Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday by the Lord Dubs—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".
My Lords, it is right that we consider foreign affairs, defence and international development within the same debate because it reflects the nature of the world today. Domestic interests and international action are intertwined more than ever before. Globalisation means that events elsewhere have a direct impact at home. Action on terrorism, AIDS, climate change and poverty all require us to work with other countries and through international organisations.
Our policy is clear. We will pursue British interests by working with our allies to make the world a safer, fairer place. That means reforming Europe and it means fighting terrorism and stopping the spread of weapons of terror. It means modernising and reforming our Armed Forces, and it means using our leading roles in the G8, the EU, the Commonwealth and the UN to promote global action on poverty and climate change.
The long and distinguished list of speakers today reflects the importance of this debate. However, before I begin, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Bach, who has a deep and profound affection for the Armed Forces and a determination to do his best by them. He will not be an easy act to follow. But I am sure that he will bring his undoubted skills to bear at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
I also wish to mention the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who, as Liberal Democrat spokesman on defence, provided a knowledgeable input to defence matters. He has been succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, who will bring a wealth of experience to the role. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, and I came into the House together on the same day, and we already have some experience of working together in starting the new, and I hope long-standing, tradition of the new Peers' dining club. I look forward to working with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Astor, to maximise the defence of our country. I hope that we can continue the robust but friendly relationship established by my noble friend.
Noble Lords who are experienced in defence matters are of course aware of the incredible capability of our Armed Forces. I am looking forward to getting to know the noble and gallant ex-service chiefs on the Cross Benches and learning from their vast experience and wisdom during these debates.
However, as a newcomer to defence, I want to say that in the short time since my appointment, and as I get to grips with my brief, I have been greatly impressed by the professionalism and ability of our Armed Forces in all that they do. We all appreciate their successes in operations, but some of the daily achievements, and indeed routine tasks, that are hugely impressive can sometimes be overlooked. For example, I learnt earlier this week of the ability of our forces to change a Challenger II tank engine in the field in under an hour. Examples like that, which underpin the effectiveness of our Armed Forces, reflect both the thought that went into the design of the equipment in the first place and the professionalism of the troops themselves. The success of the recent spoof video for Comic Relief produced by the men in Iraq is also testament to the wonderfully innovative ability that some of them have, and I am glad to learn that the Ministry of Defence has a sense of humour in these matters.
Today's world is increasingly unpredictable. Although we are unlikely to return to a Cold War-style threat to the United Kingdom or to our allies in the foreseeable future, nevertheless the threats to international peace and stability that have emerged since the end of the Cold War are real and immediate. International terrorism, failing states and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have already shown their ability to trigger effects that have been felt around the globe.
At the heart of the UK's security policy lies a strong Euro-Atlantic relationship built on the foundations of NATO. It has been a remarkably successful alliance, but its continued strength will depend on its ability to act purposefully when and where it matters, to deter and counter threats before they come to us and to operate beyond its traditional area of interest, as the important NATO-led International Security Assistance Force operation in Afghanistan, and now the NATO Training Mission in Iraq, are demonstrating.
The UN Secretary-General's report entitled In Larger Freedom explicitly links the inter-related challenges of security, human rights and development and proposes a comprehensive package of UN reform. The Government fully support Kofi Annan's objectives and are now formulating their formal response to the report. We are looking ahead to the Millennium Review Summit in September that should shape the way forward for a strengthened United Nations. At the summit, the UK will represent the EU, and the Government will use this opportunity to press the international community to make a renewed commitment to meet the millennium development goals, aimed at halving the proportion of people in extreme poverty by 2015.
The Commission for Africa, set up by the Prime Minister, recommended a package of measures for investing in people, promoting peace and reducing poverty. We want the G8 to agree a plan of specific actions to address the complex and inter-linked problems of Africa. We want this to include more and better aid, more debt relief and fairer trade.
The Government recognise that more resources are needed, and are needed now. On present plans, the UK will meet the UN target whereby 0.7 per cent of a country's gross national income will be used on development assistance. We are encouraging others to do likewise. The Chancellor's proposed international finance facility could provide an additional $50 billion a year for development assistance between now and 2015, doubling the resources presently available to the poorest countries.
Through the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, over $70 billion in debt relief has been agreed for 27 countries. The Government, with G7 colleagues, want to go further by writing off 100 per cent of all bilateral debts for heavily indebted poor countries. We are also taking a lead internationally towards 100 per cent multilateral debt relief.
On trade, our priority will be to ensure that the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December agrees measures to benefit the poorest countries. An ambitious outcome could produce annual global benefits of between $250 billion and $600 billion annually and reduce the number of people living on less than $2 a day by 144 million. Sub-Saharan Africa would see the greatest benefits with a reduction of over 60 million in the number of poor people. Those policies take us towards our long-term goal of helping to lift a billion people out of poverty.
On climate change—one of the most important challenges that the world faces today—our prime objective this year is to engage our G8 partners to address the problem of climate change and to persuade them of the economic cost of inaction. Critical to the success of these plans will be agreement on effective delivery mechanisms, ensuring that commitments are met.
Tackling international security problems effectively requires an integrated approach combining the effects of military, diplomatic and economic instruments at both national and international levels. We have achieved that by setting up a joint Conflict Prevention Pool to ensure that the FCO, DfID and the MoD work well together. In the Balkans, for example, DfID is encouraging community policing, the MoD is training humanitarian de-mining personnel, and FCO advisors are assisting efforts in tackling organised crime.
The UK is already making a significant contribution to help Africans to develop their own capabilities to handle conflict prevention, resolution and peace-building under the joint G8 Africa Action Plan. Our Armed Forces are focusing on security sector reform—the training of modern, democratically accountable African armed forces—as well as advising the African Union and the sub-regional organisations on setting up the African Standby Force that will create an African-wide peace support capability.
In October 2004, we set up the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit designed to improve the UK's capacity to implement post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction throughout the world. It will ensure co-ordinated military and civilian planning, drawing on the technical expertise of external civilian experts. By improving the effectiveness of post-conflict stabilisation, we should help to reduce the risk of conflict recurring. The unit is, therefore, one part of our broad contribution to conflict prevention, management and resolution.
In Iraq, we remain committed to helping the Iraqi Government in stabilising the country for as long as they wish to have our assistance. We have some 8,000 troops there as a demonstration of our commitment. In conjunction with the NATO training mission, we have been developing the capability of the Iraqi security forces to assume full responsibility for their own security. They are making steady progress, but still need our support. Noble Lords will no doubt have seen for themselves the bravery of the Iraqi people during the national elections in January. The success of security measures on the day was possible only because of the hard work of the Iraqi security forces themselves and supporting roles by the coalition.
In conjunction with DfID, the British forces have been supporting the reconstruction of the country's dilapidated infrastructure and basic utilities after decades of neglect. Their work has included education, health and power regeneration projects, as well as assistance in the commercialisation of Basra airport. A peaceful and stable Iraq will benefit not only the Iraqi people, but it will also make the region and wider world a better and safer place.
In Afghanistan, our Armed Forces are helping the Afghan people to restore peace, stability and democracy to their country. Much progress has been made. The presidential elections last October were a major success and clear proof of the Afghans' commitment to democracy. But there is more to do: we share President Karzai's desire to see Afghanistan free from terrorism and free from the opium trade. Both are a threat to Afghanistan and to the United Kingdom.
We have made a strategic commitment to the security of the region and to the Afghan people, with 1,100 personnel from all three services deployed there. We have recently agreed to extend our commitment to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force with the provision of the Kabul Patrol Company for another year. We will also maintain our provincial reconstruction teams in northern Afghanistan and our Harrier detachment in Kandahar. The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps will deploy to Afghanistan in spring 2006, and we aim to support the further expansion of ISAF to the south, at which stage our provincial reconstruction teams would relocate from the north.
There have been positive steps on the Middle East peace process, including renewed high-level contact between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and a dramatic fall in the level of violence and the number of casualties. But the situation remains fragile.
The UK remains energetically engaged. We have been working with partners to ensure that the commitments made by the Palestinians and the international community at the meeting in London on
In Iran, we will continue our diplomatic efforts to obtain objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. This was set out in the Paris agreement signed by the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Germany and Iran last November. The UK and EU partners remain committed to a policy of engagement, but Iran must sustain the full suspension of its nuclear activities while dialogue on long-term arrangements continues. However, we welcome Iran's continued engagement in the negotiations, the corrective measures that Iran has taken in respect of its previous breaches of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards agreement, and its commitment to act in accordance with the provisions of the additional protocol.
In Sudan there can be no lasting peace without an end to the crisis in Darfur. We are putting pressure on all sides to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. In the mean time we continue to observe the ceasefire and other commitments made by the Sudanese Government.
We welcome the Security Council's decision to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). We have donated £66 million in humanitarian aid to Darfur since 2003, and a further £75 million will be spent in Darfur for humanitarian assistance this financial year.
Alongside our diplomatic and international aid effort we will maintain a strong military capability. Britain's Armed Forces are among the best in the world. We aim to keep it that way. Modern demands on our Armed Forces are changing, which is why reform and modernisation are essential. Our mission as a force for good in the world must take account of the increasing cost and complexity in defence technology, the globalisation of the defence industry and the accelerating pace of change in operations.
The Government will continue the programme they set out in the previous Parliament to equip and restructure our Armed Forces. The 2004 spending review reaffirmed the Government's continued commitment to the Armed Forces and to Britain's defence. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £3.7 billion increase in the defence budget over the next three years. That represents an average annual real growth of 1.4 per cent and is the longest period of sustained real growth in defence spending for over 20 years. We will make further resources available through efficiency savings in each of the next three years, equating to £2.8 billion by 2007–08.
In 2002 we introduced our defence industrial policy, which was aimed at sustaining and enhancing the competitiveness of the UK defence industry while ensuring that the needs of our Armed Forces are met. It will ensure that we maintain our position as a world leader in defence technology.
Our defence scientists and engineers are at the cutting edge of research in order to provide the best kit for our forces. I am pleased to report to the House that our scientists have not lost their touch—developments range from sensors able to detect so-called stealthy sea mines to the best armoured vehicle protection available.
The cornerstone of our future expeditionary capability will be our two new aircraft carriers. They are likely to be the largest carriers ever built in this country and are due to enter service early in the next decade. The new carriers will be furnished with the joint combat aircraft, which are stealthy, multi-role fast jets that will be able to locate and monitor targets and attack them with precision weapons. Our maritime capability will be further enhanced by the acquisition of the Type 45 destroyers and Astute-class submarines.
Modern vehicles, such as the Panther armoured reconnaissance vehicle, will enhance our capabilities on land. Looking further ahead, the innovative future rapid effects system programme, comprising the medium-weight family of armoured vehicles, will further modernise the armoured vehicle fleet.
I turn to our air capability. Typhoon will provide the RAF with an exceptional aircraft and weapons system. We intend to buy outright the four C17 aircraft, which are currently leased, and to further enhance our strategic airlift capability by the purchase of a fifth C17. The five aircraft will complement the capability to be offered by the A400M military transport aircraft.
Noble Lords will recall that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a Statement on
The Army Board decided that the infantry arms plot—the mechanism by which units routinely move location and change role every few years—was no longer the best way to deliver operational capability. In the future battalions will be fixed by role and largely by location. Phasing out the arms plot will also mean that the infantry can offer much greater stability for soldiers and their families. The previous requirement for battalions to move location or rerole meant that at any one time as many as seven battalions would be unavailable for operations. At the end of this process many more, if not all, of the future 36 infantry battalions will be available for operations.
The changes to the force structure will be accompanied by significant enhancements to the key specialist capabilities, which include communications, engineers, logisticians and intelligence. In addition, noble Lords will be aware that we recently made a statement about the formation of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment as part of the UK Special Forces. Special Forces are one of several instruments in the Government's strategy to counter international terrorism, and we continue to invest in both people and capability for them.
We are modernising the discipline legislation for our Armed Forces. The Armed Forces Bill will replace the three separate systems of service law and will better meet the needs of our Armed Forces in the modern world where they increasingly train and operate together.
Noble Lords experienced in defence matters will rightly stress the importance of regimental tradition in contributing towards morale and operational effectiveness. I wish to reassure the House that the Government truly recognise this and that regimental traditions and local connections will be retained under the new arrangements.
We are all incredibly proud of our Armed Forces and the contribution that they make to international security, both at home and abroad. They and their families deserve our thanks and admiration for their selfless efforts and courage in circumstances that are often dangerous and unpredictable. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in recognising the outstanding achievements of our service personnel all over the world.
Perhaps I may emphasise what I said at the beginning. In an interdependent world we will work with our allies to make the world a safer, fairer and better place.
My Lords, I begin by warmly welcoming the noble Lords, Lord Drayson and Lord Triesman, to their new portfolios. As the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, has already said, they have a very hard act to follow. Their predecessors did us proud in your Lordships' House and set a very high standard. So I hope we will have constructive debates; I am sure we shall.
While signalling departures, perhaps I may also note a little sadness at the departure of the Minister in another place concerned with Europe, Mr MacShane, whose endearing candour and frankness enlivened debates on Europe, and, frankly, he will be missed. I have mentioned the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Both will be genuinely missed in our debates, but I welcome the new performers.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will understand why I shall not concentrate on defence in my comments at the beginning of the debate. I will leave that subject for my noble friend Lord Astor to deal with at the end, so that he will have more time to study what the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, has said; just as I hope the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, will have more time to study one or two questions that I want to raise, and to which I would dearly like answers at the end of the debate.
My theme will be—not entirely disagreeing with what the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, has said—that there really are icebergs ahead; that we are sailing into extremely dangerous waters in this nation and in a very unsettled world; and that it is the duty and the role of elected leaders to be absolutely open and frank about the coming dangers. If we have a concern on this side, it is that the gracious Speech, to which we are debating a humble Address of thanks, does not show fully the extreme nature of these dangers, some of which are unfamiliar and new and need explaining if there is to be proper leadership and effective government in this country.
Carrying on as before with the usual Foreign Office clichés about being at the heart of Europe or being a bridge with America will no longer do. We are dealing with a much more complex situation. We are entering new and treacherous waters. I notice that even the arch-Europhile of the Financial Times—although he is an excellent journalist, I do not agree with him—Philip Stephens admits:
"The organising principle of British foreign policy has been overturned by events".
We should recognise that.
Let me give some examples of the icebergs ahead that we must deal with. The most obvious one, which we will no doubt debate fully today, is here in our region of Europe, where we are clearly heading for a major crisis point. I believe that everyone recognised that the constitution proposal was going to run into appalling difficulties. I am not surprised, because I thought that it was flawed from the start. Yet, there is no plan B and no attempt that I can see by Her Majesty's Government to get a grip of the situation and steer the European Union in a better direction in line with what most citizens, if not their governments, really want.
Whether or not France and the Netherlands say "No" in a couple of weeks' time, we cannot go on burying our heads in the sand. We need to take a lead in the coming presidency. We must have a referendum, certainly, as the treaty obliges us to do. Unless the treaty is wiped out, we must have a referendum—and we should, although it will set us back 80 million quid, which is quite a lot of money. We then need to firm up a date for the referendum and firm up our views on the best way forward. There has been little sign of that so far; there may be more later in the debate. That is the prime task.
I note in passing that the French are having a marvellously vigorous debate and that the text of the constitution, which is not a cheery read, is, incredibly, at the top of the best seller list in France, even ahead of Bob Dylan's autobiography. I cannot help noticing the irony that the French "No" group, which is composed of disparate forces on Left and Right, says that it is all an Anglo-Saxon plot, while the UK Government say the same thing—they say that it is a British triumph, which is the same language and the same point. So, I suppose that if Her Majesty's Government had a vote in France, they would vote with the Left-wing "Nos", because the proponents of the "Yes" vote say that it is a French triumph, not a British one at all. So that is a real area of danger and we need a bit more leadership there.
Secondly, there is the position in the Middle East, United States policy and our policy, on which the noble Lord rightly touched. We are America's ally and friend, but friends should be candid, be heard, have influence and sometimes even impose restraint. They should not be poodles, nor should they be openly antagonistic towards America, as too many EU governments sound. I do not at all like the noises coming out of Germany at present, where an anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Western tone is being adopted by the ruling party. Trying to work with that sort of European partner is necessary—I realise that they are huge neighbours—but they are proving poor value in transatlantic dialogue and global security issues.
We must be good and involved Europeans, but our friends and interests go wider, to the Commonwealth and the rising Asian powers. We need to be allied with other true friends of America to have an effective dialogue as we enter the dangerous phase ahead, mentioned by the noble Lord, concerning Iran, which seems to have given the thumbs-down to the agreement that he mentioned and will push ahead with yellow cake conversion and uranium enrichment—as, I fear, it is entitled to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. These are obviously dangerous times in Iraq, where the mass murder of Muslims by Muslims continues. These are dangerous times, as simplistic ideas about imposing democracy and about Islam circulate around the world, whether in the Middle East, in central Asia or in Uzbekistan, where, according to reports, there has been an horrific massacre in Andijan—in the name of what cause, except the upholding of the present dictatorship, it is not clear.
Those are worrying aspects. On the Arab-Israeli dispute, which the noble Lord also mentioned, I think that the Americans now really mean business under the new Bush Administration. Nevertheless, we must find better means of making them stick to that commitment and somehow checking Mr Ariel Sharon's West Bank building plans, which are most unwise and are going ahead far too fast. On United Nations reform, also mentioned by the noble Lord, we will certainly need to work with the Americans. Trying to set up reforms that go against the American attitude to the United Nations and how they want to develop it will lead nowhere. It will be difficult, but we must work with them, not against them.
Those are two dangers. A third danger is nuclear proliferation, which gets a mention in the gracious Speech. Where are we? Are the EU three, which I have already mentioned, being played along by Iran? Newspaper reports say that the initiative signed in Paris is about to be discarded by Tehran. Is there not a need for a wholesale rethink of the Non-Proliferation Treaty? Are there not now significant gaps in the legal and institutional NPT framework? Should not Russia be more closely consulted in that rethinking? Can the EU three continue to handle the situation, which is moving out of control?
Meanwhile, there is a fourth danger. We are drifting blindly as a nation into a vast energy vulnerability, as oil and gas imports grow again. The global energy network was never more risky or vulnerable. That has profound foreign policy implications, of which I see little recognition in the gracious Speech or in ministerial pronouncements. The idea that this nation can somehow carry on, now that we are becoming net importers again, with a facile dependence on wind power, which is increasingly unpopular, and by postponing nuclear power decisions is wrong and dangerous. As my noble friend Lady Miller said in our debate yesterday, nuclear power decisions are long overdue. There is no mention of that in the gracious Speech.
Meanwhile, China is going around the world scooping up long-term oil and raw material contracts, something that is of huge geopolitical significance—for instance, in Venezuela, right on the edge of the United States, in Sudan, Iran and elsewhere. Tensions are rising in the Pacific, especially between Japan and China. Where do we stand on all that? It may seem remote, but it is not. Do we just drift along with French ambitions to sell more arms to China? The Japanese, who used to see the United Kingdom as their best friend, think that we have gone quite mad. I sometimes think that Japan would be a better ally in dealing with global balance than some rather closer EU neighbours. Anyway, does geography matter at all nowadays when looking for affinity and partnership that truly protects and promotes British interests?
There is a fifth danger: terrorism and Islamic extremism. The noble Lord spoke with amazing competence, having grasped these matters in a few days, about our military forces and their need to be reformed to meet new threats. I shall leave my noble friend Lord Astor to say more about it, but I shall just observe that our procurement policy appears to be spattered with expensive messes that need rapid tidying-up.
I merely state three maxims about defence and leave my noble friend to elaborate on many of the details, of which he has a grasp. NATO must be protected and not weakened; our regimental system must be protected and not weakened, because that is what makes the British Army so incredibly good; and our troops themselves must be protected in law when obeying the decisions of commanding officers. If we depart from those three maxims, we will destroy the morale of the best army in the world. I leave it there, but no doubt my noble friend will say more.
The sixth danger, on which the gracious Speech is completely silent, is the rising power of Asia and the fact that, even now, the Asian central banks are financing the West, certainly America, through vast dollar holdings, which they may grow tired of holding at any minute. That highly precarious situation creates an extreme danger on which the Government are silent. I do not know whether the Government are even aware of that danger, but it could hit us all very suddenly.
Problem number seven, which was mentioned in the gracious Speech and by the noble Lord, is world poverty—billions of people are living in poverty. There has been lots of rhetoric about Africa in the gracious Speech and in Ministers' pronouncements. That is all commendable, but I plead with Ministers to understand that more aid does not equal more development. One could go even further and say that aid does not equal development; in fact, there is evidence that aid sometimes means minus development. The basic problem of Africa and the many millions living in poverty in Asia—let us not assume that all Asia is prosperous—is the miserable lack of investment in the developing world because there is a lack of good governance and trade opportunities in the poorest countries. Development policy needs a new emphasis on governance, the rule of law and property rights, which enable the capitalist process to take place and will lift people out of poverty. That has happened very successfully in some parts of the world—again, in Asia—but, alas, not in Africa.
The crying problem of all in Africa is bad governance. The prime example is Zimbabwe, which is now an utter disaster. We argued repeatedly that sanctions should be tougher and that a UN Security Council resolution should be sought before total starvation and paralysis take over. In Darfur, to which the noble Lord referred, the horrors continue, despite the African Union's efforts to broker a deal. Again, a new Security Council resolution is badly needed, although we fully recognise the difficulties.
To return to the problems in our immediate European neighbourhood, the question that hangs in the air is this: what kind of Europe will best protect and promote our British interests? A huge debate is going on. The European old guard are still clinging to the "little Europe" dream of a tight-knit Christian group at the western end of the Eurasian landmass. The admission of Bulgaria and Romania, which was referred to in the gracious Speech, will dilute that dream a little, and the admission of Turkey will end it completely and open new paths for Europe and Asia together, linking Eurasia with the western European grouping.
It is a very bold and challenging vision. I do not understand why the Government are pussyfooting about on that bolder vision. We all know that the Franco-German motor of the old Europe has stalled, with German unemployment at its highest since the 1930s and the French economy almost in a coma. The so-called European social model is obviously a loser. The Chancellor and individual Ministers recognise that, but we do not hear it trumpeted as clearly as it should be. We know that there is no advantage in joining the euro and that those who claimed that there was will have to eat their words. There is no benefit in an outdated and Eurocentric constitution—those who said that it was the answer to everything may shortly have to eat their words. There is no joy or gain from attempting to build a common EU foreign policy where none exists. We should be active and innovative Europeans, but we have much wider world interests, which are growing as the centre of world power moves to Asia.
Does that make us anti-European? Nonsense; we have sacrificed more than most to save Europe in the past. Does it make us insular? That is nonsense, too: we are governed and constrained, willingly, by hundreds of bilateral treaties and scores of multilateral ones, all of which make us deeply interdependent. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, was right to emphasis the concept of interdependence, which we certainly recognise.
Today we are in danger of sleepwalking into this stormy future. We are closing embassies around the world and weakening Britain's legendary global touch just when tensions are rising everywhere. It is a measure of today's turbulence that, in my comments, which I shall now bring to an end—they have gone on too long—I have not even had time to mention Cyprus, Burma, Afghan drugs, Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Rwanda, Gibraltar, Nepal, or even George Galloway. Those countries—I except Mr Galloway—may sound remote, but every one of them spells crisis and potential danger, not just for their people but for our people and peace in the world. Failure to spell out the full implications of what lies ahead, to prepare, protect and, where possible, prevent, would be the biggest betrayal and the grossest neglect of duty of all.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his appointment as the Minister in the hot seat at the MoD and thank him for his kind remarks as I take up position as his opposite number on these Benches. We are all only too well aware of the difficulty that successive governments have had in trying to improve our defence procurement. We wish the noble Lord every success and hope that his business expertise will be put to good use in improving this key area of military capability. I enjoyed sparring with his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and I wish him well in his new ministerial appointment. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on his arrival. I have already thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for her contributions when she had that slot.
This debate on foreign affairs, defence and international development aspects of the gracious Speech is particularly important. As the Minister said, they are interdependent factors: you do not get just a military or foreign policy solution; you must weave them together. Inevitably, I will focus on the defence aspects, but that is not to say that the others are not equally important. Other speakers will deal with our wider role in Europe, for example, while I confine myself to security. Development assistance in Africa has been a recurring theme but we must consider the security situation and the military implications of what is happening in Darfur. There are many foreign policy challenges in the wider Middle East but we still have a deep military practical problem in Iraq.
As usual, the gracious Speech was a little short on detail on future defence policy, apart from the undertaking to establish a unified system of service law, the principle of which we support. I therefore delved into the Labour manifesto to get better guidance. Chapter seven gives little detail on the way ahead. It congratulates our Armed Forces and justifies the cuts already announced, but there is little detail on future programmes.
The most encouraging pledge in the Labour manifesto was:
"The best defence of our security at home is the spread of liberty and justice overseas. In a third term we will secure Britain's place in the EU and at the heart of international decision-making. We will always uphold the role of international law".
We agree with those fine sentiments. We shall hold the Government to account against those standards and hope that they will be more successful than they were in the first two terms.
The lack of public debate during the election over the place of defence in our national priorities was unsurprising. There are many issues to consider. I commend the analysis by Michael Codner that appeared in the journal of the Royal United Services Institute—I declare an interest as a council member of the RUSI—and that was reprinted in The House Magazine just before the election. It reminds us that in defence we cannot have everything and do everything. Our responsibility as politicians is to make the best judgment about the balance of risks and costs. We now have much less certainty, as we heard from the Minister, about the international framework within which we will need to use our military capability. We have heard in the gracious Speech about the need to strengthen commitment to the continued effectiveness of Nato. Yet we perhaps need to consider whether we are putting enough thought into where Nato itself is going. I understand that the alliance is formulating a comprehensive political guidance document. We need to know what will be in it. What is the Government's position on the elements for a future Nato?
The post-Iraq strains between Nato members have not disappeared totally. There are particular problems of Nato and EU relations since the accession of Malta and Cyprus to the European Union. Will the Government be using their presidency of the EU to make progress in getting NATO and the EU to talk more together?
Our other major military co-operation project is within the EU. We welcome the emerging work of the European Defence Agency and that of Mr de Vries, the European Union counter-terrorism co-ordinator. In his wind-up speech, will the Minister indicate how intelligence sharing arrangements are progressing for military and counter-terrorism aspects of EU security?
The transfer of the Bosnia responsibility from NATO to the EU appears to have been made without major problems. Work is also going on on the new EU battlegroups. How many of those are now operational? In what EU training have UK forces been involved? Is there now a proper evaluation and standardisation system in place to measure readiness and operational effectiveness?
The gracious Speech concluded with an undertaking to deepen and develop the strong partnership between Europe and the United States. I am sure that other noble Lords will comment later on the wider challenges implicit in that undertaking.
In the defence area, we are ever more closely hitched to the accelerating American wagon. That gives added strains to the budget as we try to keep up with a nation spending such colossal amounts on research. Not only is our close relationship providing those difficulties of funding, we also have a difficulty of technology transfer, which we have discussed on many occasions. I hope that we will see some efforts from the Government to get over the technology transfer problems that we have had. In that context, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, might want to reconsider our position on lifting the EU embargo on arms sales to China, which is compounding that difficulty.
I now turn to operations. There are so many of them that we cannot deal with them all, although I am sure that other noble Lords will speak about them today. Iraq hangs over all of our defence planning at present. I urge the Government to push for a clearer strategy for the future of our military contribution in Iraq. Now that we have a transitional Iraqi Government, a political timetable and a UN resolution, although they may have to be delayed, the components are there. We need a plan that brings together the military, the economic and the political so that we can judge where we are making progress, where we are not making progress and where we need to put resources.
If we allow strategic drift and leave it to the Iraqi Government to tell us when they do not need us any more, we are putting our strategy in the hands of the insurgents. An agreed timetable for overseas forces to reduce as Iraqi security capabilities increase, coupled to the political process over the coming year, would provide a challenge and a degree of urgency to get resources where they are needed. Such a plan would need to be revisited regularly. It would highlight where the strategy was succeeding and where it was failing. It would help to keep some of the wavering allies aboard. It would give hope to the Iraqis that the occupying forces will leave in due course.
I call, as I have on previous occasions, for the Government to publish objective, regular and comparable statistical data on the security and economic situation in Iraq so that we can see where we are succeeding and where more effort is needed. I congratulate the UNDP on its efforts in trying to fill that gap, which is so important.
The Minister talked about the Afghanistan commitment, which of course is another continuing commitment. It would be helpful if the Minister could update us on the plans for using the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters. What additional scale of British troop involvement will come out of this, given that we are the framework nation for the headquarters? How will it relate to the continuing fighting operations that the US is leading in Afghanistan under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom?
Of course, the Balkan situation is by no means over as a military operation. It would be useful to hear what the Government's strategy is for Kosovo on the political, military and economic fronts. Do the contingency plans for a worsening situation there assume that we have yet more British forces available?
When the Minister winds up, I am sure that he will refer to our plans for helping Africa. The gracious Speech referred to the continuing conflict in Darfur. Resolution will need some form of peacekeeping forces. Given our focus on that issue, is that yet another commitment on which we will see some significant British contribution from the military? In any event, when it comes to those forces, do the British Government advocate them going out under a NATO or an EU banner?
The final operational theatre that I have time to mention is Northern Ireland. The Labour manifesto highlights that the reduction in infantry battalions has been made possible because of the improved security situation. Do the Government accept that, while the security situation can change in a matter of months, it takes years to replace forces once they have been disbanded?
Even that brief survey of the commitments with which we expect our Armed Forces to cope shows how the continuing operational tempo is remorseless for them. Given that the numbers of Armed Forces are declining, our level of risk is increasing.
As regards equipment, I am sure that there will be plenty of chances to debate that in the months ahead. The Minister has defence procurement as his prime task. The Government have indicated that they need to consider the replacement of Trident during this Parliament. Such forward planning is entirely sensible, even for a system with a lifespan of 30 years where the capability came into service only in the period 1994 to 1999. It will be a discussion that we will welcome on these Benches. I am sure that the wider public will wish to debate it. I welcome the assurance yesterday from the new Defence Secretary, Dr Reid, that he will make this an open and inclusive process. That is an important decision which Parliament needs to address.
Time will not allow me to go through a detailed list of the delays and difficulties with various equipment projects, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, also referred. Those of us who have been involved in fighting the recent general election are only too well aware of the problems when the electorate expects us to secure jobs in local industries. In nearly all industries apart from defence governments have encouraged the benefits of greater competition. Indeed, the Minister referred to wanting a competitive defence industry within defence industrial policy. But defence tends to be an exception, partly because of a wish to keep a national defence manufacturing capability, partly because of exemption from EU competition policy and partly because of the political imperative to retain jobs.
I trust that the noble Lord will look carefully at the way things appear to be going. Under the new defence industrial policy, we appear to be putting in place systems that are less competitive rather than more competitive. Lack of competition will lead to increased costs, delays in delivery and reduced military effectiveness. Perhaps most importantly, the short-term apparent kindness of over-protection leads to a long-term decrease in international competitiveness and a decline in our industrial base.
Finally, I turn to the question of people; namely, those in the Armed Forces, the civilians who support them and all the families who make so many sacrifices. I have said before that the dedication of the Armed Forces in one sense makes them their own worst enemies. As they are expected to do more and more with less and less, they strain every sinew to do a good job. But it is at a price. I cannot remember a time of such cynicism in the services.
The remorseless grinding down of the defence inflation effect means that, regardless of the welcome small real increases in defence budgets, the Ministry of Defence has a big financial problem which reaches down, because of the budgetary process, to the lowest level. The infinite irritations of penny-pinching measures, coupled with the decade of downsizing, is sapping the life out of our Armed Forces.
I follow closely the detailed statistics provided by the Defence Analytical Services Agency, which show the rising exits under premature voluntary retirement from all three services. While recruiting may be adequate, helped by the large-scale inputs from Fiji, the costs in terms of loss of experience, training and capability are great.
The Armed Forces are this country's last line of defence in so many areas. We need them to cope with emergencies, both manmade and natural. We want them to be at the frontline of making the world a better and safer place, yet it is difficult for them to voice their concerns and they feel support is ebbing away.
Nor do our Armed Forces feel connected to this place, to Parliament. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and I sat in the Gallery in the other place watching the debate there. It finished early because there were not enough Members interested in speaking on defence and foreign policy matters. Happily, that is not the case for today's debate in your Lordships' House.
Our servicemen have difficulty with parliamentary representation given their itinerant lifestyle. The difficulties over service voting have, I hope, raised this as an issue which we need to address later. I have written to the chairman of the Electoral Commission, copied to the Defence Secretary, with a series of proposals which we need to take forward to make the Armed Forces feel that they have some proper representation of their interests. I trust that the Ministry of Defence will support this initiative.
In every debate and every defence Question, your Lordships rightly pay tribute to the dedication, loyalty, courage and competence of the men and women of our Armed Forces. They are the ultimate public servants, giving up the easy life for the exhilaration, adventure and personal satisfaction of serving in the Armed Forces. The sacrifices that they make are real in terms of family stability, risk of physical and, indeed, mental injury and lack of personal freedom.
It is a volunteer, professional force, and each individual member of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will weigh the pluses and the minuses of military life in deciding whether to stay or go. The Government have a responsibility to the nation to make sure that the balance does not tilt so far into the negative that we lose our unique military capability.
My Lords, I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to address the issues of global poverty and development. It is particularly encouraging that the G8 meeting in Edinburgh, the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting and the United Nations millennium review meeting have all been identified as fora where the needs of the world's poorest people can be advanced. However, if we are to achieve this aim, we need to be certain that the issues raised at these international fora are indeed the right ones.
It seems appropriate that in Christian Aid Week I should draw attention to a new report recently published by that agency entitled The damage done: Aid, death and dogma. The report highlights, yet again, the devastating impact that liberalisation policies can have on the world's poorest communities. It vividly demonstrates the human and social impact of the ideological, dogmatic commitment to enforced liberalisation, demonstrating that this is not simply an academic debate but one which touches on the lives and livelihoods of millions of the world's poorest people.
The fact that the report also implicates the Department for International Development in the promotion of some of these policies shows that we can ill afford to ignore this opportunity to debate our Government's record and to ask what will be discussed at the G8 in a few months' time.
I am very encouraged to see that the British Government's position on enforced liberalisation has changed this year. In February 2005, DfID released a policy paper, Partnerships for poverty reduction: rethinking conditionality, which explicitly stated:
"We will not make our aid conditional on specific policy decisions by partner governments, or attempt to impose policy choices on them (including in sensitive economic areas such as privatisation and trade liberalisation)".
This theme was picked up by the Africa Commission, which again stated that liberalisation should not be forced on African countries and that they should be allowed to choose when to open their markets based on their own needs. That was repeated yet again in the election manifesto of our new Government.
The next step, however, is to make sure that election promises become reality. As a first move, the Government should consider enacting legislation that will ensure that their policy commitments can be carried forward into future governments. Changes must be made so that Britain can use its own actions as leverage to exact further change from others. As a first step, I call on the British Government to amend the International Development Act 2002 to bar UK aid being tied to policies of liberalisation and privatisation.
But even such a change in the policy position of our Government is not enough. If real change is to be effected, our Government need to win the support of the wider global community. Fortunately, July this year presents an ideal opportunity for the UK Government to do just that as the G8 is hosted in Scotland. I hope that our Government will not only press the message that enforced liberalisation is the wrong way to achieve growth and poverty reduction but will also strongly push the full agenda of the Make Poverty History campaign, more and better aid, debt relief and trade justice.
If discussions in Scotland are confined to increases in aid, then we are in danger of providing a sticking plaster solution while failing to tackle the real causes of global poverty. While it is true that more and better targeted aid is vital in the struggle against global poverty, if we do not simultaneously debate global trade policy and debt relief we are in danger of undermining any progress we make on aid delivery. These factors are interconnected, especially where aid is tied to policies of liberalisation, and to debate them in isolation cannot result in a coherent strategy for the eradication of global poverty.
I hope that, like our Government, the G8 nations will take seriously the need to stop enforced liberalisation throughout the developing world, ensuring that aid programmes and bilateral trade agreements are not used to "force open" developing countries' markets. I urge them to agree an increase in global aid budgets of $50 billion a year and to increase national aid budgets to 0.7 per cent of national income by 2010 at the latest. I also ask that they cancel their share of the unpayable debt stock of the world's poorest nations, including the multilateral debt owed to international financial institutions. I am most encouraged by what the Minister said in his opening speech. Only if all of these three key aims are achieved will we have an impact on the appalling levels of global poverty that still beset our world.
I acknowledge fully the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, in regard to governance. I am afraid that I do not have time to touch on that issue but, of course, I agree wholeheartedly with him, particularly in the case of Zimbabwe.
Our Government have promised that they are committed to tackling issues of global poverty. If so, then the G8 is a unique opportunity that must be seized. Outside that G8 meeting, Churches, faith communities, civil society organisations and vast numbers of the general public will be literally waiting in the streets to hear what our world leaders can achieve. Millions of the world's poorest people will be waiting too. I pray that we will not let them down.
My Lords, despite this early position in the speaking order, I wish to make only a very narrow, brief and perhaps slightly familiar contribution. It is to welcome most warmly the commitments in the gracious Speech to tackle poverty in Africa and climate change, to push for an end to the abuses in Darfur and to combat international crime—but also to say that something will be missing from real effectiveness in some of those key battles if reducing corruption does not form part of the effort to combat international crime. I remind the House of my unremunerated interest in Transparency International.
The United Kingdom has—justly—one of the highest reputations for its work on development in Africa and elsewhere. The efforts of my right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development—and, indeed, of the whole Government—as set out so comprehensively by my noble friend the Minister, have already achieved much and will certainly continue to do so. British achievement in conflict resolution is, indeed, incomparable. I am sure that the House will support the further efforts in both these areas that are necessary and that are promised. But both of these are undermined if commercial companies continue to subvert officials, and even whole governments, in some developing countries with impunity.
The international community has moved against corruption, with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Have we ratified it yet? The OECD has moved against corruption with its anti-bribery convention. We signed up to it, but we were criticised by the OECD in its last progress report on our implementation for not having brought forward the necessary comprehensive legislation.
We have done well in legislation on cross-border judicial co-operation. But we have not yet completed the jigsaw, although the Government published a draft Bill on corruption, analysed by the scrutiny committee—of which I was a member—and found wanting, as long ago as July 2003. No doubt partly as a consequence, we do not have unified investigation and prosecution arrangements to follow through such areas of corruption as our existing law does cover. How many prosecutions have there been? The best of our transnational companies have their own codes of practice to deter their employees from taking part in a corrupt business culture. But we have no coherent framework to help them.
I know that the Department for International Development agrees that stronger action is needed to deal with bribery by UK companies overseas, to deter money laundering and to trace and return the proceeds of corruption.
"The corrosive effect of corruption undermines all efforts to improve governance and foster development".
All efforts, my Lords.
The Treasury has produced a splendid report on the challenges and opportunities of globalisation for the UK financial services sector. The City of London is of prime importance to our economy, and to the rooting out of corruption. This report does not mention even the need to deter money laundering once.
I know that these remarks stray beyond the scope of this debate. But that is the trouble with corruption: law on the subject is the responsibility of the Home Office. Culture, as well as the Export Credits Guarantee Department, is more the province of the DTI. Money laundering is a concern of the Treasury. Compliance with international instruments is also the interest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But the adverse effects of not reining in corruption are damaging above all to the development of the poorest of poor countries, which is the interest of the Department for International Development.
So I hope that my noble friend can get proper legislation proposed, in the interests of the millions who, through the corrupt actions of British companies, die too soon, or are condemned to extreme poverty, or are simply left out of the "opportunity" and "hope" which this Government rightly think normal to try to obtain for all our citizens.
My Lords, it is a privilege to be called so early in the debate. But I feel somewhat like a tethered lamb as I see I am being followed by the noble Lords, Lord Thomson of Monifieth and Lord Clinton-Davis, both former members of the European Commission—and by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, a very distinguished British civil servant who played such a crucial role in developing our relationships with the European Union. However, I travel hopefully, and hope that today's debate will produce some consideration of the statement in the Queen's Speech that:
I have some ambivalence about this at the moment, in the light of what has been said in the past 48 hours, but the smiling face on the Government Front Bench assures me that all will be made absolutely clear by the end of the debate.
I hope that we will have a referendum. I have always looked forward to these great occasions, when the political establishment wheels out its top people to persuade the lesser breeds how they should be voting. I have in mind the Prime Minister, with his arms lifted aloft by partnership, like in the triumph of Moses over the Amalekites. I see obviously in that role Charles Kennedy and, on loan from the Conservative Party, my noble friend Lord Heseltine. However, as that debate proceeds, I am sure we will echo the experiences of the French; the issue broadens very considerably until it is a discussion about not only the French relationship with the European Union and the character of the European Union but also the French analysis of France's style, history and destiny.
I am therefore greatly concerned that in this country, as the debate proceeds, we will take it on a wider vision than merely that of the proposed constitution, although a debate on the constitution, in its narrow terms, is very challenging. As has been made quite clear, the constitution embraces and consolidates the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, all of which were centralising experiences. Therefore, we are talking about not creating a centralised Europe but consolidating a Europe which has very powerful elements of centralisation. Those elements have to be measured against the perceived success of Europe as it now is.
However, the issue goes rather beyond that. I am encouraged to make that judgment on the advice of no less a body than the Foreign Office—not an organisation I naturally turn to for encouragement. However, in its Guide to the European Union, it says that the European constitution would,
"ensure the European Union remains flexible enough to work with 25 members, and more in the future".
It is on the words "and more" that I should like to reflect.
The European Union's expansion to 25 countries was quite a leap. There is a certain homogeneity about the original six members, enhanced by the subsequent nine, predominantly from northern Europe. The figures I shall quote on per capita dollar incomes come from United Nations sources. The per capita income for the six plus subsequent nine nations was around $25,000, less for the Mediterranean component of that figure. The move to include the 10 countries from the east means that the per capita income drops from $25,000 to a mere $5,000. As for the future, as indicated in the Foreign Office pamphlet, discussions are already in train for the inclusion of Turkey and I do not think anyone seriously doubts that Ukraine will put in a strong bid to become part of the expanded European Union. In that case, we are talking of countries whose total per capita incomes are less than $1,000 a year.
In my view—and it may be a very simple view—you cannot put together countries of such disparate economic performances, with such differences in culture and social traditions, without presenting an enormous challenge for whatever partnership we have. All the wisdom coming from the Foreign Office rather assumes that these are within the compass of an enlarged European Union. I have advocated a large European Union precisely because I believe it would bring us up against the harsh realities that would necessitate a much looser form of partnership. I did not go to the Reform Club, the Traveller's Club or wherever Foreign Office officials hang out for their social occasions. I went to my village pub—the Horseshoe Inn in Llanyblodwel, where the people's homespun wisdoms are much closer to reality. They say that we are trying to set out this kind of organisation with these sorts of commitments, which strain one's credulity.
Above all, it is so dangerous because we are dealing with one of our most precious possessions—effective political authority. That is a precious commodity. If it is strained or diluted, we are all harmed by that process. That is what clouds the present drive for the European Union to be enlarged on account of the treaties of Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam. They are to be the basis of the legislation to encompass this much broader Europe.
It is foolish to assume that from the destruction and dilution of European nation states a phoenix in European harmony and comradeship will arise. It will not. We are walking dangerously and we should be aware of that.
My Lords, in the field of international relations, the gracious Speech could mark a watershed for the Prime Minister and the Government if they have the necessary vision and will take the opportunity. As has been said, the Prime Minister will chair both the international G8 meeting at Gleneagles later this summer and, more importantly in my present context, the Council of the European Union.
The Prime Minister used to pride himself on seeking to put Britain at the very heart of the European Union. That was before he allowed himself to be seduced away to the very heart of Texas and separated from his major European partners on what has turned out to be an ill-starred Iraqi conflict. That is now behind us, to some extent at least, and the six-month presidency of the European Union later this year is a chance to return to the priority that the Prime Minister once gave to Britain's role in the European Union. It will come at a time, as has already been said in this debate, of great uncertainty within the European Union, when all the Prime Minister's skills and convictions will be much in demand. Immediately ahead lie the referendums in both France and Holland and beyond them the UK presidency and the UK's own referendum. Whatever the outcome of these referendums, it will be a fateful 12 months for the future of the European Union.
I have had a curious personal history of twice being a Labour Minister preparing the way for Britain to join Brussels. For good measure, I ended up as the first British Commissioner from the Labour Party—which had by that time become deeply divided and the majority of it was hostile to British membership of the Community. It is therefore a personal satisfaction that over recent years at the end of my political life, I am in a party that has shown a principled consistency over the years in urging British membership of the European Community.
However, these periods of uncertainty about the next step forward in Europe, of which I have had ample and bitter experience, are a familiar phenomenon for Europe. To use a golfing memory from my Scottish golf links, they are par for the course and we should not get too alarmed by current fears about the present situation. The lesson is not to take one's eye off the ball.
The Labour government's first effort to join the European Community in 1966 and 1967 ended in de Gaulle's second veto on British membership. I well remember on that occasion that there were members of the Cabinet who privately—and perhaps not so privately—gave a sigh of relief that the general had got them off the hook of a difficult decision. I also remember the late George Brown, the then Foreign Secretary, fighting like a tiger at the Cabinet meeting to keep Britain's application on the table despite the humiliation of that veto. The Cabinet rather reluctantly gave way, believing that it did not really matter. However, it did matter. When de Gaulle later resigned, we were able to resume our application to join the Community without taking a fresh and no doubt divisive Cabinet decision once again.
I therefore profoundly hope that the French and Dutch referendums will be positive. But, if by narrow margins one or other were to vote "No", I hope that the Prime Minister and Cabinet will not shrug it off as happened in 1966 as relieving them of a difficult decision. Instead, I hope that they will give a positive and vigorous lead of confidence to Europe by going ahead with our legislation for our own referendum. I have been greatly reassured by some of the noises that have come from the Government on that matter.
The decision to go ahead with the legislation should set alight the great debate that ought to take place on these great results and has been most curiously muffled in British politics for far too long. The Prime Minister's period of presidency in the second half of the year will therefore be crucial. The underlying reality of the European Union of 25 and more nation states—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, whose most interesting speech I listened to with great concern—is that it is here to stay for the 21st century. The issue for national parliaments throughout the European Union is whether they can organise themselves more effectively than at present to protect and enhance the welfare of their citizens and contribute their united experience to maintaining world peace and prosperity.
The only question for the United Kingdom is what part we play in that. The present treaty was not designed for a union of 25 and more member states. To seek a unanimous decision from 25 nation states through a whole series of national referendums when those states are often distracted by temporary domestic issues is not proving a practical way to bring about long-term constitutional change. We are stuck with this process at present of course but the new treaty, once it is finally agreed—and finally, in one form or another, the European Union will come to an agreement on its future arrangements—will create a union of nation states. That should give some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who expressed concern in his opening speech because for one thing it gives a much more significant role to national parliaments. That offers an alternative to the referendum route as a method of seeking unanimity on the way for this European Union to make progress.
I confess an old-fashioned personal view about referendums not shared, I am bound to say, by my own party. I share the view of Prime Minister Attlee, one of the great Prime Ministers of the century just ended. A referendum might suit the peculiar historic circumstances of Swiss cantons, or, at the other end of the spectrum might represent a detestable device of European dictators, but parliamentary democracy, in Lord Attlee's view, "warts and all", is the best way forward. I am reinforced in that view by the troubles of running a European Union of this magnitude.
Having got that off my chest, I appeal to the Prime Minister that if he wants to be remembered as an historic holder of that great office after he retires later in this Parliament, it will certainly not be over Iraq. I doubt that it will even be over the "respect and reform" policy, which is a worthy policy in itself but, looking backwards, I am bound to say not of the great historic magnitude of the Beveridge report or Aneurin Bevan's creation of a great National Health Service. "Respect and reform" is a long way away from those monumental changes.
The Prime Minister would leave a much bigger footprint in history if, arising out of Britain's presidency of the European Union in a crucial six months in the second half of this year, he succeeded in relaunching Britain to be permanently at the heart of the European Union making a distinctive European contribution to a more prosperous and peaceful world.
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his ministerial appointment, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on moving to a responsibility for foreign affairs, European affairs and international development—that is to say, for the problems of the whole world. I believe that blessed is the country that has no foreign policy; but as we have one, I am sure that he will serve us very well.
Although the debate on the Address is an occasion on which we all benefit from important and rewarding speeches, it is also in a sense a free-for-all. Once again, so many subjects are covered by the gracious Speech, which is not surprising at the beginning of a new government, that we can choose to speak on one of many different subjects. My main interest now as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers is in parliamentary business and the constitution. I have tried in my six and a half years in the House to avoid being typecast as an actor on the European stage. However, I do not speak today as Convenor and wish to breach my own guideline by saying a few words about European affairs, now that we know that we are going to have a Labour Government in power for some years and that a Bill and referendum on the constitutional treaty, which the Government support, is in prospect.
This is a good moment to take stock. We need to establish a balanced and positive approach to the issues that will be raised during the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union and in the constitutional treaty itself. The Union is changing substantially, with the bedding down of the recent enlargement to 25 sovereign states—quite well, in my opinion—and the probable early accession of Romania and Bulgaria, creating a Union of about 500 million people, with the almost complete disappearance of the old common agricultural policy. On the other hand, there has been insufficient progress on more flexible management and working practices—more so perhaps in some other member states than in Britain, but we must not be complacent in the face of the massive potential of China, India and other rapidly developing economic powers.
We need to give attention to the real priorities in how we respond to those questions and not limit ourselves to more theoretical arguments about the future of Europe. Subject to that point, I intervene in this debate for three reasons: first, because the gracious Speech tells us, as expected, that a Bill will be presented to give effect to the constitutional treaty, and we shall have to decide on that; and secondly, the long-announced referendum will finally reach the starting blocks, unless of course an unexpected hitch in another member state postpones or cancels the race.
In any event, we need to think now about the conduct of our referendum and informing our citizens, as it is well known that some citizens who do not feel themselves well informed are inclined to vote "Yes" or "No" in a referendum on the basis of other satisfactions or dissatisfactions that may have little to do with the treaty. I recall that I was in France at the time of the Maastricht Treaty, and when I asked a neighbour how he would vote, he said that he would vote "No" because of Portuguese shoes. Apparently, he thought that there were too many. I took a good look at the headlines relating to the current referendum in France. There was one that I really liked, which I draw to the attention of the House, which said, "Mr Le Pen recruits Joan of Arc for the No campaign". That shows that referendum preparations can go very wide, and we need to respond to that by providing good information.
The amount of factual material provided by the Government and other sources about the European Union and the constitutional treaty is in fact considerable, although you would not always think that from the comment. It is considerable, but it should be steadily supplemented; we need more in the coming months to make the referendum a truly well informed occasion.
Thirdly, I refer to some features of the preparation of the constitutional treaty, which seem to me to be already forgotten and to some features of its presentation, which have not been correctly commented on. I do not intend to speak in any detail on the many articles—God forbid; and as the House knows, God has not been included in the treaty—but the Government should press strongly for confirmation in the referendum of the European policy on which, indeed, they have just been elected.
I take the points in order. First, the Bill on the constitutional treaty is inevitably a step on the way to the referendum. We cannot amend the treaty itself, but no doubt the link with the referendum will be made explicit, either by a condition or by the date of coming into force of the ratification. I believe that one Member in another place is tabling 118 new clauses and 113 other amendments, so it seems that we may be busy here. But apart from the eventual specific amendments discussed in this House, I hope that the debate will enable your Lordships to highlight the policies or actions which they view positively or which they assess less positively or even negatively. I make that point because the constitutional treaty, if ratified, is not intended to be hung up like a trophy. It is to provide a base for a continuing improvement in the operation of the European Union, and in the United Kingdom's part in that.
Secondly, on the referendum, I have noted the approval of the constitutional treaty by the Bundestag—the German Parliament—by 569 votes to 23. That was typically reported in three sentences on page 15 of one of our quality daily papers. Of course, the attention here is concentrated on the possible result of the French referendum and the advisory referendum in the Netherlands. I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government have their reaction well worked out if, as I do not expect, France were to vote "No" at the end of this month.
Our reaction, if the vote were "No", should not be to enter into discussion about the possible revival of the treaty but to stress our commitment to going forward positively on the policies that can be carried forward under existing treaties, avoiding a divisive situation. I am not sure that all Members of the House agree with me, but that is my view.
Thirdly, I return to themes that I have mentioned before in the House, which will be important in the run-up, if there is a public referendum, as we foresee. Unlike some earlier EU treaties, this treaty is not a bureaucratic or technocratic creation, although it is said to be. It is not; it resulted from the work of representatives of all the democratically elected parliaments, of governments and a wide consultation in the convention. That is already being forgotten, but it is misleading to give the impression that it is the creation of bureaucrats or that it is scarcely intelligible.
On the contrary, we need to explain to the British public that there is a short, very clear Part 1—it is actually only 14 pages in the Government's published text—broadly equivalent to the size of an average football match programme. Part 1 sets out the objectives and definition of the Union in terms that, I believe, the great majority of our fellow citizens would share. It sets out more clearly than in the past the powers and responsibilities—the competences—that the member states have conferred on the Union and which are mostly shared with the member states. It describes the institutions needed for the enlarged Union; it briefly sets out how the competences may be exercised with a simpler structure of law-making and potentially greater control over secondary legislation, which I welcome, as well as some specific provisions on foreign policy, security and justice. It sets out the principle of democratic equality and the limits on the Union's budget, currently less than 2.5 per cent of public expenditure in the Union and in any event capped as a small percentage of GNP, unless all the member states were unanimously to increase it after ratification in every member state.
Part 1 is the crux of the treaty. I think that that is the point we need to put across. It is certainly the point that has been put across in France, and I think that it is right. Part 2 is the charter of fundamental rights, already approved—I appreciate differently—but now for the first time included in the treaty. Part 3, I accept, is more difficult to understand, but that is because it is almost entirely and word for word the text of the policies and the functioning of the Union in greater detail, which already exists in earlier treaties. Some Members may want to change that, but that was not the agenda of the convention.
I sincerely hope that the Government, having decided to put a simple question to the people, will also explain that the serious issues about the treaty are not complicated. We shall have to strive to avoid the risk that domestic policies that do not derive from the treaty, or in many cases from the EU at all, are drawn into the referendum debate. To do that, we have to inform and to simplify when explaining the treaty. If not—if your Lordships will excuse a particularly awful pun on words—the citizen will feel that he has been badly treated.
My Lords, I do not know why it was decided that the European Commission should be represented at this juncture by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, myself and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, who was one of the best secretary-generals the Commission ever had. But I think we have to put up with that. In future it would be rather better if the contributions made by those representing the old Commission were more spaced out.
I should also like to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in welcoming my noble friends Lord Drayson and Lord Triesman in their exacting and exciting roles. I wish them every possible success.
As the past chairman and past president of the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea, I begin by saying that the organisation owes a tremendous debt to two of its supporters now deceased: Lord Callaghan and Lord Campbell of Croy. The former, long before becoming Prime Minister, established ACOPS, in 1952, and remained involved in its affairs. Indeed, just a few days before he died he wrote to me saying that his son Michael would be an invaluable member of the ACOPS executive. I am glad to say that he now is. Lord Campbell of Croy was also a valuable colleague. I am indebted to him for the advice that he proffered throughout his career.
I should like to deal in this speech with two themes: climate change and Europe. In a few weeks' time Britain will assume the European Union presidency and I hope that environmental sustainability will be one of the main topics that it takes up. In that connection I should like to declare an interest as president of the British Airline Pilots Association, which has long been conscious of misgivings about climate change. I am delighted, through its outgoing chief executive, that British Airways has expressed both anxieties and opportunities on this score.
The third runway at Heathrow, which we hope will be constructed between 2015 and 2020, will be dependent on our ability to effect stringent environmental criteria for enhancing air quality and limiting noise in both the air and on the land. Global warming must feature in aviation's future, and concentration on reducing CO2 emissions and other deleterious effects of jet aircraft in the upper atmosphere is a must. Environmentally friendly aircraft design, ways to achieve shorter routings, the employment of alternative methods of aircraft descent—a raft of measures—are absolutely essential. Above all, the application of cleaner technology together with a viable system of emissions trading between airlines will become part and parcel of that process.
Rod Eddington, BA's outgoing chief executive, had this to say in our parliamentary magazine:
"Such arrangements would achieve far more for the environment than a tax on aviation fuel, which would leave emissions levels untouched".
I think he is absolutely right.
I turn to my second theme, Europe. In my view it is profoundly mistaken to believe that Britain's future should be unduly influenced by George Bush and the neo-cons. They have failed to establish their bona fides. They were guilty of a colossal misjudgment about Iraq. Since the war the toll in death and injury of both military and civilians has been immense. But we should not forget that Saddam Hussein's lethal contribution before the war was also unforgivable.
The campaign launched against Tony Blair during the recent election did not attain the standards of fairness that the British people were entitled to expect. Ultimately, the Conservatives—to some extent, at all events—paid for that. I believe that the Prime Minister was honestly misled. But Iraq has happened and withdrawal now would be misconceived. We should concentrate on the task of reconstruction, as my noble friend Lord Drayson has argued.
Regarding the European Union, we must get off the fence as soon as possible and demonstrate our commitment to making the Union work for the benefit of all its citizens. The limbo in which we float at present will only marginalise our country in the long term. We do not have to be subservient to everything proposed within the European Union, but negative posturing can only undermine the benefits of a united Europe. We have to be seen to be involved, helping to shape its future, and by doing so our voice will carry more weight not just on European affairs but on foreign policy issues at large such as the Middle East.
It follows that the constitutional treaty, even if it is not entirely to our liking—no compromise can ever do that—should in principle be supported. It points the way for a multilateral partnership which we fervently hope will establish prosperity and peace.
My Lords, on behalf of the Conservative Back Benches, I welcome the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. His is a difficult job, as he is responsible for some £10 billion in expenditure. I know that I speak on behalf of my colleagues when I say that the assured and clear way in which he opened the debate bodes well for the Ministry of Defence. We warmly welcome him. I notice that two of his predecessors in that post, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, are attending this debate.
I declare an interest as chairman of one of the larger defence contractors. The defence industry pays tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who bore his responsibilities with good humour and common sense. He always bore the blandishments and lobbying of the industry with good humour. We wish him well in his new job.
I will concentrate on military personnel. I feel somewhat nervous as I normally follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who has far greater experience than me in this field. I have a feeling that we will both be singing from the same hymn sheets. I declare an interest as president of the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association in the United Kingdom. I will speak briefly and make three points. First, the regular forces are undergoing great change and challenge at present. As the Minister described it when he opened the debate, we need to modernise our Armed Forces. All of us would agree with that. We have had substantial and significant reorganisation of our infantry; the concentration of the Army, Navy and Air Force into super-garrisons and super-Air Force bases; and greater concentration on our naval ports. All that inevitably creates upheaval and, incidentally, a smaller footprint of the regular Armed Forces in the country.
I look around your Lordships' House and I wonder how many noble Lords served National Service. It is a fact that anyone now under the age of 65 will not have done National Service. If we look forward to such longevity as that of my noble friend Lord Renton, perhaps there will be some who will serve in this place for many years to come who have that experience, but I suspect that in the other place there are very few with direct knowledge of the armed services. The connection between our regular servicemen and our civilian population is becoming thinner all the time.
Of course, we have continuing assignment responsibilities of our regular forces. We have heard about Iraq, and I pay compliment to our servicemen in Sierra Leone, where I recently visited. I hope that the training team will remain and that UNAMSIL, the United Nations force that has had a significant input from British forces, will continue, albeit on a reduced basis, for some time to come. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, referred to the fact that perhaps next year our servicemen will be asked in increasing numbers to go to Afghanistan.
Those all are elements of unsettlement in our regular forces, and the Ministers of the Crown must balance political commitments that are made against capabilities. In the past we have not got that balance quite right. It is attractive for governments to make commitments and then try to sort out the supply of capability later. I well remember the occasion, now over 15 years ago, when the Secretary-General of the United Nations came to the Ministry of Defence and said plainly, "Whenever there is a peacekeeping requirement in the world or a need for intervention by UN forces, we would look to the United Kingdom first". That was a great compliment, and I suspect that those pressures are still present. Yes, United Kingdom forces will always respond but, for heaven's sake, within reason.
Secondly, I praise the contribution of the voluntary reserves in Iraq. The voluntary reservists who have already served in Iraq are equivalent to 16 battalions. At some stages of the conflict they reached almost 20 per cent of the total forces present—that is additional to naval and Air Force volunteers. There are some storm clouds on the horizon. The manning of voluntary forces, certainly for the Territorial Army, is now at 80 per cent of establishment, and falling. Recruitment is reasonable but retention is poor, and one must ask oneself why. It is partly because the officers and senior NCOs of the reserve forces have been sent to Iraq, in many cases leaving other ranks with no leadership and no indication of their precise future role, which has not been good for morale.
We have the continued closure of Territorial Army centres. If we are going to rebalance the infantry it is important that the Territorial Army, and indeed all reservists, maintain as wide a geographic base in this country as possible to preserve contact with the civilian population. I am afraid that there are signs that some employers of our reservists are beginning to be concerned about the frequency of call-up. I strongly recommend that the Government should enshrine in legislation the limitation that no one should or could be called up twice in a five-year period.
Finally, there is an exciting gleam of hope in connection with the treatment of young offenders who are threatened with exclusion from school. The Armed Forces are playing an important role in an initiative called Skill Force Development. In particular some warrant officers, who leave the forces in the order of 20,000 to 25,000 a year, are now being enlisted into Skill Force. It is financed by the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Education and Skills, and charities. They are now active in 130 schools up and down the country. They take those pupils who teachers believe might be candidates for permanent exclusion and offer them training for one day a week in life skills and adventure training if they go back to school for the other four days a week and qualify for their exams.
That is an excellent initiative, and I congratulate the Government on it. I say so in a bipartisan way. The initiative was tried some 25 years ago but it did not make progress; now it has done, and it needs to be encouraged. It is one way in which former servicemen and women can make a real contribution to the standards of behaviour of young people, and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, a number of areas relating to international development were mentioned in the gracious Speech. There is the renewed and welcome commitment to using the UK's presidency of the G8 to secure progress in tackling poverty in Africa and on climate change. There is the commitment that the Government will push for a resolution of the conflict in Darfur, and a commitment to continue to contribute to a modern and representative United Nations, although I wonder whether going to war in Iraq was a step towards that. There is the commitment to working to secure a successful outcome for the United Nations Millennium Development Review Summit and the ministerial meeting of the WTO in Hong Kong in December. There is support for continued assistance to the government of Afghanistan including in their counter-narcotics efforts, and to support better standards of governance throughout the world. We also hear among all that that peace in the Middle East will remain one of the Government's highest priorities.
That is a pretty wide-ranging set of objectives, far more than we have often had in a gracious Speech. Few would disagree with the words on paper, but there are some important underlying issues. The international section concludes with a statement that the Government intend to strengthen the partnership between Europe and the US,
"in order to meet these objectives".
I would hardly have thought that partnership with the United States had, up to now, brought much progress in many of those areas. Iraq, tied and very limited aid, even tying aid to supporting US foreign policy objectives, refusal to sign the Kyoto agreement and so on hardly augur well. Maybe we should wish the Government more success in those areas than they have achieved thus far.
I welcome the mention of Afghanistan. There was international agreement on the war there, but bin Laden was not found and there is little control outside Kabul. The newly elected president continues to plead for attention and money that the international community has pledged but not yet delivered, so that the country can escape the drug lords whose bumper crops fund the local farmers and whose products are now on the streets of the United Kingdom. Where are the eyes of the world as far as Afghanistan is concerned? Do we see a step change in help for Afghanistan? From what we have heard so far, it does not seem like it, but I look forward to hearing what else the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, can tell us.
Another area that we neglect at our peril is, of course, the Middle East. It was said that one of the quid pro quos of joining the United States in Iraq was that the US would take a more proactive line in pushing the road map forward but, as Israel consolidates its grip on the occupied territories, we have to realise that the current window of opportunity is small. Abu Mazen's time as the Palestinian president will surely be limited if he cannot deliver peace and prosperity to the Palestinian people. Restrictions such as those on students wishing to study, the continued road blocks which the World Bank has identified as fast destroying the Palestinian economy, the continued building of the wall, and the decision at the same Cabinet meeting that confirmed the pull-out from Gaza to continue the wall to encircle and protect settlements in the occupied territories—especially as regards Jerusalem—all augur poorly. Of course we understand Israel's desperate need to feel secure, but we have to urge once again that no one will be secure unless there is a just settlement.
I welcome what the Government have said about the relief of poverty in Africa. Part of me wonders precisely why that may have shot to the top of the agenda, but this is clearly a key moment. We know why we should address the matter. There are more than a billion people living on less than $1 a day, 100 million children are unable to go to school, and every three seconds a child dies because of poverty. That cries out for action, but so do the warnings from the UN high-level panel about the insecurity that affects us all if those problems are not addressed.
The UK hosts the G8 and holds the presidency of the EU, and, this September, there is the UN summit on the millennium development goals, which aim to cut poverty by half. The UK Government have committed themselves to reach 0.75 per cent of GNP by 2013. We would look to that timetable being shortened by at least two years. We certainly would not expect any slippage from it, as the Irish Government slipped last year; they committed during their presidency of the EU to 0.7 per cent and, as soon as it ended, reneged on that. Yes, the Government have increased aid from the low level of the Conservatives, but it still stands at only 0.34 per cent.
The quality of aid is important, and the Government's attempts to ensure that they target the poorest countries are welcome, although sometimes that can mean dismissing some of the poorest people because they are in middle-income countries such as South Africa. Aid needs to be untied, reliable, predictable and—as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, so rightly said—transparent. The Africa Commission's emphasis on the need for recipient countries to improve their own transparency and governance is extremely important, but that must not allow the richer countries to get off this particular hook.
The proposed international finance facility, which the US shows little sign of joining, cannot be allowed to mean that countries do not increase their aid budgets. With the IFF, if we do not watch out poor countries may well mortgage their future. I would like to know from the Minister where he anticipates other G8 countries significantly increasing their aid budgets, and whether there is any movement from the US on the IFF.
The UK has led the way in promising to cancel debt, which is welcome, but it needs to ensure that neither the UK nor other countries committed to the policy then tie that to privatisation of services in debtor countries. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell is surely right on that. As we all know, however, it is not aid so much as favourable conditions of trade that will do most to help developing countries. There again, the UK presidency of the EU is of key importance this year. It is all very well saying that trade must be free but, if the infrastructure of the poorest countries means that they are not properly able to compete, they do not benefit from the freeing of that trade. If they are trading with countries where industries are subsidised, that makes their position even worse.
We need to protect those emerging countries so that they can develop their own industries, yet the EU is now busy negotiating unfair trade agreements with many of its poorer partners through the economic partnership agreements. I would like to know precisely what the Government will do under their presidency of the EU to address that issue.
I want to turn briefly to AIDS, to which I have referred in this House many times. The UK Government's commitment to universal treatment for HIV by 2010, which is welcome, must be translated this year into an explicit G8 commitment. Recognising the exceptional impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on international development, and given the Labour Party's manifesto commitment to,
"press for an international agreement on universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010", can we expect that commitment from the G8? AIDS threatens every MDG, and we are only just waking up to that.
This is a key year for the UK on the international stage. It has been a key time for the UK internationally one way or another over the past year or two. But whereas the war in Iraq was highly controversial and took its toll on the Prime Minster and the Labour Party in the general election, all can agree about tackling world poverty, although taking that beyond lip service is far more difficult. I hope that we see major changes when the G8 meets in July, and that those are carried through and beyond our presidency of the EU.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his appointment to the Ministry of Defence and say how much I enjoyed working with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, before that. I also say how pleased I am—I know others are—that Dr Reid has become the Secretary of State for Defence. It is an appointment that will be welcomed by the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces, because he has a real feel for the significant operational demands on them at present and really cares about the Armed Forces and will fight their corner.
In a short speech such as this, it is hard to do justice to some of the very demanding challenges that face our Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence. That difficulty is not helped by the fact that this important debate is also about foreign affairs and international development, so there is a danger that some important defence issues will become submerged in the debate. In the short time available to me, I would like to highlight three major issues—the inadequate size of the defence budget and the continuing underfunding; Iraq and Afghanistan; and the number of soldiers being investigated for war crimes.
I turn first to the defence budget and, in particular, the underfunding of the forward equipment programme, to which the noble Lord, Lord Garden, referred. Soldiers who have served in Iraq have said to me on more than one occasion that they feel that our equipment is inferior to that of the Americans, apart from the security of the Challenger 2 tank. We expect our very special soldiers, sailors and airmen to be prepared to risk their life and to die for their country. In return, the nation has a responsibility to ensure that they have first-class equipment and are properly trained and funded. In addition, we have a responsibility to ensure that they have good living accommodation, both for single men and for families. Our servicemen are honouring their side of that contract, but I am by no means convinced that we are honouring our side of that bargain.
I recognise that the forward equipment programme includes some important new equipment—the aircraft carriers and the air wing that goes with them—and Eurofighter. In addition, the future rapid effects system is important for the transformation and modernisation of the Army. However, there is no doubt that the programme is inadequately funded to meet the high costs of the equipment. That will mean either cuts—money will be wasted downstream because those cuts will be made late—or the programme will be delayed from coming into service for many years.
Noble Lords may think that living accommodation is a small issue, but some of the living accommodation in which we are asking our servicemen to live is not acceptable and a report by the individual training organisation has made adverse comments about it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will take the opportunity to visit not only the nice accommodation but some of the appalling accommodation in which we ask our servicemen to live. I accept that there has been a real increase in the defence budget, but it does not match by a long way the cost of the equipment improvements that are planned.
I now turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. It is generally acknowledged that our servicemen in Iraq have done and are doing a fantastic job. However, the debate about the legality of the war will, in time, have implications for the morale of our servicemen and their families. I would like to see a reduction in the clamour about the legality of the war and a recognition that we are where we are in Iraq and that we have a responsibility for what we started. We should withdraw from Iraq only when we are confident that we are leaving behind a better nation than the one we invaded. Walking away prematurely would be disastrous.
I mentioned Afghanistan in connection with Iraq because I understand that the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps is due to deploy to Iraq in the foreseeable future. There is a significant British contribution to the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and, understandably, there is pressure for a major part of the fighting capability to be British. However, that cannot be achieved, given the small size of our Armed Forces, without reducing our commitment to Iraq. We need to ask ourselves the question that Clausewitz would have asked: where is our point of main effort? Where is our Schwerpunkt? Is it Iraq or Afghanistan? I would strongly argue that both are important, but the more important is Iraq. If we withdrew from Iraq too early, it could have serious implications.
Iraq has put demands on the Territorial Army that were much greater than expected, something to which the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, referred. It is also absolutely bananas to cut four battalions from the order of battle—I am not talking about the reorganisation of the infantry—when we are short of such forces. That does not make sense.
My final point relates to the number of soldiers being investigated for war crimes. Sadly, there will always be instances when soldiers commit war crimes. They should be investigated and the offenders punished, if necessary. But the fact that British lawyers are hiking their wares in Iraq, trying to persuade Iraqis to take up cases on a "no fee, no win" basis, is an indication of what I am talking about. The number of cases being investigated worries me, and the case of Trooper Williams of the Second Royal Tank Regiment highlights that.
Many noble Lords understand the realities of operational service, but I sense that too many people do not realise the real pressures and confusion of operational service. Soldiers are asked to make decisions about the use of lethal force in confused conditions, frequently when they are tired and frightened. I hope that lessons have been learnt from the Trooper Williams case. Briefly, the commanding officer, after legal advice, dismissed the case, but his decision was over-ruled and the case eventually went to the High Court, where it was dismissed by a judge for lack of evidence. It was also worrying that Trooper Williams had to be looked after by a team led by Sir Anthony Walker and former members of his old regiment, the Royal Tank Regiment, to ensure that Trooper Williams' interests were properly looked after.
I hope that our nation's decision to sign the European Convention on Human Rights, without an opt-out for our Armed Forces, has not been shown to have been a bad one. I urge the Minister to recognise the seriousness of that problem. Those investigating such cases need to understand the real pressure under which our soldiers operate and the fact that the number of cases being investigated is a cause for concern and will undoubtedly affect the morale of our Armed Forces. They are honouring their side of the unwritten contract that we have made with them; I have reservation about whether we are honouring our side of that commitment.
I also welcome the Government's stated intention in the gracious Speech to strengthen commitment to the continued effectiveness of NATO and to establish a single system of service law for the Armed Forces.
In July, Her Majesty's Government will take over the presidency of the European Union and have pledged to,
"work to build an increasingly prosperous and secure Europe".
I believe that the UK and the EU have an abiding geo-political strategic interest in current developments in the Russian Federation and the republics of the former Soviet Union. We cannot have an increasingly prosperous and secure Europe whilst ignoring the problems on our extended eastern border.
The EU now stretches from the Baltic to the Black Sea, encompassing much of the USSR's old "near abroad" and Russia itself. For better or worse, the challenges of the countries of the former Soviet Union, including central Asia, are now our challenges. In a globalised and shrinking world, there is nowhere for the EU to hide. This is not simply because your Lordships should be concerned about the spread or retreat of democracy for its own sake, but also due to a range of issues where Europe and Eurasia's interests coincide. These include environmental matters, energy supplies, nuclear non-proliferation, the war against terror, the development of open market economies, dismantling protectionism and eradicating poverty and disease. Allied with these are combating organised crime, corruption, money-laundering and drug and people trafficking.
The recent fifteenth EU-Russia summit took place in Moscow on
But in reality, progress on all of those areas has been slow. The Moscow summit set out ambitions for co-operation, rather than establishing a concrete agreement. Plans were made to step-up co-ordination in international diplomacy and to make visa rules simpler for travel between the EU and Russia. President Putin's support for the EU's stance towards negotiating with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, and Russia's role in backing a Syrian withdrawal from the Lebanon, are to be welcomed.
Elsewhere, results have been disappointing. Some commentators point to EU-Russian relations being at a post-Soviet low, and the reason is not surprising. Internally, Russia is backsliding on the limited democratic gains made since the collapse of the USSR, recently referred to by President Putin as "the greatest geo-political catastrophe" of the 20th century.
With all national television channels in government hands, and a largely supine opposition and media, the Kremlin's centralising and authoritarian tendencies continue to grow. From Moscow's viewpoint, the recently relatively peaceful revolutions in Kyrgyzstan, the Ukraine and Georgia are a geo-political setback in its own backyard and sphere of influence. The expansion of EU and NATO, including the Baltic states, is seen more as a threat than an opportunity.
President Vladimir Putin's moves to appoint governors and scrap independent MPs' mandates is seen as another heavy-handed attempt to assert authority from the centre, to impose the power "vertikal". And of course the bloodshed in Chechnya continues without respite.
The trial of Mikhail Khordorkovsky—it is still ongoing and we await the announcement of the verdict—and the dismemberment of the Yukos oil company, previously the country's most successful and westernised energy company, is another example of political expediency triumphing over economic logic. The result has been a reversal of the previous positive capital inflows and a decline in growth and investment. The Kremlin has torpedoed its own goal of doubling GDP by 2010.
What started as a move to rein in an over-mighty and presumptions oligarch, one of a select group to benefit from the dubious privatisations of the 1990s, has descended into a free-for-all to divide the spoils among Kremlin insiders.
In these circumstances, only the truly hardy will invest in Russia. Moscow's trump card remains its energy resources. Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter and the largest exporter of natural gas. The EU is Russia's largest trading partner, while the Russian Federation supplies more than 40 per cent of Germany's natural gas and one third of Europe's oil and gas in total.
There is a danger that western energy companies and governments will overlook Russia's internal problems in order to extract its natural resources. Those who do invest, as BP-TNK has recently discovered after facing a billion-dollar tax demand, need iron nerves and a long-term perspective. Germany, France and Italy should avoid courting Moscow at the expense of a coherent EU-wide strategy towards Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Nowhere is the dilemma of the West's relationship with Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union as painfully apparent as in Uzbekistan. Reports indicate that more than 700 Uzbeks were killed by their own security forces in the east of the country in recent days.
The war against terror notwithstanding, the EU and the United States should remain united in condemning human rights abuses perpetrated by President Islam Karimov's regime and his government in Tashkent. The US and the EU should also support calls by the UN for an independent investigation into the alleged massacre of citizens in Andijan. Russia takes a different view. Even so, democracy, freedom and the right to life itself are universal rights which should be upheld even where it may prove uncomfortable to do so.
My Lords, the Government have recently published the 461-page report on the Commission for Africa—full of ideas and proposals, but remarkable for the fact that the word "Zimbabwe" appears only three times and the country is not discussed at all, and yet the formula for good governance which it presents exactly fits what Zimbabwe was until only four or five years ago. I wonder how the Government intend to implement this report, which is likely to form the basis of our policy and actions when we go to the G8 meeting and for a long time after. How do the Government intend to negotiate with the African Union on the many demands which NePAD makes of us? How do they intend to bring the whole issue of Zimbabwe into the open in the UN and to try to ensure that expensive, often incompetent, sometimes corrupt collections of UN organisations do what they were created to do? We need to take a long, hard look at the long-term damage this Government's policies are likely to do to our foreign relations.
Her Majesty's Government recently announced that nine embassies and high commissions are to be closed by 2006 and that 21 consulates are also to be closed. All this to raise £6 million per annum towards an overall target of £86 million to be saved. In addition, 60 to 70 members of the "senior management structure" have agreed to retire early. It is interesting that DfID's budget for Africa alone for 2003–04 was £357 million. That did not include the generous aid it gave to Zimbabwe under the UN umbrella. DfID alone has 348 UK-based staff in post abroad and in all but one country it has its own DfID in-country offices with their own administration.
In answer to a Written Question in another place about the number of visits to those missions, it was stated that visits,
"are a frequent and routine aspect of programme management and administrative support to DfID overseas offices . . . To obtain the information requested would incur a disproportionate cost".—[Hansard, Commons 4/4/05; col. 1198W.]
I wonder whether the FCO has a decent visits budget.
I greatly respect the work of DfID, but it needs to complement, not replace, a diplomatic presence. It is fashionable to say, as the Guardian did on
"the role of ambassadors as a primary source of political intelligence about many countries was long ago overtaken by the advent of the global media village and the Internet. In many parts of Africa British ambassadors work more as an extension for the Department for International Development than they do for the Foreign Office. It should not be difficult to envisage a time when lost or stolen British passports, currently the property of Her Majesty's Government, could be dealt with collectively along with stray German and French passports by a European Union consulate".
In negotiating with the African countries over NePAD, Her Majesty's Government will need experienced political assessment on the ground as well as at home. African countries, like any others, have leaders in governments. It is they, not the man in the street, who make the policy and to whom we need to relate, and that is the Ambassador's job. They have been pretty good at it for a long time.
There are other important and serious consequences of this Treasury-driven short-term policy of destroying a major human investment—experienced diplomats. While the Treasury has been forcing through sales of assets—it even wanted to sell the Paris Embassy—and making serious losses, it has apparently forgotten the many lucrative contracts which are secured year after year by excellent commercial departments in embassies. You do not secure these through telephone calls and the media. If the idea is to rely in future on the proposed EU missions, I beg leave to doubt whether even the most high-minded Belgian, or Hungarian, or Portuguese would feel any obligation to advance our economic and commercial interests when a contract is in view.
Turning to the question of our influence in the world, so long represented abroad by the FCO, has it occurred to the Government that all those small countries in the Pacific and in Africa have votes at the UN? The French have not made this mistake, and China is rapidly establishing posts in both the Pacific and Africa. The Government think, I am told, that in Africa, and no doubt elsewhere, they can close small missions and operate from "hub embassies", flying someone in from time to time. When civil war breaks out, it is not possible to conduct the evacuation of British subjects from a war zone without good local contacts—I can vouch for that—and in any case the first thing today's aggressors do is to close the airport.
The same considerations hold for natural disasters like the tsunami. Are we going to expect locally engaged employees, however trusted and committed, to hold supplies of blank British passports and consular seals in an unprotected private residence to look after the British tourist when he has lost his passport and his money? It will not take long for either criminals or terrorists to acquire those passports through theft or threats.
The Government should not allow that priceless asset, knowledge and experience, to be thrown away. Those 70 ambassadors are going just when they should and could be of most value and at the peak of their powers. Many of our most successful Arabists—we have one in this House—and Sinologists first served in the area as young diplomats and made friends. When they returned as heads of mission, they had natural access to the holders of power whom they had known as young men. May I warn the Government that in squandering a long-term investment just when it should be most valuable, they are sending a signal to young men and women who might seek a challenging and rewarding, though always poorly paid, diplomatic career? They will see how little such a career is now valued, and the same is true of those who once wished to enter the public service but now see that it is better to join McKinsey because they are the people to whom the Government listen and the people whom the Government respect.
As they had really effective contacts within the US Administration and, above all, in the UN, two experienced senior diplomats, Nikko Henderson and Anthony Parsons, played a critical role for their country at the time of the Argentine attack on the Falklands. That is what good diplomacy is about, and we cannot afford to lose such people, such relationships and, indeed, such a tradition. Implementing the many recommendations of the report on Africa without that expertise will, I suggest, be very difficult. It is worth remembering, too, that embassies contain defence attachés, and the commission report envisages, as well as the African Union's own army, the deployment of EU battlegroups to Africa under UN/African Union direction.
It is especially unfortunate that we shall, at a stroke, have lost several potential supporters in the UN, including two African countries, by showing them how little we value the relationship when we need all the support we can get both to counter-balance the growing power of China in Africa and elsewhere—the impotence of the UN in Darfur is one result—and to call some of the UN agencies to account on the floor of the General Assembly for their almost complete failure to tell the world what is happening in Zimbabwe.
The UN is represented in force there by at least three major agencies—UNICEF, the UNDP and the UNHCR. All are active and claim good relations with the Government. DfID gives considerable sums to Zimbabwe through these UN organisations. The UNDP, whose remit is democratic governance, is funding such enterprises as a project for strengthening national capacity for disaster management to help the Government to support local communities to be better prepared for disasters and more effective in responding when they occur—an interesting approach considering that the disasters are being created largely by the Government.
Moreover, the UNDP has just, with the Zimbabwe Government, carried out a survey of 32,000 households to assess and monitor human and income poverty and to produce a national poverty reduction strategy—very interesting. The UNDP is, incidentally, very happy with the Mugabe Government's support for International Women's Day, demonstrated at a symposium by Comrade Joyce Mujuru about a month before the police broke up a peaceful demonstration by women in Harare—not for the first time.
However, the UNDP has unfortunately been unable to prevent legislation for the closing of all humanitarian NGOs receiving help or support from outside Zimbabwe. I hope that the Government will urge the UNDP to carry out a country report, as it has just done in Iraq—an excellent one, incidentally—and publish it widely.
In its 2003 report, the UNHCR made the amazing statement that,
"the tense political situation persisted, but no outflows of Zimbabwe refugees were recorded".
The sections on Mozambique and Botswana recorded only refugees from Somalia, Angola, the DRC and Rwanda-Burundi. However, in a recent letter to me, the UNHCR recorded that there are 8,466 asylum seekers in South Africa but very few were granted refugee status. The UNHCR evidently does not count refugees unless they are officially identified—for example, in UN camps.
UNICEF, however, has recently publicised the terrible plight of children in Zimbabwe and called urgently for action. Now that the report of the African Union's own African Commission on Human and People's Rights of 2002 has been adopted by the AU itself, it is surely time, with the support of the AU, to secure a full public debate in the UN on the various UN reports on the situation in Zimbabwe. That country would not be surviving without extensive humanitarian aid channelled through the UN, and Mugabe is never backward in claiming his rights as a member of that body to travel to all UN events.
So long as even a statement of concern about the situation is blocked in the UN by China and Algeria on the grounds that it does not belong on the agenda of the Security Council, which, they contend, deals only with international peace and security, the existence of the UN and its extensive network of UN bodies is, I submit, a mockery; so, also, is the recent election of Zimbabwe to the UNHCR. I read that Kofi Annan is to visit Zimbabwe. I hope that we are not to see another Munich.
My Lords, in the nature of things, the gracious Speech is something of a series of brief bullet points, but many of them are to be welcomed—in particular, the EU constitution referendum Bill, although the next few weeks will reveal to us whether or not it continues to be entirely relevant. I suspect that we on these Benches give a particular welcome to the legislation for the treaty of accession of Bulgaria and Romania, given that both those countries had liberal Prime Ministers—Simeon Saxecoburggotski and Calin Tariceanu—negotiating the entry process.
Moves to address the situation in Africa, briefly referred to in the gracious Speech, are welcome, although of course the situation is profoundly problematic. I must confess that I do not entirely share the views of the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Southwell that many of the problems there are caused by trade liberalisation. It seems to me that much of the problem consists in the lack of liberalisation on our own part in the European Union and in the United States. If we were prepared not only to insist that others open their markets but to open our markets, that trade liberalisation more widely felt would be a blessing to all. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will use the opportunity of the presidency of the EU and the chairmanship of the G8 to press for greater liberalisation on our own part, rather than merely expecting it of others.
It is also the case that a huge problem in all these countries is corruption and poor governance. When the right reverend Prelate speaks about such countries having the right to make their own decisions in their own best interests, he is of course, in theory, right. The difficulty is that many of the decisions taken by the rulers of those countries are taken not in the best interests of the countries but in the short-term and frequently malign interests of their rulers. That is a very real problem that we must confront.
The conflict in the Middle East also rated a mention as a very high priority of the Government. That is important because it is such a central feature of the difficulties in our world. But it will not be sufficient simply to wish well and give encouragement to the two partisans—the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. From all our experience and from all the research—perhaps particularly in Northern Ireland—it is absolutely clear that a robust process must be constructed to ensure that, when things go awry, as they always regularly do, there is a process which can hold people together through the ups and downs and which involves the outsiders that are an important part. The United States, of course, the European Union and the frontline Arab states all have to be part of a robust process. I just do not see such a process at this juncture, and I do not think that simply wishing in the post-Arafat period that things will work out will bring the kind of success that we want to see.
Often when we think about reform of the United Nations, we imagine it to be reform of an organisation. In many ways, it is an attempt to reform an institutionalised process. The UN is really the process of multilateralism. When we talk about reforming and improving that, we are certainly talking about something important, but I hope that we are talking about it realistically and that some of the things that we want to see will come to pass. I hope that China will not use a veto to keep out Japan and that Pakistan will not try to rally support to keep India away from permanent membership.
Real problems have to be confronted, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government's position on the extension of the Security Council is not merely a rhetorical one but one that we can hope to deliver on. In recent times, I have been concerned about the lack of deep reflection and thought in some of the positions taken. For example, it seems to me that there is an assumption that all those who adopt the tactic of terrorism throughout the world are somehow related and on the same side—and, by the way, on the same side as anyone else who happens to be an enemy of ours. If, for example, I regard Saddam Hussein as my enemy and al-Qaeda as potentially attacking me, that does not mean that I am about to be attacked by Saddam Hussein or that he is aiding al-Qaeda. However, if we treat them as a common enemy, we should not be surprised if at some point along the road they end up making common cause, in which case, all we will have succeeded in doing is making a bad situation worse by not thinking through the matter in a clear way.
Another example is weapons of mass destruction. We talk about them as though they were all the same thing. Chemical, biological and radiological diffusion devices are all very dangerous, but they are not the same thing as nuclear bombs. Chemical, biological and radiological diffusion devices can destroy many people and communities, but nuclear bombs have the capacity to destroy whole civilisations. Apart from something like a one kilotonne fizzle bomb, the likelihood of a terrorist organisation using a major nuclear bomb, as distinct from chemical or biological weapons, is a very different matter.
By confusing state and non-state actors, different technologies and different people coming from different places, we do not help to clarify the problems in our own mind, which is something that we need to do. It is clear that with chemical, biological and radiological devices we need to implement many of the safeguards that are already there. When it comes to nuclear bombs, it is clear that we no longer have the structure to address them. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is no longer an adequate mechanism to deal with that difficulty.
The decision by Iran on uranium enrichment and the announcement by North Korea on plutonium rods are very worrying. I suspect that they look at Iraq and ask themselves the question, "If Iraq had been a fully equipped nuclear power, would it have been attacked in quite the same way?". I fear that the judgment to which they have come is that to protect themselves—Iraq did not have the capacity to protect itself—they must become nuclear powers with weapons that they can use. If that is one of the long-term consequences of the approach taken on Iraq, it would be very serious. We have to find a way of dealing with such matters, but pre-emption is not the way to address them. Getting one's retaliation in first is not a way of preventing conflict; it may very well be a mechanism for stimulating it.
We are in a new environment in which the old ways do not work. The old approach to deterrence was state against state. One could see a degree of equivalence, but we are now in an asymmetric world. The threat of some of the most serious terrorist attacks does not come from people who are resident, or in some cases have been resident, in some of the countries to which we are pointing. The recent research on 400 and more salafi jihad operatives shows that they are from the diaspora. Most of them have been living in western Europe, so if an attack is launched by some of them on a facility in the United States of America, where will be attacked? People in the United States know that although such people have been living in Europe, they cannot attack Europe, so the notion is developing that although a state has sponsored an attack, it is any state that has not satisfied the United States' position on WMD that is open to attack. We face profoundly serious consequences, largely because there has not been sufficient thinking through of the process, the threats and the approach.
That is also true for some of our defence preparations. I understand and see the necessity for the attraction of shiny, new machinery, expensive and inspiring—indeed, awe-inspiring—technological advances. However, the most important pieces of conflict resolution and peace-building technology come with people. When it is a matter of making a difference, we have to train people; when it is a matter of intelligence, it is clear to me from my experience in Northern Ireland that one needs people much more than just technology. If we cut back on people, whether in embassies, or military personnel or other operatives, we make a serious mistake because people are absolutely key to all this.
When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, speak earlier about the worrying threat of state against state confrontation, everywhere from north-east Asia to the Middle East, and of intra-state problems everywhere from Nepal to west Africa, I found myself sharing his concern that we are moving into, and are already in, dangerous times. The response to that should not be the emotional one of being frightened by terror or frightening situations, but that your Lordships' House should be used by Her Majesty's Government to reflect on matters before proceeding rather than coming to report on matters that have already been undertaken.
My Lords, there has been something rather surrealistic about the recent general election campaign. Despite the fact that it has been about the choice of a government for a country which has the fourth largest economy in the world, which has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and which is a leading player in the European Union, almost nothing of any significance or novelty was said by any of the three main parties about international affairs or about the foreign policy of the country which they aspired to lead. That is not because there is broad national consensus on those matters—far from it.
Over the future of the European Union and Britain's role within it there is a sharp and fundamental divide between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats on the one hand, which favour endorsement of the EU's constitutional treaty, and the Conservative Party on the other hand, which would reject that treaty and seek to renegotiate substantial parts of our EU obligations.
On Iraq, where opinions are divided differently, but where they are every bit as sharp, the debate has focused almost exclusively on events that took place over two years ago and in a setting which related more to domestic politics than to the fate of the country in question or to the paralysis of the UN Security Council at the moment of decision.
Yet within a few months, crucial decisions will need to be taken which will affect the future development and effectiveness of two organisations, the EU and the UN, through which much of our foreign policy is now transacted. The European Union faces a daunting obstacle posed by the successive referendums being held to ratify the constitutional treaty and possibly, although by no means certainly, by the need to respond to a negative vote in one or more member states.
The UN, at the summit meeting called for September in New York—I welcome the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, to that very important meeting—will need to take decisions based on the reform proposals now on the table, or risk being increasingly pushed into the margin of events. Meanwhile, neither organisation can afford to focus exclusively on those systemic issues; each faces a huge and pressing daily agenda. In both, Britain, as EU and G8 presidency, has an important role to play and potential to affect the outcome either negatively or positively.
The EU's constitutional treaty is clearly living dangerously, with opinion polls in three of the countries where referendums are being held—France, the Netherlands and the UK—pointing to at least the possibility of rejection. Having carefully studied the text of the treaty and the useful, detailed commentary provided on it by the Government—I thank the Government very warmly for the documents that so far have been provided—I agree with my noble friend Lord Williamson that much more needs to be provided, but I believe that they have made a good start.
I am in no doubt that it is in the European Union's and in Britain's interest that that treaty be ratified and that it should enter into force. While it is not substantively the most ambitious step the European Union has ever taken—the founding treaties, the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and successive enlargements can all be said to have been of greater significance—it is, however, of great symbolic importance. It lays down a much clearer and more satisfactory basis for the future development of the Union than has ever existed hitherto. It moves forward in areas such as asylum and immigration and the common foreign and security policy, where the need for stronger common policies has been clearly demonstrated; it re-shapes the institutional balance to give more strategic direction from the European Council; it provides a role for national parliaments where none previously existed; and it does all that without making any changes to the need for unanimity in key areas such as taxation, the cap on spending, further treaty changes and the admission of new members.
What if there is a negative vote in one or more of the countries holding referendums? To discuss that now is neither to show a hankering for such an outcome, nor to put forward some theoretical plan B which would be a perfectly satisfactory alternative to plan A. No such plan B exists.
The rejection of the treaty would be a major setback, but, if it were to occur, it is important that the reaction to it should not further damage the Union and lead to even greater disunity than the divide over ratification would already have demonstrated. I cannot believe that it would be a realistic proposition to expect a member state which had voted "no", by however small a margin, to reverse that decision in a second vote in the near future.
The circumstances under which that particular course was successfully pursued in earlier cases in the instances of Denmark and Ireland—with relatively modest measures of reassurance on a very limited number of national concerns and with no change to the text of the treaties being ratified—are unlikely to be applicable on this occasion. Nor do I believe that it would make sense to attempt an early renegotiation of the treaty. The text encapsulates a whole mass of hard-won compromises, the reopening of which would be far more likely to lead to discord than to agreement.
Thirdly, I do not believe it is wise to seek to insist that countries further down the referendum chain continue that process. I notice that those advocating this course are generally from countries which are not holding referendums—asking other people's electorates to dive into empty swimming pools does not seem to me likely to prove very constructive.
So what would be the best way to proceed? First, the European Union will need to demonstrate that it is not going to lapse into a prolonged period of introspection and divided councils. Unity will be at a premium. That is a strong argument, if one were needed, against putting forward ideas of core or pioneer groups. It will also require that the European Union does not just use words about unity but actually reaches decisions on a whole range of subjects, from the completion of the single market and the Lisbon agenda, through the budget limits for the next seven years, to further enlargement and the pressing issues on the foreign policy agenda—Iran, the Middle East peace process and the revitalisation of the United Nations—and the need to steer the Doha round of trade negotiations to a successful conclusion.
At the same time the European Union will need to go on adapting itself and its institutions, as it has done so often in the past, by means that fall short of the requirement for treaty change and ratification. Why should the Commission, for example, not give national parliaments an opportunity to comment on draft legislation and accept—voluntarily and not under legal obligation—to reconsider their proposals if a third or more of national parliaments were to make objections on the grounds of subsidiarity? It may—indeed, I sincerely hope it will—be that none of this will be necessary. But there is surely no harm in beginning to think these matters through.
Then there is the process of UN reform, on which the Secretary-General has now drawn together the threads of the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and of the review of the millennium development goals established in 2000 for the period up to 2015. He has set out an ambitious but well argued agenda for decision at the September summit in New York. What is needed here is to make progress on a broad front, avoiding talk of artificial trade-offs between security and development but nevertheless recognising that the two are closely interlinked. It will be important too to avoid being distracted by the oil-for-food imbroglio which, in truth, merely underlines the case for UN reform.
If it becomes clear nearer the time that a proposal such as that for the enlargement of the Security Council cannot in the short term make progress, it is critical that that is not used as a pretext for stalling other reforms whose validity and viability are not dependent on enlargement.
If the UN can move forward by agreeing a comprehensive strategy against terrorism along the lines suggested by the Secretary-General in his March speech in Madrid and can reach agreement on a definitive outlawing of all terrorist acts targeting non-combatants; if a peace-building commission can be established to plug the gap in the UN's armoury for dealing with failed and failing states and post-conflict peace-building; if multi-layered improvements in the various regimes preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction can be put in place; if co-operation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organisations can be put on a sounder and better-funded basis; if guidelines for considering the use of force and the responsibility to protect those whose governments are either unwilling or unable to protect them themselves can be settled; if a better flow of resources, and new instruments for mobilising those resources to help development, check pandemic diseases and roll back world poverty can be guaranteed; if progress can be made towards establishing a sounder basis for dealing with human rights abuses; if these policy changes can be made then the revitalisation of the United Nations will be on the right track. It may sound a tall order to look for all that, but that is the measure of the challenges that the UN and its members face.
The two main areas of policy I have addressed have considerable overlaps. When the Prime Minister goes to New York in September he will do so not only on behalf of this country but as the president of the European Union. When he presides over the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in July he will also be representing the European Union and he will be handling a whole range of subjects that will crucially affect the outcome of the New York summit; and when he assumes the presidency of the EU in July, the handling of that job will influence the future development of the Union and its constitutional arrangements. So a lot is at stake; and both opportunities and risks are there in profusion.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the gracious Speech. I am also glad to be able to welcome my noble friends Lord Drayson and Lord Triesman to their new posts. They have hard acts to follow, but I am sure they will be very worthy successors—although personally, I shall miss my noble friend Lord Treisman on employment.
I have previously spoken on Iraq. I opposed our entry into that conflict and I continue to do so today. I know that the Government want us all to move on from Iraq, but it is not going to be easy. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said that he would not take a Labour victory as indicating a vindication of his decision to go to war, and that he respects the views of those who took a contrary position.
Many have said that it was not an issue on the doorsteps during the election campaign. That might have been so in some areas; it certainly was not the case where I live and where I was very active throughout the campaign. It was repeatedly raised. Our MP had consistently and vocally opposed the war. By emphasising that we were able to get her returned with a good majority. We are left with the results of the decision to go to war and the debris that it has left behind.
The insurgency continues. There are horrifying incidents every day. There is an elected government—of sorts—but they do not seem to be accepted by the section of the population that boycotted the election. It is said that some of the leading activists—the suicide bombers in particular—are from outside Iraq, but it also appears that there is a substructure to the insurgency that is being provided by the Iraqis themselves.
There is not much reporting in depth because I understand that it is too dangerous for reporters to get out and about to report what is happening. There are, no doubt, criminal elements that have tacked themselves on to the insurgency, but if the main cause of the incidents, which continue to cost so many innocent lives, is the presence of the coalition forces, because they are seen as a foreign occupying force, those forces are not providing a solution, they are the major part of the problem.
There are a number of other matters which are a cause for concern. The world was shocked by the photographs of the abuses of Iraqi civilian prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. We know that certain individuals from the US have been charged, but what has happened to the prisoners? How many such prisoners are still held by coalition forces? Are they to be charged? What is their fate?
What of others arrested who were said to be close to the previous regime? They include two women scientists, one of whom qualified in this country. They could not have been involved in the production of illegal weapons of mass destruction, as there were none. Are they being charged and, if so, with what? If they are not to be charged, why do they remain in custody?
Then there is the matter of Iraqi casualties. Of course I understand that circumstances may make it difficult for accurate figures to be obtained and those from the Iraqi Government do not cover the full period from the commencement of the war, but it is surely necessary to try to find out. Even more important, what steps are being taken to ensure that those who are injured receive treatment and those bereaved are properly cared for? As we know, Fallujah was almost completely destroyed. What happened to the inhabitants? Those are questions that no one seems to ask, yet the coalition forces, of which we are a major part, have responsibility as the occupying force.
From time to time, I have asked about compensation for the victims of the war—the civilian victims. On
My noble friend Lady Symons responded that that was a tragic situation but there was no entitlement to compensation under international law. She did, however, say that victims, as well as sympathy, should have any help that we can give. Of course we accepted what my noble friend said about legal entitlement, but it was clear that she felt that there was a moral obligation. I think so too. Surely, whether or not people were in favour of the war—and it is clear that a sizable proportion of the UK electorate was not—there is an obligation on us to do whatever we can to assist the innocent victims of this conflict. What is being done and by whom? It cannot simply be left to the new government in Iraq.
I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Drayson said about the steps being taken in reconstruction but, so far, that is a rather broad brush approach—although I understand why, in such a long speech, it had to be.
I and, I am sure, many others, would like to know what is happening to the people directly concerned. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but a secular tyrant. That meant that he did not apply Sharia law and, under his regime, the position of women in Iraq was to some degree better than in many other Arab regimes where Sharia law is heavily applied. It meant that women had access to education and, to some degree, participated in public life—or, at least, some of them did.
The war and subsequent conflict have seen the emergence of a strain of Islamic fundamentalism that bodes ill for women who are opposed to the repression that that entails. According to some reports that I have read, women are beginning to organise against that. They should be given all possible assistance.
As I said earlier, I believe the Iraq venture to have been terribly mistaken. Many will say that it has got rid of Saddam—otherwise, he would still be there. My response to that is that I long ago gave up believing, if I ever did, that the end always justifies the means. The means in this case were horrific, for that is what modern warfare is for those, nearly always innocent civilians, caught up in it on the ground.
I hope that there will therefore be no more foreign adventures at the behest of President Bush. I am glad that the Prime Minister has stated categorically that there will be no invasion of Iran and that the UN route is to be pursued in regard to Iran's alleged nuclear weapons activities. That is very important, as there appears to be a vocal opposition active in Iran to which many women who are opposed to oppression by the mullahs give their support. They want international support but are emphatic that it must not be by military means.
One member of the Iranian opposition has written an interesting article in the current issue of New Humanist magazine. He states:
"I believe we cannot achieve democracy by means of an invasion. We must grow it ourselves, through civil society, participation in social and political affairs—not through military force".
It is clear that they do not want a repeat of Iraq.
Finally, we should do all that we can to strengthen the United Nations; I am glad that the gracious Speech refers to that. No doubt the UN has its flaws, but it is all that we have. The problem is that important and influential people in the United States, commonly known as the neo-cons, are doing their best to undermine the UN and its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. That is because they believe in the right of the United States to do whatever they like. They have no concern at all for international law.
Fortunately, not all US senators feel the same way, hence the recent opposition to the President's nominee for the post of United States ambassador to the UN. Such influence as we have should be brought to bear in support of those who believe in the UN and in maintaining friendly and non-combative relations with the rest of the world.
As to Iraq, we ought to be working to devise an exit strategy for our troops. In that respect, I welcome the impressive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, who made detailed reference to that. The UN mandate runs out at the end of this year. We should work to a timetable to try to withdraw our troops by then, but other, constructive assistance should be made available under the auspices of the UN. I welcome the commitment by my noble friend Lord Drayson that that is one of the Government's objectives.
My Lords, what a treat it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I shall follow her not just on Iraq but possibly on many other aspects of the Armed Forces. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his appointment and wish him well. Earlier today, on the Benches just over his left shoulder, he may have seen his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who I hope will soon be the chairman of the All-Party Defence Study Group. I am at present its secretary and hope to be able to carry on in that capacity. It is in that humble capacity that I speak from the Back Benches with enormous interest in defence matters and support for every man and woman who is serving today all over the world.
As the Minister and others will be well aware, decisions taken today—this month, this year—continue for the next five or 10 years and even beyond. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, has already referred to carriers. My noble friend Lord Luke is much more alert to and specialised in that aspect than I, so I shall not go on, but those carriers require a great deal of support from arms and logistics. I am pretty sure that it will be the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who will be at the front end, responsible for logistics support.
As for the Army, there will doubtless be for this year and five or 10 years ahead the question of armour. Do tanks have a role? If so, what will they be doing? Our group visited the Household Cavalry regiment at Windsor. Quite apart from the traditional aspect of riding and equitation, we were able to see a demonstration of armoured reconnaissance, which was a great lesson to me and my colleagues. My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever will be back; he has much greater knowledge of the Life Guards, the Household Cavalry and armoured reconnaissance then I.
Decisions about helicopters for the Army will also have to be taken and fine-tuned—not just attack helicopters, anti-tank helicopters, but what I might call battlefield taxis. That is why it was nice to hear the Minister refer to what I think he called the fleet, as a fleet manager transporting Armed Forces personnel and equipment all round the battlefield. That will be one aspect of his responsibilities.
All that is tied up with the defence budget and finance. Defence budgets tend to get decided and spoken about in your Lordships' House. We receive handouts; indeed, my little library in my office is stuffed full of glossy brochures with fancy names, such as Options for Change, Strategic Defence Review and other marvellous things. They tend to say the same things, but if you take a careful look, you will find that they are very much restricted by the budget. These tend to be followed by pearls of wisdom in your Lordships' House, especially during specialised debates on defence.
I return to a subject close to my heart: the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. Over the past 32 years I have been lucky to be a member of the House of Lords All-Party Defence Study Group. Over those years I have noticed enormous changes: first, it is interesting that the senior ranks are now a little younger than me; secondly, all the ranks are immensely professional, articulate and bright.
My noble friend Lord Freeman referred to national service—indeed, I was among those who participated. Forty-eight years ago I was trained, along with 16 other young men, by Sergeant Clements of the Coldstream Guards, known as Kiwi, because it was said that he gave everything, including us, a spit and polish. Within eight weeks he had turned us into soldiers. I was lucky then to go to officer cadet training, an incredible course that in 16 weeks turned young soldiers into platoon commanders. That system worked during the Second World War, it worked very well in Korea and extraordinarily well in Malaya, with 18 and 19 year-olds doing their duty for two years as professional soldiers. I spent 16 weeks at Eaton Hall in Chester, where I was guided by the father of the Second Principal Doorkeeper, Mr Blood. There is an enormous thread through your Lordships' House that has drilled me, a civilian, a young Scot, to become a soldier.
When the All-Party Defence Study Group visited the Household Cavalry at Windsor we had great difficulty restraining my noble friend Lord Renton from getting on a horse and repeating his equitation course of the 1930s, but we also saw the enormous professionalism involved in armoured reconnaissance, to which I have referred and on which my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever will be able to elaborate.
In 2002, my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Attlee and I had the enormous good fortune to visit the special forces at Poole, a chance given to very few members of the public, let alone parliamentarians. Those two aspects gave my colleagues and me a chance to see the vast range of disciplines in all services, including combined or joint services, of the British Army. There is one essential element in these disciplines: all the men and women are soldiers. They are not mere drivers or specialists; they must have basic military skills.
The Minister referred to an "f" word: flexibility. He is right; you must be flexible as a soldier. I give him my old acronym: FIBUA, which means "fighting in built-up areas". He referred to the flexibility in the reorganisation of the infantry in December. No army can do anything without first-class infantrymen, and I pay my respects to them. My case has been made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who referred to the reduction in the infantry battalions. There might have been a reasonable case for that but I have my doubts. The Minister need not worry: this is not a party line; it has been argued for up to 20 years. My late noble friend Lord Vivian referred to the issue of the budget. Reducing four infantry battalions because the arms plot is to be done away with is fine, but I take the Minister back to April 1982, when overnight we had to send an expeditionary force to the Falklands. Having reduced four battalions, would we have that capacity today? We might do it, but it would be extremely difficult.
I had something to say on recruiting but thankfully the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, has dealt with it. I had the enormous good luck earlier this week to see another incredibly important element of a first-class British Army. I had the marvellous chance to meet the Major General Commanding London District; the Garrison Sergeant Major, a terrifying soldier; and the Commanding Officer of the First Battalion Irish Guards, all of whom were stationed five minutes' walk from here. They were doing ceremonial duties, but in a twinkling of an eye all those men, and the women who support them, might well be in action.
For all Scots Guardsmen, including me and my family,
I say to the Minister: do your duty, just as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who has sat here throughout the debate—I do not know why—did. In two instances we had quiet words with her and she took two courses of action—on HMS "Sheffield" and with the First Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers—that were enormously welcomed. She has perhaps not been mentioned in today's debate but I add my enormous gratitude to her and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and wish everybody in the Armed Forces well.
My Lords, it will not surprise noble Lords if I fail where my noble friend Lord Williamson of Horton claims to have succeeded, in becoming typecast by choosing again today to talk about Israel and Palestine, particularly since it threatens to become a forgotten issue in the welter of press coverage on Iraq, central Asia, the tsunami and Africa. Not long before he died, my former boss, Lord Callaghan, sent me a message warning me not to become a one-issue man. But I have chosen again to talk about this issue today because the future of Palestine has serious implications, not only for the peace, security and prosperity of Palestinians and Israelis, but also for our political and economic interests throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world. I therefore welcome the assurance in the gracious Speech that peace in the Middle East will remain one of the Government's highest priorities.
An article in the Times last week claimed that Israelis and Palestinians are now enjoying the lowest level of violence since the second intifada began in September 2000. Israeli helicopter gunships have suspended their targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants, some checkpoints have been removed and Hamas has begun participating in the democratic process in the West Bank and in the Gaza elections.
But the underlying tensions still persist. As the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, said with masterly understatement, the situation remains fragile. Many Israelis continue to live in fear of a resurgence of suicide bombings, and the Palestinians, many of whom are deeply resentful of the deprivation in which they live, are still waiting to see the benefits of the road map, in which Ministers in the previous Parliament placed so much hope and apparent optimism.So what is the real situation on the ground, and to what extent has it improved the life and respected the human rights of ordinary Palestinians? Prime Minister Sharon's decision to remove some 7,500 settlers from Gaza was an act of extraordinary political courage and I hope that the Government are right to see it as an opportunity. But it will have raised expectations, not only among the Palestinians, that he is ready for the much more difficult decisions that will have to be taken over the 425,000 or so remaining Israeli settlers on the West Bank—
"a monster", as one Israeli newspaper put it,
"that is intent on rising up against its master".
I can understand why there should be a consensus, perhaps even including some Palestinians, that withdrawal from Gaza must be tackled first. But it is vital, if there is to be any real progress towards the two-state solution which all of us believe to be in the long-term interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike, that Gaza first does not mean Gaza last. Still less should it become a source of increased settlement in the West Bank. Even the very limited agreement to freeze settlement activity and to dismantle the illegal outposts created since March 2001 has not been implemented. On the contrary, Israel has substantially expanded her West Bank settlements since that time. The organisation Peace Now has reported that between March and June of last year, settlement expansion was under way in 73 locations in the West Bank. Israel's own Central Bureau of Statistics accepts that there was a 33 per cent increase in the sale of new units in West Bank settlements during the first half of last year. And an Israeli official has admitted that construction plans, turned down for the past two years, have now been approved by the Israeli Defence Minister.
Questions are sometimes raised about HMG's repeated statements, which I hope the Minister will confirm when he winds up this debate, that all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and east Jerusalem are a breach of international law under the terms of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. But an Israeli Government report by former state prosecutor Talia Sassoon claims that the failure to dismantle the 105 outposts in the West Bank, ones which even the Israeli Government accept to be illegal, is a breach not so much of international law, as of Israeli law.
So what has the United States reaction been to this activity or inactivity in blatant contravention of the road map? Last month President Bush gave a long overdue warning to Israel against,
"any activity that contravenes the road map or prejudices final status obligations".
In response, Mr Sharon renewed his commitment that Israel would "meet all its obligations". But how far has either of these commitments been translated into positive action?
Not only do we see continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank, the so-called "security fence" continues its march across Palestinian land. When or if the wall is completed, it is estimated that approximately 91 per cent of all West Bank settlements, and 98 per cent of its settlers, will have been effectively annexed into Israel. Of course in theory the wall can be removed once there is a political solution, but even British Ministers admitted last year that the sheer cost of the wall must be a powerful disincentive to removing it, and that it will become more and more difficult to withdraw as settlements continue to grow behind the wall.
And what is the quartet doing? Here again I sense that everyone is waiting for Gaza withdrawal. But that is simply not good enough. Is it not high time that Her Majesty's Government and our European partners in the quartet tried to inject some positive momentum into the road map process? I hope that when he comes to wind up the debate, the Minister will assure us that HMG will use the British presidency of both the EU and the G8 to move the peace process forward and to urge our American allies to take practical steps to achieve a viable two-state solution which all of us agree to be in the joint interest of Israel and the Palestinians alike. The quality of life, opportunities for trade and employment, the respect of human rights on the Palestinian side of the wall and their freedom of movement become daily more restricted, while the prospect of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state becomes daily less credible. Failure to act now to correct these injustices will be a source of shame for all of us in the future, and potentially disastrous for the future security of Israel.
In conclusion, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on his appointment to what I still regard as the best department in Whitehall, and his association with a service which a former foreign Minister, with a touch of condescension, described as,
"the second-best Diplomatic Service in the world".
I warmly endorse what was said about the service by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and I hope that the Minister will enjoy his time with it.
Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for the courteous, professional and helpful way in which she dealt with some very difficult issues in foreign affairs during her time on the Front Bench.
My Lords, these are the first-ever words I have uttered in public on the subject of the war in Iraq. In truth, I have also said rather few words in private, if only to preserve domestic peace and the amity of my closest friends. Those have required me to remain silent for a lot of the time. I want to come back to the subject today not to rake over the coals or to replay history, but because I think that some lessons have yet to be learnt from what we have been through over Iraq. They are lessons more about the style in which we conduct the kind of debate that occurred nationally over Iraq than about the content.
My reluctance to speak will, I am sure, be understandable to everyone who knows the depth of experience and knowledge of foreign affairs in this House and the depth of my ignorance. I owe the little I know to a brief year as political adviser to Tony Crosland in the Foreign Office where I had the good fortune to be taught by, among others, the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Williamson, and others whom I see in the Chamber today. I felt that ignorance probably counselled silence.
Perhaps more relevant to what I want to pursue this afternoon is the fact that I found it amazingly difficult to make up my mind on what I thought about the war. The arguments on all sides were extremely compelling, but the shortage of information on which to base the view one took was severe, and I found it jolly difficult. I can remember what my position was on the day that the decision was taken. It was 51:49 as follows: I thought that the Americans were making a mistake by going in without a second UN resolution, but on the whole I was inclined to think that it would be best for us to go with them in the hope of exercising some limited moderating influence. That was my position, although I could have taken any number of others. But there was great doubt in my mind.
Like all Members of the House, I try to follow public affairs, but the "Not Very Sure, Don't Know" party went totally unrepresented in the debate we held as a country. I blame that on our polarised national politics, where people take partisan positions and are reluctant to diverge from them. I also blame it on developments in my own profession; namely, the media. Someone cannot take part in a phone-in programme and say, "I am not sure what to think about Iraq" or "There is something to be said for the Prime Minister's position and something to be said for the other side". One has to go in with an absolutely hard attitude, however little it may be based in research and fact.
Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, in his place has reminded me of a remark made by another distinguished editor of the Times. When approached in the newsroom by a junior reporter who wished to explain what would be the correct line for the paper to take on one of the great issues of the day, the editor drew himself up to his not very full height and said, "Listen, laddie, when I want yer opinion I'll give it to ye". To some extent, we have found it hard as a society to accept a position where we take the lead from those who have greater knowledge and somehow the worship of demos—in particular by the media—has gone too far. That concludes the first point I want to make.
My second point is that there were two bases for the war—weapons of mass destruction and getting rid of Saddam. As regards the first of those, the fact that a decision turns out to be wrong does not make it a wrong decision. Decisions have to be made without the benefit of hindsight and on the facts as they are known at the time.
As I came to the position that I took, it seemed to me that Saddam almost certainly had weapons of mass destruction. That was not because I had seen the intelligence—it would not much have affected me if I had because my one year in the Foreign Office taught me to apply due scepticism to intelligence—but because I thought that, if he did not have weapons of mass destruction, why was he pursuing a course that looked certain to lead to the destruction of his regime? And that is what happened. He ended up being dragged out of a hole in the ground to face probable execution. I obviously had an insufficient understanding of the mind of dictators—Saddam was prepared to continue on his course of action despite that—but it did not seem a bad shout at the time to think that he would not do that unless he had some weapons of mass destruction. That also applied to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who had to make the judgment. It seemed a strong reason for supposing that the intelligence was not faulty.
My next point is perhaps more controversial, but I shall make it nevertheless. As I say, these are difficult matters and difficult judgments, and it is very distressing—I felt this strongly over the past few weeks of the election campaign—when the debate gets dragged down in language to the point where one side is casting doubt, not on the correctness of the judgment made by the other side but on its bona fides in making it. I was deeply sorry, therefore, that the Leader of the Opposition chose to apply to the Prime Minister during the debate the word "liar". I was glad that the Liberal Democrat leader avoided that trap.
"Liar" is a very strong word. It does not mean "wrong"—you can be wrong without lying. It means that you were wrong, which is a necessary condition, and that you knew you were wrong.
I am prepared to believe that the Prime Minister made all kinds of mistakes, including gilding the lily on various aspects of the case for war. I am not prepared to believe—there are very few people of whom I would believe it—that he would send the country to war deliberately on the basis of an untruth on a false prospectus dreamt up in his own mind.
Very occasionally in foreign affairs lying is necessary—for instance, you lie about your intentions if you are about to go to war, otherwise you would endanger your troops. Even in this country, very occasionally lies have been told in foreign affairs—I think of the Suez case, which has left its image on us. But it would be sad if that term, which, rightly, in another place, is an unparliamentary term, becomes part of the abuse of democratic politics. We need to show continence.
I do not believe that it did the Conservative Party any good. Such evidence as I have seen has suggested that it put people off voting Conservative rather than helping. But more, it did no good to politics in this country because it dragged it down to the level of dialogue below that to which it should aspire.
So there were no weapons of mass destruction, but can you do what the Prime Minister sometimes does without quite doing it and say, "Well, it is all right because we have got rid of Saddam. That was enough of a reason to go to war"? People who say, "It was all right to go to war to get rid of Saddam; the trouble was that we did not have a plan" are going down a false route. I am not sure that that is factually correct. I have heard of 15 volumes of American plans for a post-war, post-Saddam Iraq, but I do not know what has happened to them.
But none of us believes now that even such a simple thing as an economy can be planned centrally or that you can know all the facts you need to know to plan an economy centrally. That is why we have moved to a market economy. If you are talking about highly complex societies of which, because they are dictatorships, our knowledge is of necessity insufficient and about which our emotional intelligence may be inadequate, the idea that we can plan a future for such countries and have a blueprint that will take wings when we get in there and deal with the succession problems is nonsense. Such operations are by their nature uncertain and hazardous.
I draw a final conclusion from that in regard to intervening for reasons of regime change in general. There may be in the future—I hope not—such a case in respect of Iran. Clearly, you should never say that you will never intervene militarily against a regime that is behaving unbearably. You should not do so because, in a very limited number of cases, it would be right to intervene, particularly when that regime is extremely weak in its own country and you can be fairly sure, even without having a detailed plan, that you can put things right. You should not do so because, once you take away the threat of military intervention, you reduce the chance of better behaviour by whoever it is you want to change. You should not ever rule it out—but, by God, you should be incredibly careful before going in. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Garden, is nodding; I find that military people are most aware of the case against intervention. Before you intervene, you must think about it. If you think the answer is "Yes", you must think about it some more. If you still think the answer is "Yes", half the time you had still better not do it.
My Lords, I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the opening speeches. I was having emergency dental treatment. If, as a consequence, I slur during my speech, I can assure your Lordships it is not the benefit of a fine lunch.
No one can deny that the geo-political environment has been dramatically changed by the ending of the Cold War and the changes that have flowed from it. Over the next few decades, developed states will need to contend with asymmetric threats, in which states and non-state actors avoid direct engagements with an adversary. Instead they will use strategies, tactics and weaponry which are designed to minimise an enemy's strength and to expose perceived weaknesses. Developed states will face strategic weapons of mass destruction threats as the unconventional delivery capabilities of states and non-state actors grow. At the same time, as recent events have shown, the demand for "boots on the ground" will continue to grow.
Thus today, more than ever, it is vital that we ensure that our Armed Forces, the main pillar of our nation's security and defence, are properly equipped, properly trained and thoroughly sustained in every way.
The truth is that geographic distance, less so than ever before, grants no protection to our country. A faraway threat can become a threat to our own country in a very short time. However, the gap between Britain's strategic reach and its military grasp has recently reached a point of crisis.
While committing our Armed Forces to five wars in seven years, the Government have failed, both in the Strategic Defence Review of 1998 and all the subsequent White Papers, to close the ever widening gap between military means and strategic ends. I regret to say that the Government have failed, and continue to fail, our Armed Forces in almost every significant respect. A raft of highly critical reports from both the House of Commons Defence Committee and the National Audit Office has highlighted in the starkest of terms the MoD's failing of our Armed Forces.
Indeed there are profound and proper concerns. The capability gap is clearly getting wider and the cuts are becoming more damaging to effectiveness, to critical mass and to service activity. The procurement programme is genuinely in crisis. With the last of the Sea Harriers taken out of service soon the Royal Navy will have no close air defence until 2015 and the early withdrawal of the RAF Jaguars by 2007 will also leave a capability gap before Typhoon enters full operational service at the end of the decade.
And now, at a time of increased threat, the Government plan to cut further our already overstretched and undermanned Armed Forces by taking four front-line infantry battalions out of the line at a time when they have never been busier. In addition, they are taking six warships from the Royal Navy when there are already fewer ships of the line than in the taskforce we sent to the Falklands.
The sad truth is that the defence reviews over the past eight years have had almost no measurable impact on the structures or programmes of our Armed Forces, other than to cut, to shrink and to downsize. The obsession with technology, while it has an important role to play, has left the services increasingly ill suited for the missions they will be expected to execute in the future due to a neglect of the realities of human resources and manpower.
The post-invasion phases in Afghanistan and Iraq have proved that the set of missions ranging from very violent counter-insurgency operations to more benign forms of nation-building are the decisive parts of these campaigns. These sorts of constabulary efforts are exceedingly likely in the future.
Let me be clear: I support modernisation. It is important to make the best use we can of technology, to the extent that applied technology enhances our ability to project power and influence events. But new and increasingly sophisticated technology is not the whole story.
The extremely demanding burden of the ongoing war on terrorism is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Because post-conflict and war on terrorism operations are likely to be of long duration and will vary in intensity, the capabilities required to achieve these objectives must be achieved. Having committed us to the first major war of the 21st century, the Government have the obligation to support our Armed Forces so that they can get on with the tasks required of them. The obligation and the task to close the gap between strategic ends and military means cannot be exaggerated.
What lessons have the Government learnt from the operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq? The lessons they should have learnt is that numbers matter, particularly numbers in infantry. At this time of considerable danger from terrorism at home and abroad, and major military deployments overseas, can there really be any military logic or sense in cutting the numbers of the infantry?
While we on these Benches agree with the logic of ending the arms plot, which can be highly disruptive to soldiers and their families, it makes no sense to any of us to reduce the number of regular soldiers when, at the same time, the Army has to be constantly reinforced on operations by an increasing number of our remarkable TA soldiers, who deserve such great credit.
The tasks the Government ask our forces to perform on their behalf are vital to the freedom we all enjoy. But with the security challenges showing no signs of dissipating, they must stop taking our Armed Forces for granted and ensure that they are properly equipped and funded.
Without the national security which defence capability provides, all our plans to secure economic growth and improve hospitals and education, may rest on sand, for the national life in which these objectives can be pursued in peace and freedom may disappear beyond recall.
I was privileged to spend a day with the Scots Guards in Basra a few weeks ago. It confirmed to me the tremendous achievements of our Armed Forces and the dedication and professionalism, not to mention the bravery, of our servicemen. But the Government must recognise that in asking our Armed Forces to perform ever more demanding tasks, we have a duty to give them the tools they need to do the job for us.
My Lords, I am about to follow in the footsteps of my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond, who spoke so powerfully from the great depth of his experience.
It seems clear that Israel and Palestine hold the key to progress in international affairs throughout a very great deal of the world. Sadly, however, the peace process has suffered setbacks in recent weeks. A decision was taken to build more than 3,600 new houses in Maale Adumin, on the east side of Jerusalem, the whole to be enclosed within a new separation wall. Ariel, another settlement, is to have a barrier erected around three sides of it. Both these moves cut into the West Bank and further isolate Palestinian east Jerusalem.
The Knesset next extended the life of a law of 2002, preventing spouses and close family members living together, where one member is now in the West Bank and another in Israel. This was understandable as a precaution against suicide bombs, but seems unhelpful at present, when ceasefires are working rather well. Some 400 extra Palestinian prisoners or detainees were to have been released, but this has not happened; the reason given has been the lack of progress in disarming militants.
Finally, there is uncertainty over the Erez industrial park on the north side of Gaza. The Israeli Cabinet seems deeply split, with one Minister saying that the park must be closed and demolished, and another saying, on the contrary, that it should be kept open. I suggest that the latter course is the right one. The park contains both Israeli and Palestinian businesses employing up to 9,000 people from Gaza. Wages inside the park are much higher than in Gaza where, in any case, unemployment runs at about 60 per cent. Why destroy the livelihood of so many people? If security within the industrial park is the issue, why not have joint or neutral control?
I now follow a line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, regarding a framework for progress towards peace. What is the quartet of the UN, the EU, the United States and Russia doing to prevent setbacks such as those I have tried to describe and to ensure progress towards a final agreement? Do representatives of the quartet meet together regularly with well prepared agendas and full minutes? Surely that is most necessary.
Secondly, will the European Union use its economic strength to reward constructive behaviour by the parties and to penalise unhelpful moves? I should like to see enough flexibility in the EU procedures to allow for both carrots and sticks. Will Her Majesty's Government take up this important issue when they assume the EU presidency?
Thirdly, security co-ordination and verification are urgently needed for the now delayed pull-back from Gaza. An American general has been appointed for this very purpose. Is he regularly meeting the parties? Will he ensure that they carry out what they undertake to do? Does he have sufficient resources for his task?
I suggest that it is greatly in the interest of all the external powers not to leave the situation to drift but to be actively engaged in helping it towards a just and lasting solution. Fifty-six years after 1949 and 12 years after the Oslo agreement is too long. International terrorism is most unlikely to be overcome while the conflict remains unresolved.
At the same time as peace suffers setbacks, hugely ambitious new plans are announced. It is said to be possible to pump water from the Red Sea to replenish the Dead Sea; that would also generate large amounts of electricity, because of the difference in levels. The benefits for the whole region could be very great.
The Rand Corporation in California has commissioned a design for a high-speed rail link, with fibre-optic cables, water pipelines, and so on, between Jenin in the north and Gaza in the south. This ARC plan, so called, would connect nearly all the main Palestinian centres of population, making a viable reality out of their embryo state.
We must surely welcome such far-sighted schemes. I suggest, however, that they will not be able to be put into practice unless the external states decide to do everything in their power to help Israel and Palestine to reach agreement.
My Lords, I, too, take this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and to wish him luck in what he will find to be not only an extremely important but, I am afraid, a most onerous portfolio. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Triesman. At the same time, I also wanted to say how much I appreciated the courteous and gracious way that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, several times, "No I will not be answering any of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Luke". No doubt at the moment he is turning his sword into a ploughshare or should it be his spear into a pruning hook and I wish him well in that.
I was delighted to hear the Minister reiterate the Government's unflinching support for the projected two new aircraft carriers. I therefore do not apologise for confining my speech to that subject as their importance in the defence scheme of things is really overwhelming. Not for the first time, I shall ask a series of questions and I start with one about the Written Statement by the then Secretary of State Mr Hoon on
"we will develop the precise role and responsibility of the PI . . . over the coming months", and,
"the preferred PI will be involved in developing the build strategy for the carriers".—[Official Report, 8/2/05; Col. WS 25.]
What has happened in the ensuing three months? Has the precise role of the PI even been decided? Will their contracts cease in July this year, as I have read? Is it not unlikely that KBR's part in this important project will indeed be concluded by then?
Are the in-service dates for the carriers still 2012 and 2015 respectively? Despite reports in the press that the Maingate is slipping into 2006, I understand that it is still officially timetabled for autumn this year. Will it be early or late autumn? Will the Minister tell the House how the component costing and consequent business case for the project is proceeding?
One of my most important questions is whether the Joint Combat Aircraft in-service date will coincide in any way with the arrival of the first of the carriers. I understand that the weight problem has either been solved or circumvented. Is that correct? What contingency plans do Her Majesty's Government have if the JCAs are late or not forthcoming at all? Will the by then rather elderly Harrier GR7/9 be deployable on the new ships if the JCAs are really late? If not, it is beginning to look as though the long-range foreign operations capability of the Royal Navy, which is so important, will be severely limited during the period from 2010 to 2015. What are the contingency plans for that possibility?
Indeed, what are the plans for the disposal of the old carriers, which really will be old by then? Is there any plan to turn one of them into a floating refit maintenance shop for the new carriers, or will that be covered by the MARS project?
Most recent press comment about these carriers has centred on the budget for their construction. I realise that it will not be possible to be definitive about this for a long time. However, can the Minister give any indication about the current thinking on this matter and assure us that the suggested size of the carriers is still 65,000 tonnes each—bearing in mind the importance of having more than enough space for future developments on the technical side and the undoubted fact that steel and air are relatively cheap compared with the possible task of trying to incorporate the "clever bits" on a platform that might be inherently too small?
It has been suggested that considerable cost savings in this project might be achieved by co-operating with our French allies with regard to the design of their projected new carrier. Has that suggestion any weight and has it progressed at all? What steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to ensure that the skills and training needed for individuals who will make, maintain, manage and operate the carriers and the Joint Combat Aircraft will be at the required level to coincide with the building programmes and in-service dates?
A report in the Daily Telegraph on
As has already been stated on many occasions in your Lordships' House, we on these Benches believe that the "Queen Elizabeth" and "Prince of Wales" will be ships of which we will be enormously proud. They are absolutely essential if the Royal Navy is to continue to carry out its remit and will be the nucleus of a very formidable fighting force. It is somewhat disappointing that at present there seem to be endless problems and delays and I hope that this frustrating stage of the project will soon come to an end.
My Lords, the key words "culture of respect" in the gracious Speech should extend to and straddle the whole field of international relations, reaching into every regional and thematic aspect of this debate.
Turning to the Middle East, Britain's role both as a European power and a staunch ally of the United States must be one that seeks to narrow the transatlantic gap of still continuing misunderstanding and misperception of issues. America carries most of the burden of the Iraq war, the outcome of which is decisive for all of us— supporters or opponents of the operation. Failure in Baghdad will mean failure in Jerusalem, more duplicity in Damascus and deadly danger in Tehran. It will hold all of us to ever costlier ransom. If there is one top table at which the western allies, Europeans and Americans, sit together, we can overcome most adversities. If, as President Chirac might prefer, there are two, we will be played off against each other by emergent forces—new world powers inevitably. One may choose one's metaphor either from the world of physics—through gravitational pull—or the world of animal behaviour—through the provocation of weakness.
In the Palestine-Israel conflict we have, for the first time in four years, a glimmer of hope through the withdrawal from Gaza plan, but I believe that this plan can succeed only if the quartet not only keeps a watchful eye on operations on the ground but also on the accompanying rhetoric of the parties. Even-handedness does not mean praise and plague on both houses; it must mean genuine approval or censure where it justly belongs.
The other day the German Chancellor and the heads of government of Poland and the Baltic states paid homage in Moscow to the fallen subjects of the Soviet Union, whatever their historic reservations may have been. In the same week, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority chose Israel's independence day to mourn the existence of the state of Israel and condemn the United Nations resolution 58 years ago that partitioned historic Palestine into two sovereign states whose Arab portion had more generous frontiers than has ever been suggested since and whose acceptance would have obviated myriad casualties and well nigh all the suffering of the refugees.
General Sharon is today the only leader of Israel who has the guts and the gravitas to carry out the withdrawal plan. He deserves our sympathy, for he risks his job and indeed his life. This is the time to acknowledge that and to cease demeaning and demonising him or casting doubt on what he really intends by the withdrawal and after the withdrawal, forgetting that a successful withdrawal in itself would engender its own dynamic towards a fuller peace, with a coalition government with moderate forces from the moderate right. I also have great confidence in the democratic system and the majority view of the population that a two-state solution—a viable and honourable solution—must be found. I believe that rhetorical disarmament is almost as important as the decommissioning of weapons of terror, and we could and should all contribute to this aim.
What makes it difficult for me to agree with the views of the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Hylton, is the main issue of cause and effect. For them, the intifada is the effect of occupation; for me, the occupation is the effect of the intifada terror that existed there before the first settler pitched his tent on the West Bank. Rejection, non-co-operation and hatred were the watchwords from the beginning, and we must now try to overcome that.
It is encouraging that Mr James Wolfensohn, until recently president of the World Bank, plans to play an important part in helping to heal the economic ills of Gaza and parts of the West Bank. We should also welcome the initiatives arising from a meeting here in London, when projects were ventilated and discussed about ambitious loan guarantees to help medium and small companies and enterprises in Gaza. That sort of initiative is very laudable.
This is surely not the time for voices in British academe to recommend the boycott of Israel's universities and centres of research, flagrantly breaching the laws of freedom of learning. The idea of Britain's Association of University Teachers issuing a western-style fatwa against the universities of Haifa and Bar-Ilan is a shattering proof of the discriminatory hostility towards Israel and of the bile and bias against a demonstrably open democratic society. I cannot remember similar moves against half a dozen Arab or African countries where scholars are languishing in gaols figuring very high on the AUT's agenda.
Having recently retired from a 10-year presidency of the board of governors of the Ben-Gurion University of Beer Sheva, I can assure noble Lords of an exemplary spirit of friendship between Israeli and Arab and especially Bedouin students. In Haifa, which has the largest number of Arab students in Israel, my opposite number, Manfred Lahnstein, a non-Jewish German chairman, can bear witness to similar experiences there. It so happens that I recently sat on a discussion panel at the Royal Geographical Society here in London, where an Israeli communist professor from Haifa staunchly defended the Arab case and indeed questioned the very wisdom of the existence of a Jewish state. So much for the lack of academic freedom at Haifa University.
Nothing would galvanise the peace process more than success in the transfer of power and responsibility for internal security to an indigenous government in Baghdad. I belong to the generation who lived through the Second World War, when we had to be patient in times of crisis. How many terrible mishaps, botched expeditions and costly casualties had to be endured before final victory could be obtained? Yet we are indignant today that two years after the military intervention, there is still no complete law and order in the streets of Baghdad and no WMD have been found. Very recently, we learned of two new mass graves of 9,000 and 6,000 corpses respectively, dating from well before the first shots were fired. Though that was duly reported, it received less attention than those disgusting transgressions in Guantanamo Bay, or the deadly—in the truest sense of the word—fabrications of Newsweek, on the flushing of the Qur'an.
We should side with the United States in bringing insurgency to an end and must have greater understanding of the policy of toughness towards those helping the terrorists wherever they see fit. Syria, whose people are ruled by one of the ugliest tyrannies of the Middle East, must be strictly watched. Syria is not only still harbouring headquarters of terrorists but shows little sign of preventing the porous frontiers with Iraq being a thoroughfare and transit route for terror and insurgency in Iraq. Fortunately, a Franco-American consensus helped the process of expelling the Syrians from long-suffering Lebanon, though the last word there has not yet been spoken. European chancelleries laid out the red carpets for Assad Junior. Her Majesty even had the young presidential couple for tea; but Bashar Assad, willingly or unwillingly, is retreading the steps of his father and is now a captive of the old tyrant's old cronies.
Only a policy of strength, determination and western unity can bring a solution. The British presidency in European will face the toughest questions and can cope with the solutions only if it is inspired by the will and stamina needed to refashion as much as possible what is left of western unity. That is a challenge for which the Prime Minister is well equipped, intellectually and morally, for which he deserves the nation's fullest support.
My Lords, when Cato the Elder ended all his speeches "Carthago delenda est", he may have bored the Roman senate into the ground—and I would not be surprised if their Back-Benchers did not learn to join in the chorus every time. But he established the rule that if you want something badly enough, you must risk being a bore. Eventually, he got what he wanted.
So it will not surprise your Lordships if I start this speech with a bitter complaint that in the large ranks of new arrivals in your Lordships' House, some of whom are most welcome, particularly my old colleagues from the Liberal Party, there is no nominee from my party, in spite of the increase in the Green vote, demonstrating that our already valid case for one has been reinforced, not least by our vote in Brighton Pavilion where we ran the Conservatives to a very narrow margin for second place, and considerable gains in local councils.
Having got that off my chest, though like Cato I shall return to the matter until justice is satisfied, I turn to the gracious Speech, although more to what was hardly mentioned in it than to what was. We have hardly finished a war to get rid of non-existent weapons of mass destruction before we find ourselves reviewing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, of which we are in breach, as recently pointed out not only by "Bremner, Bird and Fortune", as I imagine all your Lordships saw, but by that even more authoritative publication of Chatham House, The World Today, which I am sure all your Lordships read. The latter, and the former, have pointed out that the British nuclear deterrent relies on US missiles and warhead components and that therefore the two countries are in breach of Article 1, which clearly states that,
"each nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer . . . nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices . . . or control over such weapons or explosive devices, directly or indirectly".
Apart from anything else, that breach means that we are constrained into a far closer relationship with the present sole superpower than any nation ought to be. And what is it all for? I hope that there is no one in your Lordships' House who would ever contemplate the use of such a weapon under any circumstances whatever. As for the argument that the threat is enough and a weapon in itself, not only is such a threat totally immoral but it becomes over time more and more incredible.
If the Prime Minister wanted to seal his name on history, he could do so best by starting to lead the countries who have or threaten to have weapons of mass destruction out of this immoral, vicious, threatening quagmire. If anyone wants to see the possible results of that quagmire, they should look at page 2 of the New York Times supplement of the Daily Telegraph today. It would not be easy to lead the way out of that quagmire, but it would be great statesmanship. So thinks the Green Party, and so think I.
My Lords, first, I want specifically to congratulate my noble friend Lord Triesman on being appointed Minister for Latin America. I was going to say, "Muchas felicitaciones", but I do not know whether he is already away on his Spanish course.
I am chairman of the Anglo-Bolivian all-party parliamentary group, which was set up to reflect the huge good will towards Britain on the part of the Bolivian parliamentarians, whom we first visited in 2000 and who came over here last October. It so happens that I shall lead a small delegation to Bolivia in August, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. We look forward to having a meeting with my noble friend the Minister in the coming weeks and, inter alia, to involving the United Kingdom gas companies, BP, BG and Shell. Those extractive industries, relative to the size of the Bolivian economy, are enormously important. The Bolivians, over 200 or 300 years, have had a painful history as regards the extraction of minerals. One can understand that. However, as parliamentarians we hope that they will be able to build bridges.
One of the lines of thought is that the extractive industries should do more to find ways of transferring technology so that more value-added can be created in the host country. In that way, the local populations will be able to feel that they own the beneficial effects created by multinational organisations. In that case, it could also directly benefit the local people, including the indigenous population, by providing things such as gas pipes in towns and villages. Those people would be able to see how the role played by the multinationals is connected to improvements in the quality of their life.
That is a general point about technology transfer. Although the multinational corporations are in a strong position and we certainly want the world to see more foreign direct investment in the poorest nations, the extractive industries incite passions—one could also mention logging and many other industries—as few others do.
The host countries have title to these resources. We do not know how stable it is, but the current price of oil is about $50 a barrel, double the recent price. There will therefore be great pressure to get more oil and gas on to the market. The global background is that ever more oil and gas supplies are in politically sensitive areas. Need one mention the Caspian, the Middle East or Russia? Germany is now more than 50 per cent reliant on Russian gas.
Our delegation will also briefly visit Paraguay, another country with a very low GDP per head. We have just closed our embassy there. Like others, I wonder about the long-term economic implications of some of those decisions.
The only point I can put on the other side is one with which not everyone will agree: the role of the European Union regarding the continent of South America. About three-quarters of the DfID-type funds going to that continent go via the European Union. A great deal of the official business of embassies is conducted through the weekly meetings of the missions of the EU countries. I welcome the idea that that can produce experiments in multinational diplomatic services under the EU umbrella.
The EU is of growing importance also on the continent of Africa. I am very pleased that, in the autumn, Sub-Committee C of the European Union Select Committee, of which I am a member, will conduct a study on the growing interface between the European Union and the African Union, dealing not just with the mechanics of the relationship but with how we can together build support for the African Union's emerging role in governance and on questions of security and economic development. The background is that, at the moment, 10 per cent of the world's population receives only 1 per cent of the world's foreign direct investment.
As many Members have pointed out, what will dominate our foreign policy discussions in the next year will very much depend on what happens in France on
I should like to illustrate the importance of common positions in the European Union by taking the example to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, just referred—the current conference in New York on the review of the treaty on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The conference is being conducted against the setting of an emerging crisis over Iran which I think will turn out to be much more serious than that over Iraq.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who speaks with great distinction on all these matters—not least on the United Nations, having been a member of the high-level panel—concluded, tongue in cheek, I think, with a list of seven or eight potential UN achievements that would make us all better off. The only thing he did not mention was the logical conclusion that, "If pigs could fly we would solve all these problems".
One of the reasons why we have so many difficulties with structural changes in the UN is the fact that the Americans are not committed to the multilateral system. It is breathtaking that they want the treaty to be made much more specific on a number of aspects of military nuclear development as long it does not apply to them. People from Washington actually go on the record saying such things. It is breathtaking. The UN will have to concentrate on that type of question rather than on the reform of the Security Council, which I am afraid is already producing ill will. China/Japan is obviously one issue; Germany, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa—all of those couplings are very difficult. The only way in which the current Security Council five can retain their present role is by demonstrating that they are bound by all existing United Nations treaties. Sub-Committee C will get stuck into all those UN matters in the coming few weeks. The importance of that problem cannot be exaggerated.
Perhaps I may make one final remark. I think that this debate has underemphasised the fact that, in the past two or three years, we have not seen—although we have in the past few weeks—a commitment by the Americans to speak to Europe through the institutions of the European Union. "Bush Mark 2" and Condoleezza Rice are making it clear that the EU common position is a way in which foreign policy will be handled more and more. That is a good sign.
As other noble Lords have said, one should like to say many other things. We must get a result on the non-proliferation treaty. We must be careful to observe Article 6 on being committed to disarmament. Before I get my marching boots on like I did 50 years ago at Aldermaston, we must show that we are committed to the EU common position that calls for as much emphasis on disarmament in the non-proliferation treaty review on Article 6 commitments as there is on non-proliferation. That is the only basis on which the rest of the world will agree to make progress.
My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his opening remarks, which covered a wide range of matters, including the resolution of the problem between Israel and the Palestinians. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is a matter of vital importance in the life of this Parliament.
At the recent London conference to help the Palestinians prepare for statehood and stability in the region, the Government highlighted the need for reform of the Palestinian Authority and the necessity to rebuild the PA as an effective governing body. The Government must now insist that the Palestinians fulfil promises on reform. To move forward, the Palestinian leadership must fulfil its primary road map obligation to dismantle the Palestinian terrorist network and end the endorsement of incitement against Jews and Israel. Only last Friday in a sermon broadcast by Palestinian Authority TV, the preacher, a paid employee of the PA, said:
"Israel is a cancer, spreading through the body of the Islamic nation, and because the Jews are a virus resembling AIDS, from which the entire world suffers".
Through the disengagement plan, Israel is preparing to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and from 300 square miles of the northern West Bank. This is a personally bold and politically courageous move by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the Government must continue to support Sharon's withdrawal plan. Disengagement is an important first step on the road to renewed negotiations with the Palestinians, and it shows Israel's willingness to make painful compromises for peace. Make no mistake; the decision will cause a lot of disturbance to the people living there. Compensation will have to be paid; local areas and communities will be destroyed; and, sadly, there may be some unfortunate incidents. In the past, Israel has given up territory to Egypt and Jordan in return for peace. Israel will make further concessions when the Palestinian Authority shows real commitment to the peace process.
Let us look at some of the contentious issues. The road map to peace is mentioned continuously as the way forward. Phase one of the road map obliges the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure and arrest terrorists, yet not one terrorist has yet been detained. It worries Israel that Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has not yet seemed to have the will or the ability to imprison known terrorists and confiscate illegal weapons.
Noble Lords might think that all violence has stopped in Israel, because they do not get all the up-to-date news. We were in Israel for 10 days over Passover. Do noble Lords know how many incidents there were? Not one, not two, not 10, not 20, not even 30. In fact, there were 52 separate incidents over a 10-day period, including attempted suicide bombings, shooting incidents and knife attacks. To the credit of Israeli security services, every one was thwarted.
In similar tactics to those used by IRA terrorists, teenagers were sent to execute attacks or smuggle weapons. The IRA did exactly the same when they had teenagers throwing stones and petrol bombs, and they stayed behind them sniping with their guns. Prime Minister Sharon has stated that there must be a complete cessation of violence before political progress can be made. The fragile ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians is violated almost daily with rockets and mortars showering Israeli towns.
I will deal with the fence. Some people have called it a wall; others have called it a barrier. In truth, the fence is a temporary, highly effective, non-violent security obstacle in the path of terrorists. Israel has no desire to keep this fence in being longer than is necessary. The security fence saves lives, and terrorist incursions have fallen by a dramatic 90 per cent. One noble Lord in this House called it a rapacious barrier—it is no such thing. Death caused by terrorism is permanent; inconvenience caused by a fence is temporary. In testament to Israel's democracy, the Supreme Court has passed judgments altering the course of the security fence to strike a balance between Israel's security and the humanitarian needs of the affected Palestinian people.
There is a little bit of a misnomer about settlements. Israel has agreed to vacate outposts that were basically little more than caravan sites on hills in the West Bank. However, as President Bush recognised, the facts on the ground have changed over the past 40 years and what may be described as a settlement is, in fact, a town, and there are a few of those on the borders of Jerusalem. Over 80 per cent of settlers live in towns close to the Green Line. In fact, settlements are consistent with UN Resolution 242 and the Geneva Convention, and settlement growth never violated the Oslo peace agreement. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 state that Israel should have secure and defensible borders. Remember, Israel has fought half a dozen defensive wars in response to attacks by its neighbours. Under international law, the capture of land in a defensive war is a legal means to acquire territory. It would be foolish and foolhardy to vacate the defensive towns around Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most emotive issue is Jerusalem, which is mentioned over 500 times in Jewish prayers but not mentioned once in the Koran. Israel runs it as a completely open city in which every religion can pray, and it is considered by me and by nearly every Jew as the undivided capital of Israel.
We must all bear in mind that two terrorist organisations, namely Hamas and Hezbollah, are both sworn to destroy Israel, and although Hamas has entered the Palestinian political arena and has made considerable gains, it is seen as a direct threat to the Palestinian authorities. There is a clear danger that Hamas may be recognised by Britain and the EU as a result of its electoral victories. Dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah would be destructive. In addition to the destruction of Israel, Hezbollah wants to set up an Islamic republic in Lebanon. Hezbollah is actively financing and training would-be Palestinian terrorists.
Particularly disconcerting is the British Association of University Teachers' decision to boycott the Israeli universities of Haifa and Bar-Ilan. That boycott is nothing other than a prejudiced assault on academic freedom of institutions independent of Israel's democratic government. In both universities, Jews and Arabs study together, while in Haifa there are a substantial number of Arab lecturers and students.
The boycott echoes the Nazi ban on Jewish academics and invokes the discrimination so common three generations ago. Israeli academics have been singled out for being Israeli. The Government need to clarify that only negotiations between Israel and a democratically elected Palestinian leadership, not token boycotts or sanctions against Israel, will result in a durable peace settlement.
I hope that some of this information enables noble Lords to understand the position better. All that Israel wants is to live in peace with its neighbours. It does not want confrontations, bombs or suicide bombers—all that it genuinely wants to do is to live in peace and security with its neighbours. In setting out these comments, I would trust that noble Lords will have a better understanding of where Israel stands and of how it approaches the problems faced. I thank your Lordships for your attention and hope that I have been fair in my comments, but I am certain that I have been realistic in setting out the position as it is on the ground.
My Lords, last Sunday was Whitsun or Pentecost, an occasion for all Christians to look outwards and live the Gospel through tongues of fire and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, I accept the evangelical tradition by which human beings of all religions—not only Christians—seek to influence one another, and up to a point I support our Government's use of that tradition to propagate best practice in good governance throughout the world.
I welcome the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Drayson, as the new Front-Bench spokesmen. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, with particular enthusiasm as I found the organisation One World Action on top of the list of his favourite charities. Its website says that it is different because it,
"puts democracy and human rights at the heart of development".
I support that, being a Cambridge man of the same generation and coming from a similar tradition, so I much look forward to the words of our One World Action man.
But what I cannot accept is political evangelism—the new tendency of our evangelical political leaders to push democracy down the throat of sovereign governments who have centuries of other traditions and systems behind them. Ever since the "axis of evil" speech, the Bush/Blair attitude to some authoritarian societies in the Middle East implies to many people that Islam has failed and, by association, that Christianity has got things right. That is how it is perceived.
Democracy is a fine aspiration but there is, unfortunately, a new arrogance about the blueprint of our own democratic institutions that we need to correct or face the consequences, which are already apparent. Although the FCO at one level has considerable expertise in the Middle East—applied, for example, through its "Engaging with the Islamic World" programme—at another it has to fall in with the new dogma of anti-terrorism. Uzbekistan is a case in point, already mentioned. Which side are we actually on?
To take the more pressing example, we operate a two-tier system of occupation in Iraq. Although British troops believe that they are temporarily peacekeeping in the south, US soldiers will remain at war in central Iraq so long as the killings continue. This is not the war for which the Prime Minister signed up. It is a conflict post-conflict, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, pointed out. There is no UK strategy to deal with that, yet we go on holding the hand of America without more international legitimacy than we had two years ago. One reason why we are there is to protect our own trading routes and future oil supplies. Another is or was to create an environment in which reconstruction could take place, so that we could withdraw. However, the most important reason was to provide security to the Iraqi people, which is now surely beyond our control.
At the same time, there is a lot of propaganda about our aid programme. The Minister mentioned progress and success, but are we getting all the information? Is DfID giving us too rosy a picture of reconstruction? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, will tell us. Aid to Iraq is not exactly a gift, because it is paid for by the Iraqis. Although USAID is busy restoring power and water, US construction firms have been handsomely paid from Iraq's own revenues. We have certainly helped to restore services, but even in Basra we are not even giving people the sense of personal freedom and security that they expected from us after the fall of Saddam. Our aid agencies are still targets and cannot operate in most of the country, and we will have no serious UN presence until we have a genuinely recognised international force, if not another UN mandate.
What happened to all those ideas of civil society? Again, I hope that the Minister will give us a balanced picture, not only a positive one. My understanding is that, until security comes, there can be no hope of establishing normal civil society. The more that we outsiders sponsor imported models, the more targets there will be for suicide bombers. The costs of training the police force alone have been enormous, and "sacrifice" is the only word for them. I understand the argument that support for civil society can be a powerful force for stability. Indeed, that is happening in many areas of the world—I have seen it—but Iraq is not the arena for that kind of experiment. Iraqis already have considerable experience of running institutions. It is not the time for that sort of aid.
The Iraqi people would like us to leave Iraq. Surely that is becoming clear now, even if we believed otherwise a year ago. The continuing occupation is undoubtedly a factor in attracting foreign fighters and suicide bombers. There is no guarantee that they would stop under Iraqi command or that the civil war would end, but the presence of US and UK troops has not achieved the objective intended in most of Iraq. We should recognise that now and—as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said—start to plan for the end of occupation and an orderly withdrawal.
Better still, we should recognise that the action is not internationally approved, and begin to create a genuine UN peacekeeping force that will take on some of the tasks currently carried out by US troops. There will have to be another strong man in Iraq if the country is to be genuinely reunited. The autonomy of Kurdistan must be one of the key links in the chain; it may well be a Kurd who can hold the future balance of power between Sunni and Shia. But the Kurds do not even feel Iraqi. Already we have heard Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party, say that "any Iraqi army entry" into Kurdistan would require permission from its regional parliament.
The alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo is simply another illustration of the resentment all over the Arab world. Of course it will be said that Herat students or Taliban sympathisers in Jalalabad are bound to stir up trouble, but the Newsweek incident shows how deeply Muslims everywhere feel about the undoubted human rights abuse involved in Guantanamo and the whole anti-terrorism campaign since 2001. No wonder that Afghans whose families and friends have been subjected to torture by the Americans reacted to the report. Would not all of us react?
Aid workers in Afghanistan are now being associated directly with anti-terrorism, not with their humanitarian work. The news from Afghanistan this week is not good. We in the UK and Europe must continue to speak out against injustice so long as it is ignored by the US Administration.
I have looked at the Government's lukewarm response to the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the treatment of detainees. I find phrases such as "It might not always be practical" or "It may not always be possible", which imply that we simply have no influence on the Americans.
I repeat my comments made here, that I supported the original coalition in Afghanistan—and I still support it—which truly expressed the will of many Muslim countries. The failure in Iraq, which the Government still do not acknowledge, is the failure of the West to involve Arab states, the rest of Europe and the wider world community in a legitimate war against terrorism.
My Lords, in his prescient remarks at the outset of our debate, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, reminded us that the gracious Address was silent about the rising power of Asia. I would add only two words to that thought—North Korea. I serve as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. We have been increasingly concerned about security issues and revelations about nuclear capability, as well as human rights abuses in that country.
We have supported the policy of constructive engagement. In parenthesis, I pay tribute to Bill Rammell, now Minister of State in the Department for Education and Skills, for the role that he played. Last year, he was the first Minister to go to North Korea. I hope that that policy of constructive engagement will continue. I hope that there will also be the opportunity for a full-scale debate on that part of the world, because we are covering many disparate issues in this, inevitably piecemeal, Queen's Speech debate.
"secure progress in tackling poverty in Africa" and to,
"push for a resolution of the conflict in Darfur".
Along with many others, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, to his new role and know that, if anyone has the necessary qualities of heart and head to make those promises a reality, it will be the noble Lord. His appointment is a good choice and, for what it is worth, I will encourage and support him in his efforts, although he will be aware that I regard the approach taken in Darfur thus far by the international community to be riven by failure. The Government in Khartoum believe that we will pursue a policy of appeasement, and I hope that the noble Lord will disabuse them of that belief.
Four years ago, I went to the devastated areas of southern Sudan—so familiar to my noble friend Lady Cox, from whom we will hear later. I saw the ravages of 20 years of killing in a region where some 2 million have died. In November 2004, I detailed my then recent visit to the western province of Darfur. I published a report through the Jubilee Campaign and described in your Lordships' House what I had heard and seen.
When I first raised the depredations of the Janjaweed militia, as long ago as 2001, thousands were said to be dying. By
"What has to happen to change the passive role we have taken so far of merely monitoring the situation? Are we not in grave danger of making the same mistakes that we made at the time of the genocide in Rwanda?".
The Government replied:
"there is now a ceasefire that has been broadly holding".—[Hansard, 20/5/04; col. 876.]
There was never a ceasefire in Darfur and, in any event, the deliberate displacement and corralling by the Janjaweed militia of nearly 2 million defenceless people into makeshift camps will ultimately lead to death as certainly as a bullet in the head. The evidence bears me out that, while the world has been sleepwalking, Darfur has been dying.
In asking a question on
Yesterday, in the New York Times, a report appeared entitled "The Mournful Math of Darfur: The Dead Don't Add Up". It stated:
"Darfur's dead have been tossed into the bottoms of wells, dumped into mass graves, interred in sandy cemeteries and crudely cremated. Children have been snatched from the arms of their mothers and thrown into fires, villagers dragged on the ground behind horses and camels by ropes strung around their necks.
All of which makes the important and politically charged task of counting the precise number of victims of the two-plus years of war in western Sudan a virtually impossible exercise".
The New York Times then asks:
"Is the death toll between 60,000 and 160,000 . . . Or is it closer to the roughly 400,000 dead reported recently by the Coalition for International Justice . . .?".
Whatever the numbers, staggering fatalities have occurred in Darfur, and we have shown remarkable impotence in facing that tragedy.
Earlier this month, on
The Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan have manipulated the international community, which has been guilty of prevarication and feeble posturing. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, rightly asked what thought we had given to the role of an international force, including the possible presence of the UK military, in Darfur. Before we do that, we will need to challenge the assertion of the Government of the Sudan that the stationing of a mere 100 Canadian soldiers in Darfur would be "unacceptable interference".
Of course, I welcome the cash aid that we have given the African Union, to which the noble Lord, Lord Drayson— I also welcome him to his ministerial post—referred, and the heavy lifting equipment provided by NATO to assist them. But there are still only 2,400 African Union troops in an area the size of France. We are putting poultices on the problem rather than tackling it at its roots.
Along with others in your Lordships' House, I have argued that we need a no-fly zone over Darfur. My colleague, the journalist, Rebecca Tinsley, who travelled with me to Darfur last autumn, spoke to a human rights activist in Khartoum earlier this week. He had been in southern Darfur on
Two reports came to my attention earlier today, from the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development. One report states:
"On 11th May 2005, a group of Janjaweed militia opened fire against IDP women from Kasab camp north of Kutum town in Northern Darfur, when they went out searching for wood. In the attack one person was killed and two seriously injured".
The other report states:
"This centre has received information that government militias attacked Labado area again yesterday, 17th May 2005, killing three civilians, wounding three others and looting 140 livestock".
"The build-up of militias south of Thor and in Abu Jabra/Tege, in South Darfur, and especially the increased aggressive behaviour of Arab militias is disconcerting. Rumours of attacks on the Jabra continue, and fears of violence, fuelled by past incidents are keeping agencies from accessing those areas".
I have consistently argued that those responsible for those atrocities and for what I believe to be genocide in the technical sense of that word should be brought to justice. I applaud the role that Her Majesty's Government played in persuading the United States not to veto a referral of the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court. However, in that context, we should note two recent events. On
"nobody will be able to try me or bring me to justice in any way".
According to the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development,
"his accounts were further corroborated by the heavy presence of officials of the Sudanese government at a meeting who had accompanied him and who had facilitated his travel to the area".
Let no one be in any doubt about the umbilical cord that ties the Janjaweed militia to the Government of Sudan.
On Wednesday, I tabled a Written Question to Her Majesty's Government about a further development. Last weekend, human rights activists were arrested in Khartoum, and Dr Mudawi Ibrahim is now facing the death penalty. I hope that the Minister will tell us today that we will make the strongest possible protest against the taking of the life of a man who has stood up for human rights in Sudan. After all, these are Muslim people who are taking a stand for human rights, and we should stand on their side.
I am concerned that only today a report from the International Crisis Group in New York states that the Belarusians have sent a letter to the sanctions committee of the UN seeking permission, which the ICG believes will be granted, to sell arms to Sudan. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us, we have opportunities to raise the issues in effective ways, and I hope that we will take them.
"Darfur remains a catastrophe, and we cannot turn . . . away from it".
In the gracious Speech, the Government said that they would contrive to push for a resolution of the conflict in Darfur. I welcome that, and I hope that in all parts of the House we will get behind that objective. For the terrorised, suffering people of Darfur, that cannot happen a day too soon.
My Lords, I must begin by apologising for my absence from the opening speeches. It was impossible to leave a meeting near Winchester, which has been in my diary for nearly a year, without attending the first hour of it from nine o'clock. I am very sorry that I was not present from the start of the debate.
I had intended to begin with comments on the situation in Israel/Palestine, but we have heard at least six distinguished speeches on the subject. I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to the line of thinking that we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice, Lord Wright and Lord Hylton. However, before moving on, I must say with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, that the people I know and spent six days among in Bethlehem, both Christians and Muslims, the wall looks like a wall—very solid and very high. The separation barrier looks like a separation barrier. The whole thing looks long-planned and permanent. It would be hard to persuade those who are imprisoned by it that it is anything else.
I turn to my main point. I welcome the line in the gracious Speech which speaks of the Government's intention to use the presidency of the G8 to make progress in tackling poverty in Africa. I want to congratulate those responsible—the Prime Minister and his colleagues and staff—for the report of the Commission for Africa. It is comprehensive, well-argued and distinguished, although it would have been a great help to all of us who want to use it had it contained an index. I hope that those responsible are thinking of providing one. It is difficult to use a report of that scale when there is no index.
I was unable to be present on
The other was a comment, with which I resonate strongly, from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is in his place. He noted that the report contained little for states which have already failed or are failing. That is my sense too, as I come to it from the particular perspective of engagement with and concern for the Democratic Republic of Congo. I should declare an interest as president of the Congo Church Association and bishop of the only Church of England diocese privileged to be in a partner relationship with the Anglican Church in the Congo.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships one example, but there were a number of others. It may seem a trivial example but it is characteristic. On page 188, paragraph 32, appear the words:
"Health centres may be too far away, or have no staff".
My text has added in pencil, "or have been destroyed". There is a level of unreality in the report relating to the most difficult cases, the most chaotic states, the areas of Africa only small parts of which I know with any closeness, where the situation is utterly deplorable and disastrous. They look to remain so for the foreseeable future unless particular attention is paid to them. That said, I would be grateful to know the Government's mind on three questions which I did not find adequately addressed in the report. They are questions around justice, the investigation of war crimes and an end to impunity.
The report did not seem to address the question: how can still fragile or even ungoverned African states be encouraged and assisted to investigate serious human rights and criminal abuses perpetrated in recent years, often arguably by or under the aegis of those now in power; or participate in peace discussions or in transitional national governments? That is a critical question which urgently needs exploring.
Secondly, the question must be pressed: what has been learnt for the future concerning best practice in the provision of UN and other external forces in the light of the experiences of recent years? What has been learnt of their provision, management, composition, mandate, equipment, logistical and interpreter support, training and so forth? What kinds of forces, from which countries, speaking which languages, are of most use in which circumstances? There is a range of object lessons to be learnt from the histories of MONUC in the Congo and from the short-term French force in north-eastern Congo in 2003, and I am sure from recent experience in Sierra Leone and Liberia and from the lack of such forces and the tiny numbers, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in Darfur.
The third question is a delicate one. It is obliquely referred to in the report where, in a rather coy short sentence on page 167, paragraph 56, it is noted,
"neighbours are often not impartial actors".
Is that not true of the Democratic Republic of Congo? But that raises the question: what are the responsibilities and opportunities of major donor states where recipients of their aid engage in military activity, whether at first hand or by proxy, in human rights abuses and/or in the exploitation and pillage of neighbouring countries? It seemed to me that that point was not approached in the report, and it is critical.
A theme running through report after report on the enormous difficulties and distresses in the Great Lakes region is that there is an integral connection between the pillage of resources, the supply of arms and immense suffering of the people. This House needs to hear from the Minister, either now or on some future occasion, whether he is aware that the NGOs in this country, which look to the UK national contact point within the OECD processes as a means of bringing to account those suspected of improper economic activity in the DRC and similar places, find the UK contact point, in comparison with its EU equivalents, poorly staffed and unable or unwilling to take initiatives or to seek to make an independent assessment of the allegations made on a number of fronts, not least in the UN panel of experts' report. Frankly, they find the contact point incompetent in the face of the powerful players with whom it is its business to deal. It seems to me that, although that is strictly a DTI question, it is also an FCO and a DfID question.
Lastly, is the Minister aware that, in response to those of us who argue that Congolese asylum seekers should not be sent back to the Congo because it is vastly too dangerous a place to which to repatriate anyone, his colleagues in the Home Office make a great deal of play of FCO documents which it appears they have not read? I hope that he will find a way to have a conversation with his colleagues in the Home Office and draw their attention to information which they need to take note of and understand. It is a tiny part of the picture but we shall not find ways to help a country such as the Congo to come through to a fresh order—an order that it has never had—if we persist simply in sending back for the most part good people who will receive certain further ill treatment and perhaps death because of our anxieties about asylum seekers in this country.
My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me at this late stage if I concentrate mainly on Bulgaria and the European Union accession treaty. As noble Lords who have been attending these debates might recall, I have spoken regularly about Bulgaria since 1994, when I made my maiden speech, but I think that this is probably the first mention of Bulgaria in the gracious Speech since Gladstone's days.
I fully support my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, who opened for our Benches with a fascinating and eloquent tour d'horizon, reminding me of the excellent ones with which we used to be regaled by the late Member of the other place, Julian Amery. I look forward, too, to the wind-up speech for our Benches from my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever—our skilful spokesman on defence—especially as defence matters are more and more vital in these troubled days.
First, I turn briefly to the subject of Africa as it appears to be at the top of the Prime Minister's agenda regarding international development. We all know, and have heard again today, that the crisis of HIV/AIDS continues. There are also the ongoing problems of corruption and illegal drugs, which are intrinsic to this debate. Those issues have been outlined in great detail and with considerable passion by noble Lords. With the little time available, I shall not attempt to repeat them, especially as I spoke on this matter at some great length in November. Needless to say, we welcome the attention that the Government propose in addressing poverty and suffering in Africa. However, we cannot forget that there is great suffering and poverty in other parts of the world; I shall return to that issue later.
Of course, aid programmes will go some way to alleviate suffering but, as I outlined in November, it is the importance of trade and property rights, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howell, and not just aid that will finally develop the economies of these countries and ultimately alleviate the suffering of their people.
There still remains a great lack of investment in the developing world, due in no small part to the fear of corruption and a lack of good governance in the poorest countries. The Government's policy for international development cannot shy away from addressing these issues. I noted that, yet again, Zimbabwe, with all her problems, did not get a mention in the gracious Speech. That is truly disgraceful, as was rightly stressed by my noble friends Lady Park of Monmouth and Lord Howell of Guildford.
I particularly appreciate the reference in the gracious Speech to the signing of the European Union accession treaty by Bulgaria and Romania and its forthcoming ratification by Parliament. The introduction of an EU accession Bill to give effect to the EU accession treaty is a very welcome move. It is my hope that the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union will consolidate their free market economies and their commitment to the democratic values that we all share. At this point, it is important to acknowledge the significant efforts that both countries have made to prepare for entry. Noble Lords will remember that Bulgaria and Romania missed the first round of EU expansion into the European Union because they had failed to implement sufficient democratic and market reforms.
We have set high standards for new members. They will no doubt continue to demonstrate a stable democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and the protection of minorities. Furthermore, we support their adherence to a functioning market economy and adopting the common rules, standards and policies that make up the body of European Union law.
It is easy for many of us to take those areas for granted. I am pleased that the stage was reached in April of this year for both countries to be in a position to sign the EU Accession Treaty. This event has marked the culmination of those people's aspirations to return to civilisation after decades under the yoke of communism.
As my colleague, the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, Dr Charles Tannock, said in response to Romania's signing:
"Romania suffered under a brutal communist dictatorship for decades. The Parliament's assent to Romania's application shows just how far the country has come since Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989. The new government of Romania under President Basescu is redoubling its efforts to fight corruption by making it a crime against Romania's national security. Romania is a loyal member of NATO, has a strongly Atlanticist perspective and is committed to free market and tax reforms, all of which Conservative MEPs support".
Bulgaria has lead Romania on this path in every respect. I would add that Bulgaria too suffered greatly under the Zhivkov dictatorship and has made huge strides and progress under its enlightened first President Zhelev and now under the present Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. Of course, there is more to be done but, contrary to some voices who fear their entry into the EU, we should applaud this development as it will contribute to a stronger and more peaceful Europe.
I cannot close without mentioning the unsettling events unfolding in central Asia, in particular and most recently in Uzbekistan. The recent massacre of people in peaceful protest adds to the long list of human rights abuses not only of Mr Karimov but across the region. The Government make great play of their ethical foreign policy but then act against it, for example, in supporting the lifting of the arms embargo to China. We want to see the Government's actions mirror their ethical intentions and support those who stand up against such inhumane forces. A shining example recently has been President Sakashvili's leadership in Georgia. Now is the time for Britain to show real direction in this area.
My Lords, the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, remind me that the Prime Ministers of both of those countries are also heads of their respective liberal parties and members of Liberal International. It is good to see the progress being made there being attested by another Member of this House.
Like other noble Lords, I very much appreciated the very wise words and suggestions of the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Hylton, although they are not in their places, on the Israel/Palestine imbroglio and the need to pursue the road map. That kind of expression of a balanced view on this kind of matter does not seek to apportion blame on a one-sided basis and does not seek to say that one of the parties is always right and the other always wrong. It approaches peace in a balanced, comprehensive way, rather more along the lines of friends of mine—I have been a close friend of Israel for many years—in Peace Now and in the human rights groups and the very brave ladies from Israel who carry out checkpoint watches in the occupied territories so that they can see what is happening. We should all take that approach.
Yesterday in the Commons, the debate on the subjects that we are debating today was most interesting, although shorter than it perhaps should be in a House of Commons with its mark 3 New Labour Government. It has permitted noble Lords to follow on some salient points. I was interested to see that in Commons Hansard at col. 155, the new Europe Minister, Mr Alexander, quoted the Prime Minister, saying that a referendum must definitely be held on Europe. That is a commitment in the gracious Speech. There was then confusion from other ministerial sources and other quarters in the Government who said, "Well, of course, if there is a 'no' in the French referendum, then the whole thing is cancelled". We need further guidance.
Before the general election I had the privilege of launching a debate on the forthcoming UK presidency of the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, then holding a different portfolio, very kindly undertook to give me some answers to questions. I suppose that, because of the approach of the general election campaign, he did not have a chance to reply to the letter that I sent him afterwards asking him to deal with some of the questions, so I hope that he will be able to deal with the three brief points that I will raise.
Returning to the debate in the Commons yesterday, at Hansard col. 177, my distinguished colleague, our foreign affairs shadow Secretary of State, the right honourable Sir Menzies Campbell, reminded us of how Her Majesty's Government abandoned international law on the invasion of Iraq and that that matter has not yet been put right.
There were some very interesting and amusing speeches, but I was very struck by the fascinating comments made by the Member for Rushcliffe, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke. When referring to the strange voting anomalies of our British system he used words with which I entirely agree. He said that the effect of the general election,
"in a very complicated scene across the country, was a significant shift of votes from the Labour party to the Liberal Democrats; and the electoral system ensured that my party"— the Conservative Party—
That is a subject to which I shall refer later in showing the need for change in this country's electoral system. I think it comes into the ambit of this debate on the gracious Speech and the matters that will be dealt with when comparing other foreign countries.
I shall today confine myself to three items of current UK-EU foreign policy relevance. I must apologise to noble Lords that unusually I have not been able to remain in my place for the entire debate as I would normally wish, but I was advised by a good source, which I deliberately will not reveal, that today's subject would be on Wednesday rather than Thursday.
I refer first to the recent election. I trust that noble Lords will be ready to agree that effectively we have witnessed the arrival of the three-party system. That will be important in terms of the development of foreign policy matters and European Union policy. I hope noble Lords will permit me to say, without being too controversial, that, allowing for margins of error in the polls—and they can often be wider than we think, although the polls this time were strikingly accurate all the way through—the clusters for the main national political parties, if you accept them to be around 26, 32 and 35 or 36 approximately, are remarkably close together. That, I contend, represents the arrival of the three-party system.
Furthermore, the astonishing mosaic of differential results underscores this psephological reality. I hope that noble Lords from other parties will recognise the Liberal Democrat Party's important and often primordial role in this Chamber because of the great importance that the internationalist party, the Liberal Democrat Party, has attached to foreign policy development.
I praise the Independent's campaign to try and get electoral reform and some kind of modern PR-type system—the actual structure remaining to be decided in due course—started in this country. That involves a national campaign of respondents filling in the forms that that newspaper now presents.
I refer very briefly to three areas that need raising in this debate, and which have already been mentioned by other noble Lords. I referred at the beginning of my speech to the need for government clarity at long last on their referendum plans. There seems to be great confusion—unless I have missed some vital new developments at lunchtime today, which is possible—and the contradiction between various sources of the Government and No. 10 and others seems amazing, to say the least. I think that we need to proceed on the basis of launching our referendum campaign as soon as possible and making sure that it leads to a successful result of our adherence to the new EU constitutional treaty.
I turn from one profound area to another. I raise—and other noble Lords have referred to this area—the continuing very disturbing situation in Iraq. It would be nice to be able to follow those bland press announcements that come from the Protected Zone headquarters that things are getting better in Iraq and say in an optimistic way, "Yes, it is so easy, and that is now happening". I would prefer to say that, but I think that the reality is otherwise.
I only remember one visit to Baghdad, in 1988. The whole city was full of American and British politicians and businessmen and women, saying that Saddam Hussein's was the best government in the Middle East. They were busy selling them all sorts of equipment. Does the British Government know when Saddam Hussein will be put on trial? That seems to be dragging on. It would be interesting and relevant to know when there will be a likely date. Presumably, some interesting things will be revealed in the course of those proceedings and we will need to focus closely on them.
Finally on Iraq, we need coalition honesty on Iraqi casualties, which still eludes us. That is very depressing and sad. The famous—now sadly famous because of her tragic death in a bomb incident—Marla Ruzicka, the American aid worker, and others highlighted the reality that the American authorities were privately taking note of Iraqi civilian casualties in the regular routine reports they fill out for individual incidents.
It is incumbent on the British Government to take the lead on the matter. Even if the Americans are reluctant properly to publish any figures, they should say how much the Iraqis, alas and tragically, have suffered in this continuing conflict.
I finish on the point about future relations between the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. I hope and pray that after the winter visit by President Bush and the later, separate visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that relationship will be truly and lastingly on the basis of real equality between the European Union and the United States.
No longer should there be any question of subordination, even of us, the United Kingdom, who pride ourselves on a special relationship with the United States. We should act together in a balanced way across the Atlantic to bring peace to the Middle East and in Iraq, to ensure that the Iran problem is solved satisfactorily and, above all, to modernise, reform and reconstruct the United Nations on a basis that will help all members, not just the elite members of the Security Council. That requires a lot of thinking and decisive government action here to take the lead.
Having made those points and hoping for an answer in due course—or even today, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman—I congratulate the new Defence Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his arrival on the Government Front Bench and wish him well. I wish the whole Government well when they start the UK presidency of the EU on
My Lords, since the debate on the previous gracious Speech, there have been significant developments in many of the troubled parts of the world. Some are cause for increasing concern; some offer signs of hope; some are notable achievements.
I will focus on North Korea, Sudan and Indonesia, emphasising the need for constructive critical engagement to promote fundamental freedoms, democracy and civil society appropriate to the history, culture and traditions of each nation. Such engagement needs to be seen in the context of global developments that contribute to the emergence and escalation of many contemporary crises. Presently, the prospects are grim as despair and destitution keep spreading. The problems that now plague the developing world may well continue to escalate.
However, there is a glimmer of hope in the developing world: namely, the universal quest for greater personal freedoms in all aspects of life. I refer to genuine and indigenous freedom, rather than the mere replication of the institutions of Western democracy. Herein lies the key to containing, if not solving, most of the current crises and preventing others yet to develop.
I illustrate my point with reference to an event several years ago, when I was invited to address a large conference convened by the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement in southern Sudan. I was deeply impressed by the commitment of the SPLM leadership, who brought civilian and military leaders in from the front line of war to engage in a serious, even agonising, search to identify the principles of democracy as a basis for the development of civil society in preparation for the day when they would, at last, have freedom.
I argued that the essential core of democracy must be the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, worship and association—all the freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—but that, beyond that, it was not necessary to try to develop or impose all of the characteristics of what may be termed Western democracy. For example, electoral systems such as direct election to parliament on a one person, one vote basis may not be most appropriate in some African countries where tribal traditions exert a strong influence.
By implication, it is not necessarily appropriate for Western nations supporting developing countries to insist on Western models of democracy. The essential criterion must be respect for fundamental freedoms and the principles of civil society, including rights for minorities, religious tolerance and respect for cultural diversity. Beyond that, it is up to the people of each nation or region to decide the form of democracy appropriate to their situation.
I therefore suggest that Western governments' foreign policy should and could appropriately adopt a modified type of Helsinki process, which promoted radical changes in the Soviet Union, bringing about a change from totalitarianism to freedom. The essence of that approach was conditional constructive engagement, with economic aid and empowerment systematically linked to the enshrining of personal freedoms, respect for human rights and development of civil society.
More specifically, the Western contribution to those processes should be the encouragement of foreign investment in specific, localised economic endeavours, especially the encouragement of small business and agricultural modernisation initiatives. That would help to reduce poverty, empower citizens and give men and women the dignity of providing adequately for their families and using their individual abilities creatively. That in turn would help to ensure that the majority of people in those societies would have a sense of fulfilment instead of deprivation and a commitment to those new freedoms, and the system that promotes them, instead of suffering endemic disaffection and hopelessness. It is hard to maintain freedom for people with empty stomachs, and the concept of democracy can seem vacuous if unemployment and poverty are rife—hence their vulnerability to the appeal of radical and violent alternatives, including terrorism.
I shall give some contemporary examples, beginning with North Korea, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned. The news is disturbing. The DPRK is developing nuclear weapons, has been preparing for full-scale pre-emptive military offensives and has developed a more hard-line and extremely unhelpful policy towards international aid organisations. Some of those developments are ostensibly in response to the continuing, very hard-line policy adopted by the United States, which is exacerbating the paranoia of the leadership and supporting hardliners in the DPRK military.
I have no illusions about the seriousness of the situation there, but as noble Lords may be aware, my noble friend Lord Alton and I visited North Korea and were convinced that there are those in positions of influence who want to begin to try to climb out of the dark hole into which the regime has dug itself. We believe that the time is right to encourage constructive, critical engagement, without which that leadership will become more entrenched, precarious, volatile and dangerous. We therefore established the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and were very pleased last year when the Inter-Parliamentary Union arranged for members of the North Korean Supreme People's Assembly to visit Britain. They had a very constructive visit, opening up economic and educational links. The visit also provided us with a channel to convey our continuing critical concerns on the dire human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea. We therefore strongly support Her Majesty's Government's policy of constructive critical engagement as a means of helping to open up that sealed totalitarian society and to defuse a very dangerous situation. I hope that the Minister, whom I warmly welcome to his new post, will be able to assure us that the policy of critical constructive engagement with North Korea will continue.
Sudan is a mixed scenario, with some significant progress in the south, following the peace agreement, but a deeply disturbing condition of genocide, particularly in Darfur, as described so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Alton. Also disturbing are numerous reports of grave violations of human rights by the National Islamic Front regime against its own people in northern Sudan, including arbitrary arrests, torture, executions and threats of the death penalty. I add my plea to that of my noble friend with regard to the extremely serious situation of the threat of imminent execution of Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, chairperson of the Sudan Social Development Organisation. Will the Minister raise that case as a matter of urgency with the Sudanese ambassador? Time may be running out.
Although I strongly support aid and assistance of all kinds for those parts of Sudan now enjoying freedom and the opportunity to begin to develop civil society, I ask the Minister what further measures Her Majesty's Government will take to hold the National Islamic Front regime to account for its continuing genocidal policies in Darfur and how they can continue to trust a regime that continues to kill while it talks peace. That must surely be a situation where there needs to be a much clearer linkage between economic aid and respect for fundamental human rights. How do Her Majesty's Government make that necessary distinction between supporting those working for democracy in the south of Sudan while requiring the ruling regime in Khartoum to cease that genocide and its atrocities against its own civilians in the north?
Finally on Indonesia, following numerous visits to the conflict zones of Maluku and Sulawesi at the height of offensives largely perpetrated by the internationally resourced Lasker Jihad Islamist movement, I had the great privilege of launching an organisation with, I am afraid, an endless name—we could not make it any shorter: the International Islamic-Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction, which mercifully abbreviates to IICORR. We launched it in Jakarta two years ago, with former president Abdurrahman Wahid as our honorary president.
I was therefore very grateful to Her Majesty's Government who last year sponsored an inter-faith delegation from Maluku to the United Kingdom, under the auspices of IICORR, to develop the principles and policies of reconciliation. We were very relieved when, a few months ago, agitators tried to renew conflict in Ambon and it was very quickly contained. It was claimed that that was largely as a result of the work undertaken in Britain, with good faith being established and developed between the communities and policies being put in place to forestall such escalations of conflict.
Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic nation with a population of 220 million. The president, in a closing speech at a conference that I was privileged to attend just a few months ago at the Islamic State University in Jakarta, affirmed his commitment to the principles of the Indonesian Pancasila, which embraces religious tolerance and cultural diversity. He also emphasised his commitment to promoting peace and preventing conflict throughout Indonesia. However, there are disturbing reports of continuing militancy in various areas such as Aceh, Sulawesi and Papua New Guinea. There are also senior politicians who are committed to the replacement of the constitution by a Sharia alternative.
Indonesia is at a critical juncture. Those who endeavour to protect fundamental freedoms need strong support. I therefore greatly appreciate the policies of Her Majesty's Government that have helped to support the growth of civil society and to promote good inter-faith relations. I ask the Minister for an assurance that that policy will continue.
In conclusion, deprivation and disaffection caused by perceived injustice provide breeding grounds for militancy and terrorism. As people and peoples can emerge from oppression to freedom, from poverty to plenty, they will have less cause for grievance and more commitment to peace. Then—and only then—will the world be a safer place for the benefit of all its citizens. It is my hope that the foreign policy of the new Government will be foremost in developing the kind of constructive critical engagement that will achieve—to echo the Minister in his opening speech—a safer and fairer world for the benefit of all its citizens.
My Lords, I thought that it was rather perspicacious of Her Majesty to go so far as to refer to our relationship with the European Union in the gracious Speech. After all, there was not much mention of it during the general election campaign. We Eurosceptics found that not only somewhat surreal but also very dangerous for what is left of our democracy.
I say that because the Government admit that a large majority of our new laws now originate in Brussels, with the House of Commons and your Lordships' House acting largely as a rubberstamp on what is agreed in the Council of Ministers. If any noble Lords think that I may be overstating the case, I would point out that a year ago the Cabinet Office estimated that 54 per cent of all our major laws and a larger percentage of all our laws came from Brussels. Last week, the German Government estimated that 80 per cent of all their legislation now does so. There is no reason to suppose that we are much different.
When the Government say that legislation originates in Brussels, they of course mean the EU's legislative procedure, whereby new laws are passed either under the qualified majority voting system or by unanimity in the Council of Ministers. When they have been so passed, the House of Commons and your Lordships' House have to enact them. Huge areas of our national life are already subject to the QMV. The UK has about 9 per cent of the votes in the Council and about 30 per cent is needed to block a new law.
Roughly speaking, all of our commerce and industry, our social and labour policy, our environment, agriculture, fisheries and foreign aid are subject to QMV. Our justice and home affairs, and our foreign and security policy, can also be decided in the Council of Ministers, although in those areas our executive or government of the day retain the veto. The fact still remains that the House of Commons and your Lordships' House—or Parliament, as I hope I may still venture to call it—must enact all legislation passed under either of those systems in Brussels. That is known as the democratic deficit in Euro-speak—if your Lordships will forgive me.
I hope I can be forgiven, too, for suggesting that, given even this present state of European integration as represented by the Treaty of Nice, the House of Commons and your Lordships' House are already largely redundant. And yet no one, apart from brave little UKIP, saw fit to mention this state of affairs during the general election campaign. Perhaps this is one reason why the people showed so little interest in the manifestos of the main parties, why turnout remained depressingly low and why UKIP—with all its internal problems and lack of finance—nearly doubled its vote.
One cannot help wondering what might have happened to the Conservative vote if that party had gone to the country on a clear commitment to leave the European Union, especially if it had spent the previous year or so explaining the huge advantages of such a policy, instead of lamely saying that it wanted to renegotiate the Treaties of Rome but not daring to say that it would leave the EU if it did not get what it wanted, which of course everyone knows it would not.
In fact, I understand that a casual observation of the polling results shows that the UKIP vote was enough to deny the Conservatives some 26 seats. One can only speculate how many more seats the Conservatives would have won if they had been on a "come out" ticket and the UKIP vote had gone to them, together with an unknown quantity of votes which were not cast because the voters in question did not think it was worth wasting a vote for UKIP and could not bring themselves to vote Conservative. Of course we shall never know, but I trust that it is food for thought.
Turning to the proposed constitution, I suppose the Government have a point when they say it is only a "tidying-up exercise". I suppose they have a point because it would sweep the remainder of our sovereignty under the Brussels carpet. Anyone who doubts this clearly has not read it. Indeed, most people never will read it.
As a substitute, perhaps I may suggest that any noble Lord who thinks that the proposed constitution is nothing new—and therefore, presumably, innocent—should read the leader in today's Daily Telegraph, which is a brief and brilliant exposition of what is proposed in the constitution. I recommend it as a ready reckoner, to be cut out and kept in the pocket, for the national debate which may lie ahead.
I say the debate "may" lie ahead because, of course, the French may vote down the constitution in their referendum on
However, of course, it will not kill the project of European union; it will not kill the corrupt octopus in Brussels. It is just that its most aggressive and powerful tentacle will have been lopped off.
So what will the Eurocrats do? I fear they will regroup. I fear that they may set up another intergovernmental conference—proclaiming that they are listening to the people, of course—and within a couple of years we will have another treaty revision. That treaty will be written in much more impenetrable language than is the constitution, which is really quite easy to understand. Hidden in that impenetrable language of the new treaty, a number of little doors will be left ajar—and it is through those little doors that the Commission and the court will later walk, just as they have always done in the past. So I fear that that new treaty, those amendments to the Treaty of Nice, will achieve much the same effect as the proposed constitution.
But, of course, we will not be offered a referendum on that next treaty. I can already hear the Government intoning, yet again, that the Conservatives did not offer a referendum on the Single European Act or Maastricht—which, indeed, they did not—and that one was not held on the Treaties of Amsterdam or Nice—which, indeed, it was not—so why should we have one on this new, innocent, little treaty which merely makes it possible for the European Union to function better?
In the mean time, the Eurocrats will proceed to implement their plans under the Treaty of Nice, as indeed they are already doing. They are already integrating their defence expenditure and setting up their battle groups, with troops already in the Congo under the EU flag; the Galileo project is going ahead, with the obvious purpose of undermining the United States' global positioning system and in spite of US objections; they have already taken control of our asylum system; and the Luxembourg court is already invading our national ability to collect corporation tax.
So the juggernaut rolls on. It will not be prevented even by a French "No" to the constitution. But if they vote "No", and the constitution is taken off the table, I cannot see how we will get a referendum if there is no proposal upon which to hold it.
So Eurosceptics must hope that the French vote "Yes". Then we will probably have a referendum, and we will win it. Only thus can we be sure of starting the process of disengagement from the project of European Union which a majority of the British people now seem to want, even if they have never been told by any of the main political parties why they are so right to do so. Indeed, recent opinion polls show that 64 per cent of 18 to 25 year-olds would vote to reduce our relationship with Brussels merely to one of free trade with the single market.
I suppose it is quite an unusual experience for the destiny of this country to be held in the hands of the French, but I hope they rise to the challenge. If they do not, we shall be forced to continue the process whereby our Parliament grows ever weaker and whereby the fundamental tenets of our sovereignty continue to be betrayed. One of those tenets is that the British people should elect and dismiss those who make their laws—the Members of the House of Commons. Another is that the British people have given Parliament the power to make all their laws for them, but they have not knowingly given Parliament permission to give that power away. Both principles have been betrayed by our political classes over the past 33 years.
If the French vote "Yes", we in the United Kingdom will probably have the opportunity to save ourselves by our endeavour, when we vote down the constitution. Perhaps, in the ensuing confusion, we shall even help to save the real Europe, the Europe of democratic nations, by our example.
My Lords, I express my warmest congratulations to the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Drayson, on assuming their new roles on the Front Bench. I really look forward to having them as interlocutors on the relatively rare occasions on which I speak in your Lordships' House.
I do not know by what Machiavellian process my name came to be put down immediately after that of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. As your Lordships well know, in my position as chairman of the European Union Committee, I cannot engage in polemics on the issue that is dearest to my heart. But were it not for the fact that I know that the noble Lord studies very closely what goes on in the European Union—although his interpretation is entirely different from mine—I would be tempted to say that his comprehensive contempt for the European Union would seem to be manifestly not bred of familiarity. I am afraid that much of what he had to say I did not recognise. However, I shall be happy to tell my friends in France that he is rooting for a "Yes" vote. They will be deeply comforted.
I thank your Lordships very warmly for once again entrusting me with the chairmanship of the European Union Committee. It is a great honour. I shall do all I can to see that it continues to scrutinise with rigour the European Union's draft legislation and programmes and to assist your Lordships' House in holding the Government to account in their decisions and actions in the various councils of the European Union.
My purpose in speaking in the debate is to update the House on the work the Select Committee plans to undertake in the year ahead, as we enter the UK presidency on
As the presidency parliament we also have certain obligations starting
I turn now, if I may, to the substantive work of the committee and its sub-committees. The Select Committee recently published a report on the constitution's subsidiarity early warning mechanism through which national parliaments may seek to influence EU law making by monitoring the Union's adherence to the principle of subsidiarity. The committee concluded that the principle of subsidiarity needs to be applied more rigorously if it is to be effective but we also recognised the great potential of the new protocol to help create more co-operative relationships between national parliaments and the EU institutions, particularly in working to make the European Union more transparent. We hope that the House will find an early opportunity to debate this issue since improving such scrutiny is something we should be doing anyway regardless of the state of progress towards ratification of the constitutional treaty and its attached protocols.
One of the leading UK presidency priorities is better regulation in the European Union. With that in mind the Select Committee intends to publish before the Summer Recess a report proposing means to ensure that better regulation. The committee will aim in particular to establish what better regulation means and what practical measures can be taken during the United Kingdom presidency for which the Government could be held accountable. The Select Committee will also examine the Commission's annual work programme, as we have done in recent years, and report to the House.
What then of the sub-committees? Our sub-committee on economic and financial affairs has recently published a major report on the future financial perspectives of the European Union (2007–2013), identified as one of the key priorities for the UK presidency. The report has already been widely read in the EU institutions and in a number of the national parliaments of the European Union and is currently awaiting debate on the Floor of the House. This sub-committee also plans to embark on its annual scrutiny of the budget of the European Communities taking evidence from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury with a view to publishing a report in time for the first reading of the provisional draft budget at the ECOFIN Council on 12 and
Our internal market sub-committee will report in June on the European Union's proposed directive on services—the so-called Bolkestein directive—which aims to create a European Union-wide single market in services and which, as your Lordships will know, has received a substantial amount of press coverage in recent months. The committee has already heard evidence from academics, trades unions, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses on this directive. Some sub-committee members have visited Berlin and Warsaw to find out how the proposal was viewed in a new member state and in a founder member state. The committee's report will be particularly timely as the European Parliament is due to have its first reading of this document in July and the UK presidency is keen to achieve considerable progress on this proposal for a directive.
The sub-committee on foreign affairs, defence and development aid expects to be examining the EU's relationship with the UN as well as running a second inquiry into how to scrutinise effectively the EU's common foreign and security policy. Since the policy is less document-based than policy in other areas, that has long been a concern of ours. In October it is planned, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, mentioned, to take an extensive look at the EU's relationship with the African Union. That promises to be a broad inquiry, looking at issues of conflict prevention, development, governance and institutional relations. It will tie in closely with the Government's own focus on Africa as part of the EU and G8 UK presidencies.
In conjunction with the relevant Commons committees, the sub-committee will also be responsible for hosting inter-parliamentary conferences here on foreign affairs, defence and development, which are scheduled to take place in October and November. It is hoped that the relevant Ministers will be able to discuss the UK presidency priorities and developments in each area. The sub-committee is aware that development issues will come to the fore during the UK presidency as a consequence of both the UN millennium review summit and an expected forthcoming report from the development commissioner, Louis Michel.
At present the Agriculture and Environment Sub-Committee is looking into the future financing of the common agricultural policy, which is a hugely important issue, and intends to report before the June European Council. In the autumn, the committee expects to build on that work by considering progress on reform of the EU's sugar regime, one of the few remaining CAP regimes still to be reformed. Following the publication of its report on climate change in the November of last year, the committee is expected to continue to monitor and examine what action the EU is taking in order to combat it.
The same sub-committee recently heard evidence from the Minister for Fisheries, Mr Ben Bradshaw MP, and will be considering what further improvements can be made under the UK presidency to the conservation, management and control of EU fisheries. In particular, the committee was dismayed by a number of scrutiny overrides in advance of the
The Law and Institutions Sub-Committee was prolific last Session under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, who has now left the committee and will be sorely missed. I take this opportunity to thank him for his significant contribution to the scrutiny of European legislation and to say how much I look forward to his future contributions in this area, in particular but not exclusively on the debates he will be introducing in the House on his reports. In the current Session the committee expects to take up issues on criminal and civil law and to be especially occupied in considering the Commission communications on divorce and wills and succession.
Finally, the Home Affairs Sub-Committee is currently responding to a new phase of EU activity in the sphere of justice and home affairs following the approval of the five-year Hague programme of action in this area. The implementation of the Hague programme is a key presidency priority for the forthcoming months. The committee published an analysis of the programme in March and looks forward to a wide-ranging debate on EU justice and home affairs in this new Parliament.
The sub-committee's main focus in the coming months will be on the topical and controversial issue of economic migration to the EU, on which the Commission published a Green Paper earlier in the year. During the UK presidency, the same sub-committee will be hosting a conference jointly with the Commons Home Affairs Committee for all the national parliaments of the EU on aspects of terrorism, on which both committees have recently published reports.
The Sub-Committee on Social Policy and Consumer Affairs published a report just before dissolution on the proposed EU integrated action programme for life-long learning. The Government's response is awaited and the report has been recommended for debate, in which I am sure many of your Lordships with your considerable experience in this field will wish to contribute. The sub-committee now intends to carry out an inquiry into the Commission's proposals for a new directive on harmonisation of consumer credit. The Commission wants to create a single market in consumer credit and to introduce new EU-wide standards of consumer protection. Our inquiry will examine whether a single market in consumer credit is feasible or desirable. It will also have to judge whether the proposed consumer protection measures are proportionate and based on a sound understanding of the complex and varied EU consumer credit market, where Britain has a significant lead and where the Government plan to add to the already extensive consumer protection framework of domestic legislation.
The sub-committee will also examine the Commission's new social agenda, published in February 2005, which raises important questions of the balance between the Lisbon goals of competitiveness and European traditions of social responsibility, which will form the basis of so much of the debate on referendums in European countries.
That is what your Lordships' Select Committee and its seven sub-committees expect to be doing during the British presidency. Some 70 members of your Lordships' House will be devoting much time, effort and unparalleled expertise to work which I know as a fact is widely appreciated and respected, far beyond the walls of this Parliament—indeed right across the European Union. This work not only focuses on significant issues that touch on matters of direct relevance to citizens, which is important enough, but also helps your Lordships' House to hold the Government to account for their work in this coming presidency, which is clearly a core task for the Parliament in the six months to come.
My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lord Grenfell in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his appointment to what I always thought was one of the most exciting and challenging positions in government. I wish him well. I congratulate him also on getting over the hurdle of his ministerial maiden speech, which is an ordeal, as I well know. I had to deliver mine within 24 hours of being introduced into your Lordships' House. I congratulate him very much on what he has had to say. I shall have a few more kind words for him shortly.
I ought to warn the noble Lord, if he will forgive me, about some of the—what shall I say?—thickets with which he may find himself confronted at the Ministry of Defence. Without detaining your Lordships with details, I suggest to him that if he were to go through the files on something called the AST 403, which has now emerged as Eurofighter—which started off as a plane that we were going to build with the French, optimised in the ground attack role and to be a Harrier/Jaguar successor, which was introduced to me in 1976—I think he will find the metamorphosis of the AST 403 into Eurofighter interesting.
My noble friend might also like to dig up the files on why our carriers—the Navy never allowed them to be called carriers; they were through-deck cruisers for many years—never had any close-in weapon system until we came to the Falklands conflict—I decline to call it a war—and they were bolted on within six weeks. He might also like to investigate the history of the lightweight torpedo and that of the Challenger tank. I could go on, but I will not. I think that he is in for a lot of entertainment.
I also recommend to the noble Lord that he pay a lot of attention to the reports of an outfit called DOAE—Defence Operational Analysis Establishment—down at West Byfleet, where he will find, if it is still run as it was in my time, an extremely effective independent source of advice on the sorts of decision with which he will be confronted.
I thought that the noble Lord was going to surprise me pleasantly today about the C17, but he did not. What he said was that we were going to convert our leases for four C17s into purchase agreements and that we were going to buy a fifth one. Of course, that is all welcome news, except that we have known it for about a year. What I am interested in is whether he can confirm that there is a report that appeared in the
"U.K. May Cut C–130s To Buy More C–17s".
If my noble friend had been able to say that, I promise him that he would not have heard me going on about the A400M any more. But the story says that, back in March, a DESO spokesman said that we were considering leasing off about half of our short fuselage C130s in order to buy another two C17s. I cannot imagine a more welcome decision. I hope very much that my noble friend will be able to communicate to me and the House that that is what the Ministry of Defence is considering.
With respect to the rest of the debate, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Truscott on being the first person to talk about Russia and to talk about it at great length in, if I may say so, an extremely well informed way. He very much enriched our debate in that respect, as of course did the ineffable—the marvellous—noble Baroness, Lady Park. You are always right, Lady Park. It was wonderful to hear you today. The ridiculous pettifogging economies that the Foreign Office is considering making for embassies and consulates abroad are so short-sighted. I agree with you completely. The amounts being saved are ridiculous. When you compare it with the total Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget and aid and so on, it is absolutely counterproductive. I could not agree more.
I had intended to start my remarks today by referring to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and saying that he wrote rather better letters than he made speeches. I am a fairly assiduous reader of the correspondence columns of the Financial Times, and I saw the noble Lord's contribution earlier this week. He has forgotten it already, judging by the expression on his face, but it was a good letter. If he will forgive me for saying so, he made a good speech today. I hope that he is not embarrassed.
With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I am glad to say that I revert to my usual position of almost total disagreement with everything that he says. He is a charming man, but he really is so uninformed. It is a delight to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. He said today that when we had a debate coming up in the country on whether we should subscribe to a European constitution—I hope that I do not misquote him—we would find the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties on one side and the Conservative Party on the other. That shows all that a distinguished mandarin knows about that.
My Lords, if the noble Lord thinks that manifesto commitments are any precursor to what will actually happen, that reinforces my remarks. He is a lovely man. That is the world that distinguished mandarins inhabit; they read manifestos. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench had obviously been reading the Labour manifesto; I have not read a Labour manifesto in 50 years, and I have not the slightest intention of doing so. They do not have any relevance whatever to practical policies, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, should know that. If anyone thinks, and if this Government think, that a debate on the constitution in this country will have the Conservative Party on one side and the Labour Party on the other, they are in for a very big shock. Both political parties are seriously divided on the matter, and we will see what will happen if we get a referendum on the constitution.
There is one other point that I wanted to take up with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—I am happy to give way again—with respect to the fact that there was no derogation from unanimity rules in matters of taxation. What is happening in Europe is a constant process of harmonisation of corporation tax by judicial decision, and no one is paying any attention to it. We already have a harmonised value-added tax; we already have harmonised customs duties; we are well on the way to getting harmonised corporation taxes; and the only thing that will be left to the discretion of individual Parliaments will be income tax and death duties. I predicted this—it was not difficult to predict—back when we had a referendum. It has come to pass, and it was always going to come to pass.
There is something else that I want to say about Europe. I have always been a little puzzled by Henry Kissinger's question, "What number do I telephone when I want to find out European foreign policy?". That struck me as the most extraordinary question. Lots of people get themselves in a lather, saying, "We will supply Dr Kissinger with a telephone number so that he can find out what European foreign policy is". If we substitute Asia for Europe, the question becomes ridiculous. Why should you ring a telephone number to find out Asian foreign policy? As soon as you put the question in those terms, the idiocy of the question becomes clear. I want to make it absolutely clear beyond peradventure—I am not particularly politically correct—that I am not in favour of an agreed, single, European foreign policy. That is a very bad idea—unless it is my foreign policy, and then it is a wonderful idea. If it is anybody else's foreign policy, I do not want it, thank you very much.
It is clear to me that if we had had an agreed European foreign policy we would not have gone into Iraq, which was an activity that I thoroughly supported; and we would not have liberated the Falkland Islands, which was another activity that I thoroughly supported. God knows what would have happened to Gibraltar by now. I am not in favour of a single European foreign policy; unless of course it is mine.
I have only one other thing that I want to say; I apologise for detaining your Lordships. It is about UAVs and is a point for my noble friend the Defence Minister. This country has had a rather unhappy record with respect to UAVs. We have been very slow off the mark and have taken a long time to develop them. Those that we have developed have been unsatisfactory, and we could do with a lot more openness—I do not pin anything on my noble friend, of course—on these matters.
I noticed from a recent edition of DefenseNews, a newspaper that I read regularly, that the United States navy recently published a wish list for unmanned underwater vehicles. Would you believe that it is 97 pages long, just on underwater unmanned vehicles? We are never told about what the British Ministry of Defence is thinking, what its aspirations are or how far it has gone. It would be very helpful if the Government could take the country into its confidence about UAVs in particular, but not only about them—about vehicles whether airborne, on land, undersea or on the surface of the sea. We would all benefit from a lot more openness, and I am glad to see my noble friend acknowledge that. Again, I wish him very well in his new responsibilities.
My Lords, may I ask a rhetorical question? I do not really expect an answer. If we are to be advised not to read the government party's manifesto, where does that leave the Salisbury convention?
My Lords, I apologise for missing the opening speeches due to unforeseen circumstances. I will mind the gap and keep my contribution brief. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his appointment, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on his new role.
I visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in January, where I was fortunate to hear first-hand from both peoples at the dawn of a unique political moment in the region's future. Just days earlier, the Palestinian people had had their first real taste of democracy and elected in Abu Mazen a welcome and pragmatic new leadership. Understandably, people have strong views about the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, but it took a real act of political courage to propose withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Thousands of settlers are protesting outside the Knesset every day, and death threats against Sharon cannot be ignored. The Israeli Labour Party joined the coalition not for political expediency, but to provide the required support for the Gaza disengagement plan—an opportunity that cannot afford to be lost.
It was clear from the very outset that a new hope had emerged with Abu Mazen. Few expected him to be able to defeat terror overnight; the crucial difference, however, was that at last a leader was in place who might genuinely attempt to combat it. Since the start of the year, both sides have advanced on a path of cautious optimism—a return to the negotiating table, increased security co-operation, handshakes between the chief protagonists, goodwill gestures, and the return of first Jordanian and then Egyptian ambassadors to Tel Aviv. Hopes rest, in the foreseeable future, on the plan to withdraw from Gaza. We must focus relentlessly on what we can do to facilitate that plan and make it work.
Hamas's success in the municipal elections in the Gaza Strip promoted speculation that Israel would postpone withdrawal, but Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has since declared that Israel will continue as planned. That is a welcome announcement. But the situation remains very delicate, as we all know. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the British Government are to be commended for taking a leading role on the world stage in terms of support for the disengagement plan as a building block towards peace and a return to the road map—a stance confirmed in yesterday's debate in the other place, where the Minister for Europe, Douglas Alexander, confirmed that the Government had been forthright in their condemnation of the building of illegal settlements by the Israeli Government. He also stressed the importance of the Palestinian Government delivering on their commitments to reform and, especially, security.
The UK has also led the way in maintaining the momentum created by disengagement via the London conference in March, which focused on the reform of Palestinian security, political and economic infrastructure and international engagement. I welcome the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, that the UK Government will continue energetically to be involved.
The British Government rightly take the view that disengagement from Gaza is a way of moving forward. There are huge problems to be dealt with, both in the West Bank and Jerusalem, but broad-based international support remains critical. Yesterday's announcement that the Foreign Secretary will shortly visit the region is a further welcome signal of Britain's intent to remain fully and positively involved—and I wish him and his Foreign Office colleagues every success in their diplomatic endeavours over coming months.
My Lords, we welcome the new Ministers. When I look across at them I first think that Ministers are getting much younger. When I, as a boy, first joined the choir school across the road, the father of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, was still singing treble. When I look across at the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, I anticipate what he will say about the AUT's decision to boycott Israeli universities. As a former member of that union, I remember our good, left-wing general secretary and I would be interested to hear what he has to say about that, now that he is a member of the Government.
We have covered a wide range of subjects. Following the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, I should add in passing that, if he leaves tonight, there are still 10 days of campaigning left in France to work for the "yes" campaign. We have touched on Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. I would say to those who said that Iraq is now more important than Afghanistan, that finishing the task of rebuilding Afghanistan is vital—not just for our security and the drugs trade, but for the security of Afghanistan's neighbours to the north, as well as to the east and the south.
A number of noble Lords spoke impressively about UN reform, the UN millennium goals and the further report of the UN high-level panel. I would have loved to touch on one or two matters in the Labour Party manifesto, which some of us read and think may even matter. For example, it stated:
"We will work actively to secure an international treaty on the arms trade".
That was an interesting statement from a government who continue to promote arms sales. I look forward to stronger proposals on that from the Government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and my noble friend Lady Northover mentioned corruption. I noticed that the Labour Party manifesto gave a commitment to "zero tolerance of corruption". It stated:
"We will work for faster repatriation of stolen assets from UK financial institutions".
Again, I look forward to proposals from the Government to ensure that that is tightened up. Half of the offshore financial centres in the world are under British sovereignty. There is much that Her Majesty's Government could do to tighten up the corruption which leads to money flowing from those to whom we give aid or the transfer of royalties back to institutions which are under British financial regulation.
I want to talk about the underlying link between foreign policy as a whole and our national identity, because that is the problem with our foreign policy. We do not know who we are, what we think our place is in the world, where we think we belong and who our natural partners and neighbours are, as opposed to our natural rivals, indeed, enemies.
Identity politics will be a central issue in British politics for the next five years. Externally, the issues will be whether we see ourselves as European or a part of the Anglosphere and whether we see ourselves as open to a dialogue with Islam or caught up in a war against Islam. I have spent much of the past five weeks working in constituencies which have substantial populations of British Muslims and I am conscious that that is a debate about ourselves, not just about foreign policy.
We must also be concerned about our openness to Asia and Africa. That also comes home to us on the doorstep and in our cities. We are torn—as we particularly saw in the Conservative election campaign—between the benefits of diversity in renewing our cities and renewing British culture and the fears of a loss of Englishness. Above all, the fear of loss of identity is an English fear.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, talked about the need to make closer links with Asia. Happily, our south Asian population does well in promoting British trade with south Asia, working on both sides. However, although we have substantial Japanese and Chinese communities in British cities and universities, we do far less trade with east Asia than does Germany or even France. That represents an underlying confusion and hesitation about what kind of country we want to be and how we see ourselves in the world. I do not buy the argument about Britain being more international than our continental partners. In many ways, we are more parochial than some of them.
The greatest unresolved issue remains Europe versus America. I strongly agree with Tim Garton Ash and others who say that we are still operating under the shadow of Churchill and his view of the English speaking peoples, which is where we belong, with an ambivalent commitment to continental Europe. That is buried in our past of the Protestant Anglo-Saxons versus the Catholic authoritarian Continent.
As Prime Ministers, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson took us into the European Community but did not manage to root us in Europe. When Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister, there were many on the Continent and some here who thought that it was splendid to have someone who had no prejudices against European co-operation. Indeed, in her last year as Prime Minister, she attempted to tackle the question of who we think we are, setting up a committee, to which Lord Russell and I acted as advisers, to redefine British identity through the history syllabus as taught in what she thought of as British schools, only to discover that the English and Welsh ministries of education did not have power to tell Scottish schools what history to teach.
When John Major became Prime Minister, he said that he wanted to take Britain to the heart of Europe and was then driven backwards to the fringe. When the current new Labour Government came in there was a lot of brave talk about leadership in Europe, being at the centre of Europe and also, of course, of Britain serving as a trans-Atlantic bridge, a pivot or a balance. In turn, this Government have taken a similar drift back from European commitment to following the lead from Washington.
That is not to pretend that the EU itself is in good shape. Today, we have heard different opinions on the constitutional treaty. I, on the whole, agreed more strongly with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Williamson, and others. But whatever happens about the constitutional treaty, there is an underlying crisis within the EU of direction and a loss of direction. Part of it is the failure to adjust to the recent enlargement, which has transformed the nature of European integration.
I was pleased to hear the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, always one of the most intelligent critics of European integration, on the extent to which the current enlargement and pressures for future enlargement raise questions that many current governments are not prepared to address. There has been a huge failure of leadership within the European institutions, and in France, Germany and Italy, to talk about how we define the priorities for an EU of 25, which is about to become one of 27, 28 and in time of 30.
But the British Government cannot escape their share of responsibility. The indirection of British policy, the absence of constructive criticism, of attempts to build coherent coalitions, to persuade people and follow through British initiatives, is also a major part of the problem. Part of it has been that, like education policy, European policy has been run from No. 10 rather than from a particular department. It used to be said of President Mitterrand of France that when he was ill France did not have a foreign policy. I have often felt about Britain's European policy that when Mr Blair was in Washington or preoccupied with other things, we did not have a European policy. We certainly have not had a consistent European policy.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is apparently fond of referring to the five French Finance Ministers with whom he has had to deal while in office. We are now on our seventh Europe Minister, and I have no doubt that, again, French people will react to that. I also gather that we are on our sixth Minister for Africa. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, but if stocks were turned over quite as fast as Ministers, in the City they would call it "churning". I think it would be a good idea if we did not change Ministers quite so rapidly.
The Liberal Democrats have welcomed a series of British initiatives on European matters. We welcomed the Lisbon agenda but regretted the extent to which the Chancellor and others hectored their European partners on it. We welcomed the European security and defence policy initiative. We note that the Labour manifesto says:
"We will continue to lead European defence cooperation".
I wish we would. We have let it drift rather sadly since 1999.
We welcome British diplomacy on Darfur. I understand that British diplomats in the UN and elsewhere, alongside the French, have done a great deal to create a NATO/EU/African Union partnership on Darfur. I wish that the Government would celebrate that European co-operation and explain it to the public as part of the benefits of such co-operation.
We welcome British co-operation with French and German Foreign Ministers over Iran to encourage evolution and not to force regime change. So why the underlying drift and why the indirection? First, it is partly a matter of style. If we have an authoritarian executive in which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor expect that what they decide will pass through Parliament unamended, as the House of Lords has so often discovered, Ministers who are used to command and demand and not to co-operate and persuade, with no experience of coalition politics or of dealing with equals, then find it easier to accept the subaltern partnership with Washington than to work with others to create a European consensus. I deeply regret that this Prime Minister and this Chancellor, like their predecessors, cross the Atlantic to learn and cross the Channel to lecture.
The second reason is Murdoch and the extent to which the Faustian pact with the right-wing press—this extraordinary preoccupation of new Labour throughout eight years in office—has prevented the Prime Minister talking about the long-term usefulness of our European commitment.
But the Murdoch press has a project—the Anglosphere, separate from Europe and not allowing Britain to balance between the two. We need to recognise how strongly the flow of right-wing American nationalism now runs—through the Administration, through Congress, through think-tanks and through the American media. This is a rejection of the multilateral order, including active efforts to undermine the United Nations. It is a rejection of international regulation and of the welfare state at home, and a revolt against the entire Roosevelt legacy.
The Murdoch press sees the United States as exceptional—as the world's dominant power and determined to maintain military and other supremacy, with NATO as an American-led alliance and not as a transatlantic partnership. It sees Islam as a threat, with a long-term civilisational conflict between the Christian West and the Muslim world. It has a real contempt for Europe. Last weekend at a conference on just war, I met a right-wing American Roman Catholic nationalist—a concept I had not had in mind before—who referred on a programme which noble Lords may have heard last Sunday to the crisis of civilisational self-confidence in Europe, which may lead Europe to become Eurarabia by 2050. That is fairly extreme for someone who told me how well he had known the last Pope.
The Anglosphere is seen by such people as an alternative leadership group of the English-speaking peoples, plus Japan and Israel. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, edge towards this concept of a world order—the Heritage Foundation's view of the world—but I wonder how many Labour Party members, apart of course from the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, are happy to be so closely linked to the world view of the Republican right.
Therefore, I felt it was only appropriate that the Foreign Secretary's contribution to the Queen's Speech debate should be made in Washington. It was a good speech and I recommend it. It was a defence of the Rooseveltian settlement both at home and abroad. He spoke about the importance of freedom from want and from fear as well as freedom to—I am not sure how many of his American heroes understood the subtleties of what he was saying. Clearly he supported the UN agenda for a stronger multilateral response to global poverty and local conflicts. He urged a partnership between Europe and America—not a relationship between Britain and America. Of course, it was not so robust and explicit a speech as George Galloway's contribution to the Queen's Speech debate in Washington, but at least it hinted on matters in the right direction.
The agenda for the coming months on European matters must preoccupy Her Majesty's Government, whether or not the French and Dutch referenda are won or lost. We take over the presidency on
My Lords, I must start by declaring an interest as honorary colonel of a Royal Engineers TA regiment and as patron of a Sea Cadets unit which carries out wonderful work in training young people in maritime awareness skills, very ably supported by the Royal Navy.
I also warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, to his appointment to speak for defence in this House and as the Minister for defence procurement. The noble Lord will find that this House is very interested in defence and is very well informed. We are very grateful that the noble Lord offers his services unpaid. Is that a very generous gesture by the noble Lord or perhaps an absolute necessity, given the increasing strain on the MoD's budget? We shall miss the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who has moved from the battlefields of defence to the greener pastures of rural affairs and agriculture. As with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will find that we shall support him when he is right, but we shall oppose him when he is wrong.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on his new appointment. He came to this House with a reputation as a shrewd political administrator, a reputation that he has enhanced here. I congratulate him on successfully making that transition, while saying how much I shall miss the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on the other side of the Dispatch Box.
I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Garden. I had a very constructive working relationship with his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and I very much hope that we can continue that.
As my noble friend Lord Howell said, I shall focus on the defence aspects of the debate. My noble friends Lord Howell and Lady Rawlings have covered important aspects of foreign affairs and international development. It would be impossible to comment on every speech, but I want to say how grateful we were on these Benches for the warm words that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said about our late friend Lord Campbell of Croy, who always spoke with great authority on defence matters.
My noble friend Lord Lyell mentioned the Lords Defence Group. What he failed to say was that, with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, he runs that important group very capably and we are very grateful to both of them.
I pay tribute to the commitment and dedication of our Armed Forces wherever they are deployed. We thank them for their loyalty.
Today's debate has illuminated many of the distinct threads that constitute a coherent international policy. It is the quality and reliability of our Armed Forces that guarantees our country's security and its ability to play its particular constructive and stabilising role in the world.
The British Prime Minister has a great advantage in international negotiations. For, when it comes down to it, no one will underestimate the value of the British Armed Forces, what they can do and what, if necessary, they will do.
Defence policy under Labour seems dangerously adrift. The SDR and successive White Papers have done little to put us back on course. Repeatedly, there has been a gulf between the Government's promises and their delivery, between analysis and solutions, and between what is being asked of our Armed Forces and the resources at their disposal.
The SDR declared its intention to put security and foreign policy needs at the heart of our defence policy. Those who warned at the time that the invisible hands of the Treasury would shape the outcome have seen their fears realised. One of the review's premises was the understanding that change might be for the worse, not just for the better, and that the so-called peace dividend, following the end of the Cold War, might only be temporary. There has been change for the worse as our Armed Forces, including, as my noble friend Lord Freeman said, the reserves, have been required to deploy further afield and far more frequently than was ever envisaged.
Contrary to logic and best practice, this has not prompted a revision of the planning assumptions. We have instead witnessed an insidious programme of Treasury-led cuts, using the genuine need for modernisation as a stalking horse, while the central problems—among them overstretch and under-manning—have been allowed to snowball.
It seems to me that the Government are turning their back on their own lessons and those of history. Our Armed Forces are our insurance against the unexpected. We are, in the words of the First Sea Lord, "taking on risk on risk". Surely the lessons from the operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq are that numbers matter, particularly infantry numbers.
Our Ministers face critical choices about the future rule of our troops in Iraq, especially as later this year we will see the withdrawal of our allies, the Polish forces, from the multinational division central. Our other allies may expect us to cover this gap, but will we be able to do so? Do we have enough troops to take on that commitment? Do we have enough troops to continue the important training of the Iraqi security forces, not mentioned in the gracious Speech? Until they are properly trained and equipped, the reconstruction and rebuilding of the country will not progress as it should.
The Minister pointed out that we remain committed to Iraq for as long as it wishes our assistance, but we have now committed ourselves to move large numbers of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to meet our forthcoming lead NATO role in ISAF. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on the importance of our Afghanistan commitment. Do we have enough troops to continue indefinitely to garrison Afghanistan and Iraq?
The Royal Navy provides a graphic example of the plight faced by all three services. The 200th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar will highlight Britain's importance as a maritime nation, but Her Majesty's Government appear to have forgotten that we are a maritime power.
The Royal Navy's available resources are now so slender that it is unable to discharge its full complement of duties. As my noble friend Lord Ashcroft said, the frigate and destroyer fleet is in the process of being slashed from the 32 ships envisaged in the SDR to a mere 25. That is despite the warnings of the First Sea Lord, who deems a fleet of 30 the absolute minimum needed to protect our shores, shipping and fulfil its standing tasks, let alone respond to the unforeseen.
Ninety-five per cent of Britain's traded goods are transported by ship, rather than by air or land. That represents a combined value of £440 billion per annum. British merchant shipping has started to thrive again just as the Royal Navy has declined in size. Its front-line operating costs of £3.6 billion appear a very modest insurance premium to keep our island nation's economic arteries open, particularly when piracy is a $16 billion growth industry.
The deployability of the shrunken fleet and the morale of those who serve with it are being jeopardised by a chronic shortage of spares, and parts being cannibalised to support ships deployed on operations. In other areas we are hiving off capability and know-how irretrievably, such as the decision to speed up the scrapping of the core of the mine-clearance fleet. We risk falling beyond critical mass in traditional areas of excellence which cannot be revived in an instant should the need arise—in this case, should terrorists or others turn to the mining of shipping routes to disrupt trade. The future carriers are vital to our future expeditionary capability, where we will go to the crisis rather than the crisis coming to us.
What are we to infer from the fact that one third of the staff seconded to the alliance building carriers have been stood down, and that we have yet to reach main-gate approval? Failure to proceed with the carriers would be a devastating blow to our air and sea power, since almost half the planned RAF will be "carrier capable" and the overall utility of the reduced RAF rests on the assumption of mobile bases. I therefore look forward to the Minister's replies to the excellent questions by my noble friend Lord Luke on carriers and the JSF.
The procurement process is in crisis. Projects identified eight years ago in the SDR have yet to be delivered, among them the Joint Casualty Treatment Ship and FRES. Difficult decisions must be made. The planned procurement timetable is untenable—late, hugely over budget and lacking a clear industrial strategy. As a concerned Opposition, we will seek clear answers on the difficult spending choices facing the Ministry of Defence, including decisions on UAVs.
Reference was made in the gracious Speech to the tri-service Armed Forces Bill. That measure is clearly essential and long overdue. It will be, we are warned, a massive Bill. We will certainly listen carefully to the views of former members of the Armed Forces, who bring first-hand experience of the issues and understanding of the real practicalities.
The SDR White Paper was at pains to stress that the Armed Forces,
"must continue to be valued by society".
There is little doubt that the country continues to respect and prize the unique sacrifice made by the Armed Forces but there appears to be a new and more potent danger: that the Government themselves risk not valuing them properly. We require our soldiers to switch seamlessly from war-fighting to peacekeeping operations, sometimes almost overnight, with little thought to what that represents.
Our soldiers cannot go to war fearing that they risk prosecution and civilian courts for split-second decisions made under unique circumstances—decisions that they are trained to make. The fact that in the Trooper Williams case the judgment of a commanding officer was overturned in court has terrible consequences for soldiers' confidence in the officers who lead them.
As earnestly as we would wish to be proved wrong, we have grounds to fear that Labour is presiding over an unprecedented decline in our Armed Forces. If the Government want them to continue to be a force for good, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, pointed out, our Armed Forces must be properly supported, manned, resourced and housed.
My Lords, first, perhaps I may respond with my profound thanks for the good wishes that both my noble friend Lord Drayson and I have received from noble Lords. I am sure that both of us will do our very best. Indeed, as I prepared for this debate over the past few days, noble Lords can imagine my dismay when I saw the lead story on every broadsheet this morning. It appears to have torn to pieces much of that preparation, but I guess that that is what comes with the job.
It is true that it is daunting to follow my noble friend Lady Symons because of the depth of her knowledge of the issues, places and people, her analytical powers and her habitual willingness to answer the question asked. Those qualities have endeared her to the House and I can say only that I share in that respect, admiration and affection. I wish her well and hope that I can do the job with some of the élan that she has brought to it.
I should like also to thank my honourable friend Chris Mullin in another place. He has an intimate knowledge of Africa and was incredibly effective in dealing with our national interests on the continent. I wish him well.
I shall enjoy working with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and with the Liberal Democrat Front Bench as a whole. I refer first to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and because there is always a relationship between issues of security and foreign policy, with the spokesman on defence matters.
This has been an exceptional debate. Members of this House have raised a comprehensive set of issues that are facing our nation and, as they always do, they have called on their expertise in defence and international affairs, thereby demonstrating just the qualities that so distinguish this House. Yesterday I was surprised to hear the Shadow Foreign Secretary claim in another place that the Government's foreign policy was ambiguous. He argued that we were failing to take opportunities to advance our national interests beyond Europe's borders. Having heard the debate that has taken place today, one opened with such purpose by my noble friend Lord Drayson, having listened to the interventions made from all sides of the House and having thought hard about what has been said, I cannot accept that the United Kingdom Parliament is other than fully engaged in every major international issue.
In my first week in office I found myself immersed in problems of conflict resolution and of preventing conflict starting in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. The issues lie way beyond Europe's borders, but it is heartening to note that the European presidency, with the regional African body, ECOWAS, have recognised that it is in the mutual interest of us all to seek progress in ending conflict, promoting good governance and anti-corruption, and not least stopping the supply and spread of small arms. That is a UK objective, a European objective, and an objective of the democracies in that part of the world.
Part of my thinking has been prompted by the fact that it is the 60th anniversary of the victory against the Nazi and fascist regimes in Europe by an alliance of people whom history will record as incredibly brave, and among whom those in the United Kingdom stood the most steadfast. So it is a good and serious moment at which to take stock.
In my view, the starting point of our policy is that we have to understand that we live in a highly interdependent world. Some remote conflicts are inextricably linked to us. Conflicts far away are linked to heroin on British streets, while agricultural policies formed in our own economic community are closely tied to the opportunities that are afforded or denied to people in some of the poorest countries. Globalisation impacts on trade, the movement of peoples and, of course, on cultures. Ideas are transmitted at the speed of light. It is not a matter of mileage any more; you can get to China or Tierra del Fuego with one click.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, accurately referred to the issues that will face Europe and the United Nations in the future. They are issues with which we must grapple. As my noble friend Lord Truscott said, we will have to take into account issues in relation to Russia and developments in the former Soviet Union which are bound to have an influence on our world. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, made a similar point when he said that failure in Iraq would be failure in Jerusalem. This is an interlinked world.
To navigate such a complex world, Britain must rely on its values, its world-wide alliances and friendships, and the opportunities afforded by the wealth of our strong economy. These give us our compass. One key element of this is the importance of inter-faith dialogue and good relations between many of the faith communities to ensure that the dialogues and understandings that can be achieved are built on. That is sometimes understated in our work. To this end, the Government have supported—and will continue to support—a number of inter-faith conferences and meetings around the world, such as the Alexandria process and the inter-faith conference in Bali.
I also note that many Members of the House play a leading role in that work, as do many people outside. I am always bowled over with admiration when I consider the work of Sir Sigmund Sternberg and others in this area.
Before turning to the issues among which we must steer a path, I should say to the House that of course it is always people who deliver values; they are not wholly abstract. I join my noble friend Lord Drayson in his tribute to the men and women of Britain's Armed Forces, who work in a difficult and dangerous environment almost all the time in the interests of peace. Those are our values.
I add my tribute to the members of the Diplomatic Service and other government departments, to the NGOs, the doctors and nurses, the engineers and the volunteers who form another kind of army which works tirelessly to help people across the world to escape war and poverty and to enjoy the freedom, justice, health and prosperity that we take for granted. These people, too, speak to our values, and they do so with practical commitment.
I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the NGOs bring a capacity to debate, associate, reflect critically and act on issues. I know of no society—whether in Iraq or anywhere else—where those values are not appreciated when they are available for people to appreciate them.
In his contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made the point—and if I have understood it correctly I certainly agree with it—that our values are shaped both by our history and our present cultural diversity. They are twins in the shaping of a modern identity.
So what are our priorities? I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I put them briefly because I want to respond to as much of the debate as I can.
First, we are committed to building a safer and fairer world. The Commission for Africa demonstrates this commitment. Our presidency of the G8 this year provides a key opportunity, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said. Africa is a remarkable and creative continent—it is not all downside and bad news by any means—and its peoples want the best for their families, just as we do.
This great latent talent is held back and sometimes obscured by extreme poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, by conflict, corruption and poor governance. But there are also beacons of democracy, good governance and fewer conflicts. There is a greater determination by Africa's leaders to resolve Africa's conflicts and to work in partnership, as signified by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, and the emerging role of the African Union. Britain's commitment is both to continental take-off and to incremental improvements in the lives of individuals everywhere.
There is a growing resolve to own problems and to shape the future. Great strides have been taken in many countries; in Ghana and Nigeria, for example, towards economic reform and improved governance. We are all aware of South Africa's stunning progress post apartheid and its rapid development as a key international player.
Last December in Mozambique—a country that only a decade ago was recovering from a vicious civil war—we saw a free and fair election and the smooth handover of power from President Chissano, who had completed his second term, to President Guebuza, whom I look forward to meeting when he visits the United Kingdom in June.
In other parts of the region we have seen progress that was inconceivable only a few years ago. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, in Sudan, we saw in January, at least in part of the country, the ending of 21 years of civil war. British diplomats, especially our Special Representative, played a prominent role in that, and we and others will continue to monitor and to press for rapid and full implementation of the peace process. But it would be foolish to say that there is not still a huge amount to be done in Sudan. The disaster in Darfur blights Africa; it is vital that the Government and the rebels respect the ceasefire and negotiate in good faith for the benefit of the long-suffering people of the area. It is one of the worst scars on the international scene, and we must see real progress.
There is no automatic position whereby aid will continue to go to places where there is no respect for the agreements that are made. I welcome the Security Council imperative, following the decision to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. There is no impunity in past crimes; the issue of Charles Taylor is an illustration of our plain wish to ensure that there is no impunity. I will take up the question I have been invited to take up about the death sentence for human rights campaigners, including Dr Adam. I thank those noble Lords who raised the matter today.
We welcome the African Union's efforts in mounting its most ambitious monitoring operations. It continues to support work all over the region, and we support it in doing so. The Government have committed more than £66 million for humanitarian operations in Darfur since September 2003, and will be making available a total of £288 million over three years for humanitarian and development assistance throughout Sudan. We will work closely with our international partners, continuing to play a leading role in the Security Council, and to improve the situation on the ground.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke about how we can ensure success. I do not know how success can be ensured but we can bend our best efforts and give our assistance to ensure that the African Union, now taking far greater possession of these issues, does so effectively.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester quite rightly points to the difficulties of the fragile and ungoverned states, as he put it, their capacity to investigate crimes and to deal with some of the hard issues. As in Sierra Leone, where the Special Court for Sierra Leone is dealing with events that occurred in Liberia, we will look for the best place to do it and the best opportunity. I do not claim that there is a perfect formula; we must just try and find the ways that work and be intensely practical.
The United Nations and other forces are a crucial resource, and we will have to judge who is useful in any particular circumstance. That is why I have emphasised the role of the African Union in so many areas where ownership has to be taken.
While the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo remains very fragile, we have seen progress in the past few years. The civil war in the DRC, in which millions died, has ended. With the help of the UN peacekeeping mission there, the country is on the beginnings of the path to democratic elections. Rwanda continues to rebuild and revive after the tragedy of the genocide in 1994. And in Burundi, all the former rebel groups have agreed to cease hostilities in advance of elections. We will continue to support the countries of the Great Lakes politically and financially to help them achieve long-term peace and prosperity.
In the Horn of Africa, we will continue to invest time, money and expertise in the development of a government for Somalia, which has suffered for more than a decade with the crisis that always accompanies being a failed state. I am seeing the new president tomorrow.
We provided crucial observers for last Sunday's general election in Ethiopia. The results are yet to be announced, but the EU observer mission described them as,
"the most genuinely competitive elections the country has experienced".
We play a crucial role in pressing Ethiopia and Eritrea to walk back from the precipice on which they plainly stand of military conflict and to move forward in accordance with their international obligations.
I recognise that that progress has not been replicated over the whole continent. As many noble friends have said, the Government share the concern that the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned about the situation in Zimbabwe. I have a good deal of sympathy for what the noble Baroness, Lady Park, had to say. Together with our European and other partners we shall continue to pressurise Robert Mugabe's vile regime to restore democracy and respect for human rights and to resume co-operation with the international community. It will be a difficult task, but I assure noble Lords that it will receive the closest attention.
Our support to Africa will include financial aid, but it must also include growing trade and reform that open the markets of the developed world to ensure that there is real progress. If sub-Saharan Africa could regain just one additional per cent of global trade, it would earn $70 billion more in exports each year, five times what the region receives in aid.
This places emphasis on the G8 at Gleneagles and on the UN millennium review summit in New York in September, where the Prime Minister will play a major role. At the G8 summit in July, the Prime Minister will press for agreement on how best to take forward the recommendations of the Commission for Africa to reduce poverty and to promote peace, prosperity and good governance. He will urge the G8 to agree new and ambitious commitments. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked whether the promises were rolling in in advance of the meeting. There have been some substantive discussions, but there is still a good deal left to do. The Prime Minister will also encourage the UN member states to sign up to a full package of reforms linking the challenges of development, security and human rights, as has been advanced with considerable foresight by Secretary-General Annan.
On the theme of a safer and fairer world, we reassert our pledges to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. They are entitled to live free of violence in democratic nations. Iraq has taken steps on the democratic path for the first time, supported by the multinational force. Our mandate, Security Council Resolution 1546, to be reviewed in June, will conclude when the political process is completed by the elections in December. We will be there as long as the Iraqi Government need us to be there, not a moment longer and not a moment less. It is not helpful in such circumstances to try to set arbitrary dates which give—as we have seen in other conflicts—some of the combatants opportunities to delay the steps that they ought to take in order to wait for the security position to worsen and for them to take advantage of those circumstances.
My noble friend Lady Turner raised a number of important issues. She should take some comfort from the work that has been done, not least by my noble friend Lady Symons, with women in Iraq to build the civil society institutions that are of such importance to them. As my noble friend Lord Lipsey said, we must do all of this balancing knowledge, not just the knowledge gained in the period before the war but also the knowledge that we have now.
I understand the point that there is still huge trauma in Iraq, but I also understand—as I am sure the House does—that the greatest tragedy of all is the continued murder by terrorists in Iraq of Iraqi people who are trying to secure the freedoms and the liberties that we enjoy. So, I cannot accept the proposition that has been made from the Liberal Democrat Benches, and I do not believe that as a country we should do so.
The United Kingdom will continue to support Afghanistan and its people in their efforts to achieve stability, security and prosperity. We have committed at least £500 million over five years to 2006–07 to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Some £100 million of that will go to counter narcotics. We are committed to working to achieve that through a number of routes.
Of course, a range of questions has been raised about other countries and other priorities, such as the questions that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis raised on climate change. We will be working hard on that, and I assure him that, when we differ from the United States, we intend to have robust discussions with them.
As my noble friend Lord Drayson said, we shall deal with the fight against global terrorist networks—an issue that has also been raised in the context of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and others. We shall need and we shall work for a global treaty on small conventional arms, too. That remains a priority.
A breadth of opportunity to move forward is open to us in respect of the Middle East. Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank is unquestionably a brave start. The new Palestinian president holds a mandate for peace, and the Palestinian people have an opportunity of legislative elections this summer which will also add to that dynamic. I should say to those who have perhaps suggested that Arab nations are not highly engaged that at the London meeting they were indeed highly engaged—and so are we, in very practical ways. I mention one way, because it is so practical: the police cars that are used by the Palestinian Authority are supplied by us, and the training of the officers that sit in them is supplied by the United Kingdom. I am proud that we do that.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, said, I thought so precisely, that all those things would raise expectations. They must do so, because it is entirely right that it cannot be the case that Gaza, being the first step, comes to be the only step. That point was powerfully made. But it is crucial that leaders of both communities act on the issues that undermine confidence. Israel must stop the illegal expansion of settlements, or there will be no viable Palestinian state. And the Palestinians, as they promised in London, must deliver the security to which Israel is entitled. I confirm that I used the word "illegal", as the question was asked whether we did or did not regard it as such.
We shall show, as the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, invited us, every even-handedness. We shall work with the United States and others in the quartet, which, incidentally, meets regularly. Mark Ott of the European Union has been an important force in ensuring that its work moves forward. We shall try to achieve what we can by way of unanimous international support. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories very soon with that objective. We wish to inject momentum and will do so.
As a past general secretary of a union, I know that it is always unwise to comment on the present state of affairs. However, as I am invited to do so, let me say that when I used to chair the meetings between Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists in an attempt to help that part of the peace process, I found it productive, genuine and honest. I believe that the boycott is a regrettable step that, I hope, will be reconsidered urgently.
My noble friend Lord Drayson has made it clear that NATO has a proven track record of ensuring security. It will remain the main focus on which the allies will develop their collective and global crisis management stance. As the EU develops, its security capability will complement NATO rather than compete with it. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dykes—to whom I apologise if he has not received a letter which I feel sure that I sent, though I shall check it—that the relationship with the United States has to be strengthened a good deal, with some realism about the United States contribution to the whole process. That is occasioned not least by the rate at which it spends money on defence projects.
Finally, I move to Europe. Enlargement last May has spread stability and prosperity among nations so recently in competing military blocs. The further enlargement of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and accession discussions with Turkey under our presidency are in the United Kingdom's interests. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that progress looks solid and a cause for optimism in respect of Romania and Bulgaria. I think that we should feel quite optimistic about that.
The whole of the enlargement builds commerce and democratic reform and increases the human rights momentum. We will try to ensure that we carry forward the processes of European economic dynamism in the Lisbon process and fundamental reforms of the common agricultural policy. They demand attention. Methods of improving the discussion of decision-making in a far larger community follows the rationale of co-operation wherever possible.
A framework of co-operation, of course, lies in the constitutional treaty, drawing together so many other documents. I believe that that is why the proposals enjoy such support from all of the Conservative and Christian Democratic groups across the Continent. I encourage the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to make sure that the French are aware of that support, because that will certainly determine the outcome of the referendum.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, was good enough to refer to me in this context as well. Perhaps I could reveal to your Lordships that I leave for France at dawn on Sunday.
My Lords, God be with you. I enjoyed what I thought was a sort of a Maginot speech. The element where the octopus got attacked and then regrouped reminded me of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I am not sure that I ended up grasping all the metaphors but I did very much enjoy it.
The obligation that we have—this is a question that has been asked by a number of noble Lords, and I hope that I am answering the noble Lords, Lord Thomson and Lord Biffen—was set out in yesterday's debate again, although I think that it is actually well known. My friend in another place, Douglas Alexander, said:
"It's an obligation of each member of the European Union, ourselves included, a free-standing obligation under the terms of the Treaty to ratify it. But if there was a case where a Member State did not ratify it, as Jack Straw said yesterday, this would be a problem for the European Union. So as the Prime Minister made clear as long as there's a Treaty to vote on we intend to have a referendum".
I quote further. On
"I've always said we'll have a vote on the constitution. It doesn't matter what other countries do. We'll have a vote on the constitution".
That is the position. Although some newspapers described it this morning as being behind the times, I have no reason to believe so.
In all of that work, I hope that we will have the serious debate and the greater information for which noble Lords have appealed and that we will have all of the input that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has described as their forward working programme. I look forward to that very much. And I hope that we have that debate in a serious way; not a debate about straight sausages or any of the other things that somehow drag us away from the task or really dealing with this seriously.
I emphasise now, however, that tax, social security, defence, foreign policy, key areas of criminal law, the EU budget and further treaty changes remain in our national hands and we retain a veto in respect of each and every one of them.
There have been a very large number of contributions and I am very well aware of the time. Perhaps I may summarise them by saying the following. I was intrigued by the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the response of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, to it. I think that it is one of those framework-setting matters that we will have to analyse in your Lordships' House over the coming month.
I think that some fundamental issues have been raised, in particular by the noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Luke, about armament provision and capability. I will ask because I think that those matters require a detailed response with all of the information well categorised. I will ask through my noble friend Lord Drayson that we respond to those matters in detail and in writing. I am sure that we will have further debates on them.
We will obviously deal with the questions of military justice. I do not think that the authority of commanding officers has been undermined; it is still critical in the delivery of operational effectiveness. The ability of service courts to try offences committed outside the United Kingdom helps to ensure that the accused are dealt with in accordance with a system of British law rather than foreign courts and other systems of law. That is the beginning of a discussion that I know noble Lords will wish to ground far further than we can do now. I do not accept the assumption that we will face instability in provisions that might be made in Northern Ireland where police capacities, among other things, have become so much better and more robust.
I say to the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Garden, that the review of the embargo on China is ongoing. At the moment, no date has been set for a decision. Incidentally, while talking about what dates have and have not been set, I know of no date set for the trial of Saddam Hussein. I was also invited to provide that date, but it is a matter for the Iraqi authorities.
The issues that unquestionably cover trade are all issues that we will return to in our debates in the near future. We still aim for our targets in aid as a proportion of our national wealth, and we are well on the way. I say to my noble friend Lady Whitaker and to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that we are thoroughly committed to all of the international legal and domestic legal provisions to ensure that corruption does not undermine either the countries to which we send assistance or our own performance. There is no point in judging others unless we are prepared to make sure that what we do is beyond reproach.
I would love to—but I know that it would drive the House completely to a frenzy of despondency—go through so many of the other issues, about Sierra Leone and the work that is being done there, and to deal with so many of the other questions that have been asked about our capacities. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, asked about the rapidity of response, which we will cover in the responses, and he raised other matters about military capability. All in all, we have a huge and difficult, but also exciting, process ahead of us. I know that in this House, where foreign policy and defence are so central to our thinking, we will cover all those areas in greater detail. I will write to noble Lords where I have not covered issues. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me as I have already trespassed on their time too much. This is about the welfare of our nation, just as events in the south of the former Soviet Union are about the welfare of our nation and about human rights, all issues that we will have to take up.
I will work closely with colleagues on the Front Benches of both the Opposition parties, as there will be so much that we hold in common about the interests of our country. Where we have our disagreements, we will have them, but disagreements are not necessary on occasion and theatre, attractive as it is, does not always carry our national interests forward. We will work as closely as we can, because the interests of the United Kingdom demand that we do so.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.
Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.—(Baroness Crawley.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Monday next.
Lord Butler of Brockwell—took the Oath.