House of Lords
Thursday, 30 October 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.
Introduction: Lord Rose of Monewden
Sir Stuart Alan Ransom Rose, Knight, having been created Baron Rose of Monewden, of Monewden in the County of Suffolk, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Myners and Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Nigeria: Boko Haram
My Lords, Nigeria faces a serious threat from Boko Haram. We believe that more than 3,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram this year and more than 1.5 million people have been displaced. We are aware of reports that Nigerian authorities have agreed a ceasefire with Boko Haram and are in ongoing negotiations. We are also aware of reports of Boko Haram attacks since the ceasefire announcement. We monitor events closely.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that sympathetic reply. Is she aware that I have visited areas afflicted by Boko Haram and found that the scale of suffering to which she refers massively exceeds that reported by the media? For example, this year alone 2,000 women and girls have been abducted. In addition to the widely publicised kidnapping of the schoolgirls at Chibok, 173 teachers and hundreds of students, including Muslim students, have been slaughtered, and savage attacks on Christian communities continue to the present day. Despite reports of a peace agreement with Boko Haram, to which the Minister refers, local people do not believe that the federal and state authorities are sufficiently willing or able to stop Boko Haram’s reign of terror. Therefore, will Her Majesty’s Government make the strongest possible representation to the Government of Nigeria to do much more to implement effective policies to protect all its citizens from this escalating terrorism?
My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, to whom I pay tribute for her courageous work, not only in Nigeria but around the world. She is right: Boko Haram deliberately targets the weak and vulnerable, causing suffering in communities of differing faiths and ethnicities. It has no regard for human life. We are in continual discussion with the Nigerian authorities to press exactly as the noble Baroness says, and we give as much support as we can in intelligence matters.
My Lords, the Nigerian chief of defence staff, Alex Badeh, announced on 17 October a ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram. A little later, the presidential aide, Hassan Tukur, claimed that there was also an agreement to release the girls taken from Chibok. However, as my noble friend knows, since then all we have seen are many more girls being abducted. What action can the Government take to help galvanise the Nigerian authorities into some action to protect these schoolgirls from organised rape, forced conversion to Islam and mass murder? What specific action to protect the family members of the Nigerian security forces from reprisal acts can the Government help the Nigerians with? So far, some 7,000 have been killed in this manner.
My Lords, there were several important questions in there. At the core of what we do is the care we have for what might happen, not only to the Chibok girls but to others who have been seized. We are therefore most cautious in what we say in these matters. What I will say is that it is for the Nigerian authorities to resolve the matter. We will give the strongest support we can. Since the Prime Minister announced on 14 May that the UK would provide surveillance assets and intelligence expertise to help in the search for the Chibok girls, we have deployed Sentinel and Tornado GR4 aircraft with surveillance capabilities, and provided satellite imagery. We will do what we can.
My Lords, does the Minister have any further knowledge of the discussions between Abubakar Shekau, the head of Boko Haram, and ISIL, and any further information on the fact that Boko Haram is beginning to occupy and hold territory in the same way as ISIL and call it an Islamic caliphate? Are our intelligence assets able to give us this sort of evidence, bearing in mind that a lot of politicians at federal and local level in Nigeria are helping Boko Haram, as are some in the police force?
The noble Lord refers to some of the instabilities within the Nigerian system. Boko Haram’s affiliation to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb justified the organisation’s inclusion on the UN’s al-Qaeda sanctions list on 22 May. Boko Haram has been proscribed under terrorism legislation in the UK since July 2013. With regard to the negotiations to which he refers, there is, clearly, no resolution yet and we know that there have been some confusing and confused reports in the press.
My Lords, the atrocities outlined to your Lordships’ House obviously require vehicles, ammunition, explosives and sophisticated weapons, which all require significant funding. Can my noble friend outline where Her Majesty’s Government believe Boko Haram is getting such funding and what efforts we are making, via the UN or with the Nigerian Government, to cut off its funds?
My Lords, as I mentioned earlier, we are in continuous discussion with the Nigerian Government to offer what assistance we can to prevent any further supply of materiel to Boko Haram. It is a very complex matter in an area that is certainly under the kind of attacks that happen without any warning, where whole areas are seized by Boko Haram and the Nigerian forces clearly have come under great stress.
My Lords, reference has been made to the contents of the excellent Human Rights Watch report, which has described the violence and terror endured by girls and women held in Boko Haram camps. It described the shocking, appalling failure of the Nigerian Government to prevent these brutal abductions. What is the UK doing to press the Nigerian Government at last to: first, secure the release of the girls; secondly, make schools safe for girls; and, thirdly, ensure that there are medical and mental health services for the victims of abductions?
My Lords, I think I may have addressed the first two questions—rather briefly, it is true. However, the noble Baroness raises a new point at the end with regard to what happens next. Let us focus first on the release, not only of the Chibok girls but of others. One would then need to see what their needs may be, what support needs to be given to them and their families, and which choices the girls may wish to make. I assure the noble Baroness that, through our DfID programme, we provide aid to the area to try to assist the society to grow and survive.
My Lords, what does the Minister make of the claims recently made by journalists that the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are being held as trophies for various tribal leaders, as is apparently common in these regions, and that they will be released as soon as some way is found to flatter these leaders?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to refer to the forthcoming elections. We continue to engage regularly with our counterparts in Nigeria to convey our expectation that the February presidential elections must be free, fair and peaceful. Security in elections can help to have security in a country.
Bank of England
My Lords, having begun life in 1694 as a commercial bank, the Bank of England predates the formation of the United Kingdom itself. Of course, the Bank’s role is not limited to England and it acts as the central bank for the whole of the UK. However, to change its name would represent a break from over 300 years’ worth of history and the prestige which it carries as a global brand.
My Lords, given the particular saliency of the currency issue in the recent Scottish referendum, would it not be a wise, inexpensive and inclusive act to extend the title of Britain’s central bank to the “Bank of England and of the United Kingdom”, thereby properly recognising the reach and relevance to all four nations of the United Kingdom of our own central bank?
My Lords, given that the Bank of England has responsibility for ensuring that other banks and financial institutions have proper systems and back-up systems in place, what action has been taken following the failure of the CHAPS system—for which the Bank of England is responsible—that resulted in many people being unable to buy their houses on the day concerned; quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
I congratulate my noble friend for raising this Question, but I am sorry to say that I disagree with him. Changing the name of the Bank of England would be economically very damaging to our country. Is the Minister aware that there is a lesson to be drawn from this? It is mainly that making constitutional changes on the hoof is not the right way to do this sort of thing. The next time he sees his right honourable friend the Prime Minister, will he tell him that the way to go on in this area is to think before you speak and not the other way round?
My Lords, whatever one can say about the history of constitutional change in the UK, it has not been characterised by great speed. While there is now considerable urgency in dealing with consequential constitutional change in both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, it will require a commitment by many people across all parties to bring that about—which in the past has been conspicuously lacking.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Opposition are in favour of the retention of the name “Bank of England”. However, the Minister said that there is some urgency about future action, so will he say whether the Treasury has made any progress, and will he give us an update on that progress, in looking at the financial consequences of further devolution of income tax?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the various proposals on the table for the devolution of income tax were set out in the Command Paper that was published earlier in the month. The exact nature of further devolution of income tax is under consideration in the Lord Smith process. As part of that, the financial and political consequences of various possibilities in respect of income tax are being actively considered.
My Lords, in 1999, Alex Salmond described the Bank of England as a “millstone round Scotland’s neck”. Fifteen years later, he was pledging his love and fidelity to it. Does that not prompt the question that, if it was good enough for Alex Salmond as the Bank of England, it is good enough for the rest of us?
My Lords, I agree with the Government’s view about retaining the well tested name, but would the Government also consider retaining in full, or restoring, the Bank of England’s lender of last resort powers, which have served this country’s banking system well for 150 years?
Iran: Nuclear Programme
My Lords, the UK, like other E3+3 members, is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Under the E3+3’s interim deal with Iran, the most concerning elements of Iran’s nuclear programme were frozen. The E3+3 is currently negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address fully its concerns about Iran’s programme. Good progress has been made, but reaching a final agreement with Iran remains challenging.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, but does she know that the centrifuges and the nuclear structure of Iran remain intact? Does she agree that sanctions were lifted too early? The threat remains. Will she ensure that the deal ends all the means of delivery and production and ensures appropriate inspection by IAEA? Will she make representations to the French Government over their co-operation with Iran in uranium enrichment through the joint stock company Sofidif?
The noble Baroness goes to the core of the issue. If there is an agreement, on what basis will it be? We are working towards an agreement by 24 November. There will not be a relaxation of the sanctions unless that agreement is in place. We are not proposing to make a blanket withdrawal of all sanctions on 24 November if there is an agreement then. We want a staged process, to see that the enrichment process is reduced and that Iran cannot move forward to being able to have a nuclear weapon. We are in continual discussions on that matter.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have no interest in turning Iran into yet another failed state in the Middle East? Can she tell us whether the outstanding issues, made in a proposal by some experts in the United States, could be bundled together into what could be described as a cluster of issues, and that an extension for the next period should be invited while those issues are hammered out to the satisfaction of both sides?
My noble friend is right to draw attention to the importance of stability in the region and why these negotiations are so crucial. The position of the United Kingdom is that we aim to have an agreement in place by 24 November. If we were to talk about what we might do after that, we would be saying that we have no hope of delivery. We have hope.
My Lords, I find it difficult to get into the mind of one member of any other Government, let alone the minds of all members, and sometimes my own—I mean my own mind, of course. It is a serious question. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaties; Israel is not.
Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government are satisfied that all parties to the interim agreement have implemented it correctly and in a verifiable manner? If her answer is positive—I believe that most observers think that they have—a situation where a final comprehensive agreement eluded the negotiators in November but a continuation of the interim agreement proved possible would be some way short of disastrous.
My Lords, the noble Lord has a deep understanding of the issue. Certainly, we know that that the progress that has been made so far has been positive and, it is true to say, delicate. We do not wish to predict that a failure to achieve a resolution on 24 November would lead to a complete breakdown. We do not think that that would be the case. We are still hopeful of an agreement by then. After all, the negotiations are being led by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and we know that we have confidence in her.
Meanwhile, what steps will my noble friend take to persuade her government colleagues and other leaders in the Middle East to restore the balance by insisting that Israel should now consider seriously reducing its nuclear arsenal and also subscribing to the non-proliferation treaty?
My Lords, we have a common interest with Iran and other actors in the region with regard to ISOL. It was important that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met President Rouhani in New York. We must consider carefully how we may adopt common attitudes on ISOL and other issues in the region.
We welcome from this side the meeting that the Prime Minister had with the president. Can the Minister tell us whether we have an ambassador in place in Tehran yet, or whether the British Council is back there yet? The sooner that that happens the better.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord that the sooner it happens, the better. We would like to re-establish the embassy and the visa system there. Clearly, noble Lords will know that the circumstances in which we had to leave the embassy mean that we have to renegotiate literally being able to refurbish the embassy and move back in. We are in active negotiations on that—as he says, the sooner the better for the return.
My Lords, the National Security Council regularly reviews plans for support to Afghanistan, most recently on 21 October. Our plans focus on countering the terrorist threat, as well as promoting security, stability and prosperity. Our embassy in Kabul and a few hundred military mentors will support the new Afghan Government in furthering these priorities. We also plan to provide £70 million in security funding and £178 million in development funding per annum until at least 2017.
My Lords, the military campaign in Afghanistan cost this country £37 billion, or £2,000 for every household. Sadly, we have lost 453 military personnel. Afghanistan faces a very uncertain and difficult future. Is it not vital that we and our allies give the appropriate level of financial support to Afghanistan? The figures that my noble friend quoted are, frankly, derisory. We give Ethiopia more than that—we give Ethiopia £400 million a year—and, if we do not finance Afghanistan properly, its future is going to be very uncertain, and would that not be a gross betrayal of all those who have given their lives in the cause?
My Lords, at the Tokyo conference in 2012, a number of states and international organisations made pledges amounting to £16 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan. On 3 and 4 December we will jointly host a conference in London with the Afghan Government, at which a number of other Governments will be invited to recommit themselves to the development of Afghanistan as a collective effort over the next few years.
My Lords, when we give educational aid to Afghanistan, is it the Government’s policy to insist that a fair portion of it—half of it—is spent on the education of girls? Will the noble Lord tell us about the progress of extending education to girls in Afghanistan?
My Lords, there are now 2 million girls in education in Afghanistan, and 4 million boys. That is remarkable progress from where we were 10 years ago. We are very much committed to improving the status of women and girls throughout Afghanistan, and that is part of what our priorities represent.
My Lords, in announcing next month’s London conference on Afghanistan, the Prime Minister said:
“We will bring together all our partners to assist this National Unity Government as they embark on vital reforms to revitalise Afghanistan’s economy”.
What steps have been taken to ensure that the voices of civic society, in particular those of women, are heard at this event?
My Lords, there will be an associated event for representatives of civil society at the London conference, and another associated event for private sector investors. We are very much aware of how much effort we need to make to strengthen relatively weak civil society organisations in Afghanistan.
My Lords, 450 British soldiers dead; thousands of Afghans lying alongside them; probably £100 billion overall spent on this campaign; a “short war” that lasted 13 years, during which we have written the textbook on how not to conduct these kinds of operations—surely my noble friend will agree that the case is made for a proper inquiry into the conduct of the Afghan war and the lessons we should learn from it?
My Lords, I draw the Minister’s attention to the report from the Children’s Commissioner for England, “What’s Going to Happen Tomorrow?”—Unaccompanied Children Refused Asylum, and its recommendation that we should see the boys and girls who arrive unaccompanied in this country from Afghanistan as a potential asset, who will speak English and can be helped to speak their home language, who can receive a good education from us, for instance in engineering, and who can return to Afghanistan to lead in the rebuilding of that country.
My Lords, in answering a question, the Minister mentioned the possibility of a private sector donors conference, as well as a conference involving civil society. Can he give the House any further information about that? Is it likely to happen in association with the main conference or at a different time? There are many people who are extremely interested in that possibility, so it would be very useful to know about it in good time, in order to gather proper support for it.
I understand that it is already being publicised and it will indeed be in parallel with the London conference at the beginning of December. I think we all understand that it is mainly natural resources and mining that will attract private sector investors to Afghanistan at the present moment, but that at least is a start.
My Lords, the Pakistan Government and the generals said yesterday that Tehrik-i-Taliban, based in Afghanistan, is launching attacks inside Pakistan and against the Pakistani military. Have Her Majesty’s Government made any representation to the Afghanistan Government to stop Tehrik-i-Taliban from doing that?
The noble Lord knows better than I do the very complicated links between Pakistan and Afghanistan and between the Pakistani military and what happens in Afghanistan. I will not go into that at the present moment; I would welcome a discussion with him about how Pakistan developments and Afghan developments interconnect.
My Lords, can the Minister reassure me that the voices of Afghan women are actually going to be heard at the conference, not just at an associate conference? In all the previous conferences, they have not been allowed to participate fully, so I would like the Minister’s reassurance that this will not happen at this London conference.
I cannot entirely give that assurance. Afghanistan is not the only country in which the voices of women are not easy to get through, particularly when Governments are involved. I can think of a number of other Middle Eastern countries. I would simply remark that, at President Ghani’s inauguration, as noble Lords might know, his wife appeared for the first time as part of the inauguration. These are small but useful steps forward.
My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, what action will my noble friend and the Government take to encourage joint action by the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan against the terrorists, who are a threat to both their countries?
My Lords, we are in regular and constant touch with the Pakistani Government precisely to encourage a constructive relationship with developments in Afghanistan. I am sure that my noble friend, like me, will be well aware of the very complicated relationships between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is part of the problem that we face.
My Lords, following the end of military operations in Afghanistan, can the Minister give an assurance that we will factor in very carefully that, over the last 20 years or so, the West has let Afghanistan down in a considerably damaging way? Can he confirm that the reassurances that have been given about the amount of inward investment will be taken seriously and that we will not in any way at all run the risk of abandoning Afghanistan for a third time, after all the effort and investment in blood and treasure that has been made over the last 13 years?
My Lords, I think one has to say that the entire international community has an interest in the future development of Afghanistan. I have not mentioned the complicated Iranian set of interests in western Afghanistan and elsewhere; I have not mentioned the possibility of Chinese private sector investment in north-eastern Afghanistan. Afghanistan, as noble Lords know, has a great many attractive mineral resources. We and others, including the World Bank and a number of other international institutions, will be working to ensure that the Afghan economy develops steadily over the next few years.
Refugees and Migrants: Search and Rescue
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement given earlier this morning by my right honourable friend James Brokenshire in another place.
“The United Kingdom has a long and proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those who genuinely need it. We work closely with our European neighbours to provide assistance to those fleeing from fear or persecution and deter those whose criminal actions stand in the way of providing effective help.
The scenes we have witnessed in the Mediterranean in recent months, with people risking their lives to reach Europe, are deeply distressing. The UNHCR estimates that more than 3,000 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean already this year, compared to some 700 deaths in the whole of last year. When people are risking life and limb—not just their own but those of their loved ones, too—it is clear that they are caught in a desperate situation. No one underestimates the sincerity of their plight. It demands an equally sincere approach from the Governments of the European nations—and that is what it has been getting.
Since Italy launched its Mare Nostrum operation in October 2013, there has been an unprecedented increase in illegal immigration across the Mediterranean and a fourfold increase in the deaths of those making that perilous journey. The operation has been drawn closer and closer to the Libyan shore as traffickers have taken advantage of the situation by placing more vulnerable people in unseaworthy boats on the basis that they will be rescued and taken to Italy. But many are not rescued, which is why we believe that the operation is having the unintended consequence of placing more lives at risk and why EU member states have unanimously agreed that the operation should be promptly phased out.
It is of course vital that this phasing out is well managed and well publicised to mitigate the risk of further deaths. It is vital that we continue to take action to provide real help to those who genuinely need it. We have made clear our view that the sustainable answer to the current situation in the Mediterranean is to enhance operational co-operation within the EU, work with countries of origin and transit to tackle the causes of illegal immigration and the organised gangs that facilitate it, and enhance support for protection in north and east Africa for those in need.
We have agreed to a request from FRONTEX—the EU’s border management agency—to deploy a debriefing expert in support of the FRONTEX Operation Triton, off the southern Italian coast. This operation is not designed to replace Mare Nostrum but will instead patrol closer to EU borders. We stand ready to consider any further request for UK support for the new FRONTEX operation. The UK is among those member states offering substantial numbers of resettlement places for refugees from outside the EU, working closely with UNHCR. There were more than 4,000 places between 2008 and 2013. In close partnership with other member states, we are developing a strong programme of work to tackle the causes of migration from the Horn of Africa, including through investment in regional protection programmes.
It is not in the interests of anyone—most especially those genuinely fleeing persecution—if European countries have an uncontrolled and ineffective approach to immigration and asylum. It is not in the interests of anyone if the criminal gangs who exploit the fear and suffering of vulnerable people, endangering human lives for cold, hard cash, are allowed to continue their despicable work unimpeded. It is not in the interests of anyone if we fail to adapt to a situation which encourages more and more people to make that dangerous journey across the seas. That is why member states across the EU have unanimously agreed to act: to defend our borders, crack down on crime, and protect those who so desperately need our protection”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating that Answer. He is right to identify that 3,000 people have died this year but he did not identify that 150,000 men, women and children have been rescued and their lives saved. Many of them were misled by unscrupulous criminals. Many others are being trafficked into Europe for slavery and prostitution. It is a serious and terrible humanitarian problem. We understand that it is difficult, but concerted international action is essential to bear down on these criminal gangs and try to stop families undertaking such dangerous journeys.
While the criminals may be aware—as the Minister said—of the phasing in of these changes, there is no evidence that desperate families or trafficked victims will be. Leaving them to drown instead is shocking and inhumane. It is not the British way of doing things. Does the Minister really believe that this needless loss of life will ever act as a deterrent to criminals and desperate people? How many will drown before the Government reconsider this policy?
I very much understand the passions and sentiments that these horrific reports will arouse in all people who have any sense of humanitarian care or concern. Of course, the reality is that this is for the Italian Government. They are the ones who set up the operation, which started last October, and they are the ones who say that they will now phase it out. It is not something in which the UK Government are involved on a day-to-day basis. The Italian Government introduced this as a deeply humanitarian gesture, and made the point that they would rescue anyone, wherever they were in territorial waters. The number of those making the perilous journey then went up from 60,000 last year to 150,000 this year, and that situation is being exploited by the gangs which we all seek to stop. The Italian Government have therefore taken the decision to phase it out. The decision was not taken by the UK Government.
My Lords, it pains me to say to my noble friends that this is a discreditable policy, whatever words are used to describe it. We do not find it difficult to disagree with the European Union on all sorts of other matters, but do we have to lay our hand to a European policy whose central proposition is that the best way to discourage people from seeking a better life is to leave them to drown in the Mediterranean? This is inhuman, it is discreditable and it may well be contrary to our duties under international law to do everything we can to save those in peril on the sea.
The noble Lord comes to this with huge experience and understanding. However, those obligations which are there under the laws of the sea, maritime law and humanitarian law will remain as obligations on any vessels that actually come across people who are making this journey. The question is how we tackle this increasing trend effectively. This is not for the UK alone; this view was pored over on the basis of evidence, intelligence and information which came to the Justice and Home Affairs Council. All 28 member states agreed—which, as my noble friend suggested, is a pretty rare achievement—that, regrettably, this was having a counterproductive effect.
My Lords, will the Minister kindly answer a specific question, which I am sure all Members of the House would wish to have answered? If the commander of a British warship is cognisant of the fact that there is a refugee ship within reasonable distance of his vessel which is in peril, does he deviate from his course and pass by on the other side, or does he act in accordance with the law of the sea and the highest tradition of the Royal Navy?
The answer is that he gives assistance to that vessel. That is the law; that is the rule; and that will continue to happen. The vessel should be escorted to the nearest safe port and the passengers’ needs addressed. There is an overlying responsibility, particularly where those individuals may have genuine asylum claims which need to be investigated, to then take them to a place where they can be assessed.
My Lords, of course everything must be done to help the countries of origin tackle the criminal gangs which are shipping people across the Mediterranean in dangerous circumstances. However, are we saying that we are happy to be party to a policy which will result in people drowning? Is that not a shameful position for the Government to adopt?
We are certainly not happy with the situation; we are deeply unhappy with it, as is everybody. But how do the Italians begin to address this particular issue when the numbers are increasing? The number of deaths has gone up from 700 to some 3,000—a fourfold increase. If they go up fourfold again next year, does that justify the present policy? These are hugely difficult issues—I do not dismiss that—but the countries of the European Union and the Italian Government are making the best they can of a terrible humanitarian situation.
My Lords, it is clear that we are all deeply worried about this terrible situation. Just last weekend, a family drowned off our own coasts and the horror was felt right across our country. There were serious discussions about whether we needed more people on duty to look after them. There is a deep sense of worry where people put themselves in such danger. I do not think that any of us believe that people are putting their families at risk—sometimes, they are huge, extended families; one was reported earlier this week on television—thinking, “Oh, well, it does not matter if we are likely to drown because we might be saved”. That would seem to me incredible. Surely we need a much more coherent, pan-European strategy underlying the whole question of immigrants and asylum seekers, and we should try to get some agreement on how we can address it. However, I would lament us withdrawing from anything that would help people in such dire circumstances.
I understand the right reverend Prelate’s point. I should make the point again for the benefit of the House that we are not withdrawing from anything; this was something for which the Italian Government had responsibility, and they have decided to phase it out. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that more needs to be done to establish a co-ordinated approach, which was indeed the purpose of the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on this specific issue held on 9 and 10 October. One of the outcomes of that meeting was Operation Triton, which we have pledged resources to, in addition to all the other things that we are trying to do to help in the countries from which these people are fleeing for their lives.
Perhaps I might pick up the point that my noble friend the Minister has just made. I understand that in Alexandria, Egypt, which is one of the major ports for trafficking, only one trafficker has been prosecuted in the last five years. Will we give specific assistance to the Government of Egypt, and what Government there is in Libya, to train them on arrest, prosecution and internment of the trafficking gangs?
Indeed. Just this morning, I was with the National Crime Agency, which has teams in particular areas around the world, including in Egypt. They are trying to identify just those types of people, ensuring that they are tackled and that their evil crime is stopped.
Many of these people are coming from towns such as Alexandria; that is where the organisation is. I say to the Minister that, through the European Union, we can offer aid not only in policing those areas but in policing much closer to their shores. It is possible to work out with some of those north African countries ways of stopping this problem closer to shore.
We will be willing to look at all those opportunities. On the subject of aid, this Government are in the lead in providing aid to some of those conflict zones, such as Syria, where we have pledged £700 million already. We recognise that there are two parts to this, and we need to work at both.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the amount of help which the Government are giving to FRONTEX, which he announced in his first reply, is miniscule? Would it not be preferable if the Government gave more support to FRONTEX, which one hopes would then ameliorate a bit the results of this decision? Perhaps the Minister could also say what the Government’s position is on the negotiation of mobility partnerships with countries in the southern Mediterranean. There is already one with Tunisia and one with Morocco. What are we doing to press ahead with those? They are part of the solution, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said.
The noble Lord will of course know very well that FRONTEX is part of the Schengen arrangements for border control. We have our own border control. We are talking about additional aid that we are giving to the Schengen area and to FRONTEX at its request. On the other matter that the noble Lord raised, the reciprocal agreements which might exist in the southern Mediterranean area, I will write to him.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Motion to Agree
My Lords, I shall speak also to the Motion to amend Standing Orders.
The report makes five recommendations. The first three are consequential on the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. The first recommendation is that Members who have given written notice that they will retire from the House under Section 1 of the Act should have the opportunity of making a valedictory speech before the date of their retirement. Such speeches would be afforded the same courtesies as maiden speeches and would be marked in Hansard, as maiden speeches are.
The second recommendation is that the Lord Speaker should inform the House before Oral Questions when a peer ceases to be a member of the House under the Act.
The third proposal relates to the House’s system of leave of absence. Currently, in certain circumstances, Members who do not reply to the Clerk of the Parliament’s letter regarding leave of absence are given it automatically. This would reverse the position and bring us within the spirit of the Act.
The committee’s fourth recommendation is that Questions for Short Debate on Select Committee reports and topical Questions for Short Debate should not count towards the limit of each Member having one QSD in the House of Lords business at one time. This is because when a Member puts down for a Question for Short Debate as the chair of the Select Committee, he clearly does so as chair of that committee and not in a personal capacity. He should not therefore be penalised.
The committee’s final recommendation is about signifying the consent of the Queen and the Prince of Wales to Bills. At present, consent may be signified at Second Reading in some instances and at Third Reading in others. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons recently reported on consents and recommended that consent be signified at Third Reading in all cases. The Commons Procedure Committee indicated to us that it was minded to agree with this recommendation and suggested that the two Houses should move in step. We agree that this is sensible and so recommend that, if the Commons agrees likewise, consent in all cases should be signified at Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chairman of Committees for his comments. I have a question for him on the consent to Bills of the Queen and the Prince of Wales, which is referred to in items 12 and 13 in the Procedure Committee’s report.
He will be aware, I think, that the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee made six recommendations about this. I am slightly surprised that the Procedure Committee has not chosen to comment on the other five. The evidence in the Commons report and the recommendations do not always seem to connect. I have talked to the chair of the Commons committee about this; I did not get much of an answer but I had a useful discussion. In particular, nobody has commented on the need for the Prince of Wales to give consent to Bills when they affect his private interests. I take a couple of quotations from the House of Commons committee’s report. Dr Tucker said:
“Any involvement of the Prince of Wales in the legislative process is constitutionally unacceptable”.
That is quite strong. Our own Clerk of the Parliaments, David Beamish, commented:
“So in one sense it is not necessary”,
to have consent at all,
“in that this Committee could recommend its abolition”.
Therefore, I ask the Chairman of Committees whether the Procedure Committee could look at this whole issue again and comment on all the recommendations, possibly after reading the whole of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report, if it has not already done so, and come back with six recommendations?
I have a couple of questions for the Chairman of Committees about the sections of the report dealing with retirement. The proposals he has brought to the House are, I am sure, acceptable. However, they are a bit of a mouse, because the Act, for which I had some responsibility, gave the House the statutory authority to introduce a retirement scheme. The Chairman of Committees’ report is not on a retirement scheme but simply on retirement niceties. Is any other committee of the House at present looking at other options, with a view to getting the numbers in this House down to a reasonable size? In particular, has the report from the director of finance been looked at with regard to how money could be saved if there were a retirement grant of some kind? Has any committee looked at the Labour Party’s proposals, which are quite interesting, for compulsory retirement at the end of each Parliament for those who have reached the age of 80 during that Parliament? All those and others are sensible suggestions which should be examined but I am not sure whether that has yet happened.
My Lords, as regards the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as the Chairman of Committees will know, the current Government have enunciated a new rule, if you like, that the proportion and number of Members of your Lordships’ House should bear direct comparison with the votes cast at the last general election. I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees, if a political party had a catastrophic reduction in the votes cast at the next election, am I right in thinking that we would expect a considerable number of resignations from that party? I am not at liberty to say which party I am thinking about but I assume that we would have to have extra Friday sittings to hear the valedictory speeches.
I should like to make two points. First, I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Steel about financial inducement to retirement. That would be a very bad precedent and I hope that it will not happen. Secondly, what are the detailed arrangements for giving Royal Assent to Bills? Who is supposed to give that assent? Is it the Minister in charge of the Bill or someone else?
Let me try to deal with the issues in some sort of order. I am involved in so many committees that sometimes even I get a bit confused about which committee is considering what. First, on retirement, I am not aware of any committee actively considering any retirement scheme as such. However, it is always open to any Member, as well as members of the committees concerned, to write and ask a committee to consider a particular scheme or to bring forward proposals. The matter would then be considered by the appropriate committee.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his intervention on consent, which means that I have won the private office bet that he would do so. We have to realise that this proposal originates from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons. That report was considered, quite rightly, by the Commons Procedure Committee, which decided to recommend that consent should be signified at Third Reading in both Houses. That was the nature of the correspondence between the chairman of the House of Commons Procedure Committee and me. There is agreement on that. I recognise that it is a modest reform. If there was a desire for any more far-reaching and radical reform, again, if Members write, the Procedure Committee would give it appropriate consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, raised assent, not consent. We are not dealing with the business of assent; we are dealing with the consent of Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales to the House acting in their quasi-private function.
Standing Orders (Public Business)
Motion to Approve
Middle East and North Africa
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, some years ago while still in opposition, my right honourable friend William Hague said to a group of us, “Get to know the Middle East because it’s going to be the epicentre of the world’s attention”. Nobody could ever have forecast the sheer tragedy and drama that has overtaken the region in the intervening years. Of course, in our western societies we have had a backwash, with increased radicalisation, increased alienation and also the repellent rise of anti-Semitism.
In the Arab world we are viewed with considerable ambiguity. There are those who believe that we should have no involvement in Muslim countries because of religious belief and that this is unacceptable or simply counterproductive. This is why President Obama made it clear that the US cannot take the place of Arab partners in securing the region. Others believe, on the other hand, that western firepower is absolutely essential to contain and destroy extreme radicalism. But now, at least ultimately, most people believe that there has to be a political track in the end to resolve these extremely difficult problems.
In Iraq there is a more consensual Government, which has been welcomed both by Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of whom have good, but very separate, reasons to fear ISIS. In the last few years, the Kurdish region has been very stable, but it has had an influx of almost biblical proportions of Syrian Kurds, Christians and Yazidis and others to deal with. It must continue to be supported generously with humanitarian aid and, indeed, armaments. Turkey’s reluctance to be involved in containing ISIL has been disconcerting, as we saw in its reluctance specifically to get involved with Syrian Kurds in the battle in Kobane; however, it did not want to get involved because it believed that they were fighting under a banner of a terrorist organisation. But the Turks have spent $4.5 billion in feeding and housing the enormous influx of people who have come into Turkey. What they greatly fear, of course, is terrorist activity in Turkey itself, which would undermine not only its security but also its immense and hugely important tourist industry. It has called for a security zone and a no-fly zone as well, not only to protect themselves from the security point of view but to stop the potential huge flow of additional people coming into the country. We should note that fragile Lebanon has now said that it cannot and will not take any more refugees; and getting into Jordan is also very difficult too.
Ten million people have been displaced in the region, 3.2 million Syrians have fled their country and 200,000 have been killed. It is a truly, truly terrible modern-day tragedy. Both the Turks and the Saudis explicitly want to see the removal of President Assad. More moderate anti-Assad elements are now being attacked by him even more remorselessly, leaving ISIS, which controls 35% of the country, to be dealt with by the Americans and others, as he seeks to project himself as the enemy of radical terrorism. However, it is absolutely plain that even if they have frustrations with him, the Iranians and Russians will continue to support and sustain him. Yet as Ban Ki-moon warned last week, using only military means to fight the threat of Islamic State in Syria could radicalise even more Sunni armed groups and create greater violence. The long-term strategic objective in Syria remains a political solution, he said. As somebody who has met President Assad on many occasions and attempted to help the opposition, particularly at the early stages, it pains me to agree. There appears to be no other viable alternative on offer, but once again to try to pursue a political track.
We are all products of our own experiences in life. As a young child I went into a shop one day with my mother. It was a hot summer’s day and the man behind the counter had rolled up his sleeves. I was transfixed by some numbers on the inside of his arm. Of course, I extracted an explanation from my mother. It was my first insight into the horror of the Holocaust and what it meant for the Jewish people, and it has never left me.
However, recently, my noble friends Lord Lamont, Lord King, Lady Morris and I wrote an open letter calling for the formal recognition of Palestine by the United Kingdom. Now, of course, this should ideally be part of a comprehensive peace settlement but, frankly, there is none in sight. There is now a unity Government under Mahmoud Abbas. However imperfect that is, the Israelis are most unlikely to find a more moderate Palestinian leader—whose position and credibility is constantly being undermined by the continuing construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank.
However, there is now a new potential opportunity for Israel to be encouraged and to view a more formal two-state solution more concretely. The new Egyptian Government are working with the Israelis to banish terrorism from the Sinai. They are closing down the tunnels and have made it absolutely plain that the wholly dangerous, provocative and counterproductive firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel has to stop.
The Arab peace initiative of 2002 involved a clear pathway to the recognition of Israel by its neighbours. It should be revisited. As President Sisi said at the United Nations last month:
“The continued deprivation of the Palestinian people of their rights is undoubtedly exploited by some to inflame other crises, achieve hidden goals, fragment Arab unity, and impose control on Palestinians under the guise of realising their aspirations”.
If Israel looks ahead, demographic changes in Israel and Palestine point to the necessity of moving this process on to a final acceptance of the Palestinian reality. It is, quite simply, in Israel’s interests to pursue this. As Henry Kissinger wrote in his latest book,
“the Palestinian issue will have to be faced sooner or later as an essential element of regional and, ultimately, world order”.
No country can escape the reality of its own geography.
The whole House will be looking forward to my noble friend the Minister’s response to the two areas of enormous concern to which I have alluded. However, let us cast our eyes towards the Maghreb, specifically Algeria. In the early 1990s, there was an Islamist takeover there and 150,000 people were killed. It was a foretaste of the horror of ISIS. Since then, however, Algeria has been remarkably stable and the memories of that terrible time have become embedded in the collective consciousness of the Algerian people. In 2006, President Bouteflika came on an official visit here and in January 2012 our Prime Minister went to Algeria. In less than three years our commercial exchanges have soared. Algeria is a reliable energy supplier. The country is rapidly expanding its physical infrastructure and upgrading its education and health services, in which we are fully participating.
With its unstable neighbours and a vast and porous border, we now have a strategic security partnership with Algeria. A double taxation agreement will soon be signed, and we look forward to the visit of its Prime Minister to London for a major conference in December, “Algeria: Open for Business”. The demand for the English language is infinite, and we are actively responding through the British Council and our own educational establishments. It has indeed become a remarkable and problem-free partnership, which is welcome to both sides. In conclusion, it is quite simply and unambiguously a good news story for us both.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, bid a sad farewell to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who was a very good Minister, and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Risby, who is an expert in this area. He spoke wise words about the need for diplomacy. These will be welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who has been saying this, Cassandra-like, for a long time. The noble Lord, Lord Risby, has also given us the opportunity of looking generally at the region, rather than debating particular areas, as we have done in the past.
I reflect first on the speed of change in the region. The so-called Arab spring began less than five years ago with the self-immolation, in December 2010, of Mohamed Bouazizi. Five years ago, all the Arab dictators seemed securely in place. In January 2011, President Ben Ali stepped down after 24 years. Also in 2011, President Mubarak ceased to lead Egypt after 30 years. In the same year, Gaddafi was killed after 42 years in power. In February 2012, President Saleh ceded power in the Yemen after 22 years. The Lebanon remains divided confessionally. Only the monarchies in Morocco and Jordan are relatively safe and unscathed, as are the Gulf states. Five years ago, ISIL did not exist, at least in that name. Dictators have been replaced by a pharaoh and by anarchy. The region now faces further potential destabilisation because of the fall in oil prices. This is good news for western consumers but it is bad news for regimes which rely on high prices to buy off popular discontent.
As for the Arab spring, perhaps “Bliss was it in that dawn” five years ago, but no longer. Why has it failed? It is significant, perhaps, that three of the most stable countries in the region—Turkey, Israel and Iran—are not even Arab. It is no longer credible for regimes to divert discontent by claiming that their troubles are part of a US-Zionist conspiracy. Fundamental to an understanding of the reasons for that failure is a reading and a re-reading of the UNDP’s human development reports of 10 years ago. These showed basic failures in the human infrastructure and in the role of women and inadequate and irrelevant education in the Maghreb and in the Arab world. These have been underpinned by a booming population, youth unrest and Islamic distractions. Who wants to invest given such difficulties?
Pervasive instability begs the question whether it is now time to look again—albeit in the hurricane season—at some of the continuing difficulties and re-examine some of our assumptions. Time permits only to look speedily at three examples. On Turkey, the UK has been one of the strongest supporters of Turkey’s membership of the European Union. Progress has been slow and there has sometimes been the unspoken fear that Turkey is too big, too poor and too Islamic—and not really European. For the United Kingdom, the balance has been the other way: Turkey has been a relative model of democracy in the region, has a booming economy and is a valuable and trusted ally in NATO. Now, perhaps because of the lack of progress, we need to re-examine that traditional policy and look at alternatives.
Domestically in Turkey, there has been a lurch towards more illiberal policies in areas such as the media and the judiciary. Majoritarianism appears to have triumphed over pluralism, which was formerly the policy. Abroad, Turkey has been less than helpful in combating ISIL and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Does the European Union wish to move its borders to that volatile region? Given the current sensitivities on immigration, can we seriously look at the free movement of labour from that vast country? Should we not stop and look at some of the alternatives—including the one that Chancellor Merkel put forward years ago of a privileged relationship which might ultimately mature into something more solid? At the moment there is glacial movement in the European Union.
A second re-examination should surely be on Israel and Palestine. Yes, of course Israel is right in saying that it is difficult to find a negotiating partner which can deliver. It is also true that Israel has always ultimately had to rely on itself for its own protection. However, the blunt reality is this: in spite of the Bar-Ilan speech of Premier Netanyahu, there have been no serious moves by the Israeli Government to a two-state solution. Indeed, through the settlement policy, all the moves have been to prevent such a realisation. Perhaps the reality is, alas, that no conceivable Israeli Government would divide Jerusalem and no conceivable Palestinian Government would abandon the right of return. Israel, alas, is increasingly isolated at the UN General Assembly, and shortly Palestine may be a new member of the International Criminal Court. So do we still continue to repeat the mantra of a two-state solution? Is it true that the European Union has threatened Israel with sanctions unless the latest moves on settlements are withdrawn? Where does the UK stand on the latest threat?
Finally—and in one minute—I give at least some good news on the region. The good news, of course, is Tunisia. It is all comparative, but Tunisia had a remarkable election last weekend with a change of leadership from the Islamist party, which had made several compromises on Sharia law and women. The constitution was agreed in January, relying in part on advice from the Venice Commission. The secular party won the election. However, in spite of this political change, which is a model for the rest of the Maghreb and the Arab world, there are vast economic problems. How do we respond? I end with this question: how do we build on this remarkable political achievement by ensuring that it is underpinned by economic success? I look forward to hearing what the Minister says about how we might respond to the good news which is Tunisia.
My Lords, when we met here just over a month ago to debate our engagement in another air war in Iraq, much was said about the evil of ISIS but not very much about what the alternatives might be for a solution to the Syrian civil war, which is now in its fourth year, with more than 200,000 people dead, more than 3 million refugees and more than 6 million displaced internally. Several noble Lords who spoke that day voiced reservations, which I share, that degrading or destroying ISIL in Iraq alone would not be the end of the matter.
We also know that this war will be a very long haul. We will have to expend a great deal of time and resources in getting the Iraqi army up to scratch. Some Pentagon estimates put it well into 2016 before the Iraqis can successfully engage a ground war against ISIL, even within Iraq. We also know that the US, and with it the UK, does not have a credible strategy about what happens next, much less how to exit this mess. Since 9/11, no credible strategy seems to have emerged either in the West or in the Muslim world about what we might do to stem the rise of an ideology of totalitarian political Islam that creates the pull for jihadis around the world.
It seems simplistic to dismiss the call of this ideology as either barbaric and medieval, which we do in the West, or to protest that it is not true Islam, which is where Muslims derive their comfort. As a Muslim who has grown up and lived in these parts of the world, I caution against both narratives. The pull of the caliphate is shared by those who would not necessarily be on the extreme end of the jihadi spectrum either. After all, there was a caliph, and a sense of a unified community under him, until well into the 1920s. In the period since 1979, when the Shia world was transformed by the Iranian revolution, the sense of Sunni victimhood, unjustified though it may be, has been growing and clearly feeds the jihadi political narrative.
Without for one moment justifying ISIL or its supporters, I want to touch upon why young Muslims are attracted to this narrative. They share a sense of collective humiliation and frustration with their corrupt and authoritarian rulers, who are so compromised in their courtship of what is seen as the “unjust” West—unjust because it was instrumental in creating the Israeli and Palestinian situation nearly 100 years ago; unjust because it does not seem to have the will to resolve it; and unjust when its own rulers assist the invasions of Muslim lands without any clear sense of purpose about how anything beneficial will come to the people from those wars and killings.
These same regimes suppress their people and deny rights on the basis of a religious culture that does not allow for the ruler to be challenged, yet flaunt the rules when their own elite interests are at stake. In the name of national security, they spend fortunes on armaments but seem to be able to turn those arms on their own populations more frequently than not. Above all—and this is important in Islam—they seem to do little to fulfil the strong religious requirement to support other Muslims in need.
In the period since 1979, when the first jihadi attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca took place—an attack that was motivated to secure a purer form of Islam in Saudi Arabia—we have seen the growth of this Salafi-inspired jihadi ideology. It is not new; the only new thing is that our own citizens are now motivated by its call. As we face the years of airstrikes and bombing, with ever greater civilian casualties, the question we have to ask ourselves is whether we will be able to destroy this ideology with force of arms, or whether the struggle for our values will prevail through a more peaceful engagement.
My own preference is for the latter, so let me set out some parameters for what I think is needed. We know that we cannot deal with Iraq without dealing with Syria. We also know that ISIL has proved adept at picking and choosing its opponents. In Kobane it is the Kurds; in other parts it is the Assad regime; and, elsewhere, some version of the Syrian opposition. Its tactics are to form alliances with different groups on the ground as it gives up or consolidates its gains. With so many different actors with the ability to shift alliances and with myriad opponents, our opportunity to destroy those we oppose in a sequential manner is degraded, as the militants can regroup and rebound. Moreover, ISIL is starting to go on the offensive in neighbouring countries, too. It is becoming a serious threat in Lebanon, and if it is successful in extending into Syria’s southern border it will sit on Jordan’s northern border, knowing that it has support already from within that country. It has the potential incrementally to expand its territorial rule beyond just Iraq and Syria.
Our tactical considerations must therefore be focused on reducing the threat that is most dangerous, even if it means that our previous enemy now has to become a partner in the endeavour. What would that involve? As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace points out, we are in a rare situation where it may be possible to engineer a truce in Syria sufficient to buy us time to degrade ISIL, while pulling back from more killing in Syria between those who are not ISIL. Reports indicate that both the regime forces and the Syrian opposition are wearing down and stretched to breaking point. It appears that in July Assad’s losses were about 1,100 killed in operations against ISIL, while another 700 soldiers were lost in the battle for Raqqa. Syrian opposition forces are considered to be unable to hang on to Aleppo, under pressure from the regime, while the northern corridor they hold will fall to Islamic State. Jabhat al-Nusra, the other extremist group armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, continues to clash with the Syrian opposition, Assad forces and others.
All those who are fighting this proxy war would have to be brought in. For Russia and Iran, now ISIL is a greater threat to Assad than the opposition forces. For us and the Saudi and US side of the equation, Assad may be venal, but he has recently indicated that he would support coalition aims to degrade ISIL. We already know that the US is co-operating through intelligence with his regime on airstrikes. We also know that localised truces between the parties on the ground have taken place and sometimes hold as part of the dynamics of the war.
If, simultaneously with all bar ISIL, truces could be negotiated, with intelligence-sharing, humanitarian support and assistance for all communities on all sides, it would allow for civilian life to resume in some form. Protocols would have to be agreed for delivering food, medicine and fuel, for restoring water supplies and electricity and opening up the besieged area so that displaced internal civilians can return to their homes. The thornier issue would involve stopping torture and human rights abuses on all sides, with the release of political prisoners, who run into the tens of thousands. It is those people who would have to be part of the longer-term solution. The international community would have to provide assurances to the Assad regime and the opposition that any future solution would protect their necessary and vital interests, which may well result in Assad’s successor being part of his circle, but compromise is now necessary.
In concluding, there would be risks in bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia onside, but unambiguous Iranian support could clearly break the stalemate as the Assad regime seeks more and more financial support from that country. The US would have to ensure that supporters in opposition cannot block through preconditions, which have stymied efforts in the past, and the Saudis and Qatar would have to deliver Jabhat al-Nusra and lesser jihadis. Every attempt at a solution has floundered on undeliverable preconditions. Perhaps if we can merely secure a truce, without a political solution on the table for the moment, we would at least reduce the suffering. That is the least we owe the people of that region.
My Lords, ISIL can be termed the blackest cloud to have appeared in the Middle East for years. If it can first be contained, it can be defeated, not so much by bombs as by better ideas. Repression is not enough, whether in Egypt or the Emirates. The better ideas are needed to attract the minds of a young generation full of grievances, despair and false ideology. Better ideas must be shown to work. This means pilot projects in Muslim states and in Europe. These will involve training and employment. They should be geared to social justice by giving dignity and helping people to escape from poverty. Volunteers will be needed. Can we imagine a peace corps funded by the oil producers? In parallel, jihadis who return to their countries and accept certain conditions should be welcomed with clemency.
I turn now specifically to Israel and Palestine, and to Gaza, which has been described as the Soweto of the Middle East. It is bad news that the post-ceasefire talks in Cairo have been postponed indefinitely. Will our Government use their diplomatic skills to get those talks restarted, if possible under more neutral auspices? The indefinite closure of the Rafah crossing by Egypt is another bad sign, especially for medical cases, students, exports, et cetera. The August ceasefire agreement provided for Israel to open border crossings to allow in humanitarian aid and construction materials, also for widening the coastal fishing zone to six miles. Has either of these points yet been implemented? If not, will the Government make the strongest possible representations?
Meanwhile, some things could be done in advance of longer-term negotiations, which would enormously improve life for 1.6 million people. Turkey has offered a ship equipped with enough generators to supply the whole Gaza Strip with electricity for six months. This would enable the old power station to be repaired, besides helping hospitals to function, food storage and water purification. The benefit to public health makes it urgent to accept and implement this offer. The technology involved is tried and tested. The UNWRA has funds in hand to restore water and sewage plants, repair schools and build new houses. Supplies for these projects must move through Israel. If Israel requires verification of end use, this should be organised. If new crossings are needed, they should be opened. Cement and aggregates should be allowed in, so that ordinary families can rehouse themselves. This is win-win stuff, providing work and employment, and removing temptations to new violence.
The people of Gaza desperately need freedom to move by land. Israel should be pressed to allow a secure route to the West Bank and on to Jordan. This could start for priorities, such as medical cases, businessmen, hajj pilgrims and students. If this worked, it could be extended to everybody New transport modes should be examined; for example, a hovercraft service to Egypt and Lebanon, which could use existing beaches. Gaza has much offshore gas. This has lain idle for years, because of the political risks. Surely guarantees could be given and insurance cover arranged so that drilling and pipeline work could start. This asset should contribute to employment and help to achieve regional peace.
Will the Government take up these ideas, refine them and present them to our allies and to all those co-operating against ISIL? Remembering what has been done already in the Emirates, Gaza could be the pilot project, bringing stability and hope to a war-ravaged place. It could do so without bringing in migrant workers, using the existing well-educated labour force. Social justice would be served. Many volunteers might be needed. Those in despair might see that life is worth living. It is not beyond all imagination that rehabilitation and development of Gaza, as a new hub, could contribute to the mental and moral defeat of ISIL.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord King, could not stay for the whole debate and kindly sent me a note donating his seven minutes to me.
Last month, I spoke about the regional approach to the Arab-Israel divide and how Egypt was playing a helpful role. In this debate, I will concentrate on Egypt’s own development and on our UK opportunity and responsibility. Trust and inclusion build stability while mistrust and exclusion lead to spiralling instability. We are blessed in this country with a stable democracy and a safe society. We must be generous in supporting both the governance and peoples of partner countries as they seek to grow trust and stability.
We admire the courage of the Egyptian people and their leaders over recent years through some difficult times. First, I would like to offer condolences to the people of Egypt, the army and the President, for those people who died in last Friday’s horrific attack on the army camp by terrorists. We should know that there are many dreadfully injured Egyptian army and police officers being treated here in the UK, and many more in Germany, France and Switzerland.
The UK-Egypt partnership needs to get closer. Some 25% of all the people in the MENA region actually live in Egypt. Together, we can build benefits for the region and each other. It will require bold leadership to take the relationship to a new level and fulfil humanitarian, economic and stabilisation needs. Our Prime Minister should invite President al-Sisi to the UK as soon as possible. A group of experienced parliamentarians on our recent visits to Egypt were convinced that we in the United Kingdom have much to offer Egypt and that we can learn from Egypt’s experiences and expertise.
It is always easier to judge but wiser to understand more deeply. Rather than wringing our hands from the sidelines, we must take the opportunity to serve and help shape Egypt’s democratic cause and history. Our APPG on Egypt had a meeting yesterday with the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Tobias Ellwood. Our chairman and members of both Houses called for him urgently to extend an invitation to President al-Sisi to visit the UK in the light of the speed of the changes happening in the area and the rise of terrorism.
In a meeting last Tuesday, the Egyptian Secretary of State gave us assurances that the parliamentary elections are now imminent. He also said that the Government are planning to allow the Nubians, who have been dispossessed of their land for decades, to return to their tribal homes. We could discuss with President al-Sisi how we might continue to assist the Egyptians in following their four-stage road map to develop a first-class secular democracy with improved civil liberties and human rights. We could offer Britain’s experience and support in that endeavour.
The Egyptians have now completed the first two stages of the four-stage road map: first, a new constitution; secondly, an elected president; and now, thirdly, the election of a brand new Parliament with a judicial framework to monitor the election that will start in December and complete next March.
Finally, they plan to create better economic conditions for all of their people. For this they are arranging an investor conference to take place next February so that inward investment will create better lives for all the people of Egypt. We must help them to build the conditions for international business to invest and prepare UK businesses to be first investors. I am pleased that, to this end, the Minister Tobias Ellwood is to lead a trade delegation to Egypt next January. The UK can also continue to build security in the region by acting as a trusted intermediary between Egypt and Israel and facilitating the sharing of technical know-how, which is mutually beneficial to them and good for the UK.
Taking a wider view of the growing conflicts across MENA, the issues being fought over and the characteristics of the combatants are varied, but it seems that the root cause of all of them is similar. Whether it is the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank or the 90 million people in Egypt, whether it is the Syrians and the Kurds, those suffering in Iran and Iraq or those calling themselves Islamic State, it is all about not being allowed to have a say in their own affairs. Individuals and factions in dictatorships are finding no better course of action than to fight and Governments are finding no better credible solution than to clamp down with force on their people. This is where we should be encouraging, engaging, helping and serving. We should have a proactive foreign policy that builds trust and resilience before things get worse, helping to find a pathway from conflict and fragility to stability, investment, development and prosperity, along with helping Governments to listen, build trust and respond, and citizens to reap the benefits of incremental change.
We are paying the price for not proactively building resilience in the past. Foreign policy leadership should create the conditions for good governance, democratic voice and peaceful transition. This is what I suspect UK development and support aims do through the Building Stability Overseas strategy, which brings together the Foreign Office, the MoD and the DfID Growth and Resilience Department. They recognise that a day of conflict can cost more than a year of prevention, but it is not clear what the mechanism is. What is the “theory of change” by which our foreign policy will bring peace and stability to the region? We have learnt from engaging with Egypt that there is an opportunity that is not “empire” and is not “aid”; it is to help provide a platform and mechanisms for building democratic fabric and enabling development and trade with partner countries to support processes that rebuild trust in government and interventions that build the trustworthiness of that Government.
In my days as a retailer—I am pleased to note that we have introduced into our House today a great retailer, the noble Lord, Lord Rose of Monewden—we would put our values to work with Egypt and Israel to build understanding and trust through trading with both of them on the same products, benefiting our customers, benefiting the UK and benefiting both Egypt and Israel. Sometimes the best strategy in business is to transform a difficult economic challenge with an entirely new way of thinking. To this end, I have spoken previously about the Middle East Centre for Civic Involvement. Benefiting from the wisdom and experience of noble Lords from all sides of the House and politicians from the other place, it aims to provide a mechanism for democratic fabric, trust building, stabilisation, and for investment and prosperity.
Let us partner with the MENA region for stability, investment, development and democracy. Let us be part of the solution. Let us consider the cost of our military interventions in the region and the cost of further instability and realise that it would be far better, as a distinct feature of UK foreign policy, to put British values to work in a way that meets national, economic, geopolitical and other interests. I ask the Minister to put it to Her Majesty’s Government that we should invest in a bold initiative for peace, stability and prosperity in the region by partnering more closely—and first with Egypt.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Risby, for giving us the opportunity to hold this important debate on one of the most troubled regions of the globe. I will focus on Iraq in my remarks. First, perhaps I may give noble Lords the good news, which is the business news. I have the honour to serve as the trade envoy to Iraq on behalf of the Prime Minister, and a secondary honorary position as the executive chairman of the Iraq Britain Business Council. This is an NGO in Iraq which has been working for some five and a half years to enhance inward investment and outward investment between international businesses and the Republic of Iraq. The trade links in Iraq are focused particularly on companies registered in the United Kingdom, and on building up contracts between those companies and companies inside the country.
I am delighted to report that the IBBC today has 63 members, four of which are United Kingdom universities. We have a new stream of universities to enhance student exchanges. Five members are Iraqi chambers of commerce. All 18 Iraqi chambers of commerce are scheduled to join and have decided to do so. This opens up the entirety of Iraqi businesses to UK-registered ones. At the same time last year, in comparison, we had 46 members, as opposed to 63. Growth is strong and does not seem to be affected by the recent events in Iraq.
Two more major Iraqi companies, one from the KRG and one from Baghdad, have this week applied for IBBC membership. Last month, one of the best known and largest global engineering companies joined IBBC, and is establishing an office in Basra. At the IBBC autumn conference next week, I am expecting approximately 400 guests over two days, 60 of whom will be joining us from all over Iraq. These will include guests from cities that are under ISIS control: Mosul and Salahadin. Some of these delegates have had to cross the front lines between ISIS and the Peshmerga to obtain documents to support their visa applications for Iraq. One delegate from Mosul, who has temporarily resettled in Erbil, went to Mosul to get bank statements to support his visa application.
Most Iraqis know that the ISIS reign will not last. ISIS is not even in full control of the territories that it claims and the delegates are determined to pursue their business links with Britain. At the conference we will have the chairmen of the Iraqi and Kurdish chambers of commerce address the delegates. We will have major oil and gas producers from the south and north of Iraq giving presentations. We will see Iraqi government and KRG official representatives mingling comfortably with each other. The new Iraqi Government is well set for more inclusion and is making good progress in achieving greater unity in the country. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, one of our vice-presidents, will be addressing the conference. Other vice-presidents, the noble Lords, Lord Robertson and Lord Green, will be available.
UK visa procedures are a constant burden for business ties between the two countries. I congratulate UKTI on the huge amount of work done in an impeccable way on this, but the burden put upon our Iraqi friends seeking to visit the UK for business or on holiday is still very high. I will write to the Minister on this and would welcome her attention to such an important matter, as we are losing high-powered friends because of stringent and completely inflexible policies being in place. We plan to have IBBC conferences in Basra, Baghdad and Erbil next year. I have no doubt that these will happen, as did the recent successful IBBC trade missions in Erbil, Baghdad and Najaf in August and September. My next mission will be in mid-November, when I will be revisiting these cities and Basra.
I turn now to the challenge that Iraq is facing with one third of her territory having been taken over by violent jihadists. I had the honour of participating in a diplomacy and violent jihad debate last Saturday at the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Robert H Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, when we discussed this matter. It was followed by an AMAR foundation meeting. The AMAR foundation is a charity of 23 years’ standing, which I chair, and the biggest British charity in Iraq. The meeting was on the fight of ISIL against girls and women. We will be publishing the full report.
I hold the view at the moment that there is a case for charges of genocide, especially against the Yazidis. We might reasonably suggest that an inquiry into the possibility of having IS individuals held accountable in The Hague for genocide, for their acts against the Yazidis. Of course, I am aware of IS’s genocidal-type acts against other minorities, but the Yazidis are a discrete group and I believe that they fall within the context of the convention.
As a past honorary member of the American Bar Association, I believe that this is something that Britain, with our slender hard power but very strong soft power, can rightly pursue at this point. Whether a prosecutor, a court or another tribunal would take on the case, and whether the facts as found by such a court or tribunal would warrant a conviction, are of course open to speculation, but that should not limit our initial conversations about motivating the competent authorities to consider the possibility of investigating charges of genocide.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide leads me to believe that Articles 2 to 4 cover the scenario that I have in mind, whereby prospective defendants would be members of IS. Under Article 6, such defendants could be prosecuted; for example, in an international penal tribunal created by the UN Security Council. As far as the ICC is concerned, while Iraq is not a party to the Rome Statute governing the court, if individual IS members are nationals of any state party to the Rome Statute—for example, nationals of the UK or a state that otherwise accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC—such individuals could be subject to the jurisdiction of the court, which has jurisdiction to hear charges of crimes against humanity as well as genocide.
I had the opportunity to speak on genocide while giving evidence to the Supreme Court in Baghdad for the victims of the 1991 uprising in Basra and subsequently in the Marsh Arab genocide case. The judgment of that court of crimes against humanity was insufficient in the eyes of most but understandable when the judges’ safety was taken into account. But I believe that IS participants who belong to our nations who have been engaged in these horrific acts against the Yazidis and others could be prosecuted for genocide, specifically against the Yazidis, at the ICC. I would welcome a comment from the Minister on whether Her Majesty’s Government would look warmly on such a route to bringing IS to justice through due process rather than the point of death.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Risby for calling this debate at what is a timely moment to assess the situation in the Middle East and north Africa. These debates are an opportunity to highlight the actions of countries and regimes around the world but, more importantly, they present an opportunity to explain, test and challenge our country’s response to those actions. It is that that I will seek to do today.
Our policy in relation to the Middle East peace process, which I am sure my noble friend will repeat today, is simply this: a two-state solution; a negotiated settlement; a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps and Jerusalem as the shared capital; and a just and fair settlement for refugees. But I would say that our policy is simply not working; that it is flawed; that different strands of our policy are simply not viable and no longer hold true; that in fact we know our policy is not working yet we continue to stick to it; that our policy is not responding to the reality on the ground yet we fail to change it; and that this approach damages our reputation both at home and abroad, and sadly makes us no longer an honest broker.
In 2012 we asked the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to move towards a resolution at the UN General Assembly. We made it clear that this was for the time being and that it would be better to give the US Administration the opportunity to set out a new initiative and move towards a successful Middle East peace process. The Kerry talks were on the horizon, and I commend Secretary Kerry for his efforts and the failure of those talks certainly cannot be laid at his feet. At that time we said that 2013 was going to be a crucial year, and I said so many times at that very Dispatch Box. The then Foreign Secretary said:
“If progress on negotiations is not made next year”—
that is, 2013—
“the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/11/12; col. 227.]
He was right. We said at that time that we may have considered supporting the Palestinian resolution at the UN if it supported a negotiated peace process. Israel made it very clear that if the Palestinians went to the UN, it would no longer negotiate. Therefore, if that was the case and we knew that that was the case, by putting that condition in place, we were effectively giving Israel a veto. My question to the Minister, therefore, is: what is our policy now?
I turn now to the issue of illegal settlements. We condemn them. We say that they threaten the very viability of a two-state solution. But what consequences ever follow from that condemnation? The 1967 borders of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem are not lawfully part of the State of Israel. That is agreed. It is the settled policy of successive Governments. A line was drawn in international law which, ever year, is violated by Israel. The settlement building continues apace. Even during the Kerry discussions, new housing start-ups in the West Bank rose by 120%.
In 1993, at the time of the Oslo peace accords and the peace process, the number of settlers in the West Bank, not including Jerusalem, was 110,000; today, the number is 382,000. Israel’s Housing Minister, himself a settler, said earlier this year that he wanted that number to grow by 50% over the next five years. As my right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan has said, settlements are simply “an act of theft”, initiated and supported by the State of Israel. The strategic planning, including the announcements on the E1 plan and other building programmes, display an even more dangerous intent. They create enclaves of Palestinians cut off from each other; cut off from their future capital and cut off from a viable existence. It is an organised and planned strangulation of what we call the two-state solution.
Another part of our policy is a just and fair settlement for the refugees. Across all parties in our country, there is a strong consensus and support for international justice and for the ICC. However, we continue to take the position that ICC membership makes negotiations impossible. Why do we say that negotiations would be impossible if the Palestinians went to the ICC? Is it because Israel does not wish to be held accountable for any war crimes that may have been committed; or is it because we, who oppose immunity for such crimes elsewhere, are prepared to make an exception in this particular case?
If we are not prepared to pursue justice for those who are suffering now, how can we be trusted to fulfil our commitment to pursue justice for those who suffered and lost many decades ago? The policy simply no longer holds true. The situation on the ground has so changed—and continues to do so—that what we say we seek is unlikely to be achieved. We say we have a position. We condemn, but the actions in respect of that condemnation are not there to be seen and no consequences follow. We take certain positions—for example, on language during the Gaza crisis and at the Human Rights Council of July 2014, when a commission of inquiry was proposed for human rights violations during the Gaza crisis. We take those positions as a way of preserving and promoting our relationship with Israel because we sincerely believe that we want to influence change. We prefer private to public diplomacy—I agree with that—but I fail to see those tough private conversations.
Therefore I ask the Minister the following questions. In July 2010 my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that,
“Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp”.
What has changed in Gaza since then? What influence have we been able to exert as a result of not supporting the Palestinians at the United Nations? In the light of the parliamentary vote in the Commons and the lack of any negotiations, will the Government move to a position of recognition? In doing so—with reference to that debate in the House of Commons—will the Government distance themselves from the comments of the Chancellor’s PPS, Robert Halfon, who said that,
“there is already a Palestinian state called Jordan”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/10/14; col. 106.]
If we are not prepared to move to a recognition of Palestine, can we lay out the specific conditions that will need to be met? Will the Government set out a pathway in the interests of transparency? What consequences have flowed from the strong condemnation by the Foreign Secretary in September and October of this year of the recent settlement announcements? How have we, since the Gaza conflict, used the so-called influence and capital we built up during that conflict with the Israeli Government to change their position since then?
It was because of the concerns that I have raised today—and not, as some have disturbingly tried to suggest, because I am a Muslim—that, as the then Minister with responsibility for the UN, the ICC and human rights, I concluded that I could no longer defend our policy at that Dispatch Box. Our current position on this issue is morally indefensible. It is not in Britain’s national interests and it will have a long-term detrimental impact on our reputation, internationally and domestically. It is time for us to start to be on the right side of history.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Risby, for initiating this important debate. At the outset I declare an interest: I am a Jew. Israel is therefore for me the place where my people were born almost 4,000 years ago; the place to which Abraham and Sarah travelled; where Amos voiced his vision of social justice and Isaiah dreamt of a world at peace; where David composed the Psalms and Solomon built the Temple. This had consequences not only for Jews but also for Christians and Muslims, who claim Abraham as their ancestor in faith, and whose God they take as their own.
This had tragic repercussions throughout the Middle Ages, because Christians and Muslims claimed, each in their own way, to have replaced Jews as the people of God and thus as heirs to the Holy Land. The otherwise saintly Augustine declared that Jews were cursed with the fate of Cain, destined to be restless wanderers on earth without a home. Islam held that any land that ever came under Muslim rule was henceforth and forever Dar Al Islam: that is, land that rightly belongs to the Umma, the Muslim people, with any other rule being illegitimate. On both of these theologies, Jews had no right to their ancestral home.
A half-century ago, these theologies would have been considered irrelevant. The West had moved on. After a century of religious wars following the Reformation, it recognised the need for the secularisation of power. This allowed the United Nations, in the partition vote of 1947, to grant Jews the right to a nation state of their own after 2,000 years of exile and persecution. Eventually, there were peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and an intensive process with the Palestinians. When power is secularised, peace is possible.
Today, though, throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa, a seismic shift is taking place in the opposite direction. People are desecularising. They feel betrayed by secular nationalist Governments who failed to deliver prosperity and national pride. They consider the national boundaries imposed by colonial powers to be artificial and obsolete. They are uninspired by the secular culture of the West, with its maximum of choice and minimum of meaning. They have come to believe that salvation lies in a return to the Islam that bestrode the narrow world like a colossus for the better part of 1,000 years.
Although their faith is hostile to modernity, they sometimes understand modernity better than its own creators in the West. They know that because of the internet, YouTube and the social media, communication —indeed politics—has gone global; they also know that the great monotheisms are the most powerful global communities in the world, far broader and deeper in their reach than any nation state. The religious radicals are offering young people the chance to fight and die for their faith, winning glory on earth and immortality in heaven. They have started recruiting in the West and they have only just begun.
When ancient theologies are used for modern political ends, they speak a very dangerous language indeed. So, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah, both self-defined as religious movements, refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel within any boundaries whatever and seek only its complete destruction.
The Islamists also know that the only way they can win the sympathy of the West is by demonising Israel. They know that you cannot win support for ISIS, Boko Haram or Islamic Jihad, but if you can blame Israel you will gain the support of academics, unions and parts of the media, and you will distract attention from the massacres in Syria and Iraq, the slow descent of other countries into chaos and the ethnic cleansing of Christians throughout the region. They are thus repeating the very failure of the regimes they have risen against, which for 50 years suppressed dissent by demonising Israel as the cause of everything wrong in the Arab or Islamic world. When you blame others for your failures you harm not only those others but yourself and your people. To be free, you have to let go of hate. If you let hate speech infect the West, as has already happened in some of our campuses, prisons and schools, then our freedom, too, will be at risk.
I and the vast majority of the Jewish community care deeply about the future of the Palestinians. We want Palestinian children, no less than Israeli children, to have a future of peace, prosperity, freedom and hope. That is why we oppose those who teach Palestinian children to hate those with whom they will one day have to live. We oppose those who take money given for humanitarian aid and use it to buy weapons and dig tunnels to take the region back to a dark age of barbarism.
More generally, we say in the name of the God of Abraham—the almighty, merciful and compassionate God—that the religion in whose name atrocities are being carried out, innocent people butchered and beheaded, children treated as slaves, civilians turned into human shields and young people into weapons of self-destruction, is not the Islam that once earned the admiration of the world: nor is its God the God of Abraham. It was Nietzsche, not the prophets, who worshipped the will to power. It was Machiavelli, not sacred scripture, who taught that it is better to be feared than to be loved.
Every religion must wrestle with its dark angels, and so today must we: Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. For we are all children of Abraham, and only when we make space for one another as brothers and sisters will we redeem the world from darkness and walk together in the light of God.
My Lords, may I first refer to the Register of Lords’ Interests? I have been a director of a number of companies in the Middle East on both sides of the Gulf and I have also been for many years the chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce—a post that I took over from the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, whom I see in his place today.
It is a humbling experience to follow the very moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. This has been a remarkable debate and there was a remarkable speech from my noble friend Lady Warsi. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Risby on initiating such a remarkable debate and on introducing it with a brilliant tour d’horizon of all the different problems of the region. I very much agree with him that it is extremely difficult to be optimistic about the region.
We seem to have been fighting a never-ending war in the Middle East. The West has indeed been fighting the consequences of our own disastrous policies. In some respects, we have been addressing risks that we ourselves created. After flirting with the Arab spring, we are now back into our old traditional comfort zone of uncritical support of Sunni autocracies. Only now are we waking up belatedly to the fact that many of the citizens—I do not say “Governments”—of our allies have been funding those they are helping us to fight. I pay tribute to the campaign by the Sunday Telegraph highlighting the movement of funds to terrorist groups in the Middle East.
In that paper last Sunday, David Cohen, the US official in charge of financial intelligence, described Qatar and Kuwait as,
“permissive jurisdictions for terrorist financing”.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, also wrote recently that Riyadh, Doha and Kuwait City have all enabled religious foundations to channel funds to radical Sunni elements. He referred to lax anti-money-laundering regulations and regimes. Could the Minister comment on this point? What exactly are the Government doing to raise concerns with the relevant Governments?
Some of the citizens of our allies share with ISIS Wahhabi doctrines that the Shias are idolatrous apostates. A recent opinion poll in the pan-Arab newspaper, Al-Hayat, which I believe is Saudi owned, indicated that 92% of Saudis replied in the affirmative to the question of whether ISIS conformed to their values of Islam and Islamic law. I was rather surprised by that and put it to a Saudi friend of mine. He said that he believed it but thought it referred not to the violence and beheadings but actually to the governance and type of polity that ISIS were introducing. Even so, that was a very revealing and alarming poll result.
Many people have bought into the fantasy that Sunni Muslims—1.3 billion out of 1.6 billion—are somehow a victimised minority. I want to talk about the Shia enfant terrible, Iran, and the nuclear talks. I know that some noble Lords and Baronesses are worried that there will be a successful outcome to those talks. I acknowledge fully the shortcomings and past misdeeds of Iran, its bad human rights record, the unacceptable threats against Israel and the support for rocket attacks through Hamas and Hezbollah. None the less, a nuclear deal is firmly in the interests of both Israel and the wider Middle East.
I did not hear the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, earlier, but for those noble Lords and Baronesses worried about a deal, I have some good news: I do not think there will be a deal at all. Mr Netanyahu and AIPAC have certainly done their best to make this very difficult. The real mistake has been for the negotiations to concentrate so single-mindedly on just the number of centrifuges, rather than on a regime of transparency and openness. It was always going to be extremely difficult to get agreement on the physical destruction of facilities that already exist.
If I am right and the deal fails, what happens then? Are we going to bomb Iran? That would spread a huge conflagration throughout the Middle East. Are we going to have more sanctions? That is what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seems to be indicating. What will Iran do? Will it go back to the previous level of producing more highly enriched uranium and will it stop converting enriched uranium into fuel rods?
If the talks fail, the important point is that on both sides we do not go back to the position we were in before. Even if the talks fail, something will have been gained in terms of understanding each other’s viewpoints and talking about different issues within the region. President Rouhani made some very wise remarks on this issue when he said, referring to the possibility of failure in the talks, “I want to repeat: we will not return to the past and our situation will definitely change. This is what the world wants”.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister met President Rouhani—the first meeting with an Iranian president for well over 35 years. I gather that it was a good meeting, but I rather regretted the very aggressive comments that the Prime Minister made after President Rouhani’s studiously moderate speech condemning terrorism at the UNGA. The Prime Minister made quite an aggressive speech, the result of which was to undermine President Rouhani’s position in Iran and to lead to renewed calls in the Majles that the British embassy should definitely not be reopened. I know that the date of the reopening has been put off yet again—indeed, there is no date.
The interests of the West and those of Iran overlap in many areas but, of course, this has happened before. It happened at the time of President Khatami, when he helped with the invasion of Afghanistan by America and offered full diplomatic relations and the reining in of Hamas and Hezbollah. For his trouble, he was labelled part of the “axis of evil”. We must be careful that we do not do the same thing to President Rouhani today. Too often, the West seems to think that Iran is part of the problem and that it does not need to be part of the solution. This is wrong. Iran has been part of the problem, but it definitely also needs to be part of the solution.
My Lords, I am a Zionist. I am a Zionist because I believe that, after 2,000 years of exile and 2,000 years of persecution, the Jewish people deserve a homeland of their own and that homeland should be within the biblical land of Israel. I am a Zionist because I believe that in Israel the Jewish people have found fulfilment as a nation. They have turned the desert into orchards, they lead the world in science for the benefit of mankind and they have become one of the world’s centres of 21st-century technology. Most of all, I am a Zionist because Israel today vibrantly maintains its founders’ dream of becoming a fully functioning democracy for all its people, in a region where the rule of law and equality is at a premium. Life for many Israeli Arabs is not all that it should be, but it is undeniable that they have an equal opportunity to vote, to go wherever they choose, to study at any university and to work in any capacity. They are fully fledged Israeli citizens. This is not an apartheid state.
I support the state of Israel because history has cruelly demonstrated that, at any time or in any place, Jews live in peril. France today is one example, but so too are countries in eastern Europe and South America. Israel is the final refuge for Jews being persecuted in the outside world. Indeed, if there had been an Israel in the 1930s the story would have been different and infinitely happier. So, come what may, I and most Jews remain proud supporters of Israel.
However, in saying all this, I am not saying “Israel, right or wrong”. The Naqba was a catastrophe for the Palestinian people, and we Jews should admit it. The occupation of the West Bank is a stain. In my view, the building of settlements is wrong. The road blocks, the pass controls and the goading are all intolerable. For me as a supporter of Israel, they are hard to stomach. If history has taught us anything, you humiliate a people at your peril. Many Israelis yearn for a two-state solution but, in truth, some do not. I am sad to say that this includes many members of Israel’s current Government. I certainly support a Palestinian state, but not quite yet. It must be negotiated with both the Palestinians and with Israel.
Pain me though it does to say this, I agree with Maureen Lipman in today’s Times, who says that Labour and Ed Miliband have got it wrong. When Israel was formed its main enemies were its neighbours: Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the other Arab states. Those countries were sworn to its destruction. Today this has changed. There has been an enduring peace with Egypt and with Jordan. Syria is a basket case, and Saudi Arabia in its calmer moments realises that it has more in common with Israel than against it.
Today’s warfare in Israel’s proximity is asymmetric. The rules are different. It is sometimes forgotten that in 2005, Israel unilaterally and surprisingly withdrew from Gaza, but within two years Hamas had routed the PA and begun its reign of terror. Hamas could have built a thriving Gaza. It could have used cement and steel to build a new state within a state, but instead it chose to dig tunnels and build rockets. Hamas has fired rockets at Israel ever since it took control, and never more so than in this most recent terrible summer. Think of it: how would we have reacted if, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the IRA—based in the Republic of Ireland—had fired tens of thousands of rockets at Belfast, Liverpool, or maybe even at London? Would we have stood back? Of course we would not. We would have retaliated with force of arms and we would not have hesitated to put boots on the ground.
Hamas is a vicious terrorist organisation, and is proscribed not only by ourselves but also by the United States, the EU, Canada, Australia and many Middle Eastern countries. It thrives on terror and hatred. Its charter is quite clear: it seeks to destroy Israel. It is joined at the hip with ISIS. They have the same objectives, the same manic obsession with destroying anything that stands in their way, and the same desire to see an Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East. In the recent conflict it was interesting to see who in the Middle East supported Hamas: Turkey did, as did Qatar and Iran. It is even more interesting to see who did not. Egypt hates Hamas, and there was not a word of criticism of Israel from the UAE, with the exception of Qatar, or from Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
So when we see demonstrations in the streets of London which are pro-Hamas with a nasty element of anti-Semitism thrown in, it beggars belief. When I see my good friend the Member of Parliament Luciana Berger receive death threats from anti-Semitic Twitter trolls for her position on Israel, it shows where all this can lead. I ask this question: if the demonstrators are so concerned about countries that commit crimes against humanity, why do they not demonstrate against countries which make no secret of their barbarism?
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria. Have there been marches in London against the Assad regime, or any protests outside the Syrian embassy? None. This summer the Russians have behaved appallingly. They have grabbed Crimea for their own. We have seen Putin’s goons down a civilian airliner for no other reason than it happened to be in the sky. Has there been an apology? None. Are there protests outside the Russian embassy? None. Around the world atrocities are being committed and we all wring our hands and do precious little, but when Israel alone defends herself, everybody goes ballistic. At best it can be called hypocrisy, and at worst it is called something else.
My Lords, the last four months have witnessed some of the most distressing and tragic events in a region which for too long has been scarred by violence and turmoil. From the plight of the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar to the horrors in Gaza, people have been profoundly moved by what has unfolded. I join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Risby for securing such an important debate, and for opening it with such knowledge and clarity. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lamont about the force of the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, and my noble friend Lady Warsi.
I will concentrate my remarks today on the situation in Gaza and on recognition of Palestine. I declare my interests as chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council, the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the Palestinian Territories, and president of Medical Aid for Palestinians. In late May this year, in my role as trade envoy, I visited the West Bank and Jerusalem, and I also attempted to visit Gaza. I sat for three and a half hours at the Yad Mordechai café outside Erez—and very nice it was—drinking a lot of coffee while my papers were finalised: but sadly I was not allowed in.
I had a full programme arranged with many people waiting for me, and so I telephoned everyone I was supposed to meet to apologise. They were wonderfully good humoured, and welcomed me to their uncertain world. Everyone I spoke to was hopeful that the unity Government who had just been announced and who had been welcomed by the international community would lead quickly to free, full and fair elections, and to the lifting of the siege of Gaza. They said quite rightly that people who are economically active want to live in peace.
How cruelly their dreams were smashed. The kidnap and brutal murder of three Israeli teenagers in June and the horrific death of a 16 year-old Palestinian, burned alive in July, led to the escalation of a situation which was already on a knife edge. Accounts of who did what, when—who fired the first shots or launched the first rockets—will differ from side to side. The only certainty is that too many innocent men, women and children have died, and it has to stop.
In the 51 days of attacks on Gaza, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians, including a baby, were killed. In Gaza, 91 entire families were wiped out, 2,131 people were killed—500 of them children—and 1,500 children were orphaned. Every day, more and more children were rushed to Gaza’s hospitals, with tissue blasted apart, bones shattered and limbs missing. One thousand people, many of them children, will be permanently disabled as a result of their injuries.
During the crisis, around 500,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes, and it is estimated that 100,000 of them remain homeless with winter fast approaching. Last year, it snowed in Gaza; this year, there has already been heavy rain, with streets flooding. The promises from the reconstruction conference in Cairo, welcome as they are, need to be translated quickly into practical solutions that will make a real difference to people’s lives. Here, I would like to place on record my thanks to the Prime Minister and the Government for the lead they took in providing much-needed medical assistance to Gaza and for the commitment to further, generous funding, of which MAP is a significant beneficiary, for the necessary long-term medical work that will be required.
A seven year-old child in Gaza will now have lived through three military incursions. The businesspeople and doctors I spoke to who were so hopeful in May will, for the third time in seven years, have to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their shattered families. In the intervening periods between the violence, the decent ordinary people of Gaza are not free to travel, to trade or to enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted. If we are to break this cycle of death and destruction, the future for Gaza has to lead to an end to the blockade and to economic freedom.
The future must also hold out the hope of freedom for the whole of Palestine. The occupation of the West Bank, now the longest occupation in history, brings with it the daily disruption and humiliation of the Palestinian people and the continued building of settlements—I was very pleased to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, said on that. My right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan, in a recent searching and brave speech at RUSI, said that the illegal settlements are an offence to democratic principles and the rule of law. In the debate on the recognition of Palestine in another place on 14 July, my right honourable friend Sir Richard Ottaway said very movingly that he had stood by Israel through thick and thin, but that the recent annexation of 950 acres of the West Bank had outraged him more than anything else in his political life. I recommend both speeches to your Lordships.
The Conservative Middle East Council was set up under Margaret Thatcher in 1980 after the then nine members of the European Economic Community signed the Venice Declaration, which, among other things, stated that the continued building of settlements was a barrier to peace. As my noble friend Lady Warsi said, William Hague warned last year that the prospects for a two-state solution were rapidly running out. With yet another failed peace process, something has to change if we do not want that warning to become a reality. That change should be recognition of Palestine.
We cannot uphold the right of others around the world to stand up for their freedom and self-determination and deny that same right to the Palestinians. Through our shared history, Great Britain has a special responsibility to Palestine, which we should discharge by recognising Palestine as a sovereign state alongside the sovereign state of Israel as an important step to peace.
The Palestinians are for the most part just like anyone else around the world—decent and moderate. But moderate people need hope. The Palestinians and the Israelis have no alternative but to live freely, prosperously, peacefully and securely side by side: but unless there is freedom and prosperity and recognition for all, there will be no lasting peace and security.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Risby, on securing time for this debate, and I declare an interest as a vice-president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I intend, as did my noble friend Lady Morris in her very moving speech, to use this opportunity to focus on Israel and the Palestinians. Sometimes in politics, there are points that seem so obvious that nobody ought to make them any more, but some basic points about Israel seem often to be forgotten in the British political arena, so I need to restate some of them today.
First, in the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Israel was not aiming to kill innocent civilians, any more than Turkey was aiming to kill innocent civilians in its recent bombings of the PKK, or the Americans to kill innocent civilians in their attacks on Islamic State, nor any more than NATO ever aimed to kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan. In all four of those examples, and many others, many civilians have been tragically killed in bombings undertaken by a country’s forces against a non-state force, be that Hamas, the PKK, Islamic State or the Taliban. Yet I do not hear anyone accusing Turkey, the Americans or NATO of deliberately killing civilians; it is only Israel that is so accused. Surely this is the worst kind of hypocrisy on the part of world opinion.
However much one might criticise the Government of Israel and their sometimes confrontational policies—I would not vote for Likud, just as I am guessing that Mr Netanyahu would not vote for the Liberal Democrats—what other armed forces in the world would send warnings to civilians living close to military targets that they are about to bomb? Israel does, even at the cost of exposing its own troops to greater danger in the process. The world community’s failure to give Israel credit for that shows just how hard it is for Israel to gain a fair hearing on the stage of international opinion. We criticise Israel, but where is the criticism of Hamas for how it puts the lives and property of the people of Gaza at risk by sending more than 4,000 rockets into Israel and using the people of Gaza as the equivalent of human shields? I take all the points made by my noble friend Lady Morris, which were very moving.
Another fact that is completely overlooked is the amount of aid and goods of different types that Israel pumps into Gaza, as well as the amount of aid and goods that Israel allows others to pump in. Need I remind your Lordships that Egypt also has valid security reasons? What makes me despair is the absence of reporting in the media on the support that Israel has consistently given to the people of Gaza. Some formidable forces are lobbying against Israel in the British public arena. It is perhaps the unrelenting campaigns of such formidable forces that drown out the truth about what Israel is doing to help Gaza, even during hostilities.
I would like to give some examples. On 25 August this year, in the middle of a war in which a bombardment of Hamas missiles was forcing many thousands of Israeli men, women and children to run for cover whenever an air raid siren sounded—even in the middle of such a bombardment—111 trucks entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel carrying 2,190 tonnes of food. On that same day, three trucks entered Gaza through the same crossing from Israel, carrying 8 tonnes of humanitarian supplies.
On 24 August, one day earlier, three Israeli taxi drivers were waiting to pick up some residents of Gaza to bring them into hospital in Israel from Gaza through the Erez crossing. And what happened? Mortar shells fired by Palestinian groups wounded the taxi drivers, with two of them being seriously hurt. Israeli soldiers had to evacuate the wounded under Palestinian fire, as Palestinian mortars continued to fall on the Israeli crossing specifically designated for the passage of Palestinians in need of medical and humanitarian assistance. These three Israeli taxi drivers, who were doing their job taking sick people to hospital, were not Jewish, but Arab citizens of Israel—Israeli Arabs being bombed by Palestinian terrorists while attempting to take Palestinians to hospital in Israel.
To paraphrase Tom Lehrer’s reaction to the news that Henry Kissinger had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the world is now so satirical that it is impossible to satirise it any more. Medical aid for the people of Gaza is rarely mentioned. It was revealed this month that the daughter of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh was recently treated at a Tel Aviv hospital. In June, Haniyeh’s mother-in-law was treated in Israel for cancer and his daughter was also transferred to an Israeli hospital last year. However, these are only examples. Ichilov hospital said she is one of more than 1,000 patients from Gaza and the West Bank who are treated every year. This is a nation that cares.
Her Majesty’s coalition Government have made it clear that they will recognise a Palestinian state when one has been created through a process of negotiations between the Palestinians and the state of Israel. I see no ambiguity on that score and I see that as the way forward rather than the one proposed by my noble friend Lady Warsi.
To conclude, if the problems of the Israeli people are ever to be solved, there is no alternative to the difficult, painful and direct negotiations that will bring peace, justice and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that peace will include two states living side by side in peace and, hopefully, co-operation? It will only be achieved by Israel and the Palestinians sitting down to negotiate without preconditions. It will include the removal of many, if not most, of the settlements on the West Bank. It will mean a cessation of rockets fired at Israel. It will mean abandonment of Hamas’s claim to obliterate the state of Israel. It will mean that refugees in the West Bank and Gaza will be given citizenship of the Palestinian state—just as, for example, Israel gave citizenship to 600,000 of the 800,000 Jews who fled Arab lands.
My Lords, where is the Muslim peace movement campaigning for an end to violence in Muslim countries? Where is their Gandhi? Where is their Mandela? We are talking today about the failure of the nation state in Islam, and the failure in the region to overcome the demonisation of others.
We have failed to perceive the core of the current conflicts. What is taking place in Iraq and Syria is a single cross-border sectarian war: Shia with its allies, Sunni with theirs. Iraq and Syria were carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by Britain and France, who were also responsible for many artificial new states in the area. They all contain incompatible populations inside artificial borders. Most are marked by instability and poverty, despite the oil revenue flowing into the region. They were held together as states by brutal and powerful dictators. Once those dictators were removed, conflict broke out again along the old fault lines of sectarian identity, which is far stronger than nationality. There are echoes of the former Yugoslavia.
The Islamic State wants to establish a new caliphate, spelling the end of the nation state. What can the West do, except point out the truth, mobilise its few allies and keep the extremism and the demonisation at bay and out of our country? We have to spread the ideas that will end hate. One day, I am sure, the scales will fall from the eyes of the Israel haters, as they did in relation to our views about communism when that came to an end after decades of death. Sixty years ago, who would have imagined that there would be a black president of the United States, that South Africa would be free and that communism would come to an end? We should not give up hope.
But there is a lack of human rights and deficient legal systems in the area. Any criticism of human rights law in this country is barely tolerated, yet in the Middle East we see daily, and have done for years, massacres and hangings, such as in Iran where nearly 1,000 have been hanged since Rouhani came to power. We see stonings for adultery, beheadings, amputation and the persecution of Christians—except in Israel. It is the demonisation and intolerance of minorities and refugees that are the source of much of the conflict. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are barred from working in certain professions and cannot register property. Their situation is equally bad in Egypt, and they are banned from acquiring citizenship in Arab League states. Thousands have died and been starved in Syria. Even in Turkey there is interference with the judiciary and there are bans on social media. Yet, as others have said, we do not see the same level of protest here—only against Israel. Will there be protests against the Egyptian removal of 10,000 people in order to create a trench barrier against Gaza?
In Israel, we know that the Christian population is flourishing. It is a land of human rights, the only place where this is the case in the Middle East. There is equality and universal suffrage. Gay rights are tolerated—again, uniquely in the area. One-third of the students at Haifa University are Arabs. There is collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis over water research at Ben-Gurion University. I think that we can see that this is not exclusively a territorial dispute. Is it not because they are Jewish? The Israel conflict is rooted in demonisation, in dismay at the Arab failure to take advantage of, or contribute to, modern developments—hence, the fear and jealousy.
We should also be very wary of the many millions of dollars being poured into some of our universities by Gulf states. They are the largest source of donors to higher education. Beware Qataris bearing gifts. The funds are almost invariably in support of Islamic studies and Arabic, rather than for general purposes, which raises the suspicion that it is being done in order to change perceptions and gain influence. We have not got peace in exchange, simply a breeding ground for extremism in our student bodies.
It strains credulity that speakers in this debate should perceive the Israel-Palestine conflict as a major issue in comparison with what else is going on. A great deal of time has been spent on the recognition of Palestine as a state. The Palestinians could have had a state in 1947 and on many occasions since. I now wonder whether the demands for statehood, as an end to occupation and refugees, are genuine. Is it, as its leaders have stated, designed to be merely one more step in the ultimate goal, in keeping with caliphate ideology, of overrunning Israel—where, conveniently, 6 million Jews are gathered?
I say this because of the quite extraordinary statement by Palestinian leaders that Palestinian refugees would not become citizens of a Palestinian state, whether they reside there or outside, and that they would continue to be supported by UNRWA. So we are not talking about a two-state solution, or even a one-state solution, but a three-state aim: the occupation of Jordan, the originally intended home, now with a half–Palestinian population; Gaza and the West Bank— a second state; and Israel itself.
Palestine, if recognised now, would be just one more failed state in the area, an area not currently wedded to national states. Its leaders have declared that it would be forbidden for any Jews to live there, and one can well imagine how any religious minority would be treated there. It would be a state with no minorities, no income, no support services and, unbelievably, no citizens or returned expatriates. So what would it be for, other than as a launching pad for attacks on territory and in the ICC?
I am sorry that in her resignation letter the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, blamed our policies for radicalisation here. No government can shape its policy for fear that its own citizens will bomb and behead others within its own territories as a result. Given our indecision over Syria, our vacillations over human rights and our failure to acknowledge the territorial and sectarian dimensions, the noble Baroness’s resignation and the lack of UK strategy have not helped to promote peace. Indeed, the UK has less influence than ever before in recent history in the region. It would be wilful to pretend that we could be a major player or a deliverer of peace. All we can do is emphasise human rights and tolerance in the area, and side with our true allies. As a footnote, if our dependence on oil were reduced, self-interest would be less important than moral principles and the achievement of peace.
My Lords, my interest in the Middle East also centres on Palestine-Israel. Like others, I have come to the opinion that Britain should now recognise Palestine. My interest stems from the fact that my wife was born there and, indeed, was the third generation to be born in Jerusalem of western Christian families who went to the Holy Land in the 19th century. Her family, with others, still owns a hotel there and is involved in a children’s charity. I am a trustee of the UK friends of the Palestine music conservatory.
I have therefore been visiting occupied Palestine, primarily east Jerusalem, for more than 45 years. I was last there in August during the latest blitz on Gaza. My visits are for family and charity reasons. I meet friends, businessmen, clergy and so on but rarely politicians. For that reason, I have rarely spoken about the subject in your Lordships’ House. But when you are there you cannot help seeing the politics.
I have seen the settlements grow and grow over the 45 years. My noble friend Lady Warsi gave some figures. I was interested and pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, withheld their support from the settlements policy of the Israeli Government. I have seen the razor wire, the wall and the checkpoints. You only have to go by bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to know how appallingly the Palestinians are routinely treated at the checkpoints.
The two-state solution, which I believe is the only hope of lasting peace for Israel and Palestine, is evaporating before our eyes. Huge new illegal building projects have been announced recently. Another 1,000 homes in Har Homa have been announced this week. This is more modern subsidised housing for Jewish immigrants but no building permits, even for a home extension, are allowed to native Palestinians. On Tuesday, I read in the newspaper that Palestinians are to be barred from using public buses in the West Bank. They are already forbidden from using many of the main roads in their own country.
The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who has just left, made a moving speech but I say to him that it is these actions of the Israelis which make them hated, stoke up violence and act as recruiting sergeants for Hamas. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, objected to the use of the word “apartheid” in respect of Israel, but “apartheid” is not too strong a word to describe Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. Archbishop Tutu used the word after he had been to see it for himself.
On Tuesday, in another place, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said:
“The settlements are illegal and building them is intended to undermine the prospects of the peace process. We must not allow that to happen”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/10/14; col. 171.]
I agree with that but have we any influence left? It still is happening.
The late General Matti Peled was one of the toughest Israeli soldiers in the 1948 and 1967 wars. After retiring, he became a professor of Arabic literature. Just after the 1967 war, when the Israeli army captured the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan, he told his fellow generals that Israel should offer the Palestinians a state of their own. He forecast that if it kept those lands it would turn Israel into an increasingly brutal occupying power. He was right in his forecast.
Some time ago, Her Majesty’s Government concluded that the Palestinian Authority fulfils the criteria for statehood and UN membership. We were told that recognition was a tactical matter and should wait until there is progress on negotiations. In other words, as has already been said, Israel should have a veto. We know that they will use the time for their extremists to build far more homes over the occupied land, to oppress the people and to drive them out.
If we are to influence it, we need a dramatic gesture from this country to shake the peace process out of the mothballs. I believe, with Sir Vincent Fean, until recently our consul-general, that recognition would advance the peace process by giving hope to Palestinians and by helping the moderates on both sides: that is, the Palestinians who believe in peace and work for peace in co-operation with Israel; and the Israelis who hate what is done in their name—the separation wall, the house demolitions and the imprisonment of thousands without trial—who think about the long-term future and who do not think it inevitable that they should for ever live behind walls in a permanent state of war with their neighbours.
I also believe that recognition could start the sort of process, about which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, spoke, as regards development in Gaza and elsewhere. If we believe, as I do, that the two-state solution can bring lasting peace to the Holy Land, we should act on that basis and recognise Palestine as the second state, just as we recognised Israel all those years ago. Sometimes it seems as if we British are bystanders who can have no influence on what happens. But we helped to create the situation and we have a special responsibility in all this. My father was a soldier in Palestine under General Allenby in 1918. In 1920, we—the British—undertook the mandate to guide Palestine to independence. Recognition is our last duty under the mandate.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. Of all 35 speakers, I am the only one who is not a child of Abraham, which at least relieves me of a lot of responsibility for the situation in the Middle East. I see the Middle Eastern situation as an unsolved problem caused by the First World War. Lots of problems were posed by the First World War and solving them has occupied much of the 20th century. For example, I do not think that the problem of Germany was solved until 1991, when it became a united democratic country and part of the liberal democratic order. The repercussions of the Bolshevik revolution took until 1991 to sort out; eastern Europe was finally freed at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to the Middle East and the problem of the Ottoman Empire.
As a principal ally in the First World War, we knew that the Ottoman Empire would lose the war and decline, and that we would demolish it. As part of that, there was the Sykes-Picot treaty, which I have mentioned before in this House, and the Balfour Declaration. The Sykes-Picot treaty drew arbitrary boundaries and all that ISIS has shown is how arbitrary those boundaries are as to where nations can be formed.
My own view is a very pessimistic one. I do not think there will ever be a two-state solution. I do not think the two-state solution was ever the best thing to do. I remember in Labour Party discussions back in the 1970s, we thought a single multi-faith state was the only solution to the Palestine-Israel problem and that is not going to happen. The single multi-faith state is not going to happen; the two-state solution is not going to happen; there is going to be occupation; there will be things built on occupied territory; and there will be a continual war. It is somewhat like Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films, in which two sides fight and fight until they have both destroyed each other— and that is when peace prevails. Maybe I am being too pessimistic but, realistically, after all these years, I do not see why it should be solved.
I am much more concerned, however, about what is happening in the rest of the Middle East. I have spoken on this before. I believe that this is one of the most tragic situations for the Muslim world that we have witnessed in recent years. I think it was the noble Baronesses, Lady Falkner and Lady Nicholson, who mentioned the genocide of the Yazidis. That is indeed a very serious problem. But Muslims are killing Muslims in the highest numbers possible. Sunnis are killing Sunnis, Sunnis are killing Shias and the other way around. It has not just been going on for four years. This Middle East war has been going on for 40 years, more or less since 1973, after the last Arab-Israeli war, which was lost by the Arabs. As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said in his brilliant speech, at that stage the Muslims lost their faith in a secular democratic alternative. They decided that they had to abandon secularism, abandon all those stories of socialism and so on, and go back to religion.
The religion they have gone back to has been heavily subsidised by Saudi Arabia, and is a particularly extreme form of Islam: Wahhabism. Then you have Islamism, which has done more to destroy Muslim majority states than it has done harm to us. We are all worried about terrorism coming to our shores, but what Islamists have done to Algeria and other countries, in both the Maghreb and the Middle East, is very serious. From Pakistan to Algeria, Islamism is the enemy of Muslim-majority states.
There is nothing much we can do but we have to be aware that, because we have gone in—we have been in and out—this war will not be over any time soon. There is no quick solution to the ISIL or ISIS problem. We will have to, if not destroy it, at least de-fang it. We cannot kill an ideology but it will become less harmful than before.
I will say two more things, which I have said before but are worth repeating. The first is we have never had a large international conference on all the problems of the Middle East. Versailles was not a great success but at least everybody got into it. I have said this before. Again and again from the government Benches, I have been told to forget it, but I will say it once more. The problems of Kurdistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and even Israel and Palestine are interconnected. They have a common history. We cannot solve one without solving the others. It is at least worth trying, even while the war is going on. We owe ourselves and the Muslim population of the world, something better than what is going on right now.
Lastly, a lot of people have remarked that many of our young people have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight for ISIL. I think we should not call them extremists and we should not threaten them with immediate arrest and prosecution if they come back. These are our children. Some of our other children take to alcohol, take to drugs and join gangs, and we see the effects of that. When we see that, we feel we ought to do something positive to get them out of their addiction and out of their problems. Now some young people—men and women—have taken to believing in extremism. It happens. It is very attractive to believe that you have a higher cause than your daily living in a rich consumer-oriented society. So they have gone there. However, it is up to us to understand why they have gone there and tell them that when they come back we will try to rehabilitate them and help them re-establish their lives, and not immediately threaten them with prosecution. If they are fed up with ISIL, they will want to come back. We ought to welcome them.
My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Risby, for securing this debate. It has been important that so many other noble Lords have talked about Palestine: not just for the sake of the Palestinians, but for the sake of Israel, too, because that country’s future is being put in jeopardy by its present Government.
As we saw yesterday, the propaganda coming out of the Israeli embassy now is to concentrate on Hamas, the so-called terrorists who of course many people in the Middle East see as freedom fighters—we must remember that. Hamas was helped in its creation by Israel, which did not like Fatah, and Hamas won the European Union-monitored election in 2006. Hamas was then refused permission to lead the Government in Palestine. Hamas had its MPs arrested and put in Israeli prisons. Most of them are still there. Yet since 2009, Hamas has been saying—and this is from Khaled Meshaal—that it will recognise the state of Israel in the 1967 borders. No one likes to publicise that. Hamas deserves the right to defend the people of Gaza against the relentless blockade and helicopter gunships over that area, targeting and killing so-called terrorists and, more often, many innocent civilians. The people of Gaza have a right to be defended, too.
I want to discuss what I see as the wider ramifications of failing to deal with the need for the Palestinians to have their own state. Since entering the House of Commons in 1997, I have worked and travelled mainly in the field of international development, working on women's health issues and refugees. I have stayed in the meanest of camps and tents and among the people we are trying to help. One of the things I have heard from the 1990s onwards from refugees and others, especially those who are Muslim, is that Palestine is what the West, through its unquestioning support for Israel, “does” to Muslims. Stories are passed around and film footage is watched avidly over and over. You may say it is propaganda—much of it may be—but it is very effective. I will not take time on personal anecdotes; I have too many.
It is no surprise to me, therefore, that with our continuing support for Israel, more and more extreme Islamic groups have emerged determined to get their own back on the West, through terrorism. It is no surprise either that a recent incident in Canada, and an exposed terrorist plot in Australia, have followed attacks in our country and the USA. Both of these countries have unhesitatingly supported Israel with the USA and the United Kingdom.
Why can our leaders not see what damage we are doing by supporting the unspeakable policies of Israel, which breaks international law and Geneva conventions and totally ignores the human rights of Palestinians? It is time to be honest and ask what the real reason is. Why do we give this rogue Government our support? There are several reasons people will mention: Holocaust guilt—quite right—oil and security. But in my opinion and the opinion of many people who are afraid to say it publicly—but I will—there is none so important as the thing that dare not speak its name. I am talking about the activities of the lobby, in this country and in America, AIPAC in America and BICOM here, plus the groups called Friends of Israel in supporting and cajoling and fundraising and launching websites and letter-writing campaigns and e-mail storms, and not supporting MPs or parties if they refuse to give Israel support. Those of us who challenge the lobby are threatened and disposed of by our leaders as best they can. David Ward, my colleague in the other place, is currently fighting yet another battle against the lobby as I speak.
All lobbies are dangerous and undemocratic; the pro-Israel lobby is not the only one, but it is particularly dangerous in this context. Money and influence win over truth and justice, and the West sinks lower and lower in the world’s esteem because of it. The so-called Islamic State—and it really angers me that we persist in calling it that when it is neither Islamic nor a state—is the latest disgusting manifestation of angst in the Middle East. It marches on, followed by limp bombing campaigns from western alliances and silence over Israel’s atrocities in Gaza and the West Bank. The Middle East descends into hell, and we will follow if we do not do something to stop the slide.
Stopping Israel’s land and water grab and its brutal treatment of Palestinians would not solve everything—of course I am aware of that; it is too late for miracles—but it is at the root of the problems. Supporting a secure state of Palestine would be a huge and important gesture to show that we really care about western values, and will apply them equally all over the world where there is injustice—especially in Israel.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Risby for instigating this debate. Although it refers to the current situation in the Middle East, I am not surprised that Israel has attracted a disproportionate amount of interest. I can think of no other country that attracts so much attention in this House. I can also think of no other country that it is so completely misunderstood. I declare my interest now as a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and I suppose I ought to declare my interest as being Jewish. I do not regard myself as part of a lobby. I regard being open, saying what you have on your mind and being principled as something that we are in this House to do, and to suggest otherwise—that we are part of a lobby—is a slur.
Israel is unique in the Middle East. It embodies those values which we in the United Kingdom hold so dear: freedom, democracy, equality and human rights. It stands alone in the region as a true functioning democracy. Israel has a proud history of ensuring that all its citizens enjoy protected freedoms and human rights. Israel’s universal suffrage and democratic political environment has, as a result, produced a strong civil society. Israel is ranked as the only “free” country in the Middle East and north Africa by the independent organisation, Freedom House, which measures these things.
Israel is comprised of people who practise a variety of faiths and no faith, and all enjoy full rights to do so without fear of persecution or unequal treatment under the law, unlike nearly every other country in the Middle East. Notably, Israel is one of the very few places in the Middle East where Christians are not endangered but are flourishing. Since Israel’s foundation in 1948, its Christian communities have expanded by more than 1,000%. Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Nazareth priest, told the United Nations Human Rights Council only a few days ago:
“Christians comprised 20% of the population of the Middle East … Today they comprise only 4% … Christians in the Middle East are marginalised; their rights denied, their property stolen, their honour violated, their men killed, and their children displaced”.
He went on to say that,
“there’s only one safe place where Christians are not persecuted. One place where they are protected, enjoying freedom of worship and expression, living in peace and not subjected to killing and genocide. It is Israel, the country I live in. The Jewish state is the only safe place where the Christians of the Holy Land live in safety”.
This comes at a time when Christians and other religious minorities in neighbouring countries are contending with state-sponsored repression and the brutality of terrorist organisations such as the reprehensible ISIS. Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Palmer said, Jewish people have, over the years, been forcibly expelled from all the Arab countries where they lived peaceably and happily for many centuries. In a region so tragically blighted by totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism, Israel’s remarkable democratic success story deserves far greater credit. The story is the same for women, homosexuals and the press. Uniquely, Israel protects the freedoms of them all.
All this is not to say that Israel is perfect. No country is. My noble friend Lady Warsi will be pleased to learn I, too, have deep reservations about the Israeli Government’s current plan for settlements. Recent announcements by the Israeli Government on settlements are concerning. The announcement in August to appropriate 1,000 acres of land in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank just south of Jerusalem rightly elicited a strong response from the international community. Likewise, this week’s news that plans are advancing to construct 1,000 housing units in east Jerusalem is unfortunate. While settlements are unhelpful to the ongoing peace process, it is wrong to suggest that they are an insurmountable obstacle. They are one of the main final status issues to be resolved in direct peace talks.
Additionally, much of the construction takes place in existing settlement blocs along the so-called green line. It is a long-established principle that those settlements along the green line will be retained by Israel as part of a final peace agreement, with the Palestinians compensated by equivalent land swaps. Israel, driven by the policy of “land for peace”, has a track record of removing settlements to help give momentum to peace. Its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was a major gesture. It now stands as a genuine opportunity missed by the Palestinians to develop Gaza into what could have been a prosperous territory.
Her Majesty’s Government can be proud of their record in supporting Israel and standing by the basic principle that a country has the right to protect itself against rocket attacks on its civilians which have led, and may still lead, to many civilian casualties. Peace talks earlier this year were thrown into disarray when President Abbas violated an agreement to abstain from unilateral action, even after Israel agreed to follow the next steps outlined by Kerry.
A lasting two-state solution requires a negotiated final peace agreement. Unlike Gaza, Israel’s historic peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are testament to what can be achieved by direct negotiations. Unilateral actions and grandstanding by the Palestinian Authority simply drive a wedge between the two parties and make a peace agreement less likely. Even worse, perhaps, grandstanding in the UK and Europe by otherwise respectable politicians for short-term domestic political objectives is really regrettable.
Fatah’s unity Government with Hamas should sound alarm bells. Hamas, it must not be forgotten, is an internationally recognised terror organisation that displays some of the ghastly characteristics of ISIS. I am amazed that so many fail to see the similarities between ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah in terms of their tactics, operations and, even more so, their funding. No peace agreement will be able to guarantee peace in the medium to long term if a generation of Palestinians is growing up indoctrinated to hate Israel and Jews. Sadly, evidence of EU-funded schoolbooks encouraging such hatred has been discovered, which is very depressing and worrying.
In summary, Israel can be described only as a force for good in a region experiencing great transformative turmoil. The UK benefits from its relationship with Israel. UK trade with Israel continues to grow inexorably to more than £2.5 billion. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will join me in hoping that one day in the near future, Israel can be at peace with a viable and successful state of Palestine, and able to share its borders with newly invigorated and genuinely democratic Arab states.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register. In the course of my work for a Foreign and Commonwealth Office-sponsored project, I regularly visit Iraq and have been doing so for some time. I am not in any sense an international expert, but I have learnt a lot from this debate and I think it is right that the noble Lord, Lord Risby, has taken the opportunity to give the House a serious, five-hour slot.
I am looking at the Minister when I say that I hope we do not have to rely on party groupings. I pay tribute to the Conservative group for thinking that this is an important enough subject to table it for a five-hour debate but we should not forget that it is the Government’s responsibility to make sure that the House has opportunities to discuss the region as a whole. I hope the Minister will not think that this has now been dealt with for the rest of the Session. There is still important time to be spent on this subject.
I want to make it as easy as I can for the Minister so that she can tick my box very quickly. In the middle of all the high politics and strategy—only a fraction of which I understand—I want to spend a few moments looking at the internal difficulties faced by the new Administration in Iraq. Will the Minister assure the House that she will do everything in her power to assist the new Government? They are at a very critical point and some of the new, major players—Dr Haider al-Abadi and others—are all very well disposed towards the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and other noble Lords said that soft power is an important player. We may not have the fire power or the economic power that we would like, or have had in the past, but we are listened to with great respect. That is due partly to the excellence of our diplomatic mission and the professionals, particularly the Arabists, who devote their lives to understanding not just the language, but also the internal workings of some of these quite complex cultures and nations. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, knows all about this because he is one of them.
The background to the incoming new Government is seen very differently from Baghdad. On top of everything else, the professional classes are absent. Even if they take the right political decisions and have the money, the implementation of some of these policies is nearly impossible for a unique and understandable set of security reasons; namely, if you can get your family to safety in a European or other country, why would you not take the opportunity to do so? The Iraqi Government have a serious problem in getting done things that they know need to be done even if they have the money. There are all sorts of shortages which can be readily seen on the inside, such as lack of utilities. There are also some big issues of desertification and water resources. Having seen it for myself, I am absolutely persuaded that this new Government are on the cusp of being able to get started and exercise their authority. The early signs are good. I am optimistic about what can be done. They are looking at security; they are looking at public utilities; and they are looking at achieving a stable political settlement. They are dealing with the ideology of insurgency as well as difficult military and security issues. It is also worth remembering that, although it was with the assistance of General Petraeus at the time, al-Qaeda and its ideology have been defeated in the past. Therefore, it is not impossible. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Nicholson whose work in this field is indefatigable.
In the time I have left I should like to make some suggestions. The new ambassador needs support. I have not met Mr Baker yet, but he needs support in handling some of the situations that he is facing. I was very pleased that the Foreign Secretary took the trouble to go to Baghdad himself. That visit was extremely successful. I was also pleased that the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place took the time and trouble to visit. That has made a difference too. I know that the Minister does not have direct responsibility for that part of the world, although she is in charge of everything she surveys—once a Chief Whip, always a Chief Whip—but I am relying on her to rattle a few cages. It is not just Foreign Office Ministers; sometimes it is Education Ministers who need to go to pick up some of the problems and give assistance where it is required. The Minister said previously that there was a real drive for decentralisation in Baghdad. If Dr al-Abadi’s Government can sort some of their other problems and have the trust that they need for devolving power, that would make a huge difference to building the trust which is absent at the moment.
There are other things which we can do more directly ourselves. Why do we not have an Iraqi business group? My noble friend Lady Nicholson is executive chairman of the Iraq-Britain Business Council which does extremely valuable work. Other countries, such as India and China, have dedicated business groups which focus government activity in Whitehall on the problems of the respective countries. Will the Minister consider whether the time is right to do that in Iraq? Will she also reflect with her ministerial team whether it is possible to give our new ambassador more discretion in giving visas to key people? Business people and politicians who are visiting this country still have to go through a very arduous process. Until recently, they had to have a job to get a visa. That is ridiculous. There are other countries, such as China and India, where ambassadors, who know and can speak personally for potential visitors, have more discretion over visas.
Finally, there are three areas where Iraq is seeking help from the United Kingdom because of the connections that already exist. These are in health care, in education—particularly through some of the excellent work done by Universities UK—and in financial services. In all of these areas there are contracts to be won and business to be done. Of course the security is difficult, but it is manageable if proper precautions are taken. People watching the television might think that Iraq is a wrecked country. It is nothing of the kind. With a fair wind and with support from friends, it has a future, but it will not be able to do it by itself. It needs help from people like ourselves.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Risby for opening this debate and I agree with everything that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said about recognising the state of Palestine. It is 15 years since the European Union agreed the Palestinian right to self-determination. When the Minister comes to wind up this debate, I hope that she will be able to give us some encouragement to believe that Her Majesty’s Government might now be prepared to follow up that important vote in the other place with formal recognition.
In my brief remarks, I propose nevertheless to concentrate on our attempt to confront the threat of the so-called Islamic State—ISIS, ISIL, or Da’ish as it is now called in an Arabic acronym—in both Iraq and Syria. Let us remember that this is something which not only threatens us in the West but also, ironically, presents a serious threat to those states in the Arabian peninsula from which much of its funding appears to have originated.
Many others, better qualified than I, tell me that air attacks on ISIS-controlled areas are having, or are likely to have, very little significant effect. One wonders whether any western military action can expect to defeat a movement which is now reported to have 60% support among young Jordanians and 90% support among Saudis, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said. I hope the Minister can tell the House whether the Syrian national coalition, described recently in a letter to me from one of her ministerial colleagues as,
“the sole legitimate representatives of the Syrian people”,
are playing any effective part in confronting this threat.
I believe that there are strong arguments, both security and consular, why we should now be talking to the Government in Damascus, even though, or rather because, they have been involved in appalling breaches of human rights. Yesterday’s report in the press of a 17 year-old Briton, who died as a jihadist in Syria, carried a Foreign Office comment that it was difficult to get confirmation,
“since Britain has no diplomats in Syria”.
Surely, we should be talking to not only the Government in Damascus but also their principal supporters in Moscow and Tehran, who are reported to be trying to co-ordinate their operations in Syria and Iraq. Surely, our diplomats should be talking to all three Governments about how to confront a threat which has not only occupied a significant portion of Syria’s sovereign territory but which also poses a threat, perhaps even more imminent, to Russia’s southern borders and to Iran than it does to us.
I understand the reasons why Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine makes us reluctant to be seen to enter into a dialogue with Russian diplomats on other subjects of interest to both of us. I also understand why our American allies have been reluctant to be seen to be talking to the Iranian Government about subjects other than their nuclear development. As I suggested to the Minister at Question Time today in the context of Iran, surely the threat of ISIS to all of us is serious enough to require a reassessment of our diplomacy and of where our interests lie. I hope that the Minister, when she comes to reply, will be able to give the House some reassurance on these points.
My Lords, previous speeches have illustrated that this is a region of mixed news. There is good news about the second peaceful elections in Tunisia, where the Islamist party has accepted that it has lost the election. There is also good news about Egypt. Although it has a state of emergency in the Sinai and daily terrorist attacks, it is moving towards democracy again—not perfectly, as the imprisonment of journalists illustrates, but, as the Anglican Bishop Mouneer stated,
“For the first time Egyptians feel that they own their country. Every shortcoming is brought into the light by the people. Indeed the wall of fear of the government has been demolished”.
Of course, there is bad news again in Iraq. Winter is descending and the humanitarian needs are acute. While militarily arming the Kurds is the only option at the moment, it is not without risk, as Turkey with its PKK issue fears. The Iraqi army needs air strikes and the Kurds need modern weaponry, but a ground offensive to remove IS will take many months.
Is not now the time, ironically, to obtain reassurances from the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish regional government to secure a political settlement for the Iraqi minority communities in the east of the Nineveh plain? The Assyrian Christians, Turkmen and Shabak Muslims and the Yezidis are not Arab and are not Kurdish and have been a particular target for IS. There was an initial call by some in the West for a mass exodus, but this would just give IS what it wants. In fact, the leaders I have met want a safe haven so they can remain in the region. This would not be yet more unwelcome international interference, as Article 125 in Iraq’s constitution states:
“This Constitution shall guarantee the administrative, political, cultural, and educational rights of the various nationalities, such as Turkomen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and all other constituents”.
In fact, earlier this year, the Assyrian International News Agency reported that the Iraq Council of Ministers had approved a proposal for a new province in the Nineveh plain bordering the Kurdish areas, which has—or had—the largest population of Assyrians in Iraq. This represented a state attempt to curb the exodus of Christians from Iraq and would have given them some political and economic autonomy. I would be grateful to know what representations have been made on this by Her Majesty’s Government to the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish regional government. Otherwise, there is a risk that, once IS is removed from the region, UK weapons could get into the hands of the Kurds and might be used to prevent these people returning to the Nineveh plain—an area rich in natural resources which the Kurds allegedly wish to annex.
IS is in extreme denial of Article 18 rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and states, “You cannot choose your religion, you must choose ours or you die”. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group looking at Article 18. Recent developments in the region are acute reminders of how deeply religious it is and how deeply religious beliefs interact with issues of governance, conflict and security.
I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. We should heed the world renowned sociologist, Peter Berger, who was one of the leading sociologists at the forefront of advocating the secularisation thesis in the 1960s. In 1999, he recanted his earlier claims and said:
“The world today, with some exceptions … is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever. This means that a whole body of literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled ‘secularization theory’ is essentially mistaken”.
Only yesterday, the Egyptian Foreign Minister told MPs and Peers that what they need to defeat is a religious narrative given to young people—young people who at a pivotal point in their lives are forming their ideas via Twitter and Facebook. And this region is young. Nearly 37% of Iraqis are under the age of 14 and 50% of Egyptians are under the age of 24. Therefore, I very much applaud the welcome focus by Her Majesty’s Government on understanding the place of religion and religious actors in countering violent extremism. The Foreign Office has increased its responses to human rights abuses emerging from denial of freedom of religion or belief by state and non-state actors.
However, there is still a substantial gap in UK responses to issues of ethno-religious conflict not only in the Middle East but across Africa and south Asia. I sense that western Europe has woken up abruptly to religion as an intrinsic aspect of developments in the world. Have the UK Government evaluated whether their structures have the relevant expertise in analysing the dynamic relationship between religion, conflict, democracy, peace and stability so that we are equipped to offer timely policy proposals and guidance to policymakers? The Foreign Office has taken the challenge on board to engage with religion and human rights issues and offers religious literacy training to its staff. Has this model spread across our Government?
The UK’s primary agency in addressing conflicts, peace and state building, DfID, seems to be lagging behind. DfID has substantial resources and a pool of highly educated staff, and there is synergy between the Ministry of Defence, DfID and the FCO in the conflict stabilisation unit. Does this unit have the expertise, training and programming focus on how the UK should understand and respond to increasingly religious-related challenges in today’s world? Developing such a response will not add any substantial burden to either staffing or budget but would be a good step in the right direction by providing relevant training to staff and inviting external experts as advisers.
This is not an optional extra for UK engagement with the world but a grounded response to a world that is deeply religious—more than 80% of the world’s population has a religious affiliation and identity—and where religious actors, organisations, languages and ideas play a major role in preventing conflicts but also creating new ones. This speech may remind your Lordships of debates at university student unions entitled, “Does religion cause war?”, but at our peril we do not ask, or equip ourselves to answer, the converse question, “How do wars affect religions and religious people?”.
My Lords, I, too, very much appreciate the balanced and impressive way in which the noble Lord, Lord Risby, introduced this debate. Just as he said, the Arab spring came as a complete surprise, and the terrible winter that has followed seems to have caught most people unawares, too.
It is not impossible to imagine that we will see the establishment of an extreme fundamentalist Islamic state across a large swathe of the Middle East within a few years; and if you think that this will be dangerous for the West and a severe threat to many countries in the Middle East, then just imagine what it must mean for that 15 or 20 mile-wide narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean coast known as Israel.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a burning issue that desperately needs resolving but it is hard to credit the idea of some that this is the cause of all the rest of the problems in the Middle East. But it is undoubtedly the case that the rise of ISIS, the unstable situation in Egypt, and a nuclear Iran all have a marked influence on Israel and the Palestinians as they search for peace. There should be no doubt that Israel wants to live in peace with its neighbours; its future is entirely dependent on it. However, it is negotiation between the two parties that is the key there.
Even though the overall shape of what a two-state solution might look like has been clear for some time, nothing is so simple and there are many sticking points. Israeli Government settlement policies are clearly problematic and win them few friends around the world. However, it is clear that the settlement issue is not the only problem or even the main one, as we saw a couple of years ago when there was a freeze on settlements for 10 months in the vain hope that this would bring Mr Abbas back to the table and when, instead, he raised new pre-conditions. The right of return and the status of Jerusalem remain open for discussion and the inability of Mr. Abbas to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is problematic.
From Israel’s point of view it is always the three problems: security, security and security, which now is even more significant as the fundamentalist threat of ISIS looms large just a few miles away. Israelis are all too aware that withdrawal from Gaza and southern Lebanon was immediately followed by the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah, each posing considerable threats with their rockets and missiles, backed up by repeated threats to remove Israel from the face of the earth. Imagine, then, what would happen after a peace deal if Hamas gains power in the West Bank, as is entirely possible. What, too, if the long, currently peaceful, border with Jordan is changed into a severely dangerous one in which an ISIS-driven fundamentalism sweeps across Jordan? Either case would leave extremely antagonistic forces within a mile of Israel’s Parliament and its international airport.
Furthermore, Israel does not view with any equanimity the unstable position in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood overflowing into the Sinai desert along another long, exposed border with Israel. When some say, therefore, that Israel should not be so concerned with security, they clearly cannot have heard the voices of Hamas and others spewing out a rhetoric of death and destruction to Jews in general and Israel in particular. If some suggest that Israel should rely on an international peacekeeping force to act as a buffer, they have not noticed what happened when the UN forces in the Golan were captured recently and had to flee, or the ineffectiveness of the UN in southern Lebanon in preventing the build-up of huge numbers of long-range missiles in the villages there. Nor do international bodies now seem to be capable of preventing the avowed aims of Hamas to rearm and rebuild its tunnels into Israel.
Of course, Israel has its own problems, with many within Israel voicing strong opposition to government policies. But the point here is that it is a democratic, multicultural society, where almost a quarter of its population is Arab and, somewhat surprisingly, there is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood among its Arab-elected Members of Parliament. Opposing views are frequently and vehemently expressed without fear of being shot, as happened recently in Gaza when a dozen citizens were dragged out of a mosque and shot in the head for daring to voice opposition to Hamas. The terrible, tragic loss of civilian life in the recent conflict in Gaza was greeted with distress by many in Israel, but when accusations of “proportionality” are levelled, they wonder why similar accusations are not being levelled against the West when, in our efforts to bomb ISIS, we are killing large numbers of women and children in Syria and Iraq. Where is the proportionality there—or, indeed, in Kosovo a few years ago?
Israeli society is far from uniform and has very mixed views about its conflict with the Palestinians. However, the vast majority believe that the Palestinians should have a state of their own, and that can happen only through negotiation with Israel. After all, each party is most concerned with what their neighbour will look like; where their borders will be; whether they will choose conflict or peace; or what position they will adopt about Jerusalem. Only negotiation with Israel will do it. It is negotiation that we should be pressing on both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, not encouraging a vain search for a status from a world that is in no position to grant it.
We in the UK should be seeking allies in the Middle East that Britain sorely needs. What conversations are our Government having with the Jordanians, the Egyptians and the Saudi Arabians about their reactions to the jihadi threats? Qatar seems to be playing a particularly cynical and dangerous role in all this mix and mayhem. What reassurances did the Prime Minister receive in his recent conversations with the Emir of Qatar about the funding of terrorist groups in ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah?
I hope that the Minister will expand on these questions and on the Government’s position on the Palestine and Israel negotiations.
My Lords, today I would like to focus particularly on the role of Islam in the conflicts we are seeing in the Middle East. I believe that it is important for the honest, peace-seeking, law-abiding majority of Muslims in this country and overseas to speak out against those who commit evil in the name of our religion. The so-called jihadists in Iraq and Syria do not understand the principles of Islam. They are harming women and children, forcibly converting people of other religions to Islam and committing barbaric acts. There are clear rules of engagement in Islam relating to warfare, which were laid down by Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr.
Those rules include the following: give diplomacy a chance before battle starts; respect treaties; do not harm women, children, the elderly and religious persons; do not destroy crops and trees; protect all places of worship; treat well all prisoners of war; and allow the bodies of soldiers slain in battle to be buried in dignity. These rules of engagement were laid down well before the Geneva conventions. The acts of the so-called jihadists are totally unIslamic and we utterly condemn what they have done and are doing.
In the 7th century when Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Caliph Omar signed the first Jerusalem declaration, which preserved the rights of existence and ensured the well-being of everyone in Jerusalem. Subsequently, when Saladin conquered Jerusalem in 1187, he allowed people of all faiths to live in peace. Before him, when Christians conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they mercilessly massacred all Muslims and Jews. In time of warfare Muslims should follow the examples set by Caliph Omar and Saladin.
The so-called jihadists are forcibly converting people to Islam. That is not allowed in Islam. It is written in the Holy Koran that there is no compulsion in religion. In regard to treatment of non-Muslims by the so-called jihadists and our relationship with other communities, I emphasise that it is written in the Holy Koran that Allah says:
“O mankind! We created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another”.
We live in the United Kingdom, which is very much a multicultural society, and it is important that we maintain and strengthen relationships with everyone in the country. Unfortunately there is a tiny minority of Muslims who have committed acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom and also countries overseas. Islam forbids act of terrorism and suicide bombings. It is written in the Holy Koran:
“If anyone killed a person … it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind”.
In regard to our military involvement in Iraq and Syria we must have a clear plan about what we should do when the conflict is over. Defeating an enemy is not enough; we must have a strategy to win the hearts and minds of people and create peace after the conflict. We invaded Iraq without an effective plan to be put in practice when Saddam Hussein was defeated. What was the result? The result was that a million people have died and we have created fragmentation and division between different communities and religious groups. It has led also to infighting between the Iraqis and the involvement of outsiders. I am pleased that we now have an inclusive Government in Iraq.
In regard to the present military conflict, we need to be careful who we supply the arms to. The situation is complex and the scenario is changing. The arms may fall into the hands of people who may create further problems in Syria, Iraq and friendly countries such as Turkey. In regard to Libya, there was no clear strategy after Gaddafi was toppled, and infighting and chaotic conditions prevail at the present time.
A tiny minority of young Muslims in the United Kingdom have chosen to join terrorist groups overseas. These young people have been radicalised. Parents, community and religious leaders have a role to play in ensuring that individuals do not fall prey to extremists’ teachings. We must listen and communicate with the younger generation and gently put them right in order that they can follow the right path. We need to ensure that the imams are appropriately trained and can effectively communicate with the young. In this regard, I commend the courses being started by the University of East London.
A pattern has emerged whereby a growing number of individuals are being radicalised via the internet. Scotland Yard deserves praise for creating an internet referral unit that liaises directly with online companies such as Google in removing extremist material from the web. There also needs to be constructive parental involvement in the education of Muslim children. The students must receive a well rounded education in order to succeed in their future careers in the country.
We must maintain and strengthen the harmonious relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim community. I am actively involved in promoting this, both on the ground and at the various meetings that I have addressed. I am committed to this cause; in fact, I am wearing a Royal Navy tie given to me by Commander Richard Moss after a recent talk I gave at HMS “President”. I am also hosting a meeting on this subject in this House in three weeks’ time.
Finally, on a different subject, I should like the British Government to now recognise the statehood of Palestine as a prelude to achieving peace in the region. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on this point.
My Lords, the misnamed “Arab spring” has not yielded the arrival of democratic government, the rule of law and human rights anywhere in the region. In Palestine, as we know, creeping occupation of the West Bank makes a two-state solution increasingly implausible. In Iraq, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, one sees the legacy of the misguided 2003 invasion by Anglo-US forces. Now the state has lost one-third of its territory to the Daesh. In Egypt, the brief period of Muslim Brotherhood rule was marked by political ineptitude and repression, leading back to domination by a military strongman. The removal of Gaddafi produced anarchy, and now disputed sovereignty between the east and west of the country. Syria was already suffering a devastating civil war when the Daesh erupted onto the scene.
The actual revolutions in the region have led to far worse conditions for ordinary people; peaceful transitions, which may take far longer, are the right way forward. In Tunisia, mentioned earlier, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party of Rached Ghannouchi, who lived here in exile for 20 years, lost the election this week to secularists in a peaceful transition. The same could still happen in Algeria and Morocco, where the leaderships talk about reform, although the pace is leaden.
The Gulf states have followed a completely different path. All are ruled by hereditary autocracies, and only in Bahrain has there been an opposition with mass popular support. The response of the ruling family has been to impose long prison sentences on the most effective political and human rights activists, to violently suppress peaceful demonstrations, to deprive people of their citizenship without due process, to recruit a large number of foreign Sunni security personnel and grant them nationality in a medium-term plan to outnumber the native Shia population, and to invite in troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE in an unsuccessful attempt to cow the people into submission.
Our Government say that they raise human rights violations with the Bahrain authorities, but they do it sotto voce, going along with the fake reforms initiated by the rulers. This is a country where the Prime Minister, who is the King’s uncle, has been in office for more than 40 years, and the King appoints all the Ministers. The judges, too, are appointed by the Government; so the rule of law is absent. There is a rigged Parliament.
Saudi Arabia played a key role in the creation of the Daesh, as Patrick Cockburn demonstrates in his book The Jihadis Return. It tried to stop its citizens from travelling to Syria only in February when it realised that the supreme target of the jihadists was Saudi Arabia itself. If the Daesh could usurp the title, “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”, its claim to be the successor of the caliphate would be enormously enhanced.
We need to point out that in funding mosques abroad, particularly in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is promoting an ideology that carries within it the seeds of terrorism. As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, pointed out, Qatar and Kuwait are joining in the funding of terrorist operations. The Daesh can probably be eradicated so that it no longer has a territorial base, but the organisation and its ideology can and does metastasise; it already has footholds elsewhere in the region and well beyond, particularly in south Asia. It even has tentacles in the UK, as we see from the 500 young people who are said to have abandoned their families here to join the brutal and inhuman heretics in Syria.
The US has woken up to the importance of saving Kobane, recognising. as the New York Times wrote, that the fall of the city would show the fragility of the American plan, and put the Daesh in a position to cross the border and directly threaten a NATO ally. It would also facilitate the flow of terrorists into Europe and, of course, the UK in particular. As a result of the US policy reversal, arms and humanitarian supplies have been airdropped, as I suggested in our debate on October 14.
The first contingent of Peshmergas from Iraq arrived yesterday with artillery and mortars to reinforce Kobane. Ankara is said to have demanded that for any extension of this programme the coalition should also attack Assad. However, because the Syrian armed forces are the only large-scale provider of boots on the ground against the Daesh we need a reappraisal of the attempts to change the regime in Damascus, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, advised. This is not my party’s policy but simply acceptance of the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
I hope that at the end of this debate we shall hear not only of plans to join the US in supplying humanitarian goods and arms to the heroic defenders of Kobane, but that we have in train a strategy to combat the much wider threat from a false doctrine of murder and religious cleansing that the Daesh espouses. At the same time, we must demonstrate to the Arab people that we are sympathetic to their needs.
I congratulate Sir Alan Duncan MP on his appointment as special envoy to Yemen, an FCO “country of concern” and the poorest state in the Middle East. Yemen is probably not going to meet any of the millennium development goals; it has a weak economy, poor social services, high population growth and internal conflicts that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. In spite of these challenging conditions, in 2012, with the help of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation—to which the UK is also a major contributor—Yemen introduced vaccination for rotavirus, which causes extreme diarrhoea and accounts for 11% of under-fives’ deaths there. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases, of which I am co-chair, suggests that DfID should now assess how the vaccination system in Yemen should be integrated with the WASH agenda—programmes on clean water, sanitation and hygiene—and with the eradication of infant malnutrition as part of its post-2015 development master plan.
My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Risby for bringing the attention of the House to this critically important region. The current turmoil sweeping across the Middle East to North Africa is blighting communities across the region, with the resulting insecurity causing terror and chaos to men, women and children everywhere it touches. While clearly the suffering is felt by all, when we watch the news on television, we see and hear almost exclusively from the men in these countries. I would like to draw your Lordships’ attention to the significant and disproportionate impact these events are having on the women in these countries and therefore on the children, too.
Warfare is by its nature a male-dominated activity. But today war is not fought by armies on a battlefield; it is fought in communities where women are more physically vulnerable and thus less able to defend themselves and their children. It is a chilling fact that today nearly 90% of war casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children. When conflict sweeps through a country, it is the women who are left struggling to care for their children amid the danger and the chaos. Of course, the men are victims, too, and many millions of widows and wives of the disappeared have been created in countries like Syria and Iraq, where it is so difficult to survive as a woman on your own. All too often in these places rape is used as a weapon of war. I sit on the steering board of William Hague’s ending sexual violence in conflict initiative and I would like to pay great tribute to him for his ground-breaking work on shining a light on this terrible war crime that shatters lives and communities.
Many countries across the region have an embedded patriarchal culture, but over the past decades progress has been made in many places, with more women receiving education and holding down professional jobs. However, the turbulent events of the past few years have caused this progress to stall. Initially, the Arab spring offered so much hope for this momentum of progress for women to be built on, with the central role that women played in these uprisings being viewed as something of a watershed. However, the sad reality is that, since 2011, there have been substantial increases in the security and safety concerns experienced by women across the region.
A report by Saferworld in October 2013 concluded that across Egypt, Libya and Yemen, women are facing targeted violence and encountering harassment, sexual assault and slander, all on a regular basis. Not least, they faced the mass harassment and public rapes that occurred during demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo that were widely reported across the world. These incidents took place while others looked on, and the women were often blamed simply for being there or for what they were wearing. Across the region the presence of women in public spaces has been decreased and their rights are rolling backwards. I was shocked when I met a Tunisian former parliamentarian here in Westminster two weeks ago. Her head was covered—something that would have very rarely been seen in Tunisia before the revolution.
In Syria, many of the women were too frightened to remain alone once their husbands had gone to fight. According to the UNHCR, over the past three years 2.8 million people have had to flee the terrible civil war there. Nearly four in five of them are women and children, many penniless and without support. Visiting Lebanon last year, I met some of these refugees—it was indeed a harrowing experience. In the Shatila Palestinian camp in Beirut one woman wept as she told me that she had had to marry off her very young daughter because she could not afford to feed her. Another told me that her 16 year-old son had head injuries from shrapnel and the hospital would not treat him because she could not pay. I do not think I will ever forget the sight of a woman in the Bekaa Valley struggling to look after her seven children in a makeshift tent, or the mother who approached us, hopeful that one of us was a doctor, as she had a very sick baby and there was no medical care.
Nowhere are these challenges more evident than in the current conflict with ISIS across Iraq and Syria. The United Nations has stated that women are being explicitly targeted in what are obvious war crimes and crimes against humanity. In particular, as has been mentioned before, women from the Yazidi and other minority groups have been subject to barbaric acts of sexual violence, used against them and their families. Iraq’s only Yazidi Member of Parliament has recently reported how IS militants are kidnapping, raping and selling Yazidi women. They are taken away, in some cases across the border to Syria, provided to militants as “brides”, and often raped and sold on to fund the terrorist cause. There are even reports of women committing suicide to avoid such sexual enslavement.
The UN has also previously reported that women and girls in Mosul were being ordered to undergo female genital mutilation. There seems to be very little acknowledgement of all this from the international community. When we are deliberating about our strategy for engaging in military action, is consideration being given to the potential impact on women and children?
With specific regard to Iraq, it is crucial that we are proactively talking to the women and civil society on the ground where the air strikes are taking place, to ensure that we are not making life even more difficult for them. I would be grateful for the Minister’s clarification in this respect. Of course the current situation there is extremely complex and difficult, but surely it is important to involve women in negotiations to help find solutions, because security needs to be found for all.
Women can be powerful agents of change in their communities, and this needs to be properly acknowledged and capitalised on. I hope that our Government will lead the way in ensuring that women’s voices will be heard and in setting new, higher standards in accountability with regard to women across the Middle East and North Africa and ultimately embrace them as a pivotal part of resolving the ongoing conflicts, ensuring that they are at the heart of any new political settlements.
My Lords, my interests are declared in the register, most notably a recent visit to Bahrain, funded by the Bahraini Government, from which we produced the report in my hand, which I will happily make available to any Member of this House. It was written by myself and the other four members of the visiting group, from both Houses, and published by the noble Lord, Lord Noon. It is an important item, to which I want to return. Before I do, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Risby, on this debate. I know of his great interest in Syria and the tragedy there. He will, I think, know that Assad was a constituent of mine and I always feel that this is something of a reflection on me, but I am not sure how real that is.
We are debating the Middle East generally. When I have taken part in debates before, we have often talked about the region in terms of gloom and doom. There is a lot of gloom and doom and some of the speeches today have been very powerful, most notably, that of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who made an excellent speech and is a great loss to the Front Bench—it probably will not do her any good for me to say so–not least because she always mastered her brief. That is a big plus for any Minister from any political party. None of that reflects on the current holder of the post, I hasten to add.
All is not gloom and doom and I want to focus my remaining comments on two countries: Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, part of the Emirates. I was interested in Bahrain because it had an enormous flair up of trouble in 2011. Bahrain is in what many people would describe as an impossible geopolitical situation. It is joined as an island by a causeway to Saudi Arabia. Just across the gulf is Iran. A very large section of the population of Bahrain—some would argue up to 80%—are Shia. The Government, or the royal family, are largely seen as Sunni, although to the king’s great credit, he said to me when I discussed this with him that he saw himself as a Muslim and not as a Sunni or a Shia. I respect that and I know that he is trying to hold a difficult balance. I also know that since the ayatollah took over in Iran in 1979, the gulf between Sunni and Shia, which was always there, has been greatly aggravated and I fear that younger generations identify themselves much more as Sunni and Shia.
Following the riots in 2011, the Bahraini Government set up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, with some very significant international figures running it. An independent report was produced and the recommendations made in it were all accepted by the Government, although the problem is that of translating them into reality. I think that the Government are doing a good job. If anyone doubts that, I would ask them to read my report and challenge or question it where necessary. What I felt was so positive about it was something that I have been arguing for over the past 10 to 15 years. I began to realise that the rule of law is infinitely more important to many of these countries than democracy. In the past it has been a mistake on the part of the West to think that somehow or other we can hand democracy out on a plate; we cannot. What people in these countries are often looking for, apart from jobs and a decent economy, is justice and fairness. The rule of law is what brings that about. It is important.
The Bahraini Government are focusing on that and we were all very impressed by the efforts being made both within the prisons and outside with the police and the judiciary to modernise their approach. I do not have the time to do so, but I could give the House the details of a number of things they are doing that make me feel confident that they are moving in the right direction. However, we must recognise that this has to be a slow movement. It is not easy for them because the proposals that the king and other members of the Government have made are not universally accepted throughout Bahrain. There is opposition to them and I was very sorry to see that members of al-Wefaq, the main opposition society but what we would call a political party, have actually resigned and refused to take their seats. Yet this is a country which has introduced universal suffrage for elections to the Council of Representatives for everyone over the age of 20. Obviously there are shortcomings in the structure, but I will say, as I said to members of al-Wefaq who I hope to see again shortly, that if they do not take part, they simply aggravate the position. They do not make it better. That is an important message and we in this House should be doing all we can to help the Bahraini Government with these matters. I hope that at some stage we might be able to offer a bit of help to some of these elected representatives on how to work with Select Committees and so on.
I also want to mention the role of Bahraini women, which brings me neatly on to Abu Dhabi because in both cases the role of women is rapidly improving. I met a number of women judges in Abu Dhabi and often the greater number of people attending classes at the university are women. They are becoming increasingly important to the economy and in society. The reason I got involved with Abu Dhabi was because I had a battle with the authorities over what I thought was probably an injustice which should have been resolved by the rule of law, but it was not. As a result, and to their credit, they asked what I would suggest. I said that a postgraduate course should be established in the university and that because the injustice had involved a Palestinian, there should be some outreach to Palestine. I am pleased to say that there is now a course at the University of Zayed being taken by some 26 Palestinians who are being funded in all ways by the Government of Abu Dhabi. I did that with the help of the head of mission for Palestine here and the British Foreign Office, which has been immensely helpful both here and in Palestine.
I hope that the course is continuing, although I have to say that I need to check on it again. However, I am pretty confident that it will do so. I tried to persuade the university to host an annual lecture on the rule of law, but I probably failed on that. There was one lecture but we have not had another. That is because one of the things I want to say—I will end on this note—is that if we can get people over there talking about the importance of the rule of law in order to bring about stability and allow the freedom to expand progressively, we will do a very great deal for the region without sounding too judgmental in how we speak about it.
My Lords, there are serious fissures in the worldwide alliance against ISIS and new hurdles in the sluggish race for peace in Palestine. History repeats itself with terrifying precision. Seventy years ago, the Warsaw rising of Poland’s military elite was brutally suppressed by the SS and the Wehrmacht. It lasted for 63 days and claimed nearly 250,000 victims. Yet in all that time, the Red Army stood idly by just across the Vistula. Anglo-American requests for aerial landing places were gruffly rejected.
Now, 70 years later, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdogan, an authoritarian Islamist who all but dismantled the western and secular republic of Kemal Ataturk, at first denied his NATO allies air landing rights and land access, and refused to help the gallant Kurds defend Kobane against the ISIS hordes. Temporary and partial relief at America’s persistent urging was ultimately conceded, and it must be hoped that it is not too late. The Turkish leader apparently disapproves of the Kurdish defenders more than he does the barbarous ISIS, whose ambitious plans for an Islamic caliphate extending over most of the Middle East is of course a thorn in his flesh. But he distrusts the Kurds as he fears that they are on their way to achieving sovereignty. All this bodes rather ill for NATO, where Turkey fields the second largest army, and indeed it bodes ill for Europe.
Nor is the attitude of other Muslim allies towards ISIS quite clear. It can be assumed that the reigning families of oil, gas and cash-rich countries such as Qatar support the American-led alliance, yet hugely rich individuals and groups in those countries are known to finance ISIS quite substantially. We have the absurd and surreal situation in which money flows from Qatar at the same time to pay for cultural programmes on American television networks and vivisection on the Mesopotamian battlefields. Reliable sources such as refugee priests relate that some of the female slaves of ISIS from their Christian communities end up in harems or worse in member countries—I repeat: member countries—of the anti-ISIS alliance.
It may be worth mentioning that there is now a Jewish initiative to provide help on a significant scale for persecuted Christian children in the embattled territories of the Middle East. They are to be given shelter in Christian homes in the free world, in the spirit of Pope John Paul Wojtyla’s famous verdict: the Jew is the older brother of the church. I feel that there are indeed links between the war against ISIS and the peace of Palestine. The campaign to recognise a Palestinian state prior to conventional negotiations between the parties, with a definite view to establishing peace and reaching a viable two-state solution, is an extremely dangerous and negative development because, in spite of what the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said earlier, it puts Hamas, a terrorist organisation, into the limelight, rendering it a decisive factor, when it is indisputably and recently on record as saying that it wishes to destroy the Jewish state of Israel. Its joining of the Cabinet of the more moderate Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has already caused a stiffening of attitude and coarsening of language on his part. Far from bringing the parties closer together, this widens the gulf and encourages intransigence on both sides.
The Gaza campaign was not a routine punitive expedition. To Israelis, it was an existential necessity to prevent the ever-increasing and increasingly effective rocket campaign from burgeoning into a decisive war, endangering major cities and the country’s one main airport. Those of us who lived through the Second World War know what aerial warfare can mean and what it meant to people living in Coventry, Berlin and Dresden; they will understand what has happened in Gaza. That Hamas did not hesitate to practise a policy of human shields cannot be denied. I have been shown the layout of a typical residential house in Gaza where the roof had special facilities for snipers, the ground floor ample space for arms and the cellar extended into tunnels, ready for a breakout of jihadists. In between those were two, or sometimes even three, residential floors housing families with several children. To exculpate Hamas from risking human lives is an absurdity when you consider its constant reliance on suicide bombing, where so often parents send their own children up into the air. There must be other ways of bringing the parties to the conference table than presenting one side with a fait accompli.
Many unsung examples of serious economic and social initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians exist, and could be greatly expanded. There is still much good will, and a majority for a negotiated peace and a two-state solution, among the people of Israel. While today war is raging in large parts of the Middle East, Israel’s military situation is safe. There are also, as we have heard before, signs of serious rethinking in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco about the future of the Middle East. We in Europe, and particularly here in Britain, should support and guide all forms and forces of conciliation.
My Lords, I am very privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, and to welcome him back to the House. I have always been in some ways one of his pupils. All that I have known about Israel has come out of his mouth in one form or another.
I suffer from a difficulty here. For many years I was chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade. I thought that in this great debate we would be talking more about trade. It seems that nobody has mentioned this at all. The Middle East as such is one of our greatest potential markets. As is written in the Koran, it is the duty of every good Muslim to trade. When I was that committee’s chairman, it was long before the Government decided to get rid of the Board of Trade and change the name of everything to a word that I cannot remember—it is called BIS, which is totally inexplicable to many people abroad. We have to look at our balance of payments and our trade with the Middle East, which has been considerable.
We have not really mentioned today oil revenues from the Middle East countries, and their application and use. Turning to Iraq, I have one suggestion that was made to me when I was last there on my own: what could we do to re-establish NIOC, or the equivalent of the National Iranian Oil Company, which could be one of the biggest oil companies and for a brief period was partially owned, I believe, by the United States, BP and others. With the potential production of oil in Iraq, vast funds could be released and applied in an appropriate direction.
The same is true to some extent of the countries of north Africa—even moving right across to Mauritania, which is one of the biggest iron ore-producing countries in the world. We have made no mention today of their oil revenues or purchasing powers. We look too at the co-operation that could exist between Libya, Algeria and, through them, with France.
How can we help develop and finance trade with the Middle East that can produce the revenues that it may need to rebuild various disabled societies? It is not too difficult. With the ability of the ECGD and some of the government grants, there are great opportunities. The difficulty is that when there is fear about personal security, people are reluctant to travel.
The Koran, as I said, says that it is the duty of every good Muslim to trade. Trade therefore is important, but it seems not to be mentioned any more. It is as though trade in this country has gone below the salt. We have organisations that one cannot necessarily understand, such as the one spelt BIS, but for the international world trade becomes more important. It is the lifeblood of the United Kingdom. Our ability to fund things is quite significant. Within the United Kingdom we have resources of finance that are second to none in the world. Our difficulty is how to identify the projects that we need to pursue.
I have one simple example. I got into trouble one day when we had what was called the Salman Rushdie affair. I was asked if I would be willing to go to Iraq. I was chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade and I assume the Government could not think of anyone who would be allowed to go. I went to see the Iraqi ambassador, who did not want to see me. Still, I pressed the buzzer outside and asked, “Ambassador, if you are listening, I have been asked if I could go to Baghdad—do you think that this is a good time?” I waited a moment and got an answer, which was “Your Excellency, the answer is yes”.
I got on a British Airways plane and went off to Baghdad. Half way through the flight the pilot, who was a New Zealander, came down and sat beside me, and said, “Well, sir, we have a bit of a problem. We have just had a message from headquarters that the Prime Minister in his office in the House of Commons is seeing Salman Rushdie. Is this going to cause you any problems? You are the only British subject on board. If you like we could turn the plane round and go back”.
One can be a coward without having to admit it. The plane got in touch with the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office said that all was quiet there and we found that the ambassador was at the residence, which is outside Iraq. I supposed that I had better go. The plane said that I would be surrounded with British Airways staff when we get there. I asked, “Are they all British?” The answer was that none of them was.
I went out of the plane, rushed through, and was waved through straightaway. They all seemed to know that I was coming. I then met a hooded lady—I would call her a singing nun—who looked me up and down, and she said: “Hello, Malcolm. How nice to see you. How is your sister Gail?” I never knew who she was, but apparently they had been in the same lacrosse team some time before. The next thing that I knew is that I was sent off up to Isfahan in a private plane to sit with the mayor who wanted to know if we could help with the beautification of the city. It did not have any roses, and roses were important. He then introduced a fining system. This was with British technology from London. People were fined a duck if they exceeded the speed limit, or stood upon a tree or a rose bed.
I found that I had a new vision of Iraq. In looking down at the things that they had done, I believed that it could be one of our great partners; there was a certain pro-British feeling about it. The same is true, even these days, in Sudan and in north Africa. The relationship that we have with so many of these countries is something upon which we can play.
I am grateful that this debate has taken place and I hope that action can be taken by the Government.
My Lords, they often say that in history if one avoids taking anecdotal experience and making it a generalisation, one is wise because it is dangerous to do so. There are many occasions when that it is true. But there are some occasions when the reverse is true.
I had the great honour and privilege of being one of the European Community official observers in the South African elections in 1994. I visited township polling stations—this was the first time that they had been set up. I went to posh polling stations in the white suburbs in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The clerk in charge of an important polling station in Weinberg, a wealthy Cape Town suburb that some colleagues in the House will know, was hard pressed because the other staff had not got there due to transport difficulties. The phone rang. He was dealing with people who were coming in to get their ballot papers. He asked me if I would answer the phone, and told me that there should be no politics; I should just give them the time of polling and the time that the station closed, and any other technical details.
A very grand, English-sounding voice in Weinberg said in rather a fierce way, “Young man, I do not know who you are, but I am coming down to vote in a general election today, as usual”. This woman had been told what she called a “very funny thing”: someone had told her that her maid could come down and vote as well. I replied, “Yes, madam—bring her down”. The woman asked: “What, in the same car?” I told her to bring her down in the same car if she was coming by car. She then asked: “Do you mean, through the same entrance?” I told her to come through the same entrance with the maid. She asked: “Are you sure?” I replied yes. I had been observing the scene, with voters coming in—black voters as well, registered to vote for the first time—and an hour and a quarter later this lady came in and thanked me for the advice. But she came in through the one entrance, arm-in-arm with her maid. The scales had fallen from her eyes. The anxiety, the fear of apartheid, had left her at that very moment. They went out good friends and they remained good friends afterwards, people who considered themselves equal for the first time—she was quite an elderly lady; it was a remarkable transformation—under the new law of a society that had been transformed by the intelligence, energy and long-range view of de Klerk, who was amazingly brave in that situation, coming together with the wonderful, heroic Nelson Mandela.
How do you achieve breakthroughism in the terrible continuing turmoil of Israel-Palestine, which is one of the main themes of today’s debate, because it is poisoning the atmosphere in both Israel and Palestine? I speak as a long-standing friend of Israel, ever since I first went there in 1970, with many years’ experience; with impeccable credentials, if I may add, as a person getting Soviet Jews out of the Soviet Union to make the Aliyah to Israel—some went to the United States instead; very unwisely, of course, but there it is—and helping them in other things as well. I dealt with the anniversary of the Kindertransport in Harrow, where we had a big commemoration with the Home Office Minister of State in those days, now the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who is not here today. Such things are wonderful occasions of reminiscence and memorialising all the suffering of the Jewish people and the reason for the existence of the state of Israel.
However, at the same time, there are two states there, two countries—and I call Palestine a country already; its recognition is long overdue. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for her comments on this matter, and embarrass her by praising her immense courage in leaving the Government because of the dreadful events in Gaza and the killing of large numbers of civilians, including many, many children. Break- throughism is possible if the people in those two great countries—Palestine smaller than Israel, of course, physically and in population—have the courage to seize the moment and come together in a dynamic future.
The main move has to come from the established state—the state of Israel—because that is more powerful than the weak, ailing semi-state of Palestine, struggling to become a state as soon as possible, with still a lower population if you take out Gaza for the moment. That can be done. I believe sincerely that it will be done. Israel is a wonderful country with a wonderful people but it has a lousy Government. This is the tragedy of the moment. They are not so much a lousy Government on internal matters—although there are some people in Israel on low incomes who complain about the economic situation there as well; so that shows it is a normal country—but the leaders and the foreign policy, in the need to seek reconciliation and friendship with the Palestinians, do not make the necessary moves.
Israel’s leaders must remove the poison of the settlements. I am very glad that the pro-Israeli speakers in this debate—the noble Lords, Lord Mitchell, Lord Turnberg and Lord Leigh, who is not here now—have referred to that as well. That must be dealt with; otherwise, there will be no movement. Israel is quite rightly an unbeatable state militarily. It has to be to protect its own citizens. But once you are the unbeatable military state, you have the strength to negotiate with the weaker partner and offer concessions. That is the solemn truth facing the Israeli leaders. Are they capable of facing up to it? Will they reach for the challenge as de Klerk and Mandela did in South Africa?
There should not be another comparison between South Africa and Israel-Palestine but there is, and this is my final comment. The Israeli settlement policy started by Sharon as Housing Minister, was a fatal, big mistake and lots of Israelis are upset about it and say so in Haaretz and B’Tselem and all those other very virtuous groups and newspapers in Israel that speak the truth about that country and its future survival and existence. Together they must now reach for the first step to accommodate the Palestinians by saying that the settlements will be removed, or, if some stay, they will be negotiated in free negotiations between the two. The Palestinians cannot respond as the weaker partner unless Israeli leaders do that. I do not think Mr Lieberman is capable of it; I am not sure about Netanyahu. I have my severe doubts. I do not think he is really, but there are others in that coalition grouping in Israel who are capable of these things. It is increasingly what the Israeli people know in their heart of hearts.
In an article I wrote six months ago for the English language quarterly newspaper in Berlin, the Jewish Voice From Germany, I paid tribute to the unique, magisterial contribution of the Jewish community to the welfare and the social, economic and financial development of this country. It is a very small community—only 300,000-plus people now, much smaller than our Muslim population coming from all different countries—but because it did that, it is revered and respected and so will the Israeli Government leaders be revered and respected if they come together with the Palestinians. It can be done, and once they do shake hands and become friends, the two dynamic territories working together to create a near east common market, that transformation will be much quicker than anybody here can imagine.
My Lords, for almost two decades, one piece of received wisdom in particular has hovered over the subject we are discussing today. It has been received as wisdom in many departments of state and successive Governments of all political persuasions, as well as the Governments of many of our closest allies and friends. That piece of perceived wisdom is that all the problems of the region, all the troubles and challenges of north Africa and the Middle East, would be solved by a final border arrangement between the Government of Israel and that of the Palestinians.
That idea—that Israel is the key to unlocking all the problems of the region—was always absurd, not least because it ignored all the other terrible problems of the region. Would Yemen’s economy really boom if only Israel and the Palestinians came to a final status agreement? Would Saudi Arabia or Iran immediately become governed by nice, secular democrats? To ask the question is to answer it. The claim was absurd. Desirable though a final status agreement would be, it has nothing to do with the real and deep-seated problems of the region.
If we ever doubted that—and for years very significant figures in authority did—the beginnings of the Arab spring should have answered us. For when that happened, when the people of the region began to rise up against the tyrants of the region, they had many demands. The most potent were that they wanted a say in their own future; they wanted to share in the wealth, including the natural resources of their countries; and they wanted to have opportunities, a future and a say in how they were governed.
Of course, we know how badly much of that went. We know that in many cases those protesters were simply gunned down, imprisoned, tortured, executed or otherwise disappeared. We know that in some cases the revolutions were stolen from the liberals, who were too weak, by the extremists, who were too strong. In other cases, fragile, careful states have emerged. We will see how they do. But of all the crowds that came out, from Tunisia to Yemen and beyond, not one protested about Israel. Not one came out demanding a resolution in East Jerusalem. They came out asking for the rights that we in the West tend to take for granted but which they often seem light years away from achieving.
So what is the problem for the region? What are the solutions? They are not easy. In particular, there is no one key or one lock that will somehow magically address all the problems of a deeply troubled region. But if solutions are thin on the ground, they will at least become easier to comprehend if we accept one of the major factors of the region, which no discussion such as this can truthfully be held without—radical Islam. This year alone has presented an unusual amount of evidence to suggest that one of the overwhelming problems—if not the overwhelming problem—of the region is that presented by Islamic fundamentalism.
Earlier this year, we saw Boko Haram abducting hundreds of Christian girls in northern Nigeria for the crime of going to school and not obeying a fundamentalist Islamist interpretation which demands that girls must not undergo anything but an Islamist semi-education. Shortly afterwards, Hamas started the latest phase in its interminable and genocidal war against the world’s only Jewish state. Later in the summer, we watched as ISIS rampaged across Syria and Iraq, massacring, beheading and crucifying people as they went—not just anybody but all Muslims who do not share their fundamentalist worldview, Yazidis who refuse to convert to Islam, and all Christians who refuse to give up their faith and submit to Allah.
Sometimes it is Christians, sometimes Jews, sometimes Yazidis and very often it is other Muslims, but what we are seeing across north Africa, the Middle East and further afield is the same pattern. I do not say that these fundamentalist movements have everything in common: they often have disagreements. For instance, ISIS and Hezbollah are fighting each other in Syria, but they have far more in common than in difference. We cannot even begin to address the problems in the region unless we recognise that what we are dealing with is not simple. It is not about the old paradigms; it is about a region covered in many problems that can be helped on to the right track only if we—and they— admit to what they are up against. If we tackle the dominance of radical Islam, the region about which we are talking at least stands a chance of making a meaningful contribution to the 21st century, rather than retreating to a position more akin to Europe’s situation in the 17th century.
In the mean time, a certain amount of humble pie must be eaten in foreign policy establishments both here and in much of the rest of the world, for recent events have surely shown once and for all that Israel is not the cause of the Middle East's problems. Israel is pluralistic and technically advanced. It is a world leader in medical research and information technology. It is 100% committed to human rights for all its citizens—Christian, Muslim, Arab and Jewish. It extends those rights and advances to its neighbours whenever it has an opportunity to do so. It is a society in which prosperity is shared as much as anywhere else in the world. It is a society with all the complexities of a democratic Government and all the rigours of an independent and powerful supreme court. There is no country in the world that could claim better governance. Yet this is the country in the Middle East that many people have spent recent years trying to defame. So let it be said clearly here, and for all time, that Israel is not the problem for the Middle East. Rather, it is an exemplar and a proof of solutions to those problems.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Risby, for initiating this most welcome debate. I also declare a long interest in Turkey, stretching back politically over 30 years, so I will start my speech with a word about that country.
There are many misconceptions. First, there seems to be a misconception that the problems between the Kurds and the Turks are of recent origin; they go back at least to Ataturk. Indeed, the present Government in Turkey have initiated discussions with the Kurdish population that have gone some way to solving at least some of the outstanding problems. We must remember that the PKK is still listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, the European Union and NATO as well as by Turkey itself. That therefore adds considerable problems to how Turkey deals with a number of the problems on its border, particularly the problem of Kobane.
Let us be clear: the Turkish Government have spent some $4 billion on aid for refugees in this conflict. They have allowed 200,000 citizens of the Kobane region to come into Turkey to live. Carol Batchelor, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey, was recently quoted as saying that, when it came to saving lives,
“the UN could not catch up with Turkey”.
They have, in other words, done extremely well with the cards that they have got.
Saving Kobane is part of a much bigger and widespread problem. The present Prime Minister, who was Foreign Minister, and the present President, who was Prime Minister, have both addressed this in great detail. One of the problems that Turkey has is that it seems to have made an enemy of absolutely everybody. It has crucially made an enemy of President Assad. I think that we have to start being realistic about Syria. President Assad presided over a regime that was—shall we say—suboptimal, to be kindest about it. None the less, the country was a damn sight more stable then than it is today. People were not being killed in the streets. It is going to survive because it has the support of Russia and Iran; in the present mix-up in that area of the world, President Assad, I predict, is going to come through in the end. It is in our interests to look at that area and see what we can do to try to help Turkey to get back on good terms with the regime in Syria.
I now turn to another subject in the region, and that is human rights. I know that the Minister has recently received a letter from the TUC—I know because it sent me a copy of it—about the human rights situation in Iran, particularly the rights of trade unionists and workers in Iran. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how the Government propose to respond to that letter, because it seems to me that we have a different view of human rights: it really depends on who is violating them, does it not?
If you look at the British papers, you will see quite rightly the absolute outrage over recent beheadings. We all share that outrage, but somehow the newspapers avoided mentioning—maybe they mentioned it on days I did not read them—that more than 100 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia within the past 12 months. I am told by the Foreign Office that it makes quiet representations to Saudi Arabia about this, but those are not doing much good, are they? The Saudis are not taking much notice of these representations. We need to look a little more clearly at having a consistent view on human rights and the way we put our human rights case forward.
In short, we cannot rest back on applying a Treaty of Westphalia system to the rest of the world—that is, the system where you say, “Well, countries can do what they like within their borders. If we recognise them as a legitimate Government, they can go round beheading people and do what they like. We won’t intervene”. We cannot do that any more. We do not do it in the European Union. Given the amount of attention that we pay, quite rightly, to human rights in Turkey, it is ironic how little attention we pay to the same subject in many states not that far to the south.
In closing, I suggest that the situation may change in a way we did not really anticipate. The energy scenario, which has of course driven our relations with that part of the world for the past 100 years, is rapidly changing. Many people have not noticed that the United States is no longer a net importer of energy. Many people have not noticed—or, if they have noticed, they have not tied it together—that new technology and the rising price of energy makes it easier to recover energy. The discovery of new energy fields such as the one off Cyprus, the advent of fracking and the developments in physics—I declare an interest as a governor of the pension fund of CERN, which is the major physics laboratory in the world—will probably put the energy crisis behind us in the next 20 to 30 years. That might sound rather astonishing at a time when we are concentrating on it. Of course, this is not a debate on energy, but from all I have heard and seen the energy scenario is changing faster than we realise. As it changes, the need and dependency on the near and Middle East will change significantly to a point where, maybe, we can have some consistency in our approach on human and civil rights, so that we can look forward to a time when we might be able to stand a little taller because we adopt the same principles in dealing with all countries in that region.
My Lords, like others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Risby, for initiating what has been a very interesting debate. I also must say how impressed I was by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. Her courage, integrity and commitment to truth are a challenge to us all.
I serve as chairman of the Committee on Middle East Questions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Its purpose is to try to persuade and encourage Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other. We recently decided in that committee that we cannot do our work meaningfully without looking at the region as a whole and we are extending our work in that way. Recently in Geneva, we had a very interesting round table. The noble Lord, Lord Risby, spent quite a lot of his rather important speech talking about Syria, as have other noble Lords. The Speaker of the Syrian Parliament was with us at our round table and made a contribution. I will quote from the official report of that—it is better as chairman that I stick to the official report. It said:
“The Speaker of the Syrian Parliament stressed that the Syrian People’s Assembly was the only legitimate body entitled to make statements about the situation in Syria and the Syrian people, who were paying a high price for the terrorist acts committed by ISIL, Al Nusrah Front and the Army of Islam. He added that if the world was serious about effectively combating terrorism, the international community would have to cooperate with Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Government was fighting terrorism but was stymied in its efforts by the support, funds and weapons supplied to terrorist groups by some western and Middle Eastern countries.
He referred to UN Security Council resolution 2170, which called for respecting the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. He emphasized that the Syrian Government rejected any regional intervention in Syria, especially the imposition of a buffer zone along its northern border, highlighting that the coalition had been formed outside the framework of the UN Security Council by countries that had contributed to the emergence of ISIL and the proliferation of terrorism.
The Speaker requested IPU support for a political solution to the conflict in Syria and for its national reconciliation efforts. He highlighted that Syria rejected any attempt to violate its sovereignty by forming new armed groups under the banner of a moderate opposition”.
I totally align myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said. I was one of those who was highly critical of Syria and its appalling human rights action—and, actually, this was reported absolutely outrageously across the world—but I think that we have to listen to what the Syrians themselves say. We must face up to that.
As that same round table—it was a very interesting occasion—the Deputy Speaker of the Jordanian Parliament also contributed. Here is another brief quote from the report:
“The Deputy Speaker … described the increasingly acute consequences of the regional conflict for Jordan. The basic population of 4 million had become 11 million with refugees from Palestine, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The social and political impact of this was potentially highly destabilizing”.
We have talked a lot about the present situation and what in the past has led up to it, but if we are intelligent then we should be talking about the future. I put it to noble Lords that the refugee problem in this region will make many of the things with which we are grappling at the moment seem like child’s play. The political consequences are incalculably great.
It is fair to ask what I have learnt from my work on the committee. In the past 18 months I have made several visits to the region. I have been able to meet with the speaker of the Knesset, with President Abbas and others, and to have very important conversations which have deeply helped my own understanding. I have learnt that peacebuilding first of all requires—and this is difficult with all the pressures involved—the qualities of patience and persistence.
We must forgo the temptation to think that we can just manage peace, and have deadlines and get people to meet deadlines and enforce a peace. That does not work. A peace has to be grounded, and a peace that is grounded involves talk, negotiation and patience, as I have just said. It has to be inclusive; it is important to be talking to the people with whom it is difficult to talk, because they are key to the solutions. It is no good just picking the friendly, easy people to talk to. Anyone can do that and make agreements. That is why it has been so important to get around eventually to the view that Hamas is part of the solution and not just part of the problem.
It is also important to recognise that in these matters negotiations can too easily become the preserve of the negotiators. There is a sort of institutionalised game of negotiation. Fine work and great commitment go on in those negotiations, but we need wider understanding and wider concern among the wider public about the need for a settlement and for reaching accommodations. That means that we really should be promoting discussions between, for example, Israelis and Palestinians on issues of mutual concern, such as water or the problems and issues faced by women. We on our committee are determined to try to do something in that respect.
My convictions about the danger of counter- productivity have also been reconfirmed. Of course, so much of Israel’s behaviour is totally counterproductive and cannot possibly contribute to its long-term security. Equally, the firing of rockets into Israel was wrong, irresponsible and totally counterproductive.
I conclude simply with this. We must look at ourselves. It is no good reacting emotionally to young people—however misguided—who go off and fight with the cruel and horrible ISIS. Many of them become disillusioned; they want to come home. We should not stigmatise them and their friends and communities as somehow a threat to our future. The challenge is to win them back into our society, with rehabilitation and understanding. Young people make mistakes; they have always made mistakes. Our job is to win them back and integrate them, not to stigmatise them and thereby aggravate the problems in our own society.
My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition in this House, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Risby, for initiating and securing this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken in what has been a remarkable debate. I do not intend to cover even in broad terms the vast areas—both geographically and in terms of the issues—that this debate covers. No one who has heard the debate could be under any illusions about the many dangers and the many issues of great importance, the various and varied examples of man’s inhumanity to man and—yes—some examples, too, of hope. These issues and where they lead affect us in the UK just as much as they affect the world outside.
On many of these items I say straightaway that we are broadly in agreement with the Government. In this field above all others there can be no point in artificial or pretend disagreements for their own sake. Both for the good of the UK itself and for the way that we appear to the world outside, it is a positive when we do not disagree. However, when we do—and we will do on one important topic at the end of what I have to say—it is essential that we should say so and ask questions and test Ministers. If an Opposition fail to do that in a democracy, we are acting against the spirit of democracy and democratic government that distinguishes us from so many of the countries we have been discussing today.
There are a number of discrete subjects that I intend to address and a number of brief questions that I wish to put to the Minister. The issue of Palestine and Israel has taken up a huge amount of the debate today. It is a sore that has lasted such a long time and it could be argued that it is at the root of so many of the problems, disputes and unresolved issues that we have discussed.
I was very taken by the practical suggestion for helping Gaza made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. We should ask the Government to consider that very seriously. I pay tribute to the many brilliant, powerful and often passionate and committed speeches that we have heard from one side or the other on this issue. Who could not be moved by hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi—who was an excellent Minister in this House with large responsibilities for, for example, faith and human rights in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and whom this House much respected as a Minister and much respects today—making her powerful case against government policy and arguing, among other things, for United Nations recognition of Palestine? My party, as she and the House know, voted for recognition in the House of Commons a few weeks ago. That is not an easy decision for a political party to make, but it was the right decision, and we very much hope the Government will follow suit—in a short period of time rather than a longer one.
And who could not be moved by the extremely powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, in defence of the idea of Israel, and by his plea for peace? It was a privilege to listen to him. Perhaps I may also mention what a privilege it is for all of us to hear the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld—sitting in his place today—and his words of wisdom.
It is vital for any Government in the UK, of whatever party, to take a balanced view on the Palestine-Israel question, however unpopular it makes them. We on our side feel that Her Majesty’s Government did not criticise Israel early enough or strongly enough during the recent Gaza war—if I can call it that. Hamas was an intolerable provocation to Israel and remains so, of course, but a legitimate question can be asked: did Israel’s reaction result in the unnecessary death of too many innocent citizens?
I turn briefly—not because it is unimportant; it is vital—to the coalition against ISIL, which we debated in this House a month ago. Here, we do support the line that Her Majesty’s Government are taking and I pay tribute today, as others have, to those who have fought to protect Kobane, a medium-sized city, from the ravages of ISIL. We of course wish them success.
I want to concentrate for a moment on Turkey, as have the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and other noble Lords, and make a couple of points. First, it is obvious that Turkey is in a crucial position in the struggle against ISIL and much more besides. No one underrates the difficulties that Turkey faces in making these decisions, for historical and modern political reasons— I commend an article in the Guardian a few days ago by the new Foreign Secretary of Turkey which set out some of these difficulties. Ankara’s decision to allow the Kurdish Peshmerga to cross through Turkey to support the Kurds fighting ISIL in Kobane is important, demonstrating perhaps that Turkish policy on this issue is in flux and in part reacting to Kurdish protests and unrest. Secondly, as has already been pointed out, Turkey is facing a major refugee crisis, and its impact should not be underestimated. More than 1 million Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey. That is very significant as far as Turkey is concerned.
Turkey is also facing fundamental questions about its role in the region, as its soft power approach appears not to have succeeded. The new Prime Minister was the architect of recent foreign policy as Foreign Minister. It is incumbent on Her Majesty’s Government and on other Governments allied to Turkey, which is of course a long-standing member of NATO, to try to persuade Turkey to play the role that many of us feel it should in facing down ISIL.
I turn to the Lebanon, which has hardly been mentioned today. I visited it this month. Four million people have over the past 30 years known ghastly civil war, foreign military occupation and now a Government who, because they have to include representatives of different religions and factions, find it difficult to reach the required unanimous decisions. There is pressure, too, from extremist cells that manoeuvre and try to best one another in that small country.
The Lebanon now also has 1.3 million refugees from Syria—a population increase of one-fifth, just like that. These refugees do not live in refugee camps but settle where they can, often side by side with Lebanese citizens who are poor and unemployed. Syrian children have to be brought into the Lebanese education system. The numbers are such that the analogy could be made to all the schools in Birmingham and Manchester closing and all the children in those schools transferring into London schools. How would we cope? That is the position facing the Lebanese Government. I am very pleased that the British Council, with the help of the British embassy, has been absolutely in the forefront of a new programme with the Lebanese authorities to make it easier for teachers to be trained so that Syrian children can be taught. It is something we are doing practically, on the ground, in that country.
I turn briefly to Tunisia, which has already been discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Risby, mentioned it himself. It is one of the gleams of light in the rather dark picture that has been drawn today. We are all delighted that last Sunday’s elections have resulted in what seems to be a peaceful, democratic result with a proper transfer of power from one side to the other. That is not to be underrated. As has also already been stated, the country still faces enormous difficulties, with very high unemployment and the unfortunate fact that of all the countries that send, as it were, young jihadists to Syria, Tunisia sends the largest number.
I conclude, slightly more controversially, with the refugee situation in the Mediterranean. This does affect the debate because those refugees come from the Middle East and north Africa. To their credit, the Italian Government have successfully run the Mare Nostrum search and rescue scheme, saving 150,000 lives in the last year and a bit. The European Union is, as we understand it, to stop search and rescue from the day after tomorrow. This is an agreement that the British Government have signed up to. FRONTEX will operate only within 30 miles of the Italian coast and will not conduct search and rescue missions. This will of course mean that many more men, women and children die in their desperate journey to Europe.
The justification for this change of policy is that it will somehow deter would-be refugees from undertaking the journey in the first place. It seems to me that this justification is spurious and morally repugnant. It is wrong in practical terms because desperate people fleeing their homeland will not be put off taking the risk themselves. I am sorry to have to put it so strongly but, in moral terms, it represents a view that human life is so cheap that it is satisfactory to turn a blind eye to those in danger. Jonathan Swift would have known how to satirise this change of policy.
In our view, the Government should stand back and ask themselves this question: is this a path that Britain, with its proud record of protecting people in trouble, wants to go down? Of course there is a massive problem for us and the EU to tackle—often with the countries from which these people come. This solution should not be acceptable to this House or the country. I know that the noble Baroness has a lot to answer in her 25 minutes. She is a Minister widely respected in this House. Will Her Majesty’s Government please reconsider this policy as a matter of urgency? It is not worthy of our country.
My Lords, I of course add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Risby on securing the debate today and on attracting such a significant audience, not only those who have taken part but those who have listened to the debate. It has been wide-ranging and I certainly am grateful for the important contributions from around the House.
North Africa and the Middle East face immense challenges. We have heard that in detail. As has been hinted at by colleagues around the House, a number of those issues merit their own debate: Syria’s horrific war; ISIL’s appalling atrocities and the refugee crisis that it has created; and the need for reconstruction in Gaza and a comprehensive solution to that. My noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger was right to remind us of the impact of violence and conflict on women and children. I agree with her that it is vital that we always take them into account in any and all negotiations we enter into to resolve conflict.
The region matters to the UK’s security and prosperity. It is crucial that we counter the threat from terrorist extremism, we build our energy security, as my noble friend Lord Balfe said, and we sustain and grow our bilateral trade, as my noble friend Lord Selsdon stressed. That already is worth about £35 billion annually. As my noble friend Lord Kirkwood said, it is important for us to do business even in difficult areas such as Iraq.
In the long term, our security and the security of the whole region of north Africa and the Middle East depends not only on managing the immediate crises and threats but also on tackling the grievances which the extremists exploit. These grievances—the deficits in political and economic governance—are embedded and well documented. We need to support those in the region who are pursuing political stability based on open, inclusive political systems and economies. This is not only about addressing threats: in the longer term we will need to support a more stable and economically successful region.
On a daily basis, we hear accounts of human rights abuses, including those against religious minorities of all backgrounds. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, reminded us of that in graphic detail. Let me be clear: the UK condemns in the strongest terms possible any instances where individuals are persecuted or made to leave their homes due to their religion or belief. We believe in the importance of fundamental freedoms and the need to tackle human rights abuses, not only to help end the cycle of violence but because they are important building blocks for a prosperous and stable society. My noble friend Lord Balfe asked about Iran and a particular letter from the TUC. I will shortly provide a full response to him, but I can say immediately that the UK strongly believes in the right of freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions.
We are proud in this country of remaining at the forefront of our humanitarian response in the region. Let me immediately tackle one point raised at the end of the debate—as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, controversially—about the Mare Nostrum policy which had been adopted a year ago by Italy with regard to the way in which it sent out a search-and-find operation using its navy across the Mediterranean. We made it clear today—my honourable friend Mr Brokenshire has said—that it is inconceivable to suggest that if a boat were in peril support would not be provided. It is a despicable mark of traffickers that any of this happens.
The people who are evil here are the traffickers who take people’s dignity, their money and their background. They give them false promises, they get them into debt, they hire a rusty bucket that they know cannot make the journey, and they load people at sea. Reports say that they give them a mobile phone so that they can phone the Italian navy. Whether that is true or not, this is a despicable trade and we need to unite in the fight against that and deal with the humanitarian aid, to which I know my Government are absolutely committed.
We remain at the forefront of the humanitarian response in the region. Our total humanitarian funding for Syria and the region is now £700 million, more than three times the size of our response to any other humanitarian crisis. This is making a real difference, providing shelter, blankets, and clothing for more than 300,000 people; water for up 1.5 million; and more than 5 million monthly food rations last year.
My noble friend Lady Berridge asked about refugees—the Yazidis, for example—being able to go back to their homes. She asks a broader question: what is it for all refugees to go home, some of whom are away from what they consider home for decades, and when they go back they have a difficulty recognising it? It is a decision they should be able to make, but a decision against the background of a peace and stability that we try to help to provide.
Efforts to address the region’s challenges have to be led principally by the regions of north Africa and the Middle East. But we do have an important role to play. I was deeply impressed today by the way in which so many Peers, including my noble friend Lady Falkner, the noble Lords, Lord Hylton, Lord Sacks and Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, addressed the philosophical background. How do we overcome extremism? Where has it come from? What challenges does it give us as individuals as well as societies? There has been the growth of Salafism—not the peaceful Salafism we see in Saudi Arabia, but the extreme, violent Salafism that has suddenly broken out elsewhere. I shall certainly take away with me the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, that we need to let go of hate.
We need to support our partners to tackle conflict and better manage the threat that violent extremism poses to their people—and indeed to ours. We need to help them put in place what the Prime Minister has called the building blocks of open and inclusive societies: the rule of law, a free media, parliamentary reform, and the structural economic reforms to create growth and jobs. That is why we are continuing to reform and work on the conflict work with the Arab partnership and the Government’s conflict pool. That is why we are working closely with international partners, including key partners in the region. My noble friend Lady Berridge asked whether we have the skills for that and asked what training we are doing. With regard to staff, the FCO holds a one-day freedom of religion or belief training course every three months. It is open to all government staff. Since January 2013, of the 107 attendees, one-third have come from other government departments, including DfID and MoD.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh was right to describe the historical context in which all this has developed, as indeed was the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld. It is important to hear, from those who have lived it, what that history is. It gives it extra vibrancy. The noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Anderson, reminded us that the Arab spring started in Tunisia four years ago. Since then the country has indeed made striking process with the development of the political systems needed to bring longer-term stability. I echo the Foreign Secretary’s congratulations to the Tunisian Government and people on the legislative elections held there last Sunday. However, success is fragile and needs continued support. We will continue to provide that support in a number of ways.
It is important that, throughout this, when we see successes we continue to support those who are still facing severe challenges and finding it difficult to move forward. My noble friend Lord Risby referred to Algeria. He rightly mentioned the work that we are doing in partnership with Algeria on several issues. I pay tribute to his successful work as the Prime Minister’s envoy for economic partnership with Algeria. We want to keep improving our co-operation with Algeria across a range of interests: security, defence, trade, prosperity, English language and higher education.
Libya, of course, continues to have difficulties. We want to continue working with our international partners to support the Libyan people. As an important first step, we need an inclusive political settlement. At the moment it is in great difficulty, but the Prime Minister’s envoy to the Libyan political transition, Jonathan Powell, is working with the UN special representative on this.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, referred to Egypt. I am grateful to him for bringing out the aspects that he did. It remains an important and influential country in the region and we clearly want it to succeed. We continue to provide practical and serious support to help it achieve a more prosperous and democratic future. We are working in partnership with reformers and others to reduce the economic difficulties and to tackle the immediate security threats. We are Egypt’s largest foreign investor. To foster Egypt’s development, we want to continue our support beyond technical reform assistance, to education, research and scholarships.
However, at the same time, we are urging Egypt’s leaders to implement the rights contained in Egypt’s constitution, including protecting the right to freedom of expression and association, and to lead the country towards more open and democratic governance, underpinned by strong and accountable institutions, as the noble Lord explained in his speech. We will speak up on cases that threaten these principles, whether it is mass death penalties in Minya, the prosecution of journalists, the detention of people engaging in peaceful political expression, or restrictions on NGO freedoms.
I turn to the Gulf, where the UK enjoys deep relationships based on our shared background in the area over the years. More than 160,000 British people currently call the Gulf home. It is one of our largest global export markets, and Gulf states continue to invest heavily in the UK. We work with our allies on a wide range of vital issues, from energy security to defence, with UK assets stationed in the region and providing military training expertise. We value enormously our close work with Gulf partners on many of the challenges that I have mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the difficulties in this area. My noble friend Lord Lamont talked about individuals and funding in Qatar. I will come to that shortly. My noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Lord, Lord Soley, spoke about Bahrain.
My noble friend Lord Lamont asked about the funding of extremist groups in the Gulf states and what the Governments are doing. I can say that we welcome the steps that the Gulf Governments are taking to address the threat, but we are encouraging much greater progress on that to prevent terrorist financing from the individuals. I know that my noble friend is not saying that the Governments are doing the funding; the difficulty is preventing the individuals. It is important that legislative vehicles are put in place to prevent those transfers of funds. We have what is called an “honest and robust” conversation; I have taken part in one, and I can say that it is both honest and, certainly, robust.
On international affairs, yesterday my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met the Emir of Qatar. They discussed the role that both countries are playing in the coalition to tackle ISIL. In particular, the Prime Minister welcomed the recent legislation passed in Qatar to prevent terrorist funding and looked forward to the swift implementation of these new measures. They also agreed that both countries should do more to share information on matters of concern. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, also raised that.
My noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Lord, Lord Soley, raised the issue of Bahrain where human rights defenders have played a brave role. I welcome the announcement by His Majesty of the legislative elections on 22 November. It is unfortunate that the opposition al-Wefaq has decided not to participate. We are certainly supportive of the reforms under way in Bahrain. We commend the steps taken by the Government there to implement the recommendations set out in the independent commission of inquiry. As outlined in our recent human rights case study report on Bahrain, progress has been made in a number of areas, but there is more to be done. We shall keep up the pressure.
Two areas attracted the most attention of noble Lords—for natural reasons of security and interest of this House. First, I turn to the situation we face across Iraq and Syria. We know from the past few months how desperate the situation has been for those living there as they face an enemy which knows no shame, no morality and no religion in the way in which it indiscriminately murders, beheads and crucifies people in its way. My noble friend Lady Falkner tried to give a background as to why it is not Islam we should blame for this. I appreciate the thoughtful way in which she presents her views; they are always a pleasure to hear.
ISIL fighters have carried out appalling atrocities. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and they operate freely in much of Syria and Iraq, posing a threat to the UK and to the stability of the wider region. My noble friend Lady Nicholson said that they should not be able to have impunity—they should not get away with it. Yesterday, I gave a speech at a meeting at which we were talking about international humanitarian law. I agree with her that impunity is not something we should have as a resource so that, if there is a difficulty, we can let people get away with it. Where there is potential genocide of the Yazidis, we have a long-standing commitment to the importance of accountability. We welcome the commitment of Prime Minister al-Abadi to holding to account those responsible for any atrocities. We look forward to supporting any work which sees those commitments translated into action. We are a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court but any decision to involve the ICC must be made on the basis of whether the court would prove to be an effective means of bringing the perpetrators of those atrocities to justice.
Throughout the difficulties in Syria and Iraq, we have made it clear that air strikes alone will not defeat ISIL but they—and other actions that we have been taking—show our resolve to degrade and ultimately to defeat ISIL. We will proceed carefully, working in lockstep with our partners to deliver a comprehensive plan. We are taking military action in Iraq and, along with other noble Lords, I pay tribute to our superb Armed Forces who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. We support air strikes in Syria conducted by the United States and our Gulf allies. We heard from several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Nicholson and Lord Kirkwood, and the noble Lords, Lord Kalms and Lord Judd, about these matters. I was intrigued that my noble friend Lord Kirkwood made it clear that we need to concentrate on commercial engagement as part of the solution to the problem of stability. He asked why we do not have an Iraqi business group to lead commercial engagement with Iraq. British business is engaging in Iraq and there is some notable success despite the difficult environment. As my noble friend knows, earlier this year the Prime Minister appointed my noble friend Lady Nicholson as trade envoy to Iraq. I have never doubted either her courage or her determination to achieve success.
My noble friend Lord Kirkwood also asked about visas, which were referred to obliquely by one or two other noble Lords. We opened a visa application centre in Baghdad in 2013 and have opened mobile centres in Erbil and Basra, which means that applicants no longer have to travel to Oman to obtain those visas. However, I appreciate that some individuals still face considerable security problems and difficulties in getting the relevant documents.
My noble friend Lord Kirkwood asked whether we agreed with his analysis of the new Iraqi Government of al-Abadi being more inclusive, and said that we should support that. I absolutely agree with him. Al-Abadi has shown his willingness to include significant appointments from the country’s main Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities. That is most welcome. He has committed to reforms, including decentralising power, reforming and restructuring the security forces and improving relations with Iraq’s neighbours. However, I have no illusions. This is an encouraging start but we have a great struggle ahead in which we need to maintain the good will of the British public. When we had a Statement on this matter a couple of weeks ago, I spoke of a time when the red-top newspapers no longer have this issue at the top of their reports and when the news bulletins about it on the radio and on Twitter start to decline. We do not need to give publicity to ISIL but we do need to strengthen the resolve of our colleagues around our country that we are doing the right thing in undermining ISIL and, ultimately, defeating it for the security of that area and for that of our own country.
I wish to refer briefly to Turkey as the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Bach, and my noble friend Lord Balfe mentioned very properly the role that Turkey has played and can play. We are very grateful to Turkey for its humanitarian effort. Over the past 48 hours it has been working out in a helpful way how to adjust that. Clearly, it is a crucial partner for all of us in our counterterrorism work. I know that Turkey has difficulties with the Kurdish region because of the PPK issue but it is working as hard as it can to be a very effective partner in the degrading and defeat of ISIL. The noble Lord has been to Lebanon and he was right to remind us of that country, which has borne so much of the brunt of the humanitarian aid. What a brave country. It has absorbed people who now form a great proportion of its population. We stand firmly by Lebanon’s side and offer full support, assistance and training to the Lebanese armed forces in their struggle.
My noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned Yemen. I pay tribute to our embassy staff and FCO staff who travel there on a regular basis to give assistance in that country. They face great personal danger and we are grateful for all that they do. My noble friend is right to point out the danger to human rights.
Noble Lords have referred to Iran. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, reminded us that we should not forget about Iran when we are concentrating on ISIL. My noble friend Lord Lamont asked what would happen if a deal with Iran fails? We will not let it fail. I suggest that he looks in detail at the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech.
Obviously, we have discussed the Middle East peace process in detail before. We had contributions today from my noble friends Lord Risby, Lady Warsi, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, Lord Cope of Berkeley, Lady Tonge, Lord Leigh of Hurley and Lord Dykes, and from the noble Lords, Lord Sacks, Lord Mitchell, Lord Turnberg, Lord Weidenfeld, Lord Kalms and Lord Bach. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, provided us with a list of practical suggestions about how to rebuild Gaza. I would like to reflect on that further.
Noble Lords asked whether our policy on Gaza and Palestine has changed. Our policy is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel, living alongside a viable sovereign Palestinian state. We are urging both parties to show leadership and a commitment to return to dialogue. I realise of course that the dialogue has broken down; the terrorist attacks in Sinai on 24 October have prevented that dialogue. However, we are making every effort to ensure that that is recommenced as soon as possible. The process has not failed; it will continue.
We are also urging both parties to avoid all actions that undermine the prospect of peace. That is why we were particularly disturbed when Israel brought forward advanced plans for 1,060 new housing units in east Jerusalem. We consider that to be an ill judged and ill timed decision, which makes it harder to achieve a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital. Such announcements make it more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it against accusations that it is not serious about peace.
The EU sanctions remain in place. I was asked about those by my noble friend Lady Warsi. We have consistently made it clear through the EU that there will be consequences to further announcements on settlement. Discussions are under way in Brussels at this moment on what further measures the EU could take to discourage any further settlement expansion, including in Givat Hamatos, E1 and Har Homa. The EU is working closely with other member states to that end.
A one-off recognition of the state of Palestine is not something that we wish to pursue at this stage. We are saying clearly—as I did last week and the week before—that negotiation is the way forward. We want to recognise Palestine, but we want to do so when there has been an agreement with both sides that we end up with two states that can live alongside each other. In the mean time, it is important that the agreements reached so far in Egypt are being put in place. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Hilton, that the fishing limit is indeed in place.
I know that we will return to this subject in depth again and again. I will be debating it with many colleagues off the Floor of the House in another venue next Tuesday morning and I am looking forward to that.
My Lords, I say in all humility that it was the greatest privilege for me to be able to introduce this debate because of the quality of the contributions we have heard today, which have reflected such astonishing knowledge, interest and passion about the region, to which we are all committed. As I listened to the speeches, I wondered how many parliamentary Chambers in the world could have held a debate in this way and so effectively. It was remarkable.
In terms of expertise, we heard contributions about Iran, Egypt, Iraq and other countries which reflect this so admirably. I pay tribute also to our diplomats, who have to work in very difficult circumstances sometimes, and to those engaged in humanitarian relief in different countries in the region. Our history dictates, whether it was the Balfour Declaration, Sykes-Picot or our colonial experience, that we will continue to have involvement, because this is such an important part of the world.
On the Israel and Palestine situation, wherever we come from, all we want is for the security of the Jewish people in Israel to be assured and the dignity of Palestinians to be recognised. Once again, I thank noble Lords for their magnificent contributions, not least the Minister, who summed up so brilliantly and comprehensively and is destined richly to contribute to all our debates on foreign affairs in the months to come.
Sport: Football Clubs
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very pleased to have the chance to open this debate on giving football fans a greater say in the running of their clubs. In doing so, I declare my interests because I have for a long time been a season ticket holder at Bolton Wanderers Football Club; I should also mention that I receive hospitality from that club or, as the chairman said in the summer, “You can suffer with the rest of us”, which sometimes is the case for all football fans. I want also to mention that I am president of the parliamentary football club, a group that has done much to raise funds for charities and awareness for groups such as Prostate Cancer UK. The club also has a great interest in these issues.
Football is important to me and my family. We are all somewhat addicted, we are all regular match-goers and, like many others in this House and on these Benches, the results at the weekend will determine our mood for the rest of the week. We tend to look forward to the very end of the football season and the relief from the tension that that brings, and then immediately get withdrawal symptoms and realise that summer Saturdays are just not the same. This is because football is more than just a business or a sport. Anyone who does not realise this just does not understand the importance of our national game.
It is true that football is tribal. My husband actually believes that when you register a child’s birth, you should also register the team that they support and that this should not be a matter of choice. Football being tribal can and has brought some difficulties and problems, although I am glad to say that that is less the case today. By and large, this is a positive factor, giving fans a sense of community and belonging. Good clubs and their players recognise this by giving back to their communities, as indeed does Bolton Wanderers.
However, that is not always the case. There are owners of football clubs who are genuine fans and who suffer defeats with the rest of us. But there are owners—and this seems to be an increasing problem—who regard their clubs as just another business and who forget or ignore the essence of the club, the fans and their community. Some owners have no links and little loyalty to their club. They think that you can change club colours on a whim. Some even want to change the name of the team. As we have seen recently from the BBC’s Price of Football survey, average ticket prices have increased almost twice as much as the cost of living since 2011—all without any reference to the core supporters, local communities and fans. These owners are treating the club as a commodity and nothing more.
This is why my colleague in another place, Clive Efford, the shadow Sports Minister, has put forward on behalf of the Labour Party plans to give football fans a greater stake in their clubs. Put simply, the idea, which has been drawn up after considerable consultation, is that supporters should come together and form an accredited trust along the lines of industrial and provident societies, with their own governance standards. Then those trusts should get the right in the first place to appoint and remove up to a quarter, and not less than two, directors of the club’s board. Supporters would also get the right to purchase, if they wished, up to 10% of shares when a club changes hands. This would allow fans a say at the top level and help to hold owners to account for issues such as ticket pricing, shirt sponsorship, strip colours and even the name. My honourable friend in another place is now undertaking further consultations, and I hope that all those in authority in football will look at these details carefully.
I understand that the Government have been promising action on this issue for quite some time. Indeed, there was reference to this in the coalition agreement, which stated that it would encourage,
“co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters”.
I know that recent pressure is eventually leading to the establishment of what has been called an expert group of supporters who are going to consider all these issues. That sounds like the long grass to me. It does not give great prospect of action and that is not good enough at this stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has a Private Member’s Bill on the governance of sport. It is quite a substantial Bill—very substantial for a Private Member’s Bill—but I would like to see it go further in this direction. The noble Lord has asked me to apologise for his absence in this debate; he is inevitably abroad today. However, he has said:
“The principle of representation by supporters on the boards of the professional clubs seems to me essential.”
I welcome that, but we have to find the mechanisms to deliver that representation.
I also welcome the Premier League’s statement that it,
“welcomes the invitation to discuss with Labour their ideas on football governance”.
The Premier League has pointed out its work to get clubs to engage with supporters, which we welcome, and its funding for the Football Supporters’ Federation and for Supporters Direct, an organisation that we can all be proud of because of the work that it has done in recent years. I hope that the Premier League will look carefully to see the benefits of these proposals, because they are really positive for football in the future.
We have examples of supporters’ trusts up and down the country making a positive contribution to football. At present, eight of the 92 trusts own more than 10% of the shares of their clubs and some—Exeter City, Portsmouth, Wimbledon and Wycombe Wanderers —are wholly owned by supporters. A premiership club, Swansea, has the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust holding 20% of the shares. They may be at the centre of what happens to their club in the future. Two days ago it was reported that there was a new potential bid for the club. To have supporters there at that time is extremely good for football.
We can also remember the remarkable developments at Heart of Midlothian, when the club’s foreign owner refused to sell to the fans. The club then went into administration. However, it was rescued by the fans with the establishment of the Foundation of Hearts, with help from Ian Murray MP and my noble friend Lord Foulkes. This group managed to get 8,000 supporters —they only get 14,000 for a match against Hibs—to sign up to a regular direct debit to purchase the club out of administration. They have had support from a local fan and businesswoman, Ann Budge, and the club is now literally on the way up: it is top of the Scottish championship. That was a remarkable achievement.
Of course, not everyone welcomed Labour’s initiative, but most did and I had to look hard to find any criticism. I found an article in the Daily Telegraph that described this as “effectively nationalisation”. Either the journalist did not understand our proposals or he did not understand nationalisation, which was strange, as the same journalist praised Swansea as one of the most successful clubs of the last few years.
I venture to suggest that harnessing the support and wisdom of fans will strengthen football clubs all ways round, in business terms as well as in community terms. I believe that there is widespread support for these proposals and that it is time for action. I look forward to real progress for football fans.
My Lords, some people think that football is a matter of life and death, but I can assure them that it is far more serious than that. The late great Bill Shankly knew of what he spoke. Like it or like it not, there is only one majority sport in Great Britain, and it is Association Football. I love swimming; the Olympic and Paralympic Games were awesome; golf, cricket, rugby and Formula One are all excellent; but only one sport dominates in Britain and that is the sport of soccer.
To go to any of the grounds, many of them now long gone, to walk through the small side streets that lead to Upton Park, to Filbert Street or to my home club at Molineux, the golden palace that is the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers, is to get a true sense of why football currently has this place. It grew up out of the communities that surround the grounds. You can feel it in the streets and in the hearts of the local people who have committed to their clubs since their initiation in Victorian times. There is now an undoubted divide—some may say it is a seismic chasm—between fan and club. It is a divide which has to be narrowed if not eradicated. Anything that we can do to draw the fan, the player, the manager and the club closer together has to be a positive thing and worth striving for.
I want to focus on two areas: safety and inclusion. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority has done excellent work for the last 20 years. It was born out of the tragic events at Hillsborough in 1989. One of the authority’s key recommendations has been to have fans involved in the local authority safety advisory group. There are two important points to make. First, this demonstrates that fans should be involved in every element of football, not just with the governance of the club but in every element of the spectator experience. Secondly, and crucially, sport is nothing without safety.
On inclusion, it is great if we can have champions for inclusion on the board of directors of Premiership and Football League clubs. Spectators should be involved and connected in key positions so that they can give their own personal perspective on how to make football a truly inclusive sport: a sport for everybody. When I was part of the leadership team at LOCOG, we could quite easily have ignored, avoided or minimised inclusion, but we believed that it was the way to make London 2012 the most inclusive and, through that, the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games ever. Disabled people were involved in key leadership positions, along with people from black and minority ethnic groups, and women, through all the strata of the company. We set up a built environment access panel to focus on the accessible and inclusive build of all the stadia. We had an access, diversity and inclusion board to ensure that everything we did at LOCOG would be truly inclusive. Football is no different.
Now, as a non-executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, I have the privilege of leading our sports inclusion programme. Working with the professional sports of cricket, rugby union and football, over the next 18 months we aim to make these sports more inclusive by some considerable measure for decades to come. Yes, we want to get more girls playing sport, yes, we want to get more BME people involved across the three sports, and yes, we want to get disabled people involved to ensure that stadia are physically and culturally accessible to everybody.
Football is at the heart of the community. One key way to reconnect and ensure that it holds that place by right and respect is by making the game, the club and the experience truly inclusive. We are working to have access reviews of all grounds, with spectators involved in the process. If we can make rugby, cricket and football accessible and inclusive, it will not just make for better sport, it will make for better Britain.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for initiating this most significant and important debate. There is also in the Labour Party paper that sits behind it a very interesting contribution that is surely worthy of keeping this discussion going for much longer than this evening.
I have one final caveat. When the left gets involved in sport, caution is required. I refer to an article in the Guardian in 2003 involving my club, Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the corrections column—it is unusual, I know, for there to be a typo in the Guardian—it said:
“In our interview with Sir Jack Hayward, the chairman of Wolverhampton Wanderers, page 20, Sport, yesterday, we mistakenly attributed to him the following comment: ‘Our team was the worst in the First Division and I’m sure it’ll be the worst in the Premier League.’ Sir Jack had just declined the offer of a hot drink. What he actually said was ‘Our tea was the worst in the First Division and I’m sure it’ll be the worst in the Premier League.’ Profuse apologies”.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my friend the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, even though he plays in blue.
I declare an interest as a lifelong supporter and current season ticket holder at Arsenal Football Club. I know only too well the unique bond that exists between a supporter and a club. Often it brings frustration and despair, but also the greatest moments, such as winning the Cup at Wembley. This bond is a commitment for life and the power of football in people’s lives can bring many positive things, including a focal point for community pride. But we must remember that without fans football is nothing. Most cynically put, fans are vital wallpaper and ambient sound for lucrative TV coverage.
Until recently I was a director of the Arsenal fan-share scheme. This is a pioneering scheme that enabled Arsenal fans to buy a part share in Arsenal. As the price of one share is now £15,000, the scheme allowed fans to come together to own an affordable part of a share—called a fan-share. The FSA-regulated scheme was successful at its launch and hailed by many, including the FA, the Premier League, Michel Platini of UEFA, and Jeremy Hunt and Hugh Robertson, who were Secretary of State and Minister for Sport respectively at the time, spoke positively of the scheme as a model for football clubs to follow in terms of supporter ownership-engagement.
The scheme quickly secured almost 2,000 members and collectively they held 120 shares in Arsenal. That meant that 2,000 more fans had a small share in the club’s ownership and there were 120 places to attend the AGM and hold the club’s directors to account. Holders of fan-shares received the club’s report and accounts, and all the information that chief executive Ivan Gazidis sent to Arsenal’s supporters.
Arsenal has benefited greatly over many decades from maintaining stability in its ownership structure, and from having supporters who own shares and are actively involved in this structure. Plurality of ownership has served Arsenal well, and is the best way to ensure that the necessary checks and balances are in place to protect the club’s long-term future.
Sadly for the fan-share scheme there was a takeover of Arsenal Football Club by Stan Kroenke during the scheme’s early days. This changed everything. Despite many attempts to engage him, Mr Kroenke has refused to meet anyone from the scheme and to support its development. With him buying up all the shares during the takeover, the scheme has struggled to find new shares to buy and was unable to market itself to new members. It is now facing closure. A final plea for Mr Kroenke to issue new shares to the scheme has been refused.
In this regard it is a great pity that the DCMS has taken so long to establish its expert group on football ownership, as recommended to it by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust. If it had done so, it might have found ways to provide more support to schemes such as fan-share. While Ministers spoke highly of it, they regrettably offered no tangible support when it mattered. As the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust advised the DCMS Select Committee, there are legislative barriers, such as those contained in the Financial Markets and Services Act, that make it more difficult to promote the scheme. I welcome that there is now finally a group to look at these barriers.
We need to go further. We need to discuss how supporters are given a greater say in the way that clubs are run. That is why I welcome the proposals put forward by my honourable friend Clive Efford in the other place and by my party to have fans elected to the boards of football clubs. In my opinion, and that of many other fans I meet, clubs such as Arsenal are too important to be controlled by just one person, and these measures would address that.
It could be achieved by legislation. It could also be achieved by the Premier League and the Football League making changes to their rulebook. The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust has argued that the rules should require supporters at all clubs to be treated in the way they would be if they held equity in the club, even in cases where they do not, and to be offered things such as financial reporting in a format similar to that required under the Companies Act and twice-yearly meetings between representatives of supporters and directors and executives of the club.
In conclusion, I hope that the Government can make progress on these issues with the recently announced expert working group. I also hope that they will correct their omission of not including any representatives from Premier League clubs that face these engagement barriers. But their track record to date is not encouraging. For real change, we have the proposals from Labour and that is why my advice would always be to support the team in red.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, although it is interesting that he has just revealed to us that he is so rich he can afford a season ticket at Arsenal. I am not in that league, I am afraid. I support the football club I used to watch when I was a kid, in the Third Division North, the Fourth Division and the Third Division; unfortunately, it was unceremoniously dumped out of the Football League in 1970 and is now slowly and erratically making its way up the non-league pyramid. The club is Bradford Football Club, which people will know as Bradford Park Avenue. It is currently in the second non-league tier, the Conference North—or Vanarama, as we have to call it this year.
I make a serious point here that professional football extends below the bottom of the Football League—what is now known as League Two—certainly into the Conference Premier, where I think about half the clubs are full-time professional clubs and the others are part-time. Certainly, 12 of the 24 clubs have been in the Football League, most of them quite recently, so there is a continuous spectrum from the very top down to the very low levels of the non-league pyramid. These are important clubs. To all intents and purposes, the Conference Premier is now a Fifth Division, and is recognised as that.
The rest of the pyramid is largely composed of part-time professionals; towards the bottom, some of the players are not even paid. It is all part of the richness of the British football system. Although most people who watch football watch the Premier League, for obvious reasons, most people who play football do not play in any of those leagues. They play in Sunday leagues or in boys’ or girls’ leagues. One of the most important aspects of any review of the governance and finance of football must be that more of the enormous amount of money being paid at the top has to filter down through the system. It has to filter down through the leagues and the non-league tiers to the grass roots. Any reform of governance that does not achieve that will not be fundamental in its results.
My party, the Liberal Democrats, being one of the few democratic parties left in British politics—I do not know why the Labour Party people are laughing; if I was in the Labour Party, I would be ashamed of the way that party is now run, but that is not the subject of this debate—had a debate on football and we passed a resolution and some amendments to it. Certain key parts of that resolution do not differ a great deal from what the Labour Party is now saying. There is a developing consensus, certainly outside the Conservatives, that a great deal needs to be done to reform football.
First of all, we called for an independent review of governance. This might sound like the long grass, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said. It is really quite disgraceful that the Conservatives have blocked a policy that was in the coalition agreement four years ago. Anybody who thinks that running a struggling football club is difficult should try going into coalition with the Conservatives. Nevertheless, something is now coming out of it and progress is being made.
Secondly, the fundamental proposal that we put forward was that all professional clubs should have a supporters’ trust by law. That trust should have certain basic rights to block or influence essential things about the football club, such as the location of the club—we all saw what happened with Wimbledon, which was ridiculous—and the colours, name and essential nature of the football club in relation to its local community and supporters.
I am running out of time. I could read out the whole of this resolution, but it is three pages long so I will not do so—it is bound to be three pages long if it is a Liberal Democrat resolution. I urge Members on the Labour benches to have a look at it, because there is a huge amount of common ground and we can go forward together to develop a consensus on how to change the very unsatisfactory structure of British football at the moment.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton for putting this Question down for debate today. Football is a great part of our national life and of our local communities, and we need to have further debates in your Lordships’ House on these issues. At the outset, I should say that I have supported Millwall all my life, I am proud to be a season ticket holder and I declare an interest as such.
I very much agree with the other noble Lords who have spoken about improving the governance of football and giving the fans—the people who turn out loyally to support their teams every week during the season—a greater say in running their football clubs. Without the fans and without their loyalty, there would be no football clubs.
Like Supporters Direct, as my noble friends Lady Taylor of Bolton and Lord Knight of Weymouth said, I very much welcome the announcement by my friend and fellow Millwall supporter Clive Efford MP, detailing Labour’s plans for a shake-up of football governance. These plans will deliver on the objective of ensuring that fans have a real role in the ownership and running of their clubs. They will give supporters’ trusts the power to appoint or remove up to a quarter of the football club’s board of directors and create a formal relationship between the supporters’ trusts and their clubs. The importance of having a seat for fans at the boardroom table where decisions are made cannot be overstated. I am proud that Millwall is one of the clubs that has delivered on this. Mr Peter Garston was elected by all season ticket holders and Millwall Supporters Club members to the board of the club. I also welcome the proposal for a right to buy 10% of the shares on offer during a change of ownership.
As I said earlier, I have been a supporter of Millwall all my life; it is the local team in the part of south London where I grew up and where I live. It is situated inside the London Borough of Lewisham, just yards from the London Borough of Southwark. It is a great community-focused club with a proud history. Our songs from the terraces with lines like “No one likes us, we don’t care” and “Let ’em all come down to the Den” are known by many; some of the other things that the club does may not be.
Local residents will always be grateful for the support the club gave to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. The players supported the campaign on the pitch; they wore it on their shirts; they came on the marches; they brought the bus to the rallies and they brought the team mascot along so that the children and a few adults could have their photographs taken with him. They helped raise money that was used in the judicial review that proved so successful. The club understood how important the hospital’s survival was to the local community.
Various charities are supported by the club, including Prostate Cancer UK, Help for Heroes, the Jimmy Mizen Foundation and many others, including the London Taxi Benevolent Association for War Disabled, which raises money to send World War II veterans back to mainland Europe for commemorative events. In addition, local charities can write in to ask permission to hold bucket collections at the ground on match days. Collections are also held for the Peckham food bank on match days.
The club has refused to have anything to do with payday lenders; you will not find a single advert for them anywhere in the ground, in a match programme or on the club website. I congratulate the club for that and hope very much that, one day, no clubs will have anything to do with payday lenders.
In conclusion, I thank my noble friend for putting down this Question for Short Debate today. I wish we had more time to discuss it.
I am sorry not to be following the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney. He did a really good job chairing the Football League and I would have been interested in what he had to say. I declare my interest as a trustee of the AFC Wimbledon Foundation and a proud fan-owner of one of the most successful fan-owned clubs in the UK today: AFC Wimbledon.
Our history is one of two halves. It was born not out of a dream but out of adversity and the terrible governance by our own club and the FA. I know that that is something that my noble friend Lady Taylor seeks to improve. Let me tell our story. Our owner thought he could make more money from property than football so he sold the ground from under us. We blinked, and we were sharing a ground with Crystal Palace. We blinked again, and the FA had agreed a franchise and for our club to move to Milton Keynes. However, unlike the Bruce Springsteen song, our glory days were not behind us. Unsung heroes took two jumpers to Wimbledon Common and, nine years later, we appeared in the professional league again. That was despite being knocked for 18 points—later reduced to three—and kicked out of two FA competitions by the FA when one of our volunteers failed to complete an international transfer form for a player who used to play in Wales. The FA would not have done that to one of our rich clubs—but, as we know, in football money talks.
This rags-to-riches story of AFC Wimbledon is not a panacea for all clubs. Indeed, being fan-owned is a real struggle and the business model makes it very difficult to compete. However, just because other clubs cannot be fan-owned, it does not mean that we cannot have reform. In recent months, we have talked a lot about what divides our nations, but let us talk now about the thing that unites us: the love of the national game, football. From John O’Groats to Land’s End, from the Humber to Fishguard, we are united in our love of football. But, together, we have terrible governance. It makes no difference whether you look at the SFA, the FA or the Premiership. We deserve better and the governance arrangements at the moment are strangling talent development in our game. We could see that in the World Cup.
I ask the Minister today to adopt the reforms in the Efford report. I also ask the Government to do more. We now need a commission to have a root and branch look at the governance arrangements in our national sport. Suggestions such as this often fall flat because nobody can find the right person to chair the commission, so I put forward the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Loughborough, who was one of the architects in turning around our Olympic fortunes and was behind the medal-winning strategy in Beijing and London. There is a novel and radical thought to leave with your Lordships: a woman getting involved in the national game.
My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lady Taylor on securing this debate. She outlined so eloquently why football is not just the national sport throughout the UK, but why it means so much to so many people and how it affects them. I particularly liked the noble Baroness’s evocation of a weekend made or destroyed by what happens on a Saturday afternoon. I know that all too well.
I declare an interest on two counts, as I am a member of two football supporters’ trusts. One is the Dons Trust, as my noble friend Lady McDonagh has just outlined. The other is as a founder member of ArabTRUST, the trust of Dundee United. Both of those situations grew out of a position whereby football supporters—who, as other noble Lords have said, are the lifeblood of the game—were being treated with utter contempt by the people who own the clubs. My noble friend Lady McDonagh outlined the situation very well as far as Wimbledon was concerned.
Dundee United was in a situation where the board of directors had not even issued all the shares in the club: it had in fact issued less than half. Of those that had been issued, the directors owned 90%. When a shareholder who was not a director died, that person’s family were not allowed to inherit the shares. The club’s directors had first option to buy the shares. Only if they decided not to do so, usually because the supporter had owned only five or 10 shares, could another member of that family be entitled to inherit them, as the person had stated in their will. That was a situation which not only denied the club money, because there were people who were willing to invest in the club, but also meant that the fans were shut out, as happens in so many other clubs.
That is a reoccurring theme in what we have heard today. Fans are asked to shell out more and more money for match tickets, programmes, food and drink and replica kit and so on. They are encouraged to do that but, when they have the nerve to ask for a say in the running of the club, in all too many cases they are patted on the head and told to go away, because that is too important for them to be involved with.
That is why I welcomed the establishment of the Supporters Direct movement some 10 or 12 years ago. When I was Minister for Sport in Scotland, I was very pleased to be able to give seed-corn funding for the Supporters Direct movement in Scotland. That has grown, as has the movement in England and Wales, which is very much to be welcomed. The situation at Dundee United was that a group of fans came together to try to force the club board to open up, and allow fans to buy shares in the club and have a say in the running of it. I was part of that campaign. We found a wealthy businessman, a committed supporter of the club, who had money available and was willing to put it in. It took a four-year campaign to finally convince the board that Mr Eddie Thompson should be allowed in, and eventually he took over the club. Sadly, he died in 2008, but his family now run the club and it is much more open and inclusive.
The ArabTRUST supporters’ trust, which I mentioned, is now the largest owner, with the Thompson family, of shares in Dundee United. That is testament to the big changes that have taken place. It is very important that what happened there and at AFC Wimbledon—one of only four clubs in the Football League that are owned by the fans, as my noble friend Lady Taylor said—is seen to be possible. We are told that it is not possible at the top level. Swansea City is clearly an example of a club where a significant amount of shares can be owned by fans.
The Clive Efford initiative announced two weeks ago is also very important. This says that if clubs want to open up to their fans that is fine, but there are some which are determined to keep the door closed and it is just not acceptable for them to be run in that way. It seems to me that some clubs are appallingly badly run. I give the examples of Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Cardiff City and even Hull City. There was a proposal to change Hull City’s name to Hull Tigers, which would make it sound like a basketball team or an ice hockey team. I do not understand how a person who owned the club could have such a lack of feel for the game and what it means to the supporters to put forward such a preposterous suggestion. That is the sort of situation that would not happen if there was fan input at board level.
I welcome the fact that the expert group has been taken up. I am sorry that it has taken so long, but we are where we are. I hope that that will now begin, and can perhaps be taken forward after the general election by a Labour Government. I also hope that some of the proposals announced by Clive Efford will be brought into being, and that the very healthy development of more supporter involvement in football clubs will be taken forward.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for initiating this really important debate. As she said, football can unite communities and, regretfully, in some cases can even divide families. I am Arsenal red and my brother and sister are Chelsea blue, but there you go. That is life. English and Welsh football has undergone a transformation in terms of commercial success, the quality of football and even the experience of the spectator, but that sometimes comes at an extraordinarily high cost.
However, there is another side to this positive story, as my noble friend has highlighted. Since the creation of the Premier League, top footballers’ salaries have increased by 1,508%, compared to the 186% increase in average earnings. The percentage of turnover spent on players has increased from 48% in 1997 to 71.2% this year. With these huge rewards for owners, managers and players, who is representing the interests of the club as an inheritance to be passed on, thriving and intact, to the next generation, rather than just an asset to be sweated?
Since 1992, over half of England’s professional football clubs have been formally insolvent. Most only survived because the wider community received less than what it was owed in order to ensure that players continued to get all of what they were promised. There are no effective means for fans to have a say in how their clubs are run or to safeguard their long-term interests. That is why, as my noble friends have said, Labour is committed to having football fans on the boards of clubs.
Fans are now paying up to 1,000% more to watch their team play compared to 1992, all in order to support their club’s huge wage bills. As my noble friend said, the BBC’s Price of Football survey has shown that average prices have risen at almost twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011.
The Government’s recent announcement establishing the expert working group—promised, as we have heard, three years ago—on a way forward for supporter ownership has taken a long time to come. Perhaps the Minister would inform the House on why it has taken three years to establish that working group. The Minister of State in the other place, Helen Grant, responding to a question from my honourable friend Clive Efford, said that the group would look at very important issues such as pricing, club ownership and debt, and seating. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform the House on the mechanism for determining the terms of reference. Who, for example, did the Government consult and what prompted the inclusion of some items and not others?
While we are on the subject of inclusiveness, I will pick up the point made by my noble friend and ask the Minister why supporters’ groups from Premier League clubs have been excluded from the expert working group. After all, as my noble friend said, the suggestion of an expert working group was first made by Arsenal Supporters’ Trust in response to the Select Committee. Surely its voice should be heard.
In contrast, the Labour Party has listened over several months to the views of fans about changing the way that football is run in England and Wales. We want to ensure that those fans are heard by the owners of the clubs, too.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, on initiating this debate. She has considerable knowledge in this area, and interest and passion as a supporter of Bolton Wanderers and in her involvement in the parliamentary football club. It is refreshing to listen to a politician with hinterland; indeed, I had the privilege earlier in the year to attend a play, “This House” by James Graham, at the South Bank which seemed very much dedicated to the noble Baroness.
The thrust of this debate has been about English football or the English league, which of course encompasses Welsh clubs, too. My noble friend Lord Greaves rightly reminded us—I should perhaps refer to Members’ allegiances as I go along: his is Bradford Park Avenue, which must have been good preparation for becoming a Liberal Democrat—that the Football League goes beyond the league, and it is vital that we remember that.
Scotland and the Scottish League, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in the context of Dundee United, have similar concerns. Of course, these are rightly dealt with from Holyrood, although I am sure that there is an exchange of good practice with Scotland and Northern Ireland, too—and, indeed, with the Republic of Ireland, as the League of Ireland faces similar challenges to our own.
A generation ago, football in Britain was in decline. Most games were played before a few thousand diehards in dilapidated, down-at-heel grounds. There was often toxic racism on the terraces and in the grounds, and massive ground trouble, something the noble Baroness referred to. Overseas hosts of our matches feared the arrival of the Brits, and not because of the football. Now, five of the top 10 football clubs in the world by revenue generated, according to Deloitte’s, are in the Premier League: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal—supported by the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Collins of Highbury. Both noble Lords are clearly very rich if they can afford season tickets there. I will return to the Fanshare scheme later, but this demonstrates the global phenomenon that the Premier League is, and it is important that we do not lose sight of the progress made while acknowledging that there are problems still to be addressed, namely—as highlighted today—fan involvement and engagement and fan ownership: that is absolutely right.
The Government are committed to helping supporters have better engagement with the clubs that they back, and more of a say on how those clubs are run. Some clubs have already made progress on that. English football has a long and colourful history, spanning everything from globally supported Premier League clubs, as I mentioned, to community clubs that are coaching the stars of the future and opening up sport to enthusiastic young fans and participants.
Since 2010 the Government have worked closely with football authorities on a wide range of issues, such as governance and financial sustainability. The close partnership has seen toughened-up rules on ownership tests—seen at play in, for example, Hereford recently—as well as improved financial transparency. In parenthesis, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that Premier League clubs are all public companies, so they are obliged to file accounts in accordance with the requirements of the Companies Acts. That is true of the Premier League clubs, though not of the whole League.
There are ongoing issues that need to be addressed in relation to debt and to ownership. The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee football governance inquiry—how that trips off the tongue—of 2011 produced a final report in 2013 which made a range of recommendations for football as a whole. These included the setting up of an expert group. That final report came out in January 2013, not quite two years ago. Such an expert group, it said, should look at barriers to supporter ownership. That is important. One recommendation which was taken up, from an interim report, was for supporter liaison officers, who have been notably successful at, for example, Doncaster Rovers. All Football League clubs have brought them in. They have been a great success in some clubs and no doubt in time they will become entrenched and refined elsewhere.
Other countries have, culturally and historically, come at this from a different angle. Some clubs on the continent have much higher fan ownership, such as Bayern Munich and Barcelona, which are culturally and historically different from our own. In the English League we have some good examples of supporter ownership: ASC Wimbledon—backed by the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson—is an example. Portsmouth Football Club is an outstanding example, as too are Wrexham and Swansea. I know a bit about Swansea because I follow and support the Swans—or at least I did until they defeated Leicester City last weekend, as Leicester City is the team I have supported since childhood. They have not yet been forgiven for that.
Other successful schemes have been mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to Millwall’s scheme and its community involvement. That is something else we should not lose sight of: all clubs have great community involvement and do fantastic work in their local communities and for charities. We should acknowledge that and thank the clubs for it.
Many other clubs have worked hard to establish supporters’ trusts, which have pursued ownership or part-ownership of their clubs. This is a welcome development and why the Government have established an expert group to look at this matter following the Select Committee’s recommendation. The Minister for Sport, Helen Grant, launched the expert group on supporter ownership and engagement on Tuesday 21 October at Portsmouth Football Club, a club which, in many ways, has pioneered supporter ownership. The group was developed in partnership with Supporters Direct, an excellent grass roots organisation. Supporters Direct was established in October 2000 in recognition that clubs need to be closer to their fans and communities to promote sustainable spectator sports clubs. Its mission is to increase the influence of supporters through ownership and involvement. I pay tribute to what they do.
My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who supports Wolverhampton Wanderers, referred to the importance of safety and inclusion. I could not agree more with that. I pay tribute to his work in that regard with London 2012, which were the most inclusive Games we have ever seen. The expert group is to be chaired by Joanna Manning-Cooper, so I say to the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, we have a woman in a prominent role who will no doubt deliver. I have no doubt that she will give a warm welcome to Karren Brady when she takes up her role here in the weeks to come.
The first meeting of the group will be in November when precise terms of reference will be agreed by the FA, along with Supporters Direct and the chair. Those people are the driving force behind this. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, that this will not be kicked into the long grass. There is a commitment that this group will report before the general election. There is a feeling around the House, which I think is shared in another place, that it is important to get this right and that fans are rightly involved with their clubs. They are the lifeblood of clubs but sometimes we lose sight of that.
Consumer issues, including the pricing of tickets, will be looked at. We cannot all afford a season ticket for Arsenal. We have to help kids to get in by looking at how prices can be brought down. Some clubs which have not necessarily pursued community ownerships of their clubs have done that. For example, West Ham United has a “kids for a quid” scheme where kids often can go to a game for a pound. There are consumer issues about the pricing of tickets, the pricing of the strip and so on, as well as about the naming of a club. I offer reassurance to the noble Lord in relation to the issue with Hull Tigers. That was blocked by the football authorities; they sometimes get these things right.
Members have referred to the existing legislative framework. In the Companies Act 2006, there is an obligation on directors to take account not just of the providers of capital, the shareholders, but of stakeholders generally, which would include the community and fans—the consumers. Perhaps it is relatively early in the lifetime of the Companies Act, but these issues have not been tested in the courts yet. However, directors should be paying attention to the interests of the community and fans.
These all are important issues. It has been a very good debate. I thank all noble Lords for their participation but, once again, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this important issue to the House. I encourage people to engage with the expert group. Its terms of reference and priorities will be set out within the next month. Then it is open to people, including the Labour Party, to contribute, so that we can get things moving in the direction that we all want, do not lose the great value that our football league is to the economy and the communities, and ensure that fans are much more widely engaged throughout the football league.
Question for Short Debate
Slavery is hidden here in our communities and exists in every country in the world. It is a growing part of our national and international economy. Walk Free’s global slavery index estimates that there were 29.8 million people enslaved worldwide with 4,500 people in modern slavery in the UK. Thanks to campaigners, NGOs, businesses, trade unions and journalists, the issue of slavery and supply chains is once again under the spotlight—and rightly so. Together they have uncovered some of the worst examples of slavery in supply chains.
Over the years, cheaper transport and communication costs have dramatically changed the way consumer goods are produced. Multinational corporations now have production plants around the world, allowing them to take advantage of cheaper labour and local markets. They outsource more and more stages of their production to different suppliers in different countries, which in turn employ subcontractors to manage demand and beat the competition. In this way, supply chains get very long and very complex. One multinational business can be interconnected to thousands of workplaces and millions of workers. The sad fact is that these complex supply chains can allow slavery to thrive.
Research commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply showed that more than one in 10 business leaders admitted that it is likely that modern slavery is playing a role in their supply chains. Research by Verité found that forced labour affected one in three workers in the production of electronic goods in Malaysia. Malaysia is a major global manufacturing hub for the electronics industry, supplying the world’s most recognisable brands. This means that nearly every device that we buy has a root in Malaysia and therefore a root in slavery—roots that the ILO estimates lead to worldwide profits of $150 billion every year.
Allowing a person’s human rights to be abused in the pursuit of profit should never happen. As multinational businesses enjoy the profits afforded to them from increased global production, so too must they accept responsibility for the working conditions of their global workforce. This has to be the deal. Consumers expect it to be the deal. Through this deal, multinational corporations have the power to make a real difference to the working lives of millions. They have the power to reform their business models so that they are less reliant on outsourcing and suppliers who subcontract. Many businesses now shorten their supply chains and build partnerships with suppliers they trust.
We know, thanks to the exposé by the Guardian into the Thai fishing industry, how dark things can be for workers at the bottom of a supply chain—involving kidnap, torture, and execution—and all to provide fish feed for the prawns on our supermarket shelves. Multinational corporations have the power stop this and improve the working conditions of those enslaved by exploitative suppliers. They have the power to insist on inspection regimes and can support local efforts to empower workers through collective bargaining and trade unions.
The horror stories that we hear are truly shocking: workers getting little or no wages; passports seized so that there is no escape; locked in flea-infested shelters, seven to a room; scared into compliance by beatings and vicious dogs; and then squashed into vans to spend days travelling from farm to farm. This is not a horror story from a far-flung country on the other side of the world, but the story of slavery from Kent. Thirty migrant workers held in debt bondage here in the UK—working on a farm supplying eggs to our supermarkets and fast-food restaurants.
Sadly, examples like this are not isolated incidents. Recent figures from the Salvation Army reported that, over the past year, victims of labour exploitation have overtaken the victims of sexual exploitation for the first time. Multinational corporations have the power to insist on decent wages and formal contracts for all workers here in the UK and across the world.
Of course, the exploitation of workers producing goods for major brands is not new. Since the 1990s, charities, the media and trade unions have been shouting loudly about the abuse suffered by workers. In response, many businesses have adopted voluntary codes and developed programmes to help deliver decent working conditions in their supply chains. Many have been members of the Ethical Trading Initiative since it began in 1998. When giving evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny committee, of which I was a member, the British Retail Consortium said:
“Companies don’t want this in their supply chains. .... and retailers have been working really hard to try and root it out”.
Good businesses want to do the right thing. They understand that an enhanced reputation for fair working practices can attract investment and consumers. These voluntary initiatives are welcome and have had success. But they are not enough. Good businesses want the Government to legislate on supply chain transparency to level the playing field. Legislation would make sure that the good companies are not undercut by the bad.
Since I tabled this debate, the Government have made a welcome announcement. They have changed their mind and decided to table an amendment on transparency in supply chains to the Modern Slavery Bill. Publishing the Bill without such a clause was a glaring omission, so this is a major step forward. As I said earlier, we need businesses to help in the fight against slavery.
Looking at the detail of the amendment published yesterday, I think that there are five areas that need further consideration. First, it is essential that minimum measures of disclosure are specified in the Bill. This is vital, because we need this clause to act as a catalyst for change, creating public pressure and competition between businesses so more are encouraged to act. Minimum measures that should be included are: the need to conduct risk assessments by product, industry and geography; the need to set out who has been involved in identifying the risks; the need to set out what actions have been taken to mitigate the risks; and the need to set out what has been the impact of those actions.
Without minimum measures in the Bill, comparisons between companies will be impossible for consumers to make. The level playing field desired by good businesses will be difficult to achieve, and the Government will not get the transparency or the world-leading legislation that they say they want. The statutory guidance would then underpin these minimum requirements. Can the Government say why they have chosen to take a minimalist approach to the detail in the amendment?
Secondly, many agree that the eradication of slavery in supply chains needs to be a corporate, and therefore a CEO, responsibility. The scrutiny committee also heard from Andrew Forrest, founder of the Walk Free Foundation and chairman of the Fortescue Metals Group. Throughout his company he has established a zero-tolerance attitude towards slavery in his supply chain of 3,000 suppliers. He said:
“The only reason that we found slavery in our supply chains was that it was mandated to be searched for by the chairman. … without that leadership from the top, it just would not have happened”.
Can the Government say why this critical level of accountability has not been included in the amendment?
Thirdly, the size of the business that will have to comply with the amendment is subject to a consultation. Can the Government say more about that? When will it start, how long will it last and who will it involve? Will it be completed in time to fully debate the threshold as the Bill passes through this House? Will national and local government be expected to take responsibility for auditing their own procurement practices and supply chains?
Fourthly, can the Government say how they expect this legislation to be monitored and enforced? Once the duty to disclose is agreed, businesses will expect scrutiny of their reports. Again, to level the playing field among businesses, should the Secretary of State or the new Anti-Slavery Commissioner not produce their own objective annual analysis?
Finally, on support for businesses, we all recognise that it will take a few years for businesses to successfully map, audit and evaluate every tier of their supply chain. Can the Government say how they intend to help businesses comply with this new clause? For example, the demand for quality training for those working in procurement and auditing will increase. Businesses should, and will want to, work together to collect and share information about the suppliers they use. As suggested by Anti-Slavery International, corporations and suppliers should form genuine partnerships so that slavery is not pushed deeper underground.
When considering how the Government can help businesses to fight slavery, you have to look at the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, the GLA. Many welcome the great job done by the GLA. In the sectors for which it is responsible, it has been effective at raising standards and driving out poor performance. Given the context in which the GLA was established 10 years ago, limiting the sectors made sense, but 10 years later the limit on the GLA’s remit makes little sense. High-risk sectors—construction, cleaning, care, clothing, catering and hospitality—all fall outside the remit of the GLA.
There is a huge level of support for a full GLA review to extend its role and remit, and also to look at the fines and civil sanctions available to it. Do the Government agree that the GLA needs such a review? Will the Government look at ways to help the GLA develop alternative sources of funding? With new supply chain legislation, there must be scope for the possibility of a partnership between business and the GLA in terms of additional training, advice, and briefing.
In closing, I thank all noble Lords who have put their name down to speak in this debate today, in particular my noble friend Lord Rosser for speaking on behalf of the Opposition and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for responding on behalf of the Government. We need businesses to help us eradicate slavery. By working together, business by business, supplier by supplier, country by country, we can drive slavery out of our future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue which she has described very vividly. I also thank the Library for its useful briefing.
Human rights are not optional, so compliance with them should not be optional or voluntary either. In some—perhaps many—parts of the world, this may not seem to be the case. The more I think about this, the more obvious it is that economic factors and a lack of education—and obviously the two often go hand in hand—play a huge part in exploitation, forced labour and slavery.
Frederick Douglass, the African-American social reformer, who himself escaped slavery and became the leader of the abolitionist movement, achieved literacy despite the law prohibiting the teaching of slaves to read. He said:
“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave”.
DfID may have a claim to be the lead department in this area, save that we cannot avoid the unpalatable facts of what happens in our own country. As the noble Baroness mentioned, there is a national and international list—and it is a much longer list than I will give. It includes cannabis farms, block paving, domestic servitude, agriculture and fishing, the sex trade and the manufacture of clothing, electronics and surgical instruments. I was startled to see that in a briefing from the BMA. Surely medical products must often be so specialised that there is considerable scope for assurance as to the conditions in which they are made as part of quality control. According to the BMA, elsewhere in the NHS and in care homes there is too much dependence on local—and I would also say immigrant—labour. We should not exploit it. Others will add more to the list.
When the Minister introduces the Bill we shall have the provisions to which the noble Baroness referred regarding transparency in supply chains, with the interesting possibility of a mandatory injunction on the application of the Secretary of State. I am sure that my noble friend will not claim that a duty on companies of a certain size to make a statement is more than a step, albeit a welcome one. He will be asked what the Government have in mind about size and turnover. Is the Minister able—perhaps then if not now—to tell the House what ideas flowed from the ministerial round table held in June and from the follow-up workshops?
It is essential to work with those to whom the new requirements will apply. I know that the British Retail Consortium is involved and I have seen evidence from it. TiSC requirements should not let us off the hook, rather as turning off the tap when brushing your teeth does not make it OK to have a two-foot deep bath during a water shortage. There is quite a read across from behaviour in respect of environmental issues. I wonder whether the “nudge unit”, or whatever that part of the Cabinet Office is called, is involved. If it is not, with regard to public awareness, behaviour and response, I think it should be.
We consumers have our consciences but we do not just need ammunition to challenge manufacturers and others; we need spoon-feeding. Fair trade brands are so helpful, as are easy-to-understand labels on domestic appliances. We may respond to ethical investment and be keen on ethical auditing, but we need information that is easy to follow. The media have a big role in disseminating information and in exposing bad practice and celebrating good practice.
Not everyone, however, can vote with their wallet or credit card and the undercutting of companies in whose business model reputation is important is an obvious problem. It seems not only that reputation is important over the counter, or over the virtual counter of the internet; every employer should want to be one for whom staff want to work for ethical reasons. That is also part of a business case.
In the context of sex trafficking, there used to be a lot of reference to reducing demand but that seems to be less the case recently, which I think is right. However, both demand and supply are relevant to a range of labour exploitation. The ILO’s forced labour definition covers all exploitative purposes of trafficking except organ removal. The ILO says that the annual profits per victim are highest in the developed economies, which I think gives us pause for thought, because for the perpetrators this is about money and getting at the money is very important. The Minister has been much involved recently with the Serious Crime Bill, as have many other noble Lords, which seeks to address this issue.
Transparency International says that the Bribery Act is also relevant. Many companies have supply chains, or are part of supply chains, in countries where there is a high risk of bribery. Therefore, we need “adequate procedures”—a technical term—to prevent bribery, including due diligence on suppliers and requiring suppliers themselves to have adequate procedures. I cannot help thinking how much advice and training will be required in this field. I also cannot help wondering—I am certainly not asking the Minister to respond to this tonight—whether this House is happy with its own procurement arrangements.
In material I was reading in preparation for today’s debate, the ILO used the apt phrase,
“profits generated on the backs of … victims”.
As well as seeking to tackle slavery and exploitation, we have a responsibility towards victims. That is a matter we need to address every day but, in terms of debate, perhaps it is a matter for another day.
I quoted Frederick Douglass’ words:
“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave”.
He also said:
“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck”.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, on initiating this very timely debate at this critical juncture when the Government are introducing path-breaking legislation to take forward William Wilberforce’s endeavours to eradicate the barbaric phenomenon of slavery which still affects millions of men, women and children in our world today.
Forced labour and slavery are flourishing in our global supply chains of raw materials and manufactured goods. Fuelled by an insatiable desire for cheap goods and produce, it is all too probable that the clothes we wear, the phones in our pockets and the food on our plates may well have been tainted by slave labour at some point on their way to us. Every day, millions of victims of modern-day slavery are forced to work in appalling conditions for derisory or no pay. Their suffering is too often hidden at the bottom of long, complex international supply chains. These supply chains allow some big companies to abdicate responsibility and ignore the suffering that lies behind the manufacture of many products which we buy at such low prices. The majority are in the private sector, particularly in manufacture, construction and agriculture.
Excellent research by a number of NGOs, encouraged by newspapers, has recently shed light upon this utterly unacceptable phenomenon, demonstrating the routine use of forced labour in the supply chains of some of the biggest British high street stores and supermarkets. The real impact of the failure to tackle slavery in these supply chains can be understood only when we listen to the voices of the victims of that forced labour. Testimonies collected by Anti-Slavery International in southern India, published in its excellent report, Slavery on the High Street, give a few examples.
Anti-Slavery International uncovered the routine use of prison-like forced labour in the south Indian garment industry, which is a major exporter to retailers and brands on the British high street. Those interviewed worked at factories and cotton mills. Most workers are unmarried girls and women from poor, lower-caste families. Many are from rural villages with few job prospects. Around 60% have a Dalit background. Most are between 14 and 18 years old. Girls were forced to work 12 to 16-hour shifts, seven days a week, unable to take a break. Forced overtime is a regular abuse and overtime wages are rarely paid.
Pavani, aged 18, said:
“I would get shouted at if I refused to work an extra four hours. I was only allowed to go outside once every six months because security wouldn’t let us out”.
Workers are often cheated out of their wages, fired on trumped-up charges, or become ill and are unable to complete their contract.
“I became very ill and struggled to breathe. Doctors found cotton in my lung and told me that I had developed TB. The management did not give me any money for treatment and refused to pay me for a year and a half’s work”.
My final example—although there are many more—is that of Mukkammal, who tried to take her daughter back from the mill. She explained:
“My daughter told me that she was suffering with fever and vomiting. I met with the manager and asked him to let my daughter leave because she was so unwell. The management refused, saying that there was a shortage of workers so she couldn’t go”.
A week later her daughter was dead, at 20 years old.
Legislation that will ensure scrutiny of the exploitation and working conditions of those at the very bottom of the supply chain is crucial and is to be much welcomed. Therefore, I join with other noble Lords in welcoming the announcement by the Home Office that a measure to address slavery in the supply chain will be included in the Modern Slavery Bill.
The transparency in supply chains element of the Modern Slavery Bill differs from most legislation in that it can invite business to engage safely with the issue. It should be the norm that business is able to look for the problem without fear of reprisal. If we are to eradicate slavery successfully, it will take the collaborative efforts of NGOs, the general population, statutory authorities, business and government. Now there is an opportunity to achieve this, but it must be the Government who take the lead in creating that level playing field, and they must legislate smartly.
For maximum impact, the Bill needs a broad scope. Transparency in supply chains should apply to any business doing business in the UK, regardless of where that business is registered. This gives it global reach. It should also apply to businesses supplying both goods and services. Unquoted and quoted companies, public and private, should be exposed equally to risks of slavery in their supply chains.
Furthermore, if we want the actions taken by companies as a result of the new requirement to make a genuine difference to working conditions, it is essential that minimum measures of disclosure are specified in the Bill. This will not only meet the Government’s aspirations for greater transparency but also provide a level playing field for businesses. Therefore, requiring big businesses to state publicly each year what action they have taken to eliminate slavery from their supply chains is a significant step forward. Indeed, it may well be the most crucial aspect of the Modern Slavery Bill. It is the aspect that begins to deal with some of the systemic issues, and that has global reach. As such, it is truly world-leading.
I warmly welcome and applaud Her Majesty’s Government’s acceptance of the principle of this; but the devil is in the detail. For example, it is essential that minimum measures of disclosure are specified in the Bill, particularly the requirement that such information be published in each company’s directors’ report, ensuring direct accountability of directors. Such reporting must be annual and progressive.
I ask the Minister if provisions for such requirements are to be included in the Bill. Such legislation will both ensure that businesses are operating ethically and that those that eliminate slavery from their supply chains are not disadvantaged, thus ensuring a level playing field between businesses. This is welcomed by many businesses. A business leader in UK manufacturing has said:
“We warmly welcome this legislation as it will level the playing field for us. We are free of slavery in our practices here in the UK and we want our global competitors to be, too”.
Another business leader in favour of the legislation and involved in the supply chain for 20 years recently said:
“It never occurred to me that this was an issue until I came across it in our supply chain and I realised it wasn’t going to be an isolated incident”.
With a threshold of £60 million, this legislation allows bigger companies to take the lead and design best practices, which smaller companies can replicate to scale. Jane Blacklock at SABMiller argued:
“Anything that is auditable will shoot up a board’s agenda, where before it might have been an afterthought”.
Production, supply chains, jobs and investments are spread across continents, but the challenge is how to control processes and impose minimum standards and regulations. Concern is not about the jobs that are done but the conditions. The Bill must have global reach; exploitation is found everywhere, including the United Kingdom.
Fraser Nelson in the Spectator wrote:
“One of the most shocking examples of forced labour occurred at a gang master supplier working for Noble Foods, a UK company with contracts for supplying eggs to companies such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, McDonald’s and Marks and Spencer, and where the mistreatment of a large number of Lithuanians internally trafficked around the country was roundly condemned”.
The NGO Unseen worked with a man from Slovakia called Robert. He came legitimately to the United Kingdom to work on a farm. On arrival in the UK, the price of his coach ticket was raised from £40 to £4,000—a figure he could never repay, a figure he now owed to an illegal gangmaster. Robert was correctly paid the minimum wage by the farmer, but with no additional money and being in debt bondage he had no choice but to live in the horrific conditions provided by the gangmaster. He was forced to hand over his wages each week and accrued still more debt. His bank account was taken over and used for money laundering, and he was severely beaten when he attempted to complain.
This is happening in the UK now. The slave masters holding Robert were only two or three steps down the supply chain to UK supermarkets. How different it would have been for Robert and countless other victims of forced labour and slavery if the business could have announced that it had discovered forced labour in its supply and product chains, and, instead of denial, appropriate steps were taken for redress. This is what we should be working towards, and what I hope the Bill will help to achieve—an environment where businesses proactively join the fight against slavery without fear of becoming entangled in a high-publicity scandal of bad business.
In conclusion, instead of demonising a few and allowing the many to hide the reality, we need to move to a situation where businesses are encouraged to look proactively for modern slavery. Meaningful, effective transparency in supply chains legislation can deliver this.