Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 24 November 2004.

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Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Baroness Lockwood—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, we are living through a period of profound change in the international security environment. The threats to international peace and security that have emerged since the end of the Cold War are more nebulous than they were, but we must not be lulled into believing that they are any less dangerous or any less immediate.

The events of the past few years have demonstrated all too clearly just how real these threats are. First, the scale of violence perpetrated by international terrorist groups across the world is without precedent: Nairobi, New York, Washington, Casablanca, Bali, Madrid, Beslan and Taba (Egypt)—a trail of terrorist atrocities that respects neither international borders nor the sanctity of human life. Secondly, but of equal concern, is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their associated technology and their means of delivery. Quite clearly, the ambition that terrorist groups have to acquire such material is a chilling scenario.

Thirdly come the challenges posed by weak and failing states. All too often, those are characterised by political mismanagement and corruption, economic collapse and religious and ethnic tension. The result is: poverty, hunger and disease; population migration; and the collapse of law and order. It is a vacuum which provides an ideal haven from which terrorist groups or organised criminals can operate.

The UK and our partners in the international community have a responsibility to confront the causes of poverty and instability in the world, not just their consequences. That means working with our partners in Europe, NATO and the United Nations to resolve conflict, build peace and lay the foundations for democracy. That is precisely what we are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Against such a backdrop, this will be a significant debate. I look forward to the contributions from noble Lords, and I draw particular attention to our two maiden speakers, the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, an acknowledged expert in international development, and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green, who also has a distinguished record in this field. We look forward to hearing what they have to say. As ever, noble Lords who speak will, I believe, reflect the well deserved reputation of this House for informed and expert discourse.

Having attempted to set the scene, I should like to say a few words about the crucial role which our Armed Forces continue to play around the world. I shall return to defence policy in a little detail before I close, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I pay a warm tribute to the brave men and women in our armed services. I am sure that I do so on behalf of the whole House. They are currently supporting the Iraqi and Afghan peoples as they build a new and democratic future for themselves, having helped them to throw off the shackles of inhumane and oppressive regimes. They continue to help to safeguard peace and stability in the Balkans, as they have done for 10 years or more. They are indeed a force for good in the world.

In the three and a half years or so in which I have had the honour to serve as a Defence Minister, I have of course had the privilege of meeting a number of the young men and women of our Armed Forces. As anyone else who has met them will testify, their professionalism, dedication, vitality and—in no small measure—humour make them magnificent ambassadors for the United Kingdom and the values for which it stands. I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to our servicemen and women, and the contribution that they continue to make in helping to create a better world.

In Iraq, our focus is very much on helping and supporting the developing Iraqi security forces. We will continue to help them to operate on their own, and to develop the capacity to ensure that the security and stability of that country is protected. That is particularly important as we move towards the elections of 30 January next year. The year 2005 will be critical for the Iraqi people, and the elections represent a key step forward in the political process.

The United Kingdom welcomes the UN's role in helping Iraq as it prepares for the elections. The UN team in Baghdad is confident that preparations are on schedule, and the process of registering voters and political parties is already under way. Prime Minister Allawi is determined that the political and electoral process should be as inclusive as possible, and has made strenuous efforts to encourage both Sunni and Shia leaders to engage in the process.

The UK fully supports both the independent electoral commission and the UN through assistance with technical preparations and, of course, the vital question of the provision of security. Good progress is being made, but it is clear that more needs to be done. We have made a commitment to the Iraqi people, and will see that commitment through.

There is more to be done in Afghanistan too, but likewise much progress. The recent presidential elections were a significant achievement, and foundations are firmly in place for a country that is stable, democratic and free from the scourge of terrorism. The International Security Assistance Force, currently provided by NATO, and the provincial reconstruction teams have aided the Afghan Transitional Authority to extend progressively its influence across the country. They have been an outstanding success. The United Kingdom is working with NATO to make the expansion of the ISAF operation outside the Kabul region a reality.

The opium industry, however, remains a considerable problem and must be addressed. It finances instability, distorts the Afghan economy and is a direct cause of misery in Afghanistan and, not least, here in our own country. The United Kingdom will play a leading role in building up the Afghan capacity for law and order.

The Middle East peace process is, of course, the most pressing political challenge facing the world today. We remain committed to a two-state solution—a secure Israel, side by side with a viable Palestine. That was reiterated by the Prime Minister during discussions with President Bush in Washington earlier this month. Of course the engagement of the United States is vital, but so is engagement by others, including the EU and Arab states. The Government will continue to work with the parties, the quartet and the international community to build up forward momentum in the peace process. Noble Lords may know that my noble friend Lady Symons talked about that matter in the United Nations last week. The Foreign Secretary is in the region as we speak.

Following Yasser Arafat's death, we stand ready to work with whoever is chosen by the Palestinian people as his successor, to achieve a lasting settlement in the region. We welcome Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw all settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank, and the Knesset's vote last month in support of that plan. The dismantling of those settlements would be a welcome step forward, and in line with Israel's commitments under the road map.

The stability of the Middle East region more widely demands that action is taken now to bolster democratic practices, civil freedoms and good governance. If not, there is a risk that economic stagnation, population migration and fundamentalism could grow to overwhelm the region. As we have seen, the UK would be unlikely to be immune from its effects.

Key to change and development will be working in partnership with the region to address these challenges, and sustained support for reform. Reform processes in the region are happening; for example, in Jordan, Morocco and Egypt. The United Kingdom will use its G8 and EU presidencies next year to keep this issue on the international agenda, including through the G8/Broader Middle East and North Africa Forum for the Future process. Despite some initial scepticism in the region, there is now a real willingness to engage with the G8 initiative, and the inaugural meeting of the forum will take place in Morocco next month.

Perhaps I may turn briefly to Europe. The combined political, military and economic weight of the EU's 25 member states is giving Europe an increasingly powerful role on the world stage. The UK, France and Germany, as leading nations within the EU, have persuaded Iran to abide by its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to agree that any future nuclear development be exclusively for peaceful purposes. Trade and co-operation with the world's largest single market and EU support for Iran's accession to the World Trade Organisation were powerful incentives for that country.

In May of this year 75 million citizens from 10 nations joined the European Union. The 25 countries of the Union now form the world's largest partnership of democratic states. We should be proud of that. The EU constitution, agreed in June and signed last month, reaffirms the EU as a partnership of sovereign nation states committed to working together to strengthen the security and prosperity of all its citizens. Next year will see the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union—a real opportunity to reaffirm this country's place at the heart of the values that we Europeans share; the values of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.

But, as 75 million people have embraced Europe's ideals by joining the European Union, others elsewhere in the world are caught up in violent conflict and are sliding further into poverty. Therefore, poverty reduction will be at the heart of our political agenda in 2005. In September the UN will hold a summit to review progress in reaching the Millennium Development Goals to halve poverty, hunger and infant mortality by 2015.

But Africa is not on track for even the 2005 goals, let alone the 2015 targets. That is why we are putting Africa at the top of our priorities for our chairmanship of the G8 and the EU next year. That is why the Prime Minister has asked the Commission for Africa to take a fresh look at what is holding back Africa's progress and to put forward a strategy for Africa's future development.

UK aid to Africa will reach £1 billion in 2005 and we are on track to reach the UN 0.7 per cent target for our total overseas development assistance in less than a decade. This country has led the fight for debt relief, writing off bilateral debt owed to the UK, and we have provided 70 billion dollars of debt relief for the world's poorest countries. We are now taking the lead on multilateral debt and have made clear that we will fund our share of multilateral debt relief. We are now pressing others to take up the challenge.

We have proposed an international finance facility to raise an extra 50 billion dollars a year for the developing world. The UK is also leading the fight against AIDS. Over the next three years the Government will make available an impressive £1.5 billion for prevention treatment, help for orphaned children and scientific research for vaccines. We are doubling our contribution to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and malaria to over £150 million.

Climate change, too, will be at the top of our agenda. We will aim to reach agreement on the basic science of climate change and the need to accelerate the development of new technology to meet the threat it poses. We will work with the emerging economic powers to help meet their energy needs on a sustainable basis. As holders of the EU presidency, we will focus on economic reform and further liberalisation of trade within Europe. We will take forward the agreement reached between WTO members to begin reducing agricultural subsidies—a key goal of the Doha Development Agenda.

At the UN Millennium Review Summit, we shall seek a stronger consensus on the relationship between threats and development and work to strengthen the power of the UN partners to deliver peace and security. In 2005 the UK will be in a unique position to shape the debate in the EU and the G8 and, as chair of both, at the United Nations on the international response to the challenges which threaten our security.

The Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development work closely together, now more than ever, to address the root causes of instability in our world. In particular, the Government's African and global conflict prevention pools make funding available to support measures for security sector reform and post-conflict recovery that help to tackle the underlying causes of instability in many of the world's potential flashpoints. Additionally, the Ministry of Defence undertakes defence diplomacy activities, which encourage the responsible development of military capabilities. Such commitments are crucial in supporting stability in many countries.

So far, I have concentrated on the Government's work in partnership with our allies to build peace and democracy and to tackle the causes of poverty and instability. But in responding to the changed security environment, the international community must also be prepared to act, where necessary. To ensure that we are best able to do so, the Ministry of Defence has embarked on a modernisation and rebalancing of its Armed Forces to ensure that they are structured for the most likely pattern of operations that they will be asked to undertake; and to ensure that they are optimised to meet the security challenges of this century, and not those of the century past. Not to do so would be an abnegation of our duty to the people of this country, to our allies and partners, and, most of all, to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, and of whom we ask so much.

If we were not to engage in that modernisation, it would serve only to weaken our nation's defences at a time when they most need to be strong. We proposed changes in the Future Capabilities White Paper, published in July. It has, of course, the support of the Service Chiefs, and was underpinned by extra resources in the Spending Review 2004. The defence budget will increase by £3.7 billion over the next three years—an average annual increase of 1.4 per cent in real terms. That will continue the longest sustained period of increased spending on defence for over 20 years—in sharp contrast to what happened previously.

There will be investment in two new aircraft carriers deploying the Joint Strike Fighter, new amphibious shipping, Type 45 destroyers and new submarines. These developments will make the Royal Navy a formidable fighting force for many years to come and provide a step change in our ability to launch and support military effect onto land, at a time and place of our choosing.

The Royal Air Force will have the capability to maintain air superiority and rapidly to deploy forces world-wide. It will be equipped with modern, highly capable multi-role fast jets, such as Typhoon, with a range of modern stand-off weapons, and increasingly will be able to exploit the advantages to be gained from networked capabilities.

But it is the rebalancing of the Army which has captured the greatest attention and the greatest concern. Perhaps I may spell out the position as best I can. It is intended to provide the Army with a better, balanced mix of capabilities, from tanks and artillery at one end, to enhanced medium and lightweight capabilities to increase the deployability of our land forces. These lighter forces are essential if we are to tackle insurgents holed up in difficult terrain.

But key will be the restructuring of the infantry. By reducing the number of infantry battalions permanently committed to Northern Ireland—a consequence of the great strides we have made towards what we hope will be a lasting peace in the Province—we are able to redistribute much of the manpower free-up across the Army. That will not only create more robust and resilient unit establishments within the infantry but also bolster the most heavily committed specialists, such as logisticians, engineers, signallers and intelligence. When combined with the phasing out of the traditional, but inefficient, practice of arms plotting, for which I believe we have much support, it will greatly increase the pool of Army resources available for expeditionary operations and increase the availability of "boots on the ground", as noble Lords often like to put it.

I am afraid that this has been a rather hurried view across the fields covered by the debate. I am sure that we shall hear mention of many of the topics that I have raised and many that I have not. I end by saying that the security environment that confronts us today is as difficult as it is diverse. To rise to the challenges that it presents not only to us but to the whole international community requires us to use all the resources available to us—diplomatic, political, military, economic, developmental and cultural.

We cannot afford simply to react to the 21st century strategic environment; we must act positively to deal with the consequences of conflict, regional instability and poverty. As my noble friend Lord Robertson so aptly put it when he was Defence Secretary, we must go to the crisis rather than wait for it to come to us. That is obviously a significant challenge—not only for this country but also for our international allies and partners—but it is one to which this Government are determined to rise.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, International Affairs, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I am sure we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his very comprehensive overview. Like him, I greatly look forward this afternoon to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, both of whom will be able to speak with considerable authority on their subjects and more widely.

It is good that we are opening this foreign policy debate by emphasising defence issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has just done. After all, we are told that national security is supposed to be the keynote of the gracious Speech that we are debating. It is absolutely right that national security is, indeed, the key issue at the heart of our foreign policy today—that is, the protection of our physical security, our national trade and commerce and, not least, our national energy security. Incidentally, Ministers always seem blissfully unaware of the looming energy crisis facing this country and the measures needed to deal with it, but I realise that that is for another debate and not for today.

In today's dangerous world, the front line is everywhere, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, rightly said. National security must be defended internationally; independence relies more than ever on interdependence; and homeland security and global security are now ominously and bewilderingly interwoven. Any kind of terrorist attack anywhere on the entire planet, especially if it involves terrorists getting their hands on new weapons of mass destruction and other horrors, sends shivers and shocks through the entire global network of which we are an inescapable part.

So if it is claimed, as it has been, that national security is the keynote to the gracious Speech this year, I have to say that it seems an extraordinary time to be cutting our Armed Forces, closing down four infantry regiments, and taking both frigates and destroyers out of the ships of the line, not to mention an Army recruitment freeze and cuts in the RAF. I heard the Minister's explanation, but the timing seems to me most unfortunate. One would have thought that, in the same world, now was the time to build up our forces—modernise them, of course, to meet the demands of new technology and fourth generation warfare, but not slice them down.

My noble friend Lord Astor will, with his usual skill, go into those matters in much more detail later in the debate, but I want to add one more point on the subject of defence. Perhaps I may gratuitously give a piece of advice to Ministry of Defence officials and, indeed, Ministers. I fully share the tributes that the Minister paid to our Armed Forces and to the superb work that they are doing in very difficult circumstances, particularly in Iraq but also Afghanistan and many other places. But if they want to keep Army morale really high, then for heaven's sake can MoD officials go easy with initiating investigations into soldiers shooting people at checkpoints? I read that another one was launched just yesterday. The officials who want these inquiries should imagine themselves in the situation where every suicide car bomber coming towards them can mean their oblivion and where there are zero opportunities for a decision between shooting them and the end of their own lives. This all needs super-sensitive handling, and many of us wonder whether that handling is as sensitive and as understanding as it should be.

Surely we now require bold steps to solidify and reinforce the international security and intelligence communities and to build a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach—I believe that the buzz word is "holistic". Non-military and military, economic and informational strategies and our overseas programmes all need to be brought together to turn both hearts and minds, to defeat the world jihad which has been openly declared against us, not least by Saddam Hussein before he went down, and to outwit Al'Qaeda and its multiple Islamic offspring groups at both the military and the ideological levels. One alone is not enough.

Instead, in the gracious Speech we have—I hope that this will not sound too frivolous—a law against graffiti, which is fair enough; a law promised for fatter personal pensions for the judges—well, so be it; an attack on Eton College; and a Bill to modernise regulations in kennels and riding schools. I am sure that that will stop Al'Qaeda in its tracks.

The Government seem to think that the brunt of the anti-terrorist task will be solved by yet more legislation and by chucking a brick at our civil liberties. I realise what they are trying to do but this is an unbalanced approach—we have to say that—and I think that a more rounded approach is needed if national security is really at the centre of our considerations.

I turn to the subject of Iraq. There can, of course, be no exit there but success, which means the eventual cohesion of that benighted country under a pluralist and respected government and a return generally to normality. Let us not underestimate how much normality there is in Iraq, although we never see it reported. I think that those who say that we should now throw in the towel and who casually talk of the need for an instant withdrawal underestimate disastrously just what a huge catastrophe for many major nations a scene of break-up, civil war and Islamic extremism taking over in Iraq would be.

Every country with major Muslim populations, or those next door to them, is watching with trepidation for any weakening by the coalition or the multilateral force allies. They include India—we often overlook the Indian interest; Russia, of course, which may have other agendas, as we are trying to understand in Ukraine at present; Turkey, obviously; and even China and others. They all have a direct interest in a firm and settled outcome in Iraq and in successful elections on 30 January, as do the surrounding Arab states, which are now at the important meeting at Sharm el Sheikh. These people are our potential allies, along with Japan, Australia and others, and they are the ones with whom the new Bush administration and this Government should be seeking to work ever more closely.

Incidentally, I understand that the Foreign Secretary has gone to Sharm el Sheikh. That is perfectly understandable, but he has, of course, left the foreign policy debate today in the other place bereft of his thinking. We in the Lords will have to fill the gap with the estimable assistance of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. We are always glad to hear her views on the latest thinking on foreign policy from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Meanwhile, we can be sure that Iran and North Korea, which were described as charter members of the so-called axis of evil—a phrase that sounds rather out of date now—are watching for the slightest weakening. We can be sure that those in Tehran are now weighing up whether to stick with their latest promise to the EU3—I hope they do—to "voluntarily suspend" uranium hexafluoride production, or simply to take all the sweeteners that have been offered and, after a suitable pause, to carry on as before. I am sure that the North Koreans are trying to play the same kind of calculus and game.

Whether American policy, under the re-elected president, is up to those challengers we shall have to wait to see. I hope that President Bush's colleagues have learnt one thing which T E Lawrence taught us in Britain an age ago—that one cannot impose democracy on proud Arab peoples. All reform must come arm-in-arm and in partnership. While democracy can take root anywhere, it cannot be imposed anywhere. Our US allies may also come to learn what we learnt a long time ago, that successful projection of power is mainly about the training and subsequent use of indigenous troops in such areas.

Fallujah has fallen and many killers are surrounded or dead, thanks not least to the operations of our own Black Watch and other forces, and to the obvious relief of ordinary Iraqis. Will the insurgency, which appears to be a far more organised form of resistance by ex-Ba'athists than was previously understood, simply move to other cities? I believe that we all want an answer to the question of whether we, the British, have a close dialogue, or trialogue, with the Americans and the Iraqi Government on the strategy of trying to get rid of the no-go areas before the election. Such a strategy is understandable, but is it right?

We shall also have to see whether Mr Bush really means business on Israel and Palestine now that Arafat has gone, an issue that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, raised. I cannot help asking: was it not a little excitable and impetuous of the Prime Minister to rush to Washington and publicly demand new plans, conferences and initiatives on the Israel/Palestine issue before those matters have been properly worked out between the US and the European powers, perhaps in private? We have the road map and the Taba offer, which, alas, the late Mr Arafat turned down. But much more work is quietly needed before we should go public with loud demands for new initiatives. Such matters need to be dealt with much more carefully and I am not impressed by what has been done so far.

Rhetoric is easy, is it not? Calls for solutions in the Middle East and calls for a new deal for Africa are one thing, but consistent and solid progress is quite different. Of course, we all agree with the Prime Minister on the need for African advance, but how is Zimbabwe advancing, except into a mire of dictatorship and xenophobia, as instanced by the latest frenzied assault on all foreign assistance agencies in Zimbabwe, as Mr Mugabe kills off the last freedoms of that once great country?

Has the killing really stopped in Darfur? Her Majesty's Government have been talking tough. Well done for that, but what about the action? Is it genocide or not, and if it is genocide, are we saying so clearly and openly and getting other countries to move with us with enough vigour? I do not know, but I hope so.

One thing is absolutely certain and obvious: transatlantic cohesion and effectiveness in addressing all those explosive and tragic issues are essential and they will not be helped by trying to build up an anti-American, European Union rival bloc. I am sure that most noble Lords agree with that, wherever they stand on EU matters.

The trouble is that that is exactly what too many leading EU politicians seem to want—a superpower status, and now, it seems, a seat at the United Nations. That is repeated every day. Although the noble Baroness has rebuked me several times for even mentioning the matter, it keeps recurring. Incidentally, the UN's reform and cleaning up is very urgent. I hope we hear more in the debate this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, who has some ideas on this matter, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is very experienced. I, for one, do not accept that the UN in its present form should be the sole source and arbiter of international legitimacy. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has suggested, I believe that we need better instruments or off-growth from the United Nations for limiting sovereign power to make for a better world.

Those EU ambitions, including the drift into an EU defence separatism into which this country is gradually being pulled, are highly undesirable and destabilising developments—and yet, regrettably, the proposed new EU constitution appears to reinforce them, not moderate them. I say "appears" because the problem with the whole debate is that we are fed completely contradictory views and interpretations about the constitution document. Some say that it will do nothing very much to change things. That has been a consistent line from the government Benches. Others say that it is a huge and necessary step forward to European superpower status. It grieves me to hear those contradictory views from people I respect. They insist on making both those points at once.

The process of European integration, or European centralisation in all its arthritic and constricting forms, has been going ahead anyway, and will continue, unless—this is the key point—we take resolute political steps to redirect the European Union in a more flexible and up-to-date direction.

The constitution notably fails to do that. It returns not a single power to nation states. It blurs, rather than specifically defines, the borders of power between the EU institutions and national governments, and it certainly transfers extensive new powers away from nation states and into the hands of the EU institutions, including, of course, the Council of Ministers. It does that by abandoning the veto in 15 areas; by introducing 24 new articles under QMV; by reducing our powers to block unwelcome legislation by an estimated 30 per cent; and by talking of the ill defined and highly disputatious concept of shared powers.

I do not see how that analysis can be denied. It is there in the text. The constitution was meant to check the process and it was meant to bring Europe back to the people. Instead, it confirms and reinforces those trends by giving full legal status to the whole process, including the charter of fundamental rights, and lifting it for the very first time on to a higher legal basis to which the European Court of Justice will understandably adhere.

In short, by allowing certain dangerous trends to continue unchanged, yet giving them a new legal status, the constitution does both of those contradictory things at once: it alters very little that needs altering and yet changes everything. I say, "Let the constitution be sent to every household in the country so that people can really see what a dubious prospectus they are being asked to endorse".

For us, the referendum on the constitution cannot come too soon, so that a mature nation can speak. Everyone knows exactly why the Government hold the completely opposite view to that. So we say—apparently with the support of half the Cabinet, but only half—"Name the day and name it quick". It is not named in the gracious Speech.

I am glad that the constitution Bill will define the exact referendum question. The Electoral Commission, in a letter to my noble friend Lord Blackwell, proposed as the question:

"Should the UK approve the 'Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe'?"

I hope the Government will stick to that because I think that it is about right.

The proposed constitution is not a binding force for Europe. It divides; it does not unite. The Prime Minister's former adviser, Mr Derek Scott, remarked that it is "a missed opportunity". He called it,

"an old model, which will entrench Europe's economic failings (including 19 million unemployed and a stagnant Eurozone) and drag Britain down too".

I think that that was well said by Mr Scott.

I think that good mainstream Europeans, of whom I count myself one, should oppose the constitution in the form in which it has emerged. Of course a greater Europe needs rules—it will need even more rules when we are joined by Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey beyond that—but it does not need 300 pages of legal verbosity which will leave all the present destructive trends unchecked, centralise powers further and bring Europe not an inch—I should say centimetre—closer to the people. The case for Europe is not the case for this constitution.

We need to have the confidence in this country to develop our own European policy and, once the misconceived constitution is rejected, to come forward with it boldly and not apologetically. I totally disagree with Peter Mandelson and others who suggest that this would lead to a major crisis. I think that it will be an opportunity and not a crisis.

It is by our approach to Europe's future that we define ourselves—in what kind of country and under what form of government do we want to live, and how can we achieve a domestic democratic renaissance here in Britain? We should have that kind of leadership, instead of the sort that gives us anti-hunting bans and a PM imprisoned by his own party. As someone said the other day, there has been nothing like it since they locked up Henry VI while telling him that he could go on being King.

The PM talks about bridges, high wires and pivots. But there is no need for those precarious contraptions. We should maintain the strongest Atlantic alliance, both in foreign policy and defence arrangements. We should be constructive builders of a democratic Europe in our region—that is quite proper and sensible—based on nation states. And we should work hard to be partners with moderate Islam in ridding itself of twisted, godless and evil extremists. I was happy to participate on Monday evening in the launch of this year's Islam Awareness Week. Above all, we need to take true account of the rising power of Asia and our Commonwealth friends, particularly India.

That is the perfectly straightforward programme and strategy that our country needs, and requires the courage to need, but which neither the gracious Speech nor the Government's foreign policy generally seem to offer. But we live in hope.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords

My Lords, I look forward to the many expert speeches which we shall hear today. I am always struck by how much expertise there is in this House, particularly when I go to the most remote parts of the world and the people I meet ask me to remember them to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, to my noble friend Lord Avebury or to whoever it may be. I have discovered that wherever I go someone from this House has been there before.

I look forward in particular to hearing the two maiden speeches, although I was very disappointed to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, is not of the Norwood Green in Bradford around which I so often enjoy walking. He is apparently of the Norwood Green in London, which is not so beautiful as the Norwood Green in Bradford. Nevertheless I look forward to the speeches.

It is impossible in any speech in this debate to cover the whole range of issues. I hope that in her closing speech the Minister will say something about the situation in the Ukraine and what that implies for western relations with Russia. That is an area which I think we shall have to return to very actively in the next few months.

I note that the Queen's Speech said relatively little about foreign policy. It mainly focused on the theme of security, the terrorist threat abroad and at home. The gracious Speech said that her Majesty's Government,

"will continue to support efforts to build peace in the Middle East, to promote democratic form and reduce conflict and extremism".

The only other substantive part of the Queen's Speech was the uncertain promise of a European referendum, with much background briefing from ministerial offices about putting all this off for as long as possible, and not upsetting the voters by talking about the European Union until after the election at least.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the Government intend to get the ratification Act through Parliament before the election, so that there is a clear decision for the British people, at least to start on, or whether it is likely that the Bill will start and not be concluded by the time we rise.

I find the constant postponement of domestic debate on why British interests are caught up in further progress on European integration—a postponement which allows the Euro-sceptic camp to set the terms of the debate—one of the most depressing things about this Government. I am also depressed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, place himself so firmly in the Euro-sceptic camp.

I want to focus above all on the underlying assumptions of the Prime Minister's foreign policy. I call it the "Prime Minister's foreign policy", since it is so evidently his personal mission, with British foreign policy run from his side of Downing Street rather than from the Foreign Office. The idea of Britain as a bridge between Europe and the United States has been a central theme since he took office. Indeed, he has been remarkably consistent in holding to this idea over seven years.

I note that in his first Lord Mayor's Banquet speech in November 1997 the Prime Minister said—in his wonderful way without a single verb in most of his sentences—that what we need to be is:

"Strong in Europe and strong with the US. There is no choice between the two. Stronger with one means stronger with the other. Our aim should be to deepen our relationship with the US at all levels. We are the bridge between the US and Europe. Let us use it".

Two years later he evoked a different image. He said:

"Nearly 40 years ago Dean Acheson's barb—that Britain had lost an Empire but not yet found a role—struck home . . . I believe that search can now end. We have a new role . . . not as a superpower but as a pivotal power, as a power that is at the crux of the alliances and international politics which shape the world and its future"— the balancing point around which Europe and the United States perhaps revolve. Last week, at the latest Lord Mayor's Banquet, he stuck to his guns. He said:

"For Britain, for once the word 'unique' is fitting. We have a unique role to play. Call it a bridge, a two lane motorway, a pivot or call it a damn high wire, which is how it often feels; our job is to keep our sights firmly on both sides of the Atlantic".

There is nothing novel about this of course; it has been the ambition of every Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan, or even before that. Timothy Garton Ash in his new book has described this image of Britain as,

"the legacy of Churchill . . . an unambiguous commitment to the United States, and an ambiguous commitment to Europe".

The problem with the image, of course, is that it is difficult to keep your balance. Mrs Thatcher began as a balancer and ended up as an enthusiast for all things American and a Europhobe. John Major ended up falling off the bridge—or the "damn high wire", as the Prime Minister would call it.

Tony Blair has tipped steadily towards the American end at the expense of the European. He plays what Garton Ash has described as "the Jeeves role" in Washington. It is a nice image. It conjures up an image of our Prime Minister saying, "That's a splendid Middle East policy you are wearing, Mr President, but how about a dash of multilateralism with it? Perhaps a passing reference to the UN would make it look even better".

It is a real concern to us that Ministers now speak of the relationship with the United States with so much warmth and of that with other European states with so little warmth; that senior Ministers, as the Times reported last week, are such poor and infrequent attenders at the EU Council of Ministers meetings; and that their language is so frequently critical of the European continent and uncritical of the United States.

Gordon Brown's speech to the CBI two weeks ago was a very good example of that. He portrayed the European Union as,

"a trade bloc looking inwards on itself", contrasted with,

"a Britain that leads Europe to an open, flexible and global future".

That suggests a slight misunderstanding of the export-orientated German economy, let alone those of Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Spain and elsewhere. But those are exactly the phrases that Margaret Thatcher used to use when hectoring her continental partners. After seven years in office, new Labour seems to have turned into old Conservatives.

Why has new Labour moved this way? Well, of course, it is what the Murdoch press has wanted in return for support of new Labour. I note that the Times and the Sun were, according to the "Today" programme, the two newspapers which gave the warmest welcome to the Queen's Speech today, so it is clear that the pact is still working. But they who live by the Sun must die by the Sun. It is the engagement with Europe that is in danger of dying: a danger of a drift towards a lost referendum and, after that, another crisis in Britain's relations with the rest of Europe, which is clearly avoidable.

After seven years in office, new Labour seems to have come to resemble the old Conservatives in foreign policy. Some of the old Labour loyalists on the Benches opposite must feel about their leader the same way as Clover, the loyal horse in Animal Farm, felt about Napoleon and the pigs. Perhaps I may paraphrase Orwell's last page: "his old dim eyes . . . flitted from new Labour to old Conservative, from old Conservative to new Labour, from Europhobe to past Europhile and from past Europhile to Europhobe . . . but it was impossible to say which was which".

But if the repeated postponement of any positive approach to co-operation in the EU is worrying, with the Government's cowardice in making the case to the public that closer European co-operation is in Britain's national interest, it is equally worrying that the Prime Minister has so little to say about the drift of opinion in Washington. He could have used the prestige that he has acquired in the United States over the past three years to set out some warnings to his American audience about the dangers of their drift away from international law and global institutions; but he said nothing substantive on that in public on his first, hurried visit since the election.

Some of the noises coming out of Washington at the moment are extremely worrying; the consensus of the US Administration and Congress is now a long way from how the British Parliament sees the world. Even the noble Lord, Lord Howell, expressed a degree of concern about that. There is a widespread view that the UN is unreformable and should be marginalised. That view is shared by senior officials in the State Department and the Pentagon, and, I suspect, by the president himself. They would prefer a new "alliance of democracies", led by the United States, with its membership selected by the United States. I hope that the response of Her Majesty's Government to the report of the UN High-Level Panel, of which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has been a distinguished member, will be very different from that—a strong United Nations, again, is clearly in Britain's national interest.

There is a strengthening consensus on the American right that the European Union itself is a threat to America's strategic interests and should therefore be undermined. I commend to noble Lords an article in the November issue of Foreign Affairs, by Lawrence Cimbalo, entitled "How to Save NATO from the EU". The foreign affairs editorial team says that it published the article because it represents,

"views within the American foreign policy community that it would be unwise to ignore".

It calls on the new administration to work with Britain—and Poland and, for some reason, Denmark—to renegotiate the constitutional treaty to remove its security clauses, which, it claims, would establish,

"a federal national security executive, with the right to overrule national governments", and, in time, even to impose conscription on citizens of European countries. There is a horrifying set of misconceptions in Washington about European integration. But, then, they talk too often to British Euro-sceptics, see the French as enemies and are not better informed by a British Government which should be standing up for the balance of British interests.

Many in the American foreign-policy community now want to make Britain choose an alliance with the USA, instead of a balance between the United States and Europe. In last week's Weekly Standard Irwin Stelzer, a frequent visitor to Downing Street and an intermediary for Rupert Murdoch, quotes "a high administration official" immediately after last month's presidential election as calling for,

"a policy towards Britain that will tip it in our direction when Blair is finally forced to choose between the Europe in which he so dearly wants to play a leading part, and the special relationship with America. Naturally, we hope he chooses America. But choose some day he must".

The Prime Minister is dedicated to the avoidance of that choice. We argue, more strongly, that effective British influence over American policy would better be gained through co-operation with other European Governments, giving our combined voice more weight in Washington.

On Iran, our Government, commendably, have pursued co-operation with the French and German Governments and have been making some progress pursuing a more constructive strategy than that of those in Washington, who would prefer American—or Israeli—air attack as the answer to Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Evidently, there is now a need for a more coherent European Union approach to Russia and its policy towards its near neighbourhood. After all, the American security strategy is for an alliance of democracies, to promote peaceful order. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, that has been the European Union's greatest achievement in the past 15 years. We have extended democracy—and, with that, security and prosperity—across central and eastern Europe. The challenges now lie in our next neighbourhood: with Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasus and Europe's "near south", the countries of north Africa and the Middle East. If the Ukrainian election is resolved in favour of Mr Yushchenko, the immensely awkward problems of how far the EU enlarges, already before us with the question of Turkey, will be posed in a different form as the new Ukrainian Government express their long-term ambition of joining the European Union.

To Europe's near south—north Africa and the Middle East, the heart of the Muslim world—we must deal with the root causes of the Middle East conflict and consider on whose agenda we are doing it. Is it the dominant American agenda, which seeks to force democracy on the occupied and underplays the interconnected problems of regimes that the West has long supported in the region, or a much more European, multilateral agenda for modernization and reform, as set out in successive UN Arab human development reports?

Like us, Her Majesty's Government support a strategy that includes parallel progress on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine—we are not entirely convinced that the Bush Administration do—rather than refusing to recognise that this long-term conflict has become a symbol of confrontation between the West and the Muslim world that must now be dealt with. We also support a strategy that includes investment in education and exchange across the wider Middle East, rather than one which assumes that Western values must be imposed because Judaeo-Christian values are deemed incompatible with, and indisputably superior to, those of the third "religion of the book", Islam.

Like many on my Benches, I have argued that the importance of dialogue between cultural traditions and faiths is part of any approach towards the Middle East, including some more honesty about the darker aspects of our own religious tradition. The liberal approach to faith is now challenged by fundamentalist interpretations of faith, both within organised Christianity and organised Judaism, as well as within Islam. We are faced with a choice between a religion of love and a religion of hate. The Prime Minister, on his next visit to Washington, might usefully devote a speech to the importance of a tolerant approach to faith and inter-faith understanding.

Others on these Benches will talk about defence, about Africa and about development, on which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has said some useful things. We welcome the Government's moves on Africa and on the poverty reduction agenda. My concern has been with the underlying drift of new Labour's foreign policy and with its uncritical support for America's economic and social model at home as well as abroad, in contrast to its aggressive criticism of the European model. Can Labour Members really be happy with that drift? It may keep the Murdoch press on side, but what shall it profit a party if it gains a series of elections but loses its own soul?

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, it is not for the rest of us to survey the whole horizon. I shall look in two directions only.

The gracious Speech noted—the noble Lord, Lord Bach, underlined it—that the Government would next year hold the G8 presidency, which,

"will include working on the important issues of Africa".—[Hansard, 23/11/04; col. 4.]

In that connection, I welcome the progress already made by the Prime Minister's commission, its preparedness to seek further advice and its recently published consultation document, Action for a Strong and Prosperous Africa. In northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is some good news to note. In the former, there are signs that both sides are prepared to discuss an end to the LRA's long and vicious war. Can we be assured that Her Majesty's Government are doing whatever they can at this delicate moment to encourage Uganda to grasp what may, at last, prove to be a real opportunity and to trust and value, as trail blazers and colleagues, the Acholi and other united groups of religious leaders?

I welcome the recent commitment to peace made by 11 central African states. How will the Government support that delicate flower and assist in its realisation? I welcome too the Security Council's presence and work in central Africa. It is a critically necessary sign of the world's commitment to the needs of Africa, when so much attention and such vast financial and other resources are focused on Iraq. A further 5,000 personnel are beginning to arrive in the DRC to strengthen MONUC, the UN force in the Congo. However, fighting continues in parts of the eastern Congo, and lawlessness and danger are still the daily experience of most of its millions of people.

In the past few days, noble Lords may have seen Mark Doyle's graphic reports on BBC News Online. The pillage of resources continues on almost as grand a scale as ever; arms still flow into the DRC; and its eastern neighbour states continue to be more interested and influential and more often present on the ground than they should be. Some, at least, of those charged with responsibility under the peace accords for rebuilding the DRC maintain their fiefdoms and their armed bands in the east.

The All-Party Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention has recently published two reports. The report on arms flows in the eastern DRC, which was recently communicated to the Security Council, and the report on the group's recent visit to the DRC— To Elections and Beyond—contain important recommendations to the Government and to the wider international community. They concern the equipping, priorities and leadership of MONUC and the vital elections that are due next summer, about which critical decisions are still to be made. Those elections must be at least as difficult to organise as those to take place in Iraq in January.

I should be grateful to know the Government's response to the two sets of recommendations. I anticipate that they will respond in the context of the rewriting of their country engagement plan for the DRC. Are the Government seeking parliamentarians' advice on the plan and, if so, how? Lastly on this subject, are the Government satisfied with the performance on DRC issues of the UK's national contact point for the OECD's guidelines on the exploitation of natural resources? Their NGO partners—I hope that the Government see them as such—are not.

I welcome too the mention in the gracious Speech of the Middle East. I also welcome the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and still more the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. My wife and I spent six days earlier this month in Bethlehem, with a day on either side in east Jerusalem at the guesthouse of St George's Cathedral. Just before we left, it was regrettably invaded by an unnecessarily large Israeli force in search of the peaceable Mr Vanunu, just a few hours after the death of President Arafat.

Like most if not all of your Lordships, I had read a good deal, not least in a regular e-mail correspondence with my Palestinian friend and colleague in Bethlehem over the past six years and, recently, in the second excellent Christian Aid paper Facts on the ground, which was launched here last month by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who was in her place earlier. However, although I had read much, the realities that we saw, which so many people—Christian and Muslim—told us about and tried to help us understand, were profoundly shocking.

There are the surrounding, overlooking settlements and their network of dedicated roads, tunnels and viaducts, all on Palestinian land. The wall—it is huge—the electrified fence and the outworks of each imprison tens of thousands of people. There are just three checkpoints in the circle enclosing Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. The vast scale of such things suggests that they must have been carefully planned long before the present intifada, which is claimed as the justification.

There is the lack of visitors and unemployment at 60 or 70 per cent. One sees the rough treatment and the delaying of people trying to get to hospital. There is demeaning treatment, especially—but not only—of women, at checkpoints throughout the territories. There is the racism that explicitly says to Palestinians that they should not have decent, attractive buildings, modern equipment or good facilities and that vandalises such things when it can. Hundreds of thousands of precious olive trees—valued symbolically as well as economically—have been destroyed. Thousands of houses have been demolished, most often to punish families and communities for actions for which they are not responsible.

There are the baleful effects of all of that on people's livelihoods, health, childhood, old age, family life and education. There is the killing and maiming of so many—especially of so many children—although that does not, in any way, justify the killing of Israelis by Palestinians: each is wrong. It is all too familiar, and I shall say no more.

We are seen, all over the world, to collude with Israel's illegal, inhuman and oppressive occupation and its effects when, from the Prime Minister downwards, those who represent us lecture only those on one side of the wall about democratic values. The more that we are committed, as we should be and as I am, to a secure future for an Israel that is defensible morally and politically as well as militarily, the more important it is, especially at this moment, that the rest of the world is brave enough to be honest and principled with both Israel and Palestine.

I hope that the Minister will assure us at the end of the debate that the Government will be a lot more brave, honest and principled in their dealings with both parties, with their neighbours and, crucially, with the United States. Anything else exposes us to accusations of double standards that are disastrous not just for our reputation but for the security from terrorism that the Queen's Speech is designed to deal with.

My friend the Bishop in Jerusalem's dictum still has a lot of truth in it. As he said some years ago and said to me a fortnight ago, the road to Baghdad lies through Jerusalem.

Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour

My Lords, I intend to speak about the Israeli/Palestinian situation and Iraq, both of which were mentioned in the gracious Speech.

I returned from a visit to Israel and the occupied territories some two weeks ago and your Lordships might be surprised to hear that I returned home more optimistic than when I went, even though I was in Ramallah on the morning that a young Palestinian suicide bomber killed three and injured 40 in a Tel Aviv market. In response, the checkpoint at Ramallah was understandably in the circumstances closed by the Israelis.

But there are profound and significant political changes taking place in both the Palestinian and the Israeli societies. For the Palestinians, it would be impossible to exaggerate the effects of the death of Yasser Arafat—a father figure and an icon, but a disaster as head of a Palestinian Authority trying to establish the rudiments of government for an independent state. It is clear that the real future leadership lies with the generation of Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian Authority Minister of Security, or Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah West Bank leader currently in an Israeli prison serving a sentence for the murder of five Israeli civilians—something that the Israelis would find politically and juridically very difficult to pardon.

But for now, it is probably best that there is a transitional leadership from the generation which was with Arafat in Tunis. Some of these are reactionary Fatah old guard, but despite their efforts it has now been settled that the leadership transition is taking place according to Palestinian law, which means that the presidency of the Palestinian Authority on the death of Arafat passed to the Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Rauhi Fatouh, whom I had discussions with in Ramallah. He is in that position until a new president is elected within 60 days.

It is expected that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will be elected and that Ahmed Qurei (Abu Alaa) will continue as Prime Minister. These two men, although part of the Tunis generation, are known to be reformers and as such are supported by the next leadership generation. There is, therefore, hope that a new leadership can broker a ceasefire. This would provide an opportunity for trying to convert Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan into a bilateral negotiation with a new Palestinian leadership. This would be an enormous step forward for the peace process, but it also depends on what is happening currently in Israeli politics.

It was astonishing for me to see how Prime Minister Sharon was dependent for support in the Knesset—both for his unilateral disengagement from Gaza and for the financial package of compensation for the displaced settlers—on the votes of the opposition Labour Party and opposition parties to the left of Labour, while he was opposed by many in his own Likud Party, including in his own Cabinet, and by parties to the right of Likud. This all makes for a new dynamic in Israeli politics which, along with a new Palestinian leadership, offers an opportunity to break out of the murderous impasse in which the peace process has been stuck.

I visited different sections of the security barrier and had discussions with the Brigadier-General (Reserve) who is head of the unit charged to examine the route of the barrier for humanitarian and quality of life issues in the light of the existing Israeli Supreme Court rulings.

I am convinced of two things. First, the route is going to edge ever closer to the so-called green line, although moving lengths already erected has considerable financial costs for Israel. Secondly, the barrier, which is a wall only for less than 4 per cent of its whole length, is mainly a broad swathe of ground bordered by two wire fences inside which there is sandwiched a broad ditch on the Palestinian side, then an electric fence—electrified to send an alarm, not to deliver a shock—and then a broad path along which Israeli patrol vehicles can move.

The whole edifice could be fairly easily and quickly taken down when circumstances warranted, but it will stay as long as the statistics show so clearly its efficacy in saving Israeli lives. In this intifada an average of 103 deaths a year has fallen to 28 a year since the barrier was started and 698 injured has come down to 83. How can anyone wonder at the current support for the barrier in Israel?

Having spoken with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and also with leading figures from the whole sweep of the Israeli political spectrum, I do believe that we are at a point of real opportunity for movement. When we add to the equation an American President reconfirmed in office and therefore an administration more likely to take an initiative, I think that we have cause for cautious optimism and an opportunity for the British Government to help to further the peace process.

It was made clear to me by both sides that British initiatives would be welcome and I am confident that our Government, served by our excellent Ambassador, Simon McDonald, will make the most of the opportunity presented. I am delighted that my right honourable friend Jack Straw is today in the area for talks.

To turn now to Iraq, I have to repeat, as I have done before, to your Lordships that I still consider the military intervention in Iraq justified—morally, legally and politically: morally, because of the murderous nature of the Saddam regime, which continued after 1991 because the coalition made the cardinal error of halting hostilities too soon; legally, because one does not have to be a lawyer to see that violating 16 Chapter 7 UN Security Council resolutions provides legal grounds for action; and, politically, because this rogue regime was a threat in its volatile region and, through that, to us all.

No one, of course, can be other than disturbed at the current situation in Iraq. Mistakes have undoubtedly been made, but I have to say that it strikes me as tragically ironic that two courses of action, which I consider mistakes, were made from decisions of the coalition not to be heavy handed and to try to avoid the use of force and the risk of increased bloodshed.

The first of these two was made in not dealing with Moqtada al Sadr when the unarmed, unprotected and highly respected young Shia cleric al-Khoei was murdered in Najaf on his return from exile. Whatever bloodshed might have occurred by arresting al Sadr then, instead of waiting until an Iraqi judiciary was in place to issue a warrant for his arrest, could not have been worse than the cost in lives of the two bloody uprisings he has subsequently led.

The second was in delaying an all-out attack on Fallujah. The well meaning attempt to let Iraqi forces under a senior Iraqi officer deal with Fallujah some months ago was a failure. The cost of life both from the nest of terrorists who turned Fallujah into their haven and from the fighting now in taking the city is undoubtedly higher than the cost of life would have been in continuing with the first attempt.

As I have said, no one can fail to be concerned about the current situation, but there was always going to be an upsurge of violence to prevent the elections taking place. It is up to everyone of good will to give whatever assistance they can to the Iyad Allawi interim government so that elections can take place in January, as my noble friend Lord Bach made admirably clear in his speech. We all owe no less to the people of Iraq.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative 3:58, 24 November 2004

My Lords, I welcome the speeches to which we have just listened from the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay. They both offer an important insight into probably the most important single question that has to be addressed in the region over a long period.

Before returning to those subjects more substantially, I should like to say a word about two quite separate topics, the first of which should strike an unusually cheerful note for today's debate; namely, Gibraltar. It is most welcome to those of us who have been concerned for many years about the future of this territory to see the change of atmosphere that has taken place. We have seen the disappearance of the negativism that was the result, I have to say, of the insensitivity of both the Spanish Government and our own Government at an earlier stage. I welcome the positive attitude, but I utter the warning that, even so, much patience and charm will be necessary over a long period to sustain and take advantage of that change.

The second topic is much more sombre, that of Ukraine. It is a prospect about which I am deeply anxious and which I share specifically with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who alas is not in her place. We were both involved at a very early stage in the birth of a nation which witnessed the emergence of Ukraine, having been members of the economic advisory council to the Supreme Rada from its outset, and having together stood in Independence Square and looked with pleasure at the pictures of the Madonna and Child that replaced the statue of Stalin which previously stood there.

We must urge the Government, along with the governments of the European Union and the United States, to do all they possibly can to ensure Ukraine's stable future in accordance with the preferences of her people. On my last visit in July, I lead an IPU delegation. We had an opportunity to discuss with President Kuchma the legitimacy of the electoral process then under way, but we were by no means reassured by his responses to the evidence we presented. So I urge the Government to do everything possible to ensure the emergence of a stable European nation, prospering under democratic independence.

On the broader picture, as for other speakers, the inevitable starting point must be Iraq. I have to say that I have reached with no pleasure the profoundly uncomfortable conclusion that the Anglo-American expedition into Iraq was a grave mistake, despite the propositions advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and it has been followed by consequences alas even more damaging and predictable. It is impressive, although not cheering, to find that judgment supported by an increasing number of witnesses. My noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, who was on the speaker's list but who I fear is not in his place

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

That is splendid. However, I still pray leave to borrow some of the observations made by my noble friend in a most impressive speech some eight weeks ago at the University of Essex. I cite in particular his judgment that the expedition, made without the specific backing of the UN Security Council, pushed the whole world backwards towards anarchy.

I note the words of another of my successors as Foreign Secretary, my learned friend—as he is outside this placeMalcolm Rifkind, in a speech to Chatham House a few weeks ago. He expressed his dismay at the way in which, as it has turned out, the departure of the allied troops now in Iraq would lead to anarchy while their continued presence is the cause of insurgency. That is the dilemma of the current situation spoken of by the noble Baroness. As Malcolm Rifkind made clear, he "would not have started from here".

Perhaps even more significant are the views of Sir Stephen Wall, who for the past four or five years has been head of the European Secretariat, Cabinet Office, expressed in a speech he gave to Chatham House within the past month. It can be summed up with the phrase, "We allowed our judgment of the dire consequences of inaction to override our judgment of the even more dire consequences of departing from the rule of law".

Over and above the legality of the enterprise, I have to say that pragmatic conclusions have also caused me to reach my judgment. The reasons for the expedition have fallen away one by one. Weapons of mass destruction, from which there was an immediate threat, have vanished virtually without trace. Terrorism has also failed to justify the expedition. The pursuit of terrorists to Afghanistan, which is necessarily a huge and endlessly sustained tactical exercise, was expressly supported by the UN Security Council and, as the noble Baroness pointed out, has perhaps been successful. But the pursuit of war against terrorism as an all-embracing concept has, as the Prime Minister himself has observed, succeeded in turning Iraq into the crucible of the war against terrorism—and that in a land where there was neither terrorism nor the threat of it until we acted as we did. The legitimacy and wisdom of the regime change that has been attempted so far leads one to have some anxiety.

It is interesting to note the words spoken by the then US Secretary of Defense in 1991 when he was asked about the wisdom of regime change at the time:

"Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it . . . it's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's there now. Is it going to be Shia, Sunni or Kurdish, or one that tilts towards the Ba'athists or the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the US military? How long does the military have to stay to protect the people who sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?".

Those questions were posed by the present Vice-President of the United States when he was Secretary of Defense some 13 years ago. They are questions that have not been answered subsequently and they give rise to my pragmatic conclusion about the unwisdom of the operation.

When one surveys the future, surely it is important for the enterprise now taking place to enlist the widest possible support of the international community, as is being undertaken at Sharm el-Sheikh and beyond, in the desperately difficult task of steering Iraq to a conclusion whose nature we cannot prejudge with any certainty.

More widely, it is necessary to convince the world, and above all the world's single superpower, of the importance of the foundations of international law—international law to which we have become accustomed through the institutions of the European Union and to which the world has become accustomed through the much less comfortable and clockwork-like institutions of the United Nations. We look forward in due course to the recommendations on those of the panel to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has been appointed. If we are to achieve the most out of that, I shall repeat what I have said on previous occasions: it is crucial that we are able to mobilise the potential unity of the countries of the European Union, not to present them as a challenger or rival to the United States, but as another partner in the transatlantic partnership, contributing the collective wisdom of the nations of the European Union, which together can be much more effective than the fragmented input of our nations separated from each other, as they have been.

The special relationship we claim can be matched by other nations in their own claims to special relationships. The relationship we require is a grown-up one between the countries of the European Union, all of which need far more effective leadership than they have had over recent months in order to present a balanced future for the world.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, I am in my second month in this House and no one could have made it a more welcoming experience than its staff and Members. For that I am truly grateful. I shall certainly never forget the aplomb with which my unruly family was treated, having managed on the day of my introduction to spread about a great deal of chocolate cake, to break into unprecedented song in the Barry Room, and even to get lost.

To an outsider this place is somewhat confusing, and I speak of more than its geography. I suspect that it is equally confusing to those not privileged to join it, a suspicion confirmed by a recent correspondent to one of the national dailies who reported having woken from a terrible dream in which apparently the Government had banned the smacking of foxes. However, what I have learnt in a very short time in this House is that it is much occupied with the protection of individual liberties and freedoms, and the demonstration of democracy. Those are concerns close to my heart because it seems that such freedoms are under threat the world over.

I have spent much of my working life in fairly inhospitable parts of the world—among the repressed, the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. In all those countries, one comes across individuals who treasure democracy often more than they treasure their freedom and, indeed, their lives. It is a humbling experience to face young people—people young enough to be one's children—who choose imprisonment and even torture in their struggle for democracy and its institutions.

I have not generally found any ignorance about democracy itself, what it means and why above all else it must be achieved. From those dumped in the remotest deserts of Bophututswana during the apartheid regime in South Africa to those rural workers in the newly emerging nations of eastern Europe, democracy is recognised as much more than free and fair elections.

To these people, democracy means adherence to the rule of law by government as well as by its citizens; the opportunity to question decisions made by governments which affect people's lives and livelihoods; and to be able to succeed in changing policy. The task more usually is not to persuade people of the benefits of democracy but to help in building the institutions which will ensure that democracy, once achieved, will be maintained.

The Government have been magnificent in supporting these efforts and, despite the violence that we witness daily in the world, one must never forget how great has been the transformation in certain countries during the past decade. But we all know that democracy is just that—a process—and that it has to be nurtured. This is why the smallest freedom has to be defended, sometimes very vigorously.

The world has become a frightening place and we are in danger of losing long cherished freedoms in the interests of safety. No one can fail to be alarmed at the erosion of individual liberties in former bastions of democracy while, at the same time, acknowledging the onerous responsibilities that governments hold in protecting their citizens. However, today, too often guilt of a crime is assumed rather than proven; journalists are being forced to reveal sources; citizens can be questioned about their choice of reading; and some are being returned to countries where it is known they will be tortured. If this trend continues we will be in danger of destroying the very democratic system for which we are all fighting.

In the past few weeks I have heard these concerns expressed in this House and it makes me feel rather at home. Far more importantly, the debates in the House can and do have enormous relevance in the outside world. This is not the mother of all Parliaments for nothing. I well remember talking at an international workshop in southern Mexico many years ago and being approached by a gentleman from Papua New Guinea who wanted to know how he could subscribe to Hansard. He hardly spoke English and at that time in his country citizens were not allowed to see, let alone read, their own constitution. Nevertheless, he felt that to have access to such reports would light the way ahead for him and for his country. The House, along with many other democratic institutions, has a duty to hold on to the liberties won over many hundreds of years and which continue to represent an ideal to which others aspire.

Lest we be fearful of imposing western democracy on other cultures, we should also remember that democratic values, despite their fragility, constitute perhaps the most continuous, ancient and permanent tendency known to history.

The two vital social traditions of tolerance of different viewpoints and the encouragement of public discussion are enshrined in this House, and I am delighted to be here.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. She comes to us with a formidable reputation for campaigning in the field of human rights and with a great deal of expertise and experience at her disposal in international affairs. We very much welcome her and look forward to hearing a great deal more from her in the future.

I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on foreign affairs. I did so last year and, since then, little seems to have changed—except perhaps for the worse. Last year I spoke in opposition to the war in Iraq, and what has happened since then has simply strengthened my view.

It is clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; that, in all probability, the Iraqi Government were speaking the truth when they told the Security Council that they did not have any and that they had been destroyed. We were, however, told by our Government that no one in the world could believe a syllable of this.

In fact, many people did. Our infamous dossier was described as propaganda; France and Germany were sceptical and wanted the inspectors to be given more time; and there was a popular anti-war campaign throughout the world, including in countries such as Spain and Italy, whose governments supported the war and provided troops for the coalition.

Attempts are now being made to justify the war on other grounds, including on the nature of the tyranny of the regime of Saddam Hussein. "The world is a better place without him", we are now told, as if this in itself is a justification. I do not think it is.

The issue has become enormously divisive. Divisions about it are not confined to one party. Although only one party, the Liberal Democrats, took an anti-war position from the beginning, prominent members of the Conservative Party as well as members of my own party feel the same way. There is a wide gap in understanding between those on either side of the argument.

Speaking as one who opposed the war from the outset, I have always been concerned about the effect of modern war on civilians. In recent years we have seen warfare on television as spectators, but my generation can remember, to some degree, what war is like. When we see aerial bombardment on television, we can recall what it is like to huddle in an air raid shelter and hear the bombs come down—what a terrifying noise it is—and to witness the carnage they cause. Modern warfare inevitably injures and kills the civilian population, whatever we may be told about targeting.

It is not only a matter of deaths and injuries, awful as these are, but also the total disruption of civilian life—the loss of homes, often of jobs, of water and power supplies—and the trauma and the illnesses suffered by the survivors. For the people concerned it is a total catastrophe. We have just seen on television Fallujah being reduced to rubble, with insurgency continuing in other parts of Iraq and the Red Cross berating all sides in the conflict for their lack of humanity. This is a very nasty war and the sooner we can disengage from it the better. We have no idea of the number of Iraqi casualties throughout this conflict, but it is bound to be very high.

It is no accident that after the Second World War the victorious nations devised a charter for the UN which made it as difficult as possible for an aggressive war to be mounted. They had suffered enough. Millions had died and much of Europe and Asia was devastated. As a result, the charter provides for the use of force of arms only when the Security Council, having ascertained the existence of a threat against peace or an act of aggression, deems it necessary to use force under its direction and control, as in Articles 39 and 42. In other words, the United Nations charter places the legitimate use of military force strictly in the hands of the Security Council, denying it to individual nation states. The only exception to this is the right of self-defence of a state that is attacked by another state or group of states.

Despite the impressive statement of my noble friend Lady Ramsay today, I still find it difficult to understand why the war is regarded as legal. It is claimed that Iraq disobeyed a large number of UN resolutions, but all these appear to have been based on the assumption that there were weapons of mass destruction. If they did not exist, the Iraqis could claim that they had complied. Moreover, there is no provision in the United Nations charter for "regime change".

It has been argued that the UN needs "modernisation"; that there should be authority for intervention, including military intervention, on humanitarian grounds. The Kosovo case is sometimes quoted as an instance in which intervention was allegedly successful and that it did not arouse the opposition occasioned by the invasion of Iraq. However, there was opposition. I did not believe that military intervention was either proportionate or justified and I said so at the time, as did a number of others. Seventy-eight days of continuous aerial bombardment of a largely unprotected civilian population after the United Nations Security Council had been bypassed was not acceptable to a number of us.

We are told that the intervention "sorted out" the problems. I do not think so. Ruthless military intervention rarely does. The victorious Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, set about its own ethnic cleansing of anyone who was not Albanian, including the Romany people who had lived unharmed under the previous administration. More than 200,000 Serbs whose families had lived in Kosovo for generations have been forced out into refugee camps. Some who remained were simply murdered. Ethnic tensions persist. There is a very high unemployment rate, and a vicious, Albanian-led mafia has emerged, profiting from drugs and people trafficking, including the trafficking of young women for the sex industry. That was some "sorting out".

So can an interventionist policy of a military nature be justified and, if so, in what circumstances? Is the West right to say that it wants to spread democracy throughout the world and that this is the way to make the world a safer place? And what role is envisaged for the UN in such a range of policies?

What do we mean by "democracy"? Some may feel that the United States supports democracy only when elections result in leaders of whom it approves. After all, Yasser Arafat was elected and he clearly had the full support of the Palestinian people, but the United States Government would not deal with him.

Does "democracy" involve total commitment to the free market? In the eyes of the United States Government, the answer is probably yes, but not always for others, who may still have a commitment to a degree of public ownership. So campaigns to impose a United States-style democracy may not always attract the kind of support that is anticipated.

As for Iraq, much of the Arab world appears to believe that the motives of the West are neither democratic nor humanitarian but are simply concerned with oil. This is a very widespread view.

There are, of course, situations where it is clear that, often as a result of civil war, the sufferings of the civilian population demand some kind of international reaction. But this should not involve unilateral military action—indeed, the UN charter does not allow for this. Intervention by means of the B52s is likely to add to the deaths and injuries. However, the wealthy nations of the world possess enormous economic power which could be deployed effectively under UN authority.

These are complex and difficult issues which require international consensus. The UN, despite its flaws, is the only organisation available through which international power can be legitimately exerted. We must strengthen and support it. I am therefore glad to note that the Queen's Speech promises that the Government will work with the international community to strengthen the United Nations.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, on her quite excellent maiden speech. It seems to me that the Government's programme will give her plenty of opportunity to talk about human rights in the coming Session.

I should also like to say what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, even if I disagree with her views on the Iraq war. Her husband was twice decorated for gallantry and was a very fine serviceman.

I found the gracious Speech disappointing on defence. The Armed Forces were not mentioned at all, nor did they even receive a commendation for what they are doing throughout the world. There is great controversy over manpower and equipment cuts in the Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army, with regiments and squadrons to be disbanded and ships to be put out of commission. The cuts are so great and so complicated that I believe it will take years for the services to recover, and recruiting may never recover.

The regimental cuts could be and must be avoided. If the Government say that there is to be no reduction in money for defence, as the Chancellor and the Prime Minister regularly do, then let us use what we have more effectively. The Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on Defence in another place and the National Audit Office have all commented on the massive failure of procurement. Millions and millions of pounds have been lost which could easily have paid for the four battalions. Why should servicemen carry the can for incompetence in the MoD?

The Army and the services are doing splendid work in Iraq, eastern Europe, Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere. I declare an interest, as a former Inspector General of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, which is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary. They were deployed in numbers to the Gulf. Indeed, one airfield near Kuwait was entirely defended by reservists with an auxiliary, Squadron Leader Launder, in command.

I hope that on return from their service abroad—and this goes for the Territorials and all reservists as well—they are getting their jobs back from their employers, as they should. Otherwise we will have great difficulty in future call-outs, and indeed in recruiting. Perhaps we should consider extending the call-out obligation from one year in three to one year in five.

I now declare a second interest in this world of declaring interests. Two sons, a father, two grandfathers and one great-grandfather, were all in Highland regiments, and three have been colonels of their regiments. In my former constituency of Dumfries, the King's Own Scottish Borderers was the constituency regiment for Dumfries and Galloway and, of course, the Borders. Its huge regimental district stretches from Berwick to Stranraer. So, naturally, I am extremely interested and concerned when a battalion has to be cut from the Scottish division.

I am not going to place one regiment before another; I want all six regiments to be retained. MoD savings should manage to pay for that extra battalion. I equally understand the problems in England and Wales, and feel that their three battalions should be saved as well.

Terrorism is our enemy. The Government very frequently pronounce that they are tough on terrorism. But what do they do? They cut the infantry. Battles are not won or peace maintained by technology alone. Both require infantry, and that branch of the Army is grossly overstretched. What a message to send to Al'Qaeda or bin Laden, that we are cutting four battalions from our vital infantry supply.

Who is in charge of this folly? The Prime Minister and the Government say it is an Army Board decision, but it must be a political decision. I cannot believe that decisions such as sending the Black Watch north from Basra had other than a political content. It surely was a political decision as well as an Army Board decision. After all, the Prime Minister said that it was an operational decision to go north, then he said that it was a political decision to make certain the Black Watch is back by Christmas. How right that that should happen. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the regiment will be back in the United Kingdom by, say, 21 December, in order to get home for Christmas as a reward for its brilliant work in Iraq.

When is the decision on cuts to be made? Different dates are given in different newspapers, but we believe it to be early December. Ministers, after all, are on the Army Board. What input do they have in this decision? It is a very political decision. Does the board understand the feeling in Scotland, where the newspapers have, rightly, been running a great campaign to retain the Scottish regiments? It will be a major disappointment if that eventually turns out to be a false hope. It will be dreadful for the regiments and dreadful for recruiting. The people of Scotland are deeply concerned about it.

Those on the Council of Scottish Colonels were put in an invidious position. Whatever they thought—and we can well imagine what that was—they had to produce an answer. If not, the Army Board would produce it for them. Certainly they were not craven in the decision they made; they made the best of a very difficult situation.

In Scotland, we all feel that this is not the time to lose the Royal Scots or the King's Own Scottish Borderers, both fine regiments with great histories. Of course, there must be evolution within the Ministry of Defence and our services, but surely the arms plot is not so inflexible that it cannot be looked at again. Battalions could move around less frequently. Families could be allowed to settle longer in their homes and children longer at their schools. But that looks as if it is going to be even more difficult in the future if we take a major part in the rapid-reaction European army.

The MoD may say that our battalions are under-strength, but they are not so by very much—we are talking in 10s, 20s and 30s. That situation was improving before we had the summer moratorium on recruiting. These proposals would make recruiting even harder. If we were short of school teachers, we would not shut down the schools; we would go out and try to recruit more teachers. That is what we should be doing with the Army. It should try even harder in its regimental areas, where it is in close touch with communities and where it is so popular.

As is raised frequently by the MoD, there is of course cross-posting within the Scottish division, which works very satisfactorily indeed. These decisions on cuts are very important for the country and its place in the world. Losing four battalions will have a major impact on our capabilities and our onward strength. I hope that the Ministers and the generals will think again.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Liberal Democrat 4:31, 24 November 2004

My Lords, providing security was a strong theme of the gracious Speech and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, rightly spoke of the challenges we face, particularly in the defence field. We have often said in this House that our armed services have continued to operate impressively in all they have been asked to do. We are indeed fortunate to have such dedicated and professional service men and women to call on for an extraordinary range of tasks.

However, it is often said that, when it comes to the battle for resources, the armed services are their own worst enemy. Despite successive cutting of force levels, problems over equipment and under-strength units, they manage to complete each and every operation with distinction. In the hard world of public sector funding, there is no reward for such success; the reverse is the case. Failed enterprises are top of the list for extra resources. Defence resources since 1997 have just about kept level with inflation and we are grateful for that, but of course every other part of the public sector has done much better than that. I would caution Her Majesty's Government to think hard about the long-term health of Britain's Armed Forces. In that respect, I would like briefly to address three linked issues: commitments, personnel and, as the Minister did, future policy.

On commitments, the Defence Select Committee, in its June report, stated:

"Since the SDR of 1998, it has been apparent that the Armed Forces have been over-stretched and not simply in a few specialisms as claimed by the MoD".

Overstretch is an often misused concept. The military can react to surge demands and deliver 110 per cent effort. Indeed, that is what the military ethos is all about. The difficulty comes when such efforts are called upon repeatedly, with little time for broader training between demanding operational tours. It is cumulative and insidious. There are few signs that Her Majesty's Government are facing up to this problem.

On our commitments, we have Iraq as a central priority for some time to come. We need to manage that commitment wisely. In Afghanistan, we again have a responsibility as we have heard. Our contribution to the NATO force is relatively modest, but looking forward to when the ACE Rapid Reaction Force headquarters deploys to Afghanistan next year, we will, as the framework nation, presumably find ourselves with a larger commitment. In the Balkans, we appear to expect to take a lead role as NATO hands over to the EU in Bosnia at the end of the year. And Kosovo is not going as well as we might have hoped.

Presumably, we would also wish to be involved in any international security arrangement that flows from progress over peace for Israel and Palestine. In Africa, the tasks continue for all our military. The excellent news that the European Union is to develop a number of battle groups for rapid deployment comes with extra commitments for our troops. We will expect our Armed Forces to deal with many other tasks and contingencies. I look for reassurance from the Minister that we have a strategic, long-term approach to keeping our global commitments more in balance with our force size.

Your Lordships have much debated the changes inherent in the Government's latest defence White Paper. The Defence Select Committee has stated:

"We do not believe that effects-based operations and networkenabled capability justify a reduction in the current scale of the UK's Armed Forces".

That has been a refrain in earlier speeches. But it is going to happen and will exacerbate the over-commitment problem for the sustained stabilisation operations in which we find ourselves engaged. Bizarrely, it means that, at a time of overstretch, we are looking yet again at redundancy in the services. This will be the third major downsizing since the end of the Cold War. I am sure the Prime Minister has now been briefed that we are looking at real reductions in the numbers of people in each of the three services.

It appears that compulsory redundancies will be needed only in the Royal Air Force—and there is a significant reduction there—and that natural wastage will be used in the other two services. I would ask the Minister to take a personal interest in how the process is handled. It is a question not only of sensitive management of those who are asked to leave, or who are not to be re-engaged—often after many years of loyal service—but also of the effect on those who remain. We have seen redundancy schemes in the past which, because of poor handling, have had a long-term adverse effect on morale. A second aspect of the draw-down is ensuring that its phasing does not make worse the shortfalls in units and compound yet again the overstretch problem.

Finally, I address the question of future defence policy. We are still equipping to meet the framework that was set out in the Strategic Defence Review of 1998, but we have had to rebalance that given the emphasis of, and the changes described in, Delivering Security in a Changing World. Getting that balance right is extremely difficult for any government. No defence White Paper of which I am aware in the past 25 years has stood the test of time.

The Government are making long-term plans for an uncertain future. Past experience suggests that we will always have to be flexible with our Armed Forces and use them with whatever capabilities they have to hand on the day. For this reason, it is vital not to be too prescriptive, but to look for general-purpose capabilities. I am concerned that we may find ourselves in a futile chase to keep up with novel, American approaches to warfare. The gracious Speech looked for the continued effectiveness of NATO. That will come from working with our European Union partners to develop capabilities to contribute more effectively to global security needs.

On this occasion, I am going to refrain from picking over the bones of the National Audit Office's concerns about procurement cost overruns. I am sure that the Minister will be grateful for that. Such rises in costs as come from defence procurement are endemic to the system. My real concern is that successive governments bail themselves out of those problems by cutting back on personnel. The latest NAO report, of last week, on urgent operational requirements for Iraq 2003 shows that we can actually do quite well and get much of the equipment we need at relatively short notice in an emergency. I offer my congratulations to the Ministry of Defence on how well it did in that circumstance. However, what we cannot do is whistle up trained and experienced service men and women at short notice, whether they are helicopter pilots, sappers, sailors, or military doctors. If the Armed Services are provided for emergencies, they must have some slack in their establishments.

The gracious Speech was strong on the threat to the UK from international terrorism. The Defence Select Committee, in its fifth report in June, worried about the fact that the Ministry of Defence presumes that its role in homeland security will be undertaken by whatever is not being used for other tasks. I tried, and failed, to get a specific duty in this respect to be put on the Ministry of Defence in the Civil Contingencies Bill. The Defence Secretary has said that it would not be sensible to have,

"highly trained, extremely expert Armed Forces waiting for the threat to arrive in the United Kingdom".

I believe that that is exactly what we need. If there were to be a large-scale terror attack in the UK which perhaps involved CBRN agents, we would see a very marked reappraisal of where our defence priorities lay. Will the Government undertake to review the contribution that they require of the Armed Forces in the direct defence of the United Kingdom?

Providing security is more than just a defence policy; it is a balance between foreign policy, international development and defence. I look forward to listening to the views of other noble Lords in those areas.

Photo of Baroness Strange Baroness Strange Crossbench

My Lords, with a list of 48 speakers, I shall try not to irritate your Lordships by speaking for too long. First, I thank my noble friend Lord Bach for all that he has done for the war widows and for his kind and generous words about them and myself on Wednesday 17 November, when I was not able to be in the House.

I shall only reiterate what many noble Lords have already said—although I am sorry that we shall not hear the authoritative voices of my noble and gallant friends Lord Bramall, Lord Boyce, Lord Craig of Radley, Lord Inge and Lord Vincent. However, I shall say it differently, like the man on the blue guitar. I shall speak on defence, and I have only two points to make.

First, although we have fewer people than many other nations and we are only a small island—well, lots of small islands—we are still a major player in the world's foreign policies and can still punch above our weight. We have given to the world our system of justice, our constitution and our language. Although the first two seem to be cracking considerably at the seams, the English language remains one of our gems. So do our Armed Forces—and it is because of their total excellence that we have for so long been able to contribute so splendidly to world security. However, they are now under considerable strain. The regimental system is being attacked at home, while they are fighting abroad. Vast and unpalatable changes are being made. It is like when the Government tried to get rid of counties and make huge amorphous areas. That did not work, and we had to go back to where we were, more or less. Change should be like the tide or the seasons: there, but imperceptible.

My noble friend the Minister has painted a bright picture of new equipment and more money for the defence budget. That, of course, is all very nice—but on what is all the new money to be spent? Without frontline people, properly equipped, trained and rested, no number of civil servants in the MoD or sophisticated new weapons are any use at all. Some years ago, I was in an aeroplane with Sir John Betjeman and his teddy bear, Archie, and we talked—and, because I was Scottish, he jotted down a little Scottish verse he had written on a piece of old paper. It ran something like this:

"Pittenweem, Pittenweem, Pittenweem for policies, We didna gie the kiddies cream For fear it gie'd them boluses— Och aye, Pittenweem, Pittenweem for policies".

I never knew what "boluses" were, but "policies" was used in the old Scottish way, meaning gardens and ornamental land around mansion houses. Policies need people to preserve them. They need people to cut the lawns, to sweep the leaves, to trim the hedges and stop them becoming a wilderness. So do foreign policies, in the more ordinary sense of the word, need people. They need—which we still have—a magnificent force of service personnel to support them. Whatever we do, we must not cut down our regiments. We need all our regiments, especially our Scottish regiments, and particularly my local regiment, the Black Watch.

Even this afternoon, in No. 10 Downing Street, the Lord Provost of Perth and other important people are telling the Prime Minister how many people in Scotland will vote for the party that retains the Scottish regiments as they are now.

For the past fortnight, many of your Lordships, as I have too, have attended memorial services, laid wreaths of poppies for the fallen, comforted the widows and orphans and prayed for the living. I think the time has come to listen to our hearts.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I shall begin with a story. Once upon a time there was a boy who was trusted with, though he did not own, a fine box of toy soldiers, and told to take good care of them. He discovered that, if he took them to parties, other children thought he was wonderful and played with him. His distant cousins, UN and EU, and even AU, quite often borrowed his soldiers and forgot to send them back. Incidentally, though he had only one box, he had promised first refusal to his friend NATO.

One day he woke up to find he had only a few brave little tin soldiers trying to march gallantly and fight without having even proper swords to fight with. Meanwhile his younger brother, who liked playing supermarkets and Monopoly, thought the soldiers a terrible waste of time, though he did try out on them some of the secret charms of his friend, The Wicked Treasury Witch, such as NECs and resource accounting. This demonstrated how much money could be saved by not painting them or mending their swords, and what a waste it was when they went on marching anyway. The odd thing about this story is that the first boy never lifted a finger to protect the loyal tin soldiers. That is the end of the story, but not of the troubles of the Armed Forces, for we are dealing with real soldiers and real families.

The admirable Defence Committee in another place believes that British military forces are designed for serious military duties other than simply peacekeeping. The unique nature of MoD and defence business makes the application of resource accounting to it in some cases slightly strange. The committee admits that the policy was Treasury-driven and MoD-endorsed, while,

"Parliament voted for it . . . without understanding it, and . . . without any responsibility".

The committee recognises that developments since 1988 are making the SDR look increasing out of date and that service men and women have been working at or near, and in some cases beyond, the boundaries of what was planned for some considerable time now. It recognises that there is still no substitute for numbers and that any reduction in the establishment of the Army would be premature. The Government, it says, must recognise that the Armed Forces are simply not large enough to sustain the pattern of operational deployment since the SDR on a permanent basis, without serious risk of damage to their widely admired professional standards. Incidentally, I endorse most strongly all the admirable remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Garden.

The constant addition of more tasks, which can only create roulement and training problems, not just lack of skilled manpower, is exemplified in the planned rapid response battle groups, each of 1,500 men, to be available at 15 days' notice for both peacekeeping and combat missions under the EU flag. First, they are duplicating NATO so far as combat missions are concerned. We have only one set of men and they will be wearing, so far, four hats: the EU, the UN, NATO and our own national defence, which has become more rather than less important. Only we and the French are capable of producing a 1,500 strong battle group: the other EU countries have neither the men, the resources nor the training.

Who shall we be working with and for? Foremost is the UN, which the EU intends to assist in this way. Forty per cent of the UN's resources are already contributed by the EU. Presumably the United States foots most of the rest of the bill. A UN panel is even now looking at a failed institution whose own senior management feel no confidence in it after a series of failures ranging from wholly ineffective peacekeeping under mandates which provide presence but no protection, to serious corruption in the Iraq Oi1 for Food programme. Incidentally, the issue of oil was one on which both the French and Russians—but not we—had their own agenda. There is also corruption in the rest of the UN.

There is no hope of effective UN sanctions against the Khartoum government being agreed, it seems, because China and Russia have too much to lose in arms sales and the sale of jets. Others in the Security Council, the AU and the General Assembly have effectively prevented one word being said by the so-called guardian of human rights about Zimbabwe and the slow destruction of a people.

The Brahimi report some three years ago recognised the total inability of the UN to exercise effective command and control, and the EU has only a most limited experience. Some 16,000 troops spent at least three years doing absolutely nothing to end the war in Sierra Leone. The job was finally done by some 1,200 British troops in a week or so. The UN was totally useless in the Congo in 1960–62, as I can say from personal experience, and is so now.

Incidentally, the original EU plan to fund an African army from development funds to intervene in conflicts in Africa has been quietly changed. It appears that it is now the EU troops who will be expected to bring emergency situations under control—that is the phrase—before handing over peacekeeping tasks to African soldiers. Does that mean British troops in the Sudan?

I thought that we were right to go into Iraq, although it is a matter of concern that our troops are now to be expected to stay there until the end of 2005. However, I firmly believe that, first, there are now too many tasks for too few resources. It seems an unending and uncontrolled process.

Secondly, the Armed Forces are not a business and it is deplorable that the Treasury's policy is to force the sale of essential services to the private sector, which is going on all the time, where the forces have real expertise, for instance the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. Proper accounting is one thing. Asset-stripping is quite another. Our defence policy is being driven not by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but by the EU and the Treasury. We cannot afford that. We should put all our energy into making the UN viable and worthy of respect, before we commit our valued Armed Forces to any UN adventure with no visible exit strategy.

Photo of Lord Skidelsky Lord Skidelsky Crossbench

My Lords, my remarks will be addressed to that part of the gracious Speech which pledges the Government to,

"continue to support efforts to build peace in the Middle East".

The Middle East is indeed the powder-keg of the world and the pacification of the Middle East is the most urgent task of international relations today. One of the main purposes of Tony Blair's visit to Washington two weeks ago was to revive the road map unveiled in May 2002.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out, the hope is that with Yasser Arafat dead, a new window of opportunity will have opened up, although the road map's aim to have a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005 is, I would judge, a pipedream. In truth, Arafat was not the main obstacle to peace. The main obstacle is the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, this "savage man of war" as Professor Avi Schlaim calls him, and he is far from dead. Behind him lies the whole policy of planting Jewish settlements in the occupied lands as part of the Greater Israel project.

Professor Schlaim argues that that has always been the main obstacle to peace. There are now an estimated one quarter of a million settlers. That plantation policy is incompatible with the creation of a viable Palestinian state, which has been the main object of the peace process ever since the Oslo accords of 1993. Sharon has made that inconsistency even more glaring by building a security wall higher than the Berlin Wall that runs deep into the West Bank, reduces the area available for the Palestinian state by up to 50 per cent and cuts it up into 16 isolated enclaves. As Professor Schlaim notes, the wall paves the way for the de facto annexation of a large chunk of the West Bank by Israel. Moreover, Sharon has got Bush to agree to that.

So I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who will wind up the debate: what remains of the road map? What remains of the two-state solution? What remains of the whole peace process to which the Prime Minister is so fervently committed?

Pope John Paul is supposed to have said that there are two possible solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict: the realistic and the miraculous. The realistic would involve divine intervention; the miraculous a voluntary agreement between the parties. Alas, divine intervention is unlikely, but some outside intervention is necessary. We have the quartet, consisting of the United States, the European Union, United Nations and Russia. But the quartet exists merely to monitor, evaluate, assist and facilitate. It lacks any effective enforcement mechanism. Moreover, as long as Bush is hitched to Sharon, and our Prime Minister is hitched to Bush, the quartet will remain completely ineffective, powerless to facilitate anything because it will not agree on anything.

Here is where Britain can lead a new initiative. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was kind enough to mention my ideas on the United Nations. Two and a half years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and I wrote an article advocating a temporary UN protectorate over the occupied territories as a way of unlocking the road to peace. The article took up the old League of Nations idea of the mandate or trusteeship as a bridge between colonialism and full independence.

The nub of our argument was that there is simply not enough land available to satisfy the territorial claims of both sides. So the emphasis in the peace process has to be shifted from the idea of "land for peace" to that of "economic development for peace". If the security needed for trade and investment could be established—we thought that only a UN protectorate could do that—the land question, while not disappearing, would become secondary—would recede in importance. In time, one could envisage all three political units carved out of the old Palestine—Israel, Palestine and Jordan—living at peace within the framework of an economically dynamic customs union, which could gradually be enlarged to cover other states in the Middle East.

Every journal in this country and the United States to which we submitted the article turned it down, including the Financial Times, which thought that, although interesting, it was irrelevant. That was at the moment when the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, was at its height, with brutal Israeli repression—maybe necessary, but brutal—leading to thousands of deaths on both sides and Palestine reduced to an economic wreck. The only newspaper that would publish our peace plan was that brave and estimable journal, the Moscow Times, in its issue of 15 April 2002.

I mention that not to extol our work but to point out that our suggestion is very much in line with discussions now going on about the requirements for economic development; the relationship between security, good government and reducing poverty; and external intervention to deal with humanitarian disasters and with failed or failing states. Palestine is ripe for intervention on all those counts, quite apart from the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a threat to international peace.

Moreover, protectorates exist, whether they are called that or not. We have two in the Balkans: the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is still the Lord High Protector of Bosnia. There was one in East Timor and there will be one in Iraq for years to come. So the mandate approach is no longer a matter of pure theory, it is one of those facts on the ground.

It is in that context that I want to mention a recent proposal for an international protectorate for the West Bank and Gaza Strip put forward by the Middle East Policy Initiative Forum, the members of which include a Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath. The proposal tries to overcome the principal weakness of all previous plans: that they rely purely on the good will and co-operation of both sides, with no intervention mechanism.

The essence of the proposal is that a temporary international protectorate take over the legal jurisdiction of the occupied territories. The protectorate would be set up by a UN Security Council resolution. The resolution would designate a mandate authority, based on the quartet. Security would be provided by troops assented to by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. That could be a NATO force, but the report also envisages participation by Arab states. There would be as much decentralisation as compatible with security.

Here is the nub. Pressure would need to be applied to Israel to abandon its occupation in return for the protectorate. The United States is the only country that could apply the necessary pressure: if necessary, by imposing conditions on the use of American weapons or the 3 billion dollars of aid that it supplies to Israel. Presidents Nixon, Carter and Bush senior all did that in the past; but President Bush junior has never done it. So this is the idea: the protectorate offers the advantage of withdrawal with security for the Israelis, the end of Israeli occupation and support for nation building for the Palestinians, and a period of separation with assurance of protection for both as a prelude to peaceful co-existence.

This is a remarkable proposal, put forward with much less obligatory waffle than one has any right to expect from a committee. It shirks the issue of the final shape and scope of the Palestinian state, but that does not matter so much. Agreement on that could more easily be reached in conditions of security which are not presently available. I submit that this should be the basis of a British-led peace initiative. The Prime Minister would dearly like to host an international conference on the Middle East. Here is a plan that would give an international conference something to talk about, and not lead straight to another Camp David fiasco.

The difficulty in these matters is not resistance to new ideas; it is to get new ideas into circulation so that they can start doing their work of dissolving entrenched positions. I beg the Government to look at the protectorate proposal seriously, refine it as necessary and act upon it.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour

My Lords, it is both a privilege and a pleasure to address noble Lords for the first time. I have some concern when I look around the House to see assembled so much erudition combined with a vast array of experience. An inner voice tells me that I should proceed with caution or, as they say in trade union circles where I come from: "Don't forget to engage the brain before opening your mouth!"

First, let me thank the staff who, in a charming way, spare no efforts to assist newcomers; it is much appreciated. I am especially indebted to one young woman who remarked, "There are two issues guaranteed to fill this House—hunting and homosexuality"! What prescience in one so young. I must confess that I was somewhat shocked when in the recent debate on civil partnership the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked a probing question (no pun intended) of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on the difference between a civil partnership and a civil marriage. Her reply was a somewhat graphic description of consummation. Perhaps we need a watershed hour in case there are children present.

I understand that it is usual to tell a bit about oneself. I was born in the East End of London in 1942, a child of second generation Jewish immigrants. My grandparents came from Holland on my father's side and Russia and Poland on my mother's side. They were early 19th century asylum seekers who were glad to find a safe haven. Like many war babies I was evacuated and on return to the East End one of my first childhood memories was the numerous adventure playgrounds created by the Luftwaffe during the blitz, more usually known as bomb sites!

I now live in Norwood Green, a small oasis on the edge of Southall in west London. I beg to differ with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who said that the Norwood Green in Bradford was better. I suppose that it is a matter of opinion. The area is bounded by the Grand Union canal, that marvellous legacy of the first industrial revolution, and fields which lead you to the glories of Osterley Park. Norwood Green was a village in Elizabethan times and it still retains a village atmosphere. The village green is near the pub and the church, St. Mary's, whose vicar and wife are up in the gallery. Father Leslie has an interesting background as a former shop steward. The woman I love—to paraphrase the song—my wife Margaret, is also up in the gallery, accompanied by my son Paul. They are busily assessing me for technical merit and artistic impression.

Lady Young is Norwood Green born and bred. Indeed, her grandfather and partner built the estate where we now live. I chair Norwood Green Residents' Association and I am a governor of our local school, Three Bridges Primary School, which is named after an interesting piece of local civil engineering designed by Brunel to accommodate the intersection of road, rail and canal. The school, which my children attended, reflects the diversity of the community. Twenty-nine languages are spoken with English as the second language at home—a challenging educational environment.

I started working with the GPO—as we called it in those days—in 1958 as a telecom apprentice. I was not a very good engineer, which I put down to a poor genetic inheritance; that is, my father, who was unable to connect two pieces of wood if given a hammer and nails. I must mention my first mentor, a Geordie called Mac. He was a cleaner who arrived at the telephone exchange where I was working. He was fond, among other things, of resting on his broom and discussing current affairs and socialism. He gave me two bits of advice that profoundly affected my life. He said, "You should attend your union meeting and read this book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist". For those who are unfamiliar with this work of literature, it has become the bible of the trade union movement. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my trade union, formerly the Post Office Engineering Union and now the Communication Workers Union, which gave me a great education and the opportunity to pursue a vocation.

Tom Paine, that great libertarian, said that the world is my country, to do good is my religion—two principles which I admire greatly. I have chosen to intervene in this debate because of my interest in international development. Here I must pay tribute to the Department for International Development whose generous support has helped two organisations with which I have a close acquaintance. The Ethical Trading Initiative is a tripartite organisation involving major retailers and suppliers to UK markets representing many familiar high street names, trade unions representing workers in every country where unions are legal and NGOs working to promote human rights and equitable development worldwide. Our members work together—that is sometimes surprising—with the main aim of improving the lives of workers and their families in global supply chains by applying internationally recognised labour standards, in particular fundamental human rights. We were a key player in helping the Government to draft essential legislation on the licensing of gangmasters which we hope will help to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers in the UK. No doubt noble Lords will remember the recent tragedy of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers. Exploitation does not occur only in the developing world.

I am also chair of the One World Broadcasting Trust, a charity that exists to promote media coverage of the developing world and helps to develop broadcasting talent in the developing world. Noble Lords do not need me to remind them that we live in a global society which is both unequal and dysfunctional. Finding solutions to these problems is surely the most important challenge of the 2lst century. I welcome the UK Government's efforts to lead by example on debt relief for the developing world. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for reminding us about our ability to reach the 0.7 per cent aid target, helping to tackle the causes of poverty and instability. I also welcome the recent announcements on the Commission for Africa and the attempts to reform the European common agricultural policy—essential themes if we are to tackle global inequalities.

Outsourcing of UK jobs to the developing world is another highly contentious issue, not just because of the employment implications for the UK but also because in some cases the workers who gain employment are exploited and denied basic human rights. Decent core labour standards should be the linchpin of a global society in the 21st century. Corporate social responsibility—a phrase that noble Lords will no doubt have often heard—will be seen as an oxymoron unless companies and governments ensure that the principles are put into practice and workers, wherever they are in the world, get a fair deal.

All of us like a bargain, but the next time noble Lords shop and see an item at a very low price—for example, an item of clothing for £5—they should think about the workers at the end of the supply chain. The relief of poverty and the elimination of exploitation are in all our interests and an essential part of the struggle for a peaceful world.

I am frequently asked how I got to be in the House of Lords—for me a difficult question. Some of my erstwhile Left-wing comrades believe that it is another example of my class collaboration, refusing to believe that I could be part of a deep conspiracy to destroy the aristocracy from within—clearly, they are born cynics. I am not sure what special qualities I bring to this House, but two teenagers at home ensure that I am well aware of the dangers of joining the BOF brigade; that is, the boring old flatulence—I have changed that word slightly. I hope that I can use my experience of industrial relations, which has taught me an important basic rule; namely—I apologise for the next bit—multis modis felem deglubere potest. For those noble Lords who are not Latin scholars, that means there is more than one way to skin a cat. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence because, as they will realise, with that pronunciation I am definitely not a Latin scholar.

To conclude, 170 years ago some of the first trade unionists were transported to Australia for trying to form a union. I wonder what the Tolpuddle Martyrs would have thought about the inheritors of their heroic legacy occupying seats in the House of Lords and the other place. I again thank noble Lords.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative

My Lords, it is a real treat to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green. The Officers of the House are very efficient and, seeing my place on the list, they gave me his CV. I looked through it with proper respect, and must admit that I was expecting someone rather solemn and venerable to address us, instead of which the noble Lord is young-looking, if I may say so, lively and certainly thrusting. However, from his CV, there is no doubt that he has built up a very wide agenda through the trade union that he served, the general council of the TUC, the BBC and his many interests. It is much more than the usual courtesy and platitude to say that we look forward very much to him educating us on many of those matters in the months and years to come.

I want to say some words about Iraq, as many speakers have. It is the first time that I have done so in this House, for a reason that I find rather hard to explain, but I think that I am not alone in it. On both sides of the argument, the feelings that the war has aroused have been so strong—certainly in my case—that it has been rather difficult to turn them into the courteous and cool debating style to which this House is rightly accustomed. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, nods her head, so I am not alone in having that feeling. I take comfort from my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, who showed us again this afternoon how one combines very strong feelings with a courteous manner.

The Prime Minister and noble Lords in this House give us the same message when they say, to those of us who believe and have believed all through this adventure that it was foolish and wrong, that we should put aside disagreements about the past and concentrate on the present. The difficulty about that—it has some force—is that the past shapes and often dominates the present. No one in their senses—no one in the House, certainly—would argue against the aim of a stable and democratic Iraq, reinforced again yesterday by the conference at Sharm el Sheikh. However, it is much more difficult to achieve what we want because of the miscalculations at the outset and because—let us put it bluntly—of the many thousands of Iraqis killed as a result. We should not underestimate, any more than dictators should underestimate in their dictatorships, the deep-seated and long-standing anger and grief that can come from such things.

I would like to ask specifically about the influence of Her Majesty's Government over the present strategy pursued in central Iraq, which we are underpinning with the decision about the Black Watch. It is clearly wrong to argue that the decision was purely operational—purely a matter for military commanders. I courteously want to make a point to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. It is not enough for Ministers simply to praise the skill and courage of our Armed Forces. Anyone who has had experience of them—that includes most people in the House—knows that such praise has been and is now absolutely justified. However, it does not in itself at all justify whatever strategy our Armed Forces are sent to execute by their political masters.

The strategy in central Iraq is still going on. It is highly political, and is designed to clear the way for elections in January. Its outcome is uncertain because of the risk that in such operations one creates as many terrorists as one kills, because of the hatred that one causes. That is the lesson of Gaza and the West Bank, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester eloquently pointed out a few minutes ago. It is the lesson of Chechnya, where, town by town, homes are destroyed and lives are wrecked.

We do not know the outcome in central Iraq because the operation is still under way. My question is much more limited, but is important. Did the Government know and approve at ministerial level the strategy that they agreed to underpin? That is a necessary question because of what happened last year—it is not now in doubt—when our Prime Minister simply accepted without question the Pentagon's strategy for the occupation of Iraq after the military victory, a strategy based on assumptions that turned out to be disastrously and predictably misguided.

There has been talk of delaying the elections because of the insurgency and the state of central Iraq. It is certainly hard to see how, in practice, the citizens of Fallujah, Samarra, Ramadi and now part of Mosul will be able to take a great deal of interest in registration and electioneering as they creep back to rebuild their shattered homes. I am not clear—I would be interested if the Minister said something more about it—that delaying the elections would help matters. It would bring considerable success to the insurgents, including the brutal terrorists. It might well lead to more months of killing and destruction.

There seems to be a growing consensus, not least in this House, that it may therefore be best to hold the elections as best we can. We should not deceive ourselves that the holding of elections will solve the problems, particularly in central Iraq, but they should lead to a new constituent assembly and a government with some democratic legitimacy, which they do not have at the moment.

My final point relates to the future. It is not too soon to look ahead to the situation after the election. I hope that Ministers will not brush that aside by saying that it is premature. It is precisely the failure to look ahead—to look beyond the immediate problem—that has landed us and Iraq in a great deal of trouble. Now, not later, is the time for forethought. Later, we shall be told that we have no option about whatever is going to happen. Now is the time for options and thought.

If a new government emerge in Iraq consisting mainly, as is more likely than unlikely, of the Shia majority in alliance with the Kurds, if most or a large part of the Sunni minority in central Iraq and Baghdad do not take part in one way or another, and if violence on something like the present scale continues, a question will arise about the role of British and American troops in particular. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford that there can be no question of arguing for immediate or early withdrawal of our forces. However, we should surely be wary of sliding into a not-inconceivable situation where a fragile government in Baghdad under real pressure rely on us almost indefinitely to keep under control by force what is essentially an unsolved political problem; namely, that of reconciling the different factions and communities in Iraq to make possible a system of governance that is generally acceptable.

The situation is not like Cyprus, where, for many years, we have joined in policing and patrolling a settled line dividing two parts of an island. It is far from ideal, as we all know. However, it is child's play compared to what might be involved in occupying provinces of Iraq by force because of a failure to agree. In the end, the problem would in those circumstances be a political problem needing a political solution. It would be for us and the UN to do everything that we could to help the Iraqis to solve it. However, we should not continue the illusion that has haunted the enterprise, particularly in some of the things said on the other side of the Atlantic, that it is possible to introduce democracy into Iraq—or the Middle East in general—with tanks, missiles and the apparatus of military force.

I am not asking for details of policy after the elections; that is obviously not possible. What I ask for—I think that it is reasonable to do so—is an assurance from the Minister that those problems, options and worries are this time being carefully weighed and considered in advance.

Photo of Lord Dahrendorf Lord Dahrendorf Crossbench

My Lords, I suppose that one cannot be a maiden twice. So I cannot call this a maiden speech, nor would I dare to compete with the two excellent maiden speakers that we have heard this afternoon. But this is my first speech from the Cross Benches and I wish to begin by thanking my former noble friends—and, I hope, continuing friends—the Liberal Democrats, for the hospitality which they have extended over the past eleven years to someone who is not a member of their party and holds his own, often contrary, views on many issues. I have enjoyed the company of the group, although I cannot help observing that it has, in recent years, along with, perhaps, the whole House, become more partisan in its ways. That is far from improper in a parliament, yet it made me feel increasingly out of place, and relieved that your Lordships' House has the unusual institution of the Cross Benches. I am particularly grateful to my new noble friends on these Benches for receiving me with such generosity.

One of the subjects about which I wished to be free to express my views is Europe. It is mentioned twice in the gracious Speech, once in connection with the UK presidency of the European Union beginning next July, and once to announce that,

"A Bill will be introduced to give effect to the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union, subject to a referendum".

I, for one, would have been pleased if there had also been space to confirm that Her Majesty's Government would support, at the Council meeting of 17 December, the Commission proposal to begin negotiations about the accession of Turkey, with a view to bringing about full membership of that country in the EU. Turkish accession and the Constitutional Treaty are two tests of how we see the future of the European Union and Britain's role in it.

The motives for setting in train the process of European co-operation and, in some respects, integration after the Second World War have often been cited. They were two: first, to put a lasting end to the centuries of intra-European warfare and, secondly, to create stable conditions for economic growth and welfare throughout Europe. Peace and prosperity are still important motives, as the reference in the gracious Speech to,

"building an increasingly prosperous and secure Europe", reminds us. But those objectives no longer suffice to move Europe forward. The constitutional convention has struggled with the issue of what organized Europe is about, but it has never succeeded in finding a common denominator for the incompatible visions of a United States of Europe, on the one hand, and a co-operative alliance of nation states on the other.

At the same time, a debate has begun, above all in countries of the European continent, which wants to place Europe in a global context. It is, in essence, a debate about the United States of America. Significant sections of Europeans see the European Union today as the nucleus of a power which somehow provides a counterweight to the US. Sometimes, as in President Chirac's dream of a "multi-polar world", this is wrapped in glossy global paper, but for many Europe is indeed what the American author William Kagan had in mind when he coined the phrase:

"America is from Mars, Europe is from Venus".

"Venus" in that context means staying out of violent world conflicts and holding on to the welfare state.

Perhaps I may say, without ifs and buts, that I do not wish to live in a Europe which defines itself as a counterweight to the United States of America. My own notion is very different. The nation state is, and will be in the foreseeable future, the safe place for democracy and the rule of law. However, important decisions have emigrated from the nation state to as yet undefined spaces. We need ways of applying the principles of the liberal order to those wider spaces. I was pleased that my old friend and now noble friend Lady D'Souza chose precisely that as the subject of her maiden speech. Europe, the European Union, could be a step in that direction. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, its success or failure will be measured by its ability to provide an example of democracy and the rule of law for the world.

Clearly, that is not exactly what the European Union is known for. Perhaps I may, however, highlight one achievement of the EU which has received too little attention: the so-called Copenhagen criteria. In June 1993, the European Council met in Copenhagen. It decided on a paper which was written in simple, clear language and spelt out the political criteria for membership. Those were, stable

"institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities", as well as,

"the existence of a functioning market economy".

Moreover, countries must not only,

"subscribe to the principles of democracy and the rule of law, but actually put them into practice in daily life", by setting up the necessary institutions, including an independent judiciary, an impartial police and an accountable system of public administration.

The Copenhagen criteria fit on two or three sheets of paper, but they have been of transforming significance for new member states—dare I suggest, more so than the Constitutional Treaty is ever likely to be? In the post-communist countries it is those criteria which have guided people through the valley of tears which so often follows the initial euphoria of liberation. In Turkey, it was those criteria which provided the backbone of the reforms which enabled the Commission to suggest that the time had come to open negotiations for that country's membership of the EU.

It may well be argued that there is nothing uniquely European about the Copenhagen criteria. They may not be from Mars, but they are not from Venus either, especially when they are coupled with the promise of membership of the EU, which is probably the only hard power that Europe possesses. The Copenhagen criteria would not come amiss in Iraq. The United States of America could certainly subscribe to them. My point is that that is entirely as it should be. Europe should set an example of how the principles of a liberal order could be applied, not only within nation states, but beyond them. European developments should be judged by their contribution to one free world, in the sense that Timothy Garton Ash defined in his book with that title.

It is a characteristic of a gracious Speech that it is not only laconic but, in a sense, dogmatic. A programme is announced, but no reasons are given for its parts and pieces. That has long been the case, and, far be it from me to object—as far as institutions are concerned, I am a defender of history and tradition, rather than an enthusiast for everything modern. But it will be important to tease out why the Government and those who oppose them take their particular lines on Europe. My own criterion in assessing European policies is simple: will those policies contribute to spreading the liberal order beyond familiar political spaces? The case of Turkey is simple from that point of view. The case for the Constitutional Treaty, however, still needs to be made and, for that reason, if for no other, I look forward to the ratification debate in Parliament and in the country.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf was undoubtedly right in saying that his was not a maiden speech, but it was his first speech from these Benches. He has just demonstrated that he lost none of his brilliance and intellectual rigour when he moved from the Liberal Democrat Benches to our own.

The coming year, 2005, will be an important one for Britain's foreign policy. It will be one when many issues could go right or wrong and when choices made could set a pattern for a considerable period ahead. It is not only a matter of Britain holding in succession the G8 and the EU presidencies—occasions which, frankly, tend to be overstated both by government spokesmen and by the press, since, when all is said and done, the scope for influencing those organisations from the chair is relatively limited—but the shape and texture of the transatlantic relationship, which has been, and remains, under considerable strain, will be decisively affected by its handling both by a re-elected President Bush and by the European chorus, which has tended recently to sing in anything but harmony. And the future of the United Nations, its effectiveness and the changes needed to secure its relevance will be on the table with a wide-ranging set of proposals from the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel, on which I had the honour to serve, ready for decision from the time of their presentation to member states next week. We shall be moving all through next year towards a decision that will crucially affect Britain's place and role in Europe, even if the actual referendum vote on the Constitutional Treaty does not come until early in 2006.

The future of the transatlantic relationship depends, of course, a good deal more on substance than it does on tone and texture, but that is no reason to ignore the atmospherics. Since 2002, there has been a cascade of statements from both sides of the Atlantic whose recklessness have done untold damage and have stirred up feelings of alienation among the wider publics. A mere cessation of such statements would be a mercy.

More importantly, governments need to get it across that Europe and the United States, for all their genuine differences, still share a huge common agenda; that much of that agenda can be successfully achieved only if we work at it together; and that, if we are at cross purposes, the most likely outcome will be mutual frustration. It is not a matter of getting back to the old Cold War certainties, when the glue of a common adversary held us together—those days are gone; it is more a question of building a new partnership of respect and shared interest and of learning to manage our differences, when they arise, as they will do, with sensitivity and moderation.

As to the substance of that agenda, the issues are crowding in on us already, and I shall mention only three. The end of the Arafat era surely represents an opportunity which needs to be seized and not fumbled. It is one where working together within the framework of the quartet and on the basis of the road map offers the only chance of making progress. This issue is a key also to making progress on so much else: in the war against terrorism; in the development of democracy and respect for human rights throughout the Middle East; and in securing a stable and prosperous Iraq. And we need a negotiating process which is not capable of being derailed by acts of violence and which is therefore not a hostage to those whose choice is conflict rather than peace.

Secondly, and without moving entirely from the Middle East, we are clearly at a difficult and critical point in our relations with Iran. Last week's agreement is a step in the right direction but only a modest and short-term one. The Europeans seem to me to have the right policy—a balance of sticks and carrots, and a willingness to look beyond the nuclear issue to the wider relationship of Iran with the West. But, importantly, they do not have all the cards in their hand; nor do they have the clout to deliver a successful outcome on their own. Surely it is time for the United States to join the dialogue and to bring within its scope issues such as trade sanctions, Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organisation, the security of the Gulf region and the renunciation of pursuing regime change by force. I myself believe that it is time to do that, and I hope that the Minister can say whether our Government are prepared to advocate such an approach in Washington.

Thirdly, Europe and the United States need to drive forward the Doha Development Round of negotiations for trade liberalisation with a determination to bring them to closure—at the latest by 2006.

Like the transatlantic alliance, the United Nations, too, has been going through a rough patch. Yet its indispensability is not really in doubt. It has 60,000 peacekeepers deployed, mainly in Africa, and that figure is rising. Its role in the fight against pandemic diseases and against poverty and environmental degradation is essential. But it remains under-resourced in men and money and in political backing. Too often, its decision-making powers are paralysed or it moves with the speed of an arthritic tortoise. It is frequently accused of double standards, and sometimes rightly so.

Next year, there will be a real opportunity to remedy those failings. I cannot anticipate publication of the High-Level Panel's recommendations but I can assure the House that they will be far-reaching. They will also be controversial, and much will depend on the willingness of the UN's members to give a high priority to taking the necessary decisions. I hope that Britain, whose role as a permanent member of the Security Council remains central, will be in the vanguard of those pressing for the changes required to make the UN more effective.

I come now to the third part of the triptych: the European Union—as always, the part about which there is least agreement among us but the one which, I believe, with time becomes ever more central to the conduct of our foreign policy. In 2004, we saw two major steps forward with the successful enlargement of the Union to 25 members and the conclusion of the negotiations on a Constitutional Treaty which contained important provisions for strengthening the conduct of a common foreign and security policy. But that year also saw a step back as the poison of the dispute over Iraq continued to circulate through the Union's veins.

Historians will, I believe—a number of other speakers made this point—regard enlargement as one of the most powerful and effective foreign policy instruments ever fashioned. It has brought peace, security and prosperity where formerly there was tension and oppression. The next step down that road lies just ahead with the decision on the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey due to be taken in two weeks' time. I trust that it will be a positive one. The tremendous effort made by Turkey deserves no less. Beyond that lie the countries of the western Balkans—certainly not ready yet for membership but just as certainly needing the magnet of eventual membership if they are to turn their backs once and for all on their unstable and sanguinary past.

What lessons should we draw from the experience of Iraq and what should we be aiming at in a common foreign and security policy? The main lesson surely must be that, when Europe is divided, its voice counts for little—in Washington or elsewhere for that matter; and nor does the voice of its individual members, as we know to our cost when we look back on the catalogue of errors which followed the initially successful military operations in Iraq.

That does not mean that Europeans are compelled to agree among themselves or that we can be forced to do so. That is not how any common foreign and security policy, present or future, can or will be conducted. It is certainly not how the Constitutional Treaty is constructed. We have a choice between enhanced effectiveness, if we can pull together, and marginalisation if we cannot. I do not believe that we should be aiming for an "all or nothing" foreign and security policy, but in many areas of the world—in the Balkans already; in the Middle East, as I have suggested; in Africa, where Europe and not the United States has the biggest stake and the greatest responsibility; in Europe's neighbourhood to the east; and in strengthening the United Nations—we should be able to make common cause and to pool our efforts.

What we must avoid, however, is an ideological dispute over concepts such as unipolarity and multipolarity. The extent to which the post-Cold War world has the characteristics of unipolarity is considerable but, in fact, very far from complete. Militarily it is so, but in the attributes of what is called "soft power"—influence, aid, investment and culture—it is not, and it is certainly not so when it comes to trade policy. Probably, over time, the world will become less unipolar than it is now, although that may take quite a long time.

To make of multipolarity an organising principle of Europe's foreign policy would surely be a mistake. It would certainly not help to make the multilateral institutions, by whose effectiveness Europe sets such great store, more effective and work better. More likely, it would paralyse them and paralyse, too, the European Union itself. Europe needs, I would argue, a severely non-ideological approach to foreign policy. It needs to learn to apply on a day-to-day basis the precept of the Duke of Wellington that "interest never lies". To do that, it needs to become better at identifying and defining its interests in each set of circumstances that comes along—hence the need for a better capability at the centre, as is envisaged in the Constitutional Treaty.

That is quite a menu for 2005, but it is not an impossible one. As usual, success will depend less on brave words spoken at the outset than on determination and perseverance when the going gets a bit rough.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the formidable speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Hurd, Lord Dahrendorf and Lord Hannay. First, I shall pick up a theme mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: the completion of the Doha round. He is the first to mention that extremely important point. I say nothing more than that. But what I take from that and from the origins of the European Union—rather than its future—is that we have to base world peace on an expanding and prosperous economy. If we can grasp that principle, that will provide the solution to some of the tougher problems of the day.

My noble friend Lord Skidelsky has already mentioned a plan that we concocted about two years ago. The initial idea was that if France and Germany, after 100 years of warfare, can live together peacefully on the basis of mutual economic co-operation and trade, that insight should be used to pursue peace in the Middle East. I believe that nationalism based on land, as I and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, have said, will not guarantee a solution to the Middle East problem. There just is not enough land to satisfy both sides. That is not just a zero sum game, but in many ways it is a negative sum game.

However, there can be a positive sum game if we can persuade the two sides that, by co-operating economically together, by establishing a kind of economic union, under conditions of a protectorate, there will be a positive incentive for them to come together and to co-operate. The co-operation that exists right now is one-sided and dominated by Israel—the Palestinians have to go to Israel to work. The beginnings of an economic union are needed in that region—Israel, Palestine and Jordan—and later on it can perhaps expand. The idea that we have proposed—it is a preliminary idea, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said—should be considered by her Majesty's Government as an opening bid in any Middle Eastern conference in the future.

An important point is that we have to give incentives to people to stop killing each other and to start trading with each other. I believe that that was a fundamental vision of Adam Smith: that countries can grow prosperous not by conquering each other, but by trading with each other. If we can follow that principle, that will be a great step forward.

I hope that we can pursue a plan of a protectorate. In the past protectorates have worked and they are still being used. I believe that we should grasp that nettle because I do not believe that there is any other route—certainly not a road map, as was announced a while ago by President Bush. We need a new start and I hope that such an idea will provide that.

I also want to speak about an issue that has not been mentioned so far, and that is the Kashmir dispute. That dispute has festered for 50 years or more. We are only now beginning to see signs of settlement because of two factors. The first is that the two powers concerned are now nuclear powers and they are frightened of their own strength. Secondly, Pakistan has realised that, in a globalised context, it is falling behind India and China in economic terms. If it is to achieve economic progress it has to put Kashmir behind it and concentrate on progress.

There are some very revolutionary proposals on the table. President Musharraf has said he will set aside the demand for a plebiscite, and a number of dialogues at various levels are taking place between India and Pakistan. Currently, the Prime Minister of Pakistan is in India. Resolution to that conflict would be a remarkable achievement.

Recently, when I was in India, people at the highest level told me that India is worried about the British Labour Party which, because of its many divisions about Kashmir, may be inspired to interfere in the solution of the problem because of pressures on the Prime Minister from the constituencies. I reassured them that the Labour Party had every faction on the Kashmir issue and that they would cancel each other out, and that Her Majesty's Government had a policy of not interfering in the Kashmir dispute. I should be glad if my noble friend would reiterate that because I believe that the best contribution we have made to the Kashmir problem is not suggesting solutions and letting the two sides get on with the problem which they are very near to solving.

I have to say something about Iraq because for a long time I have been an unrepentant supporter of what has happened in Iraq. I know that people wiser than myself have said that it is a disaster. I disagree. In a war there is destruction, a lot of killing and civilians die, as do soldiers. But on the other side there are terrorists, some of whom were actually in power—the President of Iraq was a terrorist—and some of whom operate on a freelance basis, as the graves discovered in Fallujah have shown.

People thought that what happened in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan was wrong and that problems of ethnic cleansing are not solved by bombing. I hate to disagree with my noble friend Lady Turner, but I believe that when the final balance is drawn, we will say that Bosnia was right, Kosovo was right and Afghanistan was right. One should remember what people used to say about the humanitarian disaster that was taking place in Afghanistan and how no one was in control there. The fact that elections can be held in Afghanistan, despite all the doubts, should be celebrated as a great achievement. The Taliban were incredibly evil and it was good to remove them.

I believe that it was good to remove Saddam Hussein. It may not have been legal; I think it was illegitimate. That is my judgment. I believe that elections will take place in January and I confidently believe that from here on, despite troubles in central Iraq, that country will improve more and more as time goes on. It is regrettable that sometimes one cannot make changes without a lot of violence, but unfortunately that is the price of progress.

People should remember that when the attack first started, the expectation was of a long drawn-out war—six to nine months. The time span of war has not altered, but the big fight took place in the beginning and we were lulled into a false idea that that was all there was to it. It has taken a year and a bit and I do not believe that anyone should have expected it to take less than a year and a bit. It is a tough problem to solve.

I am still a humanitarian warmonger. I do not see that there can be any other position in today's world.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf described himself as one who did not toss the old to the side but who valued tradition. Yet it seems to me that he has been the occasion of the institution of a new tradition already this evening—that of the half maiden.

Perhaps I may be permitted to call him in aid of the institution of a further change; that is, that I might be able to continue to refer to him as my noble friend even though he is sitting on other Benches. Like all my colleagues on these Benches, we have enormously valued his sojourn with us and wish to continue that relationship. If by sitting on the Cross Benches he feels that he will have greater freedom to speak more frequently in your Lordships' House, that will be of benefit to the whole House, and something to which I shall look forward.

My noble friend referred to the rather concise nature of the gracious Speech. I suppose we look to the comments of Ministers at the beginning and end of each day of debate to tease out a little some of the thoughts behind elements in the speech. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, described some of the elements. I noted that he referred to many of them as "high priorities", but that he referred to one as being singularly "the most important"—that is, the situation in the Middle East.

I believe that in doing that the Minister was reflecting not only his view or his officers' view, but the view of the Prime Minister. That is why I was not surprised when the Prime Minister travelled to Washington shortly after the re-election of President Bush and raised this as a question of particularly high priority. I think that the Prime Minister has some realisation that many of the other things which are of great importance to him, and, indeed to all of us—such as Iraq, the question of international terrorism and instability in the wider region—are borne upon by the unresolved and deeply bitter situation in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians.

I can understand the criticism that is levied at the Prime Minister by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that perhaps there was a degree of impetuosity about his introduction of this element. I think that that criticism might be justified if it were the case that the Prime Minister was bringing yet another initiative, even a good initiative. As far as concerns good initiatives, I would certainly commend the one referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Desai, which is the notion of a protectorate on which the MEPIF Group has been working.

Even if it were a good initiative of that kind, I would have to say that I have my reservations. It seems to me that such good ideas simply come and go unless there is a process that can help to carry them through. This week, in the middle of all his other duties and responsibilities, the Prime Minister has yet again set aside time to deal with the long-running conflict within the United Kingdom. Indeed, one might have thought that with his experience of Northern Ireland, that the last thing he would want to do would be to involve himself in another completely intractable ancient feud.

The paradox about these things is that they have a seductiveness about them and once people get involved they do not tend to drop them easily. It is to the Prime Minister's credit, and, indeed, of successive British and Irish governments that they have stuck with that particular issue.

There are some matters arising from the Northern Ireland process, from the process in South Africa and, indeed, from the development of the European Union that we can take note of. All such processes sought to address ancient, deep and violent difficulties, and we should think about them when we are addressing the problem of the Middle East.

One such matter is the necessity to construct a process that has longevity and that can survive. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was referring to that earlier when he said that it had to be able to survive the various ups and downs that were inevitable in any of these processes. That is absolutely true.

However, the question is: how does one construct a process that survives these ups and downs? Certainly one cannot if one insists that they are dependent on governments, because governments come and go. For example, in the context of Israel and the Palestinians, if one insists that one has the parties that for the present form the Israeli Government and those who run the Palestinian Authority, and everyone else is excluded from the process, there will not be stability in the process because every time an election comes forward the process will become a hostage to the election and to the mandate.

That is why, for example, in South Africa the Codessa was created. It brought together all the parties, so that everyone had an investment in what happened. That degree of inclusivity has not yet been created. Indeed, there would be some who would come out in goose pimples if it was suggested that some of those on the Palestinian side, or perhaps even in opposition on the Israeli side should be involved in the process. Yet, I think that is what needs to happen.

Furthermore, I think that inclusivity must not just be within, but that it must be around. The quartet has much to commend it, but I am not convinced that it has enough input from the Arab states, which are absolutely critical. They may not be able to solve the problem, but they can do things to undermine it. In fairness, some very helpful and constructive proposals have come from those quarters.

So, in constructing some kind of process, it has to have longevity, inclusivity and those around it have to be involved. The time commitment and the recognition of how much work has to be done is much more substantial than we have seen. From my own experience these processes need individuals, parties and indeed governments who are prepared to be involved in negotiations that go on, not for a few days intensively and then get left to the side, but week after week, month after month and year after year.

There are a number of noble Lords around the House who will reflect on the fact that the process the Prime Minister was involved in this week with the Taoiseach goes back into the early 1980s, almost a quarter of a century. It is not a difficulty, whatever its problems, that remotely resembles that of the Middle East, yet people seem terrified to suggest that it might take a quarter of a century to address the problems of the Middle East. They say, "It is much too urgent. We can't wait for that". We cannot sit around observing yet another series of failed short-term initiatives.

It seems to me that we must put in place a long-term commitment with the resources of political and practical capital that are necessary to inch forward into some kind of resolution which the people can live with, both within Israel and a Palestinian state, feeling secure and at home in their own place, and with those around them who form part of the context. That will not come easy or quickly, but it will not come at all if we do not build a robust process that enables it to happen.

The Prime Minister in approaching the president of the United States and in recognising, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said, the critical position he can occupy with the presidency of the G8 and of the European Union, has the perfect opportunity to do what I believe he wants to do, which is to act as a link and a bridge between the United States and the European Union. The United States and the European Union together, particularly with the Arab States, can provide a profound opportunity for progress in the Middle East. If they just begin to create a successful process it will be an enormous beacon of hope for the rest of the world.

Photo of Lord Sanderson of Bowden Lord Sanderson of Bowden Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of my old regiment,the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB). I shall address later the particular circumstances facing that regiment, whose home and mine are in the Scottish Borders.

However, first I wish to make some general remarks about the current situation facing the defence forces of the United Kingdom. As the Minister said in his opening remarks, the threat to our security is real. I believe that it is greater now than at any time since 1945. Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, not to mention the sizzling African cauldron, mean that the infantry, my main concern in this speech, is suffering considerable overstretch.

The Minister said in his opening remarks that he hoped that Northern Ireland would remain stable. It is quite a dangerous assumption. The removal of one or more battalions from the Province at the moment would be at best premature. The Prime Minister announced recently that Britain would form part of the European rapid reaction force to intervene in conflicts in Africa. Then we have the disappearance of Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Belgian foot soldiers from Iraq. They may have been token forces, but their absence is putting far more pressure not just on the United States but on our own forces there.

Against that background, a 10 per cent cut in our infantry seems a very odd decision—restructuring, yes, but reductions in the infantry at the moment, no. What operational analysis has been undertaken to justify that, and will the Minister confirm that the average tour gap is now less than a year? I believe that the MoD target is two years. As the noble Lord, Lord Garden, says, surely there is overstretch, and overstretch that goes on and on creates problems.

I have no desire to enter into the arguments on the Iraq situation. Let it suffice to say that United Kingdom troops form a very valuable and important element in the fight to stabilise that country, and we must not come out prematurely. I just wish that when troops undertake dangerous tasks, as the Black Watch are doing at this moment and no doubt their replacement will do over the Christmas period, there could be more wireless silence on their deployment and total silence from Scottish National Party leadership, who should know better when their constituents are at war.

On the review of the Scottish regiments, the defence department has ordered the Scots to cut one battalion and create a Scots super-regiment from the remainder. I hope that they can be persuaded to settle for a Scottish brigade rather than a regiment, but that is another argument. Under its direction, the Scottish colonels, by a majority, recommended the amalgamation of the King's Own Scottish Borderers with the Royal Scots. Having for many years now regarded recruiting as vital to the survival of a regiment, this seems to have been totally ignored in the decision as it relates to the Borderers. The KOSB has put huge effort into recruiting over the past 10 years, appreciating that strong regiments should and would survive while weak ones would not. For the past 10 years, the KOSB has been the first or second best of all Scottish regiments as regards recruiting, and well in the top half of all infantry regiments in the country. Also, it does not depend on foreign and Commonwealth citizens to bolster its numbers. The KOSB has only nine from those areas—not enough to field a full rugby team of Fijians—as opposed to 89 and 41 respectively in two other Scottish regiments. During the past year, recruiting has been a stop-start affair, of which the summer moratorium is an example.

Recruiting is not a tap that can be turned on and off at will. In addition, it is exceptionally difficult to retain serving soldiers in a climate of uncertainty, as is now the case. As is well known in Scotland, the regimental system allows geographical areas to be linked closely to individual battalions. The importance of strong bonds between communities and the regiments drawn from them cannot be overemphasised. The KOSB is no exception. It has a similar record to the Black Watch, having served a tour in Iraq and now on its second tour in Northern Ireland in as many years. To do away with such a vital recruiting tool, seemingly without the closest scrutiny, would be folly. One need only look at the difficulties faced by the Queen's Own Highlanders merging with the Gordon Highlanders for proof that doing away with traditional recruiting links discourages people from joining up.

Throwing away good regimental recruitment by amalgamation, as proposed, will create increased manning problems. There must be a better way, particularly as the Minister has told us today that there is a 1.4 per cent increase in real terms in defence spending. I accept that some Scottish regiments are near the bottom of the list for recruiting of all infantry battalions, as is clear from the experience of the Queen's Own Highlanders. Surely the answer cannot be to weaken a good regiment. A better solution might be to turn the weakest one into a TA battalion for Scotland.

There is another option, which I favour, and which has been used before: to reduce one of the battalions to company strength so that it can be used to reinforce another battalion requiring to meet a higher establishment. That was implemented in January 1971 with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which was restored to battalion status later. Other regiments, whose names the Minister may know—I believe, the Middlesex Regiment, and, possibly nearer his own heart, the Royal Leicestershire Regiment—were in the same boat. I do not know, but it can be checked. By that means, a regimental identity is kept alive when it is going through hard times on the recruiting front.

It was reported in the press on Sunday that the Chief of the General Staff says that he is skating on thin ice in this whole business. I believe that Ministers will fall through the ice if they do not adopt such a measure as I have described. It is a political decision, which, I believe, is coming soon; I hope that the Minister realises its importance. I hope that Ministers will also look at the return to a Scottish regimental headquarters for the Scottish Brigade, as opposed to Catterick, in Yorkshire, where the wastage rate of new recruits is 30 per cent, as opposed to 11 per cent when the depot was in Edinburgh.

I trust that noble Lords do not dismiss what I am saying as the speech of an old and not-so-bold ex-soldier, out of touch with what is going on and with an axe to grind. I can assure noble Lords that the proposed plan has created huge anger among serving soldiers in the KOSB. One need only look at the regimental website to know the anger of the families of those serving soldiers. There is real resentment of the review, as anyone visiting the south of Scotland will find. I am advised that it is already having a bad effect on recruiting. The Chief of the General Staff said that he was going to put resources elsewhere. I wonder whether that is wise—rebalance, yes; reduce the infantry at this stage, no.

The Government have just made security of the country their first priority. If that is so, perhaps I may suggest that all such proposals are delayed until there is more confidence in the stability of the world security situation. As we say in Scotland, can we send Ministers back tae think again?

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench

My Lords, there is much to welcome in the gracious Speech, not least in promoting equality and tackling discrimination. I apologise for not being present for the opening speeches. My absence was due to a longstanding prior commitment, but I shall be here until the end.

My remarks will concentrate on international development. I acknowledge the work that the Government have done in taking a leading role by setting up the Commission for Africa, taking measures on debt reduction and so on. Much focus is deservedly given to the international impact of climate change and in helping Africa—both were mentioned by Her Majesty in the gracious Speech—as well as in improving life for the world's children. However, we should not neglect the impact of other global issues. I refer especially to poverty reduction and the impact of global ageing on developing nations.

By 2025, the number of older people in developing nations will double to 850 million; that is 70 per cent of older people worldwide. Already, almost 300 million live on less than 2 dollars a day. It must be a key priority, therefore, to focus help on the poorest. HelpAge International—I declare an interest as a trustee of that charity—is part of the Make Poverty History campaign, which promotes a more effective aid policy, better trade measures and more generous debt relief, especially in Africa. Next year's presidency of the G8 and the EU, together with the continuing work of the Africa commission, will be a great opportunity for Her Majesty's Government to show international leadership.

For HelpAge International, international agreement on social pensions for older people is a key goal in achieving the previously set millennium development goals, which would halve the number of people living in absolute poverty. For example, in southern Africa alone, around 60 per cent of children orphaned due to AIDS live with older carers, usually grandparents, who must look after them without the recognition and support that they deserve and in a context of increasing poverty, food shortages and decreasing community resources. They are excluded from information campaigns and prevention programmes and are neglected in the fight against AIDS. What can Her Majesty's Government do to provide financial and technical backing, especially to AIDS-affected countries; to provide direct income support to the families of older carers, orphans and vulnerable children; and to support education and health policies and programmes that are responsive to the needs?

We must ensure that such older people are explicitly included in HIV/AIDS policies, programmes and resource allocation. If that were achieved, it would enable them to get access to development benefits such as health, water, education and improved nutrition and to support children in their care, as well as themselves. That is why I hope that the continuing response to the HIV/AIDS crisis takes special account of the impact of the pandemic on older people, who are often left as carers, and on women of all ages. Only yesterday, we heard from the United Nations that almost half of AIDS sufferers are women. I was also disturbed to read yesterday's report by Christian Aid that drugs alone would not control the AIDS pandemic.

As HelpAge International has pointed out, the proportion of older people in Africa will increase by 50 per cent, partly as a result of the impact of AIDS on younger cohorts. The number of older people is forecast to increase fivefold by 2050 to 182 million. Western and southern Africa will see the largest increase in the number of older people, with women outnumbering men and living longer, often in extreme poverty and material deprivation. Furthermore, they are undertaking an increasing role in the care of children. In sub-Saharan Africa, one third of households are headed by people over 55, 68 per cent of whom take care of one or more children under the age of 15. A study undertaken by the World Health Organisation in Zimbabwe in 2002 found that 80.5 per cent of orphaned children were cared for by their grandparents.

The oldest and the youngest—those under 15—are the fastest growing population groups in Africa. The two groups are increasingly interdependent, given the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Some 60 per cent of children of 15 and under are looked after by people aged 60 and over. Responses to poverty must take account of that fact and of the increasing interdependence between those two generations.

Practical help that is sustainable and meets local needs is a priority. Billions of dollars in aid, drugs and vaccines to combat polio, malaria and AIDS will continue to be wasted if they do not reach those who need them, particularly those in rural areas of Africa, where good roads and transport systems do not exist and skilled health workers are powerless to help those in need of their care because they can reach them only by walking. In that respect, I commend to your Lordships the current exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall. Riders for Health are an excellent example of practical and sustainable help, providing reliable and well maintained motorbikes to ensure that health workers can reach those in need, often travelling huge distances.

I remind your Lordships that, in Africa, one in 14 pregnant women dies in childbirth, compared with one in 5,000 here. International development aid should support policies that are fully owned by the recipient country and defined in participatory and consultative ways. In particular, economic policy conditions such as trade liberalisation, privatisation and fiscal austerity should be abandoned, so that aid can be given without restrictions.

With the EU and G8 presidencies, Her Majesty's Government can help lead the international community in ensuring that the millennium development goals finance gap is bridged. HelpAge International calculates that that will require the commitment of at least 50 billion dollars more aid in 2005, with a rapid move towards the 0.7 per cent target by all donors. I specifically ask the Minister how Her Majesty's Government can demonstrate how much of their development aid reaches the poor, by age and gender and, in particular, in rural areas.

Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour

My Lords, as always in such debates, the agenda is wide-ranging, but I shall concentrate on what I regard as the primary event in international affairs in November: the re-election of President Bush and the consequent appointment of Dr Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. I wish to concentrate on one aspect: neo-conservatism. I may cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, but I am prepared to do that.

Neo-conservatism is not a cabal. It is not a mafia. There is not even agreement among those who are neo-cons on how their views should be put into practical political action. Neo-conservatism has been variously described as a "persuasion", a "sensibility", a "tendency" and a view. It is up to us to treat it as a view, rather than a conspiracy. It is with that issue that I want to engage.

The international dimension of neo-conservatism has been defined by somebody whom I regard as the best apostle of the creed and whom the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, quoted: "They"—the neo-cons—

"would make democracy possible by deposing dictatorial regimes that threaten American security and world order—using military force if all else fails; they would follow regime change with nation building; and they would rely on 'coalitions of the willing' rather than on the United Nations".

To that, I would add only the view proclaimed by President Bush in his campaign that peoples should be allowed to choose freedom. I also add the rider, which Secretary Rumsfeld apparently wants even to this day, that nation building should be "stricken from the agenda". After the shambles of Iraq, I cannot blame him for thinking that.

I take the notion of freedom first. It is an attractive slogan, and it is fine as it stands. However, it is almost a cliché to say that there are two sorts of freedom: "freedom from someone or something" and "freedom to do something". It is no good having "freedom from" an oppressive regime without having "freedom to"; for instance, to eat or engage in the legitimate pursuit of happiness. History is littered with instances where people would rather have bread than votes. Without a proper supply of bread, "freedom from" as such makes no sense.

There is, alas, no sign that that point has been fully understood. That is illustrated in the words of Dr Rice, who rejects,

"the condescending view that freedom will not grow in the soil of the Middle East".

Well, perhaps I am being a bit condescending, but I imagine that many people in the Middle East, let alone Africa, would rather have a plentiful supply of bread—to have "freedom to" rather than "freedom from".

Dr Rice goes on to equate that freedom with democracy. She says:

"We do not seek to impose democracy on others, we seek only to help to create conditions in which people can claim a freer future for themselves".

Most neo-cons, however, go further than that. They believe that the desire for western values, including western-style democracy, is universal and deeply felt and that it is America's destiny to release those latent longings.

That view is supported by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who declared in his address to the US Congress, that,

"ours are not Western values; they are universal values of the human spirit".

He is also on the record as claiming that "democracies do not start wars"; a claim, incidentally, which is historically incorrect. Fifth century Athens, for instance, known as the cradle of democracy, started a number of wars in order to impose its system on the rest of Greece, which I suppose makes Pericles one of the first neo-cons.

It is always difficult to challenge affirmations of quasi-religious faith. Rational voices are generally ignored. But there is manifold historical evidence to show that over the centuries people have preferred a variety of different constitutional arrangements to western-style democracy. After all, we have only to look at the history of the British Empire as an illustration.

It was widely held at one time that the Westminster model, of which we were rather smugly proud, was exportable—even to countries with an indigenous population who, we assumed, would realise that their primitive state needed developing to a higher political aspiration, and, when that was done, would adopt a system that had evolved over centuries in this country and was particularly suited to our Judaeo-Christian culture. Other countries have different cultures. Islam has had its say, as have African tribalism and the Chinese version of communism.

What I have described is probably the crudest form of neo-conservatism, but there is no doubt that that was the dominant influence in the decision to invade Iraq. But events have their own way of creating their logic. It seems to me—although I say this, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, somewhat tentatively—that there is now something of a shift in the ideological wind.

After the shambles of Iraq, the appetite for "regime change" and "nation building" has diminished. Enthusiasm for a similar adventure in Iran, for instance, is somewhere between limited and non-existent. If that is so, it is a development for which rational people should be devoutly thankful. The international atmosphere would become much more benign.

Yet—there is always a "yet" in these matters—it would be quite wrong to deny the United States the right to guard its own security; and the Bush administration is justified in identifying threats to American security and even to consider pre-emptive military action, as a last resort, to remove them. In practice, of course, the Bush administration, while waving a big stick, is treading carefully in two major areas of identified nuclear threat—Iran and North Korea—at least for the moment.

That leaves us with the question of how we should work alongside the United States in combating terrorism and the nuclear threat from hostile states. Obviously, the first answer is to try to make those states less hostile; Libya is a good example. But that will not always work. The second answer is to be part of a "coalition of the willing" in a particular exercise. Iran is an example of where Britain, France and Germany, as has been mentioned, are playing the "soft cop" role with the United States playing the "hard cop" role.

The third answer is to work within the framework of the United Nations. But we must bear in mind that the United Nations has been badly damaged, not just in American eyes but in those of many others, by the oil-for-food scandal—more than 20 billion dollars missing—by the vapid statements of the Secretary-General, by the rows in the Security Council over Iraq and by the inability of the Security Council to enforce its resolutions in wherever they may be. We can hope only that the so-called "wise men" will come up with a formula to make the UN more effective. Personally, I would not bet my house on that.

The fourth answer is to work within the NATO framework; in other words, openly to recognise NATO's political rather than military role, as the new Secretary-General has suggested. The very sensible answer is to choose whichever option is appropriate under the circumstances presented to us. What makes absolutely no sense at all is to try to set up the European Union as some sort of political opposition to the United States. The European Union is simply not in a position to play such a role, nor should it be. The largest member states of the Union will continue to nurture their bilateral relations with the United States.

If the French Government wish really to see the European Union play the role that President Chirac apparently has in mind, they will no doubt suggest that the Washington embassies of EU countries should be merged into one and that there should be one single European membership of the UN Security Council replacing that of Britain and France. That at least would show consistency and true devotion to the idea, but that would show that pigs can grow wings.

So where does that leave us? It is no good moaning about the result of the American election. It is no good pretending that the second Bush administration will be less aggressive in defending America's security wherever and whenever it may be threatened. We should concentrate on modifying, mitigating and then moderating the quasi-religious drive of neo-conservatism, encouraging the shift in the ideological wind that I mentioned earlier.

It so happens that help is at hand. I undertook not to refer to United States domestic policy. But the problem for the neo-cons lies in the twin US deficits—the public sector deficit and the balance of payments deficit. An aggressive foreign policy requires continuing and ever-expanding expenditure on American military power. Otherwise, the ultimate threat—the use of military power—is whittled away.

So it may be—it just may be—that the empire of the neo-cons, already undergoing something of an ideological change, will ultimately fall to the financial imperatives of its own country—the United States of America. All empires fail and no doubt that one will fail too.

Before I close, I would like—

Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for permitting me to interrupt his speech. I have enjoyed it enormously. Anyone who can link Pericles with Secretary Rumsfeld is a remarkable person in making that link. I am sure that Pericles, like Donald Rumsfeld, believed that "stuff" happens. However, I do not know how that is rendered into classical Greek.

In his dissection of neo-conservatism, which as a creed has not yet gained much favour in this country, does the noble Lord believe that the traditional two-way street between the United Kingdom and the United States places this government, whichever party is in control, in if not an absolutely unique, at least an unusual position in attempting to make sure that bilateralism, trilateralism and multilateralism still reign?

Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was not going to address that particular problem, but since he has asked to me do so, I shall. I agree that in this country we hold a particular position because of what I would call our Judaeo-Christian culture and constitutional arrangements which, generally speaking, are the property of what the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, called the "English-speaking peoples". There is a case for saying that we should be in the middle of all this.

Nevertheless, I somewhat take issue with the noble Lord when he says that we are in a unique position because I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that at the moment we are in a position of fading gentility. I do not say that I am an anti-American. I am an Americophile but I am also a Europhile, so what I say is not anti-American. However, I believe that the current empire of the "neo-cons"—if I can put it like that—will ultimately fall to the financial imperatives of their own country.

Before I close, speaking as an Americophile and a Europhile, I hope that I join the noble Lord, Lord Patten, in saying that I very much regret the pervasive anti-Americanism that is around in this country and in Europe. I hope that we can put our squabbles behind us and engage in a sensible discussion with the United States under what I believe to be a slight ideological shift. We must get on with discussing the future of the world which, after all, is a future of great danger.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Affairs

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williams. I welcome this yearly debate as it was in this debate 10 years ago that I made my maiden speech. It allows the House to express its concerns and, in certain cases, congratulations on the many issues facing the world today.

International development is one area where there is more cross-party consensus than in others. In that light, it is perhaps an opportune moment to congratulate the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on what they have achieved in the past year.

I have just attended an extremely interesting conference held by the BBC World Service Trust and DfID on the role played by the media in the fight against global poverty. The three problems I wish briefly to cover today are HIV/AIDS, corruption and illegal drugs. They are intrinsic to this debate. The media, in partnership with politicians, governments and NGOs, both individually and together, have a huge responsibility and the power to change people's lives for the better.

I commend especially the good work of Human Rights Watch in this area. I shall quote an organisation, which states that, "sunlight being the best disinfectant". Transparency is pivotal to developing the democracy so treasured by the brave, struggling people described by the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, in her remarkable maiden speech. Transparency is also pivotal to achieving security and alleviating hunger and disease. As Amartya Sen has said:

"Famines don't happen in functioning democracies".

As we look to the new parliamentary Session, one country in eight is embroiled in civil war. Today almost all wars are civil conflicts in which 90 per cent of the victims are civilians. I shall name but two examples. It was with a heavy heart that I watched the situation in the Ivory Coast unwind again. Meanwhile, despite progress on paper, the situation in Sudan seems to be sliding backwards.

However, there is hope on other fronts. The continual tragedy of the Great Lakes region had unfortunately fallen rather from the press limelight. But on Saturday we saw the heads of state of the 11 countries finally approve and sign a declaration, a document showing that these countries are more than willing to find a common way out of their longstanding conflict. That is a move which I am sure noble Lords will join me in welcoming.

Such a move is but the beginning. A typical civil war leaves a country 15 per cent poorer than it would otherwise have been, with 30 per cent more people living in absolute poverty. It is now believed that while war can and does spread AIDS, it spreads even more virulently once the guns have fallen silent. This crisis has occurred in Mozambique and is one which Angola, among others, is now trying to avoid. There is a huge lack of reliable information, which makes it hard to know what steps can be taken to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS when a country passes from war to peace. Can the Minister inform the House if Her Majesty's Government will be undertaking any research into this particular issue?

So far I have mentioned only African countries. We now have the Commission for Africa set up by the Prime Minister, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. In fact, anyone talking about international development today nearly always refers solely to Africa. There are indeed great problems of governance, poverty and disease on the continent, but I urge the Government and the BBC World Service not to concentrate solely on Africa. Other parts of the world should not be forgotten. I refer to parts of South America, Asia and the former Soviet bloc. Terrible suffering is experienced in those areas as well.

Various forms of corruption often plague countries trying to get back on their feet. I congratulate the president of Nicaragua, Enrique Bolanos, on his moves to lead the way in tackling corruption. But while that may be a popular move abroad, it has rendered him almost powerless at home. We see this through the undermining of his support at all the different levels of society, which shows how deep corruption can run in one country alone. It is essential that Her Majesty's Government remain accountable for the funds they provide in aid to any country in need. However, it is also vital that we hold to account on behalf of their people those responsible for the distribution and use of such funds. We still read stories of how funds have gone astray. Even today, one of the most shocking scandals is the Oil for Food scam in the United Nations, which is still being investigated.

Allied closely to corruption is the evil of the illegal drugs trade and drug abuse. It is estimated that 95 per cent of the world's opium comes from war-torn nations. Last week it was reported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that opium cultivation in Afghanistan alone has increased by 64 per cent compared with the figures for last year, making it the highest drug cultivation in the country's history and the largest in the world. Opium cultivation produces the equivalent of over 60 per cent of Afghanistan's GDP for 2003. Sadly this is happening as, paradoxically, the country is progressing towards democracy. Can the Minister expand on the plans in Bill Rammell's statement when he mentioned that:

"We [the Government] will be working with the Afghan Government and all their international partners to ensure increased activity and delivery over the next 12 months"?

I am aware that, given the vast number of speakers today, we can but touch on what, in so many cases, are complex issues which deserve much more debate to do them justice. It is vital that we as a nation help and encourage those less fortunate than ourselves, in all parts of the world where there is suffering, but in taking on new challenges we must not forget the problems of old.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop

My Lords, the gracious Speech referred to the fact that the Government will assume the presidency of the European Union in July and will also hold the G8 presidency for 2005. These are key roles for international development and will be especially important in 2005, which has been designated as the year to "Make Poverty History".

The heavily indebted poor countries—HIPC— initiative was proposed in 1996 and enhanced in 1999 at Cologne. It is important to note that debt relief makes a real difference. In the 10 countries that had reached decision point before 2000, health spending increased by 70 per cent and school spending across all HIPCs was estimated to have increased by 20 per cent.

However, there is still a long way to go. Money that should be going on development is even now going to service those debts. For example, in Ethiopia, where life expectancy is 42, it has been estimated that debt service payments would continue to be about 74 million dollars a year, even after it received HIPC relief. This is more than its spending on health, which in 1999 was 70 million dollars.

Twenty-seven countries have benefited from the HIPC initiative, 15 having now reached completion point at which debt relief is guaranteed. But, by HIPC's own criteria, only seven of those have debts that are at a sustainable level, which is regarded as 150 per cent of exports. So, even with the maximum debt relief available under the HIPC initiative, many countries will continue to have debts that are not sustainable.

Furthermore, there is a huge amount of debt stock left, estimated at 82 billion dollars in 2003. Africa, which is especially mentioned in the gracious Speech, has a debt stock alone of 196 billion dollars.

As we know, conditionality has been used to force countries to make unwanted changes that are fundamentally unrelated to poverty reduction or to the proper spending of debt relief money. This raises the wider question of the purpose of debt relief, which until now has been to make countries "good creditors". Would it not be far better to tie debt relief and aid to a country's ability to reach its millennium development goals—MDGs? At present, even with maximum debt relief, it will be impossible for the vast majority of countries to reach those goals—the theme of a good number of speeches made by the Chancellor.

There are, however, some encouraging new proposals. The first, proposed by the Chancellor in a speech on 26 September this year, is unilateral debt forgiveness for some World Bank and African Development Bank debts. The UK Government have given a lead on that, looking to others to follow. It is a most welcome initiative, but some questions nevertheless need to be asked about it. Although the money is coming from the existing aid budget, it is widely acknowledged that, in order to fulfil the MDGs, debt relief must be in addition to increased aid. Countries need both debt relief and aid to build up the resources to address poverty.

A second proposal is to revalue International Monetary Fund gold in order to write-off debts at the IMF. This proposal by the UK has understandably been widely welcomed. Although there are again questions to be asked about the proposal, there is no time now to go into them.

The third important and interesting initiative is the creation of an international finance facility—an IFF. This proposal could double aid to £100 billion per annum, thus filling the current shortfall of 50 billion dollars. It would leverage the additional money from capital markets by issuing bonds that use donor countries' long-term funding commitments as collateral. Funds would be repaid after 2015. The aid agencies are generally publicly supportive of this. The IMF, having considered the initiative at its spring meeting in 2004, deemed it feasible. However, what will happen after 2015? It is vital that aid flows do not drop off sharply after that point, when overseas development aid budgets begin to be used to repay the bonds. It would be quite wrong to offload present debt onto future generations.

So, while there have been real efforts to tackle the problem of debt—and it is making a significant difference—there is a very long way to go. These and other initiatives must be pursued with a real political will.

Finally, there is the issue of trade justice. The concept of free trade as a good thing has been deeply embedded in our national consciousness ever since the great debates in the early part of the 19th century. I believe in free trade. History shows that any attempt at long-term protectionism is a cul-de-sac. However, genuine free trade depends on buyers and sellers being on an equal footing in the market. That is the only kind of free trade we should be supporting. What we have in the world at present is anything but that.

First, exports from Europe and North America to the developing world are hugely subsidised, with devastating effects on local markets. There was, for example, a time when Ghana had its own flourishing tomato industry. Then it became possible for the population to buy cans of imported Italian tomatoes cheaper than they could purchase local produce, not because Italian tomatoes were cheaper to produce in the first place but because those who produced them were in receipt of a substantial subsidy. There was a time when Ghana had its own local rice crops, but hugely subsidised imported rice from North America soon killed that off. One could go on. Although there are plans, at least in Europe, to phase out those subsidies over a 10-year period, we should not be blind to their effects in the mean time.

We then have to ask whether the most successful industries in the world resulted simply from free trade or whether there have been other factors. There have often been other factors, such as government support and government protection. The Japanese car industry is often looked on as a wonderful success for free trade. The South Korean economy is often looked to as an example of how a free market can benefit emerging economies. But both were heavily subsidised and protected by their respective governments—as, indeed, was the successful European Airbus project. There is a case for government support and government protection, not on a long-term basis but certainly in relation to fledgling industries in weak economies in order that they may compete on better terms with a world that has long been developed, and developed very often with the help of governments.

With that in mind, there is particular concern among the aid agencies about the new breed of economic partnership agreements, the so-called EPAs. Until now, the European Union has allowed African, Caribbean and Pacific countries—that is, ACPs—preferential access to the EU market without having to open their economies in return. The EU now wants to get rid of this deal, claiming that it is not compatible with WTO rules. The EU is pushing for faster and deeper liberalisation in a way that could severely limit the ability of poorer countries to support their own small producers or require foreign companies to use local materials or local labour.

At the moment, 46 of the 77 ACP countries that are classified as least developed have duty and quota-free access to the EU market under the "everything but arms" agreement. Now the ACPs are being asked to open their borders to European goods in such a way that they will no longer be able to protect themselves and their producers from cheap, subsidised EU goods flooding their markets and putting local farmers and small-scale manufacturers out of business.

The figures show that the effect of this will be absolutely devastating. The problem is that EU member states, the UK included, have formally delegated responsibility for EPAs to the European Commission but have subsequently taken very little interest in the negotiations, thus allowing the EC to press ahead without being scrutinised. All the aid agencies are united in their concern about this development.

Free trade, in the only meaningful sense of the phrase, means buyers and sellers operating in a market place on an equal footing. That is very far from being the case at present.

2005 is the year of "Make Poverty History". During this year, as the gracious Speech makes clear, the United Kingdom has a very special role and responsibility, as president of the European Union for six months and president of the G8 group of countries for the year. I very much look forward to the Government using their two presidencies to pursue vigorously, with real political will, issues of debt relief, aid and trade justice.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, especially as it enabled me to cross out one of my paragraphs because he said it so eloquently.

The record of the Department for International Development demonstrates that the UK cares about poverty and inequality in the world. As my noble friend the Minister said in his opening address, the target for our aid is set to reach 0.7 per cent, long the goal of civilised nations. Using only 1 per cent of UK taxpayers' money, each year of our aid helps to reduce permanently the number of people living in poverty by 2 million. I am sure my noble friend could flesh that out with encouraging news on primary education, health, the effort in Afghanistan, Iraq and the whole of Africa.

For many people in developing countries, the world is a better place, and we should be very proud of our efforts in enabling that transformation. But, looking just at sub-Saharan Africa, rightly one of our preoccupations, as the gracious Speech says and as my noble friend and others have emphasised, there the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day has increased.

There is a sombre relation between that and some harsh commercial realities: 40 per cent of the profits made in Africa leave that continent; in 2002, it produced only 2 per cent of global exports, as against 6 per cent in 1980. And although it would be misleading to lump all the African economies together, when some are doing very well, nevertheless we can see that in the round, Africa is being left behind. It cannot produce competitively enough, it cannot trade competitively enough, and it does not attract enough foreign direct investment. I commend the Department of Trade and Industry's White Paper, Making Globalisation a Force for Good, which sets this out clearly in the context of enhancing and sustaining development. It is very welcome to see this alliance across the hinterland of Victoria Street.

To "make poverty history" needs more than development aid. The people of Africa, rightly proud of their continent and their cultures, want also to be proud of growing economies. Many of the preconditions exist—greater political stability in many countries, stronger civil society, stronger constitutional government, many democratic and multi-party elections with high voter participation—higher than here—increasing independence of legislatures and judiciaries. And Africans are increasingly taking their destiny into their own hands. We rightly support the coming into being of the African Union with its Parliament, its Court of Human Rights and its work on NePAD, building on the achievements of ECOWAS and SADC. But prosperity is not advancing commensurately.

The Prime Minister's Commission for Africa—a popular subject in your Lordships' House today—with over half its members African and its thoughtful consultation process within Africa, will reflect African opinion on what they need to push forward. One of the key priorities of African people is the eradication of corruption. But before I say a little about that, I would just like to glance at two other issues.

One is the dearth of credit, especially for smaller agricultural producers, in Africa the majority, producing 37 per cent of Africa's gross national income, half its exports and employing two thirds of its workforce. Many who are very close to action on the ground, like the non-governmental organisation Harvest Help, think that for that reason, agriculture should have more targeted development aid in any case, to raise productivity and obviate food insecurity. The vital pillar of credit may be more available in future if reforms of land tenure can produce collateral and asset formation, and if DfID's policy for encouraging reputable banking to reach deeper bears fruit. In the mean time, microfinance—I declare an interest as an associate of Opportunity International—must fill some of the gap. For the International Year of Microcredit in 2005, I hope we can bring microcredit and the conventional banking sector closer together.

Microcredit has the attribute that it enables individuals, even those without assets, to transform their own lives in small incremental ways of their own. It can bypass corrupt administrations and it confers choice, significantly on women, who are overwhelmingly its clients. I have seen it working in Ghana, in Zambia, in Ethiopia, and elsewhere.

Remittances have a similar characteristic of enhancing individual choice. The money from emigrants to richer countries, which is much more than all of development aid, more than direct investment—with £3 billion to £4 billion from the UK alone every year and over £50 billion globally—puts funds straight into the hands of individuals, to send children to school, to train students, to start businesses, to build houses, schools and clinics for individual communities. Yet the costs of these transfers can be very high. What are the Government doing to make the remittance process easier and cheaper?

The big donors rely on conditions attached to their grants to make an impact on the system. Conditionality can be a brake or an incentive, and I commend the new DfID consultation paper on the subject for facing up to the awkward questions. I hope that the answers will lie in the direction of giving more autonomy to governments through capacity-building, so that they can do their own research into what works to get rid of poverty in their own societies; structure accountability to donors so that it does not consume disproportionate resources compared to the funded project; give their people a voice and a say; work out their own pro-poor property law and independent and accessible justice. These are, of course, all rights-based objectives, valuing individuals—themes referred to in both the splendid maiden speeches that we heard today.

Finally, Africans' own priority—corruption. Here, perhaps, the contribution of the developed world is most lacking, and I do not exclude the newly middle-income countries of Asia. I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings; it is rich companies that fuel corruption in poor states. The UK, the world's second biggest outward investor, needs to put its own house in order.

Reminding your Lordships' House of my membership of Transparency International UK's advisory council, I suggest, first, that the right framework of legislation is needed. The most senior and highly regarded Kenyan anti-corruption official, John Githongo, asked a group of parliamentarians a week or so ago for "energetic legislation". How far have we got with that? The OECD has produced a fairly good template in the form of its convention. We have probably not quite implemented that entirely. The UN has adopted a workable instrument—its Convention Against Corruption. The UK has adopted it, but not yet ratified it. Although this legislation is the responsibility of the Home Office, perhaps the greatest damage done by corruption is to international development. Ordinary citizens' legitimate expectations of better infrastructure, of redress against oppressive administrations, of justice itself, are frustrated and, in some cases, whole national budgets are subverted by corruption.

The new and welcome ECGD rules against bribery and corruption have apparently, it is said, been watered down—the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry. Perhaps we need some more alliances across Victoria Street, going also up to Queen Anne's Gate. And even after the legislative framework has been completed, there is cultural change among some businesses to be achieved. Here the best transnational companies—and I declare an interest as an adviser on ethical investment—are in advance of the Government. Skanska, BP, Rio Tinto and Anglo-American all have solid, open good practice which addresses the scale of the problem, though they do not claim to have solved it. How can they without the international structure of laws which makes a level playing field? I hope my noble friend the Minister can give us some reassuring news about progress in UK anti-corruption law.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, the very thoughtful realism of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, recognised the changed circumstances on defence. One of those is the hazardous scenario of armed peacekeeping in aid of the civil power. These are matters of current concern to those serving in our Armed Forces—and also of concern to the Minister—of which no mention was made in the gracious Speech, so I am taking the opportunity to deal with them.

The law of murder was not devised to regulate such operations in such wholly changed circumstances as obtain in Iraq. Has not consideration to be given to whether a mandatory life sentence is appropriate; to whether, in circumstances of armed peacekeeping in aid of a civil power, murder ought to be charged in any event, save in wholly exceptional circumstances; to whether self-defence affords any satisfactory safeguard when acting under orders in these lethal hostile conditions; and to whether our domestic law should be amended, as was suggested many years ago by the Select Committee of this House?

Consideration has to be given also to whether the system of discipline imposed on our Armed Forces, in peace and on operations, by the European Convention on Human Rights, by virtue of the Human Rights Act, which has already eroded discipline, should remain; and whether negotiations should ensue to seek an opt-out for our Armed Forces, even limited to matters of discipline and disciplinary proceedings. It is understood that the Armed Forces Discipline Acts are due to be consolidated in a single Act next year. Perhaps this is a relevant occasion on which to refer to these concerns.

Our Armed Forces now operate as never before. They operate in Iraq without the protection of international humanitarian law, whether or not taken prisoner. They are exposed to civilian "suicide bombers", not in uniform, and other means of lethal entrapment, wholly without the rules of warfare.

The circumstances are those in which orders are given to man a road block; to stop and search for a person or weapons; to protect installations from sabotage; and to prevent the escape of those like in Fallujah who are on the run to fight and engage elsewhere as soon as possible, where the only means of implementing the orders preventing them escaping is to fire and shoot them. And then to be charged with murder. There has to be a reassessment in the light of the hazards of this type of operation.

The case of Trooper Williams is of course a cause of considerable anxiety. His commanding officer decided that there was no case for him to answer in the circumstances. The Crown Prosecution Service, about which I do not propose to say much, has charged him with murder and he awaits trial at the Old Bailey. There is therefore little one can say—it is sub judice—other than that the circumstances as reported and reflected in the Spectator of 13 November appear, if they are right, to support the decision of the commanding officer. In any event, no advocate general in Scotland would lay a prosecution for murder. It would be manslaughter under extant law.

It was suggested—I forget by who but I think by the noble and learned Lord who served on the Joint Committee all those years ago—that in this sort of case, the question would be whether in the circumstances there was resort to excessive force. As to the new system of discipline imposed by the ECHR, it is superimposed, as your Lordships will probably know, on the disciplinary rules and regulations issued by the Secretary of State, Queen's Regulations and general administrative instructions. I have brought the bundle with me. This is the guidance which is superimposed on commanding officers in order to comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Act on discipline.

Perhaps I may give some practical examples taken from the bundle. Frankly, with a beaker of Quinta do Noval, it is a wonderful cure for insomnia. I shall give these examples, apart from the threat of resort to review of disciplinary proceedings for want of compatibility. I can read them very quickly. First, a commanding officer may not legally question or order a search until he has received a report from the military police, which at times has involved a delay of up to five months. The military police are desperately overstretched and have been for some time.

Secondly, a commanding officer may place an accused in military custody only for 48 hours pre-charge, and thereafter is subject to constraints limited to what is called a custody regime, and its criteria. Thirdly, there is no surety for conditions of bail, nor any way in which to prevent absconding or to ensure attendance at a hearing. Fourthly, at no point of the summary process is a formal opportunity given to plead guilty or not guilty. There is a maximum punishment of 28 days, unless permission is given from above. In any event, the person involved must always be told that he can opt for trial by court martial, on any charge. Fifthly, there is no power to detain. Open arrest is an infringement of human rights under Article 5.

Sixthly, and lastly, the power of the summary appeal court, at which the regiment is not represented, is to quash, confirm or vary a summary award or finding. That engenders a disruption for a military authority, because the appellant has nothing to lose, as the punishment award may not be increased. That has opened the floodgates among the men, and inhibits the good order of military discipline, as we used to call it in my day—though my day was some time ago. It erodes discipline. The decision of that court is final and the unit has no right of appeal.

That erosion of discipline is a serious problem. I must tell your Lordships—and I am grateful to be able to do so—that it is being treated as such by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. In this context, at the behest of my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever, the Minister is looking at a couple of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights from 15 June. Again in that context, it is most respectfully suggested that commanders of above field or equivalent rank should be asked by the MoD whether discipline has been eroded—and, if so, how, why and when. In that way, the legitimate concerns of the Armed Forces may be met.

After 50 years, the European Convention on Human Rights is ripe for review and renegotiation. Times have changed, and the lethal hazards of armed peacekeeping have intensified. The enlarged European Union is setting up multinational forces, one of which is commanded at the moment by General John Kiszely, which must operate under common rules of engagement. I always see the Minister shudder when I mention rules of engagement. That is especially so if resort is to be had to the yellow card.

I seek no answer tonight. I hope only for consideration.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I wonder if I might draw two facts to the attention of all noble Lords. First, if all noble Lords overrun their time, Members of your Lordships' House will be here till after midnight, because my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean has been asked a lot of questions, which noble Lords will expect her to answer. Secondly, I wish to place on record the Companion guidance about noble Lords who speak needing to be in the Chamber for the beginning and end of the debate and, as a minimum, for the speakers before and after them.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, so many wars and emergencies demand our attention that we hear too little of the longer-term daily deprivation in the poorest developing countries. The millennium development goals were certainly one means of highlighting poverty. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, they seem not to be relevant; rather, they are increasingly unobtainable and academic.

It is difficult to find convincing statistics on world poverty, but I was struck by one provided by the United Nations Development Programme. In the least developed countries, out of an average income of 72 cents a day, 57 cents are spent on daily consumption, leaving only 15 cents for "extras" such as social services or investment in the future. In view of that figure of 15 cents, it is no wonder that the poorest are unable to lift their heads from the necessity of hand-to-mouth survival to those longer-term needs of health, education and employment, which we would like to ensure that survival.

No wonder the poorest, without the help of non-governmental organisations, are unable even to take part in the process of decision-making, which would inform them of their rights and support their chances of a better future. Aid agencies are increasingly turning to rights-based development in their attempt to alleviate poverty. In that context, several of us are encouraged to have the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, with us, for that very purpose.

For me, there is the more fundamental question of trade justice, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. That is a phrase that we shall hear often next year, because of the various summits. Fair trade, in spite of initiatives such as the ethical trading initiative mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Young, in his maiden speech, is still more a slogan than a reality. On the plate of the new EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, is one very important issue, to which the right reverend Prelate referred: the negotiation of economic partnership agreements within the Cotonou agreement, signed four years ago.

Article 34 of the agreement states that the aim of trade co-operation is to foster,

"the smooth and gradual integration of the ACP states into the world economy . . . thereby promoting their sustainable development and contributing to poverty eradication".

In other words, in line with the previous Lomé convention, Cotonou was expressly created to help 77 of the world's very poorest countries to escape poverty. But that is not happening. Instead, we are seeing a range of the new bilateral EPAs or free trade agreements, which are forcing those countries to open their markets to European export. Most aid agency observers see an even more sinister motive; they see that the EU is trying—admittedly, against the pressure from our own Government—to reintroduce free trade packages by the back door where it failed during the main WTO negotiations in Cancun.

New issues, such as investment, government contracts, competition and trade facilitation are taking over from the objectives of sustainable development and poverty reduction. As the European Union Select Committee has also identified in its report, which will be discussed next week, that is a real threat to developing countries, which are already suffering from something worse than competition—the dumping of agricultural surpluses from Europe. If you are growing onions in Senegal or tomatoes in Ghana and your market stall is alongside one selling cheap Dutch onions or sun-drenched Italian tomatoes, you may as well go home. That injustice can be removed only through a stricter interpretation of Cotonou by member states, and ultimately by the removal of subsidies. African, Caribbean and Pacific states are also supposed to determine their own economic development models, under Article 4 of Cotonou. Why should they welcome neo-colonial partners promising support for their development but seeking free trade for themselves?

According to the World Bank's most recent report, Global Economic Prospects 2005, regional and bilateral free trade agreements have multiplied four times since 1990, burdening poorer developing countries with high costs and complex regulations that do nothing for their economic development. Meanwhile, as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, reminded me, the European Union's farm subsidies reached £140 billion last year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's annual survey, amounting to 32 per cent of farmers' receipts, still a higher level of support than in the United States. Delays in common agricultural policy reform are inevitably distorting trade, depressing world prices and, while disguising the true crisis in European agriculture, maintaining an unequal international economic system.

Moving from Cotonou to cotton, the welcome ruling in favour of Brazil and others against US cotton producers at the World Trade Organisation in September was a relief to 10 million small farmers in West Africa, who depend on cotton, and millions more in East Africa and Latin America. The same ruling in favour of ACP sugar producers will help countries such as Mozambique, where the sugar industry is the largest employer.

Lack of infrastructure and support is still hampering smaller producers there, but their worst problem is price. With world prices so low, those farmers, men and women, will not be able to afford proper secondary education or even basic healthcare for their children. That is the essential link between trade and poverty that aid alone can never replace. Regional trade agreements, such as that in East Africa, can help a minority, but they work against the smaller cotton and sugar producers.

Increasing aid to the poorest is politically much easier than trade concessions. The international finance facility, for example, is seen as a magic wand, like the Marshall Plan of yesterday. I notice that it is one of the key recommendations of the Prime Minister's Commission for Africa consultation document. Unfortunately, that document majors on good governance, security and human development but says very little about trade, hinting that reciprocity may be better than fair trade.

Yet trade is a means of reaching the poorest communities more efficiently and boosting local economies more effectively than any other form of assistance. If the Government want to achieve the millennium development goals and reinforce Africa's own economic partnership for development, they must put more effort into dismantling trade barriers and sticking to the letter of their agreements. So I hope that Mr Mandelson will soon be tabling new proposals that follow the true principles of Cotonou and give new impetus to the forthcoming Doha round.

Trade is not really about capacity-building, which is a favourite response of the Department for International Development and the Department of Trade and Industry. Nor is it about International Monetary Fund conditionality. I acknowledge that poverty reduction strategies, where they genuinely involve civil society and parliaments and if they support agricultural development, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, must play their part. But, as the latest Poverty and Social Impact Analysis shows, they are slow to act and will not be as effective in transferring wealth as a fairer trade mechanism.

Finally, I am also concerned about the shift in European Union aid away from developing countries and towards the Mediterranean and the East. For example, according to Overseas Development Institute figures, the Mediterranean countries received 17.6 per cent of EU aid, compared with 13 per cent previously, and sub-Saharan Africa 39.5 per cent compared with 51 per cent previously. Mauritania, not India, is now in the top 10 recipients of EU aid.

As EU enlargement has progressed, Europe has also naturally committed more aid to its immediate neighbours. Although one can understand that as a legitimate political objective, it runs counter to the broader objective of world poverty eradication. The charge of "Fortress Europe" is therefore reasonable. Despite its industrial and economic problems, Europe is daily becoming a wealthier and more powerful entity, accounting for more than half of all development aid.

As we have heard, next year, Britain holds the presidency of both the EU and the G8 and the Government have a unique opportunity to present the case for poverty reduction. The Chancellor has already led the way with a number of initiatives, and it is just as well for the developing world that he has not been sent elsewhere. Our present Prime Minister has also, to be fair, given time to Africa and the new commission, but I feel that that is a tactical rather than a strategic approach to Africa's problems. Chris Mullin admitted in Nairobi last month that it was quite a short-term initiative to bring Africa higher up the agenda; but it has not so far yielded anything very original or durable.

President Thabo Mbeki's African Renaissance initiative suffered a similar fate. Whether the New Partnership for Africa's Development, a more genuine effort to involve African leaders in good governance, has any more success still remains to be seen. Without real trade concessions from the European Union, it could have very little impact on poverty.

Photo of Lord Plant of Highfield Lord Plant of Highfield Labour

My Lords, I want to discuss some aspects of humanitarian intervention, or what my noble friend Lord Desai called humanitarian war-making. I shall act as a kind of indecisive Hamlet compared with the clarity of mind and purpose that he had. Any justification for humanitarian war-making necessarily means undermining the norm of non-intervention and raising questions about how basic we now consider the idea of sovereignty of states to be. The principle of non-intervention is enshrined in Article 2.7 of the UN charter and is a central feature of the inter-American treaties and of the Organisation of African Unity.

So why was the norm of non-intervention originally adopted? First, it was argued that it would lend a degree of predictability and stability to relations between states. That is particularly important when there is no agreed international moral order that can be relied on as a basis for international politics. The norm of non-intervention is simple and can be categorical. It does not require a great deal of disputed interpretation or moral deliberation.

Secondly, it was argued that the norm of non-intervention requires forbearance. Forbearance does not require resources and is a categorical thing that we can always achieve and adopt. It is also argued that if we undermine the norm of non-intervention, we shall undermine the state system.

The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, argued that at least in our world as we know it, the state, with all its imperfections, is the arena within which freedom, rights and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of identity can be defended and enhanced. It is no accident that those who fear most for their sense of identity and self-determination, whether they be Kurds or Palestinians, clamour for statehood. Other forms of protection, whether offered through UN protectorates or by warlords in Afghanistan, are, as a matter of fact, rightly considered as second-best to and ultimately much more fragile than statehood. On that view, it is very important to maintain the sovereignty of states.

It is also argued that the norm of non-intervention is a way to protect small states. Without the bulwark of the norm of non-intervention in international affairs, small states rich in resources may become victims of the predatory nature of large states.

It is also claimed by those who want to maintain the norm of non-intervention that, at least until recently, most of the interventions to have taken place in the post-1945 era were defended in terms of self-defence. The invocation of self-defence is itself an endorsement of national sovereignty because, after all, the self that is being defended is the national state.

However, we now face a very different environment in which the whole realm of sovereignty has become problematic. It has become complicated in a whole number of ways. The impact of globalisation and open economies has created a kind of world economic and political ecology where changes in one part of the world can have a more or less instantaneous effect elsewhere. The effect of large-scale economic migration and the permeability of borders, the effect of climate change and the fact that the industrial policy of one country can have a dire effect on its neighbours are all factors at work here, as no doubt is the capacity to export terrorism. However, in the context of humanitarian intervention the absolutely critical thing has been the growth in the salience of ideas about human rights.

State sovereignty and the recognition of basic human rights were principles that were more or less bound to conflict at some time. In the view of defenders of humanitarian intervention we have to reject the idea that sovereignty is an intrinsic good. It is rather only an instrumental good: it is good if the state actually protects basic rights, it is bad if it does not. Rights become the touchstone of legitimacy. Intervention can be justified if a state displays such a degree of tyranny as to threaten basic rights or presides over such a degree of anarchy that the protection of rights is equally put at risk. If the state has sovereignty only in an instrumental sense, then there is no case for a norm of non-intervention which was predicated on the basic good of sovereignty. Human rights, the argument goes, provide what used to be lacking: the moral basis for a challenge to the absolute sovereignty of states in the international arena.

However, we need to tread very, very carefully here. These rights have their basis of legitimacy in the United Nations and its charter. After all, that is how they can be seen—if, indeed, they can—as a basis for international morality. If intervention takes place in defence of UN rights but without UN sanction, then it seems to me that we are on the way to taking a major step towards world anarchy.

Why is this so? First of all, intervention to defend human rights involves costs in a way that the norm of non-intervention did not. Given those costs and given the fact that we do not have unlimited resources, intervention will be highly discretionary because even if we were fully convinced of the general case for intervention, given limited resources, both physical and motivational, we are going to find that there is a high degree of arbitrariness about which states experience intervention and which do not.

Outside a UN framework, such power of decision is effectively going to be exercised by the USA, at the end of the day. An endorsement of the legitimacy of intervention therefore is likely to be an endorsement ultimately of the discretionary power of the USA. This is why it seems to me vital that intervention has to be embedded in the UN, otherwise we shall be moving into a Hobbesian world without rules in which the most powerful state finds it has enormous discretion granted to it by seeing sovereignty as of instrumental value only. My own view is that we have already done enormous damage to the UN via the Iraq conflict and we must do all we can not to embrace what the neo-conservatives actually want; namely, a world without many rules and constraints on US power and interests. We need to rebuild the capacity of the UN. I am sure that the Government will take steps to do that.

Secondly, in my judgment it is highly unlikely that we shall be able to mobilise internal consent to wars that are fought entirely on the basis of the claimed infringement of the rights of its own population by a state. This may be deplorable but I think it is a political fact. Therefore, the case for intervention, it seems to me, is always going to be put in terms of a connection between the situation in that country and some kind of national interest of our own which we can use to mobilise opinion in favour of intervention. When Saddam gassed his own people we did nothing. It is only when we were led to believe in WMD and the immediacy of the threat posed that opinion was able to be mobilised. It seems to me most unlikely that opinion in this country would have been mobilised in favour of regime change in order to protect the rights of ordinary Iraqis. As I say, that may be deplorable, but it seems to me just to be a fact. This means that the purity of purpose in intervention is always going to be compromised by the role of national interest and this is another reason why, unlike the norm of non-intervention, it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to turn intervention into a rule-governed activity.

Finally, there is the argument put forward by the Prime Minister that abstaining from action involves some kind of guilt and includes its own moral costs. This is an argument that has to be dealt with very carefully if we are using it as something more than political rhetoric. At any time there are innumerable things that we are currently not doing, and there will clearly be consequences of these failures to act. If I do not give £10 to Oxfam perhaps a vaccine will not get administered and someone will die. However, there are also innumerable other consequences in relation to what I could have done and which I did not do. For which of this infinite number of consequences of my omissions am I culpable? The only answer to this is that I am culpable only for those omissions where it is clear that I ought to have acted. So morally, the Prime Minister had the shoe on the wrong foot in that what he needed to establish was that there was a clear moral case for intervention and one cannot establish a positive case for an intervention on the basis of a failure to act or an omission. This is not really a political so much as a logical or conceptual point.

My basic message though is that however defensible the move away from the norm of non-intervention and the basic rights of sovereign states is, we should make this transition only if we can do so in a way that tries to embed intervention within a UN structure. It must not be hijacked by the US neo-conservatives. However, this is what is likely to happen. Some years ago the Prime Minister made a very interesting speech about some of these issues in Chicago, but I was very disconcerted—indeed, astonished—to see just last week that that speech had been republished in a volume of essays edited by Irwin Szeltzer in defence of neo-conservatism. That is astonishing.

So perhaps noble Lords can see that I am very worried about endorsing the general case for intervention. Picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, I, too, experienced very turbulent emotions regarding the Iraq war. I have been a member of the Labour Party for 43 years and a Labour Member of this House for 12. As soon as the war started, I wrote to the Chief Whip to say that there was no way I could support the Government in what they were doing, and I am afraid that nothing that has happened since then has changed my mind one iota.

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Shadow Minister, Health 7:37, 24 November 2004

My Lords, many of your Lordships have experienced at first hand the conditions of abject poverty that many countries suffer, but I would like to focus on some of the examples of selfless dedication that are shown by people working day after day to try to alleviate some of the intolerable suffering.

While in Sierra Leone with the charity Mercy Ships with a team of six other doctors and 30 nurses and many other helpers, we screened 5,000 patients who queued for two days in the local football stadium. Naturally everyone wants to be seen first, but when the crowd saw a little girl of nine whose breathing was clearly obstructed by a large facial tumour, everyone passed her overhead right to the head of the queue and then over the gates of the arena so that she could be treated immediately. She had a tracheostomy that saved her life and then the tumour was removed. Years later she decided to train as a nurse. The money for her education was supplied by the nurses on the ship.

I also find rather striking the dedication of so many volunteers who live in somewhat cramped and uncomfortable conditions, sometimes for years on end—one has done so for 25 years—to help the poorest people in the world. The chief surgeon on board is Gary Parker who trained in north Wales in one of the best maxillo-facial surgical units in the UK. At the end of his five-year training his local community and church agreed to support him to work on the ship for three months. They rather liked the idea of knowing exactly what their money was going to do. He has now been operating on the ship for 17 years still supported by north Wales.

But perhaps the most incredible helper on the ship was a little girl of five called Chloe, the daughter of the captain, who made a Christmas card and took it down to the ward to give to one of the patients. She had heard that there were some pretty horrendous sights on the ward and was not very keen on going. In the event, she went down and found a poor chap whose relatives had all been murdered by the rebel soldiers, and they had taken an axe to the side of his face and taken half of it off. He was on the ship having his face reconstructed in a little intensive care unit. She gave him a Christmas card and said, "As you don't have any visitors, would you like me to come down and read you a story every evening?". When she started to read the story, the tears were running down his cheek; in that war-torn country, he had never found love like that. That little girl aged five gave him back the will to live—it is never too young to start.

Then there was the courage of a 12 year-old girl from Sierra Leone who was kidnapped by the rebel soldiers, taken away and raped and tortured for a year to such an extent that she was rendered doubly incontinent. Somehow, she managed to escape from the rebels and hide in the jungle for a week, survived and then appeared at the ship. She was very disturbed and difficult to handle; she was very aggressive, quite understandably so. Yet the surgery was successful and the nurses' kindness and understanding restored her not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. One nurse even gave what little money she had to have the child educated. It is very moving to see that kind of dedication and generosity.

In Africa, we reckon that 2 million to 3 million women have been rendered incontinent through childbirth due to lack obstetric facilities. They are the outcasts of society, thrown out of their homes and villages; they often commit suicide. When they come on board, we carry out a curative operation. In the post-operative period, we try to teach them microeconomics, so that when they return home they have some form of trade and a chance of supporting themselves. We have agriculturists on board to teach the local people how to grow crops with drip feeding, and builders to help to rebuild their clinics and homes and teach them how to do so. We have engineers who go ashore and work with the local people to reopen wells that have been filled in and destroyed by the rebels and to dig new ones; again, the local people are taught how to do that, so that they can set up their own businesses. That kind of capacity building is an important feature, but it seems to work only if the local people really want to do it; there is no use us trying to impose on them what we think that they need.

As the farmers in Sierra Leone lost all their sheep and goats in the war, the ship brought 180 sheep and goats. The 30 children on board—the children of the crew—renamed the charity "Mercy Sheeps". The arrangement was to give the animals to the farmers on condition that they gave the first offspring to their neighbours. That is rather similar to the system operated by a charity called Kids for Kids, which is supported by our Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Cope. He indicates his support by wearing a small goat in his lapel; I should say that it is a metal goat. Several of the charity's goats are lent to a family in Sudan for two years, providing milk for the children and income to pay for water and education. The kids which the goats produce are then given to the family, forming the nucleus of a little flock. Also, local people are trained to man the veterinary dispensaries to safeguard the goats' welfare.

Gradually, Sierra Leone is being restored but, as my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth mentioned, none of that would have been possible had it not been for the 2,000 British troops. They not only quickly restored peace but maintained it, and did much more besides. They helped the locals to rebuild their homes, clinics and schools. They went the second, third, fourth and fifth miles. It is a good news story, so it is rather sad that it never seems to feature in the press very much; perhaps that is because it is good news.

The story of overseas development would not be complete without mentioning the aid that comes from the United Kingdom in government money and expertise. The increase in aid announced by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is especially welcome, as my noble friend Lady Rawlings mentioned. This morning, I heard that Norway is very grateful for the generous financial help that DfID is giving to the Congo. There was an encouraging report from the City in the Financial Times on 28 October, describing a long-term partnership between Standard Chartered Bank and Sight Savers. The bank has pledged 6 million dollars for the charity and five other organisations, to restore sight to a million people. That is a business alliance which will give the bank's employees an opportunity to help to solve a global problem. It would be great to see more such initiatives.

Although the great tragedy of such impoverished countries is overwhelming, it is a source of enormous encouragement to see the dedication and selfless devotion of many people from this country. They are often teenagers on their gap year, working in very primitive and uncomfortable situations to help those suffering people. This is the kind of good news that we really ought to see more in the media.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench

My Lords, I will refer very briefly to three aspects of the gracious Speech which I welcome. They are references to problems of drug smuggling and international crime, African issues, and promotion of democracy in Iraq. In doing so, I shall highlight some of the implications for women and children, which in some ways may echo the poignant stories told by the noble Lord, Lord McColl.

I turn first to "the narco-dictatorship"—Burma—which is still in the grip of the Orwellian-named State Peace and Development Council and heavily implicated in international trade in illegal narcotics. There is deep concern over the recent so-called Cabinet reshuffle, with fears that a more hard-line influence may threaten the 17 existing ceasefires, leading to disintegration or full-scale civil war, with disturbing implications for peace and stability throughout the region.

The changes in political leadership also do not bode well for the ethnic national groups. This year I have visited the oppressed peoples—the Karen, Karenni and Shan in eastern Burma, and the Chin and Kachin peoples suffering in north-western Burma. The catalogue of violations of human rights by the SPDC is authoritatively documented by many respected organisations and by the people themselves. In a reply to a Starred Question on 16 November, the Minister gave a very robust account of the position of Her Majesty's Government, which I welcome. However, I want to mention briefly three specific problems that time did not allow me to address on that occasion. They are the abuse of women as a war crime, child soldiers, and education for children inside Burma.

Systematic assaults on women by SPDC forces have been well documented, as in the report, Licence to Rape. We have obtained corroborative case studies. The very poignant report, My Gun is as Tall as Me, claims that Burma has the worst record in the world today on child soldiers. For example, 70,000 children are forced to serve in SPDC forces. One-sixth of the world's child soldiers are found in Burma. Some escapee child soldiers told us how they were abducted from cinemas or bus stops and taken to army camps, with no opportunity to tell their parents what had happened to them. Then they were sent quickly to frontline danger zones, where some were compelled to "supervise" local people who had been taken for forced labour. They themselves were forced to beat and maltreat those forced porters. Two boys told us how they had risked their lives to escape, because they could not endure being forced to beat elderly people who were unable to carry the 30 kilograms of ammunition or rice required by their captors. May I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to ensure that in any representations made by Her Majesty's Government to the SPDC, these issues feature prominently, as there is no sign of any improvement, despite all the evidence?

Finally regarding Burma, there is the issue of cross-border aid. Many of us were disappointed that DfID could not support the courageous back-pack teams taking medical aid and training to the thousands of Karen and Karenni IDPs trapped in the jungles with no healthcare; although I was grateful for the explanation as to why DfID could not. Perhaps I may try another approach, avoiding some of the problems identified by DfID. Many of the hill peoples in Chin state have no access to healthcare or education. Given the importance of education for children, might Her Majesty's Government consider supporting local NGOs in providing education where there are currently no schools and no access for international organisations?

Secondly, I shall turn briefly to Sudan—briefly because my noble friend Lord Alton will, I am sure, address this issue, and because I spoke regarding this matter on November 1. However, I must again deplore the lack of effective international intervention to halt the continuing atrocities in Darfur. Canada has joined the United States in the use of the word "genocide". I would highlight the reports of the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war by the Janjawid, supported by government forces, and the slaughter of children.

The horrors of Darfur are a sequel to comparable genocidal assaults on civilians in other parts of Sudan. The media arrived in Darfur too late for the 2 million dead and over 4 million displaced from other parts of Sudan since the National Islamic Front regime seized power in 1989. I and others have walked through many killing fields, similar to those we have at last seen on our TV screens, on many earlier visits to areas from Bahr-El-Ghazal in the west to Southern Blue Nile in the east. I have also interviewed many who have suffered the NIF's policies of abducting thousands of women and children into slavery. That use of slavery has been endorsed by international observers, such as the former UN rapporteur Gaspar Biro.

Will Her Magesty's Government now accept the evidence that the government of Sudan are guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide? Or is it Her Majesty's Government's policy to help the NIF regime to stay in power? This policy been reported by friends in Khartoum—the reason given being given to them is that the British Government would rather see that government stay in power, believing that change would lead to a "failed state". It is hard to imagine what a "failed state" can be if Sudan does not qualify already. I appreciate that Her Majesty's Government believe that it is a priority to focus on the peace talks. I respect that. However, this regime has a long record of continuing to kill while it talks peace and, as we speak, many more hundreds of innocent people are dying in Darfur. Therefore, can the Minister say how long the Government will continue to give the NIF regime the benefit of the doubt? When will enough be enough and when will the Government acknowledge the truth—genocide?

Finally, and briefly, I turn to Iraq. I had the privilege of meeting some Iraqi women at a multi-faith conference earlier this year. They are likely to become leaders once Iraq elects its national assembly with a quota for women members. Those women are extremely competent and eager to help in the reconstruction of Iraq. However, they feel ill-equipped, as they have been long been out of touch with the wider world. They are eager to visit countries such as the UK, to familiarise themselves with developments in areas such as healthcare—especially maternal, child health and palliative care—and with developments in education and their own political leadership. Can the Minister say what assistance the Government are offering to such women—new leaders in a democratic Iraq—to prepare them to make maximally effective contributions?

In conclusion, perhaps I may highlight the importance in post-conflict situations of simultaneous reconciliation and reconstruction, and the particular needs of women and children. They are often the unseen and unheard victims of conflict, their traumas do not disappear when conflict subsides, and they shape the future. Their healthcare and education must be a major part of reconstruction and reconciliation. Reconciliation is difficult while people are still suffering acute deprivation, with lack of schools, healthcare and employment. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said, it is hard to keep democracy on empty stomachs. Also, reconstruction without reconciliation is dangerous. Renewed eruption of conflict, which destroys that which has been rebuilt, creates even greater disappointment and despair.

So, I look forward to any answers that the Minister may be able to give to bring hope to some of the people, especially women and children, suffering in so many parts of the world today from man-made catastrophes—particularly to my long-suffering friends in Burma, Sudan and Iraq.

Photo of Lord Truscott Lord Truscott Labour

My Lords, although they are not in their places, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green on their excellent and engaging maiden speeches.

It has become almost a commonplace to suggest that the world has become an even more dangerous place since the end of the Cold War era. The much-heralded end of history and the final global victory of democracy and the free market economy have proven somewhat premature. The world is experiencing a host of challenges and conflicts, which perhaps threaten our democracies and our environment just as surely as mutually assured destruction.

When I wrote my doctoral thesis on the Korean war 20 years ago, both that conflict and the threats facing the planet seemed clearer. With the Korean War itself in the depths of the Cold War, the invasion of South Korea by Pyongyang and the Chinese entanglement in that conflict seemed to risk nuclear conflagration. Fifty years on, North Korea is once again causing concern with its nuclear ambitions; but the world has changed. We are witnessing an explosion of regional and ethnic conflicts, from the Far East, the Caucasus and down into Africa. In Europe itself, we witnessed the gut-wrenching massacre in Srebrenica in 1995 and, a year before, the genocide in Rwanda. Sadly, we are seeing much of the same in Darfur, as has been graphically mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

On top of all that, we now have the global war against terrorism, which has shown its destructive force in cities and towns from New York to Beslan, as described by my noble friend Lord Bach, the Minister, in his opening speech.

However, I am not convinced that the international community has yet come to terms with how to deal with these crises. Actions through the United Nations Security Council can be blocked with a single veto. United UN action, even in the Korean War, was only possible because the USSR boycotted its seat on the Security Council. We have seen the difficulties of reaching consensus over Iraq through the United Nations. Frankly, there have been many competing strategic and commercial interests involved in that conflict.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made the case for humanitarian intervention in his Chicago speech in 1998, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield. The wider issue of humanitarian intervention was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. The gracious Speech spoke about strengthening the United Nations. The reality is that before we can achieve effective and consensual international action through the United Nations, that body will require a major overhaul.

The UN Security Council, represented by the old wartime P5—Permanent Five—should be expanded to take in some of the new rising global powers. The UN will have to revisit the issue of whether a Security Council veto should have the capacity to block international action in clear cases of genocide or civil war. These are, of course, difficult areas, as was mentioned by my noble friends Lady Turner of Camden and Lord Plant. Such matters will require much further consideration. I await the report from the United Nations High-Level Panel, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned in his speech. But, even so, the old argument that a country's internal repression is purely a matter of individual sovereignty is no longer tenable.

We in this House should be concerned that there is a danger not only from previously failed states such as Afghanistan but from other countries where there is a worrying degree of corruption with a widening democratic deficit and a lack of parliamentary accountability. In that group of countries, I include many of the republics of the former Soviet Union, ranging from Belarus to the Ukraine through the Caucasus and Central Asia. Of course, the Ukraine is very much in the headlines today and was highlighted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. It is with those states, with their democratic deficits and lack of accountability, that we face a real problem of nuclear proliferation and the kind of environment where terrorism can only thrive.

Like all your Lordships, I welcome the time when we can see democracy take root in Iraq and an end to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In such a dangerous and unstable world, the development of the European Union's peace-keeping and peace-making capability can only be a powerful tool for good around the globe. That has been reinforced by the European Union's commitment to take over security matters in Bosnia in the near future.

I see no way that the Berlin Plus agreement, building on co-operation between the EU and NATO, can be seen as a threat to the Atlantic Alliance. The recently announced European battlegroups can only add to the world's security. Of course, I agree with those who say that the Europeans need to improve their military capabilities and not simply reshuffle existing resources.

It is also true that even buzz-word concepts, such as "Network Enabled Capability" and "the Digitised Battlespace", will not negate the need for boots on the ground, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, mentioned in last year's Queen's Speech and as the Americans re-discovered in Fallujah. But I do not think that the world's problems can be solved purely by military means. War remains the failure of diplomacy.

Some experts now believe that global warming is a greater threat to the planet than international terrorism. Kyoto may help but it falls far short of what is required. In the mean time, hunger, poverty and diseases such as AIDS will come back to haunt us if we ever think that we can ignore them. I think that was implicitly accepted in the Minister's opening speech. I warmly commend the Government's work with the Africa Commission, their debt relief programme and commitment massively to increase international aid.

There is currently an artificial division between foreign and domestic policy, just as there is between isolationism and multilateralism. Neither can be cocooned from the other. As John Donne, that brilliant 17th century multilateralist said, no man is an island. He memorably continued:

"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee".

Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, in such a wide-ranging debate, inevitably some parts of the world will escape the close attention they really should have. Indeed, it is one of the depressing side effects of the war in Iraq that priorities now lie there and in the wider Middle East rather than in other regions where our relations could be more productive.

Therefore, I wish to focus on a region which is rich in resources, including oil and gas. If the United Kingdom is to become a net importer of natural gas, then Bolivia is the new player. It is a region which comprises one-quarter of the world's population and one-third of the United Nations' membership and it has six members on the Security Council.

The countries of the region participate actively in global organisations and play their parts in peace-keeping and in other international regulatory bodies. It is a region of some 19 countries, all with democratic institutions and pluralistic systems. It has a widely representative European diaspora, which works largely as we do—that is, we as Europeans—and it has similar values and traditions. Indeed, it is a region with which we probably have more historic ties than any other outside the Commonwealth and where we enjoy huge good will.

The region has, of course, been recognised in the past. George Canning famously said:

"I called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old".

That was at a time when our country was giving material and moral support to the independence movements sweeping across the north and the south of the continent—hence the good will that we still enjoy.

Viscount Davidson recognised its importance after the last war, when he foresaw changes in our historic colonial relationships. So he and a group of colleagues founded Canning House—the Hispanic and Luso Brazilian Council—in 1943 in order to stimulate understanding between Britain, Spain, Portugal and Latin America. That has been achieved by encouraging trade and business links, promoting the teaching of Spanish and Portuguese and acting as an effective centre for information and contacts throughout the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. Canning House continues to do that, although now without any significant financial support from the Government, but with much moral support, I am happy to say, especially from the noble Baroness, the Minister. I declare an interest as a former president of Canning House.

Even today—or, to be more precise, last week—the President of China recognised the significance of the region by visiting Brazil, Argentina and Chile with 150 businessmen seeking opportunities for trade and investment. Shortly before that, the Iberamerican Summit took place in San José, Costa Rica. It was a high-profile event, attended by the King and Queen of Spain.

It seems odd to me that, as British banks close down and British businesses pull out or fail to take up trade and investment opportunities in Latin America in order to focus on developing trade and investment in China, which of course is one of the Government's priority areas, the Chinese should be filling the gaps that we leave. Probably, too, as a result of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit, which took place in Chile last week, other Asian tigers will be looking at trade, collaboration and other political and economic alliances. Of course, I am talking about Latin America from Mexico to the north through Central America and South America, and including some Caribbean countries—let us not forget Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

It would be foolish to suggest that blame for those changes and our diminishing presence lies at the Government's door. Indeed, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister with responsibility for Latin America and the Ministers in DfID are always very positive, as is the Minister who is present today. Nevertheless, it is true that embassies are being closed or downsized, or are under threat of closure, so that visiting businessmen or trade missions do not have the support and expertise at their disposal that is available to them in other parts of the world. That particularly affects small and medium-sized businesses that we really want to encourage to trade up and to trade more.

It is also true that the British Council has closed offices in a number of countries in Latin America, even when English training courses made them economically viable. I still find that very hard to accept. Furthermore, no one can have failed to notice that in last year's splendid document, stating the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's priorities and strategy for the future, there is barely a mention of Latin America.

So what can we do about it? In parliamentary terms, I believe that we should take every opportunity to update and inform ourselves on trends and developments in this important region of the world. The All Party Latin American Group attempts to do that and needs all the support it can get. The Inter-Parliamentary Union also does a terrific job to ensure contact between parliamentarians, and this year saw very successful inward visits from El Salvador and, more recently, from Bolivia, a country, as I have mentioned, with vast resources of oil and gas. There was also an outward visit to Brazil.

The Government will, I hope, have an ongoing role on a bilateral basis to support and encourage those organisations and bodies that seek to improve and develop our relations with Latin America. Like my noble friend Lady Rawlings, I believe that the programme of poverty reduction and debt relief, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred in opening the debate, also has applications in Latin America. Similarly, in their efforts to combat climate change, referred to in the gracious Speech, I feel sure that the Government will bear in mind the vast tracts of virgin forest in Amazonica where changes could have an irreversible impact on climate change.

The gracious Speech refers to the introduction of legislation—as others have mentioned—to tackle the problem of drug abuse and the crime that flows from it. That is perhaps the only reference in the Speech that could directly affect Latin America, particularly countries such as Colombia and Bolivia, which are making huge internal efforts to combat the trade. I believe that there is much that could and should be done in the United Kingdom, and indeed throughout Europe and the United States, to destroy the market and consumer demand that is the direct and principal cause for the production of coca and cocaine in Latin America and elsewhere in the quantities in which they are now produced.

As well as bilateral action, by ourselves as parliamentarians and by the Government and others, next year the Government will be able to take advantage of their presidency of the European Union and of having a British commissioner as the new trade commissioner, to improve relations between Europe and Latin America. I hope and trust that they will build on the reforms of the common agricultural policy, to which reference has already been made, to ensure that we comply with our WTO obligations and, in so doing, help countries like most of the Latin American countries which are rich in primary agricultural products. That point was made most effectively by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford.

I also hope that, during the UK presidency, the free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur will be implemented and that progress will be made on a free trade agreement between the European Union and the Andean community countries. I realise that the noble Baroness will have a huge number of issues to which to respond, but I would be grateful for some reassurance on this point.

If time had permitted I would have wished to address issues relating to the overseas territories, but I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon who raised the issue of Gibraltar. I too wish to register my welcome for the improved atmosphere and approach of the new Spanish Government in relation to that matter.

I was unable to participate in last year's Queen Speech debate because of Council of Europe duties. On reading Hansard afterwards, I could find no mention of Latin America in the whole of the debate. Also, regrettably, during the past Session my Motion for a debate on Latin America was not successful in the ballot. I make no apology for drawing these matters to your Lordships' attention this afternoon. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has always been a great champion of Britain's involvement in Latin America. She is right to say that we should put that continent higher in our list of priorities. She has reminded us that embassies and consulates are being closed or downsized. I might add that it is a great pity that we have stripped of resources the levied programmes in middle income countries because of the demands of Iraq.

In the case of Peru—here I declare an interest as chairman of the Peru Support Group—we have stopped the bilateral programme altogether with effect from 2006 onwards, and we have actually closed the DfID office in Lima. It does not seem to me that that is the right way to proceed regarding a region which is of enormous importance to our trade and our historical interests; and I entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness.

As regards Iraq, we have heard notable speeches from two former Foreign Secretaries on the harmful consequences of that venture. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said that the lessons of Chechnya, Palestine, and now of Iraq, were that in all these situations as many terrorists were created as were killed. I should like to remind your Lordships of what President Hosni Mubarak said in March 2003. He said that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq would produce 100 new Bin Ladens. So it has turned out, except that your Lordships may think that he was wrong by a couple of orders of magnitude, since there are probably in the region of 10,000 new terrorists spreading their wings in Iraq since we occupied that country.

We know that Saddam, who was, of course, a brutal and ruthless dictator, not only had no weapons of mass destruction but had no links with international terrorism, and that because of the occupation thousands of terrorists are being recruited in Iraq itself and many more have travelled there to join terrorist gangs or to start their own operations, like Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a former petty criminal from Jordan.

The invasion of Iraq has also fermented hatred against us as well as the Americans throughout the Arab and the Islamic world. It continues to alienate our own Muslim citizens. This hatred, coupled with economic deprivation, makes fertile ground for the extremist views that Islam itself is under attack and has to be defended by all means, including violence. There is a negative feedback, which has not been properly considered and which was not properly considered by Mr Blair when he took us into war. That is apart from the damage we have done, as the noble Lord, Lord Plant, has reminded us, to the United Nations itself.

The jihad ideology has infected other communities throughout the Islamic world, as your Lordships may see from the growth of religious violence in the Middle East, south and east Asia and Africa. It did not seem to occur to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his introductory remarks on international terrorism that there is a connection between this phenomenon and our actions in these regions of the world.

Although the United Nations has developed multilateral initiatives for combating terrorism, it has paid far too little attention to the ideological bases of terrorism. That may also be the case with the European Union. We focus on the military, the legal and the security measures that need to be taken against terrorism, but we tend to ignore its aetiology or to think of ways of diverting the energy of fundamentalism into more constructive channels.

During our presidency of the G8 next year, the Government say that they will continue to work to counter terrorism. It will be interesting to hear from the noble Baroness whether they have any particular non-legal and non-military measures in mind.

One key theme stated in the gracious Speech for our G8 presidency is climate change in Africa, as has been remarked. I welcome that because Africa is one of the priorities for our EU presidency in the second half of 2005. We need to mobilise concerted action to enhance the African Union's capacity for dealing with African problems and particularly, as has been said, with the loss of African potential through dictatorship, corruption and conflict.

It would be an enormous step forward if a lasting peace is achieved throughout Sudan. I can understand the Security Council's anxiety to grasp at the prize of a comprehensive north/south settlement. Resolution 1564 has been criticised for being a step back from the earlier threats of UN sanctions if Khartoum fails to honour undertakings to stop the violence by government supported militia in Dafur. I must say that Resolution 1564 does seem to have been taken as a signal by the regime to carry on with its ethnic cleansing operations. The immediate priorities, however, are to get the north/south agreement signed and to deploy the full 3,300 AU mission in Darfur because, as the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, said, they are,

"the eyes and ears of the international community".

But it is a totally inadequate number for the size of their task.

In the light of the continuing violence, including the bombing two days ago of a Save the Children feeding centre in north Darfur and the evacuation by AU helicopters of 30 SCF staff, should we not be now asking the AU to agree to a much larger UN-funded military presence in Darfur, supported by air cover, which would enable military observers to say what was happening on the ground and to bring in troops, if necessary, to protect civilians?

Did not the Sudanese Government agree that Darfur should be a no-fly zone? Will the noble Baroness remind us about that, and how will it be enforced? The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, wanted the Government to acknowledge that in Darfur there is genocide. There obviously is, but that should not necessarily be our priority. We should be thinking about the practical measures needed to prevent the atrocities and to protect the civilian population to the maximum extent that the international community can.

In Nairobi, the Security Council also heard an appeal, which has not been mentioned, from President Abdullahi Yusuf, of Somalia, for a huge African Union peacekeeping force—he asked for 20,000 men—so that he could take up his position in Mogadishu. The Somali Prime Minister Ghedi says that they will return in January or February. He does not place any conditions on that assurance. If the Somalis accept the President as legitimate, it is up to them to get together to provide security for their own government, not for the international community to cough up millions to protect Mr Yusuf from his own citizens. The president did control the Puntland militia, before he became president, and he has the backing of a number of other warlords. So between them they have the muscle to oust the armed groups that control the capital. Chris Mullin has been urging that Mr Yusuf should take up his post, and I hope that the Security Council will reinforce the message.

I move from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam, where the UN Secretary-General assured the leaders of the Great Lakes region that the UN will be at their side in turning the declaration that they have just made in principle into a lasting peace and stability. But the unrepentant genocidaires of 1994 are still in eastern DRC. MONUC should be given more troops and a more robust mandate to disarm all non-state troops, by force if necessary, in co-operation with the DRC armed forces. Was the UK involved in the Security Council delegation which asked Kinshasa to stick to the June 2005 elections, as scheduled, and is that realistic with the illegal 10,000-strong democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda still at large?

Finally, African leaders now recognise that the crisis in Zimbabwe is about tyranny, breakdown of the rule of law, harsh repression of criticism and gross misgovernance. Mr Mugabe still pretends that this is all brought about by Downing Street. He can silence his own media, even with regard to the cricket matches, which are to start on Friday in Zimbabwe; but in other African countries, people can look at the evidence of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which details the torture and illegal retention of opposition MPs; the Solidarity Peace Trust in Johannesburg, which says that an estimated 2 million Zimbabweans have fled to the security of South Africa; or the own-goal of the forcible expulsion of the trade union COSATU delegation. The question is: what can Africa do about the situation? Presidents Mbeki and Mogae are still suggesting that the MDC should take part in free and fair parliamentary elections next March, notwithstanding the fact that all the opposition parliamentarians and candidates have been brutally suppressed in previous elections, and in spite of the fact that the Zimbabweans have signally failed to comply with the protocol of SADC itself. Mugabe is dragging the region down with him, and a reversal of the process can be achieved only if SADC takes a robust lead, with the encouragement of the European Union and the G8.

Photo of Lord Ashcroft Lord Ashcroft Conservative

My Lords, I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate. It was due to some flight delays that I had this morning.

Three weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be in Cuba, a country that I have visited on at least two dozen occasions over the past 10 years. Cuba is a country with a fascinating history and, possibly, a more fascinating future. The history of Cuba, since it was claimed by Columbus in 1492, has been colourful and turbulent. A colony of Spain, it was liberated by America in 1898. "Liberated" is probably not the right word; Cuba was not given independence but was simply transferred from one foreign power to another. The revolution of 1959 was not a communist revolution; it was a war for independence and was backed by Cubans of both socialist and liberal traditions. It was only later, when America refused to recognise the new Cuban regime, that Fidel Castro declared himself to be a Marxist and established a one-party communist state.

The United States has always felt threatened by Cuba. At the height of the Cold War, that fear was easy to understand. A country in such close proximity to the US with a government openly in sympathy with America's greatest enemy represented a security nightmare. The Cuban missile crisis spelt out that threat in no uncertain terms for those who had yet to grasp it.

The world has moved on since then. The end of the Cold War has wrought great geopolitical changes that have altered the nature of the threats that we face. Most obviously, Cuba's Soviet ally is not a threat today. Cuba no longer represents a security threat in a military sense. Those in America who seek to claim that Cuba is a front in the war on terrorism are being dishonest.

I always opposed the US embargo on Cuba. The Cubans describe it as a blockade, and that is the word that I prefer to use. Today more than ever, I believe it to be counter-productive. We all seek a Cuba that is an active and constructive participant in global affairs politically and economically. In order most effectively to do that, Cuba must change. We can play a role in helping to bring about that change only if we engage commercially and culturally with Cuba and its people.

The collapse of Soviet communism plunged Cuba into economic crisis in the 1990s. Until then, 80 per cent of its trade had been with eastern European communist states. Cuba has struggled to find new trading partners and inward investors. Obviously, the blockade has contributed to those difficulties, but Cuba's economic system is at the root of the problem. It is not true to say that Cuba resists commercial partnerships; it is simply that doing business in Cuba is not easy. Getting through the complexities of the various joint contracts and still coming out with a profit is a feat in itself. In that respect, it is fair to say that the Cubans do not help themselves. Capital is a global commodity, and it moves swiftly and with ease. At the slightest hint of excess bureaucracy or unnecessary obstacles, it will move to more favourable markets. That is the nature of the beast. If Cuba continues to make doing business a bureaucratic ordeal, business will move on.

Cuba must change, but bludgeoning such a country into changing through a blockade will not work, as time has shown. Instead, democracy and, more importantly, the rule of law that underpins it must, in large part, grow from within in a way that is sensitive to and shaped by the history and traditions of the country in which it is to take root. But I am optimistic. On my recent visit, I had the opportunity to meet senior government and party officials. They recognised the need for change to meet the challenges of the global era.

A debate is taking place about how socialism can be balanced with the entrepreneurial spirit. It is my view that if it can crack that one, Cuba will be well placed to achieve the kind of advances that we see today in China and Vietnam, success stories that, I am convinced, Cuba could repeat. A socialist society and a free enterprise economy are not incompatible. As a free market liberal capitalist, I firmly believe that all we can do to help Cuba to make that transition will bring greater freedom to the people of Cuba and greater stability to that vital region.

Cuba has achieved much. In education, health, culture and sport, there has been much success, even in recent years, despite the challenging loss of the Soviet subsidy. When I visit Cuba, I meet not only politicians and industrialists but ordinary Cubans. I find delightful people—inquisitive, aspirational, educated and remarkably friendly. In business, people are the greatest asset, and Cuba is asset-rich in that vital regard. We have a right and a duty to encourage economic liberation in Cuba.

It is wishful thinking to believe that the eventual passing of Fidel Castro will lead to the collapse of the Cuban communist system and the embracing of a democratic system overnight. Indeed, some Cubans are convinced that the communist system is so firmly established that some talk about "if" and not "when" Fidel dies.

One of the best ways of encouraging democracy is to encourage trade. Trade puts money in people's pockets. When one is poor, it is money that often fulfils a lot of one's dreams.

The Cuban Government argue that, if anything, the blockade has helped to support the revolution, serving as a focal point on which to place the blame for the capitalist ills of the world. It is na-ve to think that the Castro regime will fall because American citizens cannot visit Cuba or that democratic elections will be held because Cuban students cannot have American-made laptop computers. Of Cubans alive today, 70 per cent know of no other life than under the blockade.

The legislation underpinning the American blockade is already being broken on a daily basis, much to the applause of the Cuban authorities. There is an irony behind the US blockade. It may come as a surprise to learn that Cuba's seventh largest trading partner is none other than the United States.

Three weeks ago, I visited the Havana EXPO trade fair. A whole pavilion was set aside for companies from the United States. Many American citizens were manning the stands. It transpires that as a result of a particularly bad hurricane in 2002, the US authorities granted a special dispensation which allows for the exporting of US food and agricultural products to Cuba, in lieu of humanitarian aid.

That dispensation still exists today. The products on offer were wide ranging, including soya, maize, rice, dairy products, chewing gum, chocolate, pasta products, cleaning products, Californian wine and, yes, even hot dogs. Quite how Californian wine and hot dogs can be classed as humanitarian products is beyond me. I suspect a few loopholes are being exploited.

In addition, while British ships that visit Cuba are prohibited from entering the US for six months, it is US flagged ships that carry this trade direct from America into Cuban ports. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that, if true, has been taken up with the State Department.

This is a brisk trade: US exports to Cuba have totalled 950 million dollars in the past two years alone. It would appear that United States farmers are doing quite nicely out of the blockade. It is also ironic that it is Republican politicians with large farming constituencies which lobby the hardest for increased trade with Cuba.

While the US economy is doing well out of Cuba, the same cannot be said for Britain. UK trade in all of 2003 totalled 21 million United States dollars, with a slight increase this year to September of 27 million dollars. We lag behind many of our EU partners. Consider the performance of Spain at just under 600 million dollars or France at about 100 million dollars—almost level pegging with Germany. Most sectors of the Cuban economy are open to foreign investment. I am convinced that there are huge opportunities for British companies.

I pay tribute to my colleague, my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who is UK chairman of the Cuba Initiative, which is a programme that develops business and cultural links between Britain and Cuba. In the past few days, he has returned from leading a business delegation to Cuba, which was enthusiastically anticipated by those that I met in government on my last visit.

Britain is lagging behind; we need to take a lead. It is well known that there is a direct correlation between healthy trade and good transport links. There are no British Airways flights to Cuba. But next year, Virgin Atlantic starts a scheduled service to Havana. I was delighted to hear that the necessary agreements were concluded last week to enable that service to go ahead.

I hope that those early scheduled flights will open up Cuba to British business in a way that the charter flights opened up Cuba to UK tourism in recent years. Perhaps I may quote a salient point from an article in a national newspaper, which stated:

"Saddled with a siege economy and a wartime political culture for more than 40 years, Cuba has achieved first world health and education standards in a third world country, its infant mortality and literacy rates now rivalling or outstripping those of the US, its class sizes a third smaller than in Britain—while next door, in the US-backed 'democracy' of Haiti, half the population is unable to read and infant mortality is over 10 times higher. Those, too, are human rights, recognised by the UN declaration and European convention. Despite the catastrophic withdrawal of Soviet support more than a decade ago and the social damage wrought by dollarisation and mass tourism, Cuba has developed biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries acknowledged by the US to be the most advanced in Latin America. Meanwhile, it has sent 50,000 doctors to work for free in 93 third world countries . . . and given a free university education to 1,000 third world students a year. How much of that would survive a takeover by the Miami-backed opposition?".

If there is one message that I should like to convey tonight, it is that I believe Cuba's future lies not in enforced isolation, but in open engagement. If embraced properly, Cuba could serve at the heart of a Caribbean trading community. In the long term, the relationship with America can normalise. We must remember that the last United Nations vote this year, calling for a lift of the blockade, was passed by 179 votes to four. World opinion is clear; it is time to do business with Cuba, and I agree.

Europe has a role to play. Links between the EU and Cuba are currently strained. The European Parliament is opposed to any further development of the relationship with Cuba, but there is no consensus in the Council of Ministers. One small irritation is the insistence of a number of EU ambassadors who have invited Cuban dissidents to embassy functions alongside government Ministers and party officials. This causes huge offence and I cannot see what the gesture achieves. The British embassy in particular has in the past caused offence to the Cuban Government by not telling them that they will be expected to meet dissidents at embassy receptions. We certainly need to dialogue with dissidents as well as the government, but not attempt to do it together.

A strong diplomatic presence in Cuba is very important. I was concerned to read reports that our embassy there was to be downgraded, which would send all the wrong signals at this time. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some reassurance on this matter.

Finally, I believe that it is important for the European Union and the interests of world stability that there is a healthy relationship in place when Fidel Castro dies, which will be a potentially tumultuous moment. The relationship should be friendly, critical and honest. If this cannot be approached on an EU-wide basis I believe it is time for our Government to consider a bilateral approach, working with Spain, and I hope that the Minister will reflect on that.

Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I rise as chairman of the European Union Committee to speak briefly within the rubric of European affairs and to introduce the committee's annual report, published just 12 days ago. The committee has agreed that this report does not call for a separate debate, but it wished me to keep your Lordships informed about the contribution that the committee makes to the scrutiny of European affairs on behalf of the House.

Our report sets out in, if I may say, very digestible detail what the committee has done over the past year and gives a forecast of activities for the year ahead. I shall confine myself to a few of its key messages and I hope that the Minister will be able to react, necessarily briefly, to some of these points, although the formal and detailed government response to the report will of course be provided in writing within the normal two-month period.

So what are these key messages? First, the committee remains concerned at the number of occasions on which the Government override in Council the House's scrutiny reserve. We will be monitoring this closely and will expect further improvements from the Government.

I should, however, make two positive comments. First, as the report makes clear, the Government are now co-ordinating, analysing and presenting to Parliament data on scrutiny overrides and, for the first time, the committee has published them in its annual report. This hard work by the Government is a welcome contribution to transparency and should be warmly commended.

The second positive comment is that the number of scrutiny overrides in the period from January 2003 to June 2004 shows a downward trend. That is wholly to be welcomed, especially in those departments where there had been a relatively large number of overrides, such as Defra and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where improvements have recently been made in the scrutiny of common foreign and security policy matters.

I should add one specific and positive example that occurred after our report had been published. It was precisely because of our scrutiny reserve that the Minister for Europe secured a postponement of agreement in Council of measures concerning the effective implementation of the mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. That is in the right spirit and we look forward to more of the same.

More remains to be done, however, on scrutiny in the area of European security and defence policy where the Ministry of Defence is in the lead. There are difficulties arising from the purely intergovernmental nature of much of the business which means that the usual scrutiny reserve does not apply. The department thus needs to be extra vigilant in keeping Parliament informed. We will be monitoring this area closely over the coming year.

Overall, the committee urges all departments to do everything possible to ensure that they meet the best practice of their fellow departments. The staff of my committee are always willing to assist departments and, in particular, to make themselves available to explain the House's scrutiny procedures to civil servants at all levels. With good will on all sides, I am confident that recent positive trends can be continued, become the norm and spread across all departments.

The second key message to which I wish to refer is that the forthcoming UK presidency of the EU, starting on 1 July next year, will very fully engage the 70 Members of your Lordships' House serving on the European Select Committee and/or its seven sub-committees. In many ways, the House's scrutiny of European legislation will continue as normal during the UK presidency, but there will be two significant differences.

The first is that our own Government will be setting the agenda and my committee thus feels that it has an additional responsibility for holding Ministers to account. Secondly, it will be for our national Parliament to host the meeting of COSAC, the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union, and the candidate countries, together with a delegation of Members from the European Parliament—probably between 200 and 300 people. That will take place in October 2005 and we will be working with the other place to make sure that it is a success.

The third area touched on in the report is the Constitutional Treaty, but I should warn your Lordships that we do not discuss it in detail in the report, having done so very fully in previous reports. We do, however, call on the Government to continue to make more information available to Parliament and the public, in particular through their websites.

However, with regard to the monitoring by national Parliaments of the application of the subsidiarity principle, as mandated in the specific protocol annexed to the Constitutional Treaty, my committee has launched an inquiry into how we might suggest that this House fulfil its responsibilities. Yesterday and the day before we had interesting discussions on this in the Hague at a meeting of the COSAC.

It is clear that there are a number of questions about how the early warning mechanism would work and I encourage all of your Lordships—and, indeed, those outside—who have views on the subsidiarity mechanism to contact the committee as soon as possible. We intend to take oral evidence in December and January with a view to reporting to the House in March.

Another important message in our report is the need to work towards better regulation in European legislation, and we fully support our Government's objectives in this regard. We particularly intend to monitor the work of the European Parliament towards ensuring real improvements in its procedures regarding impact assessments and we will be having discussions with it.

Another key message in the report is the need for closer working with other national Parliaments and with the European Parliament at all levels. In this context, the House's work will be much assisted by the fact that a member of your Lordships' staff will, as a consequence of the UK presidency, be seconded to the COSAC secretariat in Brussels and will also examine how the work of the House, and in particular our committee, could be enhanced by better contact on the ground in Brussels. This is a very positive development and one on which I hope we will be able to report considerable progress in our annual report next year.

The report also touches on a number of other areas, such as the problem of so-called "competence creep" and the need for the Government to be robust in pursuing cases of an inappropriate legal base being chosen by the Commission through an inappropriate use of Article 308 of the EC Treaty.

On the domestic front, we highlight the importance of agreeing new arrangements for debating our reports, and we set out briefly our principal reactions to the proposal for a joint European Committee of both Houses. All these matters, however, will be discussed in other forums in your Lordships' House and I do not wish to trouble the House with them today.

I commend to the House our committee's annual report for 2004. I think it gives a very full description of what we have done and a good idea of what we hope to do in the coming year. I hope that all Members, in particular those interested in serving on our sub-committees, will find a little time to peruse this document. I would be delighted to receive feedback or comments from Members of the House on any aspects of our work.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative 8:45, 24 November 2004

My Lords, we are told that the Army is to reduce the number of infantry battalions from 40 to 36—a reduction of 10 per cent—by April 2008. This strikes me as very strange when our allies, the United States, are seeking an additional 23,000 infantrymen, and the Australians—also our allies, and a member of the Commonwealth—are increasing not only the size of their infantry but also their Special Air Service.

The reasons given for this proposed reduction are the cessation of the Arms Plot moves and an anticipated reduction of troop levels in Northern Ireland. Significantly, however, nothing has been said about making any effort to achieve the longstanding, but equally long-ignored, defence planning assumption that units should enjoy 24 months between operational tours.

I acknowledge that ending the Arms Plot may increase the availability of the number of battalions, but arms plotting is due to be phased out over the next 10 years, and April 2008 is somewhat nearer than that.

Being able to reduce the number of troops in Northern Ireland is only an assumption. Given the history of that Province, trouble is likely to blow up at the drop of a hat. We should remember that Gerry Adams said, "We never go away".

An example of the current shortage of infantry battalions is the fact that the Demonstration Battalion stationed at Warminster—the Black Watch—is on active service in Iraq.

With that background, it is therefore totally illogical for the Secretary of State for Defence to announce, before Christmas, which battalions are to be cut.

I am concerned about my own regiment, the Royal Scots. It is the oldest regular unit in the Army, having given 371 years of loyal and valuable service to our country since 1633. The regiment is still giving very loyal service. I understand that it has the fourth best record of retaining its men in the infantry.

The 1st Battalion arrived in Edinburgh in March and the beginning of April 2002 after a two-year operational tour in Northern Ireland. Six months later, it went to Bosnia for a six-month tour of duty. After a gap of only seven months, the great majority of the battalion deployed to Iraq for a six-month tour, to reinforce other units. They are now on standby to return to Iraq from 3 January 2005, and with elections due to be held there on 30 January, it is highly likely that they will be sent.

With this sort of commitment, is it any wonder that wives get fed up and encourage men—experienced men—to leave the Army? This is not helped by the policy of the Ministry of Defence. I am told that this year the Royal Scots recruited 44 men, but as there has been a freeze on recruit training, they were allocated only one recruit training place between May and the end of September. Where else would one offer a man a job, but say he may not start work for many months? Surely it is better to pay a man as a much needed infantryman than give him unemployment benefit.

I think we need a major debate on defence, and I trust that the Government will provide the time for one soon.

I just missed my old regiment, the Royal Scots, in Iraq, when my wife and I went there last April, which brings me to the second part of my remarks. I would like to thank the commanding officer and all ranks of 22 Field Hospital, who looked after us so well. I commend them and all at the Defence Medical Services for all they were doing at that time, and are still doing, to assist the civilian medical services in the Basra governate.

We hear a great deal from the media of the problems that we and the Americans face in Iraq, but very little of what is being done to help that country and the welcome given by Iraqis to our efforts. We went with a volunteer MOET training team to train local doctors, midwives and nurses in the management of obstetric emergency and trauma. That is very important for a country that probably has the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. The training started saving lives almost immediately and the local MOET teams that our British people trained will have saved many more lives.

We went with the MOET team to set up telemedical links through the Swinfen Charitable Trust that I run to provide online advice in some 70 medical specialties and sub-specialties and medical training to doctors in 10 hospitals in Iraq, with others waiting to join the scheme. Is the Minister aware of the work being done by the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Midwives to provide medical training and help improve medical services in Iraq? Can the Minister tell us of the work being undertaken by the Defence Medical Services and how work progresses in making sure that hospitals there have ample medical supplies? What is now the position on the restoration and improvement of electricity and water supplies? Is sewage and rubbish disposal satisfactory? Is a public transport system now up and running?

We hear very little of how delighted the vast majority of Iraqis are at Saddam Hussein's overthrow and how pleased they are at the way we are helping them defy and overcome the insurgents. Let us hear more.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow his interesting remarks, but I want to concentrate primarily on the situation affecting Turkey.

During the next few weeks as I understand it, the relationship between the European Union and Turkey will be discussed and probably determined. It is my fervent hope that the European Union leaders will decide to start meaningful accession negotiations and that the Turkish Government, for their part, will accept monitoring and ensure that the reforms which have been started in their country will endure and be enlarged.

In these circumstances, the position of the European Union in the whole area is likely to be enhanced. If, however, Turkey, despite its acceptance of these terms, was rejected, the European Union could suffer inestimable damage, not only in the Middle East, but also much further than that.

The Copenhagen membership criteria, which have been referred to—in particular, a working market economy; the ability to obey the rules of the single market; the acceptance of the acquis communautaire—must be adhered to. That means that democracy and human rights, which Copenhagen underlines, have undoubtedly been effected in Turkey, although—and I would emphasise it—much remains to be done. But a worthwhile start has been made, and there is real hope that it will continue. It is particularly significant with regard to the military position. Even before negotiations have begun, political and legal improvements have taken place in Turkey.

Of course, real difficulties remain to be confronted. Turkey is a Muslim country. By the time its entry into the European Union is contemplated, it will have a population—largely a Muslim one—larger than that of any other country in the European Union. It could be a real asset for the European Union. But, on the other hand, its membership of the EU could set off new tensions in the Middle East. Despite that—and it is still my belief that solutions have to be found—the outlook is rather rosier than might have been suggested a few months ago.

There can be little doubt that the mere possibility of Turkey's membership of the European Union is likely to have a profound influence on the Middle East. In spite of its largely Muslim population, Turkey enjoys good relations with Israel and the United States, without in any way being regarded as a soft touch. It has been much more emollient over Cyprus than was the case in earlier times. At the same time, it has satisfactory relations with most, if not all, Arab states. That puts Turkey in an almost unique position in the Middle East. Most importantly, it has of late established a rapprochement with Greece. That is of maximum importance.

Turkey lies between Europe and Asia. That, too, could be of the utmost importance to the European Union, especially because, for the first time, a largely Muslim, non-Arab population, would come within its framework. All that could provide a vital boost for the Israel-Palestine peace process—vital in respect of creating two states that are prepared to recognise each other's right to exist. That is the only solution which, in my view, has any plausibility.

Iran represents a huge problem, too, and Turkey is not alone in that regard—especially in relation to the possible development of its nuclear programme, which mirrors those particular difficulties. That has been denied in the press over the past few days, and I refer to it only as a possible development. Some reports of recent times suggest a happier outcome—and I hope that that will be the case. It would be short-sighted to overlook Turkey's potential influence over Iran. Together with the European Union, Turkey could seek to persuade Iran to observe the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Certainly that pressure could be rather more rewarding than the US threats of surgical strikes and military force against Iran. Of course, Turkey may have to threaten economic sanctions against Iran if she rejects that eminently sensible strategy. I hope that the situation will not come to that.

Syria desperately needs trade and investment from the European Union, but that is incompatible with her support for certain Palestinian groups who vow the destruction of Israel, and a Syria which yearns for weapons of mass destruction. In resisting these pressures Turkey could be a salient player. Already, as a member of NATO and the Council of Europe and in Washington, Turkey could play a decisive role in so many ways. The incentive of European Union membership has already had a significant effect on internal Turkish policies. Minority groups have benefited; political prisoners have been released; the political role of the military has substantially declined; the death penalty has been abolished; there is greater freedom of expression and reform of the judiciary has been effected. All this is likely to burgeon in the future, especially if the European Union continues to focus on these and similar changes.

I am not saying for one moment that all these consequences will inevitably occur, but it is certainly worth trying to achieve them. After all, Turkish membership of the European Union will not happen tomorrow. It will take at least 10 or more years of patient negotiation. Turkey will have to demonstrate actions regarding the Middle East and the European Union. In that regard Turkey must do whatever she can to establish her bona fides as a potential European Union member. She must do what she can also, albeit in a quiet, diplomatic way, to stop the Americans calling loudly for Turkey's entry to the European Union because it is none of their business.

Given all these signals, Turkey could eventually be an active and thoroughly worthwhile member of the European Union, and I hope that will be the case.

Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative

My Lords, what a wonderful kaleidoscope of views and ideas we have heard expressed by numerous new and varied voices, but somehow I have rather lost the plot. I assume that we are talking about Britain's role in the world or the world's role for Britain. When I look upon the "Come Dancing" team on the Front Bench of the Labour Party I realise how short they are of material, of knowledge and of information. However, they do a remarkable job with speed, charm, silver voices and golden hair—it is perfect.

One of my mentors said that everything should be quintessimal. If you want to think for one year, you must look five years backwards; if you want a five-year plan, you must look 25 years backwards; if you want a 10-year plan, you must look 50 years backwards and so on. That leads us to the generation game. "Generation" applies not only to people, but to events, activity and—believe it or not—defence equipment. That goes from first generation, through the second and third to the fourth. We are now on the eighth or ninth generation of Apaches. Let us try to see whether we can look backwards. I do so because, in general, all of us have seven ages of man or perhaps three generations, one when we do not know what is happening, with the last one when we think that we did.

I will begin a couple of generations ago for me. I joined HMS "Theseus" for naval training as a young boy, to see whether the Navy would accept me. We were 44,000 tonnes and an aircraft carrier but, within a week of my joining, we ceased to be an aircraft carrier and became a helicopter base for the Royal Marines. I am afraid that I always looked down on the Royal Marines, as anyone of the traditional Navy did; it did not mean that they did not do a good job. We were flying on and off in helicopters—Whirlwinds, I think—planning for Suez.

I learnt one thing then; I had my bell-bottoms, and I learnt how to press them. My theme today will be the "immortal memory". As noble Lords will know well, we press our bell-bottoms with a number of creases that complies with Nelson's victories. In a few weeks' time, we will be into the year of the immortal memory. I wish to take us back a little further. We had helicopters, which were great new toys. We had aircraft carriers that ceased to be used as aircraft carriers and off we went to Suez. Then I joined the Navy proper and was told that I would go out there before very long but, of course, we were not going to be east of Suez any more—we had terrorist activities out there. Then we had terrorism in Kenya; in my case, it was in Cyprus, then Malaya and Aden. Those were relatively new activities that seem to replicate what we are talking about today.

I remind myself that, a little while ago, I tried to take noble Lords back a hundred years and advise them of the punitive raids that we made on evil emirs or bad fellows around the world. They were led by corporals in some cases, or sergeants or officers. Camels were shot. We later had Islandwana, the Mahdi in Khartoum and other battles. I want to say to myself, "These days we will have two new aircraft carriers. We weren't going to have any not so long ago. They're going to be jolly good". One aircraft carrier on its own needs a hell of a lot of ships to protect it, and two aircraft carriers form such a major battle group that even the United States would be frightened to invade us.

But are the aircraft carriers a 20-year plan? Where is the 20-year plan? That is what we need; we need to think forward. Although £6 billion may be being spent on equipment and £10 billion on people, we want to know what the equipment is for and what our role is. I thought that I would be saying today that we need more people on the ground, and asking where we would get them. I tried to find out what the old regiments and their battle honours were. I am not a pongo so I do not really understand the sorts of flags that they fly, although I can still do Morse code and recognise the flags of all nations.

I found to my surprise that the task was quite difficult, but I would like to go back to the immortal memory and the Napoleonic wars, and to the regiments and corps that we have had since. They fell into many groups. Great Britain had 479 regiments or corps. They had wonderful names. I could never understand why the 15th and 16th regiments did not merge but the 17th and 19th did; lots of mergers took place. They fought all around the place. I said in an earlier debate that we should raise more native levies. We had a whole range of regiments and corps of the British Middle East, for example. There were 65 of them. There were something like 160 colonial and European corps and regiments. I would like to read all their battle honours, but I just want to give some of the evocative names that come up; I shall have to put on my glasses and I do not want to offend people.

Let us look at the core of the British Middle East. We had the Hadrimi Bedouin Legion, the Shendi Horse, the Wahidi Tribal Guards, the Zion Mule Corps, the Assyrian Levies and—your Lordships will remember it well—Popski's Private Army.

On the European side, we had the Helvetic Legion, the Hompesch Chasseurs, the Ionian Islands Volunteer Militias, Brodericks Regiment of Albanians, the Royal Corsican Rangers and the Pfaffenhofen League of Germans. We had 36 French regiments, because one of the things we learned from that was that when we both have a common enemy, we have a common force. Such regiments were immigrants. This issue goes back to Napoleonic times, because Napoleon was the evil enemy.

Today, our problem is, regarding the matters under discussion, that we do not seem to have common enemies. Therefore, we find it difficult, unless we can create an enemy, to unite other forces to our command. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, kindly advised me recently, after I asked him what proportion of our forces were abroad, that the figure was roughly 42,000—or 20 per cent. By my calculations, looking at the trouble spots, we need approximately 400,000 people in our Armed Forces to cope with anticipated demand. That is a great deal of people. My worry is—what are they facing?

Bomber Harris thought that he could bomb the hell out of Germany and win the war. The Americans thought that they could bomb the hell out of Iraq and win the war. You cannot do it by bombing. You can do such things only with people on the ground. I remember the days when a bit of kit that could take down a helicopter was the size of a golf bag. Nowadays, you only need a 5-iron behind the kitchen door to have an RPG that can take out anyone. You therefore must have people on the ground.

My worry is this: I believe that we should now rapidly increase, over a 20-year programme, the number of people that we plan to have in the Armed Forces. Let us stick with the commitment that we have for equipment. Let us look at some of the simpler aspects of our forces, and let us remember that they are highly trained. We should also bear in mind that we do not need as many troops as we used to, because modern warfare does not kill as many people on the victor's side—when you think how many would have been killed 50 or 100 years ago when advancing—but it kills a hell of a lot of the opposition or the enemy, if they are the enemy. I am concerned about how you define an enemy. You can define terrorists. You can say, "You can't have a war on terrorists, they have appeared everywhere. They will be all over the place before long". It is probably a good thing to be a terrorist at the moment. It gives you a few chips of courage.

I conclude by asking a question of the Government. We must accept that the Cabinet and Ministers had no knowledge of Iraq because they were not allowed to go there when sanctions were in force. All the information they got was second or third hand, involved Chinese whispers, misinformation, failure to appreciate the situation and failure to have the knowledge of the past. I asked the Minister if she would mind if I raised a matter again, because I asked a little while ago whether I could have a reply to a Written Question on whether there would be a reply to the 52 ambassadors and high commissioners who wrote regarding Iraq. The Written Answer from the Leader of the House was not insulting, but it said, "I am not going to give you the answer. Read what the Prime Minister said to a Member from Wales when he made a speech to an Italian friend called Berlusconi somewhere in Italy".

So I shall ask the Minister again, because she is in favour of this sort of thing because she is a really good girl. This paper says, "Ignore history at your peril" and is dated 27 April, 2004—quite a long time ago. It states:

"The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the Post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive".

But there is also a certain naivety now, because I watch television and the body language of everyone. We have moved from ethical foreign policy to something that is much more exciting. We are going to force democracy upon the Middle East. Can the Minister say which of the Middle East countries—and I was chairman of the Middle East trade committee for six years—is democratic? I should be very interested to know that, because I do not believe that any of them are.

Finally, let us make a suggestion. Let us bring Israel into this game. Let us have a disarmament conference for the whole Middle East. That would please us no end. Let us back Colin Powell, who is one of the best people in the world, and would gain a lot of support. But, for goodness' sake, remember that we should not be prisoners in our own country, as my noble friend reminded me last night at a dinner. Nor should we make people prisoners in their own countries. We have a role in the world, but we should also think of ourselves.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat

My Lords, apart from three brief excursions outside for just a few minutes, I have been present at the debate all day and have been struck and impressed by the enormously high quality of the speeches, as I had expected on such an occasion. Like, I am sure, other noble Lords, I was very moved by the references to the West Bank, Israel/Palestine, the road map and all the other seemingly intractable problems that have arisen so far but not, I hope, in the future. I mention, in particular, the outstanding speech of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, and the moving account of some of the events on the West Bank that have shocked the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester.

I must declare two interests in order not to be out of order. I live in France as well as in London and the United Kingdom and therefore I was very sympathetic to the dignified way in which the French Government handled the crisis surrounding President Arafat and the return of his body to the Middle East for burial. That received some sneering comments in the British newspapers.

My other interest is that for many years I have been a devoted friend of Israel. I am also particularly concerned with, and involved in, the UK Peace Now support committee for peace in Israel. Peace Now Europe is also about to come into being, mainly in the core European countries nearest to us, and it will be campaigning for a just solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

As chairman of the European Movement, I had the pleasure of going to South Africa in 1994 for the first general election as one of the European Commission visitors and observers. When going round various polling stations, I had to wear all the official Community gear, which was quite interesting for the South African people whom I met. I did not breach any of the regulations or procedures that we had agreed when, in a very posh suburb of Cape Town called Wynberg, for a short while I had to man the telephones taking inquiries because one of the lady clerks was taken ill for an hour-and-a-half or two hours.

One call that I received was from a very grande dame with a wonderful English, not South African, accent. She said, "I believe, young man, there's a general election on and that it's important to come down and vote. Are the times as usual? I'm coming to the same polling station". I replied, "Yes, madam, you are indeed". She said with a very grand voice, "I'll bring the Bentley and come down. But there's one thing I want to ask you, young man. Is it correct that my maid is now allowed to vote because I didn't know that before? Obviously she will have to come by bus so I hope she gets there in time. It will take some while from our house in Wynberg". I said, "No, madam, she can come with you and vote in the same general election in the same polling station". "Do you mean coming through the same entrance door?", she inquired politely. She was not very interested in politics and did not really know what was happening with this first new all-South African election. I said, "Yes, madam, come to the same door". She came through arm-in-arm with the maid and they voted together for the first time ever. There were many other similar anecdotes in that South African election.

That is what the geo-strategic people call the "doctrine of break-throughism"—that is, when there is a crisis of long-standing and suddenly the atmosphere, the climate, the circumstances, the political decisions and conclusions and the public reaction change. Is it possible that that could happen in the Middle East with, for the first time, a realistic glimmer or indication of a breakthrough in this dreadful crisis?

Although I have long been a friend of Israel, I was not very enthusiastic about most of Sharon's policies until he himself gave some indication of a change of attitude. Following his unilateral Gaza withdrawal proposals, I began to think that there might be a possibility of a breakthrough.

We must now look to the Americans, above all, who presumably want to continue to give the lead in this matter. Will Condoleezza Rice really live up to the occasion? Will she do what is necessary to ensure that the Israeli Government take the lead in responding? I say that deliberately because I do not wish to hear it repeated too often that it is up to the Palestinians to do everything, to take the first step and to make all the decisions, with the Israelis then following suit.

Israel is an established and successful state, partly as a result of 34 continuous United States vetoes, which helped Israel not to follow UN resolutions in the Security Council and elsewhere since 1968, and partly because of aid donations from the United States—the largest amount given to any single country. After all, Israel is an advanced country. All the necessary support has been given to Israel in order to protect her, to give her guaranteed security and to ensure that she is the unbeatable military power. The quid pro quo is that Israel must now make concessions that only an established state, vis-à-vis a struggling quasi state such as the Palestinian Authority, can make in order to achieve the best possible conditions for a real breakthrough.

It is not just a matter of Israel saying that it will react to the Palestinian elections. It is not just a matter of George Bush at the press conference with Tony Blair saying, as far as I can see, without any consultation with the quartet or anyone else, not even the State Department, that maybe there could be a Palestinian state by 2009, whereas originally it was 2005. We have to press the United States, Israel and the Sharon Government and of course the Palestinians to reciprocate and do all those things that they have to do to live up to this possible breakthrough to ensure that it happens this time.

Time is running out. I do not believe that it is a matter of just saying that the situation can never be solved and that there are long-standing reasons why people can never get together on this. This was a solemn promise and an undertaking given to the Palestinians a long time ago, dating back to the Oslo accords. We can all trawl back and decide who is to blame for the weaknesses, mistakes and failures and the reasons why matters have collapsed on many occasions. But there is no point in doing that, as the UK Government know.

Tony Blair may want a way to redeem himself for the mistakes made in Iraq, of which there are many—there will be many more to come, despite the wish of us all that the elections in January will succeed in beginning the democratic steps in Iraq. I commend and congratulate him on taking the decision to go to the Middle East now—apparently, he is to go before Christmas—and on his decision to go immediately to see George Bush to talk about the resumption of the road map. There is a rumour that he came back from Washington more or less empty handed. I do not wish to believe that. I believe that Tony Blair will stick to his last on this and will try to prevail, as we all wish to do.

The Israeli public want many things out of this settlement. There are successive polls that indicate that the public in Israel are quite content with the idea of withdrawal from all the occupied territories. That does not mean that it is Gaza first and last. It is Gaza first, as Peace Now campaigners are saying repeatedly. Many moderate Jews in this country dream of a genuine settlement between Palestine and Israel that will bring a breakthrough, as we saw in South Africa when apartheid collapsed, virtually overnight. We can see the hatred and the conflict collapsing, not overnight but over a few days, a few weeks and a few months, if the United States takes a courageous lead now.

I believe that George Bush in his second term, with courage, the insistence of the British Government, aided, abetted and encouraged by his father—I hope that Tony Blair will continue to phone George Bush—and through Tony Blair's visit, and that of Jack Straw, to the Middle East, will ensure that the right things are said to the Sharon Government. I hope that he gives them encouragement and sees the way in which the Israeli Government are beginning to respond.

I believe that I am right in saying that official spokesmen, on behalf of the Israeli Government, are saying, "Yes, we don't have to go right back to the beginning of these potential negotiations, but we can start from the Camp David moment and pick up the pieces and go on from there with what was agreed; we can take another look at the idea of the refugee issue which was so important to the Palestinians and prevented Arafat, quite understandably, from agreeing to the Camp David agreement when Clinton was so keen to get an agreement at that stage".

All that can be done. Reciprocity is self-evident. The Palestinians are struggling for their state. They need the help. The right reverend Prelate was quite rightly shocked by what he saw, as were other people. I commend, for example, the courage of the Israeli ladies, who like the Black Sash ladies in South Africa, have formed the Checkpoint Watch and regularly watch the IDF. They manage the checkpoints. There are still 600 in the West Bank. Can noble Lords imagine such a vast number and how they affect the Palestinians?

The Israelis have also promised that they will facilitate the movement of populations as the general election to provide a new president, prime minister and government in Palestine looms. That too is an encouraging sign. I believe it is possible; it has to be now; it cannot be avoided. Not only should all noble Lords send copies of our Hansard to the United States Congress so that they can read some sensible and wise advice from this Parliament, but we should also ensure that we keep up the pressure on Israel, on Palestine, on the quartet, on Russia and on the United States so that justice prevails.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, there have been many rich themes in today's debate on the gracious Speech. In reflecting perhaps one of the Government's own priorities in the gracious Speech, many of those who have contributed to the debate today have chosen to speak about the challenges facing Africa. I should like to do the same.

Six weeks ago on behalf of the human rights organisation, the Jubilee Campaign, I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester spoke so eloquently earlier on, Rwanda and the Darfur region of Sudan, to which the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have referred. The reports I wrote following those visits are on the Jubilee Campaign's website, and I have made them available to the Minister.

In all three countries I was struck by the sheer scale of the fatalities. In 20 years some 2 million people have died in the Sudan; 800,000 in the genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago; and since 1998 some 3 million people are estimated to have died in the DRC—a staggering 2,000 every day. These are casualties and deaths on a par with Europe's great war. Violence and conflict have of course rendered development a near impossibility.

In Africa, weapons of mass destruction are often small arms and munitions shamelessly sold by western business interests. The Government's determination to bring the Export Control Act 2002 into force is commendable, but there are still loopholes. Earlier this week the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who is in her place, answered a Written Question [HL4414] that I tabled about the sale of arms to Sudan by a British businessman John Knight and his associate Brian Foster.

In an interview with the Scotsman on 18 November, the arms dealer said that as weapons had been supplied to Hitler he saw no issue in selling arms to Khartoum. He had been asked to supply 130-mm field guns, T72 main battle tanks, multiple rocket launchers and semi-automatic pistols, and although these weapons were ultimately caught by the Export Control Act he did supply Antonov AN26 transport planes. He said that he believed they would be used to drop aid. These planes of course can be fitted with bomb racks, and the United Nations has highlighted how they have been used to bomb many people in the south of the country.

When I went to rebel-held areas in southern Sudan I saw the damage wreaked by the Antonovs. The Bishop of Torit told me how 72 bombs had been dropped on his compound, including a school that had been obliterated. Children told me how they had learnt to tell the difference between the drone of the Antonov engines and those of the UN aid planes. I hope the Government will consider further how such transactions can be forestalled and loopholes, including third party deals brokered by UK nationals in third countries, can be thwarted.

In the long term, the consequences of raging conflict in Africa are appalling. I know that the noble Baroness who will answer the debate tonight agrees because of the speech she made on this subject herself just a couple of weeks ago.

In Rwanda, for instance, they include a staggering 260,000 orphans, of whom 65,000 are HIV positive. At a genocide site at Murambi I saw the disinterred corpses of pregnant women and children—some of the 58,000 people slaughtered as so-called peace keepers simply looked on because it was not part of their mandate to intervene.

We are rightly proud of our record in providing food and aid in countries like Rwanda and Sudan. An aid worker in Darfur put it to me like this. He said:

"What is the point busting a gut to get in humanitarian aid if then you are simply going to let the people you feed be shot dead by the Janjaweed?".

It was emphasised to me again and again by people in Darfur that it is not aid that they want but the weapons taken away from their attackers, and their land returned.

In Darfur I took first-hand accounts from people who have seen loved ones killed and raped, from people driven off their land, and from terrorised people whose villages have been razed to the ground.

Two weeks ago the Sudanese ambassador to London, Dr Hassan Abdin, at a meeting here in the Moses Room, disputed the veracity of the accounts collected by the journalist Rebecca Tinsley and myself. He told an aid worker who had just flown in from Darfur that it was not true that aid workers were also now at risk. Moments later a UNICEF representative told the same meeting that only the previous day 88 aid workers had been evacuated from west Darfur because their safety could no longer be guaranteed. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, this week the situation has deteriorated further, with representatives of Save the Children having their own lives endangered when they were caught in the crossfire.

The Sudanese army has been moving into the camps under the pretext of searching for "rebels". The BBC's Fergal Keane said,

"to watch the officials and police of a state like Sudan—which has just signed a peace agreement—demolishing people's shacks under the eyes of international observers and breaching international law is quite extraodrinary and unique".

He said that he had never seen anything like it in 21 years of covering African affairs. He said:

"The population is bewildered and terrorised".

Sudan's Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, said that it was the act of a responsible government to move the occupants to a better location. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, called the action a violation of humanitarian law. BBC's "Panorama", just two weeks ago, broadcast harrowing and graphic footage, which, no doubt, many noble Lords saw. The decaying remains of men, women and children, murdered during genocidal attacks, were shown. At El Geer camp 250 families were moved on to police trucks; they were later reported to be trying to shelter from the scorching sun outside another camp, at El Suaref. A total of 1.7 million people have now been displaced in Darfur and at least 70,000 have been killed. The community leader at El Geer said that they now fear being forcibly sent back to their village, which they fled after attacks by Janjaweed militia. A senior African Union official in Sudan says:

"The ceasefire has been violated every single day".

The United Nations has called Darfur,

"the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe"

The United States and now Canada, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have formally declared this to be genocide.

In a letter that I received today from the Prime Minister, he says:

"You say that what is going on in Darfur is genocide. You may be right but the international community can only take such a decision based on sound evidence".

I am unclear how much evidence is required or why the United States or Canada were able to reach that view two months ago on the basis of the same evidence available to us all.

I have no doubt that what I saw in Darfur is genocide in a technical sense as well as in reality. The US was right to declare it to be so, and I agree with Colin Powell. What mystifies me is why we are in denial. Two years ago, the Prime Minister rightly said:

"I tell you, if Rwanda happened today, we would have a moral duty to act".

We are one of 135 signatories to the 1949 Genocide Convention, which requires us to protect, prevent and punish those responsible. It does not say that our moral duty ends by passing the responsibility to a few African Union soldiers who have inadequate resources and a wholly inadequate mandate. It does not say that we simply have a moral duty to provide greater access for humanitarian aid to feed people while leaving them to be raped or murdered by genocidal forces.

Using Chapter 7 powers, the Security Council gave the government of Sudan until the end of August to disarm the Janjaweed militia. As on so many previous occasions, they failed to comply, and our collective failure to respond has left the Sudanese Government with the belief that they can do as they have done over the past 20 years with sheer impunity.

Last week, in advance of the Nairobi meeting of the UN Security Council, the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, and a senior Labour Member of the European Parliament, Mrs Glenys Kinnock, wrote to the Prime Minister. They said:

"It is time to get tough with the Sudan Government, the architect of this slaughter, ethnic cleansing, rape and racism. The British Government must not equate the actions of the Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan, working in concert, with the comparatively small scale attacks by the Darfur rebels, nor must we fail to hold the Sudan Government to account for fear of upsetting the Khartoum regime".

They added:

"Sudan is already a failed state, and its Government must be forced to negotiate for a genuine peace and a federal solution to the grievances of all its regions".

They called for three immediate things: first, the enforcement of a no-fly zone; secondly, increased resources and an enhanced mandate for the African Union soldiers; and, thirdly, targeted sanctions against the government of Sudan, including a total arms embargo, the freezing of assets and a travel ban on the regime's leaders. That is undoubtedly the right way to proceed.

To date, we have been deterred from pressing for oil and other sanctions against Sudan by countries such as China, which has extensive Sudanese oil interests. But, there are moments when a country has what the Prime Minister calls "a moral duty to act"—and this is one of those moments.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I remind the House that I have an interest as a serving TA officer, although it is somewhat peripheral these days.

Not many noble Lords have touched on the defence budget. The Minister proudly tells us of a budget increase, but is it new money—extra cash—or is it funny money, if I may put it that way? In other words, is it merely extra resource to meet the resource account budgeting costs of holding equipment and facilities? It would be nice to hear that it was all new cash that could be spent on new equipment, spare parts and pay for servicemen. If it is not new cash, what is the split between cash and RAB?

The true measure of a country's defence effort can be described only as a percentage of GDP. The UK compares well with our EU partners, but the difficulty, according to Command Papers 5901 and 5912, is that UK defence expenditure has declined from 2.5 per cent of GDP in 1997–98 to only 2.3 per cent today. How can the Minister describe that as an increase? If the Minister cannot find time to answer me tonight, I hope that she or the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will write to me. On that point, noble Lords will not have missed the close and welcome co-operation between Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office Ministers in your Lordships' House since 1997.

Urgent operational requirements are a fact of life. If there were no such requirements, it would probably be because we had too much equipment held in stock just in case. My understanding is that, for an urgent operational requirement to count against the cost of an operation rather than the MoD's departmental expenditure limits, the item must be disposed of within about 18 months and must not be in the procurement programme. On top of that, even if the items are held in depot and are unissued, the MoD must still pay RAB costs. That creates bizarre incentives. For instance, the WMIK, which is basically a Land Rover bristling with machine guns and other weapons, is already in service with the British Army, but extra vehicles were purchased for Operation TELIC as an urgent operational requirement. Apparently, they are to be disposed of for the reasons that I have just described. I can understand the logic of the staff's decision, but none the less that is bizarre for UK plc.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway raised important issues concerning military discipline. I have raised them previously and in some detail. I am sure that we will have even better opportunities to explore those difficulties later in the Session, but I share my noble friend's concerns.

My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford touched on the investigation of shooting incidents on operations. I share his concerns. I have negotiated quite a few checkpoints as an unarmed civilian working with an NGO. The drill is to approach a checkpoint slowly and cautiously. One must leave in the same way, checking the mirrors for any signs of a misunderstanding. I know that failure to follow that drill could be fatal for me. Locals in unstable areas understand that drill very well. I am unhappy that soldiers are, for various reasons, being put in an impossible position. However, I feel severely constrained in my parliamentary duties—quite properly—by the sub judice rule and the need to avoid interfering in tactical matters, of which more later.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, spoke with her customary skill and eloquence. During a recent Question Time, she suggested that Parliament should not debate the deployment of the Black Watch outside its operational zone. Of course, she was right: the Cabinet should have already agreed in principle that British forces could deploy outside their own AO. Instead, Ministers made a virtue of stating that no decisions had been made. Apparently, the decisions were not made for several days. The inability of the Government to make a decision promptly must have been acutely embarrassing for commanders in theatre.

There is something that we should not discuss: tactics. That applies especially when things go wrong. Parliamentarians, the media and the public must understand that not all encounters with the enemy will be successful. Commanders will sometimes select a course of action that subsequently proves not to be the best one. In short, the good guys will not win in every encounter.

It is absolutely essential that commanders on the ground have flexibility to react to circumstances and are not constrained by a rigid training manual or fear of failure. As far as I can detect, UK Ministers are still extremely good at keeping out of the tactical business. I am very grateful for that; I hope that that continues.

My final observation on tactics is that it is extremely undesirable for parliamentarians to hold Ministers to account over the deaths of individual soldiers, no matter how tragic. The reason is that Ministers would be unable to defend themselves if the victim of the tragedy, or his or her comrades, is not without fault. I am glad that, on the whole, this House avoids such debates.

I agree with noble Lords who oppose reducing the size of the infantry. However, it needs to be understood that other arms and services will be expanded under the plans. Nevertheless, the Minister proposed cutting the size of the Regular Army when perhaps it needs to be enlarged. Surely the cost of keeping two extra infantry battalions in the light role would be quite modest.

Dispensing with the arms plot must be right. Since the SDR was the first proper post-Cold War defence review, it is a little surprising that it did not identify that opportunity. Not only would that make better use of the infantry battalions, but, under current arrangements, we train soldiers to use complex armoured fighting vehicles and armoured battle group tactics. However, they are used in that role only for a relatively short period. The current training cycle is very expensive to support and it is wasteful. The problem is that certain infantry regiments are under threat—which I hope is a threat of amalgamation rather than disbandment.

By chance, I have been approached on behalf of a regiment with which I served in Iraq, but I will not go in to bat for it. I have listened carefully to noble Lords' arguments. However, I do not believe that it is helpful to support individual regiments at the expense of others.

The MoD and the Army are extremely complicated mechanisms. They are also a bureaucracy that is too big and too complex, with too many layers and stakeholders. I have lost count of the number of officers who claim that their branch is reorganising the TA. But the prize of more efficient use of the infantry should not be jeopardised by parliamentarians deploying very long screwdrivers deep inside the complex mechanism of the MoD.

I have made numerous attacks in recent years on Clansman and Bowman. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, through his supplementary questions, has twice suggested that I should not raise difficulties in our communication capability. The most recent Bowman engagement was within the past two weeks. I am pleased to say that I lost that engagement and I retired with burnt fingers, because even the Bowman data transmission facility is now starting to work.

The reason for all that is that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—no doubt due in part to parliamentary pressure—dispensed with the services of the useless Archer consortium and put in place a new and effective team. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, continued that process. Subject to the usual political caveats in case it all collapses, it seems that the Minister may be on to a winner. Of course there may be slight technical hitches—the installation programme may have slipped slightly to the right—but noble Lords should not underestimate the technical difficulties of installing a radio system into literally thousands of platforms. I look forward to being trained on the system.

Finally, time does not permit me to cover my favourite aircraft, the A400M, but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will have something to say on it. Nor can I query why we can reduce our ground-based air defence because there is little credible air threat, but we still need an air superiority fighter.

Photo of Lord Gilbert Lord Gilbert Labour 9:45, 24 November 2004

My Lords, a few years ago when the Soviet Union was disintegrating into the commonwealth of independent states, my older daughter asked me what on earth was going to happen. Of course I said that I had not the faintest idea, but the one thing of which I was absolutely certain was that Ukraine would be critical. We are now faced with precisely that situation. It is a vivid illustration of comrade Stalin's dictum that it does not matter how the people vote, what matters is who counts the votes.

Alas, this is right on our doorstep. I make no prediction at all of what is going to happen, but there are many possibilities. We may see a repetition of what happened in Georgia with the peaceful removal of Mr Shevardnadze by people invading the legislature. We may see a Tiananmen Square. We may see the country split in two, because there seems to be a fairly logical dividing line down which it might do so. We may see the equivalent of a repetition of the Hungarian Uprising and all the bloodshed brought about by that. I think that the situation is desperately serious; it is very close to us and something could happen at any hour of any day to cause a terrible explosion. The Russian president has put himself on the block and he will suffer a huge loss of face if the elections are reversed. All I would say to Her Majesty's Government is that I hope very much that they are already having discussions with the Government of Poland and the other neighbouring countries to consider what we may need to do at very short notice.

I have enjoyed this debate like few others for a long time. To my surprise, I found myself agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on some points. I never thought that I would agree with the noble Lord about anything, but today I agreed with more than half of what he had to say. I hope that that does not embarrass him too much.

On Iraq, I enjoyed very much the speeches of my noble friends Lord Desai and, even more so, that of Lady Ramsay. I hope that those noble Lords who were not in the Chamber when my noble friend was speaking will read what she had to say because I agree with all of it.

I want to record that I personally take great pride in the performance of the coalition troops in Iraq, in particular in Fallujah over the past few days. It was a magnificent military victory under the most trying of circumstances. I want to congratulate our troops, particularly the American troops, not only on their military skills and courage, but also on their deportment. They were at great pains to minimise the number of casualties, especially those among civilians. They gave notice of what they were going to do, thus losing the advantage of surprise, so that civilians could be evacuated from Fallujah. As a result, civilian casualties were very low.

What is more, under the most difficult of circumstances they have taken something in the order of 1,500 prisoners. That should be borne in mind when people go around criticising the way in which the American troops behaved. We have to remember that these young men and women—ours, the Americans and the Australians—are all volunteers. They have come from every county in this country, and from Nebraska, Louisiana and Mississippi. They are all doing their damnedest, at huge risk to themselves, with very high morale, to bring about something decent and democratic in Iraq. They should have our continuing full support.

I deplore the attention given to a couple of incidents in which some people have tried to create a moral equivalence between what some young man did under great pressure—and our troops are involved in incidents like this as well as the Americans—and the actions of people who go around mutilating, stabbing to death, decapitating and setting on fire women of their own nationality; and people who hang corpses from bridges and torture prisoners. To try to pretend that a couple of incidents in the heat of warfare are comparable morally to such actions is absolutely disgusting. The people responsible for trying to create this false moral equivalence should consult their own consciences very quickly.

As regards the fighting in Fallujah, I shall turn now to a rather unfashionable subject—that is, the use of non-lethal weapons. This issue has not had nearly enough consideration in the British Ministry of Defence, although it gets a good deal of attention in the United States. Believe it or not, the American non-lethal weapons programme is in the custody of the United States Marine Corps, so it is not a subject in which only the pussyfooters are interested.

I am fully aware that in certain circumstances a non-lethal weapon can be lethal. There are many kinds of non-lethal weapons with which, I know, experiments in the field have been carried out. There have been trials of foam barriers and putting sticky substances on bridges and airfields; the use of noise and even the use of smell. People may find it quite funny, but it is possible to generate a smell in a confined space that will make a healthy young man nauseous and incapacitate him for quite some time. I recognise that that which can make a healthy young man nauseous can also bring an end to the life of an elderly person or an infant, so it can be used only in certain circumstances. However, the fighting in Fallujah was the kind of situation in which such weapons could usefully have been deployed.

I do not mind confessing that at the time of Kosovo I had the idea that we should try to convert some of our tanker planes to dispense liquid pig manure over the houses of Mr Milosovic, the Politburo and others who lived in the very rich suburbs. I thought it was a splendid idea. It would have killed no-one; it would have made the property completely uninhabitable; and it would have made the occupants look ridiculous. There is no greater weapon against a dictatorship than making people look ridiculous.

However, the people at the MoD considered that I was a case for the gentlemen in white coats and took no notice of my idea—but I still believe it is something that we could have done. Your Lordships can all make your judgments about whether I should be taken away by men in white coats.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for their speeches. In the 34 years that I have been in Parliament, they were two of the most moving speeches I have ever heard. They were all the more effective for being delivered in such an understated way.

It is not that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has provoked me, but I was hoping to get away with a speech in a defence debate without referring to the A400M and the C17—but your Lordships are not going to escape. I have here a booklet produced at great expense by the National Audit Office entitled Major Projects Report 2004. I was a little startled that there was reference to only four C17s as against the fact that we have been told that the lease on the four C17s was going to be converted into a purchase and that we would have a fifth. I hope I am right in believing that only a question of dates is responsible for the confusion and that the Government will confirm what I have said. However, something else struck me when I started looking into this book. The wonderful page 40 gives the key user requirements of the C17, every one of which has been met. In fact, it is my bet that they have all been exceeded.

Then I turned a few pages back to that marvellous Euro-wanking make-work project called the A400M. It lists the key requirements, but does not say what they are. I know that the Minister is not responsible for what the NAO produces, but I suggest that we tell it that we would like to know precisely what the key requirements of the A400M are so that everyone can see how inferior a plane it will be, if it ever arrives, to the C17, which will be for everyone's enlightenment.

I draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 3e on page 4, which says:

"The delay to the ISD by 15 months to March 2011"— actually, it is 25 months, but they have fiddled that, as one can see in paragraph 3c—

"is likely to aggravate the extant strategic, tactical and special forces airlift capability gap unless remedial action is taken".

I told you so.

Photo of Lord Lyell Lord Lyell Conservative

My Lords, it is a rare pleasure to follow the wonderful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, at this late hour. He mentioned the A400M, filled with various things. Early in my career in Northern Ireland, in April 1984, my Secretary of State asked why I was looking so cocky. I said that I had had a dream in which I rented a Chinook helicopter for the day and filled it not with freight but with enormous bags and spray booms. Underneath it we had put a loudspeaker; your Lordships may remember the movie "Apocalypse Now" when the helicopters went in playing the "Ride of the Valkyries". I am not a terribly musical man, and I suggested we should play the Pope's Easter message Urbi et Orbi, bring the helicopter down and open up the tanks, on 12 July, filled with holy water, over an Orange parade. Quite rightly, the men in white coats came, but I survived five more years in Northern Ireland and, as a result, finished up on the Back Benches here.

I speak tonight, at this late hour, with great humility, for one particular reason. I have the honour to have followed Lord Vivian as secretary of the All-Party Defence Study Group. I have been over 34 years with this particular group, all over the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

I should like to mention one particular aspect of my own very humble conscript career. On 4 May 1957, at precisely eight o'clock in the morning, I and 16 other young men were seized by a fairly tough Coldstream Guard sergeant, Sergeant Clements, who went by the name of "Kiwi". It was said he used boot polish for a variety of purposes. However, he was one of the smarter sergeants. Within eight weeks, he had turned me and 16 other young men into competent soldiers.

On 17 August 1957, some of us who had luckily been deemed as capable of officer cadet training tumbled out of a large truck at Eaton Hall near Chester to be greeted by the barking of a particularly tough Coldstream Guardsman, Mr. Blood, Senior. He was at one time Principal Doorkeeper in the Commons and the father of our Second Principal Doorkeeper here. It goes to show that in the British Army we have traditions, family roles and competence. In any event, those two gentlemen, among others, formed myself and many others into competent soldiers and infantrymen—at least, I hope so.

When I came in today, I obtained from my files the most wonderful book called the Guide to Infantry Recruiting. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, tried to snatch it from me, which was a bit unfair as I am sure he knows every single word. I, unfortunately, do not. However, I looked at the front page, which gives wonderful quotations going right back to 378 AD. There were various other cracks from General George C Marshall. Before the war, General Marshall wrote that after the smoke and dust of the battle is over, you will find one man either with the sword or the crossbow or the rifle.

I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in his place, because he and I both know that the Swiss Army is one of the very best and greatest armies on the face of the earth. It has particularly tough and good infantrymen.

I then looked on page iii of this marvellous book and what did I find? It was signed by the Director of Infantry, Brigadier the Honourable SHRH Monro on 6 September 2000. But what did the Director of Infantry have to say? In the first chapter, he said that infantry is the heart of the British Army. I too have to agree with that.

Perhaps infantry training and infantry tactics have changed very greatly since I had the honour to serve with the First Battalion Scots Guards, No. 8 platoon. Surprise, surprise, on 14 July 1958, a very interesting event occurred in—guess where?—Iraq. A putsch of officers murdered the king and the Prime Minister, Nuri es Said. A brigade was prepared for action in the Middle East—but it was quite clear that it was going to be Iraq—consisting of the First Battalion Scots Guards—which was my battalion and my regiment, commanded by Lord Cathcart. It was in those days the First Battalion of the Black Watch and I understand there was to be one marine commando.

Sadly, even then—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, will quite understand—there was a great shortage of desert training. So where did they send the First Battalion Scots Guards? They sent them to Dartmoor, where there is three times the normal amount of rainfall and an appalling pong of wet webbing and rust and everything else. However, it was decreed eventually that we would not go to Iraq, but I never forgot the training that we had and what we did and what we were able to do, thanks to the marvellous Company Sergeant-Major Blood and Sergeant Clements, who looked after me.

After all the years that I have been studying and trying to follow the British Army and the plot, and all the aspects of our defence, in 1990, our all-party group went to Gibraltar. We had a marvellous display of something called "fighting in built-up areas". That is not necessarily to do with football teams when they win or lose on a Saturday, but it is apparently part of successful infantry tactics. That was a great development.

It was very interesting to hear the opening comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and to read the comments of the Director of Infantry. Indeed, the Chief of General Staff says that we must live in the 21st century and the modern era. That is indeed so, but fighting in built-up areas and infantry training is just a little different from what I have been learning as well; that is, that now one does not talk of a battalion, but about a "battle group", with, in almost all cases, armoured reconnaissance, just as we saw when we visited the Household Cavalry Regiment in October this year. That will be so well known by my noble friend Lord Astor, who will have his turn to reply.

Later, in October this year, my noble friend Lord Attlee and I visited the Royal Engineers. In any battle group—it may be one, two or three companies—and in whatever they are doing, those infantry will have to have the same infantry training as we all need. That is the heart of the British Army. It is for that reason that I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and indeed other noble Lords who have looked at the mathematics of the so-called "arms plot" or the programme. I am afraid that I really believe that 40 into 36 will not go. This extra 10 per cent is stretching the elastic just gently.

My noble friends Lord Monro and Lord Sanderson mentioned the King's Own Scottish Borderers. I think that my noble friend Lord Astor will remember that we visited Cyprus in 1998. We found the King's Own Scottish Borderers, which was one of the infantry battalions there, in particularly good heart. It had been very, very well recruited.

My noble friend Lord Swinfen spoke of the activities of First Battalion Royal Scots and said it is being taken just as an emergency battalion for exceptional circumstances. I am afraid that the story of the Royal Scots makes a mockery of this 24-month plot with the British Army and the infantry.

I wish to conclude. I shall not follow my noble friend my noble friend Lord Selsdon by mentioning the Front Bench, except to refer to two occasions—once when we visited the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, and once when my noble friend Lord Astor came with me and we visited HMS "Sheffield". In both cases, there were very serious problems, one with the cookhouse, the second with the galley. No sooner were we back in your Lordships' House than I and others had a word with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. I do not know what happened, but I can tell your Lordships that within two months the Kings Own Scottish Borderers had their cookhouse and within two weeks HMS "Sheffield" had a new galley and the ship was sailing.

I do not know quite what happened, but I suspect that the captain of HMS "Sheffield"—and I know the commanding officer—are very grateful. Perhaps they are grateful to us, although they do not need to be. But that does show that we are very well served by some people in the Ministry of Defence. But we are also particularly well served by the British Army and the infantry. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, let alone other noble Lords, will see that my simple mathematics of 40 into 36 will not go. Well, it may go up to 2008—but for how long after that? But we are very grateful for what they have done and I look forward to what they have to say.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Shadow Minister, International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, I am rising to respond on behalf of these Benches to the debate today on the gracious Speech. That is an enormous challenge, given the range of expertise which is, as ever, apparent in your Lordships' House. I was amazed at the ease with which the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, gave their maiden speeches, and the wide knowledge and experience that they displayed. As other noble Lords have said, we look forward very much to their contributions in future.

I shall persist in calling the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, my noble friend, because he is that. Although I regret that he has moved to the Cross Benches, I can in fact see and hear him much better from here, which I much appreciate.

A wide range of themes and issues have emerged in this debate: international order; the role of the UN; the appropriate role of the UK in the wider world; the EU; and areas of particular crisis, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Burma, Kashmir, Ukraine, Sudan and the DRC, to name but a few. There has been extensive discussion of defence from noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Garden, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen, Lord Lyell, Lord Monro, and Lord Gilbert. I look forward very much to seeing quite how the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, is rendered in Hansard.

One thing that has surfaced repeatedly is the international authority and the role of the United Nations. Looking at the role of such institutions historically, one can see that it is just over 80 years since the League of Nations was established and almost 60 years since the establishment of the UN. They have not been around for very long. Clearly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and other noble Lords, have said, the UN has its limitations. Yet it is astonishing in historical terms to see an agency such as the UN there at all, and at the forefront of the fight against AIDS, at the forefront of humanitarian relief and reconstruction or of bringing warring parties together. It is surely a matter of moving forward from here, and not to marginalise the UN but to strengthen it. Therefore, I look forward very much to reading the report of the UN high level panel, of which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is a member.

There has been some debate today about the relative blocs in which the UK finds or places itself—in alliance with the American superpower and/or working within the EU bloc. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire has made very clear quite what a junior partner we are in relation to the United States. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out that Europe, divided as it has been over Iraq, does not carry the weight that it should. Whether the EU is regarded as a counterbalance to the US or whether the US and the EU should work now closely together, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, suggests, surely we should welcome the enormously liberalising and democratising effect that the EU has had, as my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf pointed out.

However, most people most of the time are not thinking about the EU. When I am trying to get my children to school on time, I must admit that, sometimes, the EU is not uppermost in my thoughts. Presented with a choice on the EU constitution, having taken in conflicting and largely negative messages, people are likely to be conservative with a small "c" when voting in a referendum. Winning a referendum is hardly a foregone conclusion. So what on earth happens to our influence if we then become second-class Europeans? Can the Minister assure us that the Government are waking up to that?

The gracious Speech states:

"we live in a time of global uncertainty with an increased threat from international terrorism and organised crime".—[Hansard, 23/11/04; col. 1.]

That is very much the theme of that Speech. But is the world now a safer place after the invasion of Iraq? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in their chillingly powerful speeches, surely demonstrated the opposite. Although we all now want Iraq to be stable and peaceful, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said, the history of how we got to this point affects what we can do now. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, to pull out would result in anarchy but staying in sustains and increases insurgency.

In that extremely difficult situation, how confident is the Minister that the elections to be held in January will include sufficient of the Sunni minority to command respect right across the country?

Also, what role does she anticipate the UN playing in such elections, given the dire security situation there? Do the Government have any hopes of involving other countries in the region in the reconstruction of Iraq? How confident is she that a new constitution acceptable to most Iraqis will then be written and that Iraq will not fragment because it is not written?

Can she also tell us what influence the UK has had recently with our American allies on how the operation in Fallujah was conducted? I am a pussy-foot, you see. Do the Government agree with the Red Cross's assessment of the situation there? Does she note that yesterday, UNICEF reported that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children has doubled in the past year?

There is also the Lancet article, which gives the most likely estimate of deaths in Iraq post-conflict as 98,000. My husband, who is a surgeon and oversees much medical research and whom I always believe, has vouched to me for the reliability of the methods used. What is the FCO's assessment of that Lancet article? Is the noble Baroness optimistic that things will start to improve in Iraq?

The noble Baroness will no doubt be acutely aware of the view in the Middle East and elsewhere that support for the United States in invading Iraq was a terrible mistake. But she will also be aware that many in the Middle East differentiate between the US and UK in their attitude to Israel-Palestine. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister raised that issue with President Bush, but clearly the lesson is that in acting alone we achieve little. The noble Lord is right in that.

As my noble friend Lord Dykes and other noble Lords have said, this must be a moment of opportunity. I welcome what my noble friend Lord Alderdice said about learning from Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out, the men of violence must not be allowed to derail any peace process. Can the noble Baroness therefore say whether the Government see any sign that the United States will take a constructive role in the Middle East conflict?

Israelis desperately want security; the Palestinians equally desperately want their own state and economic development. That should constitute an opportunity. The measure of human development, educational achievement, is now moving rapidly backwards in Palestinian areas. I note that the Al Quds medical school is having enormous difficulty in training doctors because they are not allowed to travel to the school, and much now has to be done via distant learning. If you see a picture of the medical school, you will see that it is dwarfed by the wall. What pressure will be brought to bear on Israel to re-route that wall along 1967 lines so that it does not take in Palestinian lands? It is surely not sufficient, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, seemed to suggest—I am sure that she did not mean this—that to re-route is too expensive.

Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour

My Lords, I did not say that.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Shadow Minister, International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, I am most encouraged that the noble Baroness did not say that. It sounded a little as if that was what the noble Baroness was arguing, but I am most encouraged that that was not the case. The EU surely has a key role to play in the situation in the Middle East. Will the Minister tell us what the UK Government are advocating among their EU partners so far as concerns the Middle East peace process?

While the eyes of the Government are on Iraq, what of Afghanistan? Like the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I note that the opium harvest is now up by 64 per cent. Afghanistan is surely in acute danger of sliding back into chaos where drug war lords reign supreme. We welcome the presidential election and the freeing of the hostages, but elections across the country are due next year and in current circumstances the development of Afghanistan as a drug state is in danger of making these almost irrelevant.

I turn to Africa. As others have pointed out, next year the Government will hold the presidencies of both the EU and the G8. The Prime Minister has said that climate change and Africa will be key priorities for him at those summits, always assuming that he is still in power at that point.

I fully endorse what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Desai, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and others have said about trade justice, debt relief, fair trade and CAP reform. However, given the time, I want to focus in particular on AIDS. I note that the gracious Speech says that,

"the welfare of children is paramount". [Hansard, 23/11/04; Col.3]

It was referring to the UK's children, but we should also look further afield.

There can be no more major disaster coming down the track than HIV/AIDS. The numbers are dire. In the poorest places in the world, exacerbated, of course, by that poverty, but in turn exacerbating that poverty, there is an incidence in some communities of up to 60 per cent. It is having a devastating impact.

Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Rawlings, we welcome the Government's strategy on tackling HIV/AIDS, but much more must be done to address this issue, and in particular to get other countries to fulfil their international obligations. Here the G8 and EU presidencies surely offer a key opportunity. I hope that the need to tackle AIDS is not buried among all the other worthy sections of the Africa Commission's report. There is no more important issue on the agenda.

On current trends, in less than a decade perhaps one-third of southern African children will be orphans. International response is simply not in line with the scale of this catastrophe. How can countries meet the millennium development goals on the reduction of poverty if their workforces are dying? The UN warns that in some areas knowledge of agricultural practices is being lost as a generation dies. How are we to get the majority of children into school if they have been orphaned?

How are we to improve the position of women? Women are disproportionately affected by AIDS for biological as well as social reasons. In Africa, there is a far higher incidence of HIV among women and girls than men and boys. It is mostly on women and girls that additional caring responsibilities now fall.

The plight of AIDS orphans is just beginning to be recognised. In addition to the trauma of witnessing the sickness and death of one or both parents, AIDS orphans are likely to be poorer and less healthy than other children. They are less likely to go to school, more likely to be exploited for child labour and more likely to be abused. So far, most orphaned children are accommodated within extended families, but even that is not an easy solution. Many extended families have simply been overwhelmed. It therefore becomes vital to get them food and financial support so that the families are not further impoverished.

High on the agenda must be the roll-out of treatment. Everything must be done to keep those who are HIV positive as fit and well as they usually have been in our own society. There is also prevention. In Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town, I saw an excellent health centre with youth-club facilities attached where the message of prevention was getting across. I was very pleased to see that DfID was listed as a donor, until I was told that funding had stopped some months before; the funds had gone to Iraq.

The orphan crisis in sub-Saharan Africa has implications for stability and human welfare that extend far beyond the region. AIDS is at epidemic proportions in Africa. Its incidence is rising fast in India, China and, at its fastest, eastern Europe, on our doorstep. But the social catastrophe developing on the continent of Africa is what we all have to face first.

As the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, pointed out, this has been a kaleidoscope of a debate, ranging from the Cuban blockade to the UN high-level panel. One thing holds all the subjects together; it is the knowledge and interest shown by noble Lords in the problems of the world and Britain's role on the international stage. There is a huge gulf between those who argue that Britain was right to attack Iraq, and those who feel that such actions have made this a much more dangerous world and that Iraq has seriously deflected attention from key problems such as the Middle East peace process, tackling AIDS and climate change. On other areas—debt, trade, aid, tackling poverty—there is more agreement between us, at least on where we all seek to go, even if we disagree on how far and fast we are travelling. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, International Affairs

My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to respond to the debate for my party. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, as time will not allow me to mention all the excellent speeches made today. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, on their maiden speeches. My noble friend Lord Howell gave the House a masterly tour d'horizon of European and world affairs, and my noble friend Lady Rawlings covered some of the crucial international development issues. I shall therefore concentrate largely on defence matters.

Before I do, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the excellent work of the European Union Committee, and my noble friend Lord McColl on the truly wonderful work carried out by the crew and volunteers of the Mercy Ships. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon welcomed rightly the more positive atmosphere relating to Gibraltar. My noble friend Lady Hooper was very upbeat about Latin America, as was the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, about Turkey. My noble friend Lord Ashcroft spoke about Cuba. His enthusiasm for that country is shared by my wife, who returned from a charity fund-raising venture there yesterday. The noble Lords, Lord Garden and Lord Gilbert, delivered uplifting and very well thought-out speeches; I agreed with almost everything that both of them said.

Last year, in an excellent wind-up speech, my noble friend Lady Rawlings was disappointed to hear no reference in the gracious Speech to Zimbabwe. There is again no reference this year. Meanwhile, as my noble friend Lady Park said, we are witnessing the slow destruction of a people there. Inflation is rampant; press freedom is non-existent; even our cricket correspondents are refused entry; political corruption is rife; and the degradation of farmland is now so great that it can be seen from space. If the Government are taking action to improve matters in Zimbabwe, it would be interesting to know exactly what action is being taken.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, mentioned Afghanistan. The Prime Minister promised to combat opium production there at the Bonn summit in 2001. Ninety per cent of the heroin that is poisoning British society comes from Afghanistan. What has happened, particularly as Britain is meant to be taking a lead? According to the latest UN report, opium production has increased by 17 per cent over the past year. So, I look forward to hearing from the Minister what plans the Government have to reverse that.

Frederick the Great said:

"Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments".

How then are we supporting our Armed Forces in their operational requirements to support the Government on the world stage?

I shall start with the Army. Regiments that have been on near-continuous operational tours for several years, and are severely overstretched, are being told that their future is under threat. That is no way to support our excellent men and women in the field. It is the wrong message and very bad timing. Indeed, Bruce George, Labour chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, referred to the "idiots" who would cut the infantry now. As my noble friend Lord Monro pointed out, there was no mention of the Armed Forces in the gracious Speech. Surely that was an unfortunate oversight.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in paying tribute to our Armed Forces. In recent months we have been reminded of their dedication, skill and determination. They are, as he said, a force for good in the world. Like him, and like my noble friend Lord Lyell, I also have the privilege of meeting many soldiers. I am always impressed how many young soldiers are already matching Chelsea Pensioners for medals. Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq have all required a significant presence.

It is odd that the Minister should claim that the current measures represent a sensible rebalancing, while reducing the infantry by 10 per cent. They are committed to a war while simultaneously short of 5,000 personnel, but were banned from recruiting for six months earlier this year. My noble friend Lord Sanderson pointed out that recruitment figures are plummeting in Scotland because of the uncertainty and that once changes have taken place, from past experience, recruitment is likely to haemorrhage.

I wonder whether the Fire Brigades Union, or indeed Gerry Adams, have been consulted about their plans over the next few years? Even if there is a lasting peace in Ulster—still an "if"—the latest International Monitoring Commission report on Northern Ireland pointed out that the IRA and the Provos remain organised on a war footing. The world is full of unpredictable dangers. Four months ago, hardly anyone had heard of Darfur or Côte d'Ivoire. As my noble friend Lord Swinfen said, no effort is being made to achieve the longstanding, but equally long-ignored defence planning assumption that units should enjoy 24 months between operational tours. How will 36 battalions manage that, when 40 cannot do that now? It defies logic.

My noble friend Lord Hurd mentioned the 30 January election in Iraq. In light of the US announcement that it will increase its troop numbers, do Her Majesty's Government have any plans to increase British numbers in Iraq during that period? Can the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to provide election monitors there?

The world has changed. We on these Benches accept that. We must also change and develop new thinking and implement new approaches for the Army. We agree with the CGS's ambition to end the arms plot and commend him for it.

Naturally, we want to ensure that we remain America's partner of choice—the one reliable ally who can do high-intensity warfare. That costs a lot of money. But not all conflicts are high-intensity and high-tech. Many involve wearisome and dangerous garrison duty.

As my noble friend Lord Swinfen pointed out, the US Army, which is vastly more advanced in technology and technology-based weapon systems than our own—and that before we try developing some of our own systems—is about to recruit 23,000 more infantrymen. Similarly, the Australians, who are also very involved in the front-line of the war against international terrorism, are also increasing their infantry.

My noble friend Lord Monro mentioned the reserves. The award of the first Military Cross to a TA soldier since the Second World War is a reminder of how much our Armed Forces, and the Government, have come to rely on our reserves. Indeed, about 1,200 of them have been sent to Iraq.

We welcome the fact that, at long last, work has started on preparing a Tri-Service Armed Forces Bill. But I share the profound concerns voiced by my noble friends Lord Howell, Lord Attlee and Lord Campbell of Alloway, and expressed to me by serving officers, that the whole approach to these issues is misdirected. Too much idealism; too little realism.

The military discipline system, in principle and in practice, must of course accord with the requirements of domestic and international law. That is beyond dispute. But what should also be beyond dispute is that individual members of our Armed Forces should be able to take split-second decisions knowing that the system will support them afterwards.

I turn to the subject of the Royal Navy and the carrier programme. Like my noble friend Lord Selsdon, we believe that Britain really needs those ships. We hope that a final contract for the carriers will be signed as soon as possible. But I am concerned when I look at the MPR 2004 project sheet, where the current in-service date of October 2012 is not stated, implying that the Government will not meet that date.

Will the Minister tell the House the Government's plans for the future of the naval bases at Devonport, Portsmouth and Rosyth? With only two repair contracts due to be awarded in 2005—for HMS "Richmond" and "Ark Royal"—there is not enough work to go around. So which of those three do the Government plan to close and what impact will a closure have on the capability of British yards to build the two aircraft carriers?

As with so many other major projects, the in-service date of the Type 45 destroyers slipped in the last year by 18 months to May 2009. The implication is that, with the last of the Sea Harriers going in March 2006, the Royal Navy will have no air defence capability beyond 25 miles for at least three years. In effect, the Government are hoping that the Navy will not face a hostile air defence environment between 2006 and 2009.

The First Sea Lord has said that,

"no matter how good a ship is, it can only be in so many places at any one time".

We shall therefore keep the three Type 23 frigates— "Grafton", "Marlborough" and "Norfolk"—thus restoring essential capability at a time of heightened threat. We shall also fit what the Navy really wants—a serious land-attack capability, the Tactical Tomahawk cruise missiles—to the second batch Type 45 destroyers.

The Royal Air Force will lose more than 100 front-line aircraft and 7,500 personnel, nearly a quarter of the RAF. The in-service date for Brimstone, the anti-armour weapon designed to replace cluster bombs, has slipped by another 11 months. That is a concern, not only because the RAF is denied access to what promises to be an effective weapons system, but also because it prolongs the service life of cluster bombs with their legally questionable bomblets. Those too often do not explode on impact, but litter the battlefield long after the conflict is over, providing a hazard to friendly troops and civilians alike.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, claims to be making even more resources available to defence and providing the longest period of sustained growth for over 20 years. The reality is a long way from the hype, and my noble friend Lord Attlee was right to question it. According to the Commons Library, as a percentage of GDP, defence spending is at its lowest now since Ramsay MacDonald led a Labour Government in 1930.

We will increase defence spending by £2.7 billion more on front-line services than the Government's planned expenditure over the next three years. I have read the MoD's 2003–04 annual report and accounts and am concerned to see that losses and special payments for the DLO and DPA combined were over £400 million in closed cases and £942 million in advance notification cases, a breathtaking amount of money. Combined with the £1.7 billion increase in the cost of 20 major equipment projects, that means that the MoD has frittered away nearly £3 billion of taxpayers' money in the past year alone.

Therefore, in view of the informed concern of so many noble Lords, I again ask the Government to make time for the defence changes to be debated in the House, so that the Government may account more clearly for what they are doing and for what they are failing to do. It is the absolute belief of my party that defence of the realm is the first duty of government. Hence our anxiety when we are told that we are to have fewer warships, fewer aircraft and a smaller Army; the more so when we are also told that we are engaging in increasing military commitments and are confronted by continuing threats from terrorism. It simply does not add up.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as is so often the case in debating foreign, defence and international development matters in your Lordships' House, today we have had the opportunity to hear some of the greatest expertise and the most powerful advocacy and intellectual erudition that the House has to offer.

We have also been very privileged to hear two excellent maiden speeches. The expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, was well known to many, particularly in relation to democratic values. We are now aware of her gentle humour and of her wisdom. I have known my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green for many years. His reputation as a trade unionist today has been enhanced by his contribution to our debate on international development and human rights. I join others in looking forward to hearing more from both new Members in the years to come.

There has been real conviction and real passion in the arguments adduced in the debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on leading for his party on foreign affairs. However, I thought his new role had given him some new flights of fancy; in particular, his view that the Government have been uncritical of United States policy. I thought that owed a little more to his extracurricular reading than to what Ministers actually say. He moved from PG Wodehouse to the scriptures at breathtaking pace. But I thought his conclusions smacked more of a boisterous Bertie Wooster than the wisdom of Solomon.

For many of your Lordships, the fundamental issues behind our action in Iraq continue to burn into the heart of any discussion on British foreign policy. At the same time the visceral issues around the Middle East peace process and the balance between an essentially European or transatlantic approach to this country's international relationships have been focused upon by many noble Lords.

The role of the UN, of Europe, the search for international consensus on the huge issues of tackling the scourge of poverty, terrorism proliferation and international security have all been discussed. The role of our Armed Forces and the need for a step change in our attitude to development, to international law and to trade and health were issues that also dominated the contributions from many of your Lordships. I shall do my best to respond.

Understandably many of your Lordships concentrated your contributions on Iraq, including the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, the noble Lords, Lord Hurd of Westwell and Lord Avebury, my noble friend Lord Gilbert and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. My noble friend Lady Turner of Camden spoke eloquently and powerfully in opposition to the military action. My noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale expressed with her characteristic clarity that the year 2005 will be a critical one for Iraq. The January elections mark a key step forward in the political process.

Iraqis want elections. That is borne out in all Iraqi opinion polls. So it is welcome news that a firm date of 30 January has now been set by the interim government. Voter registration is well under way. The registration of political parties began on 1 November. Already there is widespread interest in the participation from across the political spectrum. A major public information campaign has been launched. But of course security for the elections is vital. That is why UK Armed Forces and other members of the multi-national force are giving the Iraqi Government and Iraqi security forces every possible support.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will forgive me if I do join the many tributes paid during the course of the debate to the remarkable courage and determination of the United Kingdom's Armed Forces. I pay tribute also to the staff in our embassy in Baghdad under the leadership of our ambassador, Edward Chaplain, to our officers working in Basra and in Kirkuk and to the former staff of the coalition provisional authority for the tireless work that they have undertaken to help the people of Iraq.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was right in this respect: we really do have to plan better on how to support Iraq's future. It is vital that we and the rest of the international community continue to support the efforts of the Iraqi Interim Government to rid Iraq of the insurgents and to support the political process and to help rebuild Iraq.

I agree strongly with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, that the support of the European Union is vital in this respect, as is the support of Iraq's neighbours. That is why I welcome the commitment expressed yesterday by Iraq's neighbours and the wider international community at Sharm el Sheikh to continue to support the political process and the reconstruction effort in Iraq. I welcome too the Paris Club agreement last weekend to write off 80 per cent of Iraq's external debt. That will give Iraq 100 billion dollars to help underpin economic recovery.

I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that we cannot afford to let Iraq fail. The insurgents want to create maximum chaos and disorder to advance their extreme, fanatical agenda and we do have to defeat them. If we can defeat them in Iraq, we will strike a major blow against extremist forces worldwide.

However, I do not believe, unlike my noble friend Lady Turner, that this is a total catastrophe in Iraq. There are 240 hospitals and 1,200 primary healthcare centres in Iraq which are functioning. Routine immunisations were restarted in the year 2003 and national polio and measles vaccination programmes are now complete.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, gave us further details of his important and courageous work—work which is also undertaken in a different sphere by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, who unfortunately is not able to be in her place today. Meanwhile, over 6 million pupils and 300,000 teachers are in over 20,000 schools and 350,000 students and 50,000 employees are in higher education. Major school refurbishment programmes are under way; 70 million new textbooks have been distributed. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is quite right that much is improving in power generation, in access to safe water and in transport and communications.

In response to the points about women put by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, six out of 31 ministers in Iraq are now women, including the important ministries of agriculture, labour and social affairs. There is a reference to respect for women's rights in UNSCR 1456, and electoral law aims to ensure that one in every four successful candidates in the election for the transitional national assembly is a woman.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, spoke about casualties, which we have discussed in your Lordships' House only in the past few days. There are no wholly reliable figures for Iraqi civilian casualties, but Iraq's ministry of health began collating statistics in the past six months. Those figures include victims of terrorist activity. They amount to just fewer than 4,000, so it is difficult to understand the assumptions underpinning the Lancet figure of 100,000.

Noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield, discussed the legality of the war. It is important to highlight the difficulty of the lack of international consensus on how such decisions are reached. Those issues are developing in international law. For what it is worth, my view is that a UN capacity in this respect might be very welcome, provided that the participants in such decisions at the UN themselves have a recognisable legitimacy through a mandate regulated by the rule of law. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, I hope that the report from the UN High-Level Panel may shed some light on the matter, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.

I cannot go into the details of the case of Trooper Williams, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Astor of Hever. We are immensely proud of our service personnel in Iraq, but this matter is sub judice, so it would not be proper for me to comment on any aspect of the case that is a matter for the court. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that we hope that a single tri-service Act, replacing the separate systems of service law, will be introduced. We are committed to it, and I hope that it will come forward soon.

The noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis raised issues on Iran. We welcome, in particular, Iran's commitment to put in place a full, sustained suspension of all fuel-cycle activities. That is essential if the international community is to have assurances that the aims of Iraq's nuclear programme are indeed exclusively peaceful. The contribution of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in that respect has been enormous; I am sorry that it was not more fulsomely acknowledged. He has been tireless in his commitment to seek a way through this particularly potentially damaging international dispute.

For many noble Lords the more deep-seated, fundamental problem in the region is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, was right to say that the Prime Minister's decision to go to Washington reflected his commitment to leave no stone unturned in the search for peace in the Middle East. That was not excitable impetuosity, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Howell; it was a well timed intervention which, as the Minister responsible for the relationship with that part of the world, I found that many Arab representatives at the United Nations last week appreciated hugely.

For many noble Lords this issue is the fundamental concern of international politics at the moment. That view was reflected by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Alderdice, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, at the end of whose contribution I almost cheered—as much for the speed of his delivery as for the content. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and my noble friends Lord Desai and Lady Ramsay also spoke about the issue.

As the Prime Minister went to Washington, he and President Bush were able to reaffirm a joint commitment to a two-state solution. That commitment is shared by our partners in the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. But let it be said that it is also shared by the crown prince in Saudi Arabia and all the members of the Arab League. There is a commitment to a secure Israel, side by side with a viable Palestine, achieved through negotiation between the parties. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the right reverend Prelate that there was no doubt in my mind about what I was told by the Arab permanent representatives at the UN last week.

Of course, words are not enough: it is action that counts. That point was made powerfully by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. Since the last debate on the gracious Speech, much has changed. The Sharon disengagement plan is a welcome first step in a broader process, working with the grain of an Israeli-led initiative. The re-election of President Bush opens the way to greater real United States engagement than we have seen in recent months. The inevitable changes in the Palestinians' leadership, following the death of their president, may create an environment in which negotiation and real exchanges between the parties are, at long last, possible. However, it means real effort and real work, not merely shouting instructions or advice at others from the sideline.

In his wonderfully powerful contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, asked me, "What remains?". In the UK, we have worked for some time with the Palestinian Interior Ministry and the security chiefs to improve security in Gaza and the West Bank. Now, the international community—the EU, the US and the UN—must provide support for the Palestinian elections next January. Israeli support is vital too, to accommodate the elections on the broadest possible franchise. To support Israel and the Palestinians, we must also, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, suggested, give support to Palestine's nearest neighbours. The political, economic and security infrastructure will be essential if a viable Palestinian state is to take root, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, envisaged, supported by my noble friend Lord Desai.

Israel has an opportunity to demonstrate its willingness as a democratic state living under the rule of law with humanitarian values to respond to a Palestinian leadership that is prepared to tackle security and deal with terrorism. We call on Israel now to make good its undertakings on a settlement freeze; deal with the hardships caused to the Palestinians by the routing of the security barrier; and support credible Palestinian elections. A new Palestinian leadership will have an opportunity to deal with terrorism; organise security properly; deal openly and transparently with corruption; and establish the rule of law. If that is possible, there are some real chances for the region.

I shall write to my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Northover, about their well expressed concerns about Afghanistan and drugs. The United Kingdom is providing over £90 million for the development of alternative livelihoods; for targeted eradication campaigns; for law enforcement and interdiction; for criminal justice; for drug demand reduction; and for information campaigns to raise drug awareness. I hope that that answers the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. I would also point out that a great deal is being done to deal with the shattered infrastructure of Afghanistan. Most tellingly, 3.1 million refugees and 500,000 internally displaced people have returned home. They have done so because things are getting better—not worse—in Afghanistan.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, again juxtaposed our relationship with the United States with our relationship with the European Union. His argument was, worryingly, a mirror reflection of that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, believes that we are too European, to the detriment of our relationship with the United States; the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, believes that we are too influenced by the United States, to the detriment of our relationship with the European Union.

Of course, there are, at times, international tensions across the Atlantic. We have seen differences over Iraq, and we see them emerge on defence and NATO-related issues, as was illustrated by the story told by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. However, to describe our attitude to Europe as subordinate to our attitude to the United States is plainly wrong. We disagreed with France and Germany on Iraq, and we agreed with the United States on Iraq. On Iran, we have been shoulder to shoulder with our European allies and in a somewhat different place from some of our United States friends.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel raised some interesting issues about the neo-con tendency in the United States administration. The UK's position as the United States' closest ally is fundamental to the understanding and co-operation that there must be between the European Union and the United States, if we are to tackle effectively the threats to global peace and security. We will work hard to strengthen the commitment on both sides of the Atlantic to global partnership between Europe and America.

The United States and Europe remain by far and away each other's most important commercial partners. The transatlantic economy generates roughly 2.5 trillion dollars a year and employs 12 million people. So who can fail to recognise that there are opportunities and that there are risks too? In going down the path of those who want to urge the Government to make a choice one way or the other—Europe or America—I counsel noble Lords to be very careful before taking any such position.

As always, there were contributions on the European constitution—notably from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in his not quite maiden speech. It gave me as much pleasure to hear from the Cross Benches as it did to hear similar speeches from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I also hugely valued the well argued contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell.

We have been over those issues many times, and time is short this evening. Perhaps I may say to your Lordships that the EU constitution is, in the opinion of the Government, good for Britain and good for Europe. It makes Europe more Atlanticist, less integrationist and more reformist. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, tried to persuade us that we lose more than we gain from the European constitution.

But my view is very different. For the first time ever, the treaty will allow national parliaments to examine proposed legislation from the European Commission. If one-third objects, the Commission must review its results. The appointment of a full-time president of the European Council, the body representing member states, will mean that European governments—not a federal body—will set Europe's agenda.

We will have the opportunity to develop those matters more closely when we look at the European Bill. I agree strongly with the excellent points made by the noble Lords, Lord Dahrendorf and Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis about Turkey's accession discussions beginning, which is a decision that we hope will be taken at the European Council on 17 December. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made a point about the length of time in respect of the Bill. That is very much a matter which is in your Lordships' hands.

I turn to the questions on Ukraine raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and my noble friend Lord Gilbert. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in a statement yesterday:

"I urge the Ukrainian authorities to cooperate with the OSCE to ensure that all proper procedures . . . are fully followed before declaring a final result. The Ukrainian authorities should investigate all allegations of fraud to ensure that the result reflects the democratic will of the Ukrainian people".

In the mean time, we urge all restraint on the Ukrainian people and that their differences with each other remain peaceful.

My noble friend Lord Desai raised questions about Kashmir. Progress in the peace process between the two countries is an important signal to the outside world of the new phase in Indo-Pakistani relationships. We hope that they will also reflect the views of the people of Kashmir.

For many of your Lordships the main thrust of our policies lies not so much with the difficulties in Iraq or the Middle East, nor even with the interpretation of our proper role in Europe, but in the age-old, heart-wrenching arguments about poverty, hunger and disease in the world, and our responsibilities in tackling some of the most pressing development issues that there are.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross, Lady Rawlings, and Lady Cox, and my noble friend Lady Whitaker, all made powerful contributions in that respect. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his extraordinarily compelling contribution, concentrated on those issues. I was also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Winchester and the Bishop of Oxford for their timely and well informed remarks.

To the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, I say that the Government are well aware of the concerns that he raised about the illegal exploitation of the DRC. The United Kingdom National Contact Point on national resources is following up on the reports of the UN panel and has had discussions with a number of parties involved. We remain fully committed to the industry's transparency initiative, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2002, to promote full transparency of the payments. If there are further points that the right reverend Prelate wants to raise with me on those issues, I hope that he will do so.

The right reverend Prelate asked what more can be done, and the issues surrounding poverty reduction were mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Rawlings, and by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. Africa will be at the heart of our political agenda next year. Africa is unlikely to meet even the 2005 millennium development goals, let alone the targets for 2015. That is why we are putting Africa at the top of our priorities for our chairmanship of the G8 and the EU next year, and that is why the Prime Minister has asked the Commission for Africa to take a fresh look at what is holding back Africa's progress to put forward a strategy for its future development. UK aid to Africa will reach £1 billion in 2005, and we are taking the lead on bilateral multi-debt relief. We have also proposed an international finance facility to raise an extra 50 billion dollars a year for the developing world. I hope that this answers the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and I shall write to him further on the points concerning women's health.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was right to emphasise the importance of the WTO Doha development round. Trade is indeed the key to so much of development potential, in particular when it is done in concert with development targets. It is the sort of help mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. The EU's position on trade co-operation is, I believe, more sensitive to development issues than the right reverend Prelate implied. I should like to write to him and to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on the issues of debt relief, aid and trade justice.

I should like also to write to the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Northover, on the enormously important issues they raised regarding HIV/AIDS. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and although time is against me, I do not want to skimp on this point. We in the UK are leading the fight against AIDS. Over the next three years we will be making available £1.5 billion for prevention treatment, help for orphaned children and scientific research into vaccines. We are doubling our contribution to the Global Fund for the eradication of AIDS, TB and malaria to over £150 million.

I will write to the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about their points on Sudan. Those are enormously important, but we have debated them relatively recently in your Lordships' House, so perhaps they will forgive me if I write.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, made about Latin America. The noble Baroness knows how interested I am in that region and I hope that she wins her next attempt in the ballot for a debate. Similarly, I have much sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, on Cuba. I confess that I too have a huge affection for that country. I was the first political Minister to visit it since the revolution and I believe that we can do much more in relation to Cuba. I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on the issues she raised about Burma. We have also discussed those fairly recently. On the issues of UN reform, which are complex and difficult, perhaps I may write to my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden, and the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Hannay of Chiswick.

A number of noble Lords concentrated their remarks on the Armed Forces. The noble Lords, Lord Monro of Langholm, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, Lord Swinfen, Lord Lyell, Lord Astor of Hever, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Park of Monmouth and Lady Strange, all concentrated many of their remarks on the Armed Forces. I was particularly impressed by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, whose contribution was so telling that he moved smoothly from the Liberal Democrat Back Benches to the Front Bench during the course of the debate.

I have listened carefully to the concerns about future plans for the Armed Forces, in particular for the infantry, as well as to the concerns expressed about overstretch and the need to maintain sufficient infantry to meet our operational commitments. Let us be clear: the changes we are making are not just about investing in high-tech equipment. They are deliberately designed, and designed by the Army itself, to make better use of our capabilities. We realise that technology can never replace the value of boots on the ground. That is the very reason why we are making changes to the way in which we organise the Army, in particular the infantry. In this way we shall have more deployable troops and will be able to ensure that those troops are deployed more effectively and, equally, are more effectively supported.

Change is always difficult, but the Army Board itself has concluded that the approach of the arms plot is no longer sustainable. Ministers agree and the facts speak for themselves. I could give your Lordships illustrations, but I know that my noble friend Lord Bach will write to those noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this basis. However, I should say that much of this will deliver the very stability that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was so persuasive in suggesting to your Lordships is vital.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, took us from "Come Dancing" to the "Generation Game", stopping off at various trouble spots during his youth. The noble Lord should look at what happened under the Conservative government between 1992 and 1997. He should look at the way in which many fine regiments, with names going back over generations, were amalgamated.

As to what he described as a "really good girl"—an epithet which I presume is meant to be flattering—I shall be very happy to discuss those issues with him further. Personally, I would welcome a debate because it would give us the opportunity to show that under the last Conservative government the naval fleet was reduced in size. Submarine numbers fell from 18 to 10, a fall of some 45 per cent; the number of frigates fell from 22 to 19; the number of naval personnel was cut from 55,800 to 45,100; and the number of RAF squadrons fell from 55 to 47.

Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative

My Lords, I was not thinking in the short term. My own thoughts in this House go back to 7 February 1963.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I did not accuse the noble Lord of thinking short term. However, if he looks to the recent past he will see that what I am trying to illustrate is not an exclusively difficult question for this side of the House; it is one that his side of the House lamentably failed to deal with.

The noble Lord, Lord Monro, asked specifically about the Black Watch. It will be back by Christmas and decisions on the regiment will be made and announced before the end of this year.

I say specifically to my noble friend Lord Gilbert that we shall buy the four C17s, plus the additional one, and that we shall do so at the end of the lease period. I can see that he is as happy as I am with that decision. As to the A400M, I shall leave it to my noble friend Lord Bach to write to him, as indeed he will write to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, on the interesting questions he raised about the dockyards.

This is the eighth year in which I have spoken from the Dispatch Box in the debate on the gracious Speech. It has been a remarkable debate; it has been powerfully argued, with the conviction and wisdom which characterises so much of your Lordships' deliberations. I hope I will be forgiven when I say how much personally I have missed the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Her knowledge, and above all her eloquence in expressing the convictions which flowed from that knowledge, was always a pleasure to listen to, however much I disagreed with her.

I respect this House enormously. Ours is a very special contribution to political debate in this country. It is often oversimplified and, sadly, it is all too often overlooked. None the less, it is well researched, well argued and often very wise. We have an important and clear role in the political debate and the debate in general about the future of our country, particularly on foreign, defence and development policy. I believe fundamentally that many of us hold the same beliefs—that our foreign, defence and development policy can be a real force for good in the world; and that our security, our prosperity and our humanitarian values all rely on and contribute to a foreign, defence and development policy which goes way beyond our own national interest.

Those values foster our belief in democracy, in the rule of law, in the prosperity of people and in human rights, not only here in our own country but wherever the human spirit yearns for freedom, peace and justice.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved, That the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Baroness Crawley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.

House adjourned at nine minutes past eleven o'clock.