a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU and the potential devastating impact that withdrawal would have on the country.
It was interesting to note that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, in his recent written response to my noble friend Lady Royall, did not rule out the possibility of the Conservative Party reintroducing a Bill on the referendum during this Session. If that is the case, I hope that we shall not see any of the shenanigans that we saw during the previous Bill on the EU referendum, with confusion over whether it was a Private Member’s Bill or a government Bill. We saw manipulation of the timetable and a breaking of procedures and conventions developed over decades in this place. Can the Minister give us an assurance that this will not happen again?
The EU is central to the economy of this country, with more than 50% of our trade in goods dependent on easy access to 28 different markets. We need, however, to acknowledge that we have to bring the public along with us. The recent elections have demonstrated once again that there is an urgent need for more rapid reform of the EU—which must take into account the will of the people of Europe—and an understanding that the working class, in particular, feels aggrieved and disenfranchised. We need to remind everyone of the specific benefits that membership of the EU brings: tremendous strides forward in the cross-border fight against crime; protection for workers’ rights, including the right to paid holidays and equality in the workplace; consumer protection measures so that we can be more confident in the goods that we buy; and significant progressive environmental measures in a world where pollution does not respect boundaries and where the impact of excessive carbon emissions is all too prevalent across the globe. We need to communicate in a language that people can understand, and move away from using oversophisticated cosmopolitan political language that alienates and is unintelligible to so many of the public.
The shadow Foreign Secretary set out in a letter to David Cameron recently what the Labour Party’s reform agenda in relation to the EU would look like, but we are still waiting to hear what the Government’s reform agenda is. Will the Minister inform us specifically of what the Government want to see in terms of EU reform? We have been waiting for details for more than a year.
Tomorrow, we will see the kick-off of the football World Cup. I am not usually a great football fan, but I am delighted to say that I have picked Brazil in the office sweepstake. The thing that I love about the World Cup is the national anthems. I am delighted to see that Roy Hodgson has asked the England team to belt out the tune prior to the game, although I hope their grasp of the words is better than that of John Redwood, whose unforgettable attempt to sing the Welsh national anthem when he was Secretary of State for Wales has had more than 100,000 hits on YouTube. If Wales had qualified, I am sure that our lads would have had a go in four-part harmony. We would definitely have won the anthem competition, if not the World Cup.
Unlike in decades past, we will be able to watch the games in real time or repeated later on any number of flat screens, tablets, or even mobile phones. An army of English supporters, as we have heard, has arrived in Brazil as flight prices are not what they used to be, and we can Skype for free those lucky enough to be in Brazil using technology which spans the globe. The point is that the world is changing and becoming smaller and more integrated. The UK cannot isolate itself as a little island. We cannot return to a time when we were content to import the odd casket of wine from the continent.
The cry of national sovereignty is not about simply being able to say no. National sovereignty is no longer absolute. Sovereignty must be pooled for national advantage, whether in Scotland or in the EU. Isolation would make us masters, yes, but in a shrinking sphere of influence. It is only through the EU that the UK, with Scotland, can make its voice heard in the wider world, through joining our voices with those of 500 million others to gain a megaphone above the whisper that the UK would otherwise have in speaking to the 1.3 billion Chinese or 1.2 billion Indians.
The crisis on the EU’s borders in Ukraine demands a united EU response. We need stronger and tighter co-operation with our neighbours on this and other foreign policy areas. We need to create a genuine EU market in energy to protect against the vulnerability of a trade area that currently receives 30% of its gas from Russia. We need to insist on respect for international treaties and we need to be sure that Ukraine respects the minorities within its borders.
The tragedy in Syria continues to unfold. While sham elections take place, innocent civilians are left to fend for themselves without homes and without hope. We must continue to extend our hand of friendship to those who are affected and to support those countries in the surrounding areas which are bearing the brunt of the ensuing refugee crisis.
It is essential that we do not take our eye off the situation in Afghanistan and that we build on the work so ably carried out by my noble friend Lady Ashton in relation to building bridges with Iran. Perhaps the Minister can clarify what is currently happening in Iraq and what the Government’s response will be to the volatile and dangerous situation developing in recent hours.
I give the Opposition’s wholehearted support to the initiative taking place in London this week to prevent sexual violence in conflicts worldwide. Rape as a weapon of war can never be justified, and it is heartening to see that the Foreign Secretary has given such priority to this urgent task. I thank him also for the Girl Summit; that was interesting news.
The UK will be hosting the NATO summit in September, as the Minister mentioned. A commitment to common defence is what led us to intervene 100 years ago in the First World War. Last week, we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings—a significant moment when the tide of fascism in Europe eventually started to turn. That sense of solidarity and the need for common defence systems should rest with us still, in particular at a time of heightened tension in Europe. Wales will be the location of the NATO summit, and that will be an opportunity to showcase the country and highlight opportunities for investment.
The Wales Bill will be coming to the Lords imminently. I hope that this will be a time when we can stop the war on Wales, in which we have seen aggressive attacks by various Conservative Ministers determined to talk down the country. I hope that we can also refrain from the temptation to introduce systems and policies that pit one nation against another within the British Isles. The danger of a race to the bottom in relation to taxation is real. It may achieve the hidden agenda that the current Government are so bent on achieving—the reduction in the size of the state—but that is not an ambition of this side of the House, which understands the importance and value of standing together, of pooling resources and of underlining the principle of shared community services.
Although the Queen’s Speech contains no legislation regarding Northern Ireland, it is clear that devolution must not mean disengagement. A recent poll in the Belfast Telegraph showed that 70% of young people wanted to leave Northern Ireland. It is a tragedy that so many see that as their future. With the Haass talks now reconvening there is a small window of opportunity for the Government to engage with Haass and with Northern Ireland’s political representatives to reach agreements on contentious issues.
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning the issues that were not covered in the Queen’s Speech. There was no reference to human rights or to religious persecution, in particular of Christians, and no mention of Sri Lanka. Can the Minister say whether President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka still plans to attend the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow? It is our strong view that his presence would not only undermine the values of human rights and tolerance that underpin the Commonwealth but would bring controversy and disruption to the Games.
Can the Minister also clarify what the Government’s position is in relation to the Presidency of the UN General Assembly possibly being undertaken by the homophobic Ugandan Foreign Minister? Does this not underline once more why we need to see reform of the UN and an updating of the institution?
The coalition Government are running out of steam. The sooner we have a Labour Government who understand the new and modern world—an integrated world where isolation within the UK or in Europe is not a sensible option—and who understand the real concerns of the public and the challenges of the cost of living crisis, the better it will be for the entire United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out in very succinct terms the overview of where we are on foreign and defence policy today. However, I point out to her—I know that this view will be echoed around the House—that it was perhaps a bit of a mistake for the usual channels to schedule foreign affairs, defence and international development alongside the significant issue of constitutional affairs, over which, for the first time in 300 years in this country, we have a real dilemma. As it was known that some 80 or so speakers had put their name down, it would have been far better to have set aside separate days for these important matters.
I will stick to foreign affairs, as I would be expected to. My time is brief, so I will stick to just two things. The Foreign Secretary addressed a conference on globalisation last week at Chatham House, where he remarked that the world was more unpredictable and unstable now than in the last decade of the previous century. He also noted, wryly, that his period in office at the FCO coincided with some of the most unstable events that have taken place. Both statements are of course correct, but I am delighted to add that there is no causal link.
I will talk about the capacity of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to undertake deep analysis and problem-solving that renders it—or should render it—equipped to undertake the level of strategic thinking that is required to deal with the level of instability that the Foreign Secretary spoke about. We know that the role of the Foreign Office has changed; it has had its own pivot, if one can describe it as such, towards being a more commercial and trade-focused arm of the UK Government. I also appreciate that the Government have made structural changes, such as the Foreign Service Academy and the language academy, but the positive effects of that will not be felt for some time. In the mean time, the capacity of our diplomatic service to see long-term trends and to identify policy responses does not seem as robust as might be needed for these difficult times.
One example of the lack of capacity is still the dearth of senior women in leadership roles in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In the lead-up to International Women’s Day in March this year, I asked several parliamentary Questions about the role of women appointees at the United Nations, the European Union, other international agencies, NATO, other permanent members of the UN Security Council, our allies, BRICs, and so on. The response I got was truly extraordinary, and bears repeating. Some 11 women had served in senior roles in the past 25 years—I was only able to go back 25 years—while 173 men had served in those roles.
At a time when women’s equality has been pursued by both the Labour Government and indeed by this Government, I was interested to read in the rebuttal to my letter in the Financial Times that Sir Simon Fraser, the Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is a Civil Service diversity champion. We shall not hold our breath, although I fully respect the fabulous role that Sir Simon carries out as head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Diversity matters because problem solving is complex and requires considerable thinking outside the box—which is impossible where one gender or class dominates. I am not trying to say that excellence should be sacrificed to obtain diversity. Indeed, one other sector of excellence in the United Kingdom, the university and higher education sector, has embraced diversity to its credit. Diversity is one of the reasons it ranks so highly among higher education institutions in the world.
Let me turn to my other concern in terms of a lack of strategic thinking in the Foreign Office. That is thinking around dealing with failing and failed states—or indeed states that are too big to fail but that may have to be allowed to fail. The noble Baroness talked about Iraq and Syria, and we know that there are several failing states in Africa. I will concentrate on one in which I know the noble Baroness takes an interest, which is Pakistan. Pakistan suffered an egregious terrorist attack on its principal airport in its principal commercial city earlier this week. It is mired overall in an ongoing decade-long deep and existential crisis.
I discussed the problem of a UK strategy for Pakistan in 2008 with the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. The problem as I saw it was that the regional instability that an unstable and conflict-prone Pakistan would bring about was more profound and far-reaching than the issue of winding down the Af-Pak mission as it became to be known in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in those days.
The very concept of Af-Pak as a single prism was flawed in my estimation. The nature and dispersal of power in Pakistan, which had had authoritarian rule over many decades, was very different from Afghanistan and needed disaggregation from the Afghan war nexus. I was sent off by the Prime Minister to meet the senior Pakistan people in the FCO and it became apparent to me that the advice they were getting was shallow and short-sighted. What we have ended up with, as we have seen with the attack this week, is a Pakistan—which is a nuclear-weapon state of some 170 million people—in which the writ of the Government does not run in large sections of the country. The Governments of the day, each as incompetent as the previous one, do not have a strategy of dealing with the Taliban and are caught in this dilemma of trying to make peace with the terrorists they themselves inculcated and tried to bring about.
In our Foreign Office today we conflate the role of the diaspora—the Pakistani ethnic minority diaspora in Pakistan—with the dilemma that we have as a United Nations Security Council member dealing with Pakistan as a foreign country. So in concluding, I will to come back to our role as a United Nations Security Council member and simply ask the noble Baroness one question. The role of United Nations Secretary-General is coming up for renewal and reappointment in 2016. Will the United Kingdom Government give its backing to a senior female potential Secretary-General should one come up on the horizon?
My Lords, perhaps I could just intervene and remind noble Lords that we do not have a fixed time; we have an advisory time of five minutes. We have 82 speakers and for the courtesy of those speaking later in the debate, I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that when the clock hits five, they have had five minutes.
My Lords, I will concentrate this afternoon on the future of the United Kingdom—the first order question whose significance trumps even the weightiest Bills announced in the gracious Speech.
Of what do nations consist? They possess a physical geography and a political geography. Languages, too, are powerful shapers, as are shared memories—yet nationhood is not just a tangible, practical matter, but a thing of the imagination as well.
Out of all the ingredients that bind, there comes an emotional geography. It is the quality and timbre of the emotional geography of the United Kingdom that exercises me most about 19 September and after—if, as I fervently hope, Scotland has voted to stay together with the rest of us. We may well—I am sure we will—breathe a huge sigh of relief on the evening of 19 September, if such is the outcome, but the “us” question will remain live and testing in the aftermath. My greatest fear is that our islands will experience a creeping estrangement on the part of Scotland, which the further devolution of substantial powers, as proposed by all three mainstream parties, will do little to assuage and may even encourage.
What we will need from Friday 19 September, literally, is a sustained effort devoted to nation rebuilding—and by “nation” I mean the United Kingdom. We must apply every ounce of ingenuity to find ways in which to work together even more effectively as a union to pursue a new unionism, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, put it with great eloquence during our debate on 30 January—a sentiment echoed powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his introduction to the recent report from the Conservative Party’s Commission on the Future Governance of Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, has long urged a constitutional convention to examine our wider constitutional arrangements—a view I firmly support. I welcome warmly the new All-party Group on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution, created by the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Purvis of Tweed, of which I am a member.
In the event of a decision to stay together, there will be a chance for those of us who cherish the union and love Scotland but are without a vote there to join in fully the national conversation about the future of our islands and the development and refinement of our constitutional arrangements for the purposes of ever better union. I would like to think that your Lordships’ House could have a substantial input into such a conversation. We have, if I can put it tactfully, been around the block a bit, given our average age. We bring together in this Chamber all the constituent nations of the union and a deep reserve of accumulated experience of all parts of the UK, with great swathes of the rest of the world. I am confident that our fine Constitution Committee will be in the vanguard, but it might be useful if we thought, too, in terms of creating a special ad hoc Select Committee on refreshing the union.
Much will depend on the tone and pitch of reactions to a vote to stay together in these crucial days to come in September. There should be no trace of crude triumphalism and great respect shown to those who voted for independence. The yes vote, of course, would settle the Scottish question for ever; a no vote will not, even if the margin is substantial on 18 September. The Cabinet has forbidden Whitehall to draw up any contingency plans for the aftermath of a vote to separate. I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for whom I have a mighty respect, to urge his colleagues on the Cabinet’s Scotland committee to prepare for the months and years after a no vote a rebuilding and refreshing of a still United Kingdom with a special sense of that crucial emotional geography.
My Lords, in this poorly arranged debate, there is time to speak only in shorthand, so I begin simply by observing that it is a great pity that there was not a single mention of the Commonwealth in the gracious Speech. Not only is it a matter of supreme interest to Her Majesty but the Commonwealth network and our membership of it is a major asset for the power and influence of Britain in this very turbulent world. It is incomprehensible to me why it was missed out.
Secondly, on Ukraine and Crimea, I am glad that some of the hyperbole has begun to go out of the argument. There has been quite an excessive reaction to the difficulties of that whole situation. I believe that it has been the right approach to squeeze Mr Putin in various ways, by various sanctions. However, like Her Majesty’s Government, I have some faith in Mr Poroshenko and his ability to deal with Mr Putin and see the matter held in hand.
Thirdly, I make a brief reference to the grim news from Mosul this morning, which should alarm us all. It confirms finally that there was never an Arab spring; there was an Arab turmoil, which is now developing in even worse ways in many areas. Entirely new approaches are clearly needed, different from the original analysis of what was supposed to be happening in the Arab world and the Middle East.
I shall now confine my remarks to my main subject, European Union reform, on which everyone now seems to be agreed. It has become the all-party mantra, although there is of course little agreement on exactly what it means. The strategic task was stipulated in the Prime Minister’s celebrated Bloomberg speech of 23 January 2013, but there is widespread concern that the follow-up has been weak—even to the point of leaving a vacuum in the whole undertaking—and we all know how a vacuum in policy and debate tends to fill up with extremist and polarised viewpoints.
The reality is that a mere shopping list of UK demands for “concessions” and derogations from the EU treaties—or mere bilateral UK-Commission negotiations of the kind for which some of the more naive Members of the other place have been calling—cannot hope to meet the need for EU reform, or British strategic repositioning, on the scale or at the depth required. For that to go forward, a far more profound and comprehensive approach is required, challenging parts of the outdated, 20th-century philosophy of the old EU at their roots, and mobilising a powerful and sympathetic alliance across the whole EU—an alliance that certainly exists and is there to be aroused and led in sensible directions.
This is a task the formulation and foundations of which go well beyond the scope of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, indeed, beyond the capacities of the Government as a whole. One has to remember, as many people do not, that the original ideas for European Community integration were conceived and devised almost deliberately outside Governments and often through private channels and meetings. Just as at that time the best brains were recruited from many sources and disciplines to meet the perceived geopolitical challenges of that era—more than 50 years ago—so the best brains and think-tank resources must be applied to shaping Europe in the utterly transformed world conditions that now prevail. This is obviously not a task suitable for Mr Juncker and his colleagues.
The essence of the new situation is that patterns of trade and international economic intercourse have completely changed their nature in this age of hyperconnectivity, meaning that old ideas about trade blocs, such as the concept of the EU single market, have been drained of their potency. Entirely new trade supply chains and global value chains have sprung up, almost like new rivers. Distinctions between manufactured goods, knowledge goods and services have become blurred. Tariffs have diminished and new protectionist devices have been deployed, particularly affecting services and knowledge industries. New patterns of economic and therefore political power have emerged, of which Europe is only a small part and in which the vaunted clout of the European Union, either as a trade bloc or as a political force, has a greatly reduced impact.
The starting point in change must be the excising of the centralising and integrationist mentality from the whole European project. This outlook—the wrong kind of federalism—belongs to a previous hierarchical age before the onset of the information revolution and the consequent empowerment of peoples. It is now rejected not just by politicians but by physicists, scientists, biologists, engineers, psychologists and others. Self-assembly, self-regulation and flexibility all now work organically; rigid and centralised command structures and top-down hierarchies—whether social, political or physical—do not. That is the new reality of our era.
For detail, I have no time, but in my files—and I suspect in the files of many others who have been involved with the Community since the UK first signed the treaty of Rome in 1972, and even before—there is copious documentation on these and other areas on which we have been working for well over 30 years, although to little effect, I am afraid. I must acknowledge, however, that the scene has totally changed, thanks to the microchip and the intensely connected digital world. Rethinking and new analysis must now be undertaken ab initio, within a clearly enunciated strategic reform framework for all Europe. That is an immense but essential task for our best minds in all parties and none, and for our best intellectual networks to undertake—although it is perilously late in the day.
My Lords, we are now in the final stages of the referendum campaign in Scotland. For the most part it has been a robust and civilised debate. However, there has been one stain on our debates. They have been marred by a campaign of personal abuse and insults carried out on social media, particularly by so-called cybernats associated with the Scottish National Party, against anyone who disagrees with them. I regret that very much. Last weekend I called on Mr Salmond to condemn and clearly dissociate himself from some of those accusations. It was an invitation to which he did not respond.
Perhaps we now know why: it was revealed this morning that Mr Salmond’s most senior adviser had been directly and centrally involved, in the past 24 hours, in a personal attack on a mother of a disabled child who was selected and appointed Carer of the Year in Scotland. That personal smear campaign was carried out because he does not like her views on the referendum. This morning, Mr Salmond ordered his adviser to apologise. That is not enough. If he truly abhors the nature of the vile campaign that has persisted over the past period on social media, he needs to go much further: that adviser should be sacked forthwith. Even then, the suspicion will now remain that the online campaign of personal abuse is not a spontaneous uprising of aggrieved supporters of separation. Rather, it is a centrally directed and orchestrated campaign that demeans the yes campaign and discredits the debate that is taking place in Scotland.
However, we are now finally weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of either course of action: the advantages of membership of the United Kingdom and the disadvantages of separation. I would have thought the advantages were pretty clear. We do not need to look in the crystal ball; we can read the book. Such is the denial of those advantages that it constantly reminds me of that famous “Monty Python” sketch, “What did the Romans ever do for us?”. What did the United Kingdom ever do for us in Scotland? It has given financial stability, from the disaster of the Darien scheme at the end of the 17th century to the disaster of the Royal Bank of Scotland at the beginning of the 21st century, with toxic debt greater than the GDP of Scotland.
The response to that is, “I’ll give you that, but what else did the United Kingdom ever do for us?”. It gave us economic strength. As the First Minister of Scotland keeps reminding us, we are among the wealthiest nations in the world after 300 years in the United Kingdom. England is to blame for that, is it? We have apparently prospered even better than England per capita, which is a peculiar way for England to exploit the Scots. Nevertheless, we have that economic strength. “Well, yes, I’ll give you that, but what else?” The United Kingdom has given us social justice, which the nationalists keep talking about. It has given us comprehensive education, the welfare state, national insurance, pensions, the minimum wage and the National Health Service. These were not gifts of nationalism but gifts of mainly Labour Governments, although also of Liberal and other Governments in Britain. “Well, yes, I’ll give you that, but what else?” The United Kingdom has given us individual opportunity, with scientists, administrators, leaders, sports men and women, and business men and women travelling the world. So we go on, but with a constant sense of denial from the First Minister.
However, if his denial of the advantages is great, his denial of the risks is even greater: the risks to do with currency, pensions, EU membership, taxation, immigration and defence and security. To deny that, he has to dismiss, disagree with or, in some cases, denigrate one or two people, such as the President of the United States, the President of the EU, the Scandinavian Foreign Ministers and the former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt. The First Minister yesterday referred to him as a fool; he said he was “foolish”. There are many people in Europe who might disagree with Carl Bildt and might think he is wrong in some things. There are very few people, other than the First Minister, who think Carl Bildt is a fool.
Yet that process of denial continues. To sustain the claims that separation has great advantages and no risks, you have to dismiss one or two experts. The First Minister has told us that experts know very little about what they are speaking about: the Governor of the Bank of England knows nothing about Bank of England matters; the Secretary-General of NATO is not an authority on NATO; the President of the European Commission, of course, knows very little about the European Union; and the Institute for Fiscal Studies is dreadfully ignorant of fiscal studies. What does Standard & Poor’s, the leading ratings agency, know about ratings? And so it goes on. I have great respect for those who say, “Yes, there are risks but I want to be separate on principle and I will bear the risk”. However, I have no respect for those who say, “This is all reward and no risks”, because that is a massive act of self-denial and a massive act of deception towards the people of Scotland.
Therefore, as we approach the weighing up of the arguments on 18 September, I sincerely hope that, having examined the options, the people of Scotland will give a polite but firm “no thanks” to the nationalists. I think that that will happen and I think, and hope, that it will be a decisive answer, and then we can, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said, get on with improving and changing our country for the better, without changing our passports.
My Lords, in the limited time available, I shall concentrate my remarks on some aspects of international development, starting with the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. It has helped countries and organisations to work together towards ending poverty since before the turn of the millennium. The legislative perspective began to be organised through the energetic participation of parliamentary delegations, demanding greater recognition for the key role of parliament and legislators in this debate.
There is a growing emphasis on accrual of natural resource revenues, foreign direct investment, taxation, philanthropy and other domestic resources, and thus the pool of resources to be accounted for has deepened and widened. Partner governments and parliaments are now responsible for managing and accounting for the growth of local domestic resources, as well as for external finance such as ODA.
The new focus on the private sector makes sense. Developing countries need jobs and wealth creation. Strong institutions are vital. In the developing world, parliamentary institutions are not only the political underdogs in an executive-dominated landscape; they are chronically ill informed, barely engaged and sorely under-resourced. In fact, capacity is often minimal. Parliaments, the only institutions to hold the mandate of the people and thus at the apex of every country’s accountability structure, do not have the resources to carry out their roles effectively. In fact, the chief constraint to effective development is often the weak capacity for oversight in parliament.
Donors should not, however, shy away from supporting legislatures and instead invest in CSOs as their “development watchdogs”. They should not seek comfort through the idea of stronger NGOs; instead, they should look at building stronger parliaments. Continuing to bypass parliaments because they are weak just further weakens them rather than developing their capacity.
After I delivered the report from the parliamentary forum at the fourth high-level forum in Busan in 2011, parliamentary capacity was included as a key indicator of aid effectiveness in the final statement. However, by the time we reached Mexico City this April, after 18 months of meetings of the committee for Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation—a committee of which our own Secretary of State for DfID was the co-chair—the role of parliaments had all but disappeared. What we did have, however, was the glossy launch of Unleashing the Power of Business, which is a practical road map for systematically engaging business as a partner in development. It professes to be a road map all about partnerships. Set out on the cover are partnerships between donors, between business, between civil society and between recipient governments. Is anything missing? Parliament— the one organisation with the electoral mandate of the people to hold each of the others to account and to demand transparency is parliament. Over eight pages of glossy diagrams, action areas, sectoral roles and examples of public-private sector partnerships, there is not a single mention of parliament—not one.
To be clear, there is a great deal of support for the Government’s initiative for boosting the role of business in aid and development programmes, including from NGOs delivering major programmes, and from the European Commission, which is not exactly renowned as a haven of capitalism, but it comes with a health warning of risking putting profits before the needs of the world’s poorest people. Surely, the major criticisms by the Government’s aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, of the £1.8 billion economic development programme have to be a major wake-up call. That includes, for example, the need to define and articulate where the programme can add most value and to be more realistic in its ambitions and impact; the need for clear guidance to staff on how to design well-balanced country portfolios that match the goals for an end to extreme poverty; the need better to calibrate and manage the risks associated with private sector development; and the need to work harder to understand the barriers and business imperatives faced by the private sector engaged in development. No wonder the ICAI gave DfID a red-amber health warning. If these were the comments from the auditors on the company accounts presented to an AGM, I suspect that the rather banal response to the ICAI from DfID would be swept aside, with the company’s share price dropping like a stone as unconvinced shareholders fled in droves. However, in this case, it is not shareholders that the Government have to worry about; it is the voters.
Given that private sector development is a top priority for DfID, the ICAI report should be seen as an urgent call for DfID to put its work on hold and start open discussions with a much wider array of CSOs, businesses and parliamentary representatives in the UK and overseas. In this area, as was demonstrated in Mexico, DfID is a world leader and the private sector has DfID to thank for the larger space that it now has in development co-operation. That is welcome in many ways but the welcome will soon fade if, in the process, DfID begins to abandon the aid effectiveness agenda. The private sector must have a role and supporting economic development is crucial, recognising that our 0.7% GNI aid allocation is a precious resource that must be focused on aid effectiveness.
In conclusion, the new approach in the fight against poverty is as yet insufficiently evidence-based. Not all growth delivers on poverty reduction and broader economic opportunities. The ICAI report highlights how difficult it is to know how much money is being channelled into this tranche of work. Establishing proper impact assessments without the benefit of clear transparency procedures is daunting and weakening corporate accountability, with some aid not directly targeted at the poor. The private sector is just one ingredient of many in the mix of inclusive economic growth. Taxation, education, health and a sound institutional and parliamentary framework all play crucial roles. While we know the ingredients, far less is known on how best to combine them. Setting them in the guidelines set up by the aid effectiveness agenda could be a good way to start.
My Lords, the silver lining in last month’s otherwise pretty disastrous European Parliament election results may have been well concealed at the time but there is a real opportunity, none the less, as was shown by the leaders of the European Council at their dinner on 27 May, to shift the debate on to a new positive reform agenda and away from the obstructive and disruptive prescriptions of the populist parties whose support has increased so sharply. Will that opportunity be taken, or will it be frittered away among demands for repatriation and renegotiation for more red lines and more British exceptionalism? Will Britain give a lead in shaping a new reform agenda whose aim would be to benefit all member states? That, surely, is the challenge that faces the coalition Government, and indeed all three main parties, as they prepare for next year’s general election. That was what they should have done but, with one exception, did not do in the campaign that preceded the European Parliament elections.
Here are some suggestions for what might be included in such a positive reform agenda. First, an important component will necessarily be policies to encourage sustainable economic growth, particularly in the countries of the eurozone where it is lagging most, and thus to get to grips with the blight of youth unemployment. The lead obviously will be taken by the eurozone member states and the European Central Bank, but we should be in no doubt that it is in our interest that they succeed and we should give them full support and encouragement. Moreover, we stand to gain considerably from the implementation of the structural reform programmes which are a necessary part of that process.
Secondly, the completion of the single market in services and in energy needs to be given a shot in the arm, and a level playing field for the expansion of the digital service industry needs to be created. So far, there has been an awful lot of talk about the digital issues and precious little action. Would it not make sense for the new Commission to publish a White Paper of the same sort that Lord Cockfield, former Member of this House, produced in 1985 on the single market setting out precisely what needed to be done to achieve that level playing field? The European Council could then endorse and implement it.
Thirdly, it is surely essential to make a living reality of the treaty principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in EU law-making and strengthen the role of national parliaments in that process. Your Lordships’ Select Committee gave the Government, some two months ago, a broad menu of measures that would, without treaty change or undue delay, make substantial progress towards those objectives. When will the Government respond to those ideas? What action will they take to implement them? It is within the framework of a positive reform agenda of that sort that we can most effectively also address some of the principal irritants in our relationship with the EU—issues such as the working time directive and the whole range of matters bound up with welfare benefits for migrant workers. We can hope to find solutions to those in the overall context and interest of the EU, not just of one member state.
That domestic reform agenda needs an external component, too. Here, too, I offer three suggestions. First, the eastern challenge represented by the seizure of Crimea and the destabilisation of Ukraine is one we cannot afford to duck. I very much welcome the robust way the Government have handled that so far. Russia’s actions have risked driving a coach and horses through the whole post-Cold War settlement of Europe. We need to help Ukraine consolidate a thoroughly reformed political and economic structure. We need to deter Russia from further meddling in that process by showing credibly how costly that would be for it. We need to diversify our energy security and reduce our collective dependence on Russian gas supplies to a level that would mean we could sustain any politically motivated interruption longer than it could.
Secondly, we should recognise that we have a fight on our hands if we are to realise the major benefits that would accrue from a successful completion of the transatlantic trade and investment negotiations and from freer trade with Japan and India—whose new Government surely offer a real opportunity to revive the negotiations that have so far been languishing. The recent European elections strengthened protectionist pressures, as has the backing and filling in the US Congress. There is a need for a major advocacy campaign in favour of these trade initiatives, as has been proposed by your Lordships’ EU Committee in its recent report.
Thirdly, we must not turn our backs on further enlargement. Progress with Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia is a crucial element in stabilising that fragile region and consolidating the gains of recent years.
These EU priorities are pressing. There is not a great deal of dispute about them. What I said bears a striking resemblance to what came out of the meeting in Sweden last night. What is lacking so far is a real will to move forward on that agenda. I hope the Government will do that when the European Council meets later this month. I hope that we can lift up our eyes from an obsession with issues of personalities, which undermines our ability to push this agenda forward.
My Lords, 41 years ago, as a fairly fresh-faced Member of your Lordships’ House, I took part in one of the first visits that the House of Lords defence group made to RAF Leuchars and RAF Kinloss. I am very lucky to be secretary of this group, which has continued right through. Above all, it came into being as a study group and, my gosh, we are able to reflect.
I hope I can take two minutes of your Lordships’ time to say that we are unbelievably well served by quite one of the best Ministers for Defence that we have had in your Lordships’ House in all my time here, my noble friend Lord Astor. He gathers us humble Back-Benchers, together with noble and gallant Lords, at least once a month and gives a full briefing on everything to do with the Ministry of Defence—the facts, the figures, the equipment, the tactics, the men and women and the problems. He gives us a fantastic background and I am particularly grateful to him for that.
Many of your Lordships may be startled given the length of my hair and, I hope, my bearing, but for two years I was a soldier. I can see many more around the House, including my noble friends Lord Selsdon and Lord Howell of Guildford, who was a distinguished member of the Coldstream Guards for about that time. We are old enough—over 75. I spent two years as a young soldier and I have never forgotten what the Army did for me. We have opportunities to study and visit Army units, Army regiments and all kinds of other groups and members of the Armed Forces. I am amazed at how far things have continued and been able to go on.
I apologise to my noble and learned friend who will be winding up the debate but I am sure he will be able to gather together my thoughts and answer any questions through the usual channels and through the ministry. I would be grateful if the Government could reassure me on the particularly ambitious programme of achieving 30,000 reservists in all branches of the Army and in everything it does. It is clearly an ambitious programme. There are some bright points but some press reports indicate that there are some difficulties. No doubt they will come out in the wash and at some stage over the next year we will be able to have a fuller debate on these matters.
I hope recruiting is carrying on as it should and that no one in the Army, or any other branch of the defence forces, has to wait for up to six months before they can start training. Such delays are mainly because of financial constraints but quite often because of other administrative reasons. I hope I will receive encouraging news on that.
I hope that training facilities, particularly for the Army but also for other branches of the defence forces, are available and being improved, and that value for money can also be improved. There are all kinds of ways in which improvements can be made.
As to the equipment, kit and weaponry that might be needed, I recall—the noble Lord, Lord West, may remember this—a happy day on the ranges at Bisley in 1990. We both had an opportunity to speak to the sharpshooters of the Royal Marines who had serious problems with the SA80 rifle. It was certainly causing trouble then, although it may have been put together and be doing well now. Your Lordships may hear later from the noble Lord and me about what happened and how the Royal Navy brought the entire proceedings at Bisley to a halt that day. He may be able to explain that at a later date and in due course.
The families of all members of the defence forces are of particular importance. I hope that my noble and learned friend will reassure me that the return of forces from Germany is proceeding smoothly, that accommodation is available and that problems are being ironed out.
Next month will be a special month for the Royal Navy and for Scotland. I was encouraged by the fiery speech of the noble Lord, Lord Reid, who is absolutely right. I have a message for the First Minister, who thumped his chest last week and said, “We can”. I, a humble Scot, will tell him that we, the people of Rosyth, delivered on time and that we will see what is happening with that wonderful new carrier in about a fortnight’s time. It was a team effort.
I see my noble friend is getting excited. I was told that I had short sight but I have my glasses on. I will not refer to her in like terms as I do at the football—“Get new glasses”—but I hope the noble and learned Lord will take on board that we are very proud of what is happening at Rosyth.
Finally, I wish every man and woman in the Armed Forces the best. They are the best. We salute them and their families today and for good.
My Lords, I wish to address my remarks to one line in the Queen’s Speech, which states:
“My Ministers will also champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change”.
That statement is further defined in an advice note on the Bill, which refers to achieving,
“an international, legally binding, rules based agreement”.
I want to talk about that because it is an almost impossible task. I was actively involved in the Kyoto negotiations in 1997, when we achieved the first global agreement on climate change. Since then I have been involved in the discussions and negotiations right up to today, through the collapse at Copenhagen and, indeed, to the coming, very necessary agreement to be made in Paris in 2015. Although it had its limitations, the first global agreement was largely successful, but now we need to make sure that agreement is achieved in Paris. If we do not reach an agreement in Paris, the whole climate change negotiation and this particular piece of legislation will fall.
We all recognise that the world of 2014 is of course very different economically, politically and socially from the world of 1997. However, the global climate change problem continues to grow because of increasing carbon output. As the IPCC has pointed out, we are beginning to see a serious deterioration of our climate, an increase in world temperatures and more extreme weather events, as it predicted. This is a global problem requiring a global solution and consensus.
A major step forward has been taken through the recent agreement between the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, who were not signatories to the Kyoto formula; namely, the United States and China. Unfortunately, that agreement has not received the kind of attention it should, but as President Obama has made clear, a legal agreement on carbon changes cannot be achieved at the international level because he cannot get such an agreement through Congress. He has chosen to use his presidential powers to ensure that US domestic legislation sets out a legal framework, rather than pursue an international one. Indeed, China is taking a similar course of action. This is a departure from the Kyoto framework, which set out an international legal framework for the industrialised countries. This new agreement has to apply not to 40 countries but to 190, which will of course be much more difficult to achieve. I believe that the framework can be brought together through the EU negotiation system. There is such a big difference in the negotiating positions of these large continents that it threatens a further Copenhagen-style collapse, as happened in 2009. The best approach would be for the European Union to negotiate with China and America to secure a new climate change agreement for Paris.
Unfortunately, climate change is not a priority for the present Government or, indeed, for the European Union, which, committed though it is to an international legal framework, knows that it cannot be applied for the reasons I have explained. The June and September 2014 meetings of the Council of Europe do not have climate change on the agenda. Energy is the priority issue for those meetings, particularly a review of the circumstances around Russia and its gas supplies. The council will be talking about that issue, and climate change is to be left until next January. Given the circumstances of these negotiations, if this issue is left until the end of next January, it will be far too late to have any influence on any agreement to be achieved in Paris. The EU could change its position on this.
There is an alternative, which I have advocated and seen passed by the Council of Europe. Last Sunday, I put it before 60 nations at the GLOBE International summit conference in Mexico, and it was accepted unanimously. What you need to do is get each country to accept climate change legislation of the kind we have in this country and put the globally agreed targets into that legislation. No Government can then come along and change them unless they bring in further legislation. That will give a legal framework, imposed by domestic legislation. That is an obviously good compromise that Europe could produce. But it is not the Government’s position or the European Union’s position. Britain could play a part in changing it but, frankly, this Government have lost their credibility in Europe to make any kind of change or give any priority to this.
We must begin to debate this issue. Climate change is the biggest threat to this planet and the sustainability of what we have. Legislators need to raise their heads. After all, in finding agreements they have nothing to lose but incompetent Governments. Legislators here, everywhere and in the 66 nations that were in Mexico are agreeing to do that. It is time to think radically about it. It is time to make change. Above all, it is time to make an agreement.
My Lords, it is very easy to dismiss a legislative programme as too light, as Members of both Houses have done recently, but I have sat through a good many debates on gracious Speeches in which the accusation has been precisely the opposite. For my part, I remain consistent in arguing that less can be more, as I said to your Lordships on 13 May. Indeed, there are 11 Bills. That is more than one a month over the present Session.
One such Bill will give effect to the Liberal Democrat and Conservative promise to introduce a power of recall for MPs who have committed “serious wrongdoing”. There has never been any intention or promise from any party to introduce a broader power to dismiss MPs whose views someone dislikes. This is not watered down. It is much more likely that what will be in the Bill will be exactly what has been promised by all three parties.
The vital balance to strike, as has been very well put by Michael White in the Guardian, is to retain the Burkean responsibility of an MP to promote unfashionable or unpopular causes while at the same time ensuring that those who break the rules can be evicted by the constituents whose trust they have broken. I understand that Mr Zac Goldsmith prefers the Californian model of recall, but we should note that that would have enabled constituents to petition, perhaps successfully, for the recall of all MPs who had voted for the invasion of Iraq. I was very strongly against the invasion but all those who took the opposite view—the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, might agree with me on this—should certainly not have been evicted on a minority petition because of the action they took as responsible Members of Parliament. Like so much of this territory, getting a recall power right is more complex than it sounds. As ever, this House will have a big role to play in getting the detail right.
Meanwhile, if your Lordships’ House really does feel short of work to do in this Session, I will propose a way in which we can make good use of the newly available time. We regularly lament the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny—something which has improved under this Government but is still not regular enough—but what about post-legislative scrutiny? I am very pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who has campaigned on this issue. There are plenty of examples of recently enacted legislation that urgently needs review by Joint Committees.
For example, the Academies Act 2010: surely now in the light of recent events there are big questions to ask about how accountability works in academies and free schools. Secondly, the Localism Act 2011: many of us feel that this was potentially one of the biggest successes of this Government, with support right across the House, but it is still criticised as inadequate by the local government community. Thirdly, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011: how well are those police and crime commissioners working with the communities that elected them, even if it was in very small numbers? We need to know.
Those are just a few examples. Others around the House will remember debates on other Bills where it would be beneficial to go back and look again at whose arguments were best supported by the practical effects of the legislation. On two big, controversial Bills—the Health and Social Care Act and the transparency Act—this House has inserted review clauses. Perhaps now is the time to consider whether all Bills should have a review clause, or even a cessation clause, just as all Bills have a commencement clause.
Parliament is not just about legislating. It is about scrutiny, and in this House we take particular pride in the quality of our scrutiny. We have plenty of legislation for the coming months but we could also find plenty more recent legislation to scrutinise for its adequacy or inadequacy, to make sure that it works and is fit for purpose. There is a real opportunity in this Session to do some extremely important work to check the quality of the work we have done previously in this Parliament and I hope that your Lordships’ House will address that issue.
My Lords, last night, alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, I hosted a meeting that focused on sexual violence in south-central Somalia. The meeting was attended by the Somalian Foreign Minister, Members of the federal Parliament and representatives from the largest Somali women’s group, IIDA. After much robust discussion, a British citizen of Somali extraction stood up and said, “I did not intend to speak this evening but there is something I have not yet heard and it must be said. I stand to say thank you to the Government of the United Kingdom for supporting Somalia and thank you to the British taxpayer. Thank you”. Our noisy debate came to a silent halt as all in the room contemplated the spectre of a Somalia without the essential support of international donors. I think it is fair to say that all present were proud and moved.
I declare an interest as a patron of Legal Action Worldwide, an NGO that provides innovative and legal systems to women and children in fragile and conflict-affected states, and it is with its expert advice that I speak today. Sexual violence in south-central Somalia is pervasive and committed with near total impunity. There were 1,700 reported cases in internally displaced persons camps in 2012 and 800 reported rapes in the capital in the first six months of 2013—and all sources agree that these official figures are likely to vastly underrepresent the actual numbers of women affected by sexual violence in the region. There is a social stigma associated with rape and survivors have a very legitimate fear of reprisals against not only themselves but their broader family.
As with sexual violence the world over, much of it is committed by men known to the women—but in Somalia, a great many rapes and acts of sexual violence are committed by armed men in uniform. Estimates from the UN and Somali bodies vary wildly from 30% to 70% but what is constant is that the perpetrators include the Somali police, the army and, in some cases, peacekeeping troops of the African Union mission in Somalia, AMISOM. This raises very difficult issues for donor nations such as the UK that support either directly or indirectly all three of these security bodies. As a major donor to the security forces and to Somalia more generally, we have a duty not only on paper but in practice to create a red line—a line that says our contribution is dependent on victims of sexual violence in Somalia having recourse to support and meaningful redress.
It has to be said that the UK provides leadership in this area. Last night, we heard from colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that four new AMISOM personnel will focus on the protection of women and children and that AMISOM has promised to implement the civilian casualty tracking cell—a mechanism by which to track and address allegations of abuse. The UK has also supported Somali-led action plans for ministries to address violence—and of course, in the humble Address, the United Kingdom promised to lead efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict worldwide.
However, we must translate promises into action and action plans into implementation. The AMISOM tracking mechanism has been promised for more than three years without moving forward. Will the Minister now establish and agree a date for implementation and subsequent review? The new personnel, however welcome, must implement it with a guarantee that tracking will be accessible to women in the community as part of an effective and trusted mechanism by which civilians can make allegations of sexual violence.
Thirdly, the status of mission agreement should be revised to provide greater clarity on who takes the lead in the investigation of sexual offences so that we do not inadvertently finance a system where the perpetrators and investigators are from the same body.
Finally, can we make certain that action plans for Somalia allowing ministries to address sexual violence are properly funded, resourced, monitored and implemented on time? This includes, I believe, supporting the first sexual offences Bill in Somalia and adopting accountability policies for the Somali police force and the Somali national army. For the women of Somalia, questions of security are inextricably tied to questions of protection from sexual violence. A strong security sector is not weakened by proper structures of justice and accountability—on the contrary.
This week the Foreign Secretary hosts the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. It is a matter of considerable leadership. In last evening’s meeting there was anger and three were tears, but there was also hope. Will the Minister carry our congratulations and these recommendations back to the Foreign Secretary? It is imperative that the structures we put in place are equal to the undertakings that we make.
My Lords, the Scottish referendum means that we face constitutional change, or the possibility of it, on a massive scale. I recall someone remarking that constitutional change in Britain is a bit like unpicking a ball of wool—once it unravels, it is hard to stop without creating a knotty mess. That is neither an argument against constitutional change nor against knitting but it does call for a good pattern to follow.
While it may not rate as constitutional change, many of us on these Benches hope that at the General Synod next month we will finally approve the legislation to enable women to be consecrated as bishops. Unlike the break-up of the United Kingdom which needs only a simple majority vote in one nation, the Church of England requires majorities of two-thirds across the board—bishops, clergy and laity—to achieve such a change. Sixty years ago it would have been unthinkable, but when I was born your Lordships’ House contained only males and only hereditary Peers. Constitutional change, the creation of life Peers and the introduction of women to our Chamber has both reflected and shaped wider cultural change, and the reputation of your Lordships’ House has been enhanced.
Noble Lords will be aware that a diocesan bishop is often in post for four, five or even six years before being introduced here, so these Benches could continue to be all male for some years after the first women are consecrated. Some of us hope that, in consultation with the Government and the usual channels, a way may be found to break the cycle a little and create a faster track for the first female diocesan bishops. It needs sensitive handling. The first women bishops will undergo much media scrutiny and attention so we do not want to make the pressures on them unbearable, but we hope that this modest reform may be permissible without inviting every other good or bad idea about Lords reform to be attached to it. In the light of changes in the composition of your Lordships’ House, I hope that the quicker arrival of women bishops may be welcomed in the closing speeches today.
Culture is the Cinderella subject in today’s debate but I want to draw attention briefly to a remarkable cultural development—the renewal of our cathedrals where, I hope and pray, the first female diocesan bishops will be enthroned. It was their community value which led the Chancellor to allocate £20 million for outstanding cathedral repairs in the last Budget. Cathedral congregations have grown, some remarkably, but the contribution of cathedrals to economic regeneration and social cohesion is often underplayed. The 42 cathedrals of the Church of England—I can speak only for them—receive as many visitors in a year as all English Heritage’s 420 properties combined. That is not to do down English Heritage’s remarkable collection; it simply demonstrates the enormous attraction of cathedrals. One in six British adults will visit a cathedral this year, which is more than will attend football matches, even including those committed enough to travel to Brazil. Those 42 cathedrals employ around 6,000 people. Recent calculations on their economic impact suggest returns of at least £91 million per annum, rising to more than £150 million, including incidental spend.
Cathedrals create community. Cathedral quarters, such as the one in Blackburn, are being created to bring social regeneration to the city. In Chester, a partnership between the cathedral and the police has proved a good way of managing anti-social behaviour by creating a safe as well as beautiful space at the heart of the city. Next week in Norwich, I will host the annual Bishop’s Art Prize exhibition for students of the Norwich University of the Arts. They are given a theme capable of wide interpretation and discover that the church is still a significant sponsor of new art. Canterbury and Winchester have art by Antony Gormley, and St Paul’s has just installed the first permanent moving-image artwork within any cathedral: Bill Viola’s “Martyrs”. Our cathedrals are treasure houses of contemporary art.
Culture is also about people. Our cathedrals are now ablaze with candles lit by people who come to pray in need and distress. They could not operate without an army of volunteers. We have more than 600 in Norwich, and there are more than 800 in Canterbury. At Manchester Cathedral, a scheme of volunteering aimed at the long-term unemployed has had an incredible success rate in getting people back to work.
There may have been no proposed legislation specifically aimed at culture in the gracious Speech, except that all we do has a bearing on it. It is about the way we live our lives, and the walls separating faith and worship from art and economics or from social inclusion and heritage turn out to be very thin indeed and could do with being removed altogether.
My Lords, my contribution will be even shorter than I envisaged simply because my noble friend Lord Lyell has made many of the points that I was going to make, and I very strongly agree with him.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, when he spoke in your Lordships’ Chamber a few months ago, called for a debate on the Floor of the House about defence. I think it very important that we have that debate because the last of our troops will be withdrawing from Afghanistan, and we remember those who have fallen. It would be appropriate to try to learn some of the lessons of that conflict and what more we need to do to strengthen the numbers and equipment of our forces.
In the gracious Speech, there is one Bill which I strongly support: the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill. I hope the House will agree a speedy passage for it because it gives the opportunity for service men and women to raise concerns and complaints in a much more efficient and effective manner than at present. The Bill provides for the establishment of an ombudsman to deal with complaints that might not necessarily result in prosecution.
As far as the Reserve Forces are concerned, I hope we do not lose our nerve in backing the creation of a larger reserve force of 30,000 for the Army. When many years ago I shared responsibility with some of your Lordships for the Territorial Army, we were at more than 70,000. To go to 30,000 seems credible and realistic. When our regular soldiers come back from Germany, I hope that many of them will consider transferring their service from the regulars to the Reserve Forces. From my conversations with many of them, there is every hope that that will happen.
Finally, I pay tribute to those recently retired members of the Armed Forces whom I have taken on as a research assistant over the years. I think all of them have gone on with a greater understanding of your Lordships’ House and the process of legislation. If I can embarrass the latest member, Mr Zombanakis, who is listening to this debate, I wish him well at Harvard. All his predecessors have enjoyed their time working for me and understanding the role and function of the House of Lords.
My Lords, aside from some issues concerning Europe, I believe that everyone approaches foreign policy matters in this House in terms of the interests of the United Kingdom and our allies. Party advantage has been almost entirely irrelevant to our debates, and I want to follow that course today.
I want to express an anxiety that our country and this Parliament is at risk of becoming rather more inward-looking and somewhat more self-referential. It is plainly not simply the case that that is true: the current conference which the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, was describing to us, the work being done in sexual violence in law and the work which deals with the core commitments plainly address a much wider set. Yet it is far more common to wonder in a public way about whether we should focus at all on places in which it is erroneously believed that we have little interest or which do not directly threaten our security.
Of course, in this interconnected world, almost all places can be potentially difficult for us. However, this inward-looking trend—which is so plain, for example, in UKIP policy and much of what is said about Europe or NATO, or, indeed, what is being said in the context of the Scottish referendum, and in the discomfort with the potential burden of enforcing, for example, the United Nations rights of protection—is, in my view, a trend that we should resist.
I am making no appeal here to antique “great power” or imperial stances. I abhor war. I am not advocating intervention where goals are undefined, vague or beyond achievement. However, we have an historic and contemporary responsibility. We may no longer be a great power in the sense that that was understood, but we are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We have a veto. We are expected to act appropriately, or this standing seems certain to be challenged. This standing cannot be cast in our minds as a burden. It is, rather, a privilege that we enjoy in the world.
My apprehensions may, of course, be wrong. What surprises me is that, notwithstanding the depth and variety of knowledge in this House, we have no standing committee to analyse in depth the United Kingdom’s role in the world. There is work undertaken effectively on Europe in committees but, in a complex world, it cannot be grasped on the basis of the occasional debate that we have. Work, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, earlier, on FCO strategy which is plainly needed would be greatly advanced by having such a capacity.
As today’s debate also includes DCMS, I hope noble Lords will let me comment on the regulation of football in the United Kingdom, and the massive and growing evidence of corruption in FIFA and international football. I start by thanking so many Members of both Houses for their support over the past four years. I have learnt that whistleblowing is an extremely uncomfortable experience; I am not sure that I would advocate it to anybody. The efforts of parts of our media—“Panorama” and Andrew Jennings; the Sunday Times with its “Insight” tradition; and Channel 4’s “Dispatches” and Geoff Atkinson—have been exemplary. Those in the United Kingdom’s World Cup bid, with the very honourable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, whom I am delighted to see in his place, spent much of their time condemning the investigative media, while he applauded it. I congratulate him most sincerely on that.
I wonder if I may try, even briefly, to tell it like it is. FIFA, I am afraid, behaves like a mafia family. It has decades-long traditions of bribes, bungs and corruption. About half of its executive committee who voted on the previous World Cup have had to go. Even its previous president, João Havelange, has been removed from his honorary life presidency in his 90s.
Systematic corruption, underpinned by non-existent investigations where most of the accused are exempt from the investigation, makes it impossible to proceed. Foreign construction workers dying in their dozens in Qatar stadium construction sites are essentially ignored. I applaud Greg Dykes’s rebuttal of Sepp Blatter’s grotesque accusation that all those criticisms are simply racist. The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and other noble Lords in this House have demonstrated that concern with racism and concern with proper dealings and anti-corruption go hand in hand.
Don Corleone would have recognised the tactics and would probably have admired them. Domestically, the Burns report on football has been permanently shelved. Take the fit and proper person test for the ownership of football clubs. It failed to stop a Thai politician—a former prime minister with a notorious human rights record—from acquiring a major club in this country, or unknown owners from controlling other great clubs which are essential to the sporting culture. It is important to our sports culture and to fans.
I understand that there is no room for a sports law in the Queen’s Speech—I am coming to the end, I promise. Governments should stay out of sport. However, the deal ought to be that they are entitled to designate the lead associations to regulate each sport, to set out the regulatory requirements and standards in the conduct of international sport. In the case of the FA, it will be a daunting task to take even the most modest steps. However, it is time for that organisation and for other sporting organisations to step up to the mark. Let us try to eliminate corruption wherever it exists, not least in those things which are so dear to people’s hearts.
My Lords, I apologise because I will be unable to be present during the wind-up speeches. However, my noble friend Lord Hennessy will approve of the reason, which is that I will be taking part in the debate on Scotland, which, as he rightly says, is of such huge importance. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for her emphasis on the forthcoming conference on the issue of sexual violence in this country and not least to the terrible things that are happening in northern Nigeria.
Very quickly I will point out—not least to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, who made a major contribution on Somalia—that sexual violence has always been associated with conflict and war, but that the key difference between now and the past is that it is now seen in some areas as a specific strategic object of war to direct sexual violence not just at women but, not least, at children. According to the United Nations Population Fund, there were some 16,000 claims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year. It said that those were the “tip of the iceberg”—the actual figures would have been far higher. It is even more troubling that very many of those affected were under the age of five.
A more recent example, also from the United Nations Population Fund, relates to Syria, where some 38,000 cases of sexual violence against women have been reported. Again, however, the key factor is that many of those girls had been killed by their own family because of the dishonour that rape had brought upon that family. In other words, in the case of Syria the victim was once again the victim, rather than the perpetrator. There are two reasons why that is so important, apart from the fact that it is so important in itself.
First, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war goes beyond almost anything ever accepted in international law as being an appropriate weapon of war. It even goes beyond what St Thomas Aquinas said about war in the 13th century. Secondly—and it is important that this point is made—we live in a world where demographically the proportion of girls who survive birth is dropping steadily. We do not often recognise that. It is estimated that a surplus of some 34 million men exist in China because of the single child policy, and there is a similarly huge majority of young boys in India compared to young girls because of the practice, sometimes, of infanticide towards girl children.
That really means we are looking at a world that is likely to be more violent and more conflicted than ever before. A week ago I heard Kofi Annan say—I thought it was very interesting—that in his experience as United Nations Secretary-General he looked continually to societies where men and women were equal, to societies that were able to be negative to conflict. Where they were not equal—it is important to note on that, sadly, in much of the Arab world there is no move towards equality of the kind so essential to economic and cultural development—one is seeing yet a further enforcement of what one might describe as a rejection of the female element in a good society.
Let me finally turn to the second of the Government’s proposed summitry, an excellent decision; that is looking at the position of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, rightly referred to the significance of the Commonwealth. This is an area where the Commonwealth could be crucial. It could bring together the training of police for the protection of children in school, including the security of school and university buildings. Perhaps even more importantly, it could look at how, particularly in the case of northern Nigeria, one could set up a Commonwealth group to include, also at our invitation, the French, many of whose former colonies surround the members of the Commonwealth not least in west Africa. There would then be an immediate reaction to anything as awful as the kidnapping of the 300, now, young women in Nigeria, contributing to the country in a way that could not be equalled in any other way. The Commonwealth as a whole should address this issue and bring every possible form of expertise to bear in how to protect these young women.
The presence of young women is a crucial part of the development of societies, particularly developing societies. It is very important that Britain, with her past relationship in this whole area with the Commonwealth, should create a centre which should be seen by any as a source of information and of training, and, above all, a moral certitude of the importance of tackling this dreadful problem.
My Lords, many things have changed in the 11 months since last year’s debate on the humble Address. Some things have improved, such as the UK’s broader economic outlook. Some have loomed larger and grown more intense, such as the debates on Europe and the proposed separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom. However, for those of us interested in security and international order, things have become markedly worse.
This time last year we were hoping, against all our instincts, that Secretary of State Kerry might make some real progress on the Middle East peace process. The pessimistic angels of our nature, alas, proved only too right on that particular issue.
This time last year there was some hope that inclusive governance in countries such as Egypt and Libya might gain a firmer footing. In 2014 that hope has grown fainter.
I cannot claim that we had many realistic hopes for progress in Syria last year, but the outcome has been even worse than our fears. Meanwhile, the political and security situation in Iraq has continued its downward spiral, as we have seen most recently with the events in Mosul.
On a slightly less gloomy note, negotiations continue on the Iranian nuclear programme, and while many obstacles remain, we still have the chance of a deal. However, lest we become too cheerful, events in Pakistan serve to restore our sense of gloom. There, Government hopes of political progress with the Taliban have proved illusory. The recent attack at Karachi airport demonstrates vividly how seriously the internal security situation has declined in that country.
In Europe we face the prospect of a major power ignoring state borders and international agreements to which it is a signatory. Whatever provocation Russia may feel it suffered, nothing can justify its actions in the Crimea and subsequently.
Further afield, frictions continue over the South China Sea, and both the United States and China raised the temperature considerably at the recent Shangri-La dialogue. North Korea remains as dangerously delusional as ever. I could go on, but time does not permit.
What can we conclude from this tale of woe? For my part, I believe that we are witnessing two major strategic shifts, both of which could pose serious challenges to our future security and prosperity. The first, and most obvious, is the rising economic might of China and its use of increasingly sharp elbows on the international scene. The major points of friction may be far removed from us geographically but, in this globalised world, the consequences will certainly be felt here. The second development is the continued unravelling of the Sykes–Picot agreement, and the subsequent post-1918 arrangements that were intended to tidy up the detritus of the Ottoman Empire. The most malign consequence of this is the growth of an ungoverned space straddling the Syria-Iraq border, and the emergence there of extremist Islamic groups, such as the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria.
This is the backdrop to the rapidly approaching general election, and the subsequent security and defence review. It is not a pretty picture and, on the assumption that the United Kingdom still has the strategic intent to contribute to the international order and stability that are so important to this nation, it will require some serious thought. There has already been debate over the lessons we should draw from Russia’s actions in Ukraine. No doubt there are many, but for me there is one that stands out above all others, the lesson that the Athenians taught the Melians during the Peloponnesian war: the strong do what they can; the weak suffer what they must. In a number of ways, we in Europe have grown weak.
The foundation of nearly all power is economic strength, and it is right that over the past few years we should have concentrated on this. We also have in this country a very useful range of soft power tools, and I look forward to the coming debate on the Select Committee report on that issue. But hard power is a key element in the mix, and we are approaching some hard choices on this score in the next defence review. The 2010 defence review sacrificed a degree of strategic coherence in support of economic and fiscal retrenchment but, as the Prime Minister acknowledged in announcing the results of the review, restoring that coherence, in Future Force 2020, would require real-terms increases in the defence budget in each of the years from 2015 onwards. The Chancellor has already made it clear that further belt tightening will be required after the general election. This may be so, but a failure to fund defence as envisaged in the 2010 defence review will fatally undermine the plans for Future Force 2020, and lead inevitably to further capability and manpower reductions in the Armed Forces. We must ask ourselves whether that would be a wise response to the massive challenges to international order that I have outlined. This is a serious question about a crucial issue, and it deserves serious debate. I hope that over the next 11 months we will have the chance, within your Lordships’ House and elsewhere, to conduct just such a debate.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister highlighted the forthcoming Commonwealth Games and the World Cup in her opening speech. She spoke of soft power, and sport was, of course, a key part in the deliberations of the committee chaired on that subject by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. I note that “culture” lies in the title of today’s debate, Either there is a typo in the omission of “media and sport” or, more likely, it is an all-embracing recognition of the Corinthian ideal of sport for the able-bodied and disabled alike as inherent in the Foreign Office’s lexicon of a civilised culture.
In reflecting on the brave speech of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, I believe that it is the governance of sport that is the central issue for the solution to the development of sport in the United Kingdom, and it should be central to our influence within international federations of sport. The rapid global commercialisation of sport over the past 30 years has transformed the relationship between sports policy and the law-makers across the world. The autonomy of sport or, as the European Union calls it in the Nice treaty, the specificity of sport, is important, but it must be earned—it is not a right. Governments, either directly through Treasury support on financial guarantees for major events or indirectly through lottery funding, have significantly increased investment in the sector and placed growing importance on sport and recreation in government policy formulation, including overseas development and diplomacy.
We need to address the consequences of this generational change. We must capture the inspiration of a nation that embraced the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and will do so again through the Commonwealth Games. The soft power accrued from these Games should not be underestimated. We need to look to government to deliver a sports legacy from the 2012 Games—a legacy still capable of transforming the sporting landscape of the United Kingdom in terms of facilities and opportunities, especially for our children, able-bodied and disabled, in all our schools.
We need to bring professional management, accountability and transparency to the organisations that run British sport, and through our influence abroad, to the international bodies that regulate and direct international sport. The need for good governance in sport—along the lines of that required for FTSE 100 companies or major not-for-profit organisations in the United States—is essential if we are to protect the interests of athletes in the future. Only by demonstrating good governance in sport can the Government and British sports administrators use their influence internationally. Only through taking action to introduce best governance among international bodies and federations will the problems that have already beset many of the international organisations—from FIFA today, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, bravely stated; to the IOC in Salt Lake City in 2002; to Formula One in recent years—be consigned to history. This is all the more important in the complex world of lex sportiva, in which international organisations and federations set the administrative regulations and dispute-resolving mechanisms of sport, while national Governments and international law are ineluctably playing an increasingly important and active role. It is simply no longer the case that sport and politics can or should be neatly separated.
We need action on behalf of spectators and supporters. Supporters should have at least some representation on the boards of their clubs, thus ending years of disfranchisement. We should substantially strengthen the opportunities for disabled access to sporting venues, in line with the guidelines of the International Paralympic Committee. We need an athletes’ charter to ensure that the voices of our sportswomen and men are heard, and that the many concerns they are expressing are acted upon by sport governing bodies that must follow unimpeachable good governance. We need the Government to become accountable to Parliament for the formulation and delivery of such a sports policy—principally but not exclusively through the Department of Health in the fight against obesity, the Department for Education in all our schools, the Home Office and the DCMS. We need a policy which looks to the Government to act as an enabler, not a micromanager, and to the Minister responsible to have the influence to co-ordinate policy from the centre.
National Health Service: Hospital Beds
My Lords, numbers of hospital beds per person do not provide meaningful comparisons of good-quality care. Our NHS is making efficient use of its beds by judging patient demand and managing bed numbers accordingly. In the NHS, as in Europe, the number of beds has reduced because progress in medical technology is enabling more patients to be treated and discharged on the same day, and average length of hospital stay has reduced over the past decade.
My Lords, France has twice the number of beds we have here in the UK while Germany, I think, has nearly three times as many. We are now seeing dangerous levels of overcrowding, with greater risk of infection due to beds not being cleaned properly in time. Does the Minister not see that this is very reminiscent of the previous time his party was in office and that the NHS is just not safe in their hands?
No, in a word. First of all, it is very important to compare like with like. A number of other health systems have completely different models from our own. For example, they still have large, long-stay hospitals for people with mental health problems and older people. The NHS has a strong primary care tradition and is committed to providing care in the community. Some of the statistics that have been collated by the OECD include systems in Europe where nursing home beds are included in the figures or indeed the private sector. We are seeing healthcare infections at their lowest ever levels. There have been dramatic falls in both MRSA and C. diff infections since 2010.
Would my noble friend like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, how funding is undertaken in Germany? German hospitals are funded on the basis of length of stay. In this country, we have demonstrated that we can get patients home much more quickly, particularly after surgery, with the use of day case surgery. Furthermore, Sweden has fewer beds than we do.
My Lords, no. By comparing the OECD bed-provision data and the 2011 joint prevalence survey, the available European data indicate that bed provision and healthcare-associated infection rates across countries are not correlated. Indeed, as I have said, we have seen a dramatic fall in the number of healthcare-associated infections in hospitals, combined with a rising level of demand for in-patient beds.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned France. In France, most patients who have had a hip replacement spend a month in a convalescent hospital having in-house physiotherapy, whereas of course in the UK most people return home. I wonder whether my noble friend can tell us whether there are data to show how medical technology has improved both hospital care and community care, so that we can confirm the OECD report’s phrasing that the reduction in the number of hospital beds,
“has been driven … by progress in medical technology”.
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that we have one of the highest rates of bed occupancy in the EU, approaching 90%, and yet we have the lowest average length of stay? All this makes it extremely difficult to think about reducing bed numbers still further.
In fact, average annual bed occupancy rates have been stable at around 84% to 87% since 2000. Of course, that rate goes up and down. We know that winter sees greater pressure on bed occupancy, but the NHS has long experience in managing peaks in demand, particularly over the winter. We do not set optimum bed occupancy requirements on the NHS. As the noble Lord knows well, that is a matter for the local NHS to manage.
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the previous Government did not run their NHS policy on the basis of the number of beds in the NHS, and rightly so? Will he continue robustly to reject the arguments of those who, using beds as a criterion, are so out of date with modern medicine delivery?
My noble friend has encapsulated the point very well. One cannot correlate bed numbers as a stark statistic with the quality of care that a health system delivers. Our system is dependent not just on acute settings but on care in the community, and that is where the focus should rightly lie at the moment.
Then can we look at outcomes rather than beds as far as the OECD figures are concerned? For the United Kingdom, I will take just three factors: infant mortality, cancer survival rates and obesity. We are beyond the 20 best performers in terms of outcomes—20 OECD countries do better than us. Why are we operating so poorly compared with these other countries?
There are a number of issues there. The noble Lord is right to raise obesity, in particular, where only one solution is available to us, which is a public health policy which embraces all parts of the system and, indeed, individuals. The issues that he raises are too complex for me to encapsulate in a short answer but I will be happy to write to him about what we are doing in all three areas. He is of course absolutely right to raise them as very important issues for the health service.
My Lords, this Government have introduced a number of measures that have reduced business rates significantly. We have also published a discussion paper about ways to improve the administration of the rating system.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer, and in particular pay tribute to the way in which she has taken forward some of the earlier questions that I have asked on business rates. Is she aware that over the period from 2012 to 2016, business rates will have gone up by 18%? Thankfully, the production from corporation tax will have fallen by 18%. Against that background, is it not time that we had a complete reassessment of business rates and how they affect our high streets? Nowhere else in the world is our high street, or anybody else’s high street, affected by such a fixed-rate tax against, and regardless of, the trading that goes on in the retail scene.
My noble friend is a strong advocate for the retail trade and I am proud that this Government are a strong supporter of the retail sector. It is important for us not to see business rates in isolation. We have the most competitive tax system in the G20 for businesses. It is important that I emphasise to the House that the measures to reduce business rates for businesses announced in the Autumn Statement last year are worth £1 billion. Half of them were aimed specifically at the retail sector and town centres.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that there is a big issue still to be addressed? In particular—there are many other points that I could make but time will not allow—there is the differential between small shops and the bigger retailers. There is a massive unfairness there which has been evident for some time, and I very much hope that the Minister and the Government will consider looking at this serious issue.
There is no difference in treatment in terms of the business rate between businesses on the high streets and those located outside town centres. As I mentioned, the Government have made sure that their support is very much focused on the retail sector. We have made other measures, particularly the £1,000 discount for those with rateable values of below £50,000, which is aimed very much at small businesses.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the best way to support small businesses would be to prioritise the cutting of business rates in 2015 and freezing them in 2016, as we have proposed, rather than provide a corporation tax cut to some 80,000 businesses? That would help 1.5 million small businesses. Is the noble Baroness aware of reports that identify the negative effects of the Government’s decision to delay the next business rate revaluation? In particular, due to the delay, struggling retailers in the north of England are now subsidising luxury retailers in London’s West End.
As the noble Lord knows, we decided to postpone revaluation to provide certainty and stability. The Valuation Office Agency suggests that 800,000 premises would have seen a real-term increase in their rates at a 2015 revaluation had we carried one out. This would compare to only 300,000 seeing reductions, so I suggest the decision that we made was the right one.
My Lords, how does my noble friend think that high street shops can compete when they have the burden of rents and rates, and are competing with online retailers such as Amazon, which pay no corporation tax? Is it not time that we looked at the tax system with a view to the implications of the growth of online shopping?
As my noble friend knows, the way in which the Government consider the tax regime for businesses as a whole is something that we continue to study. Fundamentally, we are anxious to ensure that we have the best tax system for British business and that we continue to encourage growth in this country.
My Lords, I draw attention to the register of interests in which I disclose that I am a director of Blue Inc, a profitable company with some 200 shops in the UK. Does my noble friend agree that the Labour Party proposals of an annual revaluation of all retail properties to assess rates would just produce another administrative burden on retailers at a time when they least need it?
The Labour Party policy paper to which I think my noble friend is referring suggests a range of measures. I can be very clear on one measure with which we disagree: a measure to introduce business rates for farmland and farm buildings, which would certainly lead to an increase in the cost of living by forcing up food prices.
Both my noble friends make an important point about the increase in online shopping, which is the new way in which people are spending their money and doing their shopping. It is important for us to introduce measures that support high streets and town centres, and that is what we are doing. Alongside these changes in business rates, we are making changes to reduce burdens on parking and making sure that town centres and high streets thrive. We have to be able to combine what we are doing on business rates with other measures that are particularly targeted at high streets.
My Lords, it is well known in the retail sector that a large number of the workers are part-time. They earn very little money. We have recently seen that not even the minimum wage is paid by some retailers in that area. Will the Minister look at the question of business rates and see the extent to which they will raise the standards of working people in the retail sector?
We have done a huge amount to support the retail sector in the context of business rates. Last year, in the Autumn Statement, we introduced measures worth £1 billion to the business sector, half of which went to the retail sector. Businesses are starting to thrive and it is important that we do not forget that today we were able to see that, under this Government, 2 million new private sector jobs have been created.
Police and Crime Commissioners
My Lords, the best assessment of the impact and benefit of police and crime commissioners will be the one made by voters when PCCs are up for re-election in 2016. The Home Affairs Select Committee recently published its report Police and Crime Commissioners: Progress to Date. From the evidence gathered, the committee concluded that PCCs provide greater clarity of leadership and are increasingly recognised by the public as accountable for the strategic direction they provide.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, but is the problem not that we have, at immense cost to the public purse, minders who mind minders who are minding more minders? Obviously, we have the unwanted police and crime commissioners elected by less than 20% of voters and supposed to be super-minders. Then there are police authorities, the IPCC, ACPO and the affluent Police Federation all making demands on chief constables and invariably inhibiting their command and control authority and responsibilities. How do we expect such a system to function effectively?
My Lords, the Government’s police reforms are working. Crime is down 10% since 2010. We put operational responsibility where it belongs: with the police. We have introduced democratic accountability through the PCCs. The Home Affairs Select Committee report that I referred to found that PCCs’ costs represent the same proportion of the total spending—0.6%—as was spent on the previous system of police authorities.
My Lords, my understanding of the reasons for the replacement of police authorities by police and crime commissioners was that they were to save money—from what my noble friend just said, that saving does not appear to have materialised—and to improve democratic accountability. How does the appointment of the deputy police and crime commissioners that have proliferated across the country, who are not elected and cost a considerable amount of money, meet the objectives that the Government had in introducing PCCs in the first place?
I am sorry but I must disagree with my noble friend. In the old system, of which many Members were well aware, only 7% of the people of this country knew that if they had a problem with the police they should go to the police authority, whereas the latest independent crime survey for England and Wales shows that 70% of the public are aware of PCCs. It is a very effective way of bringing accountability to the police system.
My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, in one respect—it was not less than 20% but less than 14% of voters who voted for PCCs. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that the principal sales pitch for PCCs was twofold: that they would increase both public engagement with the police and the accountability of chief officers. If the Minister were seeking to persuade the 86% who did not vote, would he feel safe and entirely certain that he could point to the part of the glittering collective record of PCCs which shows that those advertised advantages had happened?
It is easy to disparage the work that PCCs are doing. The reforms that the Government are taking through have been made possible because of the accountability of PCCs directly to the public for the work of chief constables in their areas. It is all part of a package. We have a great task ahead of us to reform the institution of policing in this country and the PCCs are part of that process. They represent the democratic accountability, which is an important element of that.
Crime is falling because the Government are determined to make sure that the police have the resources in the front line to deal with crime. The PCC system allows democratic accountability at local level so that people are aware of the role that they have in making sure that policing in their area is relevant to their needs. That was not the case under police authorities however well intentioned and hard working they were. Police and crime commissioners have made it possible and I applaud them.
My Lords, the Minister has made the point that the test may well come when police and crime commissioners are up for election. Does he accept that an ironic situation could arise where commissioners will be asked to justify undertakings that they have given and which have not been fulfilled, and say, “It is not my fault but the fault of the chief constable”, and the damage that that could do to the system? Can the Minister tell the House the number of chief officers of police who have been dismissed since the system came into force, and in what other circumstances the Inspectorate of Constabulary has been involved?
My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong to assume that those will be the terms under which the election of the successor PCCs will take place. I foresee a considerable interest in PCCs in May 2016; there will be a great deal of public interest in making sure that the people elected to these important posts are in fact the people whom they believe will represent them. As to the figures, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord but I cannot give them to him at the moment.
Health: Transition to Adult Health Services
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure the continuity of standards of care for teenagers with long-term health conditions who transfer to adult NHS services, as recommended in the Care Quality Commission report From the Pond into the Sea.
My Lords, our 2013 pledge to improve health outcomes for children and young people included the ambition to co-ordinate care around the individual young person with complex needs to deliver the best experience of transition to adult services. The partners to the pledge—including NHS England and Health Education England—are working to deliver this. Our mandate to NHS England calls for improvements in the way that care supports smooth transitions between children’s and adult services.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. He will know that this is a worrying report and that it would appear that young people with long-term health conditions often fall through the net when they transfer to adult services. He said that the mandate to NHS England requires it to do something about this, but can we be confident that NHS England actually will take note of what Ministers ask for? I would just refer him to the inability of NHS England to implement the Winterbourne recommendations and its failure to fund mental health services in accordance with parity of esteem. Does the mandate amount to anything at all? Too often Ministers have come to this House and said that something would be done, but nothing has actually happened.
I think that I can reassure the noble Lord on this point. NHS England is currently developing service specifications across the range of commissioning models: specialised commissioning, CCG secondary and primary care commissioning, adolescent mental health and special educational needs, and learning disability. Those will translate examples of best practice and published outcomes into specifications for commissioning to hold providers to account for the delivery of robust transition services with measurable quality standards attached to them.
The noble and learned Baroness is quite right, and as she well knows, this has been a long-standing issue. Our document, Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health, which we published recently, identifies the transition from child and adolescent mental health services into adult services as a priority for action. We are supporting the work of NHS England to develop the service specification which I have just referred to. CCGs and local authorities will be able to use that specification to build excellent person-centred services that take into account the developmental needs of the young person, as well as the need for age-appropriate services.
My Lords, problems arising at the transition stage are often reported by the parents of these young people because they are their carers. Does the Minister agree that standards of care must include support for those much-needed parent carers?
I fully agree. I think that much of this will succeed only if services work together around the needs of young people as well as their families and carers, and if the families and the young people themselves feel involved in the way in which their care is being organised and planned.
My Lords, in terms of developing the specification, can the noble Earl tell us how stakeholders are to be involved? In particular, will the young people themselves now have a voice? I declare an interest as the president of Little Hearts Matter, which deals with children with single-ventricle problems.
I think that we can pay considerable tribute to the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum. It is one of the bodies that have highlighted the need for more effective transitions and for new outcomes indicators to measure them. Its framework for this year includes a proposal that, where possible, all data should be presented in single-year or five-year age bands up to the age of 25 to support better monitoring. Moreover, the forum asked the National Network of Parent Carer Forums to develop a narrative of what good integrated care looks like in transition. The CQC report has drawn quite heavily on that report in its conclusions.
My Lords, the Teenage Cancer Trust had to battle for years to get NHS commissioners to understand that age-specific rather than gender-specific wards are better for young people. It is a good organisation, but it has been a hard job to change the mindset of the NHS. Can he help organisations such as the Teenage Cancer Trust to find ways in which to influence commissioners far more quickly than they have been able to do in the past?
My noble friend raises another extremely important point which applies not only to cancer, but also particularly to mental health settings. We have had many debates in this Chamber about age-appropriate settings. I will take her point back with me and find out where we are in our dialogue with stakeholder groups.
My Lords, can the noble Earl tell the House whether the commissioning will specify autism in the service specifications? Further, will the NHS England staff who are responsible for implementing these measures be trained to deal with the issue of autism?
The noble Baroness raises an important point and I can reassure her that we are addressing the full range of complex needs in children and young people. She may also be interested to know that Health Education England will be working with the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to develop a training course that will allow GPs to develop a specialist interest in the care of young people with long-term conditions. The aim is to introduce the course in September 2015. It will include a particular emphasis on the transition from childhood.
Succession to Peerages Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the law regarding succession to peerages; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Trefgarne, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Public Advocate Bill [HL]
A Bill to establish a public Advocate to provide advice to, and act as data controller for, representatives of the deceased after major incidents.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Wills, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Governance of Sport Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision about the governance and regulation of sport and public health; safety for cyclists; members’ clubs; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Moynihan, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make further provision about arbitration and mediation services and the application of equality legislation to such services; to make provision about the protection of victims of domestic abuse; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Cox, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Land Value Tax Bill [HL]
A Bill to require the Secretary of State to commission a programme of research into the merits of replacing the Council Tax and non-domestic rates in England with an annual levy on the unimproved value of all land, including transitional arrangements; to report to Parliament within 12 months of completion of the research; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Debate (5th Day) (Continued)
My Lords, I remind the House that, in view of the large number of speakers in today’s debate, we have set a five-minute advisory time. I also advise the House that the G7 Statement will be repeated tomorrow after Oral Questions, rather than today. On these bases, it should be possible for the House to rise by 10 pm.
My Lords, events in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Pakistan, the South China Sea et cetera show that we are in a very dangerous and highly chaotic world, but defence hardly features in her Majesty’s gracious Speech. There is reference to working for peace and security on Europe’s borders, but the only hard piece of planned action on defence is:
“Legislation will be introduced to improve the complaints system in the Armed Forces through the creation of an ombudsman”.
Important though that may be, does it really convince people such as Putin that we in our country take hard power seriously?
To be fair, the gracious Speech does say that the Government will host the NATO summit as a,
“sign of the United Kingdom’s commitment to the Alliance”,
but as our defence spending is, on present plans, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan—and that is before any more cuts in the next spending round—due to fall to 1.7% of GDP, one has to have doubts about that commitment. The US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, urged NATO allies on 3 June this year to raise their defence budgets due to the Ukrainian crisis. He urged NATO to,
“come to grips with the potentially dire consequences of current trends in reduced defence investment—consequences that … pose as much of a threat to the alliance as any potential adversary”.
Many NATO allies, he said, have slashed defence spending in response to the financial crisis, and only a handful meet NATO’s target of spending 2% of their economic output on defence.
Our nation has slashed spending on defence, and we are guilty as charged. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he expected the allies to make commitments on military spending at their summit in Wales in September. It is very good that we are holding that summit there, but why have the Government not made that commitment in the gracious Speech? What a wonderful opportunity that would have been. It is all very well to talk of working for peace and security on NATO’s borders, but that demands a strong NATO. What do the Government intend to get out of the conference that is so crucial to the future of NATO? There has been no real indication of and, I fear, no real thought about what we want to achieve.
As an aside, the British people should also be aware that the greatest grand strategic threat to the defence of our islands—something that all of us hold dear—is without a doubt the possible separation of Scotland.
I am sure that your Lordships will be very surprised to hear that I shall now focus on the maritime side of things. The Defence Secretary gave a keynote speech two weeks ago on that topic and said that as we pull out of Afghanistan,
“the primary significance of maritime power will come back into its own again and we are reminded that we are a maritime nation and maritime power is crucially important to our security and to our prosperity”.
Well, bravo to that. He is absolutely right and I feel that he is singing off my hymn sheet, but where is the planned investment to ensure that we have that maritime power? Successive cuts mean that we have 19 escorts to protect British global shipping and international global shipping, all of which is run from London, to escort our forces necessary for global reach, which I think is important, for the protection of our 14 dependencies and to help to ensure the stability necessary for our worldwide investments—which, more than any other country in Europe, I hasten to add, we have in most parts of the world—and our trade. The fact that we have only 19 escorts in our Royal Navy is nothing less than a national disgrace.
A serving admiral recently highlighted in an internal naval publication the impact of cumulative spending cuts on the Navy’s ability to carry out its duties. In particular, he highlighted the price of unrelenting operational tempo due to too few ships and too many tasks. That reads across to the other services as well. Consequently, there is a lack of time for basic maintenance before ships deploy, churn and outflow of staff, and an overreliance on civilian consultants to solve technical problems. He states that overall material readiness continues to decline. Apparently, some warships have had to be towed back to Britain—that is absolutely appalling—after malfunctioning at sea. The number of submarines we have available is at an all-time low. Rectifying that clearly demands investment.
On the plus side, the naming of the first of the new carriers, the “Queen Elizabeth”, on 4 July is something I think our nation should be very proud of—albeit that the process from the SDR in 1998 to the present has been rather tortuous. The second carrier, HMS “Prince of Wales”, is well on its way to completion and it is quite wonderful to go up to Rosyth to see all this amazing work going on. But on current plans, after the investment of over £3 billion in the construction of “Prince of Wales”, it is intended to tie the ship up and not use it or possibly even sell it at a bargain basement price. That is inconceivable when it only costs £70 million to run it each year, if one relates that to the £3 billion. This means that instead of our nation having a carrier available 100% of the time—and, my goodness me, I promise your Lordships that in the next 50 years our country will need that, sadly—we will have one available for only 80% of the time. In a national emergency, of course, we could have had two carriers but we will not be able to generate them very easily.
All my experience, and I am sure that of many of your Lordships, tells me that when a crisis arises it will be in that 20% of downtime. That is the way it goes; the jam always falls downwards. I believe that the money must be found from contingency to run both carriers. After all, on top of all the cuts we have had to defence, defence has given back to the Treasury almost £5 billion in underspend since SDSR 2010. A statement in the gracious Speech about investing to run the carrier and resolve the manning shortfalls would have been very nice, as it would have shown that commitment.
I end by saying that as a nation we should be proud of our Navy, its people and what it achieves around the world, day in and day out, but we are balanced on a knife edge. Without an increase in defence spending, we are on a road to disaster. The Navy will not be able to do what the nation expects of us. In this highly dangerous world, is that really the intention of the Government?
My Lords, I want to pick up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely. Talks are resuming in Northern Ireland following the Haass process to try to resolve contentious issues on flags, parades and the past. I am sure many Members of your Lordships’ House will have hoped that by now we would not need to keep going back to deal with these issues. Sadly, we are not in that happy position.
The Haass process ended at the beginning of January, without agreement. There have been party leader meetings on and off ever since, but after the elections a brief window of opportunity has arisen and the leaders will be having a couple of two or three-day sessions between now and the end of June. While the Haass process dealt with those issues, it was not done on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Unfortunately, Sinn Fein has introduced a new precondition that all these issues must be dealt with or none of them will be dealt with. That is a mistake. We have the potential for an agreement on the parades issue. We are relatively close to one. Given the time of year and the backdrop, I would have thought that we should bank whatever agreement we can get and move on to try to solve something else, rather than leaving everything frozen until you get agreement across the board, which will be very difficult.
It is to that issue that I want to turn. Had we had an agreement at the beginning of January on issues pertaining to the past, what would we have looked like a few weeks later when the on-the-runs issue, of which people were unaware, emerged? It emerged that 350 people had been given royal pardons under the royal prerogative of mercy but, even worse, that 10 years of records of that royal prerogative of mercy have disappeared. How on earth can a record of the royal prerogative of mercy given between 1987 and 1997 have disappeared? Surely, it must be possible to reconstruct a record. I ask the Minister to respond on this. There must still be people serving in departments who were part of it. The office of the Attorney-General must have been involved along with the court office and, of course, the Royal Household itself because Her Majesty has to sign these pardons. Are we to believe that for 10 years Her Majesty’s Government have no record whatever of a royal prerogative of mercy? I am not trying just to make a cheap point. This issue is undermining confidence. People assume that some other dirty deal has been done under the table of which we are unaware. Those are not the circumstances in which positive negotiations can take place to solve our outstanding problems.
I appeal to the Government to address this matter. I have no doubt that they would get whatever help they needed from the previous Government. There must be a way to solve this problem and produce the records. If there is nothing to hide, that is fine; that is one less obstacle. Will the Minister assure us that there are no further deals or understandings with the IRA, Sinn Fein, loyalist paramilitaries or anybody else on issues of justice and matters pertaining to who has been sought and who has not? Such issues are corrosive given the two years of unending elections that we are facing—we have had elections this year, we will have the election next year and there will be Assembly elections in 2016. We have obtained agreement in the past only in circumstances where we have built up confidence. Such agreement is vital for our long-term peace and stability. I appeal to Her Majesty’s Government to tell the House how 10 years of records on such a sensitive issue have disappeared. Will they assure the House that we are in possession of all the information on any understandings that were reached with paramilitary organisations or others so that we can move into the talks with a genuine prospect of reaching a peaceful and successful outcome?
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord West, in dealing with the references in the gracious Speech to foreign affairs and defence. The gracious Speech states that,
“the United Kingdom will work for peace and security on Europe’s borders”.
My comment on that is “borders wherever they may be”.
In her opening speech the Minister referred to seeking to meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. One needs to give consideration to the respects in which we may seek to meet those. If that involves Ukrainian membership of the European Union or of NATO, that needs to be looked at very carefully indeed because we need to show greater sensitivity to Russia in respect of some of the changes taking place in Europe, which may have been entered into with perhaps a lack of sufficient consideration of their implications. Russia may see European Union membership as in some ways a stalking horse in relation to subsequent NATO membership. Indeed, we saw the problems that arose over Crimea.
The gracious Speech refers also to the need for,
“stable relationships between Russia and Ukraine”.
I certainly urge that. In a Statement made in the other place that has not yet been repeated in this House, the Prime Minister referred to the need for better relations. It is welcome that Mr Putin met President Poroshenko in Normandy and that Moscow and Kiev are again engaging with each other. I think everyone in this House will recognise that the way through this situation has to be through dialogue. If it develops into conflict, the damage and distress caused to both countries could be very substantial indeed.
The gracious Speech further states:
“My government will host the NATO summit in Wales”.
The noble Lord referred to that. That will be a very important meeting indeed. There is no question in some minds, perhaps including my own, that a few years ago there was a sense of a job having been done with regard to NATO. Peace and security had been achieved in Europe and NATO meetings seemed to have a slightly old-fashioned look about them. Some of the NATO practices then became very valuable in Afghanistan and, most recently, in Libya. However, as the noble Lord said, there are now some serious issues because we have had to stand to with pretty limited forces. There was a certain nervousness in Europe and in some of the ex-Soviet countries, particularly the Baltic countries, about the events in Ukraine and what looked like a pretty thin and inadequate NATO capability at that time. That will need to be looked at again.
I move on to the greatest crisis that we face at this time. I had already written a note about what I might say, which was that it was impossible to overstate the scale of the crisis in the Middle East. I wrote that before Mosul and the announcement today of what could be a total civil war emerging in Iraq. I see suggestions today that those who have now taken Mosul may advance on Tikrit and may even advance on Baghdad as well, which would cause a crisis. A very distinguished person in that region said to me and a few others who were at a meeting not long ago that his fear was that the Sunni/Shia split that is now developing threatened a conflagration that could spread from Beirut to Mumbai. Actually, he was wrong. It is Mali to Mumbai. There is Boko Haram. There is the situation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon—goodness knows how those countries are surviving some of the pressures on them—and Turkey as well. We know that Somalia is pretty ungoverned space. We know the situation in Yemen. Some may have heard David Miliband talking today about the situation in South Sudan. It is impossible to overstate its gravity. We also have on the agenda our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the undoubted risk that a civil war may develop in that country unless there are some very wise heads involved in trying to resolve the situation.
Against this, we face a massive humanitarian crisis. What does it mean for us? In the first instance, we face a major threat of mass migration out of a number of countries. We can see the horrific stories of what is happening in the Mediterranean and of the number of people who are trying out of sheer desperation to get out of where they are to another country. In the Spanish territories adjacent to Morocco people have stormed the barriers. There are supposed to be 300,000 people waiting in Libya to try to find a way out and into Europe. This is going to be our first challenge.
On top of that, the next challenge we face in this country is terrorism. We have recently discussed the Prevent strategy and the role it can play. The question that arises out of this Queen’s Speech is what it means for defence. I simply make this point and will be extremely brief. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord West. I think there is no question that we face a more dangerous situation. I am not a huge enthusiast for aircraft carriers that need substantial escorts out of the very limited number of escorts that we have, and I would like to see more platforms available for their work. I see that it is said today that the National Audit Office is holding up the publication of a report on the reserves. I am very worried indeed about whether the reserve programme and the numbers for the Army are going to come through. In this dangerous and uncertain world, we now need to look very hard at the situation over our defence expenditure.
My Lords, I start by echoing the remarks of the Minister and my noble friend Lady Morgan in congratulating the Government on hosting the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and in helping change global opinion on this issue. I also thank the Foreign Secretary for standing up so strongly for the rights of lesbian and gay people who are facing not only discrimination and anti-gay laws but also increased violence, as we have witnessed in Russia, Uganda and, sadly, on the streets of London, too.
While I remain disappointed that the Government have failed to meet their pledge to legislate, I welcome their achievement in reaching the UN’s target for spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid. I hope this commitment will become an enduring political consensus, but we need to do far more to persuade many of the public. We need to make the case strongly and at every opportunity that development changes and saves lives. We also have to make the argument that development is also in Britain’s best interests. The UK would be much better off growing and trading within a strong global economy with a sustainable climate, supported Governments and secure borders, as the noble Lord, Lord King, argued so strongly in his own contribution.
The worldwide improvement over the past 50 years has been widespread, but too many people have been left behind. Inequality is growing. Seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the past 30 years. Too often, people say that there is a choice between the interests of richer countries and those of the developing world, but we know that improving tax fairness benefits both the developed and the developing world. Climate change, too, affects all of us, rich and poor. The World Bank and the UN have both outlined the serious impact that climate change is already having and will continue to have on achieving our international development goals.
The coalition describes itself as the greenest Government ever, yet says little on climate change these days. It would be helpful to know more about how DfID is ensuring that all of our investments are climate resilient. In advance of the two major UN conferences on climate change and international development next year, it would be good to hear from the Minister how the Government are co-ordinating their engagement on these two opportunities, the outcomes of which are clearly so dependent on one another.
Today, the issue is less about how much we spend and more about how we spend it. Legislation to introduce a public register of beneficial ownership is a positive step in the gracious Speech. It is really important that we increase transparency in company ownership. The best recent estimates suggest that between $21 trillion and $32 trillion in private assets alone are held in tax havens—an estimated 23% to 30% from developing countries. In fact, developing countries lose between $120 billion and $160 billion annually in lost tax revenues due to illicit financial flows. This loss is greater than the entire global aid budget.
Greater transparency in company ownership will make a huge difference in stopping money from being illicitly taken away from developing countries. Labour is committed to restructuring our existing support by, first, doubling the £20 million DfID currently gives to help Governments build up their own tax-collecting capabilities. If successful, we will look at going even further. This is development for the long term, which can pay for itself.
However, if we are to challenge the root causes of inequality in our world, it will mean changes for working people, too. Decent jobs under decent conditions for decent pay are a vital part of development as well. I think we were all shocked to see the revelations of slavery in today’s Guardian. They are truly shocking. This brutal abuse of migrant labour in the name or profit and cheaper food has to stop. That is why Labour will reverse the Government’s decision to withdraw funding from the ILO, and we will work with our international partners like the ITUC to ensure that those who have the will to work hard can have the power to get on. Empowering the powerless is what we will do, and, under Labour, that will be what DfID will stand for.
My Lords, I will talk about something rather different: namely, culture. Frankly, the fact that it has been tacked on to a debate in which the rest of your Lordships are speaking, with great erudition, about more interconnected subjects, is symptomatic of how the DCMS has to struggle to get heard in government. Despite the greatness of this country’s cultural heritage and endeavour, the subject is somehow a poor relation as far as the arena of political debate is concerned. I know that so many noble Lords in this House are interested in culture, but I think that probably about three of us will talk about it today.
However, at least culture has made it as a subject for debate; in the past it has not even done that. I am glad to say that I do not think that that will not happen again, as the contribution of culture to the economy across the multiplicity of areas that are the creative industries has begun to be recognised. Statistics published in January reveal that the UK’s creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year, and that in growth terms they are outperforming all other areas. However, things could be even better. Most creative businesses are small or medium-sized and their business plans involve risk and unpredictability, so they require support in order to achieve their potential.
I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will agree with me that the coalition Government are to be applauded for establishing the industry-led Creative Industries Council, which is also attended by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Secretary of State for BIS. The council has been working on identifying barriers to greater growth and will be launching its industry-led creative industries strategy in July. I hope that the Government will act on its recommendations.
The small businesses Bill will provide an improved framework for small businesses to compete successfully, making it easier to start up a business and to gain finance through innovative new sources of finance such as crowdfunding.
The creative industries are important not just for domestic growth but because they help the UK compete effectively on the world stage. I am lucky enough to be the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Mexico, and have seen that. Two weeks ago I was handing out prizes to young Mexican entrepreneurs who won a trip to the Digital Shoreditch festival and the chance to find out about the opportunities offered by London’s Tech City. Mexico is in the process of undergoing important reforms, and one area—telecoms—opens up great opportunities for the UK. The Mexicans love British television. One of the great aims of the Secretary of State for Culture is to have a Mexican “Downton Abbey”—which, I am afraid to say, and with apologies to ITV, he believes, however often I tell him otherwise, is made by the BBC.
That leads me to another way in which culture plays a crucial role in promoting our nation’s prosperity: through soft power, which was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Cultural diplomacy is a major tool by which others understand who we are, what we stand for and what we offer. The BBC is one of the UK’s leading assets in this area because it is respected as being accurate, impartial and objective—a lens through which we are seen by many abroad. It also acts as an important catalyst to creativity at home. As we all know, charter renewal is upon us. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree that despite recent difficulties the BBC, funded by the licence fee, should be protected and celebrated.
To have great culture and a thriving creative sector, we need the creators, and one of the biggest challenges the creative industries face is retaining expertise while promoting new talent. We have a booming sector with a skills shortage, so the Government are to be congratulated on the fact that apprenticeships in the creative industries have increased by 155% since 2009-10 and are set to increase further next year. The Lib Dems have been the driving force behind this, and we are now working on how to simplify the route for employers to provide such placements.
However—and finally—we need to start earlier. Does my noble friend agree that it is a sad fact that Darren Henley’s review into cultural education, which on its launch was so warmly greeted by the Secretary of State for Education, should two years later be sitting on a shelf rather than being implemented across our schools? Let us get it off the shelf, dust it down and help ensure that the UK’s creative and cultural industries lead the world.
My Lords, ostensibly, few constitutional Bills were listed in the gracious Speech. Apart from the Wales Bill and the recall of Members of Parliament Bill, no others appear obviously constitutional and yet we all know that this year may mark momentous constitutional changes.
I am one of those fortunate people with an Irish, a Scots, a Welsh and an English grandparent. I am a person of the UK. Three of my four grandparents were in uniform in the First World War—the fourth had very young children and was not. Looking ahead, if the majority who will be eligible to vote and do vote in the Scottish referendum vote yes, much will change. For those of us with multiple allegiances this is deeply painful. It is, in effect, like being told that that the family is to be broken up, while being denied voice or vote.
I want to ask the Government about what may prove a deep lacuna in the preparation for the possibility of a yes vote. I say this in spite of having read and profited from the report from the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House. Those fortunate enough to be resident in Scotland, whether Scots or not, will have voice and vote, but who will speak for the rest of the UK? I appreciate the Government’s reasons for not, as the phrase goes, pre-negotiating for something that may not arise, and the report endorses the Government’s position on that point. However, neither government policy nor the report has provided any clarity about who will speak for those UK citizens not resident in Scotland. The Government of Scotland will speak for those resident there and the assumption appears to be that the Government of the UK will speak for those resident in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. This proposal may be convenient, but I believe that it is flawed.
Until the date of independence, whenever that might be, the Government of the UK will remain the Government of Scotland, together with the Government in Edinburgh with their already extensive competences. This is not disputed: it is after all the context of the referendum. Consequently, during the period of any negotiation, the Government of the UK must maintain responsibility for Scotland. I do not think we can expect the Government of the UK to, so to speak, sit on both sides of the negotiating table. At the stage of negotiation, the Government of the UK will not be, as the report helpfully puts it, the Government of “the continuator state”—they will remain the Government of the UK as constituted at present. Only after independence and the constitution of Scotland as a successor state will the Government of the UK become the Government of a continuator state.
It is therefore important to think now about the way in which the interests of those who will, if things proceed to separation, later be citizens of the continuator state are to be represented in any negotiation. There will be difficult matters to be negotiated: the allocation of the national debt; the allocation of oil and gas reserves, which is different from other allocations of fixed assets; the provision and protection of pensions, to say nothing about banking; the provisions for those who study outside the jurisdiction where they have grown up; and the eligibility of researchers resident in Scotland to apply for UK research funding, which means so much for the excellent universities of Scotland.
The report from the Constitution Committee addresses a number of political issues that will arise in any transition, including how to determine the date of exit of Scottish MPs from this Parliament and whether to end the service of Scots judges on the Supreme Court. However, there remains the most basic question of who speaks for whom. Who speaks for England, Northern Ireland and Wales? How do we ensure that those who are to negotiate are not compromised by conflicts of interest because they remain representatives of the Government of the UK as constituted at present?
I should declare a further interest here, in that the outcome of these negotiations is a very particular concern, indeed an anxious concern, to everyone from Northern Ireland, with its close cultural and other ties to Scotland and its still-fragile peace process.
My Lords, I should like to comment on four themes of the Minister’s inspiring opening speech. First, on gender-based violence, I join the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and other noble Lords in commending the Government’s excellent work, in particular that of the Foreign Secretary. As we have heard, gender-based violence is pervasive, not only in the extreme evil of wartime rape but in other appalling examples of oppression that have been mentioned, including recent incidents in Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia and, if I may add, the recent gang rape and subsequent hanging of three young girls in India.
Notable cases have caught public attention, but they are the tip of a dark and deadly iceberg of often hidden harm to women, part and parcel of a wider picture of human rights abuse, societal vulnerability and underdevelopment that needs our persistent attention. It is therefore good that the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014 now means that no matter who is in government, the Department for International Development will have a legal duty to consider gender in its decisions. However, as noted by the International Development Committee in its report last year:
“Too few DFID programmes address the underlying social norms that drive violence”.
I know that these are matters of serious concern to the Secretary of State for International Development, so it would be good to hear from the Minister what steps are planned to intensify the department’s attention to socially sanctioned gender-based violence, including the measures that are being taken to involve grassroots organisations, religious communities among them, in its programming and funding.
Secondly, on freedom of religion and belief, I am grateful for the reference made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, to the persecution of Christians, but of course there are other religious groupings—Baha’is in Iran and Muslims in Burma, to name just two—that also face severe violence and the threat of violence to adhere to majority religious norms. I am very grateful for both the renewed parliamentary attention to issues of religious freedom and the commitment that the Government have shown to protecting this most basic right. However, I am concerned that the Government may be investing too much energy and expectation in the OIC-led initiative on defamation of religions. I hope that the Government are alert to the danger that the concept of defamation of religion may provide a cloak under which a state acts to repress both religions and individuals who, in expressing their own faith and belief, with no intention of offending another faith or inciting hatred, may none the less be perceived to have contravened the tenets of the majority religion.
The third theme is Syria, a land once exemplary in its religious toleration but one where women now suffer the violence of war, including sexually. Three years on, the conflict is a deadly stalemate. The Government’s efforts to alleviate humanitarian needs are commendable but, as they recognise, a political solution remains the only way out of this conflict. I would welcome their view on whether Friends of Syria could do more to discourage the political factionalism that has crippled the Syrian National Council and caused a dangerous separation between the external political leadership, the armed insurgency fighting on their behalf and local communities traumatised by the ravages of war. For Syria to stand a chance of a better future, the international community needs to do more to develop a bottom-up and inclusive peace process. This must include all religious communities. Their voices need to be heard, not marginalised.
Fourthly, there is the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness the Minister, who said that the anniversary struck the chords that define our national identity and should determine our foreign relations: liberty for the enslaved; justice for the oppressed; prosperity and peace for all; reconciliation between enemies; a common commitment to build a better, fairer future; and a determination never to return to the horrors of war between our nations.
These are themes that we have the opportunity to celebrate again with even more vigour in 2015, when we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and acknowledge the trauma of its closing months for armed personnel on every side and for the inhabitants of German and Japanese cities. They are principles of peaceful living and practices for reconciliation that address the deep causes of the oppression of women, the persecution of religious minorities, and of war itself. They give a vision for our role in the world, for which the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, called.
My Lords, I am reminded of how quickly things in life change. One of the most vivid political memories of my life was being at Chequers on that Sunday when Margaret Thatcher first met Mikhail Gorbachev. It was that afternoon when she said those memorable words:
“This is a man with whom I can do business”.
That meeting was the start of what brought an end to the communist-inspired Soviet Union. Now, however, having seen it collapse, we see Mr Putin making continuing efforts to put it all together again. One might say that Humpty Dumpty lives again. I wish to talk about three of his efforts to put it together, and what might be our reaction.
First, Mr Putin has been trying to create an economic Eurasian union. He has already signed up Belarus and Kazakhstan; he did that in Astana a week or two ago. Some of the previously Soviet “stans” and Armenia are already expressing interest in joining. I think it was Hillary Clinton who said, some time ago, that we ought to try to stop it, but I should like to know how we could do so. My view is that there is not much we can do if those countries are willing partners of Mr Putin.
Secondly, and much more alarming, is the way in which he is going about it by military excursions to restore parts of the old empire. He has already done so in Georgia by taking over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are already occupied with Russian military. I suppose that one of Mr Putin’s great ambitions would be to take over the rest of Georgia, and therefore to control the Caspian Sea pipelines that are not under Russian control as regards the movement of hydrocarbons to western Europe. It is crucial that he fails in whatever ambitions he has to take over the rest of Georgia. I want the Minister in the wind-up to tell us about an important situation. That country is very much hoping that, at the Welsh summit in September, NATO will grant Georgia a membership action plan—a MAP, as it is called. What is the Government’s attitude to that? It will be a difficult decision to take.
We are now faced with Mr Putin’s new incursions into Ukraine and his occupation of Crimea. I suppose Moldova and Azerbaijan could be parts of a future Russian occupation. As far as Moldova is concerned, troops are already well established in Transnistria.
In all Mr Putin’s expeditions and ambitions, the West and NATO have shown great reluctance to get involved militarily. Perhaps our decision not to get involved militarily has given Mr Putin fresh encouragement. However, what we must do regarding these military incursions is react with maximum sanctions. Russia has a weak economy and the sanctions will undoubtedly bite. I realise, of course, that some member states of the alliance are unhappy about the provision of Russian gas. It is necessary that we move, as soon as possible, towards making alternative sources of gas available in those countries where it is important.
I give one small example of sanctions. A few weeks ago in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Riga, where I represented the United Kingdom with others in the standing committee, we agreed to throw out the Russians. We were led by an outstanding speech from Sir Menzies Campbell. A decision was taken to take away Russia’s associate status.
I come to my final point, which is the position of NATO. All our allies are protected by Article 5, which provides that an attack on one is an attack on all. There is concern about this in the Baltic states, but we must make it very clear to Mr Putin that any incursion into any NATO state would result in hard force. In the next few months, I hope that Sub-Committee C, under my noble friend Lord Tugendhat, will look into EU relations with Russia. It is one of the most important challenges that face us today.
My Lords, this really is a huge, wide-ranging debate—far too wide-ranging in my view. I do not know how on earth the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will sum it all up, but I am sure all his skills will come into play. There is one thing, at least in my mind, that is very simple about today: there is one issue that is far more important than any of the others that have been discussed, and the issue we will shortly address, which is the future unity of our country.
Having said that, I suppose I should apologise in advance: that is not where I will focus my own few minutes, not least because of one of the contributions in particular, that from my noble friend Lord Reid—although there have been other very good ones as well. My noble friend has made many splendid speeches that I have listened to, but that one took some beating. It was on the weaknesses of the separatist case. It would certainly bear reading or re-reading, I should suggest to anyone who is thinking of doing so.
I am always amused when I hear my good friend Lord Reid speak, and I dare say I will feel similar when my noble friends Lady Liddell and Lord McFall speak. I assume they will address this issue. It is palpably ridiculous to suggest that any of those three and their predecessors, who have presumably been living under the yoke of the union, have somehow become any less Scottish or that their national identity is in any way diminished through all those years of oppression. Presumably I am one of the oppressors; I had not been aware of that, but maybe that is the case. How you can make my noble friend Lord Reid any more of a Scot than he already is is beyond me. Maybe some of the separatists could address those arguments in the period that lies ahead.
I want to use a text on other constitutional issues. My text is from the Queen’s Speech:
“My Government will continue its programme of political reform”.
What political reform? The grandiose schemes for political reform, as outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister shortly after the coalition agreement was signed, were,
“the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century. The biggest shake up of our democracy since … the Great Reform Act”.
I think that might have been a mild overstatement, but I am happy to say that his attempts at constitutional reform have been largely unsuccessful. I think, for example, of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act. Some people worked pretty hard not to get that on to the statute book. We would have saved a lot of money had people listened to us. I do not have a problem with equalising constituency sizes—that is a perfectly laudable, principled thing to do—but I do have a problem with telling the British people that at the next general election they will have only 600 and not 650 MPs. That would diminish democracy by increasing constituency sizes. I am glad at least that that has been postponed, I hope for good.
I am glad that in the end we had a referendum on the alternative-vote system. It cost £75 million, which we could have spent on other things, but at least the result was terrific and showed British support for the first past the post system. That is something we could certainly adopt for the European elections. Last month we saw the wonderful new PR system that was going to encourage people to flock to the polls as it would give them the chance to express their vote. However, yet again we saw a low turnout for a European vote. Maybe one little bit of constitutional reform that we could have would be to revert to first past the post, and perhaps then we would even get the turnout up to the 36.5% that was achieved the last time the vote was held on the first past the post basis. That would help to reconnect Europe with the people of Britain.
The other great constitutional objective was Lords reform. My word, we gave enough warnings on that, but still the Government ploughed ahead for two years, wasting a lot of money. I checked that in a ministerial Question. The amount was £620,000. Five to 12 civil servants worked on it flat out, all to no avail, and they could not even find an answer to the question, “What would a ‘democratically’ elected second Chamber do to relations between the two Houses?”. All the brains in the top ranks of the Civil Service and all the Ministers could not answer that fundamental question satisfactorily. That is why that reform fell and deserved to fall, and I was very pleased about that.
Given that constitutional reform did not happen at a national level, I am glad that at a local level the mayoral referendums flopped as well. They were an attempt to import some American system of government into this country. There were 10 referendums, which cost us a lot of money as well—£2.1 million. I am happy to say that in nine of those referendums the people, including the good people of Birmingham, sensibly said, “No thanks very much. We don’t want that”.
We have mentioned police and crime commissioners, but I will end on the one reform that is still, for my book, unfinished business: the fixed-term Parliaments legislation. What a disaster that has been. Here we are plodding along. If only the Prime Minister—he is not my Prime Minister, obviously—had the power to say, “Look, we’ve had enough of this. Let’s see what the people think”. However, as we did for the last six months of the previous Session, we have to plod on.
I think that the lesson on constitutional reform has been that all these grandiose schemes really were not worth the paper they were, rather expensively, written on. I am glad that there is nothing like them in the current Queen’s Speech, but I hope that future Governments learn that lesson.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, representing as he does so powerfully the radical and reformist view of the Labour Party.
Europe has been the source and fountainhead of all the really great political ideas and philosophies that we observe: democracy, liberalism, socialism and communism. I was going to say “conservatism”, but somehow I stop short of calling conservatism a political philosophy. Maybe that is wrong and I mean no insult to my coalition friends. Over time, Europe has given birth to all these great ideas that dominate our time. Seventy years ago it gave birth to another one—arguably its greatest, or at least one of its greatest.
After a thousand years of soaking our continent in blood and, by the way, exporting by proxy those wars on to other people’s territory and spilling other people’s blood elsewhere, we decided that it was time to do things in a different way—that Europe would be characterised not by war but by co-operation between the nations of Europe; that we would pool our sovereignties to give us better protection in a hostile and difficult world; and that we would call time on the theory of great powers having the right to suppress the futures and democratic will of smaller nations if they happened to fall within their spheres of influence. And so the European Union and the concept of Europe was established.
At the very moment when each of these threats is no less and some are greater, it is curious and sad that Europe is in such disarray and the cause of Europe is threatened by those who wish to see us retreat towards European isolationism, not just in Britain but elsewhere. This country is now in danger of sleepwalking straight out of the European Union from which it can benefit so much. We should understand the reasons for that. The European Union institutions have not succeeded in taking that transcendental idea and converting it into institutions that work and are functional.
As we know, there are faults in Europe and the European Union. The Prime Minister is right that Brussels interferes far too much in our lives, but so does Westminster. That is a case for reform, not for abolition. The European Union is dysfunctional. I do not need to be told because I know: I was at the front end of the European foreign policy machine in Bosnia. I was told that trying to do things in Bosnia was like herding cats but it was not half as difficult as herding the cats behind me in Brussels. But this institution can be dysfunctional, too. That is a case for reform and not for abandonment.
The European Union is insufficiently democratic. We have failed to create a proper democratic polity, but are we in Britain able to lecture the European Union on the failure of democracy? Sometimes I find it very curious to listen to noble Lords castigating the European Union for a failure of democracy when they come from a Chamber that has no visible connection with democracy whatever. Indeed, that is a cause for reform, but it is not a cause for abolition.
There are two reasons why this idea cannot be allowed to die and why we must do whatever we can to make it functional and working. First, we live in a global world as never before. We separate domestic issues from international ones, but there is no separation: there is no longer any domestic issue that does not have an international quotient, which includes our jobs, our economy, our environment, crime on our streets and our defence. You will not achieve for the British people what you want in a globalised world unless you are prepared to have a sensible policy that gives you influence on the global world. The only way we can do that is by working with our European partners.
I am a passionate pro-European because I understand the European Union is the only way that I have any hope of delivering to the British people the things that I want them to have: that is, jobs, security and defence, and influence in the world that means that we will be able to shape the world’s institutions rather than be shaped by others. Defence, security, the environment and crime on our streets all require co-operation in the modern global world with our other partner nations.
However, there is another reason why we must set our hand to the task of reform, as the Government have done. I do not agree with the Prime Minister on everything that he says but I agree with the thrust. If we do not realise how much the terms of trade of our existence in Europe have changed in the past 10 years, we are bloody fools. We no longer have an Atlantic partner on which we can rely to be our friend in all circumstances and our defender of last resort. America is now looking west across the Pacific as much as east across the Atlantic. We have global economic powers which are bigger than any of the single powers of Europe. They will shape the new institutions and the trading institutions of the world for their advantage. We cannot hope to have an influence on that unless we combine with our European partners.
We now have on our eastern borders a Russian President who is prepared to use tanks and to resurrect the Brezhnev doctrine, and threatens to bring back the idea of great powers that are able to sublimate the will and freedoms of their people if they do not happen to agree with their concept of what their sphere of influence would be. We have to our south a chaotic, dangerous Maghreb and Arab world. If we do not understand that in these new changed circumstances the right reaction for Europe is to deepen the institutions of its foreign affairs, defence and political institutions, we are bloody fools.
If it is the case that we seriously believe that, in the face of these threats, the right response for our country is to retreat individually to the perfect sovereignty of corks floating around behind other people’s ocean liners, then help yourselves. But, in a very turbulent and difficult world, the decades ahead would be much more turbulent and difficult, and much less to the benefit of the people whom we are supposed to serve.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure and a difficulty to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. I agree with much of what he said. However, I wish to address a particular issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord King, that of Ukraine. If I could catch the Minister’s attention, I would remind her that she told us in her speech that we deprecated the attack on Crimea and the destabilisation of the Donbass and that we welcomed President Poroshenko’s election. I agreed with all that. What I did not hear from her was a policy or a strategy. Sanctions are a very useful support for a strategy but not a substitute for one. I would like to hear a little more about what we are trying to achieve and how we are going about it.
Like the noble Lord, Lord King, I do not think one can approach this without talking to Mr Putin. We need to know what he wants. If Mr Putin wants to break up Ukraine, and really meant that new doctrine about Novorossiya, then there is no deal to be done. If he really means that Ukraine must have no relationship with the European Union, then there is no deal to be done. However, I do not think that even he believes that the association agreement with the European Union prevents a grown-up trade relationship between Ukraine and Russia—which of course it does not. It permits Ukraine to have as many other free trade areas as it likes, and the Russians did not object during the four years in which it was negotiated between Ukraine and the European Union. It is the customs union into which the Russians have spatchcocked Belarus and Kazakhstan that creates the incompatibility, because in that customs union those three countries—Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus—have conferred negotiating powers on the centre, and none of them can now form a free trade agreement with, say, Ukraine or the European Union. However, Mr Putin knows all that. I do not know what he really wants and it surely is an important policy aim to find out.
Last time we talked about Ukraine, I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who presided over the debate, that it might be worth his thinking about talking to Mr Poroshenko and to Mr Putin about the precedent of the Austrian state treaty. The noble Lord gave me a rather dismissive brush-off at the time. I will just make eight quick points in the hope that his doppelganger, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, might be prepared to ask the brilliant young women in the Box for a considered reaction this time. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for the tautology, as all young women in the Foreign Office are brilliant by definition. I will not say that all people from the Foreign Office are brilliant, for obvious reasons, but the young women are extremely brilliant.
First, the Austrians took the initiative and negotiated the treaty in 1955 with the Russians. Secondly, it was premised on the neutrality of Austria. President Poroshenko is not asking to join NATO, although he is saying that he wants Ukraine to join the European Union one day. Thirdly, it guaranteed the rights of the minority communities in Austria. Fourthly, it prohibited Nazi organisations. Fifthly, it left Austria free to negotiate its own external relations, and 40 years later Austria joined the European Union. Sixthly, it prohibited foreign troop deployments or bases, and 40,000 Soviet troops left within a month. Seventhly, outside powers, including us, were brought in as guarantors and nobody lost face. Eighthly, it worked—to the benefit of Austria and all of us.
If Mr Poroshenko means what he said in his inauguration speech, the points that he raised would be covered in an agreement along the lines of the Austrian state treaty. And it seems not inconceivable that even Mr Putin might be prepared to accept that he could follow a precedent set by Mr Molotov. This is a shot in the dark—I do not know—and there may be many better ways of achieving conflict prevention and resolution in Ukraine. However, we have to try. It is not enough to threaten and say, again and again, “There will be consequences”. We need to talk to the Russians, talk to the Ukrainians and see whether a solution can be brought about. That is my recommendation.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Grocott knows me only too well. I would love to put in my tuppenceworth on Ukraine and the EU but I have a distinct sense that my country needs me at the moment—but maybe it thinks otherwise.
In his excellent contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said that there was a sense of a creeping estrangement within the United Kingdom, largely because of what was happening in Scotland. He is absolutely right and I had intended to raise his concept of a constitutional convention in the course of my remarks today. We have a situation in Scotland where there are now proposals from the three main parties on further devolution. The time is right to re-establish the Scottish constitutional convention to bring in civic Scotland, secular Scotland, religious Scotland and political Scotland together to look at how we move to the next stage of devolution. However, there are many other issues that we have to address and this sense of estrangement really troubles me.
In his excellent speech, my noble friend Lord Reid referred to something that has happened in the past 24 hours—a vicious attack on a young woman, Clare Lally, who had the temerity to voice the arguments for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom. Part of the campaign against Ms Lally came from someone who, it turns out, is a special adviser to the First Minister, Alex Salmond, someone paid for by the taxpayer. Mr Gunn, a former journalist, has now apologised to Ms Lally but we now know that the social media campaign against her has been so vicious that she has been reduced to tears. She is the mother of two, one of whom is disabled, and she is a carer of the year. Sometimes when you hold high office you have to show leadership. The First Minister has to show leadership—he needs to sack this man. It is a test not only of Mr Salmond as First Minister but of Mr Salmond the man.
Some of us learnt today that JK Rowling has made a donation of £1 million to the no campaign. Set that against the £5.5 million donated to the yes campaign by a couple who won £161 million in the Euro lottery. The reason I mention Ms Rowling is that if anyone looks at the Twitter feed today they will be appalled. I cannot repeat some of the things that have been said. It contains words that I have never used nor ever will use. The politest—and I apologise to your Lordships’ if I cause offence—is where what purports to be a Scottish charity tweets that JK Rowling is a bitch for her Better Together campaign donation. This is a shame on my country and I am appalled. I urge the First Minister to stand up for the decent people of Scotland who will have nothing to do with this.
Turning to some of the other issues, I am not used to buying men’s magazines but I did buy GQ—partly to see what Mr Salmond had said about Vladimir Putin. However, I came across something even more interesting. Mr Salmond has said that, apart from going into monetary union with sterling, there is no plan B. In the GQ article he says that not only does he have a plan B but a plan C, D, E and F. Why are we not being told what plans B, C, D, E and F are? He was challenged two weeks ago to give his figures for the costs of starting up a new machinery of government in Scotland. He plucked out of the air the figure of £200 million. Well, tell that to the Department for Work and Pensions, which spent that much just on the pilot for universal credit. We need answers. It is insulting to the people of Scotland not to give us answers to these questions.
It has already been said by the three main parties that there will be no sterling union. Of course there will be no sterling union. It would be absurd for the rest of the UK to be prepared to bail out a foreign country, which is what Scotland would become, with a liability in its banking sector that is 12.5 times its GDP. I do not mis-speak: it is 12.5 times GDP. That would be barking mad. What is more, it would not be independence. The truly independent way is to have our own currency with our own monetary and fiscal policy and our own exchange rate. We need the truth and we need answers.
I would love to go on for longer, but come 18 September, I will be delighted if I do not have to raise this issue in your Lordships’ House again. I believe that the antipathy, anger, venom and bile that we are experiencing in this campaign, largely but not exclusively from the cybernats and from those in the yes campaign, is a sign that the people of Scotland realise that we are proud Scots who can make our contribution to the United Kingdom, have made our contribution to the United Kingdom and will, please God, continue to do so.
My Lords, in the debate on the Queen’s Speech last year, I said:
“Unless those of us who are pro-Europe are able to convince the rest of our colleagues in Europe to take seriously what needs to be done”—
on a series of issues—
“our people will not be persuaded that Europe is a viable entity”.—[Official Report, 15/5/13; col. 441.]
That would be the ultimate tragedy. We have not succeeded, and I think that we have not even gone the right way about trying to persuade our people. All the talk of jobs, the economy, currencies and our standing in the world is not very persuasive, and furthermore it was not the purpose of the European project. The European project was to ensure that we did not go back to killing each other, as one of my noble friends said earlier in this debate.
I find it astonishing that during a period when we have centenaries and other anniversaries to remind us of what we did to each other in Europe in the last century, we seem to have failed completely to address the need to connect the young people of this generation not just with the sacrifices made by those of previous generations, but with the reason for those sacrifices, and thus the reason that the European project is crucial to ensuring that the next generation does not have to make the same kinds of sacrifice all over again. I plead with the Government to look again at the approach they have taken to the European question and to recognise the tremendous opportunity not to use these anniversaries, but to acknowledge that they are being commemorated to ensure that we do not return to war again.
However, it will not be enough just to persuade and argue. For us to attack Mr Putin or other parties is completely futile. We threaten that all sorts of dreadful things will happen, but we do not make the materiel available to ensure that we could do anything. A week or so ago I came back from Helsinki. My friends there are increasingly worried that while NATO can make all sorts of promises about what it might do, it does not have the capacity to intervene anywhere at all from the military point of view—and Mr Putin knows that perfectly well. There is no evidence that anyone in Europe is taking this seriously. We have less and less capacity to defend ourselves without our American friends, so are we taking it seriously?
Last year, I spoke of the Middle East and said:
“I desperately hope that when we come to debate the Queen’s Speech next year we will not do so in the context of some kind of catastrophic conflagration that has developed from the situation in the Middle East, because we are perilously close to it”.—[Official Report, 15/5/13; col. 442.]
The word “conflagration” is precisely the one that was used by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater. He pointed out that the danger is not just in the Middle East itself. He said that it is from Mumbai to Mali. He is right, but Mumbai and Mali are not just “over there” faraway places: they are here in our own towns and cities, where many people look at what is happening to their friends, families and co-religionists and feel moved to act and react. This is not a question simply of foreign policy; it is increasingly a question of domestic policy. If we do not find ways of paying more attention to how we deal with these matters, we will be facing them in an increasingly serious and dangerous way.
Finally, I turn to Scotland and Northern Ireland. If the First Minister, Mr Salmond, has his way, Scotland will be a separate country and, if he has his way, a part of the EU. If Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom, the possibility of a referendum within the United Kingdom to leave the EU would be much greater, in my view. The border between England and Scotland would become not just an English-Scottish border but an EU border. Furthermore, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—a border we have increasingly been trying to address through the peace process, to make it more open to people—would become an EU border. Whatever the consequences may be on this side of the water, I have to tell your Lordships of my anxiety about what developments of that kind would do to a fragile peace process on my side of the water within the United Kingdom. These are serious issues as well, so serious that they are not simply matters of the Scots and for the Scots—they affect all of us.
All these issues are related. UKIP is not a United Kingdom issue: look at the results of the elections in the rest of Europe and you will see other parties with similar unpleasant, xenophobic, racist attitudes developing in other parts of the European Union. This blowing apart, this mood that is developing of being against the other and turning in on oneself, is not a local matter, it is not a national matter, it is not even just a European matter, but it is a matter that could take us down the road to serious violence, for which I believe we are ill prepared.
It worries me greatly that with matters of this consequence, our Government decide that we should have a one-day debate with more than 80 speakers to address these issues, which could take us down a road leading we know not where. I hope that my ministerial friend will be able to tell us at the end of today that we will have the kind of time that our Government need to take the advice of your Lordships’ House on matters of this danger and consequence.
My Lords, I should like to move the focus towards Israel and Palestine, where the merciless blockade of Gaza continues, while east Jerusalem and the West Bank remain under occupation and colonial settlements grow daily, in direct contravention of international law. The failure of the Kerry round of negotiations must mean that that drift cannot continue indefinitely. Nearly 50 years of occupation is unacceptable, as is the failure to provide a decent future for the many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The status quo is not in the interests of Israel and its neighbours, or of the so-called international community.
That the status quo is unacceptable is not just my opinion. It was stated very clearly by Pope Francis during his recent visit to the Middle East. The Arab League realised this 12 years ago. It is high time that the rest of the world came to that conclusion. Israel could be a partner and a technological guide to the whole region, but for that to happen it will have to change its policies radically. I urge the United States, the EU and all other states of good will to help Israel to make the necessary change of direction. Zionism can no longer aspire to own the whole of mandated Palestine.
On the Palestinian side, I am glad to say that there is some good news. Very recently, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas reached a reconciliation agreement. This, therefore, was more than an agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The PLO claims to speak for the whole Palestinian people and will be able to do so more convincingly as the agreement is implemented. I was interested that the PLO delegation included my acquaintance and friend, Dr Mustafa Barghouti. He established the Palestinian Health Ministry and represents a non-aligned and non-sectarian part of public opinion. What is more, he is totally committed to non-violence.
The Hamas delegation included the Prime Minister and others who have worked hard to maintain successive ceasefires in Gaza. Cynics may say that there have been previous agreements and that they have not worked. On the contrary, this agreement, the text of which I have seen, builds on the Doha declaration and the Cairo agreement. It contains seven points, the second of which provides for a Government of national consensus. This has now been formed as a caretaker to prepare and oversee elections within six months. There will be a legislature for the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, a President and the Palestinian National Council. The remaining points deal with the implementation of the earlier agreements.
The agreement acknowledges the help given by the Government of Egypt, but we should note that this agreement was not made under intense external pressure, as happened before. The agreement will help to reduce the huge disparity in power that harmed previous Palestine-Israel negotiations. The elections will give democratic legitimacy to a new Government and answer the taunts that Israel has no valid interlocutor.
I therefore ask Her Majesty’s Government: what is their response to the Palestinian agreement and the new Government? Some in Israel and in Congress have condemned it unseen and unheard. I urge Ministers to remember the missed opportunities of the past. Will they give this new departure their fullest support? It certainly deserves it.
My Lords, first, I compliment her Majesty’s Treasury on what it has achieved for our economy; secondly, I compliment those associated with welfare reform, in particular, my noble friend Lord Freud, on what his department has achieved.
I wish I could say that I complimented her Majesty’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I regret that I am not in a position to do so. I did not support our actions in Libya or our manoeuvrings in Egypt. I was totally against our policy in Syria, and wrote to the Prime Minister accordingly. All those actions have just destabilised that part of the world—and, worse, caused thousands of deaths and millions of refugees. The Syria war was from the start nothing to do with democracy; it was the fourth Sunni-Shia internal war. If we really want peace there, Her Majesty’s Government have to find a means of talking to and working with Mr Putin and Russia.
It will not surprise your Lordships that I want to say a few words about Sri Lanka. I have been involved with that country for more than 50 years, and I think I know its ins and outs pretty well. I am the elected leader of the all-party group. I do not support any particular ethnic group, political party or Government. I have no business interests there—but I do fervently support the ordinary people in Sri Lanka and I wish to ask a few questions of Her Majesty’s Government.
First, Sri Lanka—a former colony, a founder member of the Commonwealth and one of the few countries that supported the United Kingdom over the Falklands situation—finds today that we, the United Kingdom, are exceedingly unhelpful to it. Why is it that we are so anti the democratically elected Government? Why can we not work with them? Why at every turn must we just listen to the vociferous diaspora, which is usually led by former Tamil Tigers? Why do we not understand that the Tigers were terrorists who murdered every moderate Tamil leader they could find, along with two presidents and thousands of other Sri Lankans—all in the cause of a separate state called Eelam. It was rather similar to Pol Pot.
Can we not understand that after 28 years of fruitless negotiations, it was necessary for a new, democratically elected Government to act to destroy the Tigers? Yes, that meant a bloody war, as the Tigers refused to surrender. However, I know that that Government tried hard to minimise casualties. Why do we refuse to publish the dispatches from our own defence attaché, who was an objective assessor? Why do we think that the Sri Lankan army, which we helped to train, is so different from our own Army? After all, there were allegations against our Army in Iraq, as there were against the Sri Lankan army. I think that in both cases they were highly suspect. Certainly in the case of Iraq, they proved to be bogus.
Do I think that there should be an inquiry into the final days of the war? Yes, I do, but it should be a military inquiry, because all the argument is basically about gunfire et cetera. A retired general should conduct it, perhaps from Australia. There is a wonderful Sri Lankan, Sir Desmond de Silva, who has done splendid work in Northern Ireland. There would need to be a gunnery officer, probably from the UK, and obviously somebody from the UN.
It is claimed that the whole issue is about human rights, but I will take just one aspect. I saw the head of the ICRC in Boossa camp and asked him, “Have you, the International Committee of the Red Cross, ever come across terror as defined internationally?”. The answer I got was, “No, I have not and nor have my staff”. How is it, then, that this new group called Freedom from Torture can come up and say that it is rife?
I make a plea that we should work diplomatically with Sri Lanka. That may mean a slightly less subservient approach to the Tamil diaspora and the media around the world. It will mean that the reconciliation, which is already happening, will be speeded up. In what way? They have been very brave in bringing forward trilingualism, which is quite an achievement. Thousands of Tamils have gone back from all over the world to Sri Lanka and settled down quite peacefully. There is total freedom of movement in the country and while there is a lot of criticism of the press, there is actually more freedom of the press in Sri Lanka than in Singapore. Certainly, the LLRC inquiry is slow—but not half as slow as Chilcot has been.
I finish on this note. Over the weekend, I sat and listened to the words of President Obama. He said that we,
“waged war so that we might know peace”.
Why is it any different in Sri Lanka, where so many thousands of young men and women across all ethnic groups gave their lives to rid their country of terrorism?
My Lords, my speech on the Scottish issue will be vigorous and a statistics-free zone. While I recognise the centrality of the economy—not least the currency, which I have mentioned previously—I want to focus on what we have built together these past 307 years and what we may lose if we wake up as foreigners to each other on 19 September. Have no doubt that both of us will be diminished: Scotland in terms of its trade and investment, prosperity and security, and the rest of the United Kingdom in its global authority and position in the world—not least with multinational bodies—and its leadership role, where it has been a beacon as a liberal and harmonious society to many developing and emerging countries.
My simple message today is that all of us need to engage in the national conversation, where warmth and friendship dominate. Let us minimise the abuse and the bitterness so eloquently expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, who mentioned the abuse encountered by JK Rowling and Clare Lally, a former constituent of mine. We need to elevate this discussion to include what is good, valued and treasured in our relationship in which we have worked together for more than 300 years. However, being Scots, reality must prevail. In my view Simon Schama correctly assessed the situation when he wrote in an article in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago that the UK is a,
“splendid mess of a union”,
but one which we tear asunder at our peril. He went on to assert that there will be,
“incredulous sorrow at the loss of our common home … A psychological wound will open that is unlikely to heal for a very long time”.
Why should there be sorrow? It is because we have seen the friendships enabled by the union outweigh its enmities. That great Scot Adam Smith introduced a concept of sympathy in 1759 in The Theory of Moral Sentiments which he defined as the capacity to enter into an experience of someone not necessarily like you. In his opinion this was the fundamental principle around which just societies, as well as rich ones, evolved. That has been the history of the United Kingdom.
The very exciting Scottish actor James McAvoy appeared on the “The Andrew Marr Show” two weeks ago. He would not be drawn on how he would vote but in my view he went to the core of the issue when he said that if it matters to your heart and you look at yourself in the mirror and it is important to be separate from people down the road, then you should vote for independence. Therefore, if one needs to jettison the unionist part of one’s soul in order fully to express one’s Scottishness, the only option is to vote yes. However, most of us are content to live with our multilayered identities. Indeed, even Alex Salmond stated as late as January this year that being British was part of his identity.
All my life I have been resident in Scotland but I have lived in England and Ireland and have visited Wales many times. Never have I felt that I was among others who differed fundamentally from me in terms of culture and values. I was struck by differences in background, wealth and political philosophy but those same differences exist within Scotland as they do elsewhere.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, who has first-hand knowledge of colonialism in India, and, indeed, is a former professor of Glasgow University, expressed the issue succinctly in a previous debate when he described the UK as a liberal democracy and,
“a beautiful synthesis of English liberalism and the Scottish sense of community and solidarity”.—[Official Report, 30/1/14; col. 1422.]
The First Minister has said:
“Scotland is not oppressed and we have no need to be liberated”.
He also said:
“Ours is a lucky nation, blessed with natural resources, bright people and a united society. We have an independent education system, legal system and NHS. They are respected worldwide”.
I say “hear, hear” to that. The question I ask Mr Salmond is, “Why divorce?”. Has any of us experienced a painless or good divorce? Absolutely not, so why are we going through this possibly painful experience?
In his poem Mending Wall, the eminent US poet Robert Frost wrote:
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence”.
We are all walled in presently but, before we wall some out and perhaps needlessly give offence, we need to converse about our common home—the UK—in order that we continue to walk together rather than walking apart and ensure that on 19 September we will engage as fellow citizens rather than as foreigners.
My Lords, there are many achievements of the coalition that are to its credit, but not the Prime Minister’s policy towards Europe and, in particular, his commitment to a referendum in 2017. Its folly was exposed in a debate in this House in January, when we debated the Private Member’s Bill on a referendum. What is the policy and what has been Mr Cameron’s strategy? It is for a major repatriation of powers, which would involve treaty change, and after a new deal had been done that would be submitted to a referendum in 2017. I apologise for repeating some of the arguments made in January, but they were never answered and they are of extreme importance.
In 2017, it would be the referendum year and so not exactly the year in which to conclude a very difficult deal. The process of negotiation was completely ignored: there would first need to be a vote for a convention, then there would have to be a unanimous vote for an intergovernmental conference and anything that it unanimously recommended as a deal would have to be ratified by the different countries, in many cases by a referendum. There is not a cat’s chance in hell of achieving all this within two and a half years of the next election, so what would happen? In March, to his credit, the Prime Minister somewhat modified his aims in an article in the Daily Telegraph in order to avoid a treaty change and some of the difficulties mentioned.
There are two obstacles to his policy now. The first question is whether the Conservative Party, which especially after the next election is likely to be even more anti-European or Europhobe than many of its members are now, would accept the modified proposal and less ambitious aims. Secondly, the timetable problem will not in any way be resolved, because there cannot be a special deal for Britain only. It would have to be a Europe-wide deal. There is no support whatever in any country for a special deal for Britain.
It is true that there are many people who want changes in Europe. The difficulty is that they all want rather different changes. To take one small example, Sweden wants to repeal the ban on chewing tobacco and the restoration of wolves. More seriously, the French want more protection for their agriculture and, generally, not more free trade and they are very set on a social Europe, whereas many people want to modify, for example, the working time directive. The five years it took to secure our budget rebate after hard negotiation would be a doddle compared to getting 28 nations together to agree a new deal for Europe.
Further, the Prime Minister needs allies, because he has a lot of support for some of the things he seeks, and he has consistently made difficulties for allies so that they can hardly support us. He gratuitously alienated the Poles, the Romanians and the Bulgarians, and he has made life very difficult for Angela Merkel because he keeps threatening that if we do not get what we want, we will leave, and more and more voices are being raised in Europe which say, “If you threaten to leave, for God’s sake go. Good riddance”.
What then would be the consequence if there was no deal or only a cosmetic deal of the kind which the Conservative Party after 2015 is unlikely to accept? The result would be that, if there is a Conservative overall majority at the next election, the odds are on exit because if Cameron, despite not having a deal, says he will still recommend that we stay in, the party would replace him with a more Europhobe Prime Minister. If he has changed his mind, as sometimes he has hinted, and would then say we should leave, what would be the result? The odds would then be on exit because you would have an anti-European Government, a stridently hostile anti-European press and a significant UKIP influence. That would be completely different from the situation in 1975, when all three parties were united in favour of staying in, the press was in favour of staying in and there was no mood of poisonous xenophobia created by UKIP.
The issue is not the principle of a referendum, because the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are in favour of a referendum if there is a major treaty change and a new deal has been reached. Then it should be put to the people because we will know what sort of Europe we are asked to stay in or leave. What I do not understand is why pro-Europeans ignore these arguments. The principle is not that of the referendum but of the question of timing.
My Lords, the Government and the Foreign Secretary deserve to be congratulated for the commitment that they have made to combating violence against women. The House can take real pride in the role that the Minister of State, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, has taken in demonstrating that gender, talent and faith can be great assets while holding high office.
How very different the situation is in Nigeria, where Boko Haram—which means “eradicate western education”—can abduct and kill with impunity. How very different the situation is in Sudan, which incarcerates a woman and sentences her to death on trumped-up charges of adultery and apostasy. How very different the situation is in Pakistan, where a brave and courageous schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot for defying the Taliban’s opposition to education for girls; a country disfigured by honour killings, blasphemy laws and impunity in the face of the assassination of its courageous Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, whose killers have still not been brought to justice.
The jihadists, from Boko Haram to Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, hold a common, distorted ideology, which festers in poverty, hates difference and exploits grievance. For majorities, such as women, or for followers of minority faiths, life is often a living hell. Last week, the charity Open Doors said that, today, one Christian is martyred every three hours. On 31 May, the Times, in a powerful leading article, said:
“Western politicians until now have been reluctant to speak out … We cannot be spectators at this carnage”.
When they are not being murdered, they are being forced to pay extortionate jizya tax—protection money—to leave or to die, like the two men who were recently crucified by ISIS in Syria. I was given an account only today from Syrian refugees who are in Jordan, unable to pay a ransom. The head of the family was kidnapped and executed.
Last night, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord King, and my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup, Mosul fell to ISIS. Not surprisingly, overnight, 120,000 Christians were reported to have fled from Mosul to the plains of Nineveh. When he comes to reply, I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will tell us what is being done to protect those people who are fleeing from the depredations of ISIS.
I also hope that the noble and learned Lord will update us on the plight of the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April in north-east Nigeria, along with 20 more women abducted this week. I hope that he will also answer the question left partially unanswered yesterday when I raised the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman sentenced to 100 lashes and execution, and forced to give birth while shackled in her prison cell. I asked if we would unambiguously offer Meriam Ibrahim and her two little ones asylum and refugee status in this country, demonstrating our values against the values of those who have perpetrated what, for me, is the real crime.
Sudan’s archaic, cruel and medieval laws have also led to Intisar Sharif Abdallah being sentenced to death by stoning and to Lubna Hussein being sentenced to lashing for dressing indecently—that is, for wearing trousers. According to Al-Jazeera, in Sudan in one recent year, 43,000 women were publicly flogged. As we have seen in Darfur, where an additional 600,000 IDPs in the past year have brought the number of displaced people to more than 2.2 million, and in the genocidal campaign in South Kordofan, this is a corrupt Government which uses Sharia to prey on the weak and to kill its own people.
Three months ago, Sudan suspended the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In April, it expelled a senior official of the United Nations. When did we last raise these questions in the Security Council? This, after all, is a country which signed up to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is not worth the paper on which it is written as far as Sudan is concerned. We have to be clear about the implications when a radicalised view of Islam comes to prevail and when democracy, modernity and secularism are seen as spectres—the implications are there of course for the United Kingdom too.
The noble Baroness represents an alternative approach based on plurality, tolerance, decency and common humanity. I have previously argued in your Lordships’ House that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be at the heart of such an approach and, indeed, of our foreign policy, and should inform every aspect of the positions that we strike. The implementation of the declaration should be the goal of our foreign policy and a condition of both aid and support.
I will end with one final example. I have chaired the All-Party Group on North Korea for 10 years. Earlier this year, the United Nations commission of inquiry, chaired by Mr Justice Kirby, said of North Korea:
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”.
If that is so, why have we done nothing so far to ensure that the findings in that commission of inquiry report have been laid before the Security Council?
My Lords, the European Union does not help itself by issuing pettifogging regulations on the roundness of oranges or the shape of tomatoes, nor by its burgeoning bureaucracy. For the future, its leadership must mirror its membership. It is not acceptable in the present economic climate—at least in mainland Europe—that the President of the Commission should be without direct experience of a complex, mixed economy. But whoever the leaders of Europe are, they must be sensitive to the recent rise of nationalism, racism and other prejudice.
My sister Renata Calverley’s book, Let Me Tell You a Story, published last year, is her searing recollection of her extraordinary survival as a two to seven year-old child fugitive, hiding from the Nazis in Poland day by day and just about surviving. Families such as ours were more than decimated by the Second World War—by prejudice, totalitarianism and nationalism. However, unlike my sister, I was born after the Second World War, and I have never had to do military service in any form, save as a less than distinguished army cadet at school. I have had over 65 peaceful years—and why is that? It is because—and we should remember this as central to the reasons for having the European Union—the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Netherlands and now Poland, the country we let down the most in the 1930s, and other countries, are part of the same political organisation. We share and solve issues together and confront nationalism and prejudice. Those are the vials that contain the precious essence of our past and future security. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said earlier, of course we should reform the European Union on its merits. However, we abandon the European Union at our peril and at the risk of European peace and security.
I turn to Iran and Iraq—the register refers to my interests in this connection. Iran has committed more human rights violations this year than ever before. President Rouhani and the theocratic mullahs he serves routinely execute—in public and usually from cranes—people who do no more than I am about to do now: question my own Government’s policy. The mullahs exert sinister and sometimes dominant influence on the disastrously falling Government of Iraq; we read today of terrorists marching towards Baghdad. That has led to the abandonment of any pretence of protection in Iraq for the Iranian opposition resident in Camp Liberty. Murder and deprivation are now regularly imposed upon Camp Liberty, and the state of Iran is behind it.
My point for the Minister is that it is unprincipled and unwise to decouple human rights from nuclear issues in talks with Iran. Iran is a rogue state—we should not forget that. Rouhani is no Gorbachev, though there are some world leaders who appear to believe that he is. Without a clear demonstration of change in their approach to political and religious freedoms, those who rule Iran must not be trusted in any other sphere, including the nuclear. As I said earlier, we abandon Europe at our peril, but in relation to Iran and Iraq we abandon principle at the price of innocent lives.
My Lords, it will be immediately evident to your Lordships that I am not the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I am grateful to the noble Earl and the Whips’ Office for accommodating my need to be elsewhere when I would have come up for my original turn on the speakers list.
I am pleased to follow so many powerful speeches urging a stand against barbarism in other parts of the world, and that I am able for once to make a speech that welcomes the course of government policy and action. Two months ago, on 10 April, the International Development Select Committee published its 11th report on disability and development. For too long disability has been overlooked in the UK’s and other countries’ international aid and humanitarian efforts, so I very much welcome the report. Its recommendations are comprehensive and far-reaching and I very much hope that the Government will respond positively to them. This is an opportunity for the UK Government once again to show leadership in the field of international development by supporting people who are frequently the most deprived and marginalised.
I have been heartened to see the lead being given by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Lynne Featherstone, to ensure that disabled people are included in all development programmes being led and funded by DfID. Her announcements on funding the construction of accessible schools only and on taking the lead on addressing the need for more data on disability globally are a most welcome start.
As your Lordships will know, we are at a crucial moment for development as Governments debate a post-2015 development framework to replace the current millennium development goals. I very much welcome the ways in which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development are continuing to champion the call for a transformative shift in post-2015 development whereby no one is left behind by insisting that targets are considered achieved only if they are met for all relevant income and social groups. The prioritisation of disabled people in development programmes is crucial to ending poverty. As the Select Committee says, development goals will remain out of reach unless we urgently step up our work on disability.
I believe that it is essential for the UK as a world leader in development to lead by example in inclusive development, responding positively to the Select Committee’s recommendations and making immediate plans to implement more ambitious disability inclusion. I encourage the Government to continue advocating for this transformative shift as discussions on post-2015 development continue in the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development and at the General Assembly in September.
With the general election on the horizon, I agree with the committee that DfID should move quickly to put in place a cross-cutting disability strategy to ensure that the increased focus on inclusion is embedded for the long term, even as key individuals move on. The strategy should be developed in consultation with disabled people and their representative organisations in lower-income and middle-income countries, and should embrace the principles and commitments contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The strategy should be published with clear objectives and timescales, supported by a larger team of specialists and by strong reporting processes at DfID. We have seen clearly with DfID’s important focus on women and girls that a sustained strategic focus by the UK on the most marginalised can have a transformative impact and influence other donors and developing-country Governments.
The Select Committee has recommended that a larger team be put in place with a director-level sponsor, a wider network to champion disability in country offices, basic training for all DfID staff and strong reporting processes to ensure accountability and that the commitment can be sustained even as Governments change and key individuals move on.
As the report recommends, DfID should choose one or two substantial sectors and a small number of countries to focus on initially. Given my work as president of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment and my role as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Education for All—and I declare an interest in that regard—your Lordships will not be surprised to hear me say that I urge DfID to prioritise education, given how fundamental education is to poverty reduction and given the leadership position that the UK already has on aid to education. However, this needs to be set out within a long-term timetable, showing how DfID will expand from this focused approach to more sectors and countries in due course to achieve progressively the full inclusion of disabled people in all UK aid programmes.
The report notes that education for disabled children is a complex area and that one size does not necessarily fit all. It recommends that forthcoming guidance on inclusive education should take a nuanced approach. I support this, but also urge the department and Ministers not to let complexity or imperfect data stand in the way of urgently needed action. Great progress can be made for disabled people, even as evidence and approaches are being refined. I therefore urge the Government to accept the International Development Select Committee’s recommendation that DfID should not let imperfect data stand in the way and should set challenging milestones for implementing large-scale programmes and reporting results disaggregated by disability in annual reviews, project completion reviews and logframes.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on the progress that they have made so far to include disabled people within their programmes. I now call on them to take the report of the International Development Select Committee seriously and announce a plan for a disability strategy and a larger team to make provision for inclusive development a reality.
My Lords, two grave events have occurred so far this year, the full import of which has not yet been fully appreciated, which threaten in its very foundations the international system with which we have become familiar and have probably taken for granted over the past decades. The Russian annexation of Crimea is the first occasion since the Second World War when frontiers have been changed in Europe by force. It is the first occasion for 50 years that that has occurred anywhere in the world, including outside Europe. I do not need to remind the House of the two occasions when an attempt was made to change frontiers by force, opposed very successfully and bravely by British forces—in the Falklands and, later on, in Kuwait. That is a position that we now face, and we have to ask ourselves what kind of precedent and uncertainties are being created and how the rest of the world will react to these new circumstances and new precedent.
The second grave event is the fact that a British guarantee has been clearly and openly violated—again, apparently, entirely with impunity. We and the United States were both signatories to the 1994 agreement guaranteeing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, which has clearly been gravely breached by the annexation of Crimea. In this country, we used to take our guarantees extremely seriously. The House will recall that we went to war in August 1914, in accordance with the guarantee that we had given to Belgium under the Treaty of London. We went to war in September 1939, in accordance with the guarantee that we had given to Poland some six months earlier. We have to ask ourselves how seriously we, let alone anyone else, will take British guarantees in future. These are incredibly serious matters.
Of course, I do not suggest that the position created by Mr Putin’s aggression is entirely analogous with that of the outbreak of the two world wars. No historical circumstances are entirely analogous anywhere—that is quite clear. But unlike the Germans in the two world wars and unlike the Soviet Union in the invasion of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, Mr Putin did not just send his tanks or aircraft crudely across the frontier; he used much more subtle means. He displayed his training as a KGB officer, using absolutely brilliantly a mixture of subversion, infiltration and black propaganda. The very close analogy in my view is with the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia in 1938. That was a time when Hitler was still quite cautious before he had become overconfident. He and Henlein were able to subvert Czechoslovakia, again by playing on the nationalism of the German-speaking Sudetens, and on the international sense of guilt about Germany having suffered unduly under the Treaty of Versailles. I had a terrible sense of déjà vu when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord King, talking about how we had not been sympathetic enough to Russia in recent years. Hitler’s 1938 aggression was enormously successful and very subtle, and six months after annexing the Sudetenland, with international acquiescence, he was able to take over Bohemia and Moravia and turn them into a German protectorate—and Slovakia became an independent country.
We are now facing a period of uncertainty in which many people, not just Mr Putin but others as well, will be looking for the weaknesses in the international system—how the rules have changed and how they might get away with what they had previously never considered possible. In other words, the system is under test. Our international system is under probe. The Chinese, who have recently been extraordinarily aggressive with their neighbours, will be watching events extremely carefully and drawing conclusions from all that.
What should we do? We need to do three things. First, we need to decide on the situation that we face, which I have just described. Secondly, we need to take a view on where Mr Putin is going immediately from here. I think that he is likely to want to embed his gains by doing a deal with the West on the basis of the neutralisation of Ukraine. That may be on the analogy of the Austrian state treaty, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, suggested, or perhaps on the analogy of Finland in Cold War days under Presidents Paasikivi and Kekkonen. The neutralisation of Ukraine is not in itself bad, but it would be appalling if it was imposed by the West on Ukraine. What a gruesome and dreadful situation we would find ourselves facing if we in the West accepted that Crimea could exercise the right of self-determination to join Russia but Ukraine could not exercise the right of self-determination democratically to join NATO or the EU if it subsequently wanted to do so. We should not go down that road. Thirdly, we should prepare ourselves for the worst. We should consider imposing effective sanctions. We need to look very carefully at what might happen if we were to impose serious economic sanctions. I have previously suggested sanctions directed at the Russian banks.
We should certainly reverse our cuts in defence spending. In this respect, I totally endorse the powerful case made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lord West. We and the rest of the European Union have been disgracefully cutting our defence spending for years while Putin has been increasing his, year by year, by substantial percentages. By doing what we have been doing, we could not have been sending a more effective signal of our abdication. We must reverse that position. We must also support Ukraine concretely. We should provide arms, training and intelligence support. That is enormously important.
We in the European Union need to reduce our energy dependence on Russian natural gas. I am glad that moves have been made in that direction in terms of putting LNG capability in Germany. We need to look again at putting in pipelines to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, without passing through Russia. That will be expensive, but if we and the European Union have to use public funds, that would be a good insurance premium to pay.
Finally—I know that this will be very controversial in the House—this is the moment when we need to make some progress towards a common foreign and defence policy in the European Union. It should be on the basis of every country being committed to spending 2% of its GDP on defence. This needs to be on an EU-wide basis because there are four neutral EU countries that are not members of NATO. We want to get away from the “free rider” issue and the idea that some countries can take their defence for granted. We need to make sure that we do what the Americans have for a long time been calling on us to do: become capable of taking on a greater defence burden ourselves. On that basis, we shall strengthen our solidarity with the United States and increase our credibility in the world, which so badly needs restoring after the events of the past few months.
My Lords, the gracious Speech mentioned continuing work on the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons. That is an important but only small part of the nuclear weapons challenge. The gracious Speech was silent on the fact that all the work to go into the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which will take place in May 2015, needs to take place this year. The NPT is an opportunity that comes up every five years for the world to take a step away from the abyss. We have heard a lot today about instability and conflagration; that has been painted very vividly in this Chamber. If noble Lords take into account that proliferation is a fact of life as well, they will see that we really need this NPT to succeed.
One of the inadvertent consequences of fixed-term Parliaments for the UK is that, as in 2010, the next conference will fall at election time. The preparations for the 2010 conference were very thorough. The UK went into it with a constructive and active stance, but then political attention was entirely diverted because of the election. There was then a different Government with somewhat different policies—our coalition Government—and there was a change of stance from the UK during the conference. It confused the other countries, which were trying to get somewhere with that 2010 conference. We have to solve that issue before the 2015 conference. I do not have the answers, but the Government and all the political parties here need to come to some consensus on our contribution to the NPT. UK government policy is now to rely more and more on the NPT as the forum where these nuclear issues will be solved.
I attended the UN open-ended working group that Ban Ki-moon called in Geneva. Our ambassador’s absence was a matter of a lot of speculation. People asked me why the UK did not attend. I asked some Parliamentary Questions when I came back and I was told that the UK Government think that the NPT Review Conference is the place for such discussions. I then asked some more questions about why we did not go to Norway or Mexico when those countries hosted two conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. The reply was of course the same: that the forum for such things is the NPT Review Conference. The Government are putting all our eggs in the NPT basket. We owe it to the rest of the world to ensure we have a coherent stance that will carry over from one Government to the next. Earlier in the debate a noble Lord—I am sorry, I cannot remember who—called for more involvement from us in international treaties. This is an absolutely classic case for more involvement.
Earlier, I mentioned increasing proliferation, and I have taken some press from the past couple of weeks. On 4 June this year, there was this from New Delhi:
“India’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine quietly pushed out of its base for sea trials … India will join a club of just six nations with nuclear submarines carrying ballistic missiles”—
and a doctrinal challenge, as India has always separated the delivery mechanism from weapons. Who knows what will happen now there have been elections: that may not change, but it may. My second bit of press states:
“China has deployed three nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to a naval base in the South China Sea”.
That was reported on 28 May. These are just intentional actions. If noble Lords were to look at accident reporting, they would see that on 4 June the Daily Telegraph reported a “close to death” situation in a nuclear submarine when the air conditioning failed. We have increasing proliferation and the continual possibility of accidents: as more and more fissile material is used, it is more and more possible to have accidents.
Finally, I refer noble Lords to the European leadership group, some members of which come from this Parliament—indeed, some from your Lordships’ House. That group makes it quite plain just how important this NPT conference is in addressing these matters. Its statement, which came out very recently, underlines that the situation in Ukraine and many of the issues that noble Lords have raised today make nuclear non-use ever more pressing.
My Lords, I want to take this opportunity to expand further on an issue that I raised last month in an Oral Question: the protection of cultural property in times of conflict. I am grateful to Professor Peter Stone of the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University and of Blue Shield for his briefing. Blue Shield, for those who do not know, has nothing to do with American healthcare but is the international organisation concerned with this issue. It has been described as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross.
We have perhaps a peculiar grouping today, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, pointed out, in which culture is being discussed alongside defence and foreign policy. Nevertheless, for this particular issue, it would be helpful to have the ear not only of the DCMS but of the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID.
It is disappointing that the Government have not pledged to include, as part of their final Session, legislation to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This parliamentary year would be the perfect time to do this and there was clear support around the House at Question Time last month for it to happen. My understanding is that the Bill drawn up by the previous Administration in 2008 would not need to be changed a great deal and that therefore this would be a relatively simple thing to do.
It is now recognised that there are many reasons—not just the clear one of cultural and artistic importance—for protecting the world’s museums and archaeological and other cultural sites. Such reasons include the social, the humanitarian, a respect for people’s own culture, the economic and, yes, the military as well. It is, for example, increasingly recognised that the protection of culture is a so-called “force multiplier”. It can aid military success. As Peter Stone has pointed out, respecting the living heritage, such as a minaret, may not increase good will but it will not damage it irreparably, which might otherwise be the case. In Syria, the looting which has devastated archaeological sites is also a means by which fighting is financed and therefore prolonged. Protecting culture helps with rebuilding a country in social and economic terms.
In May, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said:
“What is important in practical terms is that our Armed Forces are very conscious of the protocol and the convention, which is why they adhere to what is intended”.—[Official Report, 12/5/14; col. 1652.]
However, it must be emphasised that that in itself is not quite good enough, because what cannot then be done, until the convention is ratified, is for this country, its academics and others to speak out and influence leaders and colleagues across the world with the requisite moral authority, as well as to work with other countries to develop a greater understanding of the problems involved.
In evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the draft Bill in 2008, Brigadier Gordon Messenger, director of Joint Commitments (Military) at the Ministry of Defence, said:
“I know of no reason why the military would not be anything other than fully supportive of progress towards the Bill and ratification”.
It is my understanding that that position has not changed.
Of course, the criticism can be made that others who have ratified this treaty, such as Iraq, have themselves behaved badly. However, as a world community, it is the only thing we have, and we now appear exceptional internationally in terms of our commitment, or non-commitment—both real and moral—to this principle. Britain is the only significant military power not to have ratified. This is not a good place to be. Peter Stone says that not ratifying,
“leaves the UK isolated internationally and at a significant disadvantage in our aspiration to be a global leader with regard to international humanitarian law. This position undermines our claim to be at the forefront of working for global security and peace”.
Why, after 60 years, has Britain still not ratified? The sense is that, as with all matters cultural, which end up low down in the political pecking order, it has simply neglected to do so. It is high time that the Government put this right. Continuing conflict and indeed unfolding events give an urgency to this. I hope that the DCMS takes a lead on this issue and presses for parliamentary time to be made available so that the convention can be ratified as soon as possible.
My Lords, altering the rhythm of this debate once more, I want to speak on constitutional affairs—or, rather, to discuss what I see to be a threat to our constitution. I have heard it suggested sometimes that the British public have only limited understanding of the great issues that affect their daily lives. Even in your Lordships’ House, I have heard speeches that only just stop short of implying much the same thing. A number of European officials are on record as being openly contemptuous of voter intelligence and dismissive of their aspirations. A view has plainly taken hold that the lack of “demos” within the European Union contributes to the displeasure that has been increasingly directed at the political class, and notably so in recent weeks.
If my life’s experience has taught me one thing, and it applies to all organisations large and small, where accountability is absent or weak even, it is that you can expect trouble as sure as night follows day. The consequences of failures in accountability include incompetence, unfairness, waste and fraud. Some or all of these consequences are not just a danger, they are an inevitability. While I would agree wholeheartedly with those who believe that a significant element of public anger stems from the shortcomings and the undemocratic and unaccountable nature of today’s EU, there is also a compelling case that we should look closer to home to find the genesis of much of the public’s disquiet.
When the measures to update the electoral register were sabotaged as retribution for Parliament having failed to support House of Lords reform, some people may well have derived satisfaction from the thought that they had damaged my party. Never mind my party, whatever the motive, the effect of that action was to swindle the voters who in consequence will have to participate in next year’s general election using an old and out-of-date register. I find it hard to imagine a more unforgivably cynical or self-serving ploy. Nowadays, it looks as if the public share that view.
However, that misses another point. It may well be that your Lordships’ House could be improved and I am sure that it could. But at least it works, and I hear very little public demand to suggest that its reform should be a top priority. Where I sense many people feel an urgent need for reform is in the conduct of another place. Consider the continued and relentless use of programming and guillotine Motions in the other place, and the growing perception that House of Commons debates are irrelevant even when the subject matter is of huge public interest. The public see sparsely attended events where a handful of MPs, increasingly with little or no experience of the real world, often are seen reading from briefs prepared by lobbyists and who have vested interests.
Well within my memory, there was a substantial body of Members of the other place who were content to be and to remain respected Back-Benchers. This respect derived in large part from the fact that Back-Bench MPs really did hold the Executive to account. With new entrants today expecting almost immediate preferment, the party Whips enjoy a power that makes a mockery of the concept of MPs holding Ministers to account.
I have always held the view that the overwhelming majority of people who enter public life do so for honourable reasons. Very often things go wrong not because of bad intent but as a consequence of a collective failure to uphold the concept of accountability. I want to point to the apparent reluctance of modern Governments to reflect more than they do on the uses and misuses of power. The fact that Governments should have, and need to have, authority should not blind them to the fact that they govern by consent. Consent is not limited to what voters decide at election time. It needs to be sustained through day-to-day accountability. This weakness, in terms of accountability, spreads through all our institutions and all aspects of our national life. A senior figure in the BBC recently told me that no one knew how decisions were reached in his organisation. The same want of accountability is to be found in the huge array of quangos and monopolistic utility companies. It has led to atrocious service and an arrogant disregard for people’s needs and aspirations. Many of our corporate giants are patently unaccountable to their shareholders as well as frequently the enemy of small business. I was very pleased to see measures contained in the gracious Speech to curb some of their excesses.
Of course, no one conspires to govern badly but we must all take some responsibility when good policy surrenders to meretricious soundbites, personal integrity is at such a premium in public life and such a huge proportion of decision-making is ceded away to distant institutions without the consent of the people whose lives those decisions affect. I commend the coalition Government for the measures outlined in the gracious Speech and they will have my support. However, I hope the Government will reflect in the year that remains to them on the issues that probably cannot be remedied through the legislative programme alone. They need to react to the perception that power continues to be centralised and that we are governed less and less by people who enjoy popular support and more and more by new oligarchies both public and private.
We most surely need to understand that the recent election results were not uniform across Europe. We in Britain did not give encouragement to the National Front or any other extremist party. The public reminded us that we in these islands have a 2,000 year-old inherited settlement, unique to the English-speaking world, under which the freedom of the individual is better protected that anywhere else on earth, where government is servant not master. People believe that the often ancient institutions devised to protect them from unaccountable power are being compromised and weakened. There will be a heavy price to pay if their message is ignored.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish. I do not agree with everything he said, but people’s suspicion of experts is something that I know about from my time running the Met Office. I shall focus my remarks on a very significant point towards the end of the Queen’s Speech regarding the Government’s continuing support for measures to deal with climate change. I want to make a point about how such action should relate to other programmes to do with the environment and its effect on people.
The present position is that there is an upward trend in global warming which is now predicted to exceed 4 degrees over the land areas of the world and continue to produce very considerable effects in terms of disasters such as cyclones, droughts and heat waves. One can see this in many countries. The number of deaths, for example, in natural disasters per year is of the order of 100,000. As for other environmental factors in the world—matters such as air pollution—the World Health Organisation estimates deaths from these will exceed 1.5 million people per year.
Even more serious now is that air pollution affects the youngest of children in Asian cities. There was a rather famous Chinese young lady who lived on the crossroads near Beijing and died of lung cancer. This country is concerned with lung cancer and smoking, but that is a voluntary disease. When children face that kind of situation, it is something that we have to consider. The fact is that there are connections between these natural and human disasters which are worsening as a result of the effects of climate change. One of the effects is to produce longer periods of static wind or conditions such as very high or very low temperatures. There is much evidence to that effect.
One of the other features of the Queen’s Speech is that the Government are continuing their programme of investment in low-carbon power, including nuclear power. I commend the Government on moving ahead on nuclear power and these other programmes. I would point out again that it is important to have an overall system of both nuclear and non-nuclear power because there are periods—as commented on in Germany this winter, and in this House in 2010—when the wind stops, the clouds appear and back-up sources of power are needed.
The UK is working within the international community to minimise climate-related threats. As this debate is focused on international work, I should comment on how we and other countries work with the United Nations agencies and monitor that work. The UK contributes significantly in terms of both finance and expertise to the UN agencies, including the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme and the programme for climate change. A worrying point made to me recently by a World Bank official was that although the UK is the second-largest contributor to the World Bank, we have a very much smaller number of experts there than other countries do. As the Germans have large numbers of experts there, what happens when a question on, for example, an urban railway arises? Lo and behold, the World Bank will support a big project proposed by Siemens. Equally, however—as the noble Lord, Lord Low, pointed out—the UK has great expertise in education, science and business, and it is important that we should have the right number of people there to make our contribution. I also support the noble Lord’s remarks on disability and environmental hazards. Many disabled people are particularly vulnerable, for example in floods in cities.
Next year there will be the regular 10-yearly United Nations international disaster reduction meeting. This will take place in Japan and should lead to further scientific and technical improvements. The UK plays a very important role through our insurance industry. Equally, however, we have to use our expertise to provide warnings to communities which might suffer badly.
I feel that progress on some scientific issues is moving rather slowly. It has always been said in the West, and in the United States, that earthquakes are impossible to predict. We heard in a seminar in London that the Russians have two or three institutes that are doing remarkable work in this respect. Earthquakes are now regularly being caused by fracking. The United States Geological Survey—not a very left-wing organisation—has commented that the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased by 300% at the sixth level on the Richter scale. We should consider this at the United Nations meeting. We should also consider—the issue has been raised in debates in this House—the social and economic consequences of natural disasters.
This year and next year will be important for building on the commitment on climate change made at Durban. The targets for the reduction of carbon emissions should be agreed at the meeting in Paris in 2015, with a view to all countries finally agreeing and implementing them by 2020. It is remarkable that at Durban the Chinese agreed to this, and we are expecting Chinese participation.
At the most recent meeting of legislators—in Mexico City this week, which I attended—it was interesting to hear Governments and their delegates expressing their belief that it is important to demonstrate more visibly their commitment to urgently tackling climate change, sometimes through simple means. One example, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, mentioned, is the use of smart meters in cars to indicate the level of their carbon emissions; or, as in France, to inform drivers on motorways that driving at high speeds is not only dangerous but causes higher carbon-emission levels. I have had no joy in talking to the Department for Transport in this country. It would be progress if people could be shown that they add to the carbon in the atmosphere when they drive fast on motorways.
The recent IPCC report on the social and economic impact of climate change now recommends that national and international policies on carbon reduction should be connected to policies covering the environmental benefits of tackling it—I have mentioned air pollution—as well as the benefits in terms of reducing poverty and vulnerability more generally. Security is also important. The Pentagon takes a strong view on this, to the fury of Republicans in the United States.
There is also the question of the preservation of biodiversity. A number of economists, some of whom are distinguished Members of this House, have the strange idea that we can put off dealing with climate change for decade after decade because—according to their strange calculations—it will become cheaper and cheaper to deal with. In the mean time, however, we are losing biodiversity.
If we are to have an integrated approach it is important that we consider all these factors together. That will be a challenge for the Government. From my time in the Met Office I know that we need to have an integrated approach through international bodies, Governments and civil societies. These integrated measures must first be formulated—universities can play a role in that—and then implemented and then, finally, reviewed by Parliament. In the 14 years that I have been a Member of this House we have had two debates on the United Nations agencies, and I led both of them. It is important that we should review this development and I hope that the Government will support it.
My Lords, in last year’s debate on the Queen’s Speech I spoke about the situation in Cyprus. I thought we were then looking at the most favourable prospects for reunification that we had yet seen and I called upon the Government to increase their involvement. A year later, my cautious optimism seems not to have been entirely misplaced. Detailed negotiations are under way. The FCO has been very active and deserves congratulations for that. It has continued its informal dialogues with the diasporas, talked to civil society organisations and taken the bold step of inviting the Turkish Cypriot leader and his negotiator to London. This is the first time that Turkish Cypriots have been invited formally to London and it is a welcome step. None of this means, of course, that negotiations will be easy or successful.
On Monday, I attended a lecture at the LSE given by Dr Kudret Özersay, the Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator. Dr Özersay was frank about the difficulties but he was cautiously optimistic. He made a compelling point about the conditions for success. Clearly, the first condition is the production of a federal, bi-zonal, bi-communal plan acceptable to the political leaderships of both sides. However, if this plan is to gain popular approval in a referendum on both sides, it must pass one other test. Will acceptance of the plan produce a better state of affairs for the people of the north and the south, or, as Dr Özersay put it, will both sides recognise the harm to them involved in rejection of the plan? This was clearly not the case for the Greek Cypriots with the Annan plan.
The international community has a role to play here, especially the guarantor states and the EU. We cannot and should not intrude upon the negotiations—any solution has to be by Cypriots for Cypriots—but we can encourage and help make clear the benefits of reunification. Britain and the EU here have an opportunity to redeem past mistakes—Britain for allowing the divided island to join the EU in the first place; and the EU for the post-accession broken promises that it made to the north.
The situation in the eastern Mediterranean grows increasingly unstable and dangerous and the BBC is reporting that ISIS is now fighting for Tikrit after taking Mosul. This growing instability is a reminder that we need a Cyprus settlement this time around—not only because failure will undoubtedly provoke a deepening and hardening of the divisions on the island but because, regrettably, the behaviour of Turkey is becoming more worrying.
Turkey’s stability and orientation are vitally important to NATO and to the interests of the West in general. Turkey’s development has been hugely impressive: from authoritarian, agrarian and poor to democratic, industrial and relatively wealthy, but inclining once again towards authoritarianism. There is a sad record of imprisonment of journalists, of restrictions on the freedom of speech and of executive interference with the police and the judiciary. There is the danger of a deepening division between the secular west and the pious Anatolian heartlands. This is greatly to Turkey’s disadvantage, not only in its relations with the West but economically.
Admiration of western values has long been a driving force in Turkey, both politically and culturally. However, unfortunately, the attraction of the West and of the EU has declined significantly in recent years. Prime Minister Erdogan’s then chief adviser, Yigit Bulut, recently called the EU,
“a loser, headed for wholesale collapse”.
Turkey’s last EU Minister and chief negotiator said:
“Turkey doesn’t need the EU. The EU needs Turkey. If we had to, we could tell them ‘Get lost, kid’”.
All this is bad news for the EU, for the West and for Turkey. Our influence has been allowed to wane.
Given the public hostility of France and Germany and the long delays in the accession negotiations, it is no wonder that many Turks no longer see the prospect of EU membership as either realistic or desirable. This is a cause for concern. The West needs Turkey as a friend and an ally. Her Majesty’s Government have always understood that, while others have not. We are currently engaged in persuading our EU partners of the merits of reform, and the merits of Turkish accession may not sit easily alongside these discussion. Nevertheless, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to persist in their strong advocacy of Turkish accession. Europe will be weaker and more vulnerable without it.
My Lords, the gracious Speech mentioned Iran and Afghanistan. I would like to speak briefly about India, Pakistan and Kashmir, the DfID money for education in Pakistan, and the money given to MKRF, a charity that is linked to the media group, Geo TV, which has given substantial amounts to its own company.
I congratulate the Indian people on the successful democratic elections. I remind the House that when the newly elected Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, was serving as the chief minister of Gujarat, thousands of Muslims were killed, including two British citizens from Batley in west Yorkshire. I want to make three points about what concerns me most in relation to the BJP manifesto. The BJP, supported by parties such as the RSS, has declared that it will build a Hindu temple on the land where the Babri Mosque stood and was then demolished. I fear that this will cause riots and bloodshed again.
My second point is made as a British citizen of Kashmiri origin. The BJP has committed to abolishing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gives special status to Kashmir due to the commitments made by India to the United Nations Security Council that a free, fair and impartial plebiscite would be held. The BJP’s manifesto commitment to abolish Article 370 is a clear provocation against the rights of the Kashmiri people that will result in further bloodshed, tension along the line of control, and possible threats of nuclear war between India and Pakistan. More than 100,000 people have already been killed and tens of thousands of women have been raped. This morning the noble Baroness spoke about the international conference being held in London this week regarding sexual violence as a tool of humiliation in war zones. I therefore ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they would support an independent inquiry into rape in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1997. Thousands of youths have been killed in fake encounters and extrajudicial actions, many of which have been listed by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir in a report about unmarked graves.
My third point is that before the elections, Prime Minister Modi stated that if the United States can enter Pakistani territory to kill Osama bin Laden, India also has the right to go into Pakistani territory to pursue those who are allegedly responsible for attacks on Indian soil.
I welcome Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India for the oath-taking ceremony of Mr Modi. It was also good to see the exchange of gifts for the mothers of both the Indian and the Pakistani prime ministers. However, those gifts should be extended to the mothers of the thousands of Kashmiri martyrs and the mothers of Pakistani and Indian soldiers on the settlement of the Kashmir issue, as well as all the other issues which include water, borders, fishing and line of control disputes.
My final point is in regard to DfID’s programme in Pakistan. I thank the research team in the House of Lords for providing the latest information, and I thank the British Government and the British people for constructing, since 2009, more than 20,000 classrooms, training 45,000 teachers and helping some 400,000 girls to go school. I also thank them for aiming to train, by 2020, 100,000 community midwives, constructing or renovating more than 70 midwife schools, and providing legal aid and counselling for 35,000 women victims of violence.
No other country in the world has lost more soldiers and police officers than Pakistan, and its economy has lost more than $70 billion due to the war in Afghanistan and terrorism in Pakistan. Providing food, medicine and financial support for 315,000 women from the poorest families and jobs for tens of thousands of people is much appreciated while Pakistan tries to recover from these terrible times. However, I have some deep concerns related to money that has been allocated for the educational awareness programme of the not-for-profit organisation, MKRF. Members of the same family are the owners of Geo TV, which is currently suspended in Pakistan because of the allegations made against the Pakistan intelligence services and the army. I want to ask why money has been given to this charity, which is directly linked to a business that is the beneficiary of DfID money. What was the business proposal and why was the grant money not subject to competition rules? I have put down Written Questions and I have asked the Chairman of Committees, but I have yet to receive any answers. Finally, more than 100 police cases have been registered against the owner of this media group and a warrant of arrest has been issued against him. Will the funding still continue?
My Lords, the gracious Speech referred to Northern Ireland in these words. The Government would continue,
“to promote reconciliation and create a shared future”.
In reflecting on those words, I declare an interest as the co-chair of the Consultative Group on the Past, which reported to the House in 2009. Few would dissociate themselves from those sentiments in the Queen’s Speech, but I want briefly to emphasise some of the reality which stands in the way of their achievement. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, reminded noble Lords, trust can so easily be destroyed, and of course we can refer to the recent dealing with on-the-runs.
Next September, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the ceasefires declared by the republican and loyalist paramilitaries. I speak as one of the two observers of the destruction of loyalist arms. In these two decades, the people of Northern Ireland have experienced the ups and downs of a devolved Administration. Local political life has undertaken responsibility, and in the main has shown a willingness to learn the lessons of devolved answerability for everyday life and affairs. Much of everyday life today reflects normality, but there remain issues which have the potential to drive us back into the darkness of the past—and none of them more important than how we deal with that past. That is part of the reality which confronts the idealism of the words in the gracious Speech.
Northern Ireland’s “peace” has been portrayed beyond the Province as something achieved and an end to our problems. Much of the world has moved on as though it is “all over” and stability is an achieved fact. But I ask the House, and particularly the Government, to recognise the reality: the reconciliation and truly shared future envisaged are still very much “business in progress”. The truth is that a simplistic conclusion that success has already been achieved is hurtful and insulting to those who have been injured or bereaved in the Troubles. Such a conclusion has been used to justify ignoring the legacy of the past and the demands of victims and their families. There is a perception that Westminster has accepted the “success” version of events as a reason to somehow remove itself from real involvement in addressing the legacy of the past. Until there is an agreed method of dealing with the past, inquiries, coroners’ courts, investigative journalism and the courts will continue to produce obstacles to the achievement of a real and genuine shared future. Those obstacles call for courage and a new way of thinking.
The report of the Consultative Group on the Past followed a countrywide listening process with the proposal of a legal commission which would combine the principles of investigation, storytelling and reconciliation. We rejected the idea of a truth commission, as in South Africa, and we ruled out a general amnesty. But we did propose a legacy commission that, within a set frame of time, would deal with the past in an effective manner. That proposal has found favour in the Haass proposals, the work of Amnesty International, the Victims’ Commissioner and many international investigative reports since 2009.
The proposals were not perfect—we never claimed that they would be—but they combined to provide a way that could be a basis for the future. Until some way is found and agreed, the pain of the past will continue to blight too many lives and will mean that the future hope of a shared community will remain a dream.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He has served his people of Northern Ireland with commitment, distinction and courage over many years, and what he said tonight is no exception. We all need to listen carefully.
Like others, I welcome the Minister’s reference to the summit taking place in London today, and I very much endorse the gladness of my own noble friend Lady Morgan about it. In the long run, our leadership on this issue will depend on the effectiveness with which we handle these issues internally in our own lives and in the areas of the world for which we are responsible. We cannot separate the rhetoric from the performance. Our credibility stands on our own performance, and that applies equally when the Government speak so powerfully—as they have today and as they do repeatedly, with our present Foreign Secretary—about the importance of human rights.
I take second place to nobody in stressing the importance of human rights but, again, the world looks at us and makes a distinction between the rhetoric and the reality. That is why we have to be absolutely committed in all we do—whatever the provocations, however severe or acute they are—to the application of human rights in our affairs and in the affairs for which we are responsible. This is not a burden, as those who drew up the universal declaration in the aftermath of the Second World War understood. Human rights are the cornerstone—the foundation—of security and peace in the world. It is not an oversimplification to say that where there is an absence of human rights, there will always be a danger of alienation, extremism, terror and the rest. Where a very widely operational atmosphere of human rights is applied and fulfilled, there will be very little room for the extremists to recruit.
We live in the midst of a paradox, which this debate has underlined very strongly. On the one hand, we live in a time when the reality of global interdependence has never been more evident. It is true in economic affairs; it is true in trade affairs; it is certainly true in the issues of global warming and climate change; it is true in health; it is true of almost every major issue with which government is confronted. It is difficult to think of any of the issues facing our children and grandchildren that will be resolved within the context of the nation state alone. All will require international co-operation.
Yet we see this new unpleasant reality of political alienation. We cannot bury this and pretend it does not exist. It is there. It is not simply those who vote for less pleasant, extreme parties; it is the very large number of people who do not vote at all and who could become their prey. For that reason, we must recognise that, in the age of globalisation, people feel threatened and insignificant and that they have no strategic influence on their lives. We must understand that if we are to build peace and security, it is essential to recognise the importance of identity, not to deny it—and that involves cultural identity, not just political identity—and then to have the courage and imagination of leadership to enable people to see that in the confidence of their identity they must move forward to co-operation. We must all move forward to co-operation because of what I said in my opening remarks: all the issues that face us necessitate effective international co-operative approaches.
That must also be true in our institutions, certainly as we talk of the reform of the European Union. We have to go back to first principles and recognise that there was a very real debate at the beginning about the virtues of confederalism and federalism. Perhaps what we have learnt in history is that there is a great deal to be said for the confederal approach, whereby you build within the institutions of the European Union the shared commitment and the co-operation necessary to deliver effective policies—not to impose authoritatively and administratively a whole range of policies without those having been debated among the countries and therefore becoming seen as real issues among the people of the individual countries.
It is also perhaps true that we should look at the issues of federation in the context of our own society. I will make only this point about the Scottish issue. I am a half-Scot so I am very much exposed to the debates within my own family. I am very proud of my Scottish blood. If we get a no vote in the referendum, let us not be fooled into thinking that the issue will go away. It will not go away. I do not want to be dispiriting but there is always a danger of that debate turning nasty. In that context, we have to start talking much more imaginatively about different structures for the United Kingdom. We should have done it long ago. I think that we will have a strong future as the United Kingdom if we have a federal United Kingdom in the long run because that is the logic of everything we are trying to do by fiddling here and there—more economic powers for Scotland here, more powers for Wales there. The logic is to get on with building a strong federation in which each part of our United Kingdom can co-operate freely in the common interest.
My Lords, sandwiched between matters of life and death, I dare to mention culture and to address the future of English Heritage. I certainly do not require my noble friend to genuflect to my remarks but I hope that the appropriate Minister will reply by letter reasonably promptly.
Today’s occasion was provoked by a letter I received on 3 July last from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in her capacity as the chair of English Heritage. At that time I was unaware of her impending departure from that role and I am very sorry that she has gone. But the issues I wish to explore are not personal.
When I first knew the sites of English Heritage in the 1950s, they were marked by the characteristic green cast iron notices of the Ministry of Works dating from the Ancient Monuments Act 1913. More recently, I have visited Eltham Palace—which is not a palace at all—I expect to visit Audley End next weekend, and I walk from my home in Highgate to Kenwood almost every week. I am pleased by the rehabilitation of Kenwood House, apparently at a cost of £6 million—although, it seems, not wholly from the grant in aid but from the Iveagh bequest. Perhaps in due course Ministers will confirm that. At last there is a suitable visitor centre at Stonehenge.
Such developments and the growth of the membership to more than 700,000 have left both Houses mostly silent. But the letter sent to Members of the House by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, invited comment on important issues. The pretext of the noble Baroness’s letter was the outcome of the latest spending review. It said that English Heritage was “delighted” that the Government would provide a one-off sum of £80 million to invest in repairs and enhancement in properties. The letter continued to say that English Heritage would work with the Government,
“to consult on establishing a charity which will in future care for the historic properties”.
“In due course, the charity will become self-funding, no longer requiring direct funding by the tax payer”.
In my reply to the letter, I said that I was alarmed that it seemed to me to be a proposal of privatisation. As for £80 million being generous, it was not much given to support 420 sites spread over what seemed to be eight years. I added that:
“I am deeply sceptical about self-funding if the standards of English Heritage are to be maintained”.
In due course, last December, the department published a consultation document. The consultation took place over two months over the winter, but I am not aware that there was any opportunity to debate the proposals in the House.
I now recognise that privatisation was a loose and misleading characterisation, given that there is no intention to sell any properties, but if there is to be no funding from the taxpayer and income comes from membership, donors, sponsors and commercial activities, the character will change.
What will the role of the culture and media department be in this respect? Will it appoint the chair of both the new charity and the new Historic England? Who will be the chair of Historic England: an academic or another businessman? What will be the balance of responsibility, status and authority between the two bodies, and who will appoint the trustees of the charity?
The key decision is to bring public spending to an end. On the face of it, it is far from clear that two bodies will not cost more than one. In my early years, I cannot remember any admission charges to sites, but there now seems to be a charge in 114. Which of the bodies will now decide to make or raise the charges for visitors to the site? In particular, can Ministers confirm that there is no proposal to negotiate any variation in the terms of the Iveagh bequest, by which admission to Kenwood is free?
I have made it clear that I remain seriously uneasy about those major proposed changes. When the department has reached its conclusions, I hope that Ministers will make a full statement to Parliament, allowing time before anything is to be finally settled.
My Lords, after the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, I return to matters of life and death. Does the Minister share my concern about how interpretation of human rights legislation—I stress the word “interpretation”—has impacted or may impact on the actions or behaviour of the Armed Forces? Does he agree that it threatens, even erodes, the ethos of trust and mutual support that forms the bedrock of discipline and all activity in the three services? The Armed Forces Acts have laid down a litany of what constitutes a service crime or misdemeanour. Behaviour of all in the services are bound by that legislation.
The statutory quinquennial revision and renewal of those Acts are used to ensure that they were relevant to and remained in step with inevitable changes in social and societal behaviour and other perceptions of the day, but they do not directly deal with human rights. The Armed Forces and human rights legislation are potentially incompatible. Only service men and women effectively contract with the state to make the ultimate sacrifice, backed by the Armed Forces Acts to enforce discipline and obedience.
How does that mesh with Article 2, the right to life, under human rights legislation? In 1998, in concert with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I spoke to amendments to exclude the Armed Forces from the Human Rights Bill, on the grounds that it would be preferable that aspects of human rights conventions be enacted within the Armed Forces Acts. At Third Reading, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sought to reassure the House. He said:
“I urge your Lordships to be of the view that the convention is a flexible instrument. It poses no threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces”.—[Official Report, 5/2/98; col. 768.]
Since then, numerous cases against the MoD have been brought under that Human Rights Act. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor’s reassurances have been frittered away—most spectacularly by the Supreme Court findings last June.
The cardinal point for me in that ruling was that it was far from unanimous; three of the seven judges dissented. In their minority view, they stated that,
“the approach taken by the majority will make extensive litigation almost inevitable after, as well as quite possibly during and even before, any active service operations undertaken by the British army. It is likely to lead to the judicialisation of war”.
Is that not a wake-up call? A position of absolute legal clarity on the field of battle for forces stationed overseas, or even on home soil, does not exist.
That is the last thing that servicemen and their commanders want to hear. They expect to and should want to deal in absolutes: is it right or wrong; is it legal or is it not; am I covered or am I not? Nuanced findings and the plethora of cases dealt with or being dealt with by the MoD over the past decade or so can but create confusion, muddle and uncertainty.
I will quote verbatim the majority finding of the Supreme Court because it is very important. It stated:
“It will be easy to find that allegations are beyond the reach of article 2 if the decisions that were or ought to have been taken about training, procurement or the conduct of operations were at a high level of command and closely linked to the exercise of political judgment and issues of policy. So too if they relate to things done or not done when those who might be thought to be responsible for avoiding the risk of death or injury to others were actively engaged in direct contact with the enemy. But finding whether there is room for claims to be brought in the middle ground, so that the wide margin of appreciation which must be given to the authorities or to those actively engaged in armed conflict is fully recognised without depriving the article of content, is much more difficult. No hard and fast rules can be laid down. It will require the exercise of judgment. This can only be done in the light of the facts of each case”.
So no prior certainty there for the Armed Forces in the wide field that lies in that middle ground.
As is clear from the number of cases faced by the MoD in recent years—some settled out of court; others being challenged by the MoD in the courts—there is a plethora of claims in this middle ground. The Supreme Court finding can only embolden more to be made.
I believe that the time has come for that minority view of the Supreme Court that war cannot be controlled or conducted by judicial tribunals to be reflected in new legislation that will not countenance it for the Armed Forces.
My Lords, as a member of the Association of Military Court Advocates, I associate myself with the remarks of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and tell him that we shall be addressing the issues at an international seminar at Yale University in the autumn.
I may be from Wales, but it so happens that my four children would be, under Mr Salmond’s plan for Scottish independence, entitled to Scottish passports—although not, it seems, my grandsons Angus, Finlay and Murray.
My family’s links with Scotland derive from coal mining and two mining communities, one in north Wales and the other being the West Lothian coal field. My late father-in-law, who trained at the Polkemmet mine near Whitburn, came to manage Gresford colliery in Wales, among others. At that time, it was still recovering from the dreadful disaster of 1934 in which 266 Welsh miners lost their lives underground. That terrible event drew miners together: the hymn tune “Gresford” became “the Miners’ Hymn”, played by colliery bands in Wales, Scotland, Durham and the north-east, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire and Kent.
Nobody in Gresford claimed the coal for Wales. Nobody in Fauldhouse claimed the coal for Scotland. The people of Britain—drawn together by hardship and adversity, by lost lives in the Great Wars, by poverty and privation—struggled to pool their natural resources and talents to build together a modern liberal country, in which citizens are guaranteed equal social and economic rights. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, set out those rights in his excellent speech this morning, so I will not repeat them.
While this struggle was happening, nationalism was an irrelevance. Saunders Lewis and the Reverend Valentine, founders in 1925 of the Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh National Party, thought it right to set fire to an RAF training camp and aerodrome in the Llyn peninsula just before the Second World War. They ensured that the official policy of their party to that war was neutrality. Neutrality was also advocated by Douglas Young, the then leader of the SNP, which was founded in 1934. They all ended up in prison. A later generation has sought to give nationalism in both countries a more respectable face, but the central aim of independence remains. Why do nationalists wish to break up the common venture of the United Kingdom? Why is devolution, which surely enhances the distinctive identities and cultures of our different peoples but keeps us together, not enough?
What nationalism has succeeded in doing is create tensions within and between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom as to who gets what and what is fair. Nationalism complains about Westminster government and of domination by London. It resents the English, yet there is now increasing discontent in England over Scotland’s share of public spending. There is a perception in England that additional funding enables the Scots—and the Welsh—to enjoy popular policies, for example on tuition fees, which are not available to the English. There is indeed a political question to be resolved which has no mention in the gracious Speech, no doubt because of the imminent Scottish referendum.
In the end, it comes down to the Barnett formula. Under that formula, the amount spent on public services in Scotland is much more per capita than is spent in England and significantly greater than in Wales. The position as between Scotland and Wales would be reversed if the Barnett formula were replaced by funding based on the actual needs of the people, as the Lords Select Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Richard, rightly pointed out in 2009. We have a splendid paradox: Mr Salmond warns the Scots that a no vote means abolition of the Barnett formula and the removal of their mother’s milk but, on the other hand, the Welsh Labour Government say that Barnett must go. The people of Wales may not vote for or against the tax-raising powers that we shall soon be debating in the Wales Bill unless Barnett is replaced.
What devolution must be about is the use of all the resources of these islands to support and develop those areas of the United Kingdom that are most in need—to spread the load, to ensure equality and opportunity and to relieve poverty whether in Wales, Scotland or those areas of England and Northern Ireland where the old industrial or rural economy has collapsed. We stand together. We build together, as we always have. When this referendum is out of the way, all of us, whether Scots, Welsh, English, Irish or a mixture of all or any, have serious business to do.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, although he will not be surprised that I do not agree with a large amount of what he said. Had he been speaking 100 years ago, I wonder whether he would have applied the same logic to the position of southern Ireland and its quest for independence.
It is the constitutional aspects of the Queen’s Speech which I wish to address today. There are three issues in ascending immediacy. The first is Europe and the need to find a method of confirming the UK’s ongoing EU membership in the wake of the unsettling effect of the UKIP vote in the European Parliament elections and the pressing need to remove the uncertainty which, if allowed to rumble on, will undermine our economic recovery. I warmed to the passion brought to this matter by the noble Lords, Lord Ashdown and Lord Alderdice.
Secondly, we have before this House the Wales Bill, which has been carried over. I want to flag up my intention of seeking to amend that Bill to respond to developments since the Bill was introduced in another place. In particular, there is the willingness of the Government to consider even further taxation devolution to Scotland—the very issue which they refused to accept in the Welsh context, despite the recommendations of the Silk report; namely, the ability of devolved Administrations to vary income tax without being tied into a lock-step principle.
However, the most immediate issue is the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence, which will have huge consequences whatever the outcome. I sometimes think that some noble colleagues in this Chamber—although I most certainly exempt the noble Lord, Lord Judd, from this charge—believe that if there is a no vote, everything continues as the status quo without any change whatever. If that is the intention of Government, they should make it clear; and if it is not, they should spell out what they see as the alternative options to a yes vote and how that would affect Wales, Northern Ireland and, indeed, England.
It is of course a matter for the people of Scotland, and the people of Scotland alone, to make the decision on independence. I warmly welcome the fact that the UK Government have accepted this approach. A small group of us, from both Houses, visited Barcelona last month at the invitation of the Catalan Government—I have registered my interest—and we learnt of the aspirations of the Catalan people to have a similar independence referendum. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that Catalan leaders looked with considerable envy at the approach agreed between the UK and Scottish Governments in regard to holding a referendum and abiding by the decision of the Scottish people. I am happy to associate myself with such sentiments. The fact that successive Governments at Westminster have recognised that the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh people are free to take such a decision is immensely to the credit of the UK. I salute the leaders of all parties who, over the past 25 years, have adapted the UK’s unwritten constitution to accept the national right to self-determination of our respective national communities.
While I suspect that I could carry most of the House with me on that aspect of the constitutional issue, I know that I shall not be able to do so in regard to my next comments. If I were a Scot, I would most certainly be voting yes in the referendum. I would be doing so to establish a new partnership of equals among the nations of these islands. I would be doing so to accept the full responsibility of self-government, which has been accepted by 193 countries around the world and by 28 member states of the EU, 16 of which have a population of fewer than 10 million. I would ask myself, in comparison to those countries, why should Scotland’s voice be attenuated by having to pass through a London filter? I would ask myself how I would look my grandchildren in the eye if I had spurned the first opportunity in 300 years to take on the full responsibility of self-government.
I remember the first time that I canvassed for Plaid Cymru in the south Wales coalfield valleys, back in 1967—this links up to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. I struck up a debate with a group of retired miners outside a Rhondda pub. On the issue of self-government, they said: “Boi bach, you’re 50 years too late. If we’d gone for it then, it might have worked but by now the coal is finished”. If Scotland were to fail to rise to the historic opportunity it has in September, I wonder whether in 50 years’ time there will be Scots saying: “We might have made a go of it 50 years ago, when the oil was still flowing”.
Whatever the result of the referendum, I hope that that it will be technically recognised as valid by all sides and that everyone resolves to get the best outcome for all—and that may mean some compromise. I hope that when we debate the issue in a couple of weeks’ time, the Government will be forthcoming on how they will deal with the consequences of Scotland’s vote, whichever way it may go, and that if they have a plan they will take both Houses and all four nations into their confidence as to what it is and how it will be made to work.
This is perhaps one of the few occasions during my time in this House when I feel confused. A couple of hours ago, I snapped a tooth off and it was repaired very quickly. Therefore, I may appear a little gaga. However, I would like to ask the Government some questions.
I begin by saying that the world is round, the earth is flat and in the middle of the world is Greenwich. The United Kingdom is in the centre of the world, so some things are to the east of us, some to the west and some to the north and the south. However, does the EU come under the heading of foreign affairs or domestic affairs? I am slightly confused about that. We joined the EU because of trade but there is no mention of trade in the debate’s title. We are faced with a form of European Japanese knotweed—that is, legislation which seems to throttle everything that we want to do. People believe that by introducing new rules and regulations progress will be made.
Perhaps the Minister will say whether the EU comes under the heading of foreign affairs. I do not approve of referendums—I always wonder whether the plural of referendum is referendums or referenda—as I was treasurer of the Conservative group on Europe and had to raise money to fund the previous referendum. They are not British instruments. Is Scotland a referendum, and what is devolved? Am I? I am a Scot; but I am not sure whether I am—I have never had a vote.
In this confused environment, could we please consider the importance of trade? Like my noble friend Lord Howell, I wish to draw attention to the significance of the Commonwealth. Does the Commonwealth come under the heading of foreign or domestic affairs? We should look at the remarkable strength of the countries to the east and west of us and at the political changes that have taken place. If we look at coastlines, which is a favourite subject of mine, we will see that 60% of the economic exclusion zones—that is, the 200-mile limits around countries—belong to Commonwealth countries. France is the only other country that comes anywhere near us in this regard, with about 15% of this area. We are a maritime nation and 21% of all the ships floating on the face of the earth are Commonwealth ships. Does this matter? I am confused as I do not know what strategy we have in this regard.
As regards defence, I never understood why we had troops in Germany for so long and why we have withdrawn them. What will happen to the Navy if Scotland becomes independent? Will all of it move down to Portsmouth? There is much uncertainty about these issues and I am confused about them. Indeed, I am too confused to make a constructive speech. I would just like somebody to tell me which of the headings shown on the annunciator constitute foreign affairs and which constitute domestic affairs. We are mixing up foreign with domestic.
My Lords, I want to address two issues arising out of the Queen’s Speech. One relates to foreign affairs and the other to constitutional matters.
By and large we have enjoyed very good relations with India. The recent election of Mr Modi as the Prime Minister presents us with a unique opportunity in India’s history to deepen and expand our relations with that country. Mr Modi has brought about several extremely important changes in the administration of his country and injected new life into what has so far been a largely somnolent Government. His party has a clear majority and will stay in place for the next five years. Therefore, there is no danger of unstable coalitions.
Mr Modi has concentrated on good governance, administrative affairs and speedy decision-making. Most important of all, he has decided to concentrate on three issues: development and infrastructure projects of all kinds; university and pre-university education; and good relations with neighbours, especially Pakistan. All three have profound implications for us. The tremendous concentration on development opens up all kinds of opportunities for our businessmen and entrepreneurs. Pedagogical advice will be needed to fulfil the desire to expand education and create scores of new universities. That is going to require an enormous amount of help from the rest of the world. We can certainly capitalise on the opportunities that that offers. Only yesterday the Indian Prime Minister said that the Foreign Education Providers Bill will be passed. The Bill, which has lain quietly for four years in the lower House of the Indian Parliament, will enable foreign universities to set up their own campuses and provide a series of exchanges with their own satellite institutions. Given all this, we ought to consider urgently how to deepen our co-operation with India.
Mr Modi has said that he would like to have closer relations with Pakistan and put an end to the rivalry between the two countries. Afghanistan may become more stable when the Americans leave provided that India, Pakistan and the UK adopt a sensible foreign policy towards it. For all these reasons I believe that we should take the initiative in finding ways to expand and deepen co-operation between the two countries at various levels, as we did some months ago when we talked to Mr Modi on these issues.
Some people raise concerns about the communal violence that took place in Gujarat when Mr Modi was Chief Minister there. My own feeling is that, although the communal violence that took place between Hindus and Muslims should not be forgotten, one should not be too obsessive about it either. Mr Modi’s role in that episode has not been proven. The violence occurred when he had been the Chief Minister for hardly more than three or four months. He asked the neighbouring states for police help but it was not readily available. Similar incidents have happened in other parts of the country, including when Mrs Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, but they were largely ignored. From my point of view, the more important consideration is that Mr Modi tried to reach out to the Muslim community after the events. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that 22% of the Muslims voted for him in the last election. In the light of all that, I suggest that, although we should not forget what happened in 2002, we should put it behind us and concentrate on how best to co-operate with the Indian Government.
The constitutional issue that I want to touch on briefly concerns something that matters to me greatly. Glasgow University gave me my first job as an academic. I have great affection for Scotland just as I have great affection for this country. The idea that Britain could split up is something that I find deeply painful, although intellectually I can see that a case can be made for it. With fewer than 100 days to go to the referendum, there is no clear indication which way it will go. Some of my senior colleagues who work in Scottish universities tell me that it could go either way and that one mistake on the part of the Government here or on the part of those who advocate a no vote could sway the result. As a student of history and politics who has studied secessionist movements in India, I sound a note of caution. I am pained by the way we seem to be making the mistake that is often made when dealing with secessionist, nationalist movements of this kind, which is to use the language of intimidation and to threaten people with dire consequences if they vote to put their proposals into effect. Telling Scots, “If you do this, there will be do defence work, there will be no participation in the pound, you might not be able to stay on in the EU—in other words, your economy will not be what it is and you will be worse off by 30% or 40%”, is counterproductive. We think it might frighten people into doing our bidding. It does not do that. It has three consequences, none of which we would want to happen.
First, if I were a Scot, I would immediately say, “Don’t you think I know these consequences? Do you think I am so stupid, that I am your country cousin that you need to be telling me all this? This is what you have been doing for all these 300 years. We have resented your patronising, condescending attitude, and that is precisely at work here”. Secondly, the Scots might feel that we are bullying them or blackmailing them and not allowing them freedom of choice. Thirdly, and more importantly, we are confronting them with a stark choice: if you want to be Scottish, you cannot be British. If you want to be British, you cannot be Scottish. That is not at all what we want. I therefore suggest that, rather than use the politics of intimidation, we should be adopting a twofold approach.
First, we should invoke common history, common ties and ties of affection that have been built up over the years and show the Scots that they have every reason to be proud of their history and the kind of liberal democracy they have achieved precisely because they have been part of the UK. They would not have achieved what they have achieved, of which they are rightly proud, without being an integral part of the UK. In other words, the source of their Scottish pride lies in Britain, not in Scotland. We need to appeal to shared history and shared ties of affection. Secondly, we should also make it clear that the choice is not simply between things as they are and separation, and that, as my noble friend Lord Judd and others have said, we are prepared to discuss greater devolution of power, although the word “devolution” sounds rather patronising—so perhaps greater decentralisation of power. If we thought in those terms, we might be able to win the Scots over.
My Lords, in my short contribution to this debate on the gracious Speech, I intend to make a few comments on the Wales Bill and some matters relating to Wales. The Wales Bill, which has completed its passage through the other place, will give the National Assembly some powers over taxation, establish a five-year term for Welsh Assembly Governments, allow for dual candidacy in future elections and put an end to double jobbing where successful parliamentary candidates continue to hold on to their Assembly seats. I look forward to the debates on those issues.
It is now 15 years since the National Assembly for Wales came into being and the end of May marked the 15th anniversary of the Queen opening our Assembly. The Minister—my noble friend Lady Randerson—and I share a birthday with the official opening of the Assembly, and I remember very well the birthday celebrations over breakfast that day. We were not, of course, celebrating only the opening of the Assembly; we were celebrating the fact that the National Assembly had actually come into existence and we were among its first members. For those of us who in the 1980s and 1990s were committed to devolution, it was the dream becoming a reality. Liberals and Liberal Democrats have long believed in home rule, and it is ironic that this long-standing Liberal policy was enacted by a Labour Government but, I would argue, it was delivered by a coalition of parties for the yes campaign in Wales. The abiding, iconic image of the devolution quest for most Welsh people is not the image of Her Majesty opening the National Assembly, although that is valued and admired; it is, rather, an image from two years earlier of the Welsh party leaders, including the late Lord Livsey and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who were part of the yes campaign, with arms aloft in celebration after Ron Davies’s simple, historic words, “Good morning—and it is a very good morning in Wales”. Those of us who stayed awake the previous night through the tension of the referendum count, who bemoaned the losses and cheered the gains, will never forget the sheer joy of the last result from Carmarthenshire: the referendum had been won.
Now, 15 years later, this week has seen the BBC in Wales mark the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Assembly with a series of programmes looking at a different aspect of devolution each day. The inevitable question put to all Welsh politicians is, “Have your dreams for the Assembly been realised?”. To answer that question one has to begin by being charitable. The National Assembly for Wales is only 15 years old; in terms of the age of other democratic institutions all over the world, it is a mere child. The reserved powers model granted to Scotland was not granted to Wales. The Assembly was given an arbitrary number of members—60 members is fewer members than in a great many unitary authorities in Wales and presents problems in terms of scrutiny of measures emanating from its current powers. Estimates suggest that the application of the Barnett formula has deprived Wales of £300 million every year.
Devolution has certainly given the Welsh Assembly Government the freedom to make their own decisions and to do things differently, but herein lies the challenge. The challenge is to follow a different path but to be as successful as, or even better than, one’s neighbours. Doing things differently means that the Welsh Government’s record in key areas is disappointing. On the economy, Wales continues to lag behind, with the lowest GDP per head in the UK, at 74% of the UK average, down from 84% in 2007. In education, where we compete not only against our neighbours but against the world, Wales has slipped down the PISA rankings. Wales’s NHS continues to miss its own targets on waiting times.
My response to the BBC’s question has been that the dream has been tempered significantly by reality, but that new reality fires a new ambition to ensure more effective government for the people of Wales.
My Lords, I wish to focus on the plight of women suffering from sexual violence in war, as this is particularly timely, given the global summit which has already been mentioned by noble Lords, and is a much needed initiative. My small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, takes us to places, often off the radar screen of major aid organisations and international media, where women are routinely subjected to such violence and where Governments allow it to continue with impunity. I shall give two examples: Burma and Sudan.
All is not well in the beautiful land of Burma. Despite some welcome reforms, the Burmese Government are continuing brutal policies of repression against the Muslim Rohingya people and the Burmese army has been continuing military offensives against ethnic nationals, with frequent violations of ceasefires in Shan and Kachin states and associated atrocities, including the use of rape and sexual slavery as weapons of war. As one story can portray horror more powerfully than a hundred statistics, I shall give an example: when our small team from HART was across the border in Kachin state, we came across a deserted village. The local people explained why the villagers had fled. There was a Burmese army camp on the mountain above the village. One day, a group of soldiers attacked villagers working in the paddy fields below and abducted a woman. She was tied to a stake in the camp, in full view of the villagers below, she disappeared at frequent intervals over the next few days and eventually disappeared for ever. One can only imagine the horrors inflicted on her or the anguish of her husband, parents and children having to watch her endure her fate.
Therefore, while we welcome the recent signing by the Burmese Government of the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, one cannot help but wonder a little whether the timing of the signing, on the eve of the global summit, was designed to maximise positive publicity for the Burmese Government. I understand that a delegation of women from Burma is attending the summit to highlight the ongoing use of sexual violence by the Burmese army. I therefore ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will urge the Burmese Government to make essential commitments—to be implemented within a timeframe of, say, six months—to end impunity and to hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account; to support an independent investigation involving international expertise; to amend the 2008 constitution that condones sexual violence by guaranteeing impunity for sexual crimes; and to provide support for international civil society organisations, including women’s organisations such as the Women’s League of Burma, for their work in documenting cases of rape and providing support for victims of sexual violence.
Secondly, like my noble friend Lord Alton, I return to Sudan, where the Government of Khartoum are continuing genocidal policies against their own people in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Although these currently consist primarily of aerial bombardment of civilians in the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile—which has cynically escalated since the tragic outburst of conflict in South Sudan has attracted international attention—rape has been consistently used on a massive scale in Darfur, perpetrated by the Rapid Support Forces, formerly known as the Janjaweed. While the Government in Khartoum used to claim they had no connection to the Janjaweed, now they embrace the Rapid Support Forces, who are accountable to the National Intelligence and Security Service. Under the Sudanese constitution, the NISS is supposed to gather and analyse data, not run a paramilitary force. Rape as used in Darfur—as a weapon of war—is therefore clearly a regime policy.
I therefore ask the Minister what particular representations have been made to the Government of Sudan to call perpetrators, including the army, to account in order to ensure the cessation of violence against girls and women, and whether there has been any consideration of the provision of treatment, aftercare and support for such victims. Further, given the hard-line Islamist ideology of the Government of Sudan, a woman who tries to make a complaint related to rape is constrained by certain forms of Sharia law whereby she has to provide four independent male witnesses, and she herself may be charged with adultery, thereby becoming vulnerable to death by stoning.
I conclude by asking the Minister what steps are being taken to ensure that the full reality of all situations in all countries relevant this evening, including those in Burma and Sudan, will come under consideration, and what substantive measures will be taken to help women trapped in countries with obdurate Governments and armies still perpetrating sexual violence with impunity.
My Lords, unsurprisingly, even given the wide-ranging nature of the debate, the approaching referendum in Scotland has occupied a prominent place in it—quite rightly so, since it is by far the most important and imminent issue facing the United Kingdom. That importance is increasingly borne out in headlines as we approach the last 100 days of the campaign, with headlines such as, “100 days left to save the union”, and dramatic questions being asked, such as, “Is this the end of the union jack?”, and so forth. All this reminds those of us who are passionate about the union, wherever we live, of the imminence of the vote in Scotland and the vital importance of that vote to our future.
The gracious Speech says that the Government will make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. I very much welcome that commitment. I applaud the fact that the Government have already issued some useful publications to make the case, such as the booklet Scotland in the United Kingdom, which contains both useful information and powerful points in favour of the union. However, it is clear that the Government, in making the case, must recognise sensitivities. I was struck by Gordon Brown’s article in the Guardian yesterday, particularly his comment that,
“instead of using the language of threats and ultimatums”—
about the threat to Scotland’s shipyards and the orders on which they rely—
“a far better pro-union argument is to praise the unique contribution of Scottish defence workers and to support Scots who argue for pooling resources for our mutual defence”.
I strongly agree with him that it is essential to make the case positively in this way.
Recognising sensitivities is important, particularly when London-based Ministers visit Scotland and make statements there. As a north-easterner, I have an instinctive empathy with people in Scotland in this respect. In the north-east we have certainly experienced over the years a catalogue of disastrous ministerial visits. Long ago, when I was very young, I remember the late Lord Hailsham coming to the north-east and sporting a flat cap. Unfortunately—despite the fact, I am sure, that this was well intentioned—it came over as the action of a toff with a patronising and stereotyped view of northerners.
Another Conservative luminary, whom I will be kind enough not to name, came a few years ago to the constituency that I then represented in the House of Commons. Because he was in the north-east he obviously thought that it would be a good idea to praise Newcastle United. He started doing this, saw that his audience looked a little bit glum and wrongly drew the conclusion that perhaps he was not praising Newcastle United effusively enough—not realising that, in that particular part of the north-east, probably 80% of the people supported Sunderland. I could give many other tragicomic examples, but of course the difference this time is simply how important the issue is, and that such insensitivity in Scotland at the moment would be particularly unwelcome if it in any way jeopardised the chances of a strong no vote in the referendum.
It is important to stress the positive, as my noble friend Lord Reid did so cleverly in his take on the “Monty Python” sketch, and in the comments that were subsequently made by my noble friends Lady Liddell of Coatdyke and Lord McFall. I agree with them, too, that while emphasising the positive, we cannot simply ignore some of the big issues to which separation could give rise: economic turbulence, currency uncertainties, uncertainties over EU membership and many other aspects. I know that when these issues are raised, very often the pro-independence supporters claim that this is “Project Fear”—my noble friend Lord Parekh referred to this—and is designed simply to scare voters into voting no. Actually, fear is not restricted to voters in Scotland; it is very much shared by people on both sides of the border. So it should not be seen as trying to scare Scottish voters but simply as dealing with some of the important issues that we have to face.
In his speech in January, the Minister—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace—mentioned the position of many cross-border workers: some 30,000 cross the border in both directions each day, and up to 100,000 have longer commutes, such as former Tyneside shipyard workers who now work on oil rigs in Scotland. I know that many cross-border businesses and the people who work in them are concerned about how complicated and disturbed their lives would be if they were coping with two separate countries with separate administrations and financial systems instead of one United Kingdom.
In conclusion, I simply wish the no campaign every success in its efforts to maintain our United Kingdom and to keep, not break, the strong ties that bind us together, whether they be economic ties, defence and security ties, or ties of social justice, family links and human solidarity, which have characterised the union of which we have been part for more than 300 years.
My Lords, I welcome the gracious Speech. This year, without much fanfare, Bill Cash MP introduced a fundamentally important Private Member’s Bill. As noble Lords will recall, the International Development (Gender Equality) Bill received such unanimous support that it sailed through both Houses without any problem and received Royal Assent in March. It alters the very nature of the law that governs the UK’s aid decisions.
We put at the very heart of the International Development Act 2002 the necessity of the Secretary of State to direct funds with the aim of reducing inequality between men and women. It also forced the Government to cast a critical eye over the aid we give as a country, and to consider whether we are doing all that we can do to work towards MDG 3.
The UK can be a little smug about some of the millennium development goals, but there is no cause for self-congratulation just yet. Goal 3—to promote gender equality and empower women—will never be reached if we ignore the specific economic challenges faced by one group of women in particular. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I am talking about widows. Every time I get to my feet in this House, noble Lords may think, “There he is, talking about widows again”. However, just a few weeks ago the British Army lost five men in a disastrous helicopter crash in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Three of those men left wives behind, but do we stop to think what that means? It is impossible to imagine how devastated their widows must feel.
I declare my interest as a founder and chairman trustee of the Loomba Foundation. We all know by now that there are more than 245 million widows around the world, with 500 million children. Through no fault of their own, many of them face many challenges such as discrimination and physical, psychological and sexual abuse. The question is: is Britain doing its bit to end these practices, empower widows and ensure that they and their children are treated as full members of society, or does our Department for International Development prefer to ignore the millions who are voiceless in order to tiptoe around cultural sensitivities?
As a country we spend more than £150 million in India—2% of DfID’s current budget. One of the four goals for DfID in India is to improve the lives of more than 10 million poor women and girls. Yet, among the 6,500 words the Government use to outline their operational plan in India, the word “widow” does not appear once. The current plan for UK aid to India finishes in 2015, after which our contribution will fall to just £29 million by 2016-17. However, even as we give less to India financially, we can give more intelligently.
First, we need to name the problem. Discrimination against widows and their children is real, so why do we not mention it? The UK is outspoken about the need to empower Dalit girls, but widows and their children in every state and social class can be seen as just as untouchable and as easy victims. Secondly, we need to continue to work with the Indian Government and partner groups to empower women and girls, and to improve gender equality. Cruelty towards widows is embedded in a culture that says that when a woman loses her husband, she has no real life any more. That is cultural suttee, and it can happen only when women’s inferiority is taken for granted.
Thirdly, we need to ensure that DfID leads the way in showing other nations that widowhood means an extra layer of difficulty through which many women and girls have to fight. As we move towards the next round of MDGs, and since UN Women has designated 23 June as International Widows’ Day, I ask the Department for International Development to work closely with UN Women to include the plight of widows in the post-MDG framework.
My Lords, I left this House in 1999 along with a number of others, as I am sure noble Lords will recall. I am very honoured to have been invited back as the result of a Cross-Bench by-election. As I am on my second innings, I will let the cricketers among noble Lords decide whether I am now doing a maiden, a second maiden, or whether is just a question of “maiden over”;—I am not quite sure myself. Either way, I am very grateful to have this chance to contribute, as far as I can, to the debate today.
I have listened to the whole debate and have heard a range of views on Ukraine and Russia, which is the subject I will address. I declare an interest as a director of the British East-West Centre, which provided the UK contingent of election monitors for the recent elections in Ukraine. Both Russia and Ukraine are economically and strategically important to us for reasons which I do not have time or probably the necessity to go into with this audience. The events of the past few months seem to have brought their relationships with “the West”—the revival of that cold war term is telling in itself—to a new low.
Ukraine became an independent state in 1991. Russia retains definite strategic, economic and other interests there. The West has tried to draw Ukraine ever closer to political involvement with Europe, and the population of more than 45 million have their own interests, loyalties and history. Recent events suggest that the West, either by misadventure or deliberately, got itself into a tug-of-war with Russia over Ukraine. Each side—and they became sides—offered multi-billion dollar bids for the country, gave come-hither promises, and accused each other of covert interference. It is very unwise to get into a tug-of-war with somebody who is likely to pull out a gun.
As the tension escalated between the EU and Russia, two things happened. First, Russia simply annexed Crimea militarily. That completely illegal action has been rightly condemned, but it is of little surprise to anyone who knows the historical or strategic background to that relationship. President Putin’s subsequent swaggering contrasted sharply with western battle fatigue. I was reminded very much of that old playground cry, “Oh yeah? You and whose army?”. As a number of speakers have mentioned, that has not gone unnoticed in areas of the world such as the South China Sea. Earlier a noble Lord suggested that economic sanctions were the way to go. They are one of the tools in the box, but do we wish to economically destabilise a country that should be one of the guarantors of peace in Europe?
Secondly, Donetsk and Luhansk, the two eastern regions of the country, have descended effectively into warlordism. Beyond the reach of the proper authorities, roadblocks in and out of towns there are manned by well armed but ill trained men. Torture and disappearances are not uncommon. The new president, Mr Poroshenko, lost no time in declaring that the Crimea and eastern Ukraine would be, to use his phrase, “recovered”. The response from the separatists in those regions has been fairly dismissive. However, as we sit here tonight, firefights and shelling are going on, and large numbers of those soon to become refugees are beginning to pour out of the region. Are we facing a civil war? Possibly. Will Ukraine have a war with Russia? That is unlikely. My concern, however, is that this is a mess created by external actors which the new Administration in Ukraine will have to try to sort out.
I emphatically do not suggest that NATO should have escalated matters into a military conflict, nor that Russia’s actions are defensible, if understandable. I have worked for more than 20 years with that region, and a robust approach is usually the way to conduct negotiations. However, my overall concern is how we got into this situation in the first place.
The depth and subtlety of understanding that is found in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office consistently impresses me. However, it seems to have been brushed aside by our partners in their enthusiasm to grab hold of the western end of the rope and tug.
In conclusion, in seeking stable relations with Russia and Ukraine, we really must do all that we can to help and guide our western partners into a more nuanced recognition that mutual interest is what will solve this problem, not indulging in cold war rivalry, which will find a very ready echo in Moscow.
My Lords, my remarks are addressed first to the current controversy surrounding the next President of the EU Commission, and secondly to our perceptions of, and relations with, our MEPs whom we have just sent to Brussels. I should declare an interest for those who do not remember it: I was an MEP for 25 years, and I still hold one or two appointments in Brussels—of an honorary nature, let me say.
I remind noble Lords that the legal position under the Lisbon treaty is that the European Parliament must give a positive endorsement to the incoming President. That is an important starting point because we should note that the three major groups in the European Parliament—namely, the largest, the centre-right European People’s Party; the centre-left social democrats known as the PES; and the Liberals—represent 62% of the votes and indeed of the seats in the European Parliament. In other words, you cannot get a President through the Parliament without the support of those groups.
The candidates for the presidency were not chosen in some backroom way; all three major parties had conventions of their European party to choose the three candidates. I regret to say that the Conservatives chose to marginalise themselves, first by leaving the EPP and secondly by setting up their own group, called the European Conservative and Reformist Group, whose contribution to the debate was not to choose any candidate for President at all. I suppose they can say that they are not committed, but that is about as far as it goes. It would not be so bad but I am afraid that Labour stood on the sidelines of the PES and has conspicuously failed to endorse Martin Schulz, the PES candidate for President. Both those candidates were picked at party congresses, not in smoke-filled rooms. I must give credit to the Liberals; they played a full part in choosing Guy Verhofstadt as the Liberal choice. Indeed, according to the latest rumours he may well become the next President of the European Parliament.
We have a candidate in play, chosen by the party that won the most seats. I have met Jean-Claude Juncker on a number of occasions. He is a skilled negotiator, has been an extremely good chair of the euro group and excels in what is known as quiet diplomacy. I would have thought that those were very useful attributes. I have also met the other person who seems to be mentioned at the moment, Christine Lagarde, strongly pushed by some and, let me say, a most formidable candidate of enormous ability and clear vision. If it is the wish of Her Majesty’s Government to move away from a natural conciliator such as Jean-Claude Juncker to a figure more akin to Jacques Delors, then Christine Lagarde is the candidate for them to back. But please do not come to any conclusion that somehow out there is a marvellous candidate who is going to endorse the position of the British Government, which, I regret to say, both major parties have pushed so far out of the mainstream of parliamentary politics that it is sad—that is the only thing that I can say about it.
Lastly on this subject, I remind the House that Jean-Luc Dehaene was the candidate in 1994. The British Government moved heaven and earth to get him removed. We ended up with Jacques Santer, who led the only Commission that has been forced to resign. We could well end up in the same position here. I say to the Government: “Be careful what you wish for”.
My second point is about MEPs. I am astonished at how little attention we pay to them. When I was an MEP, you used to be able to get a pass to come in here; you were not necessarily very welcome but you could get through the door. I asked this week what the arrangements now were and I have been given the current guidance, which says:
“Security staff in the House of Commons have been instructed not to grant access to UK MEPs unless they are accompanied—throughout their visit—by a passholder who is entitled to escort guests”.
They can get a pass for this end of the Building, but in fact we have moved backwards. I say to this House: if you keep on kicking the dog and telling it that it is horrible, do not be surprised if some people agree. I put this to both major parties: it is time for us to look very carefully at the way in which we relate to the European Union, to stop being so negative and to start to settle down and ask how we can build a constructive relationship that will deliver what Britain needs. We are on a loser and we need to change.
My Lords, the gracious Speech did not refer to Egypt, but when a group of us from this House visited there earlier this year, Egyptians, knowing that their country had been mismanaged for some time, asked us for our help. They face huge problems with education and healthcare, the large numbers of unemployed causing unrest, the need to retrain people for technical jobs, an acute shortage of energy that is limiting industrial expansion and their reliance on imported basic foods, wheat, sugar and oil to expand their agriculture.
Since that visit, we have established an active All-Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt, and the Egyptians that we met there have worked hard, through Samir Takla, a devoted Egyptian expat here, to arrange for 20 of us, from both Houses and all parties, to go again to Egypt this coming weekend. The Mohammed Farid Kamis Foundation, which built the British University in Egypt, has arranged for us to meet the Prime Minister, the Foreign and Interior Ministers, the Grand Mufti, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, His Holiness the Coptic Pope, Mohamed Fayek, the chairman of the National Council for Civil Rights and people from all sides in the parliamentary elections, and we will be accompanied by the British ambassador to Egypt, James Watt.
In view of our country’s historical relations with Egypt, its strategic location and its influence in the Middle East, Egypt must be a priority for our help. I am told that in Syria, following the collapse and descent into chaos of that country, we have allocated £600 million for humanitarian aid for those affected. If we aid the new Egyptian Parliament, as soon as it is in place, to act decisively, responsibly, transparently and mindfully, we could perhaps, with the use of tens of millions of pounds, help it to turn that country around. The Minister offered this “smarter aid” in her opening remarks for good governance and the rule of law.
We in your Lordships’ House have a part to play too. Egyptians asked for the experienced parliamentarians of our APPG to be part of a process to facilitate with them a continuing national dialogue. We are already in discussions with them on their need for religious freedoms, civil liberties, women’s rights, the rule of law and equality in their economy, but they want us, immediately their Parliament is formed, to help them to begin to mobilise all available energies within Egypt by creating what we have now termed the Middle East Centre for Civic Involvement, MECCI, which would be used to identify issues, find solutions and prioritise them for the people. We would do this using the facilities in their great international universities where the faculty would involve their wider academia, the students would link to youth, and experts from the UK could act as facilitators.
Within Egypt’s 94 million people, there are many groupings that have their own hopes, fears, grievances and aspirations—Copts, Nubians, the youth, women’s groups, health professionals and educators. MECCI would establish within Egypt a robust process of sensitive, patient long-term dialogue with short-term feedback, and would facilitate listening to each and every group and help to translate their frustrations and fears into pragmatic slates of requests. At the same time, we would offer the parliamentarians and local devolved authorities tools to find solutions and prioritise these. There would be continuous feedback to the people on plans, actions taken and progress. I would like to make it clear that this new Middle East Centre for Civic Involvement would be a tool for parliamentarians and the people to communicate with each other, and would be closely affiliated to our All-Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt.
Today I am asking noble Lords to help us to help Egypt to gain the governance that it seeks, and for Her Majesty’s Government to support this work whereby Britain could help to facilitate wider reform and stability of the whole region. Over time, with the experience that we gain in Egypt, MECCI will begin to link with other individual countries in the region. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa Al-Jaber’s MBI Foundation has generously this month provided ample funding for a scoping exercise for MECCI. Sheikh Mohamed has been promoting better education and governance across the region for over 20 years. His generosity now has allowed us to spend time interviewing consultants familiar with the situation who have successfully dealt with similar conditions elsewhere. Together we will plan out how MECCI might work in practical terms, what it would cost to set up, and how it can be funded sustainably.
We have consulted on all this with the Egyptian ambassador here in the UK, its Minister for Foreign Affairs, its team who put together the constitution, and all the people we met on our first visit. They all realise that they are taking on a huge task to restore Egypt to its former glory. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will see that if we do not succeed in helping Egypt to rule with the will of its people, it could become another Syria. There are forces afoot within Egypt and in other countries that would actually like Egypt to follow Syria and for mayhem to ensue. We need to support Egyptians through this dialogue to help to remove the causes of conflict, instability and extremism; to promote national unity and thus restore peace; and to re-establish their tourist industry and regain the confidence of foreign investors through the respect for the rule of law. Were Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and others in the Maghreb to find their feet in these next years and begin to work and trade together, they could serve as a light to the nations that surround them, which could be the beginning of a Middle East and north Africa that contributes greatly to the world’s economy, ecology, art, science, medicine and culture.
In closing, having kept the Foreign Office and DfID informed on all this since we returned, I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government are prepared to offer a positive message of support for MECCI that we 20 parliamentarians can take to the people of Egypt and their parliamentarians this weekend.
My Lords, what a privilege it is to share in this debate and to hear so many outstanding contributions. I would even use the word “awesome” to describe some of them. One feels, as a little Welsh lad from the hills, that it is a tremendous honour to be able to do this—and I am sure that I am not the only person to feel that. This House and the House of Commons over the years have done so much and been so wonderful in the lives of people. From the time of the Magna Carta through Wilberforce, to expanding the franchise and to recent legislation, we have moved from serfdom to citizenship—a tremendous move.
Individuals have benefited and are benefiting from the rights that we acquire and also from our obligations as citizens. Of course, we need to continue this so that each person in the UK has a sense of belonging and ownership. We must seek to make it possible for every individual to achieve his or her potential and become what they might be. We need a wide educational system, teachers who both inspire and enable and are themselves encouraged and recognised, so that from the early years youngsters grow up with the knowledge of our society and a desire to be part of it.
The Private Member’s Bill that I introduced yesterday is to encourage voter registration, especially among young people. At present, 6.2 million people in the UK aged between 16 and 24 are able to register to vote. How I hope that becoming a part of society and community will be highly valued not only in the UK but also in Europe itself, and that people will want to be part of the communities to which they belong. That Bill is going ahead. I referred to those 6.2 million people being able to register, but only 55% are registered and, of those, only 24% are certain to vote. We have a big job to do to make people feel that this is their country, that they have the last word and that they can themselves influence a policy.
We have the problem mentioned already this afternoon of how we relate citizenship to newcomers to the United Kingdom. That demands our attention, and not only as individual political parties. I am sure that the question could be tackled better together. We should find some way to work together in a positive way, as members of all parties and no parties, to bring about the relationship that we require—or rather, that we would desire, in the United Kingdom. Nowadays we are allowing a spirit of hostility to enter our existence and talk and so on, which will destroy our centuries-old record as a people who have welcomed those who are different from ourselves. There is nothing easier than a populist message; it is easily done, but it is so destructive in so many words and so many ways. When the Huguenots fled from France they were welcomed here. The Jewish people in 1937, 1938 and 1939 were welcomed to these shores as they fled the evil of Nazism. Folk from the Caribbean came here and supported our health service and transport service; they have contributed so much to us as a culture. Kenyan Asians came—and then we had the locals, as you might call them, from Ireland and Scotland, and even dairy farmers from Wales. About 40 years ago, I am told, there were 3,600 Welsh dairies in London. We came and were welcomed, and you could not do without us.
Every community that comes here contributes so richly to our wide culture. I would like the Minister to give me an assurance that nothing will be done to make it more difficult for us to be the beneficiaries of this wider culture, so that we can live together in a harmony that the rest of the world will envy.
My Lords, in a defence debate it is a tradition to start with a tribute to those who have fallen in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and I open my remarks today with a tribute to aid workers, who have also died on active service, working on the front line in Africa, Syria, Afghanistan and many other areas of conflict. Aid workers in Africa and Asia are now targeted as if they were a fighting force. They will not, generally, be remembered, except of course by their families and colleagues.
I would like briefly to mention my concerns about Ukraine. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has already mentioned EU Sub-Committee C’s timely inquiry, and I know many Peers today share his concerns and those of the noble Lord, Lord King. My own suspicion, already much better expressed by my noble friend Lord Cromwell, is that the EU has overreached itself and has not taken sufficient account of the historical ties between Russia and some of its neighbours, notably Georgia and Ukraine.
Conflict seems to be on the increase, especially in Africa and the Middle East, partly because the media, notably Al-Jazeera, have brought conflict much closer to us. Victims of conflict are added to the high toll of poverty, which is the biggest killer of all. Countries such as Somalia and South Sudan have already low levels of literacy and health, which keep them on the lowest rungs of the ladder; civil war has almost thrown them off the ladder altogether. It seems to outsiders that whole swathes of Africa are now out of bounds to aid workers, yet the staff of the ICRC or United Nations agencies such as the UNHCR risk their lives in regions like Upper Nile and Darfur, and in many areas there is no authority except for local militias which often aggravate the conflict. But there are many areas where peaceful development is a real possibility. Even South Sudan has vast stretches of fertile land; minerals are another source of wealth. Investors and agencies have a common purpose in bringing prosperity to the poorest developing countries, but their frustration often stems from the lack of information, which means knowing the level and scale of poverty.
It is difficult to count the numbers in need. Because of the variations between and within countries, it is nearly impossible to set standards or calculate how many people live in extreme poverty. It is no wonder that the World Bank has had trouble with its poverty statistics. The $1 a day calculation was a handy way of describing the millennium development goals. It enabled the UN to proclaim that the number of extreme poor in the world, which had long remained at around 800 million, had been halved—and so it had, until the $1 a day was updated to $1.25, when the numbers accordingly went back up by 400 million. With the help of the Overseas Development Institute, I have been trying to learn how economists reach these calculations. They do it on the basis of household surveys that take account of purchasing power parity through something called the International Comparison Programme, which is carried out every six years. The latest survey showed that consumption in China and parts of Asia was growing much faster than previously thought. For some economists, this meant that poverty again fell dramatically, from 20% to about 9% of the world population. Meanwhile, the Brookings Institution did a different calculation, raising the poverty level to $1.55 and basing its results on the 15 poorest countries. Again it came up with an extreme poverty figure of 870 million. The end result is that the poor, in the biblical sense, remain with us just as before; and the UN says that a billion people could still be extremely poor by 2030.
The one thing that has been agreed is that we can no longer base our statistics crudely on GNP per capita, which has been so convenient in the past. We must now take account of social factors such as employment, access to education and so on, and these are extremely difficult to assess and compare. Can the Minister say what our Government’s policy is on data collection for the new millennium goals? Is this a priority for DfID? Can he confirm that the High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended that the new targets be tailored to different income and social groups? This will surely mean that a concerted effort must be made to assess the numbers in each group. This is a herculean task in about 40 of the poorest countries that still lack the necessary data and means of collecting the information. Nevertheless, the work has to be done if we are going to have confidence in achieving these goals in years to come.
My Lords, the competence and quality of advice given by Foreign Office officials are fundamental to the judgment calls that Ministers subsequently have to make. Therefore, high morale and a sense of being valued and appreciated are obviously important. It would be fair to say that the accretion of foreign affairs control and activity into Downing Street, which had taken place over the years, did not improve either morale or the quality of judgments on issues abroad.
However, the central importance of our Foreign Office is now felt to have been restored in large measure, to our national benefit. Today, new strategic or commercial opportunities have arisen and have been recognised, and extra staff deployed accordingly. This has happened, for example, in Latin America, China—particularly outside Beijing—Turkey and east Asia. A new language training centre is most welcome, now that it has been established. Similarly, we should note the close co-operation that now exists between UKTI and the FCO. A huge export effort is now underway, and more export finance is available, particularly to smaller and medium-sized businesses. There are 16 trade envoys appointed by the Prime Minister, covering 30 markets. They come from both Houses and are cross-party. I cover Algeria, and I should like your Lordships to know the support that all of us have received from UKTI in our respective roles. I have been superbly guided and encouraged by our diplomatic staff in Algiers, and all of us can provide similar reports.
I should like to mention two countries in particular. Ukraine continues to dominate headlines. For a number of years, I have been chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, met many of the politicians and got to know the country well. Since its independence and subsequently the Orange Revolution, it would be fair to say that the level of governance in Ukraine has been poor, and that prime ministers and presidents have left office extremely rich—at times in a grotesque way. All this has either stunted or bled the exchequer. In November, Ukraine was due to sign an EU association agreement, linked into a deep and comprehensive free-trade accord. However, no money was available from the EU. So, at the last moment, President Yanukovych turned to Russia. The rest, regrettably, is history. No country can divorce itself from its geography, and Ukraine remains heavily dependent on Russia for its exports and energy provision, however unpalatable. It is therefore welcome that contact between President Poroshenko and President Putin has been made. The EU association agreement, however, needs to be signed, and conditionality will then be imposed. That should lead to vital judicial and commercial reform. I very much hope that we will get assurance from the Minister that our Government will encourage the Ukrainians to go down this route, which is so necessary. If nothing else, the actions of Russia in Crimea and the provocations in eastern Ukraine make it crucial that dependence on Russian energy supplies, used as an arm of foreign policy, is reduced.
There is one country, a major energy provider of oil and gas, with which we have quietly developed a remarkable relationship—Algeria. Historically, our links have been minimal but, following the visit of our Prime Minister there in January last year, our bilateral ties have developed at every level, including as a reliable energy supplier, and particularly in the area of security. Given the porous border of that country, this is a huge aspect on which we are giving our encouragement and support. Latterly, we have seen our business with Algeria soaring, not only in respect of energy but in areas such as health, education, satellite technology and agriculture. Considering its geographical location, Algeria’s social and political stability has been remarkable. Algeria’s Government are spending extensively on its physical infrastructure, health and education; and the desire to learn and be trained in the English language is limitless. We are addressing this. Algeria would like to become an associate member of the Commonwealth; it is not a member of the Francophonie. Algeria exemplifies what I am trying to say this evening and what I was referring to earlier—finding fresh business opportunities and political contact, and forming a much closer, multifaceted, overall relationship with a country with which our traditional links have not been great. It is now a partnership that is mutually valued and strong.
There is much greater functional coherence in our often new relationships in many parts of the world, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who are driving this process on.
My Lords, the hotchpotch of issues that this debate has thrown together bears little relationship to the content of the legislative programme, and the same goes for most speeches so far. I therefore thought that I would start by referring to at least one piece of legislation that I approve of and is actually in the programme. It will need strengthening, but I strongly support, and congratulate the Government on bringing forward, the Modern Slavery Bill. That Bill and the topics that it deals with have a number of dimensions. They clearly include the appalling sex trade and the trafficking of women and children in particular. As my noble friend Lord Collins mentioned and as the Guardian highlighted this morning, the Bill also deals with the trafficking of workers. I will seek to ensure that those aspects are strengthened as the Bill goes through this House.
The second thing that I should like to say—which I was not expecting to say—to the Government and my own Front Bench is that I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, in terms of the need for this country to have much more positive engagement with the institutions of the European Union. Whatever we may think, it is necessary to take that on board. The referenda are already dominating this debate in some ways. I hope and believe that the Scots will vote to stay in the United Kingdom, and I hope that if we have to vote in a referendum on Europe we vote accordingly to stay within the EU. I hope the case for both is put rather more positively than it sometimes is. However, even if Scotland votes no and even if we vote to stay in Europe, the very process of those campaigns will change the nature of our politics and the nature of our democracy.
In particular, it is clear that there will be more devolution to Scotland following a no vote. We have before us a Bill for more devolution to the Welsh Government, which I support, including on taxation. In Northern Ireland there are calls for more devolution on taxation as well, particularly corporate taxation, for obvious reasons in relation to competition from the Republic. In many respects we are becoming, and have become, an asymmetrical federal state. That has implications for our constitution. It has implications for this House, which I will not go into today, but we will have our chance to debate that in a few days’ time. The issue I wish to focus on is that that raises the issues of subsidiarity and devolution within England. I should declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA, although I am not speaking for it here.
Some may ask, “What subsidiarity in England?”. In essence, outside of Greater London there is no devolution of substance in England any more. We argue for subsidiarity but, despite the supposed intentions of the Localism Act, less is devolved to local authorities than 10 years ago, and a huge amount less than 40 years ago. Successive Governments have taken more and more powers away from local authorities. They allow them fewer and fewer resources, give them less and less discretion and have taken away whole chunks of responsibilities, such as housing, education, the ability to set their own budgets and to raise their own resources.
Local authorities are simply becoming delivery mechanisms for the central state. That is politically counterproductive. We clearly recognise in Scotland and Wales the distance and resentment towards Westminster-dominated decisions. We need to recognise that the same instincts apply in Newcastle, Norwich, Cumberland and Cornwall. I am not in any sense arguing for an English Parliament—I do not think that is the right outcome—nor am I suggesting that we should go back to the construct of the rather artificial English regions and make them a political entity. However, we do have to think again about how power is devolved in England. I am quite attracted to the idea of city regions, but I am probably more likely to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who said at the beginning of this debate that we need a whole constitutional commission to look at these issues. That needs to start as soon as possible.
I have two other quick points. First, I have a small note of dissent on Ukraine. I hold absolutely no brief for Putin and his strategy, but I query the precipitation of this crisis and the alacrity with which the West—all of us—accepted the legitimacy of a street-based coup to depose, effectively, an elected Government. That came not that long after virtually the same thing had happened in Egypt to an elected president. I hold no brief for the Muslim Brotherhood, nor for the previous corrupt Ukrainian Government, but I ask policymakers to think how this looks in the eyes of the Arab world and the citizens of the former Soviet Union in terms of the legitimacy and reality of the West’s commitment to democracy.
My last point is on the culture and DCMS brief. A year ago there was one DCMS issue that probably should never have been a DCMS issue but dominated our discussion in this House: what we were doing post Leveson. That seems to have disappeared from view; I have not heard any speech on it today. The Government and Parliament have retreated. We have been foisted with a partial, industry-based quasi-regulator that is probably no better—in some ways it may be worse—than the one we had before. The issue of regulation of press behaviour has obscured the central issue here, which is plurality of ownership of the media. We have retreated definitely from that so that it is out of sight, yet your Lordships’ House has a committee that has done a very good report on that area. I do not agree with all of it, but we need to return to this issue. True democracy needs diversity of opinion; that means plurality of ownership. Some time—not too far in the distance, I hope—politicians will grasp that issue and do something about it, but evidently not this Government and not this Queen’s Speech.
My Lords, I am delighted that the gracious Speech highlighted the Government’s commitment to continue building a stronger economy and a fairer society, especially for our children. The inclusion of the Modern Slavery Bill, the extension of free childcare for more disadvantaged two year-olds and the Serious Crime Bill, which will tackle child neglect, are all welcome news. I look forward to debating those issues, as they will dramatically affect out children. However, I was slightly disappointed not to have heard anything about the creative industries, as this is an area that also affects our children and young people’s well-being.
First, I congratulate the Government on the bold initiatives they have already taken to help our creative industries. Because of tax credits, Britain has become a magnet for international film, television and animation productions. The introduction of tax credits for the theatre was also welcome news. However, there are still major issues that need to be addressed. Two of them are very close to my heart.
The first is the representation of our diverse society in the media, especially in film and television, both on screen and, most importantly, behind the camera and in the boardrooms where, at present, a person of colour is a very rare sight. During awards ceremonies there is virtually no diverse representation in the production teams receiving awards, which is always so disheartening. This lack of diversity in the media is an issue I have tackled for the past 40 years, and although great strides have been made during that time, more desperately needs to be done for the sake of our young people, who need to see themselves reflected positively in our society and be given role models to aspire to.
I am pleased to say that the honourable Ed Vaizey, who I have been working with, is making exciting progress by gathering interested parties from across the creative industries to find a permanent and inclusive way forward. We must not fail. We must seize this opportunity to make a lasting difference, because major British successes, like “12 Years a Slave” and the soon to be released “Belle” demonstrate the untapped talent we have in this country. Opportunities need to be accessible for this success to continue.
The National Film and Television School, which trains the next generation of film makers, is holding a Striving for Diversity Nirvana gala, which I chair, so I declare an interest. Its aim is not only to celebrate the UK’s diverse talent but to provide a career path for those from diverse backgrounds to learn creative skills. This is all good news, but as I said before, more needs to be done to reassure young people who feel alienated by the lack of inclusion. Perhaps the Government can tell the House what more is being done to ensure that we have positive outcomes on diversity in the creative industries.
The second issue I wish to address is the need for more investment in children’s television programming—and again I declare an interest. Pact, the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, is leading a campaign to introduce a tax credit for children’s live-action television. The Government’s investment in media tax credits has demonstrated a healthy rate of return in both domestic investment and overseas interest in co-productions. Why not open up these opportunities to the makers of children’s productions by introducing a tax credit, not just for animation but for children’s live-action television as well: entertainment, documentaries, factual and current affairs, but most of all dramas?
The Children’s Media Foundation also believes that a tax incentive will stimulate commissioning of more uniquely British programming and encourage international collaboration. This is so important, because, in the past 10 years, we have seen a significant decline in the number and range of quality programmes produced for children in this country. Ofcom’s statistics are simply shocking: only 1% of newly made programmes are made in Britain. That is not good enough, and it matters. If our children are to feel part of the society in which they live, they need to see themselves represented on screen, to help them understand their world. So they need to be engaged by programmes, websites and apps of relevance. If this tax incentive can stimulate ITV to start commissioning children’s programmes again and encourage the international giants, Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, which all want to increase locally produced UK-relevant programmes, this can only add to the variety of programmes that speak to our children.
The BBC is the dominant and sole remaining buyer of children’s content, so a tax credit would address the current market failure in PSB children’s programming. For a modest investment, the UK could support a sector that often struggles fully to finance programmes. It would also support a sector that acts as an incubator for on-screen and off-screen talent, providing valuable training and skills development. The economic and financial case is very strong. More production would take place in the UK; more studios would be used here; more technical and production staff would be employed; more British talent could write, compose and perform; and programmes would have more export potential through international and format sales. This is a win-win situation from every angle because the cultural case is also overwhelming. A tax credit would secure relevant British programming for a generation of children to come. We can all gaze back at our favourite children’s programme through the square window. A tax credit would ensure that there was less cultural invasion.
There is much concern about the media that our children consume. We worry about the influence of the internet, games, television and advertising, and about other sinister influences on our children. However, so often we do little to support what is good, relevant, challenging, stimulating and meaningful for them. Why is that? A society is judged by how it treats its children and what it provides for them. Therefore, will the Government consider putting measures in place to bring about a tax credit for children’s television productions? This tax credit is essential. It is desperately needed for our children and our young people’s well-being and it should be put in place now, during this Parliament, as a gift for our children.
My Lords, Her Majesty stated in the gracious Speech:
“My Government will continue to work with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland to … promote reconciliation and create a shared future”.
The devolved Administration are not succeeding in their attempts. It was disappointing that, having travelled so far towards resolution of matters relating to the past, to parades and to flags, politicians were unable to reach agreement at the Haas talks. It is to be hoped that the Government will give every encouragement and assistance to those involved in the further talks, which are starting now.
Our security situation and our peace remain fragile, and that is of importance to the United Kingdom as a whole. During the year 2013-14, there was one death, 54 shooting incidents, 69 bombing incidents, 28 paramilitary shooting casualties and 42 paramilitary-style assault casualties, and 10 firearms and 23 kilograms of explosives were seized. Thirty-two people were charged under the Terrorism Act.
Critical to the security of the peace process and our shared future are the institutions established under the Good Friday agreement. They form part of a complex structure which underpins the growing acceptance of the rule of law and constitutional process. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is one such institution. It is facing major budget cuts, which will reduce its income to the level that it was at 13 years ago, when it was established. Responsibility for the Human Rights Commission remains here, not in Northern Ireland, and today the Joint Committee on Human Rights wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland expressing concern at the situation. If the cuts go ahead, there is a very real fear that the NIHRC will not be able to comply with the Paris principles. Its category A status will be put in jeopardy and, because of that, the category A status of the British Equality and Human Rights Commission will also be jeopardised. What we have achieved in human rights terms gives us the moral authority to speak on the international stage on such matters. If category A status is lost, the UK’s standing internationally will be harmed.
Many people wish that the past would go away; it will not do so. At present, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the other place is inquiring about the Government’s “on the run” scheme, under which comfort letters were provided through Sinn Fein to various people who had reason to believe that they might be under investigation by the state. The revelation of the OTR scheme has caused outrage, not least because, as your Lordships know, a man was freed by the Old Bailey in March this year, having been charged with the Hyde Park bombing, because he had received one of these letters.
Another issue which is causing significant concern and which has the capacity to undermine attempts to build a shared future relates to matters falling within the grey area between justice, which is devolved, and national security, which is not devolved. National security, as your Lordships know, does not have a specific definition. The problem is that it can be used, sometimes without justification, as a reason for refusal to allow access to material required by those charged with investigating what has happened in the past.
There are serious problems with our inquest system. While justice is devolved and security is not, it is the UK which has a duty to provide timely Article 2-compliant inquests. That is not happening. Inquests for people who died at the hands of paramilitaries and of the state, and which were opened soon after the deaths, were adjourned because coroners could get neither the necessary information nor the resources. In a letter, which has been made public, dated May 2014 to the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland from the coroner service, it was stated:
“It should be viewed as an enormous … embarrassment to the State that these Inquests have not been held”.
Some of these cases are decades old. In 2001, the European Court of Human Rights awarded damages to one family who were still awaiting an inquest after the shooting of their son in 1992. The damages were small—£10,000. Thirteen years later, the High Court in Belfast has awarded the same family £7,500 for frustration. Again, they are small damages but the costs of such actions are enormous, and the embarrassment to the Government for failing to provide a proper inquest system is high. This money could have been used to improve the coronial system. Further damages claims are now inevitable.
In January this year, the findings of an inquest into a police shooting 20 years ago were quashed on a variety of grounds. In delivering his judgment, the judge found the PSNI responsible for a delay of up to 11 years in holding the hearing. At present, the coroner is trying to conduct inquests into cases which were investigated by John Stalker and Colin Sampson. He opened the inquests again in 2007 and asked for access to the reports. In 2010 he got some access to redacted reports, but access to the full files has remained very difficult. In 2010 he also asked for an investigator to assist the process—a perfectly normal request. This has not been granted.
Over four years, only 50% of the Stalker/Sampson material has been examined and made available to the coroner. The process of redaction is being carried out by former RUC/PSNI Special Branch officers. Some of these former officers have been identified as having served with or known 92 of the potential inquest witnesses. In the May 2014 letter, the coroner stated that the present attitude of the PSNI to classification of the material is driving up costs, not reducing them.
A few years ago, Her Majesty’s Coroner was allowed to go into a police station and look at the secret material. He could make notes on it but could not take them out of the police station. Now, he is allowed to send in junior counsel. Junior counsel can record notes on a laptop, which is provided, but junior counsel is not permitted, except in very limited circumstances, to take that laptop away. Junior counsel, who is security-cleared, then has to brief senior counsel, who is not and not working full-time on the job. The consequence is that junior counsel cannot tell senior counsel what junior counsel has found out, yet senior counsel has to advise the coroner.
There are two obvious consequences to that situation. One is that the gatekeepers to access to this material are people who have a possible conflict of interest. I say no more. The other is that the whole process is so slow that at this rate it is not even possible to contemplate when the inquests might begin. As the state is seen to fail repeatedly in the discharge of its obligations under the law, the process of growing trust in the rule of law is inevitably damaged.
There are things that the Government can do to address these issues—they are not complex. I acknowledge and defend the need to protect national security. The concept can, however, be used as a barrier to due process rather than a shield from threats against the state. I acknowledge that much resource has been made available to Northern Ireland, but the reality is that Northern Ireland is carrying a burden which England, Scotland and Wales do not. It is the burden of the legacy of the Troubles. It requires both resources and courage to face the extent to which wrong things were done.
Government have a significant responsibility to ensure that the coronial system is fit for purpose and resourced to succeed. Failure to do so will end up only in our being back in the European court. There is an enormous funding deficit in this area. Government have recently submitted to the Committee of Ministers plans for a legacy inquest unit and a cross-agency group on delay, but there is little detail on what is being proposed and it is far from clear whether it will address the enormous problems and endemic delay currently in the system. I therefore ask the Government to deal with these very real problems and, by so doing, to give real assistance to those currently trying to sustain and consolidate the peace process and to build a shared future.
My Lords, the gracious Speech has already had a good airing of the measures it contains in this House and in the other place. With the indulgence of this House, I should like to raise an issue that was not specifically contained in it. One of the most acute problems facing our society now and in the longer term is obesity and the lack of facilities to combat it. One area for progress, but by no means the only one, would be for more emphasis to be placed on the need for more sporting and recreational facilities, especially for the youngsters in our society. The British Medical Association estimates that half the population of England alone will be obese by 2050. Currently in the UK, one-third of children are overweight or obese, which underlines the need for improved facilities.
The gracious Speech referred to the Government’s infrastructure agenda. I understand that this measure is intended to be wide-ranging and, therefore, is relevant to my proposals. Numerous experts have argued that smaller infrastructure projects are vital in addition to those listed in the gracious Speech. For example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors points out that,
“infrastructure projects don’t need to be big to be effective in creating growth … a small amount of capital investment would quickly deliver great benefits”.
The Centre for Economics and Business Research produced a report that evidenced the major positive impact to the UK economy that investing in our local sports infrastructure has in terms of jobs and growth, aside from the obvious health and regeneration benefits.
Crucially, a massive number of these sports facility projects right across the country are “shovel-ready”. In other words, we would not have to wait, say, 10 or 20 years to see the economic and social benefits of this investment, as we would for large-scale infrastructure projects. Many of these projects would be ready to commence in months if given the capital. Some schemes are currently in existence. I declare an interest as president of the Football Foundation, which is well known to Members of this House as the largest sports charity in the UK. It brings together the FA, the Premier League, the Government and Sport England to help rebuild the country’s dilapidated grassroots facilities.
I would like to refer to some facts that have only this week come to my attention from a report relating to the problems of grassroots facilities. The report states that,
“the relatively poor facilities encountered by players outside of school environment are an important factor in the fall-off in participation … a major difficulty for many clubs in relation to training is to find suitable areas for use in the dark winter months”.
I refer to those quotes because they were not from a report published this week, last week, last month or even last year but from a report written 42 years ago and submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on Sport and Leisure. This report was unearthed by Glenn Moore, football editor of the Independent, for which I am grateful.
However, the future is not all doom and gloom, despite the absence of successive Governments to tackle the need for action in a positive way. As illustrated in that report of 42 years ago, floodlights are critical to illuminate playing services during dark winter evenings. Since 2000, when the Football Foundation was founded, together with its partners it has contributed £500 million to the grassroots game but the scale of the problem for our country’s 40,000 playing pitches will take many years to tackle.
The foundation research shows that there is an average increase in football participation of 10% when facilities have been upgraded by investment and an increase of 12% in other sports such as cricket, rugby and netball. The recent England Commission report by Greg Dyke, the chairman of the Football Association, highlights the pressing need for grassroots facilities. He points out that in this country, and in the regions in particular, no play takes place on the pitches of this country for many months of the winter. I hope that Greg Dyke’s policies are approved.
I am sure that I carry everyone here when I say that we will be cheering on Roy Hodgson’s England team when it plays Italy on Saturday on its way to winning the World Cup in Brazil.
My Lords, I would like to build on some of the excellent speeches from earlier in this debate as regards Scotland, including in particular the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, and an especially powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan. The issue of Scottish independence is currently the biggest challenge facing our nation. The potential consequences not only for Scotland but, as has been pointed out, for the rest of the UK are profound.
Everyone in the UK, particularly those in Scotland aged 16 and over who get the opportunity to vote in this referendum, carries a significant responsibility on their shoulders for this and for future generations. It is not only about getting the decision right, although that is vital, it is also about the tone of the debate and the potential impact of the outcome for the whole of the United Kingdom
Put starkly, this could be the final Queen’s speech before Scotland becomes an independent country or, in contrast, it could be the start of a different kind of change in the United Kingdom with a stronger, more powerful Scottish Parliament with major new powers and change too across the rest of the United Kingdom, devolving powers away from this overcentralised democracy that is our current-day Westminster.
The potential for change that affects the whole of the United Kingdom was highlighted by the noble Lords, Lord Hennessy and Lord Whitty, and by many others in this debate. The all-party group on further decentralisation and devolution in the UK established by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Purvis, is tremendously important and can influence the leadership of all the main political parties. I say that because all the main parties are now supporting substantial new powers, including major tax-raising powers, for the Scottish Parliament beyond the referendum. That is a good thing.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde who often over the decades has been a political adversary for the work of his Conservative Party commission in this area, which, for the first time in my political memory and I am sure in the memories of most in this Chamber, commits the Conservative Party to radical reform in a way that home rule Liberals could only previously have dreamt of—so well done. These are issues of fundamental long-term importance to the political landscape of each of our nations and all parts of the United Kingdom. So, too, is the quality and the tone of the debate, to which I will return.
I have been telling people about the vicious, negative, so-called cybernats for many years—for more than a decade. They are not a new phenomenon. Politicians and journalists have had online attacks and smears from nationalists for years. A member of staff employed by Cabinet Secretary for Education Mike Russell was forced to quit for abusive postings exposed back in 2009. At the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, correctly called it the politics of vile hatred.
University principals and college heads have spoken privately to me and to others about the intimidation they have been subject to from very senior figures in the SNP Government. In my view, academic freedom has been undermined. Supporters of the Better Together campaign are now routinely online called quislings, traitors or collaborators. Today that has perhaps come to a head. The author JK Rowling, who announced a donation of £1 million to the no campaign, has been subjected to a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse by the cybernats. Much of that abuse would be inappropriate to repeat in this Chamber. A Scottish charity called, ironically, the Dignity Project tweeted at lunchtime today:
“What a #bitch after we gave her shelter in our city when she was a single mum”.
The charity has been reported to the Scottish charity regulator.
Worst of all was the attack today by the First Minister’s special adviser on the mother of a disabled child. Her crime was to speak at the no campaign’s press event on Monday. Alex Salmond’s special adviser tried to smear her, questioning whether she was a normal mum. One cybernat said of her today,
“A liar now and forever whatever the outcome of the vote, a known Quisling and collaborator”.
This woman, Clare Lally, is a carer whose daughter requires round-the-clock support for her cerebral palsy. It is worth closing by repeating Ms Lally’s words as they are important. She said:
“The comments were really bad, things about me being a mum, about me being a carer, about the work I do, the campaigning I’m involved in. Just really nasty, nasty things, very personal and very upsetting … People think this is ok behaviour, that if we don’t agree with one side then we have to be shot down, we have to be publicly ridiculed, we have to be belittled, we have to be discredited for anything that we do”.
It is not okay behaviour.
This is a defining moment for Alex Salmond, the SNP and the yes campaign. He likes to denigrate and attack the no campaign for being negative. So Mr Salmond, what have you got to say about your campaign and campaigners tonight? Will you speak out? When you go to the Scottish Parliament tomorrow, what will you say? Do you have the strength of character and leadership to do what is right and end these damaging, divisive, disgraceful attacks right now and for the rest of this campaign or will you stay silent? Scotland awaits the answer.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate on the gracious Speech. I make no apologies that most of my remarks deal with the Middle East, an area I know well and where I served the United Nations for several years. It is my belief that security in the region from the Maghreb to the Gulf is deteriorating and many of the threats to this country emanate from that region—as other noble Lords suggested.
Three days ago, Pope Francis, in an extraordinary gesture on Sunday, invited the Israeli President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas to Rome, where they participated in prayers in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. It was a bold gesture but also a poignant one. It was, after all, more than 20 years ago in 1994 that these two men—90 year-old Shimon Peres and 80 year-old Mahmoud Abbas—contributed so much to peace in the region by signing the Oslo peace accords that led to the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. It was poignant, too, because President Peres will shortly step down as head of state, to be replaced by Reuven Rivlin, who has espoused the concept of a greater Israel. On the Palestinian side, President Abbas is now ageing and his successor—whoever that might be—will find it much more difficult to make peace with Israel.
A year is a long time in politics and it is worth reflecting where we were this time last year. Then in the debate on the gracious Speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to “a critical year” ahead for the peace process between Israel and Palestine and also mentioned,
“the first ever democratic presidential election in Egypt”,—[Official Report, 15/5/13; col. 404.]
when President Morsi was elected. Some 12 months on, I am afraid there is little optimism to show for that. Once again, progress on an Israeli/Palestinian peace process has eluded us and is for the foreseeable future halted with seemingly little pressure from the quartet of the United States, EU, Russia and UN. The quartet was established 12 years ago precisely to advance that process. Tony Blair is now in his seventh year in his appointment as envoy of the quartet. A few more years and he will match his tenure in office as Prime Minister. He said in his speech last month that economics goes side by side with politics. On that he is clearly right. But, frankly, progress on either has been meagre. How could that be otherwise when one party—Israel—is a powerful nation state that controls nearly all the borders of Palestine and occupies most of the territory while continuing to build settlements?
As for Egypt, the first ever democratic election—mentioned last year in our debate—ended in a putsch leading to the trial and imprisonment of President Morsi. I have no truck with the Ikhwan—the Muslim Brotherhood—but point out that Morsi’s successor was elected on a smaller turnout of 47% even though the concept of polling day was elastic and was extended not once or twice but thrice and with all sorts of incentives offered to prospective voters. I gently remind the House that President Morsi remains the only elected President of Egypt who is a civilian in the 62-year history of the Arab Republic of Egypt. All the others have been generals or, in the latest case, a field marshal. What is our policy now? Do we still believe in peace between Israel and an independent Palestine? What are our hopes for a democratic Egypt? The Minister should answer these questions.
For all the difficulties in Palestine and Egypt, the heart of the storm remains the conflict in Syria. I take this opportunity to praise the efforts of my former UN colleague, Lakhdar Brahimi, who worked tirelessly as the envoy of the UN and chaired the Geneva peace process. The immediate prospects for Syria are grim, and dire for resuming that process. In the short run we must do more to expand the UN’s humanitarian endeavours and to reach refugees wherever they are. There is no doubt in my mind that more can be done here.
In that regard, the limited truce achieved recently in the city of Homs could perhaps be followed by others. There are reports of a similar initiative in the second city of Aleppo, perhaps aided by the apparent resumption of back channels between Iran and Turkey. In the absence of a global peace, the pursuit of local humanitarian measures, as we saw many times in the Bosnian war of 1992-95, may be all we can achieve in the coming months.
In neighbouring Iraq, the sudden military attack on Mosul yesterday and on Tikrit today underlines the increasing dangers of the Syrian war encompassing neighbouring countries. We need to do far more to help, with allies, the neighbouring states of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
I shall finish by pointing out that we have heard much today of Russia—a key country in any settlement of the Syrian conflict and without which it will be impossible to make progress—but little of China, a country far less democratic than Russia, which today published a White Paper on Hong Kong, asserting its rights as a unitary state to establish comprehensive jurisdiction over all local administrations including Hong Kong. It seems clear that the Communist Party in Beijing is increasingly intent on thwarting moves towards universal suffrage in Hong Kong in the coming years and our Government must give close attention to this issue.
My Lords, when I was involved in preparing the proposed Liberal Democrat responses to the gracious Speech in previous years that preceded a general election, it was often easy to describe it as being only half a Queen’s Speech. It was clear in those years that the parliamentary programme was expected to last only half a Session and that even quite a few of the proposed Bills were never likely to reach the statute book. The uncertainty over the timing of a general election did not make for good planning of the legislative timetable. I believe that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act should help the legislative process in future.
I was, however, disappointed to hear last week the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, describe the Fixed-term Parliaments Act as gerrymandering. The principle of fixed-term Parliaments has previously been accepted by the Labour Party, and should it form a Government again I expect the principle to be retained. There are good reasons for keeping the term at five years, which I would like to explain.
The most controversial issues with which I have been involved during the course of this Parliament relate to parliamentary boundary reviews and electoral registration. Widespread concern was expressed during the many lengthy debates that we had on those issues about the millions missing from the electoral register—perhaps as many as 6 million in this country—who are effectively denied the right to vote because they are not on the electoral register. This caused major problems in our debates when it came to deciding how to redraw constituency boundaries in order to make them more equal in terms of the number of voters in each seat.
It is understandable that these issues will not be addressed again in this Parliament, but we must all learn lessons from the arguments that we had previously if we are properly and fairly to address those issues in future, as we must after next May’s general election. Therefore, a proposal that I would make to help the process of redrawing constituency boundaries would be to combine the electoral registration process and the census when it takes place every 10 years. The effort and the expense put into conducting the census would be more justified if the data were also used in that year to help compile the electoral register. Of course, many other things should also be done to improve both the completeness and the accuracy of the electoral register each and every year. The annual canvass, in my view, will remain very important; but if we have the most accurate and complete electoral register every 10 years, we should conduct the constituency boundary reviews every 10 years as well, based on those data.
It is my belief that one of the first things that Members of Parliament will want to change after the next general election is the idea of a review of parliamentary boundaries every five years. The current legislation means that no MP, when elected, can be sure that their constituency will still exist at the following general election. Conducting boundary reviews every 10 years and every two Parliaments would make much more sense, but this will also require maintaining the fixed-term Parliament principle at every five years.
I believe that all those currently involved in drawing up their parties’ proposals for the next general election and a future Parliament should look at this idea and help to try to avoid the acrimony that we saw over the issues of parliamentary boundary reviews and electoral registration earlier in this Parliament. Draft legislation that can be properly examined in advance of its introduction to both Houses would help to avoid many of the problems we saw when debating these issues and help us provide for fairer and better outcomes in the future.
My Lords, I wish to focus on constitutional issues. For reasons of time, I do not propose to address those which have already been addressed today—we have had some outstanding speeches on the case for maintaining the union—and which we will be debating further during the Session. Rather, I wish to comment on two issues that are not scheduled for debate, but which I believe we should address. One derives from the overall legislative programme and the other from the consequences of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The provisions of that Act determine that we are in a fifth Session, but they also raise wider constitutional questions. Both issues are core to the relationship between the Executive and Parliament.
The Government have been criticised for the fact that there is a light legislative load this Session. At the same time, we are variously told that there is too much legislation. Like my noble friend Lord Tyler, I prefer the emphasis to be on quality rather than quantity, and I therefore do not complain when there is not a heavy legislative programme. Where I think critics do have a point is in criticising the fact that the House does not sit so regularly when there is a light legislative agenda. The Government appear to think that when they have not got Bills to be considered then there is no point in either House sitting. Legislative scrutiny is a core function of Parliament but it is not the only one. Parliament gives expression to the views of the people. It serves, crucially, to call the Government to account for their actions. The Government need to accept that Parliament should sit even if there is not much legislation to discuss. As my noble friend Lord Tyler indicated, there is a great deal that we can and should be doing. One cannot rely on the Government to provide the time. We therefore need to address the issue of who determines the business and, more fundamentally, when we sit. The former issue was addressed by the Goodlad committee, but not endorsed by the House. The latter is a fundamental constitutional issue that has yet to be addressed.
I turn to a question of constitutional significance that has been neglected. The Constitution Committee’s report last Session on the constitutional implications of coalition government addressed the importance of collective responsibility. One feature of the doctrine is that the Government rest on the confidence of the House of Commons. It was a convention that if a Government were defeated on a vote of confidence, they either resigned or requested the dissolution of Parliament. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act translated the convention into statute, something that is very rarely done. If an explicit vote of no confidence is carried, an election is triggered unless within 14 days a new Government are formed and achieve a vote of confidence from the House.
The Constitution Committee report notes that a vote on the Queen’s Speech is often seen as a traditional means of expressing confidence in the Government. But what happens now if the Government are defeated on the Queen’s Speech or on a major issue of public policy? There cannot be an early election under the provisions of the 2011 Act. One presumes that the Opposition would move a Motion of no confidence, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a Government could be defeated on a substantive issue, but that the third party or dissident government Back-Benchers responsible for the defeat do not want an election and are not prepared to vote for a Motion of no confidence. What happens then? The Government could resign—the other option under the old convention. What if they do? No provision of the 2011 Act has been engaged. What does the Palace do?
I was going to develop the point but I am conscious of time. These are important issues. It is up to the House to take the initiative rather than simply responding to what the Government have placed before it. I hope that we will take the opportunity of using this Session to address issues that are fundamental to the relationship between Parliament and the Executive and deserve to be addressed sooner rather than later.
My comments are addressed to the House but I conclude with a question to the Minister: when will the long-awaited response of the Government to the Constitution Committee report on the constitutional implications of coalition government be published?