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, my noble friend Lady Warsi, who had been due to open today’s debate, has been unexpectedly called away from Parliament on an urgent family matter. I am honoured therefore, as government spokesperson for the Department for International Development, to be taking her place. This debate will, I know, range very widely, and there is enormous expertise in this House. I look forward to all contributions and to the response at the close of the debate from my noble friend Lord Astor.
Representing my noble friend Lady Warsi, I wish to spell out our foreign policy priorities. In the next 12 months we will continue to build Britain’s global reach and influence in line with our core priorities—to safeguard our national security, to promote our prosperity and to support British nationals overseas. I want to set out this agenda in four areas, which I will take in turn. These are: first, responding to the immediate foreign policy issues that we face; secondly, our work to promote Britain’s values across the world; thirdly, our efforts to support economic growth; and, fourthly, the steps that the Foreign Office is taking as an institution to ensure that we are fully equipped to take forward this important work.
The most immediate crisis facing us is the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria, an issue that has much occupied your Lordships. Over 80,000 people have been killed, and over 6.8 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Evidence of torture, summary executions and the systematic use of rape is widespread. We must achieve a political solution to bring a fast but sustainable end to the conflict. We are therefore pleased that Russia has agreed to encourage the regime to the table. This could represent a step forward. We need now to ensure that it delivers tangible progress towards a transition. However, there is still work to do. That is why we think it is even more important that we amend the EU arms embargo to incentivise the opposition to come to the table and increase the pressure on the Syrian regime. We have always said that an amendment to the embargo is designed to create the conditions for a negotiated solution.
The United Kingdom is playing an important role on Syria, supporting the moderate opposition with £12.1 million of assistance last year, and now contributing £170 million to the humanitarian response. DfID is front and centre in this response, and I am proud of that. We will redouble our efforts to end the violence and achieve a political transition, and will continue to support the UN’s investigation into the use of chemical weapons.
Elsewhere in the region we are maintaining our support for political and economic reform in the wake of the Arab spring. While many of the countries affected are facing challenges, progress has been made. We have seen the first ever democratic presidential election in Egypt, a new and democratic Government in Tunisia, and a new and more open constitution in Morocco.
Through the Arab Partnership we have committed £110 million from 2011-15 to promote political and economic reform, and we are working through the Deauville Partnership to promote open economies and inclusive growth. At the height of the Arab spring, the UK played a crucial role in supporting the Libyan people in their struggle for freedom. Effecting long-term change after four decades of dictatorship takes time and there remain significant challenges, but we must not lose sight of the progress made over the past two years. The United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Libya’s transition to a democratic, stable and prosperous country through the provision of advice and capacity building on security, justice and economic reform.
However, lasting peace in the Middle East will be achieved only if a solution is found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am sure that noble Lords will underline that point in this debate. This is a critical year for the peace process. There is a need to return to credible negotiations, but it will require bold political leadership and both parties to build trust. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have shown a strong commitment to pushing the peace process forward, and we will do all we can to support US efforts.
The Government also remain focused on Afghanistan. We seek an Afghanistan that can maintain its own security and that is not a safe haven for international terrorists. This requires us to help to increase the capability of the Afghan national security forces, to make progress towards a sustainable political settlement, and to build a viable Afghan state with a strengthened economy. The ANSF now leads 80% of all security operations and are on track to assume full responsibility for security by the end of 2014. This will help us to reduce the UK military presence by nearly half this year.
Alongside other international donors, the UK will provide long-term support through a £70 million commitment to sustain the Afghan national security forces after 2014, and a £178 million per year commitment until 2017 to support governance and development. This is crucial. We are not, as some have sought to argue, seeking to cut and run. I know from my work in DfID how committed we are on this front, especially to ensuring that the gains that women have made are not lost.
I pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of our troops. Four hundred and forty-four British service personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2001, and we will never forget the sacrifice that they and their families have made.
Of course, it is not just from Afghanistan that threats to the UK’s security have emanated. The In Amenas attack in Algeria, the attack in Boston and the rising trend in kidnapping for ransom among terrorist groups in north-west Africa highlight the continued threat that we face from terrorism. To counter this effectively, we need to combine creative work from our intelligence agencies and police with intelligent diplomacy. It is crucial that we work with international partners to address the conditions in which terrorism thrives. We will use our G8 presidency to ensure that this issue remains at the very top of the international agenda.
That brings me to the action to halt the military advance in January of al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Mali. UK logistical assistance and intelligence sharing supported a swift French and African military operation that radically diminished the threat in northern Mali. We continue to encourage Mali’s transitional authorities to pursue an inclusive reconciliation process that supports long-term stability.
Nuclear proliferation remains a further threat to our security. In Iran, we are determined to prevent the regime developing a nuclear weapon. In the past year, we have intensified our efforts, as part of the E3+3, to find a diplomatic solution, but Iran’s position still falls far short of what is needed to achieve a breakthrough. We will continue to apply pressure in pursuit of a peaceful, negotiated solution.
Further east, North Korea remains a concern, not least following its satellite launch in December and nuclear test in February. We have worked hard to secure two UN Security Council resolutions in response and the strengthening of EU sanctions. We are making it clear to the regime that North Korea’s long-term interests will be promoted only by constructive engagement with the international community.
Our responses to these issues have been guided strongly by our values. There is no time in this speech to go into detail on the huge amount that we do globally to support and defend human rights and democracy, but I want to highlight some specific areas.
The first area is freedom of religion or belief. The past year has seen more religiously motivated attacks and more cases of abuse, imprisonment and discrimination throughout the world. We need to strengthen the global political will to address the underlying causes of this problem. We will be building on this work in the coming year, which will also see us run for election to the UN Human Rights Council in November. We believe we have the experience and commitment to make a strong contribution to the council’s work.
Secondly, we have sought to rally international action on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has shown real leadership on this issue, which is central to conflict prevention and peacebuilding worldwide. We have created a team of experts to help build the capacity of bodies responsible for investigating and prosecuting sexual violence; agreed an historic declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict at last month’s G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting; and secured commitments from the G8, including support for the development of an international protocol and £23 million in additional funding for this issue. These actions have started to build an international coalition to end impunity for rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war. We will continue the momentum by putting this issue on the agenda of the UN Security Council next month and the UN General Assembly later in the year. We also hope the Foreign Ministers’ declaration will be welcomed by the leaders at the G8 summit in June.
As noble Lords will probably know, DfID is supporting work on this on the ground in Syria and Jordan. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made women and girls a top priority of DfID’s work. I commend my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone, who, within DfID, is taking forward a campaign to tackle female genital mutilation, seeking its end within a generation.
DfID, of course, looks to support the most vulnerable in the world and, for DfID, women and girls are therefore centre stage.
The third area is that we have helped to bring to a successful conclusion a seven-year, UK-led campaign for a UN international arms trade treaty. I pay tribute to my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Alistair Burt for his work on this. The treaty, adopted on
The fourth area is our leadership in supporting peace and stability in Somalia. Two years ago al-Shabaab controlled large parts of the country, piracy was growing and the threat from terrorism was acute. Today, a co-ordinated international effort has seen African and Somali troops drive al-Shabaab out of its strongholds, the creation of a new legitimate Government and a diminishing threat from piracy. The second London conference held last week was an important further step on the path to a peaceful and stable Somalia. The UK will remain actively engaged in this process.
The fifth area is the UK’s work in Burma, where we continue to shape the reform process. The past two years have seen the release of political prisoners, credible by-elections, initial ceasefire agreements and steps towards increasing humanitarian access to conflict areas. However, Burma needs to bring all ethnic groups into the process. We will continue our important work with Burma, including on inter-faith issues, and we are reviewing how we might assist with police reform.
Sixthly, we supported the agreement of a Commonwealth charter, which has for the first time given the organisation a single statement defining its core values. We debated this in the closing stages of the last Session. Given the importance we attach to the Commonwealth, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will attend this year’s Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. It is important that we are involved in the meeting and promote issues that matter to us. However, we continue to have concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka and will use every opportunity to encourage progress.
Seventhly, we are continuing with our work to support the British Overseas Territories. Good governance forms an important part of our work with the territories, together with ensuring their security and encouraging their economic development. We will continue to protect the Falkland Islanders’ and Gibraltarians’ right to determine their political futures.
This year, the United Kingdom honoured our promise to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made clear, we are the first G8 country to do so. This is critical because tackling poverty in the world’s poorest places helps us tackle the root causes of global problems that matter to Britain, from disease and drugs to migration and climate change, as well as being the right thing to do. It is an investment that will create a safer and more prosperous world.
Supporting economic growth and prosperity remains a particular focus of our work. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister wants to use our G8 presidency to advance trade, ensure tax compliance and promote greater transparency, all of which are critical for jobs and sustainable development. It is an ambitious, practical and pro-business agenda that benefits everyone, both in the developed and developing worlds. We will tackle barriers to growth such as protectionism and corruption, and work to ensure that global standards on cybersecurity are high enough to protect Governments, businesses and individuals from harm.
We will utilise the networks open to us to promote growth—networks such as the Commonwealth, whose members enjoy shared values and similar legal systems that provide solid foundations for business, trade, investment and development; and, of course, the European Union, with whom we will work to unlock free trade agreements such as the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We are a trading nation. We do not just want to trade with Europe, we want to have a say over the rules that govern that trade. This is exactly what our EU membership gives us. Membership of the EU is in the UK’s national interest. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it very clear that he wants Britain in the EU, shaping the debate on the things that really matter, such as reducing burdens on business, pushing trade deals with fast-growing economies and preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. We are clear, too, that the EU needs to reform, which is in the interests of all member states.
We are also developing the UK’s diplomatic partnerships with the fastest growing parts of the world, from the Far East and South-East Asia to Latin America, Africa and the Gulf. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced yesterday our decision to support the UAE’s strong bid for Dubai to host Expo 2020. If successful, Dubai would bring Expo to the Middle East for the first time in history. Over 100,000 British citizens live and work in the UAE and we enjoy a broad relationship on issues from education and trade to defence and foreign policy.
The Foreign Office and UKTI are working harder than ever to help British businesses overseas and promote Britain as a destination for foreign investment. In recent months, we have helped to deliver a £7.5 billion deal for BP to develop liquid natural gas in Indonesia and a £2.5 billion contract for BAE Systems to supply Typhoon and Hawk aircraft to Oman, and we have helped to promote the purchase of Battersea power station by a Malaysian consortium in a deal with an eventual value of £8 billion.
Finally, we are strengthening the foundations of the Foreign Office itself to ensure that it is fully able to defend Britain’s national and economic interest and contribute to a peaceful, stable and more just world. Part of this is equipping ourselves to give the best possible support to British nationals abroad, which remains a crucial element of our work. Our upgraded crisis centre helped us to provide a comprehensive response to crises such as those in Algeria, Gaza and the Egypt balloon crash; and last month we launched our 2013-16 consular strategy, which should allow us to improve our service still further.
Our foreign service is also about ensuring that we have the right resources in the right places, the most visible element of which is the expansion of our diplomatic network. We are deploying more staff to the fastest growing regions, upgrading existing posts and opening new ones. We have already opened or upgraded 12 posts across four continents, bringing our total number of posts to 267, with more planned over the next year.
We are also improving the skills of our diplomats, in particular in foreign languages and commercial diplomacy, and working to ensure that today’s Foreign Office reflects today’s Britain. We have made real progress in recent years, such as the number of women heads of post has more than doubled in the past decade. However, there is more to be done and we continue to work to ensure that the Foreign Office better reflects the great diversity of this country.
Today I have highlighted some of the Government’s recent foreign policy achievements and set out our priorities for the year ahead. The sheer breadth of issues on which we work, and their geographic spread, shows just how much the United Kingdom does on the international stage. Of course, the FCO works closely with the MoD and DfID in its work. This Government are committed to maintaining our “active and activist” approach, because we believe that Britain can and does make a real difference in the world.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what she has said and hope to respond against the background of the four guiding principles that she mentioned in her introduction. The debate has 56 listed speakers with extensive knowledge and experience, which, in my view, speaks volumes for the case for a standing committee on foreign relations in your Lordships’ House.
This is a deeply unsettled, uncertain and unstable time. All leading powers are still hauling their way through a profound economic crisis, and United Kingdom policy has left us becalmed, or worse. The crisis makes the formulation of foreign policy all the more difficult—an international challenge in its own right. The state of the wider Middle East is unpredictable and the outcomes of the Arab spring are still far from clear. Progress between Israel and the Palestinians is imperceptible, and the nation with the greatest leverage, the United States, has for a while deployed far too little influence. However, I welcome the new urgency that we have seen in recent weeks, which is an improvement on the mistakes that were made by the Bush Administration in that region. The United Kingdom is largely absent as a force for progress, however much we may advocate it.
Nuclear proliferation continues. Iran is increasingly problematic, North Korea has become a fully fledged problem and south-east Asia a cauldron of tensions. Miscalculation is the present risk. It is a time, as my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander, put it,
“for careful words and wise heads”.
Global terror, now partially contained in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Pakistani tribal areas, has, as we know, sickening ways of growing new viperous heads on western streets and elsewhere in the world. Terror directed at religious communities, if anything, grows. Cyberwar and crime require constant attention.
Europe has moved along the spectrum from being seen as a source of enduring Nobel Prize winning peace and prosperity to being the plaything of populist politics. Those afraid of dealing with populism seem to buckle at every perceived blow, and the United Kingdom’s long-term interests are placed at great risk. The extent of cuts in defence expenditure reduces our flexibility so that we have to choose very carefully, within reason and international law, where we respond to threats. Alex Salmond seems intent on unravelling our deterrent capability, undermining Scotland and the United Kingdom in equal measure.
Behind it all, the international institutions appear to be weaker, lacking leadership and often dysfunctional. The institutions where we so often place our hopes, such as the United Nations, the G20, the G8, the EU and the multinational forums of Africa and Asia—the machinery designed to learn the lessons of World War II—increasingly lack authority for any concerted strategy. They often let down the people in the world who are suffering the most. The case for liberal democracy and economics, and for the peaceful norms that we have sought to achieve in the past decade, appears to be weaker than it was a decade ago.
Let us face it: the United Kingdom’s voice in international affairs is less audible and sometimes not regarded as very relevant. I welcome the emphasis on international trade relationships in the FCO, but I cannot welcome the subordination of the other key skills of international diplomacy and statecraft that I think we are witnessing.
The two pieces of legislation in the gracious Speech—defence and some minor housekeeping on Europe—are unlikely to be the focus of today’s debate. The defence Bill will be studied. Its backdrop is a sequence of culls in the 2013 Budget and probable cuts in the 2015 spending review. Long-term commitments to real growth in equipment budgets, particularly the F-35B, mean that apportioning future austerity will determine where we project force in our national interest and through our alliances.
The Bill that ought to have been announced—if the coalition had had the courage of its 2010 convictions—would have enshrined the aid pledge made so volubly at that time. Driven by a “Farage” of populist rhetoric, the Prime Minister has dropped the legislation—how sad. Progress in Africa was central to the previous Government; I believed it was central to this Government. The damage to the millennium development goals creates greater uncertainty, insecurity and violence in Africa. It will impact on us and it is an historic error. Popular it may be in some short-term view; mistaken it certainly is. Better for Mr Cameron to use the G8 presidency to act on aid tax and transparency—perhaps he can move an amendment to the Queen’s Speech in order to do that and be remarkably “relaxed” in doing so.
In identifying and assessing risk in policy, we must be complete realists. The decision on Britain’s membership of the EU can be based—as the noble Baroness did a few minutes ago—only on a judgment of national interest. Committing now to an in/out referendum fails that test. I fear that we are not so much sleepwalking to the exit but that our Government have, in some cases, actively embraced exit or are indifferent to the consequences of the process we are now in.
We are three years into the eurozone crisis. The underlying causes remain. Politics and economics are marching in opposite directions. New structures are slow in the making. Failure will be devastating to frail major world economies, and some are now estimating a risk of a 10% decline in global GDP, and EU unemployment, already unsustainable, reaching 20%.
Many issues demand reform in the EU and an astute United Kingdom can contribute massively to that. But there are no credible substitutes for our current trade relations. The prospect of a free trade agreement between the two largest global blocs, the EU and the United States, offers opportunities that are otherwise unavailable. The key is to be at the international table—not outside the door, subject to the decisions within but without a voice or a vote.
What an amazing moment to blight our economic prospects with what will be a four-year campaign over a referendum, the terms of which nobody today can express with certainty. I declare an interest as leading a merchant bank and in that role I now routinely see due diligence risk questions from potential inward investors to the United Kingdom. Global businesses now contemplate the consequences of us fighting for four years and then potentially fracturing the EU by the withdrawal they fear is likely. It has become a due diligence risk. I put it plainly: a robust global economy is in the United Kingdom’s interest; the prosperity of our people should be our only goal. Of course, we will not simply defend the status quo—there are many things to be corrected—because that also hampers the interest and the goal I have expressed.
Advances in reversing proliferation as major powers reduce their arsenals are welcome. Iran and North Korea are not only dangers themselves but encourage other, often not stable nations to create a new balance of terror. Our limited role—and it may be limited—could involve assisting Washington and Beijing, the powers most likely to intervene, in that part of south-east Asia to show that new co-operation is desirable. Shared intelligence on the DRK’s WMD assets and some information on their own military resources tasked to intervene might reduce risk and build confidence. Co-operation in these ways is always risky, but non-co-operation is riskier still.
Relations with China have wider implications, and I am not clear that we really know what we are doing. We need to grasp what faces Xi Jinping and the new leadership in China’s domestic transformation and foreign policies, which are plainly problematic for them, to foster deeper relationships. All these things pose sharp and deep challenges.
I look to 2014 for an honest debate on our aims and their outcomes in Afghanistan. It is unhelpful to do so with our troops still on the ground. It is better at this moment to pay tribute to their courage and sacrifices. In due course, we will need to take stock of the security position that we leave behind. We will want to know whether Afghans regard their Government as legitimate and their economy as sustainable. We need a prospectus where security, good governance, the rule of law, universal rights, pluralism and the engagement of all forces in social reconciliation direct the efforts of the United Nations in that country.
Difficult as the Pakistani elections have obviously been, it is truly significant that an elected Government have been succeeded by another. The UK must engage early, not least in the interests of Afghani security, but we should also try to convince Pakistan, if we can, that India is not its greatest problem—far from it.
I turn briefly to the Middle East, where we surely have a role. We deplore the rocket assaults on Israel and the threats made by Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah to eradicate Israel. We tell our Israeli friends that seizure and construction on Palestinian land and the line of the wall breaches international law and is morally wrong. New life is needed in what is neither peace nor a process. The two-state solution hangs by a thread. As matters stand, it will probably not survive. The immediate consequence could be the collapse of the Palestinian Authority with Hamas filling the vacuum. It might be followed by an Israeli re-occupation of the West Bank and a violent Palestinian response. The Israeli Government and Palestinians need to understand urgently that they are each other’s best prospect for stability and finally peace.
We will work hard to bolster the durability of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty—I hope that it is a priority for the FCO—providing the assistance that President Morsi appears to want.
Syria will continue to pre-occupy this House as a humanitarian and strategic disaster, although I welcome what the Minister said about aid being provided in Syria, which is plainly very important. Each passing week has made it harder to identify and support a secular opposition, although we must surely continue. However, I believe—and I hope that the House will forgive me for saying so—that we are behind the curve. We have failed to learn from Richard Holbrooke’s approach to diplomacy and statecraft in the former Yugoslavia. There was there, of course, American leadership, but there was also aggressive and creative diplomacy and a willingness to use force in the cause of peace, anchored to a resolution where no ethnic or other group was completely denied a living space, a credible state and economic institutions. It was a sort of cantonisation, I know, but it none the less persuaded people that they were not being driven out of their homes permanently and to their continual detriment. For many, it was the least-worst outcome, but, with the exception of criminals such as Mladic, it has survived as a solution and as a diplomatic triumph. John Kerry has obviously learnt much from this approach, and that is why I welcome the discussions that he has had with Russia. We should have done so many months ago.
None of this is said to be disobliging. I simply conclude by saying that we use the skills of the FCO and DfID very well but we can do so to greater effect by responding with dramatic measures when it is right but, for much of the time, working far more consistently on the smaller and more persistent scale. Foreign relations are hard to predict but they can never be allowed to be a rollercoaster. We need a new calibration: more solid, patient work and more realism about what works with our allies and when we can work best with them. Upgrading and higher numbers, as we have just heard reported, are excellent and I welcome them but there also needs to be more traditional tasking of that workforce to provide what I fear at the moment is a missing ingredient.
My Lords, I first thank my noble friend for her overview of the developments in defence, foreign and commonwealth affairs and international development. I will concentrate my remarks on the latter. Within that framework, the UK has, through DfID and the FCO, maintained a reputation over the past decade and more as a world leader in international development. To our great credit, our development programme has been maintained in spite of our straitened economic circumstances. Our overseas development aid is expected to rise to some £11.7 billion this year as we meet the target of investing 0.7% of gross national income—a target agreed by the G8 and others to help global efforts to meet the millennium development goals or MDGs.
However, there is growing concern that the UK has yet to enshrine this target in law as a permanent feature of our international development commitment. The MDGs were set to be achieved by 2015 but that is clearly not going to happen. It is clear that few if any developing countries will achieve all the goals. This must not be painted as failure. In reality, probably in every case, developing countries have made significant progress towards meeting some if not all of the goals, progress that arguably would not have been made without the MDG initiative. The debate is now in full swing over what should be done post-2015.
According to news reports this morning, the Prime Minister will announce at the UN today proposals for 10 new development goals that will be simple to understand and easy to implement. It is not clear whether these are extensions of the current MDGs or the outcomes of the post-Busan Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, which the Prime Minister co-chairs. Also reported this morning were the results of a survey carried out among more than 600 MPs at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly meeting in Quito. That revealed that MPs overwhelmingly backed democratic governance as a stand-alone objective for the UN post-2015 sustainable development goals—the new SDGs. More than 96% of the MPs surveyed believed that the key elements of democratic governance —participation, transparency and accountability—should be embedded in other SDGs to ensure success. Do the Government agree with that?
For more than a decade, and in parallel with the MDGs programme, there has been a concerted effort to achieve an international partnership in effective development co-operation. The fourth high-level forum in Busan at the end of 2011 saw the establishment of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. Its main functions include maintaining political support for co-operation and monitoring the implementation of the Busan commitments, with more than 160 countries and 45 other organisations signed up to endorse the agreement.
The UK was and remains a major player in the Busan process. The Prime Minister is a co-chair of the high-level panel of Ministers and our Secretary of State for DfID serves on the international steering committee developing the indicators for monitoring aid effectiveness. Given that the steering committee’s work is carried out transparently, could my noble friend, either now or later, provide your Lordships with a brief on the progress made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State since December 2011 on their post-Busan duties, and by the former Working Party on Aid Effectiveness?
With more than 48% of the world’s population now living in democracies, the current western model for development and aid investment assumes that participation of citizens is essential to development. The promotion of democracy underlies much of western development policy and access to aid and investment from the UK, EU and other donors. That western model has been seriously questioned at the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa. It has prompted the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa, of which I am a vice-chairman, to initiate an inquiry into democracy and development in Africa. The inquiry will focus in particular on the implications for UK development policy.
The gracious Speech made strong reference to curbing sexual violence in conflict, which would fall within the remit of Building Security Overseas, and in particular, the right to protect. There is a clear need for the UK to promote the right to protect to help states build the capacity to guard against the risks of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Minister has already given in her opening remarks some indication of where the budget now available through Building Security Overseas has led to improving the tools available to the international community before, during and after conflict, minimising the potential for atrocities. Can she or her colleague provide more detail about that process and the Government’s commitment in due course?
One of the most pressing issues, particularly on the African continent, is the predicted shortfall in the production of enough food to meet the needs of a burgeoning population. According to the Montpellier Panel at Imperial College, more than 200 million people, 23% of Africa’s population, are classified as hungry and 40% of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted due to malnutrition. Sub-Saharan Africa has a current population of about 875 million, which is expected almost to double by 2050 to close to 2 billion. The Montpellier Panel believes that a new paradigm to tackle food insecurity is urgently needed, through a programme of sustainable intensification. That, it says, will be essential if we are to overcome supply challenges. On present trends, food production will be able to meet only 13% of the continent’s food needs by 2050.
Can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government plan to recognise and act on the new paradigm of sustainable intensification to avert food insecurity and the threat of chronic hunger? Is she also aware of the report of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, of which I am a former member, entitled
Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not
, which concludes that at least 30% of all food produced never reaches the intended consumer due to poor practices in harvesting, transportation and storage? Do the Government plan to follow the recommendations of the institution, and work with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the international engineering community to bring their skills to bear on improving harvesting, transportation and storage practices?
As the ONE campaign pointed out in its latest report on fighting extreme poverty in Africa, the 19 countries that it assesses in the context of meeting the MDGs have together a funding shortfall of some $4.4 billion. It is also the case, apparently, that DFID directs less than 3% of UK aid to agriculture, forestry, fishing and agro-industries—the lowest among the G8 countries. Does my noble friend agree that there is a strong case for that aspect of government policy to be reviewed? It seems counterintuitive that while sub-Saharan Africa is facing an impending food crisis, according to Action Aid, more and more land is being switched from food production to growing crops for biofuels. Action Aid’s research reveals that in sub-Saharan Africa, 6 million hectares of land are now under the control of EU companies engaged in the biofuel industry. It estimates that the amount of food crops consumed as fuel by G8 countries could feed more than 400 million people.
Will the Government take the opportunity, when chairing the G8 summit next month, to follow the advice of the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the UN’s FAO, and press for the removal of biofuel mandates, which are forcing up food prices?
My Lords, the gracious Speech barely touches on defence. Only “strengthening the Reserve Forces” and improving,
“the way this country procures defence equipment”, get a mention. There is little else. Why indeed, is “this country” rather than “my Government” or even “my Ministers” given the task of improving procurement? It is tempting to consider, pace the other place, an amendment regretting the poor coverage of defence issues, a principal responsibility of government, in the gracious Speech.
Of course, much depends on what tasks and commitments the Government of the day will expect or wish to undertake. It would be helpful if there were unity of vision on this. Is thought being given to re-energising past attempts to find cross-party consensus on these issues?
Two and a half years have passed since the strategic defence and security review was published. We are approaching a third of the way to the goals set out for Future Force 2020 and the three services. It is timely to take stock of what has gone well, what is worrying and what cannot be achieved in the coming seven years. I expect the Minister to cover what has been going well, so let me highlight a few of my worries as we look towards 2020.
My principal concern is that the funding required to match the force levels for 2020 is not assured. Indeed, it seems from the trends in defence budget squeezes of the past couple of years that there is no longer any realistic expectation that Future Force 2020 is financially achievable. Added to that are the delays in future equipment delivery with carriers and F-35, for example, the latter now possibly further affected by the sequestration issues in the United States. There is still no provision for the maritime air capability lost when Nimrod mark 4 was abandoned. Combat air was almost halved in 2010, when the Harrier force and some other front-line squadrons were disbanded. The mooted projections of yet more force reductions in combat air further weaken a vital capability mounted with impressive speed and professionalism in the Libyan campaign two years ago, or in the ongoing work of the Tornado force in Afghanistan. The paucity of naval surface ships has created well rehearsed difficulties in meeting global commitments. Army regular force levels are to shrink by 20%. The prospect of relying ever more on the reserves has yet to be achieved or put to the test.
The cumulative effect seriously diminishes the putative scale and endurance of any future expeditionary commitment, but senior Ministers seem to be in denial about this. They still sound minded to strut their military stuff on the world stage. They rightly sing the praises of today’s Armed Forces but mass, too, counts in conflict. Do the Government realise that today they carry more of a sharp twig than the big stick of yesteryear? Moreover, as numbers are scaled down the resilience of the remaining forces is compromised. A favourable air situation and our operational and tactical skills, which have generally outmatched the opposition’s, have been providential but some future operation might not enjoy the benefits of such air and tactical supremacy, and low own-side losses.
There is a variety of the unexpecteds that could also involve serious numerical loss—losses that could be the equivalent of a 20% or 30% cut of the total strength available or even more, not a more manageable 5% or 10% attrition. Unexpected major risks might be: a serious loss of key passengers in an air transport accident; a major hangar fire with maybe six, a dozen or more airframes, engines and other critical kit lost in the bonfire; or even an extreme weather event which, as the Minister will know, can cause major damage to aircraft caught by it. I have not dreamt these risks up. They have happened. Is it not foolhardy to presume that they will never happen again? Is the Minister satisfied that enough allowance is being made for unlikely but catastrophic loss—for the unexpecteds of life—other than in combat operations?
Size is its own insurance. The Royal Air Force was almost 100,000 strong when the first Gulf conflict began in 1991. Today, it is not much more than 30,000. Aircraft numbers have similarly shrunk, and with them the resilience of the force to cope with the unexpected.
As regular personnel numbers reduce, the intention is to make good gaps in skills or shortages by drawing on reservists. We seem stuck in the mindset that they can be mobilised only by means of ministerial authority. We need to look again at an outmoded system which does not take account of the new and greater reliance on the reserves, in some cases when only two or three individuals with specialist knowledge or capability may be immediately required. A more flexible system attuned to the new policy for using reservists is now essential.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate on the humble Address, particularly in the area of foreign affairs. I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to preventing conflict and reducing terrorism and acknowledge their intention to strengthen the Reserve Forces, although I regret the lack of legislation to enshrine the necessity of consulting Parliament prior to the deployment of military force.
The promised support of countries in transition in the Middle East and north Africa and the opening of the peace process in Afghanistan are also significant. I welcome the various remarks made in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and agree entirely with the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on the urgency of this matter. I declare an interest as the recently appointed chair of Conciliation Resources, whose work is committed to supporting people at the heart of conflicts who are striving to find suitable solutions.
Like many of your Lordships, I am deeply concerned about the situation in Syria. I welcome the recent visit of the Prime Minister to President Obama, but I particularly wish to acknowledge the initiative of US Secretary of State Kerry in his dialogue with the Russians and the proposal to convene an international conference on Syria before the end of the month. Last year, I met the Russian ambassador to gain first hand the Russian perspective on the conflict. I welcome the initiative that looks to be in the process of being taken. That meeting last year followed one with Alistair Burt, who expressed the hope that a tipping point had been reached in Syria. Regrettably, no such tipping point was reached, and the evidence of that is clear in the growing sectarian nature of the conflict. A particularly disturbing piece of evidence lies in the recent kidnapping of two metropolitan bishops from Aleppo and the absence of any ransom demands for their release.
While some evidence exists that the various parties are realising that a negotiated transition is better than a fight to the death, does the Minister agree that in the absence of a political solution, the international community needs to contain the crisis by limiting the flow of arms to Syria and by strengthening the capacity of neighbouring countries to provide for the welfare of refugees? I raise this question because I regret the ongoing intention to seek an amendment to EU sanctions in relation to arms for Syria because if the Americans and Russians are successful in convening a peace conference, is such a strategy over arms provision the wisest thing we could be doing? The recent intervention in Libya offers evidence that the provision of arms without due attention being paid to the potential decommissioning thereof ought to leave us with some anxiety. Providing arms in this increasingly fragmented conflict makes any strategy for decommissioning arms, post conflict, very difficult.
Further, much as we hope and pray that a peace plan emerges from the diplomatic process, history suggests that such plans have durability only if the plan is owned locally and championed internationally. Rather than seeking the lifting of sanctions on the supply of arms, could Her Majesty’s Government consider how their role might contribute to being a custodian of any settlement? That would include taking steps to ensure that the Syrian National Council plays a constructive role at the peace conference, offering support to any regional or international peacekeeping force and facilitating, ensuring access and co-ordinating the humanitarian response. This would be an entirely appropriate action for our Government to be engaged in. While it is widely accepted that President Assad has no future in Syria, the wider question is whether his departure should be seen as an outcome of a diplomatic process, rather than the precondition of beginning one.
I return briefly to the impact of the sectarian conflict on religious minorities. Can the Minister kindly elaborate on the conversation that Alistair Burt recently had in Lebanon with religious leaders, and will he reassure this House that the Government will continue to take a robust position on the rights of all religious minorities in Syria?
It is now five years since seven Baha’i leaders in Iran were imprisoned. I welcome the remarks of Alistair Burt yesterday on these leaders and the need for freedom of all Baha’is in Iran to worship and practise their faith. I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to continue to pursue this matter with some urgency in the coming months.
While on the subject of religious freedom, I ask finally what consideration is being given to appointing a special envoy on freedom of religion and belief issues, and to foster dialogue and understanding as outlined in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2012 human rights and democracy report? I welcome the initiative of Her Majesty’s Government in respect of the United Nations humanitarian initiative and hope that it will be successful.
I acknowledge that these are substantive and difficult issues to which there are no easy answers, but Her Majesty’s Government are to be encouraged to see themselves as a custodian of a constructive approach to a diplomatic process, and cautioned against further arming in what is an already dangerously overarmed conflict.
My Lords, I will concentrate on two points. There has been a lot of talk about what was missing from the Queen’s Speech, mostly focusing on aspects of the European debate. However, my concern is with another word that was missing: it is “Commonwealth”. It was mentioned briefly by the Minister when she spoke but it did not appear in the Queen’s Speech, which is a great pity. Last year, we managed to get it in, but I notice that it is not there this year. The Queen is a worldwide figure, respected, with vast influence across the whole planet. She makes a speech before all the high commissioners, covering a vast area of 53 nations and encompassing a third of the human race.
This is not just sentiment. The Commonwealth network is growing rapidly, at 3.7%. It is the gateway to all the new markets, all the areas in which this country must succeed to survive. I am not saying that it is an alternative to the European Union, but the fact is that the EU is flat-lining and struggling with its unending problems over the euro, which will go on for many years; we need that to be repaired, of course. However, the truth is that all our success, all the statistics and a growing volume of evidence show that all the growth in the next 17 to 20 years will be in Asia, Latin America and, particularly, in Africa. These are the areas that the Commonwealth spreads across and to which it gives us access, along with gateways to the great markets of China, Brazil and so on.
It is a great pity that the word “Commonwealth” did not occur in Her Majesty’s Speech. It should have been there. I know that there are problems over the heads of Government meeting at Colombo, and I am very glad that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary are going, and also that His Royal Highness Prince Charles is going. They will no doubt all speak out very clearly on the causes of human rights and liberty, as they should in Colombo because there are clearly matters to be dealt with there.
However, the links between Commonwealth Governments do not matter so much. It is the vast range of links beneath, the latticework of networks between every profession—education, science, schools at every level, universities, professions, the accountancies, the legal professions—which spread out through the Commonwealth and give this country a legacy which we have so far neglected and yet which provides us with just the access we need precisely to the markets where we have to succeed.
I mentioned that the Commonwealth is growing at 3.7%, which is good by European standards. The Commonwealth countries are not just the old countries in difficulties. It is a vast range of the fastest-growing high-tech economies; the obvious ones are of course India, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Canada and so on. These are leading nations with, in many cases, a higher income per head than us. On top of those is the new range of Commonwealth countries coming into the prosperity league either side of Africa, as they find through the shale gas revolution that they have fantastic raw energy resources and prospects. They are increasingly setting up their own sovereign wealth funds, from which we in this country will be borrowing. Rather than helping them, we will be borrowing from the sovereign wealth funds of the Commonwealth in order to finance our dilapidated infrastructure. Therefore, to leave the Commonwealth out of the story is a big mistake, and the word should have been there in Her Majesty’s speech. That is all I want to say about that.
I turn to the European Union issue. It makes one gasp to think of the naivety of some of my colleagues—some quite senior people—and the oversimplifications they make when they speak about the European Union as though it were a sort of canoe you could pop in and out of. My noble and good friend Lord Heseltine tells us that we will be irrelevant and marginalised if we get out, while my noble and very good friend Lord Lawson, sitting here, says the opposite—that we will be irrelevant and marginalised if we stay in. In fact, of course, both of them are gloriously wrong, and I am afraid that they are looking at a world that no longer exists.
The concern of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, about outside isolation is quite wrong. In fact, if we were out of the European Union, we would still not be in an independent state, but in an interdependent state. We are totally interdependent and bound up closely with the concerns of almost every other country in the globe, because this is a network world with super, instant, continuous connectivity. That is what changes the whole nature of international relations. There is no question of being independent. Even the rogue states find that they have to bow to international pressures. We would be bound by a thousand treaties; we would not be independent at all, but interdependent —so we would not be isolated.
Pro contra, if we stay in—and that that is the route I prefer, contrary to my noble friend—it is not true that we would be irrelevant and powerless, because the European Union is itself in total flux. It is undergoing a complete re-examination of its philosophy of integration, and the eurozone is the place where the divisions lie. People talk about Europe divided as though it were divided between the eurozone core and the countries that are somehow left out, including Britain. That is not where the division lies. The division goes straight through the middle of the eurozone. That is the slice through the middle of the apple. Half of the eurozone is made up of countries with one kind of approach, and half of countries with another, and they will continue to be in trouble and to have difficulties for years to come. They have not even succeeded in getting as far as a bankers’ union. Italy has one idea on that, and Spain, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, and the other small countries all have other views. There is no combined view, whatever Mr Schäuble says in Berlin, on what a banking union should actually do, let alone a fiscal or a political union. None of these things is going to happen.
Europe needs a vast range of reforms; that will happen, and that, of course, is precisely what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister sought to set in motion with his superb speech back in January at Bloomberg, when he said that we are trying to reform, we need to reform, and that Britain must take an intellectual lead in reforming the whole European structure. That is what he said in the first line of his speech. I know that a lot of the media has said, “No, this is all about party politics; it’s all about grabbing things back for Britain. It is all very narrow”. That is not true. The whole speech was couched in terms of how Europe can be, in a sense, reunited, despite the divisions within the eurozone. That is what he was trying to do.
That is the right course. Frankly, it requires more than speeches. It requires enormous work in gaining allies all over Europe for European reform, because the present chaos throughout the Union has so many unsatisfactory features, and those allies must be worked for. It requires huge intellectual efforts to redesign the kind of united Europe we want to meet the conditions of hyperconnectivity and the cyberworld we now live in, which are quite different to those of the 20th century. That is what we have to get on with.
The other day, the IMF said that by 2017 the European Union will have shrunk to about 17% of the world’s GNP, and the eurozone will have shrunk to about 11% of the world’s GNP, compared with the Commonwealth, which will be more like 20% to 25%. Of course it is important; it is our neighbourhood and we must be good Europeans. However, we have to settle that matter and move beyond it to where our real interests lie, which is in the Commonwealth network, in the neighbourhood next door to the Commonwealth, and in the developing countries, many of which have huge new resources. That is where our real interests lie. It is a shame that the Commonwealth was not mentioned in Her Majesty’s Speech. The policy machine that puts out these speeches and creates their text needs to wake up and realise where our future and our destiny lie.
“It is upon the navy under the good Providence of God that the safety, honour and welfare of this realm do chiefly depend”.
Thus ran the preamble to the Articles of War, written more than 300 years ago. There is no doubt that naval dominance of European waters was the longest, most complex and expensive project ever undertaken by British state society. As a result a small, weak, insignificant offshore island was able to develop into the world’s greatest power. More recently, the prime reason we survived the German wars of the first half of the 20th century was the strength of the Royal Navy.
We remain the sixth wealthiest country in the world; world shipping, which is the sinews of our global village, is run from London; we are responsible for 14 dependencies worldwide; we are the biggest European investor in South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific Rim, where stability is crucial if we are to get the return we need from our investments; and we are a permanent member of the Security Council. We are, like it or not—and I know that many do not like it—a world power. We are of course an island, but the Government seem sometimes to forget that. The maritime sector was worth more than £10 billion in 2010, and 90% by value and 95% by volume of our imports and exports travel by sea.
How are we safeguarding this today? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, rightly said that there was hardly any mention of defence in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister has stated on a number of occasions that defence and security are the first responsibility of government. These are fine words but I fear that they have not been backed up by actions. In the 2010 strategic defence and security review we took measures that severely weakened our ability to project power, yet within months our forces were being committed to action in Libya. There have been further cuts since, and further indications that the Government would be willing to commit British forces if we are not careful.
Similar cuts are being made by our European allies, and the USA is finding itself carrying more and more of the defence burden of looking after the military interests of the western democracies and other nations worldwide. The US, too, is having to find savings and is now looking across the Pacific rather than towards the Euro-Atlantic region. Europe will have to take on more responsibility for its own security. The US has consistently supported us in the European, African and near-eastern area. Are we really not going to support them in the Far East and Pacific if the call comes? Those areas are increasingly important to the UK as well as to the US.
None of us can predict the next crisis. It may happen tomorrow, and from my experience of the intelligence world I know that we have a very bad track record of predicting crises. In an increasingly chaotic and dangerous world we must carry our share of the burden. Simply and starkly, we are not carrying our share. I do not have time to list all our shortfalls that impact on the critical mass of the Navy. Manpower has to be one area of concern. We had 75,000 sailors in 1982, some 30 years ago, and have 26,500 today—a cut of two-thirds in naval manpower, with all the effects that that has on flexibility.
I will be fair to the Government and congratulate them on their realisation of the crucial significance of maritime strike, and their aspiration to run both new carriers. Not to run both would be a national disgrace. Let us hope that their gamble of getting rid of “Ark Royal” and the Harriers pays off. So far we have got away with it for three years; we have to get away with it for another four or five. It was a gamble.
I will focus on just one example of our many shortfalls in the maritime sphere. Noble Lords may remember the preamble about the importance of the Navy to our nation that I gave at the beginning of my speech. Do the Government really believe that 19 destroyers and frigates—that means only six deployed—are sufficient for our nation? At the time of the Falklands war, when the Royal Navy saved the Government’s bacon, we had about 60 destroyers and frigates. The difference in capability of our new ships does not make up for the huge lack of numbers; one ship cannot be in two places at once. We have cut to the bone and, in naval parlance, our nation is standing into danger. I have written to the Prime Minister stating that very point.
We can no longer be sure that our Armed Forces are capable of meeting the tasks that our nation and people expect of them. We are at a crisis point, and something has to be done. History has shown how our nation suffers if we forget the crucial importance of our military and, in particular, of the sea and our Navy.
My Lords, in listening to my noble friend’s speech at the Dispatch Box, I was struck by a lacuna. I hope that she might take this opportunity to clarify the position of the Afghan interpreters. We are in severe danger of committing an act both unwise and discreditable, if not shameful. I cannot understand why my Government have not before now clarified the position of these men, who have placed their lives at the service of our country and stood shoulder to shoulder with our troops in some of their most difficult hours. Without them, those troops could not have acted at all.
These men are different from our troops in this sense: our troops can be sure that their families are home, secure and safe, in Britain, whereas they cannot.
Their families live, day in and day out, threatened by mortal threat from the Taliban in Afghan society. Our troops come home every six or nine months, whereas they do not. They have served us, day in and day out, month in and month out, year in and year out, yet the Government are havering as to whether they should have the same rights that interpreters had in Iraq. We are not asking much; we are not asking anything new, or for something that the Government have not done before. The precedent is already established.
There are some 400 Afghan interpreters—that is all. So what is holding this up? What is the Government’s position? I am told that the Ministry of Defence is perfectly content to make sure that those same conditions are offered to these brave men—they are all men, of course—who have done such service to our nation and to our troops on the ground. I am told—and it surprised me, because this is where I thought the problem might be coming from—that the Home Office is perfectly content. I am told that it is coming from Downing Street. I do not know whether that is true.
The Prime Minister has certainly said—and I understand where he is coming from—that he wants these men to stay in Afghanistan, because they have something to contribute there. I understand that. I remember very well in Bosnia the damage done by the internal brain drain, when salaries paid to those working for the international community so outweighed those paid by the local community that, for instance, my driver in Afghanistan was getting more than the Prime Minister. I understand that and I understand that the Government may wish to put an economic value on those people, if they wanted to stay and contribute to Afghanistan in peace.
Let us assume a value, plucking one out of thin air. I imagine that it is nowhere near this, but let us say that it is £50,000 for such people to stay in Afghanistan. That is fine—I am glad that the Government are prepared to monetise the value of their continuing in Afghanistan. However, the choice must be theirs to take. It is theirs to decide whether they want to balance their own life and face the risk, under mortal, declared and deliberate threat from the Taliban, against the sum of £50,000. Let us double that. I wonder how many of your Lordships would accept £100,000 to leave yourselves at such mortal risk, and leave your family there as well. If the Government wish to come forward and place a sum of money that expresses the value of their staying in Afghanistan, I am entirely for that, provided that the choice is left to them.
It is time that the Government came clean on this and acted in honour. It is time that we did not continue with this shameful delay in clarifying the position of these men. We have paid a very high price for our engagement in Afghanistan. Let us not add to that price now with an act of dishonour by leaving these people in the lurch.
My second point is on Syria. I heard what the noble Baroness said and I welcome what the Prime Minister said. I congratulate him on negotiating with the Russians the possibility of a peace agreement. It appears that there is a chance of that happening. That is good. I do not accept that it will deliver very much; having a peace agreement is not the same as delivering a peace, but it is good that we should try to obtain such an agreement. What worries me is the implied threat that lies behind that. I heard it explicitly in Paris, it is also being said in Whitehall and it is certainly being discussed in Washington that we should lift the arms embargo. I have to say that that would be an act of the grossest folly.
I will try to explain why that is the case. What is the reasoning for this argument? Do the rebels need more arms? No, they do not. Some 3,500 tonnes of arms have been delivered, funded by rich Saudi businessmen and Qatar and facilitated by the CIA. By the way, that 3,500 tonne figure is not questioned by American official sources. Arms have also come from Croatia. We are talking not about tanks in that 3,500 tonne figure but about small arms. There is no shortage of weapons at all. By the way, I know where they are coming from: they are coming from Tito’s underground arms manufactories in Bosnia. I have no doubt that that arms trade is also funding their deeply corrupt forces. As I say, there is no shortage of arms. Indeed, the Government admit that there is no shortage of arms. They say, “We will supply arms in order to influence the moderate forces”. However, it is a fundamental fallacy that you influence people by supplying them with arms.
However, the real danger that I worry about is that we have misread the situation. Some in Britain believe that this is somehow Bosnia revisited. No, it is not; almost nothing about the present situation in Syria is comparable with that of Bosnia. It is deeply more complicated. By the way, those of us who knew something of Bosnia during the Bosnian war never recommended that we should lift the arms embargo.
Here is the problem: the law of unintended consequences will come into play again. We believe that we are fighting a rather simplistic battle between a brutal dictator and innocent citizens. Actually, I have to tell noble Lords that behind this a different battle is being fought. It is not a battle for Syria; it is a battle in which Syria is only one front line. What we are now seeing being prepared is funded by Saudi Arabian businessmen—I have to believe with the agreement of the Saudi Arabian Government—and the Qataris: namely, to capture the Sunni Umar and to radicalise it as a preparation for a wider war against the Shi’ites. That is what this is about. Some seek to produce that outcome. The war being fought in Syria is the same as that being fought in Mali, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere. The Salafists and Wahhabists do not love each other very much but they are working with the same aim of capturing the Sunni Umar as a precursor to a wider war. I do not know whether they will succeed, but that is their intent. I think that that would be catastrophic.
It is important that we understand the Russian position on this. It is not just about supporting their last supporter in the Middle East—Assad—but about the fact that they know that the same thing is happening in their Muslim republics, such as Dagestan. We need to understand that there are forces in the Arab world for whom the war is no longer a war against the great Satan; it is the preparation of a war against the great refusant of the Shi’ites. What is at stake here is a wider regional war. Mao Tse-Tung used to say that the First and Second World Wars were the European civil wars. Perhaps they were. Perhaps that is a better way of looking at it. It is possible to have a regional war with global consequences. It would be disastrous if we were inadvertently to stoke that up and enable it, with weapons being passed out of the control of those whom we would like to have them into the control of those whom we would not. It would be disastrous if the wider consequence was not that of alleviating the situation in Syria but that of building towards a much wider conflict in which we are instrumentalised on the side of the Sunnis and the Russians are instrumentalised on the side of the Shia. Let us at least understand what is at stake in this. I earnestly hope that we can achieve peace, as innocent people are suffering terribly every day in Syria, but let us not, by lifting the arms embargo, contribute to an even more terrifying and widespread conflict.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I spent a large part of my career in the British public service on European Union affairs and some part of it at the European Commission.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, in her role as “super sub”, for her introduction to the debate, given that the statement on the Government’s international position in the gracious Speech is perhaps rather economical with the truth. There is no reference to the Commonwealth, although the Commonwealth is on the rise; there is no reference to the European Union, although it is the foundation of our international relations; and there is no reference to the serious situation in Syria. The only reference is the intention to “support countries in transition”, which perhaps confuses rather than illuminates the actual situation.
It has recently become more difficult to decide on which day in the debate to speak because in reality some elements of international affairs cover not only the European Union but economic, financial and home affairs. However, that is a consequence of our membership of the European Union. I wish to pick out some significant points in relation to EU affairs, notably how best we should carry through the course on which we have set ourselves—most recently in the Bloomberg speech by the Prime Minister and in the considerable amount of referendum speculation that is now all around us. We have to keep up the competition with the other House. The point of my intervention is that we need to examine the potential for agreement with other member states and the extent of existing flexibility in order to maximise potential improvements. What can be wrong with seeking potential improvements in the European Union, and seeking them soon?
I begin by congratulating the Government on their detailed examination, sector by sector, of the balance of competences. We need a solid base of information and adequate consultation of those directly concerned by the balance of competences between the EU and the member states. This exercise is substantial. The latest programme I have seen for the spring and winter shows that departments are working on nine important sectors of policy such as environment and transport, and on some of the most controversial such as asylum and immigration. We need to establish as efficiently as possible what the balance of competences is for future discussion and possible negotiation within the EU. There has been some critical comment that other member states are not participating, but that is hardly surprising because the eurozone member states have important and immediate economic problems on their agenda. It does not change my view that the balance of competences exercise can throw up anomalies and identify unnecessary legislation that some member states in due course may wish to correct.
While looking for improvements, it is important not to exaggerate the impact of the European Union on all our daily lives, although such exaggeration is common. Whole areas of policy such as defence, education, housing and health are only marginally touched by EU action. Further, public opinion in the UK is often more critical of some EU action on smaller issues—“meddling”, to use the word of the anti-EU commentators—and that is fully understandable because there is scope for some cooling off, both of purely national secondary legislation and of some EU-derived secondary legislation. Recent yearly statistics provided by the Library showed that 10,662 pages of secondary legislation went through this House, of which 8.5% was derived from the European Communities Act and 91.5% was our own legislative mountain. The balance is striking and, of course, some EU legislation expires on a regular basis.
I come now to a second element of flexibility within the EU—enhanced co-operation between a limited number of member states. On balance, I think that this is positive, but we need to be very careful to protect our own position. This is what we should be doing in relation to the proposed financial transaction tax, on which the EU Select Committee has urged the Government to consider a legal challenge.
More generally, enhanced co-operation between a number of member states allows those member states to participate but it keeps the initiative in their own hands. Enhanced co-operation derives from the treaties—the treaty of Amsterdam and subject to some change subsequently—but it is clearly not a one-size-fits-all system and is inconsistent with the normal application of legislation to all member states. It sits alongside other actions, such as partial opt-outs of the passport-free area and so on. Since there is frequent criticism in the United Kingdom of EU one-size-fits-all legislation, I take the view that enhanced co-operation could sometimes be of potential value for the UK. Of course, everything depends on the conditions. Those conditions are that it must be a last resort and must not affect the competences, rights, obligations and interests of non-participating member states in particular. However, where it has been, or is likely to be, applied—for example, on patents—it could be of some economic value to us. It would enable an inventor to register a patent once instead of in multiple EU states, and in relation to pharmaceutical patents, which are of considerable economic importance, this would be in London.
We need to make the most of the balance of competences exercise and the potential of enhanced co-operation. We still have before us the decision to be taken by the UK Government on the application to the UK of a large raft of EU law in the area of justice and legal affairs, including the European arrest warrant. If, as I assume, the Government will wish, before the Lisbon treaty deadline next year, to opt out, it would be very helpful to know whether they do or do not believe that it would be desirable to seek to opt in on some individual measures. I think that we need to be clear about what the Government are likely to do on this matter—we are talking about a substantial amount of legislation.
I believe strongly that in the possible run-up to a referendum on the European Union it is very important that the British public have the best information rather than the repeated soundbites attributing all evils to the Union. Of course, the current economic problems in the eurozone are serious for us, as they are for the members themselves, and we should not hide criticism if it is justified. However, I hope that we will not lapse into generalised criticism of the finances of Union institutions and their administration, which has happened. In fact, year after year the Court of Auditors has given an unqualified clean bill of health to the EU’s account-keeping and the Commission’s administrative expenditure. It has continued to do so this year, most specifically in relation to administrative expenditure. The latest report of the Court of Auditors states that in its view revenue and payments were,
“free from material error and that the examined supervisory and control systems were effective”.
I always like to finish my speeches within the advisory time and I also like to finish them on a positive note, so that is what I shall do.
My Lords, I shall try to follow suit. This is the third gracious Speech of this Government. It is interesting to carry out a bit of textural comparison of the three Speeches that we have had to date and I take this opportunity to do so.
The first item that I want to refer to was not mentioned in 2010 but it was in 2012. Then, the gracious Speech said:
This year, I think that the agenda has got too crowded and international security, which I would not have thought was now an easier subject than it was a year ago, has been dropped. This year, the gracious Speech says:
“In assuming the presidency of the G8, my Government will promote economic growth, support free trade, tackle tax evasion, encourage greater transparency and accountability while continuing to make progress in tackling climate change”.
The second item to appear in each of the Queen’s Speeches deals with Afghanistan. In 2010, it said:
“My Government will work with the Afghan Government, Pakistan and international partners for lasting security and stability in Afghanistan”.
Two years later, it said:
“My Government will work to support a secure and stable Afghanistan”.
This year, it said:
“My Government will … support … the opening of a peace process in Afghanistan”.
In this regard, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said about interpreters. In particular, I would say that this may not be the only time that we find ourselves in a foreign place where we have an urgent need of local people who speak the language and can help our people. We know, sadly, that the Taliban is not backward in its programme of targeted assassinations, which it has been carrying out for some time, and it would be dishonourable if we did not recognise the contribution that the interpreters have made. It is their judgment. It would be wonderful if they decided to stay and contribute to the ongoing success which we hope there will be in Afghanistan, but it must be their decision. I agree with what the noble Lord said on that.
The third item of interest is that we did not say anything in 2010 about the Middle East situation apart from the peace process, but in 2012 we did. We said:
“In the Middle East and North Africa, my Government will support the extension of political and economic freedom in countries in transition”.
This year we are hanging on to that. We are going to,
“support countries in transition in the Middle East and North Africa”.
My question is: in transition to what? The Minister and my noble friend have referred to the Somalia conference and to the efforts being made there, and I accept that there might also have been some developments in Yemen. However, consider the situation in Libya this year—not only recent events but statements made even in the past week and the serious problems developing there—compared with last year.
In Egypt, senior members of the present Egyptian Government are talking about the possibility of a total collapse of its economy and the problems that that could pose. Were that to happen, the only stable force in Egypt would be the army, and what might that lead to? It is a serious situation. It is also deeply disappointing against all the hopes that one had of what might develop.
On top of all that there is the question of Syria. I shall avoid echoing my agreement too much but I agree with the point made by the noble Lord and by a fellow Somerset man, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells. I am not in favour of lifting the arms embargo: that seems exactly the wrong gesture. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who referred to the use of soft power. I shall say a word about that because I think that it is a much more helpful approach.
Prospects have certainly deteriorated. One of the consequences of the eviction of President Gaddafi and the change in Libya was the departure of a huge number of mercenaries with some fairly sophisticated kit which is now causing chaos in Mali and the neighbouring territories. Some noble Lords may have heard the statement yesterday by the charmingly named President Goodluck Jonathan that some of the more northern parts of Nigeria are now outside government control. We face some really serious situations.
It is against that background that I turn to what our contribution might be. I listened to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, with whom I worked closely a number of times when we had rather more substantial resources than are currently available, and I worry now about our capabilities. As for the opportunities now for intervention, we have certainly learnt some lessons about not getting involved in long-term, enduring conflicts.
I made my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in 2001 when the subject of the debate was Afghanistan. We are now in our 12th year in that country and I hope to goodness that we stick to our plan for withdrawal. However, I have to say that I think it will be an extremely difficult and challenging undertaking. Some of the answers to the questions we have about what our resources will be like going forward will depend partly on how successful we are at extracting some of the very substantial equipment that we currently have in Afghanistan.
There is a general recognition that intervention policy, given our resources and its questionable value in certain areas, is now much less attractive or realistic. Let us consider our own military situation, with the recent PAC report suggesting that there are gaps in our capabilities, whether it be in Sea Kings or in transport aircraft—the noble Lord, Lord West, referred to the seven-year gap in our carrier capability. We face some serious problems in our currently limited capability. Given that difficult situation and the challenge referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, we have to consider whether we really can get reservists to fill the gap on quite a different scale of commitment than we have ever had before. The jury is still very much out on that.
It is against that background that I turn to the question of soft power and the need to mobilise the resource of the diplomatic skills of other countries with which we may not normally deal. As has been said, the Russians are important in this. They have a keen interest in the Shia and Sunni conflicts that are arising and the difficulties that they face in all the “-stans”. There is a common interest and I hope that any approaches to the Russians will lead to some progress, because these areas pose great dangers to them. I was also most interested to see the invitation of the Chinese Government to Mr Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas to see whether they can make some contribution to breaking the logjam in that area.
We are dealing with a very dangerous world at a time when it is in a serious economic fix and we do not have the resources we need. We are facing a population explosion, mass unemployment in a number of areas, and issues of climate change. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism poses a challenge to the world. If I end on one note it will be to echo the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells when he said in his contribution that a determined effort should be made to try to rally moderate religious forces. The danger otherwise is that the Shia-Sunni conflict, along with the spread of jihadism and fundamentalism in the dangerous climate that we have at present, will make the next gracious Speech even more challenging than the one that we face at the moment.
My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the young men and women of our Armed Forces who, day in and day out, protect us and our families, our country and our national interests, often risking life and limb and sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice. We owe all of them a deep debt of gratitude for what they do.
When I ask myself what is the chief characteristic of the modern world, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said earlier, its networked nature. What also strikes me is that it is the predominance of this country in global networks that has led to the United Kingdom becoming known as a great power. It came about originally through exploration, then through the domination of our naval networks around the world, and then through the domination of the financial sector because of the networked nature of international finance. I want to spend a few moments talking about something that receives little attention, but I think it should because it is the central characteristic of today’s networked world, and that is cyberspace. I do this in the full belief that it is essential not only for our growth and our pre-eminence, but for our national security and our defence. I declare my registered interests in the academic and private sectors in this subject.
Cyberspace is an environment characterised by its breadth—it is transnational, across over 192 countries. It is deep, because it diffuses power downwards, now to nearly 4 billion people who have never been able to gain information, to influence or to communicate before. It is ubiquitous and now runs through politics, economics, finance and our social networks, as well as many other aspects of life. It is truly the first environment made by men and women. It is not just an amalgam of technologies anymore or a means of communication, it is an environment like the land, sea, air and space. That has enormous consequences for us in terms of our national security. It means that we now have a fifth domain of warfare potential as well as a source of great opportunity. That makes us very vulnerable if we are not alert to it, both in concept and in practice. Of course, cyberspace has been an amazing gateway of opportunity for billions in the world, but it has also seen an equal growth in virus and malware development; from the first malware inserted by floppy disk back in 1981 to the myriad threats we now see. I will not rehearse them to this House but they are extremely sophisticated.
Suffice it to say that three years ago, when I chose to raise the subject in my maiden speech, the pursuit of the study of cyberspace was regarded as a rather iconoclastic occupation of mine. We now hear of malware attacks every day, on big names such as Microsoft, Apple, Lockheed Martin, ThyssenKrupp and so on. It might astonish your Lordships to know that it is much more widespread than just those headline names. Last year, 93% of companies in the United Kingdom with more than 250 staff suffered a cyberattack on their systems. It is not just the quantity—we now face an increasingly sophisticated array of persistent attacks, sometimes lasting months or years. They are targeted, adaptive and dynamic attacks that can change as they hit the defences that have been installed for them. They can involve compromise of the supply chain and the storage of vulnerabilities—reconnaissance, if you like—in order to probe weaknesses for future use. All this is going on at the moment and that vulnerability will increase as we move to consumer technology in our workplaces: smartphones and so on, the movement to the cloud, and the “Internet of Things”, from road charging to pacemakers. All that will become more and more vulnerable.
Why does all this vulnerability from the network world matter to defence and national security? It is because our critical national infrastructure is now more vulnerable than ever before. Software systems and industrial operating systems will protect our water supplies, supply our energy distribution and generation, land our planes, run our trains, heat our homes and underpin our hospitals. They will become the infrastructure on which our lives, livelihood and morale depends. Why use an expensive platform such as a nuclear submarine to launch an expensive weapon such as an intercontinental ballistic missile when we have that platform in all our pockets and in an iPad in most of our bags?
All of them now allow the possibility of enormous damage, as can be seen through the operation of the Stuxnet virus, which, unknown to the Iranian authorities, was effectively running—or mis-running—the centrifuges that were meant to produce their enriched uranium. All that, every passing day, should alert us. I have just learnt today that there has been another wave of attacks on major US corporations, specifically aimed at energy supplies. That is the critical national infrastructure vulnerability that we face. Of course, there has been some response from the Government, for which I give them credit: £650 million has been allocated to cyber, admittedly over three years; there is now a national cybersecurity strategy; research continues at GCHQ; there is improved assistance to the private sector and sharing; and the CPNI, which protects our national infrastructure, has been trying to influence standards. The MoD has played its part: it has set up the Cyber Security Operations Centre and enhanced co-operation with GCHQ.
I welcome all of this but huge challenges and questions remain, especially in the working out of concepts, capabilities, understanding and operations. The idea of active defence is very popular. One anonymous American general, who must be very glad he remains anonymous, said that if the US was hit with a cyberattack, “We will stick a nuke down their smokestack”. That illustrates the absolute ignorance of the nature of cyber. Attribution is a major problem. It is difficult to know the culprits. There is no missile heading for you where you can retrace the route that it has taken. There are legal prohibitions on accessing computer networks without authorisation. There is a patchwork of international laws. There are normative, legal and diplomatic obstacles. There are “what ifs”. What if you pursued an attacker and encountered behind that attacker a foreign Government? What if an obscure digital trail leads to an unrelated system or it has been disguised within a hospital, as some artillery pieces have been in asymmetric warfare in the past?
Our concepts really need to be thought through. In defence, I am afraid that our experience has not helped us because the wars and conflicts in which we have been engaged have been bloody and dangerous, but they have been asymmetric. Our conventional systems on sea, in the air and on land, all of which are now based on software, have never really been tested. I warn against complacency in this area.
As I reach my conclusion, there is one point where I would criticise the Government. Historically, our intelligence services and police have depended for counterterrorism and anti-crime activity in defending the people of this country on the ability to match the technology of our enemies, particularly in communications. This capability desperately needs updating. For the third year running, the Government have equivocated and postponed. Their fear of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, appears to be greater than their fear of the consequences of not acting in updating our intelligence-gathering capacity to include Skype, the internet and texts. God forbid that a terrorist attack should be launched that would have been prevented if we had updated it. God help the Government if that should happen because I know from experience just how dependent we were on that capacity to save the lives of 2,500 people only six years ago in the liquid bomb plot.
I congratulate the Government on what they have done. I hope that they will go further in a number of areas. Above all, I hope that they will remember where I started: the pre-eminence of the United Kingdom over the past few centuries has depended on our dominance of a network world, whether it was exploration, the naval lanes or the financial networks of the world. If we do not capture such a pre-eminence and domination in cyber as a trusted centre of it, I am afraid that we will continue on a very long road of gradual—and perhaps not so gradual—decline.
My Lords, in opening this debate, my noble friend well set out the objectives of the Government in defence, foreign policy and overseas aid, but I have to say that the Queen’s Speech is remarkably deficient in indicating how these objectives are to be followed. What the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, described as “minor housekeeping” considerations in respect of the European Union scarcely reflect the importance of our integration with the European Union if we are to attain the goals that my noble friend set out. The time seems ripe to consider a new approach to the reform of the European Union, to ensure not only that we speak with a united voice but that we enjoy the support of the 28 member countries—as there will be when Croatia joins—and their populations in pursuing common objectives. There are different stages of development in all these European countries, but our overriding foreign affairs and defence goals are broadly the same. We are all affected by the threats of international terrorism; we are all affected by the growth of the world’s population; we are all affected by climate change; and we are all affected by extremist religious groups penetrating our society—that can be dealt with effectively only as a reflection of international threats.
I want to spend just a few moments considering how best to take forward this process of integration. One of the reasons why we are seeing a backlash against the European Union, not only in our country but in countries that have been committed from the beginning, is that we are not building up a transnational democracy within the European Union; we are instead aspiring towards executive federalism, and that does not engage the sympathy or support of the man on the street. Consequently, we have to address the democratic deficit in the European Union to enable it to be even more effective than it has been. It has been immensely effective in pacifying Europe, but it has not been so effective in bringing pressure to bear on those countries that have abandoned the civil objectives expressed within the European Union treaties. For example, nothing effective has been done about the progressive move to the right, towards a kind of neo-fascism, in Hungary, despite the fact that we have substantial financial influence on what is happening in that country.
We should not await a treaty suddenly being produced after a German election in the autumn, saying, “Do this; do that”. There will be 28 countries at that time. If the newly elected Federal Chancellor believes that he or she can lay down the law because of his or her power within the eurozone, there will be a great reaction against it in many countries. We should work towards a system of improvement that draws in the public. I served on the Convention on the Future of Europe as an alternate member. Although that constitutional change was rejected in polls in France and the Netherlands, that approach has merit. It can engage civic society and parties across countries and Governments, and ensure a genuine dialogue. That dialogue is not likely to follow or be present in a weekend Council of the European Union. The Heads of Government rarely get together for more than two or three days at a time. How could they possibly produce answers to all the questions causing such disquiet across the Union? How could they possibly go through a detailed constitutional proposal or a list of the concerns that need to be addressed?
I recommend that we, in association with other member countries of the European Union, now engage in a discussion about the modes of change and recognise that we cannot make that change overnight. We have to take our people with us. I fear that Heads of Government are likely to want to clutch to themselves the full responsibility for changes that come about, but that is not the wise way to strengthen a transnational democracy. I hope that the future of Europe will not be bounced on this or any other country in the European Union. We have an immense possibility to influence global governance if we speak with one voice, with some 500 million people and the strongest economic collectivity. That is the way: coming together to recognise how we can influence trade and all those issues bedevilling our development.
My Lords, in noting the antics in the other place following the non-inclusion in the gracious Speech of a possible referendum on Europe, I am confident that they will not be repeated in this House if my contribution is devoted to the surprising absence of another issue. Before I come to that, as a vice-chairman of the Chagos Islands all-party group I agree with everything that will be said by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on the Chagossian return. As a former soldier, I express my surprise at the words in the Speech that,
“my Government ... will support ... the opening of a peace process in Afghanistan”.—[ Official Report , 8/5/13; col. 3.]
That made me wonder what the Government think our Armed Forces have been doing in that troubled country since 2001. On the subject of Afghanistan, I associate myself completely with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, about interpreters.
However, the omission that most surprised me was the future of our nuclear deterrent, bearing in mind the alleged imminent publication of the Government’s Trident alternatives study. It is true that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, when summing up my debate on nuclear disarmament on
The need for such a debate was confirmed by a recent exchange of letters in the Times following the statement by the Prime Minister on
Immediately, General Sir Hugh Beach, a former Master-General of the Ordnance, wrote that no country on earth was less vulnerable to North Korean nuclear blackmail than the United Kingdom, and that, like it or not, the Trident missile, in British hands but supplied by America, was unusable without American support. His arguments were summarily dismissed by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on the grounds that the independence of our continuous-at-sea deterrent was not just technical but absolute, and that it would be reckless to abandon our ultimate insurance against threats that cannot be predicted from countries yet to be identified.
That prompted my noble and gallant friend, Lord Bramall, to write that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord West, reminded him of the senior general who, after World War 1, said that there would always be a place for the horse on the battlefield, particularly if well-bred. Although the nuclear deterrent served both sides well in the Cold War, the reality today is that it does not, and cannot, deter any credible threats likely to be faced by this or any other European country; nor, in a highly globalised and interlocking world, could a weapon with the destructive power of Trident conceivably be used, even in retribution. For us, he said, nuclear weapons are superfluous and now redundant, and the sooner a Trident replacement is removed from the Treasury’s overload, the better.
My final quotations from that exchange are from two other retired admirals, with whom I fully agree. Vice-Admiral Jungius suggested that,
“whether or not the UK should continue to have a nuclear deterrent is primarily a political decision”.
Rear-Admiral Middleton wrote that,
“in the next few years a combination of smart delivery systems … together with cyberwarfare programmes ... will be able to provide a national deterrent that is demonstrable, effective, selective, non-lethal and cheap”.
In other words, the cost of our nuclear deterrent should not be borne by the defence budget, and our present deterrent is not only unusable but at best obsolescent when set against emerging technologies.
Two other aspects must be considered when determining whether a weapon system with the potency of Trident is the most appropriate minimum credible deterrent. The first is cyber, which presents a far greater threat to the economic, political and social life of a country than Trident, suggesting that cyberdefence should be at the top of any national defence priority list, and, to be credible, any proposed deterrent must be cyberproof, putting a question mark against Trident, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid has advised us. Secondly, not least on moral grounds, account must be taken of the devastating effects of the use of nuclear weapons on our climate.
All that is in the context of two other climates, both of which must be considered by those responsible for reaching a conclusion on an issue of such long-term national importance. The first is the continued efforts to achieve international multilateral disarmament, in line with President Obama’s commitment to ultimate zero. There is no time to discuss the present state of negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, or the continually frustrated attempts to establish a weapons of mass destruction free-zone in the Middle East. Although I am glad that we are contributing to these negotiations, I fear that questions arising from our continued reliance on Cold War logic have unintended consequences on the credibility of that contribution.
First, does our proposed replacement of one unusable system, designed to take out Moscow by another with the same capability, increase or reduce our right to prevent other countries from advancing their nuclear ambitions? Secondly, does not the presumption that war was deterred and peace maintained during the Cold War by uncertainty over whether either side would use their nuclear weapons suggest that if the same logic was applied to the Middle East, war would be better deterred and peace better maintained by allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to balance Israel’s?
Finally, of course, there is the current economic climate. Here I remind the House of the two definitions of affordability: can you afford something, or can you afford to give up what you have to give up in order to afford something? I submit that the latter must be applied ruthlessly when considering conventional shortfalls such as those mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig and the noble Lord, Lord West, and when considering whether we can afford to buy more well bred nuclear horses, unsuitable for use on post-Cold War battlefields.
Inevitably, in eight minutes, one can only scratch the surface of an issue as important as this. Having expressed my surprise that this was not included in the gracious Speech, I sincerely hope that the Government will make that omission good by allowing noble Lords time to prepare and make their contributions to a full debate, in government time, after the publication of the Trident alternatives study.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Howell was so right to raise the question of the Commonwealth, particularly with the forthcoming conference in Colombo of the heads of state. Sri Lanka is a proud founder member of the Commonwealth. After nearly 30 years of civil war, it seems absolutely appropriate that the members of the Commonwealth should go to Colombo and see that country. I certainly know that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will have an enormously warm welcome from the people of Sri Lanka.
I place on record my thanks to the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for taking the lead in going to Colombo. He is only the second Prime Minister to do so. The late Mrs Thatcher went in 1984, soon after what was probably the worst experience of Sri Lanka since independence, which followed on from the riots in 1983 when six soldiers were killed in Jaffna. Frankly, the Government of the time there reacted too slowly to those riots and many Tamils suffered as a result. Mrs Thatcher made a brave decision to go, and in going she helped that country to move forward and heal some of those wounds. This meeting comes, in my judgment, at a good time. Terrorism has been defeated and our Prime Minister and the other leaders can see for themselves what has happened in the three years following the war. I think many good things have happened, but they should go and have a look for themselves.
It is not news that one of the key issues in Sri Lanka is human rights. I thank the Commonwealth Secretary-General and his staff for taking the initiative in leading a review of what is happening on the ground. There are two signals that I take heart from. First, a large number of Tamils left Sri Lanka through those years of the great difficulty of the civil war. More recently, more than 1,000 have come back from Australia of their own free will and, to the best of my knowledge, only one has had any difficulty. Several hundred have come back from the UK and substantial numbers from New Zealand. The one country where not too many have come back from is Canada. My analysis is that that is basically because a number of Tamils have become MPs in Canada and are deeply involved in Canadian politics. I hope that Canada will think again and come to Colombo.
The second good point that has happened is that President Rajapaksa is the first leader since independence to insist that it must be a trilingual country. There is very real progress in the Civil Service, in teaching, in the schools and in the road signs of a trilingual approach, which brings the Tamil community into becoming real members of Sri Lanka.
I have just received a letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Alistair Burt, and I place on record my thanks to him for his diligence, time and patience and the even-handedness with which he has juggled the varying points of view that have been presented to him on Sri Lanka. His letter raised three points that the Foreign Secretary is going to look at when he goes to Colombo. First, he highlights free and fair provincial council elections in the north on
Thirdly, and this is perhaps one of the key points, the Foreign Secretary says he is going to go to the north. I hope by that he means Jaffna. It is the place to go. It is the key part of the Tamil community in the north. I am told he is going to meet civil society, NGOs and political representatives. That is a good start, but he must not exclude the military, in particular the CO at Palali base. Palali defends the northern shores of Sri Lanka and—I am sorry to say this, but it is true—within Tamil Nadu, the Indian state adjacent to Sri Lanka, it appears that the LTTE—the Tamil Tigers—is still welcome today As your Lordships may know, Tamil Nadu is a key component of the coalition in India, which perhaps accounts for some of India’s recent reactions. If it were me, I would also meet the religious leaders—you cannot divorce religion as it is far more powerful there than it is here—the government agent, which is the equivalent of our county councillor, and business leaders because we want to get that economy going.
The letter also says that the Foreign Secretary is going to meet NGOs. There are some wonderful NGOs across the world. I highlight the International Red Cross as one of the most wonderful. I went out at the time of the tsunami. Much good work was done by many NGOs, but I am afraid that there was also much less good work done by some NGOs. Tragically, some containers came from the UK containing arms for the Tamil Tigers. There are all sorts of NGOs. Some do great work, some do less great work.
Finally, I look at Sri Lankans’ understanding of what happens elsewhere in the world. They look with some amazement at the USA leading this rights issue in the light of Guantanamo Bay, people being kidnapped for 10 years and shootings on campuses. Many in Sri Lanka say, “There’s nothing like that in Sri Lanka. We may have our difficulties and abuses, but there is nothing like that”.
My message is to all leaders in the Commonwealth and, in particular, to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. It is that they should go and see for themselves but should bear in mind that there was nearly 30 years of war. Near the end of World War 2, Herbert Morrison said:
“One of the lessons I hope they”— that is, people—
“will have learned is that there are no shorts cut and no easy solutions. Nothing is made better by pronouncing curses on the older generation or the Government, or any other cheap and easy scapegoat”.
What was true of the UK in 1945 is equally true in Sri Lanka today after more than 27 years of civil war.
My Lords, having led a coalition Government in Scotland for six years, I understand the difficulties of reaching agreement on a legislative programme and on other aspects of a programme for government and then expressing them clearly, but there are disappointments in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech that we need to highlight in this debate.
Through the vehicle of the speech, the Government rightly identify as key priorities for their strategy the need for Britain to compete and succeed in the world; our role in helping with conflict prevention; and some of the key building blocks of development to assist with conflict prevention in different parts of the world. In some of their specific actions not just now but over the past three years, they have been taking the right steps. I strongly welcome the initiative on sexual violence in countries affected by conflict and the objective set out for the G8 in Northern Ireland in June, particularly on tax transparency and trade. We should all welcome the fact that the Government have spent 0.75% of gross national income on overseas development assistance. The FCO’s prioritisation of countries with emerging markets is a helpful, but overdue, reprioritisation of the work of our overseas posts. I also welcome the fact that through the National Security Council the Government have continued and developed the comprehensive approach of the previous Government in bringing together the work of the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.
While the Government have the overall aspiration and some of the specifics right, there is a huge gap in the middle that is damaging the strategy working towards those aspirations, and I shall highlight three aspects of it. The first is immigration. We will compete and succeed in the world only if we are open, flexible and welcoming. The Government’s rhetoric on immigration is damaging Britain’s international standing and our ability to be entrepreneurial and competitive. The way in which the visa regime is being applied by the FCO is deeply damaging to our relationships, particularly in the Commonwealth, about which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, spoke so eloquently about earlier. The way in which the visa regime is being used to turn away or delay the entry into this country of people who have a perfectly legitimate right to be here and to contribute to our debates, discussions and economic progress is causing us all sorts of difficulties, and I urge the Government to address that issue and look again at their rhetoric on immigration.
The second area in which the gracious Speech was disappointing was the absence of legislation to commit to 0.7% of gross national income. This target is now agreed by all parties—the previous Government and the current Government—and was implemented by the current Government. That decision has been welcomed following the recent Budget. The way to take the politics out of it and to take the quantity of aid out of the debate to start to focus on the quality of overseas development assistance is to enshrine that in law, take the party politics out of the issue for ever and ensure that we focus on the way in which we spend the money rather than on how much we spend. Both coalition parties promised to do so, and they have let down the country and our allies abroad by backing off from that commitment.
In relation to aid, the way in which someone somewhere in the Government, behind the scenes, perhaps a special adviser or somebody of that sort, is hinting occasionally in the press that there will be some use of aid money to assist with security initiatives is also deeply damaging to the credibility we have built up on overseas development assistance. I know what the rules are, and Ministers and officials know what the rules are. The Government will not be using aid money for security purposes. Occasionally to drop hints to voices in the press who are reluctant to see our commitment to international aid implemented is damaging here, because it causes uncertainty, and damaging abroad, because it affects our credibility, and whoever is doing it should stop.
The third area I want to identify is that of the European Union. There can be no doubt that the three big challenges facing the United Kingdom and our strategy for international relations—covering defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development—are the impact of the global economy, our relationship with it and ability to succeed and compete within it, and the framework that exists following the crash of 2008. There are also changes in climate and population, and other aspects of our environment and quality of life in every continent. There are different changes in different places, but they will grow, not diminish, over the next two decades. Thirdly, there are the security issues which have been mentioned by other noble Lords, and their relationship with development and they key objective of trying to secure greater stabilisation in fragile states through development and security measures.
There can be no argument that multilateral action is vital to tackle all of those three challenges. Our engagement, not just in the United Nations but in the Commonwealth and the European Union, is absolutely central to our participation in tackling these challenges at an international level. There might be a debate on the economic benefits or otherwise of being in the European Union. There are views held passionately on either side of that debate in this Chamber; no doubt we will hear them tonight. In addition to the points made earlier about a trade agreement with the United States, some of those who are most concerned about our attitude to the European Union are the Japanese and other economic partners elsewhere, who see Britain’s participation in the EU as vital for us and for the European Union itself.
While some noble Lords in this Chamber and others elsewhere are passionately opposed to the idea of shared sovereignty in principle, the one way in which we can ensure that the world we leave behind us for future generations is more secure, more economically successful, prosperous, fairer and more able to adapt to change in climate, population and other aspects of our environment, is to have a strong Britain taking part in a strong European Union, and for that European Union to be contributing to those debates at the international level. It is absolutely time for those of us who believe in that strongly to speak up for those future generations, take action now and stop this damaging move into a referendum that may well conclude by damaging this country and also global affairs.
My Lords, for the first couple of years of the coalition Government I was much encouraged and, indeed, enthused, by the change in the approach to foreign policy. It seemed that a number of problems had arisen. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman—who is not in his place—and was struck by the fact that he was commending the Government for the improved investment in and development of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; that there was a move away from some of the unfortunate approaches that had been taken during the George W Bush period; and that there were problems with the Government’s addressing of the European question. I found myself agreeing with him, and then thinking, “Wait a minute. The previous Government eviscerated the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that is now being repaired”. It was not just George W Bush during his period as the President, but Blair and Brown who were also in government. Our many problems with Europe were not fundamentally addressed during that time.
I will touch on Europe; on cyberspace, which was spoken about so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, it not being the first time he has focused our minds on it; and on the situation in the Middle East, to which I devote a good deal of my thinking.
I have always been a convinced and committed European. I have based a lot of my own thinking and work in areas of conflict on the model of conflict resolution that Europe demonstrates. However, those of us who are pro-Europeans must recognise what my noble friend Lord Maclennan said about the inadequacy of European democracy. Many of us wanted to see the development of a Europe of the regions. Instead of that, we have not just a Europe of nation states but a Europe of national Governments, each playing off against the other. We must understand, too, that this inadequacy is not just in its democratic structures but in its failure to deliver on many of the things that could have been delivered in economic terms.
It is not possible to speak about Europe being a massive success these days. The worry is that we are a long way from getting through the problem. There is much talk about networks working together but, when it comes to the possibility of the European network being used in foreign affairs, where have we been in dealing with the Middle East? It is, I regret to say, still impossible to get our German colleagues to say anything that might be viewed as critical of any policy of the Israeli Government. It has proved almost impossible to get clear decisions from all Governments together on any serious foreign policy issue of any contention.
Of course it would be wonderful if we could work together on defence, but what has actually happened? Europe has basked under the umbrella of American protection since the Second World War. Not one of the countries, much less our own, is giving the resource necessary for Europe to defend itself. Again, in Germany, it is not yet possible to have a military parade in public, never mind to make commitments to serious overseas engagement. This is the reality of Europe. Unless those of us who are pro-Europe are able to convince the rest of our colleagues in Europe to take seriously what needs to be done on democratisation, on solving the economic problems, on having a common foreign and security policy and on being able to invest enough in defence, our people will not be persuaded that Europe is a viable entity. That would be an ultimate tragedy. That is the network that is closest to where we live.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, mentioned the network of the Commonwealth. Like him, I regret that there was not more focus on it in the gracious Speech. It is another important network for us.
As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Reid, referred to the fifth space that has now opened. There is land, sea, air, space and, now, for the first time, one created by mankind: cyberspace. Much work and investment has gone into it. However, there are two areas which we have yet to address properly. One is international law in cyberspace. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, mentioned the Stuxnet virus. Had there been an equivalent attack by one country on another in any of the other four spaces, it would have been a declaration of war. However, within cyberspace, we are unclear on the rules of international law. Some time soon, we need to be. Otherwise there will be a tragedy of the kind that the noble Lord referred to: there will be some kind of attack without real attribution being clear. This is an area on which I hope my noble friend will be able to tell me the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is focusing some serious international legal attention.
The second area is the psychology of working in cyberspace in war. In the other four spaces, in the main we understand how people function. However, all of us know that when people start sending emails to each other, tweeting and texting, they suddenly behave in a different way: less inhibited, less thoughtful and less understanding of the consequences of their actions in many cases. I am yet to see sufficient attention being paid to research in the psychology of cyberwar and cyberterrorism; I declare an interest as someone who has given time academically and in business to this area. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell me that additional resource will be devoted to research into understanding how people function in this fifth space.
Finally, I turn to the Middle East, which is the issue that frightens me the most. During the last election, people used to say, “I agree with Nick”. In this case, I agree with Paddy, because I am extremely frightened by what is happening in the Middle East. Much of what has been done from outside has created only more trouble. The notion that we are now starting to supply weapons that are massively surplus to any possible requirement in the region because we want to engage in some kind of influence is total foolishness. Again, I come to the network. We will not solve the Israel-Palestine problem by engaging just those two players. It will have to be done regionally. The Arab peace initiative has not had the attention from this country, from the United States or from others externally. It has been retabled, and it needs to be responded to. We will never resolve the problems with Cyprus, north and south, unless we understand the need for regional engagement. The more that energy becomes available there, the more it will either become an instrument for co-operation or a basis for new conflicts there.
Syria is no longer only a Syrian problem. I went out to Lebanon a few weeks ago, just to see how things were going, and I came back very fearful because that border is already entirely breached. Hezbollah is attacking back into villages which have its faithful within Syria and which are under attack from others, and atrocities are being committed within Lebanon itself. Jordan is being deeply destabilised by the number of refugees, and now we have attacks in Iraq and Turkey. It is almost already too late. When Russia sets down its requirements, it is also saying to the United States, “Stop acting like a cowboy, prepared to do things without United Nations agreements. This is a line you should not cross”. For that reason, as well as for many others, I desperately hope that when we come to debate the Queen’s Speech next year we will not do so in the context of some kind of catastrophic conflagration that has developed from the situation in the Middle East, because we are perilously close to it.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his trailer for my remarks, and for his support.
The gracious Speech promises to,
“ensure the security, good governance and development of the Overseas Territories”.—[ Official Report , 8/4/13; col. 3.]
This is sorely needed for the Chagos Islands, the inhabitants of which were exiled from their homeland by the British Government in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I am indebted to our former high commissioner to Mauritius, Mr David Snoxell, for his advice.
“There is no doubt that there is a moral imperative”, and that,
“I suspect … the all-party view”, is that,
“the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 23/4/09; col. 176WH.]
In a letter to a member of the public on
“I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.
I will briefly remind noble Lords of how this tragic fate overtook the Chagossians. In 1965 our Government detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in order to form a separate British Indian Ocean Territory, in defiance of four UN resolutions. They reclassified the inhabitants as contract workers, made the largest, most southerly, island, Diego Garcia, available to the United States for use as a military base, and gradually removed the Chagossians from all the islands, eventually depositing them in Mauritius and the Seychelles during 1971 to 1973. Some came to Britain from 2001.
Now, fewer than 700 of the original islanders remain. The United States base on Diego Garcia is 140 miles away from the outer islands, to which some would like to return. When the Government of the United States were asked by our Foreign Office publicly to affirm, as was reported in a WikiLeaks cable from the United States embassy in London, that they required the whole of the British Indian Ocean Territory for defence purposes, they did not do so. The State Department has indicated informally to a member of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I also am a member, that if asked it will review the security implications of a limited return. Our Law Lords described official letters that claimed that there was a defence risk as “fanciful” and “highly imaginative”.
In 2014 the agreement with the United States will come up for renewal. I suggest that this gives an excellent opportunity for exploring whether a small number of Chagossian people could return to the outer islands. It would seem to have no security or defence implications for the base on Diego Garcia. I am assured that many will not want to return, but all want their right to do so restored, and some will want only to visit their homeland and come away.
Would this be a burden to the British taxpayer? The Foreign Office set up a feasibility study in 2001, which claimed that resettlement was not feasible and anyway was very expensive. The infeasibility argument has been discredited by one of its own consultants and by others, most recently in a report by Professor Paul Kench of Auckland University. As for the cost, it would be idle to pretend that justice would not carry some. However, the United Kingdom would not have to bear the whole burden of restoring the tiny infrastructure. The European Union high representative has confirmed to Charles Tannock MEP that funds are available. The UNDP may have capacity and it would surely be right for the United States, Mauritius and the Commonwealth to do their bit.
What of the marine protected area, with its full no-take ban on fishing—except, as it happens, around the waters of Diego Garcia, where recreational fishing can be practised—which was hastily declared by David Miliband, as Foreign Secretary, just before the last election? It is unlike most other MPAs, for instance around the Galapagos Islands, where the people who live there help to maintain it.
There is worldwide support for a marine protected area that takes account of the interests of the Chagossians and Mauritius. However, it should have been properly conceived, with a defined role for inhabitants. As it stands, there is only one vessel to patrol the ban over 640,000 square kilometres, and I have seen photographs of very recent substantial illegal fishing operating within the MPA.
The MPA was proclaimed without taking account of the views of the Chagossians, who applied for judicial review in the high court, or of Mauritius, which has brought a case under the Permanent Court of Arbitration for breach of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. There is much work to be done to make the MPA what it ought to be so that everyone can wholeheartedly support it.
In the time available I have simply tried to pinpoint the chief aspects of a manifest and agreed injustice of a fundamental kind. This hardly matches the human rights standards of the Commonwealth charter, which we signed only last March. However, it is very good news that the Foreign Secretary has shown indications of a positive attitude to righting these wrongs in his statement following the end of the human rights case in Strasbourg, and that he is reviewing the policy on resettlement. I hope that the Minister can say how the Government will now proceed and when Parliament will be consulted about the review of that policy.
My Lords, I am aware that these debates are often used by Members of this House to get some deadly serious issues off their chests, and I am no exception. However, I am also aware that an endless string of deadly serious chest-clearing issues is pretty deadly.
In my intervention, which is addressed to our Department for International Development, I would like to start with a poem—in fact the first and last verses of a poem. It is called “The Seed Shop”, by Muriel Stuart:
“Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand, Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry— Meadows and gardens running through my hand …Here in their safe and simple house of death, Sealed in their shells a million roses leap; Here I can blow a garden with my breath, And in my hand a forest lies asleep”.
I hope noble Lords captured some of the poet’s wonder from that short snippet; I believe that no farmer is immune to it.
I have another quote, this time from Dr Joe DeVries of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. He wrote:
“I can still recall vividly the days of war in Mozambique when we were distributing ‘emergency seed’ to farmers affected by the fighting there. The farmers would line up for hours, often in the rains of the new planting season, some of them clothed in tatters … But the gleam in their eyes when they walked away with the seed packs we were distributing always betrayed them ... For the moment, there was hope. They had seed. They would plant. New hope for better life would sprout along with the green shoots”.
Today things are better, but, to paraphrase Dr DeVries, he still sees that sparkle in the eyes of African farmers when they buy the dramatically improved and high-yielding seed that genuinely can now change lives. Modern biotechnology has enabled the development of crop varieties that can withstand attacks of pests, viruses and even weeds, as well as being nutritionally enhanced with nutrients vital for women and for the proper development of their children.
We in the UK have helped to develop these seeds. The reputation of our research establishments such as Rothamsted, John Innes and James Hutton are second to none. Furthermore, the partnerships of many of our institutions with similar bodies in China, Brazil and throughout Africa are worth millions, not only in contracts gained and public/private partnerships, but also in aid and influence, and the UK being a recognisable part of the gleam, just mentioned, in the eyes of smallholder farmers.
I know that the Government are working hard at this agenda and I hope that their soon to be published agritech strategy will help to raise our game even higher in the eyes of the international community, not to mention of the African farmer. However, we must not stop there. The end game of DfID must be to help developing countries become self-sufficient and eventually not need our aid. To quote Justine Greening, we must help,
“create economies that stand on their own two feet”.
Taking that goal to its logical conclusion in Africa, this economic transformation has to start with agriculture. It accounts for 32% of Africa’s GDP and nearly 65% of its employment, and few people now believe that it will be possible to promote prosperity there without a significant focus on agricultural transformation.
This agricultural transformation is not only an economic agenda of huge importance but an agenda of women’s rights. More than two-thirds of all women in Africa are employed in agriculture and they produce nearly 90% of the food. To empower agriculture is to empower women and, with the right training, it enables them to provide for the nutritional needs of their families and earn money to provide education for their children. It is truly a transformational agenda.
However, it would seem that as yet the UK does not get it. President Obama gets it; his Feed the Future programme and last year’s USA-led New Alliance show that. Ireland seems to get it; I was in Dublin last month and heard more than one Cabinet Minister speak up for the transformational ability of agriculture. From my conversations in Brussels with Commissioner Piebalgs, I would say that he, too, seems to get it. However, when did we last hear a DfID Minister or senior official talk about the transformational importance of agriculture? The ONE organisation claims that DfID’s agricultural spend is only 2.18% of its overall ODA. At one point it was as high as 18%. Even if the figure is wrong—I admit that it is hard to trace what is agricultural and what is not—it is certainly one of the lowest percentages of all donor countries.
All that is going to change, is it not? I am an eternal optimist. With the Prime Minister welcoming the IF campaign, which launches on
To return to my starting point, this is not only a seed agenda. I wish it were that simple, but there is no such silver bullet. It is, as I said, about women’s rights, including their ability to own land and borrow money. It is about roads, crop storage and markets and market chains. Above all it is about knowledge: knowledge not only about how to plant, fertilise and protect modern seeds and how to enrich and improve the soil, but about the benefits of co-operation and how to buy, sell and promote entrepreneurial flair throughout the food chain. An agricultural reformation is not only about growing food; it runs from plough to plate and includes investment in inputs, machinery, storage, processing, transport and retailing, to name but a few. This is an exciting agenda, but above all it is a transformational agenda, and I would hate the UK to get left behind.
My Lords, there seems to be a growing interest in the question of whether this country should remain within the European Union, so if noble Lords will forgive me I will confine my remarks to that important issue. In that context I start by welcoming very warmly the Prime Minister’s pledge at the important Bloomberg speech he gave a little while back to provide the people of this country with an “in or out” referendum in 2017. I am also glad that a draft Bill was published today to give effect to this pledge. I gather, incidentally, that it is likely that an amendment may be moved in another place today, regretting the absence of any mention of this in the gracious Speech.
I would not presume—and neither, I am sure, would any noble Lord—to give advice to my right honourable and honourable friends in that place. However, if I may venture a personal opinion, what is needed is a thorough debate about the momentous political and economic issues involved. This will not be assisted by unnecessary and pointless votes. The Prime Minister’s position, as I understand it, is that the EU as presently constituted is not acceptable to the United Kingdom, and perhaps not acceptable on a wider basis. Therefore he will seek to renegotiate the terms of our membership to make it acceptable before holding his promised referendum if he is in a position to do so.
One does not serve as a Minister of the Crown for more than a decade, as I did, without getting to know the realities of the European Union pretty well. In light of that knowledge I do not believe that it will be possible for the Prime Minister to secure the fundamental changes that he seeks. It will certainly not be possible if it is thought that at the end of the day he will, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Harold Wilson, recommend an “in” vote however inconsequential his renegotiation proves to be.
We are severely limited for time in this debate so I cannot touch on all the important issues involved, many of which I sought to address in an article in the Times last week, which some noble Lords may have had time to read. I will therefore focus on what inevitably is the central concern in all this, which is the fundamental change in the European Union following the coming into being of monetary union and the eurozone, with the United Kingdom rightly outside it. It is no use living in the past and deluding ourselves; that was a watershed and a Rubicon. Judged as an economic venture, monetary union is clearly and predictably a disaster, condemning the eurozone to long-term economic underperformance, which of course none of us wishes to see, as it lurches from crisis to crisis—not to mention the political discord that we see today in Europe as a result.
Of course, it is not an economic venture but a political venture, seen as leading inexorably to the creation of a full-blooded political union and a new superstate, the United States of Europe. This is the only context in which European monetary union can make any sense whatever, and it is not for us. Nor is there any future for a United Kingdom outside the political union, increasingly marginalised but still shackled to it. That, au fond, to use the language of the country in which I live, is why, unless monetary union is abandoned, we must leave the European Union.
Finally, I am puzzled, not upset, that this view is frequently characterised by the media as being rightwing. Of course, it used to be the view of the party opposite, and I have never considered the Labour Party to be a particularly rightwing outfit. My mind at this time goes back to a small private dinner party in Chelsea some 50 years ago, where the guest of honour was the then leader of the Labour Party and leader of the Opposition, Hugh Gaitskell. It was only a very few weeks before his sadly premature death. The discussion turned, not surprisingly, to the then topical question of whether we should join what was then known as the Common Market. I was in favour, but Hugh Gaitskell was passionately against it. His argument was that we should not be part of a European political union, a United States of Europe. At that time, when we had our argument 50 years ago, I insisted that that was not the issue before us and that the European Economic Community, to give it its correct name at that time, was something quite different. That may have been true then, but the issue today, after the watershed and after the Rubicon has been crossed, is clearly that identified by Hugh Gaitskell 50 years ago, and I find myself standing now pretty close to where he stood then.
My Lords, nobody disputes that many of the defence procurement overruns in cost and time terms have been a national embarrassment and that substantial improvements and changes are imperative. However, whether a GOCO, a government-owned and private sector-operated solution, is the answer, is highly questionable.
I have nothing against GOCOs in principle. Indeed, when I was a Defence Minister in the 1980s, I was heavily involved in the Bill to contractualise the dockyards, taking it through the Commons. But that was for a specific operation; what we are now talking about is a whole new order of magnitude—£14 billion of procurement with, currently, 16,000 civil servants. What the Government are effectively saying is that we cannot put our own house in order; it is just too big a job for us. That is a very substantial admission of failure.
No other country outsources its defence procurement through a GOCO route. Can you imagine a large plc such as Shell or Tesco or even BAE Systems putting out their purchasing to a third party? Of course, defence procurement is complex, and technological changes are rapid, but with the right systems, disciplines and quality of management, it surely could be substantially improved in-house. Indeed, the MoD is clearly still unsure about the GOCO option itself. We are now apparently in what is called the final assessment phase, scheduled to last 12 months, comparing the public sector option, DE&S plus, with the GOCO alternative. Could my noble friend tell us what the plus is, in DE&S plus? What is the change here from the current situation?
According to a recent article in the Financial Times, the US-based contractor, Jacobs Engineering, has been appointed by the MoD’s delivery partner, to help to develop the business model for the handover. How was Jacobs selected, and at what cost? Indeed, how many MoD personnel are spending the majority of their time on the GOCO option?
A GOCO option would add a fourth player into this already complex arena. First, we have the customer, our Armed Forces. Secondly, we have a body, let us call it MoD Purchase, which will presumably place the order with the GOCO and, ultimately, check the procurement on completion. Thirdly, there is the GOCO itself, and, fourthly, the defence contractor with which the contract is placed. That is four bodies rather than the current three.
I turn to the GOCO itself. I have a number of questions for my noble friend and I fully understand if he is not able to answer them tonight and has to write to me. How will the GOCO operator be selected? Will overseas countries, particularly American-controlled companies, be considered? Will companies that are already involved with the MoD be considered, and will companies that already do work or provide services for defence contractors be eligible? In today’s Financial Times, the chief executive of Babcock has ruled that company out. Perhaps our old friends, G4S, are champing at the bit.
What will the basis of the financial arrangements be between MoD and the GOCO? Will the GOCO receive a block of money and a list of spending requirements and be told to get on with it, or will the arrangement be fee-based, perhaps with an incentive? How many of the 16,000 MoD personnel will the GOCO be required to take on? What about those left? Will the GOCO be free in future to hire and fire as it sees fit? How long will the contract between the MoD and the GOCO operate, and in what circumstances can the operator be terminated? What restrictions will be placed on the GOCO’s freedom to operate—specifically, as between buying off the shelf and sustaining our national strategic capabilities?
How will collaborative programmes with our allies, joint procurement, be handled in the GOCO world? What cognisance will the GOCO take of regional employment issues and the need to encourage SMEs rather than support our major national contractors? What are the attitudes of our allies to our going down the GOCO route? An article in the Financial Times on
“establish a joint, bilateral, inter-agency team to explore”, the new situation. Could my noble friend confirm this? Is it currently at work?
With regard to single-source contracts, where there is no competition for whatever reason, what would the interface be between the new Single Source Regulations
Office to be implemented in 2014-15 and the GOCO? Will the GOCO’s remuneration be varied, dependent on whether a particular contract is single source or competed for? As I understand it, to facilitate the original shipbuilding merger between BAE and Vospers, a programme of future naval work was guaranteed. How long does that run on for, and how will it work if the GOCO is established? How will cancellations of major programmes be dealt with between MoD and the GOCO, such as the Nimrod disaster or the carrier aircraft fiasco—initially STOVL, then cats and traps, then back to STOVL? To put it bluntly, who pays? Who picks up the pieces?
On the delicate area of the revolving door, with MoD personnel and members of the Armed Forces being recruited by defence contractors it is already difficult enough to police. What is the future position going to be in the new GOCO world? Will any restrictions be insisted on?
We now come to the very important area of national emergencies and urgent operational requirements. Our defence contractors have a very proud record of responding to our nation’s needs, as we saw in the Falklands, Afghanistan and, more recently, in Libya, with financial considerations being put to one side to be sorted later. Will our Armed Forces and the MoD be free to go direct to defence contractors in such circumstances, or will they have to go through the laborious route of the GOCO?
Finally, given the inevitability of disputes between the MoD and the GOCO, with changes of specification, extras, variations in quantities and so on, will it not be necessary to establish some form of independent arbitration—perhaps an Office of Defence Procurement Arbitration—to handle disputed issues?
Outsourcing MoD activities has provided very lucrative revenue streams for the private sector. A GOCO is a major opportunity for the private sector but, I would suggest, a huge risk for the taxpayer and our Armed Forces. Many questions need to be answered. My noble friend Lord Levene, who was Chief of Defence Procurement and, of course, drove the defence reform agenda, has considerable misgivings—I spoke to him yesterday—and so do I.
My Lords, I wish to offer first-hand accounts of causes of deep concern in three countries I have visited this year. The first concerns Burma where there are welcome reforms but many problems remain, including severe violations of human rights affecting ethnic and religious minorities such as the predominantly Muslim Rohingya, the Christian Kachin and the Buddhist Shan peoples.
The Rohingya people have suffered horrifying waves of violence, displacing at least 130,000, with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths. Moreover, security forces have often failed to prevent the killing of civilians and destruction of Muslim homes, shops and other property. Those forced to flee to camps are living in conditions of appalling squalor, many dying from disease without medical care. May I ask the Minister what steps Her Majesty’s Government have taken to press the Burmese Government to ensure that security forces act swiftly to protect vulnerable communities, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of violence, prevent the spread of anti-Muslim propaganda and hate speech, and end impunity? May I also ask whether Her Majesty’s Government have raised with the Burmese Government the denial of citizenship for the Rohingya people, who, despite living in Burma for generations, exist as a stateless people?
I turn briefly to the plight of the Kachin people. In June 2011, the Burmese Army broke a long-standing ceasefire with Kachin state and fighting continues. I visited Kachin state in February and saw the dire predicament of at least 100,000 people displaced from their homes by military offensives and human rights violations by the Burmese Army, with killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and destruction of villages. At least 66 churches have been destroyed in the past year. May I ask what efforts Her Majesty’s Government are making to press the Burmese Government to end these military offensives and engage in a meaningful peace process with the Kachin and other ethnic nationalities?
Persistent violations of ceasefires also continue in Shan state, where the Burmese army continues to attack Shan people and to commit grave human rights abuses. May I ask whether Her Majesty’s Government will press the Burmese Government to ensure unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to all conflict-affected states, and what humanitarian assistance Her Majesty’s Government are providing? As the monsoon season approaches, the current dire humanitarian situation could become catastrophic.
The ethnic national peoples of Burma fear that the warm welcome given by the international community to the reforms will result in massive investment, which the Burmese Government will use for more exploitation of the resource-rich lands of the ethnic national peoples, with further expropriation and displacement. As one of the Shan leaders said to us with deep concern, “When the lights went on in Rangoon, all the world rushed there and no one stopped to see us in the darkness”. Given the decision to lift EU sanctions on Burma, may I ask the Minister what measures the EU, including the United Kingdom, will use to pressure the Burmese Government to stop these human rights violations, ensure genuine constitutional change, which includes a just political settlement for the ethnic nationalities, and bring an end to these decades of war and oppression?
I turn briefly to the new republics of South Sudan and Sudan, having been twice this year to South Sudan and once to the conflict-afflicted areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan. South Sudan needs massive assistance to recover from the war inflicted by the former north, in which 2 million people perished, 4 million were displaced and virtually all the infrastructure was destroyed. I had the privilege of being invited to the Independence Day celebrations in June 2011, where the joy of freedom was tangibly exuberant, alongside the sober challenges confronting the new nation. As President Salva Kiir said, it was not a case of rebuilding, as there was nothing left to rebuild.
The Government and the peoples of South Sudan deserve congratulations on their achievements in the 22 months since independence. Of course, there are massive problems, including inevitable internal conflicts in a post-conflict tribal society, with historic tribal tensions exacerbated by unemployment, especially of demobilised soldiers, a generation of children who have not been able to attend school because of constant aerial bombardment, some of the worst health statistics in the world, with only 15% of the population receiving immunisation, and a desperate need for roads in a country which, at independence, had only a few kilometres of tarmac road. The problems are exacerbated by the Republic of Sudan’s aggressive policies, including military offensives into South Sudan and sponsoring South Sudanese insurgents and criminal groups. There is also the problem of continuing violence along the border, especially in the disputed Abyei region.
However, I am delighted to see many signs of progress in South Sudan, including establishment of institutions of civil society, programmes for reconciliation between conflict-prone tribal factions and investment by major international companies. Can the Minister say what specific initiatives Her Majesty’s Government are taking to promote UK investment in South Sudan, as it is essential for the development of this vulnerable new nation trying to develop as a true democracy in a very challenging part of Africa?
Finally, I turn to the Republic of Sudan, still under the rule of General al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, together with two of his senior colleagues, one of whom he has imposed in a ruling position in southern Kordofan. Al-Bashir has declared his intention to turn the Republic of Sudan into a unified Arabic, Islamic nation. He is pursuing his racist policy of ethnic cleansing the African peoples from Blue Nile state and the Nuba Mountains in Southern Kordofan. Earlier this year, I witnessed constant aerial bombardment of innocent civilians, forcing half a million to flee their homes and hide in snake-infested caves, under trees or in river banks. Many have died of starvation as they cannot grow or harvest crops and a quarter of a million have had to flee to overcrowded camps in South Sudan. I and other noble Lords have repeatedly asked what pressure Her Majesty’s Government have put on the Government of Sudan to desist from this aerial bombardment of civilians which has caused such a massive toll of death and injury, and I do so again this evening.
Her Majesty’s Government claim that they wish to continue to “talk” to Khartoum. However, as many of us have emphasised, Khartoum continues to kill while it talks. There are also numerous other causes for concern in Sudan, including expulsion of many NGOs, attacks on Christian churches and schools and serious infringements of fundamental human rights, including freedom of the press. These deserve a separate debate. May I ask the Minister what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to bring an end to this culture of impunity, which allows, inter alia, mass killings and injury on that huge scale? May I also ask whether Her Majesty’s Government might consider assisting indigenous organisations in those conflict-affected areas, especially in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, with the provision of life-saving food and medical supplies for civilians currently dying from starvation and disease? In one village we visited in Blue Nile, 450 people had died from starvation and those still alive had had to flee into the bush from aerial bombardment targeting their village. The people of Sudan and South Sudan look to the British Government as having a special responsibility to help, not only because of our historic responsibility but our continuing duty as part of the three-nation group responsible for monitoring and assisting with the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement.
Our friends in Burma, Sudan and South Sudan passionately hope that we will hear more substantive promises from the Minister—if not tonight, in due course—to bring encouragement to people who have suffered too much for too long at the hands of Governments who continue to kill and inflict suffering on so many of their own people in Burma and Sudan with virtual impunity.
My Lords, one of the privileges of a debate of this sort in your Lordships’ House is hearing speeches from those with a deep personal knowledge and understanding of places in the world they have visited. The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, was a good example of that.
I particularly associate myself with the magisterial speech of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, on Sri Lanka, with which the diocese of Ripon and Leeds has connections, through the worldwide church, with the dioceses of Colombo and Kurunagala. Like him, I emphasise the need to work with the people of that land both in securing the peace which has been achieved and in ensuring human rights in that country.
The other thing that I have done this afternoon is go with a number of other noble Lords to the Christian Aid presentation in Westminster Hall. In the middle of Christian Aid Week, it is particularly crucial that the Government join millions of our fellow citizens in affirming our desire to see an end to hunger in our world. I welcome the leadership that the Prime Minister has shown to date, particularly in challenging tax evasion, which has a particularly detrimental effect on the poorest countries of the world.
In that context, I remain disturbed by the absence in the gracious Speech of any reference to the target of 0.7% of gross national income being spent on international aid, and I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for her firm statement on the importance of achieving that target for our country. However, we still lack any information on the intention to embed this in law. That commitment represents our concern for the poorest people in our world and is an important part of the determination of the still-wealthy nations to continue their support of those in most need. I associate myself with the words of the noble Lords, Lord Chidgey and Lord McConnell, in wanting to affirm clearly at this point the millennium development goals and the need to move beyond them in seeking to put an end to hunger in our world.
There have been various assurances over the past 12 months that a Bill incorporating the 0.7% commitment is written and ready to be presented to Parliament when the business managers can find time for it. I am aware that a fortnight ago a Bill was lost in the other place under pressure of business after the Government had said that it was almost identical to what we would have tabled. I look forward to the Minister’s assurance that not only is it the aim of this Government to ensure that the 0.7% target continues to be met but that the search is still on to find parliamentary time for such a Bill. It may be that the noble Lord who is to reply can table it in this House because the promise is beginning to look somewhat thin unless it is now accompanied by action.
There has been much important debate on the proper objective of aid to other countries, and I welcome the desire to concentrate aid on where it can do most good in appeasing hunger. In particular, it is crucial that aid goes to those Governments who need the administrative power to collect tax and to close those loopholes that enable multinational corporations to send their profits offshore. However, that should not extend to military action, and it would help me greatly if the Minister can commit himself to the OECD requirement that aid is judged as such only when it is administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective.
That brings me to the UK’s presidency of the G8. I am encouraged by the commitment in the gracious Speech to “tackle tax evasion” and to “encourage”—although I would have welcomed a stronger word—“greater transparency and accountability”. The key challenge is to ensure that any tax agreement concluded by the G8 benefits poor countries and enables them to access information about company ownership and assets held in tax havens. In particular, can the Minister tell us whether any tax haven has yet signed the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters? It would be a powerful example of leadership if the UK-linked tax havens were to sign the convention in the lead-up to the G8.
The Government must be aware that the IF campaign’s pressure, to which a number of noble Lords have referred, to end tax-dodging by individuals and major companies has rightly touched a nerve with the public in our country. The Government need to bring a beneficial ownership action plan to the G8 and encourage other countries to do the same, whereby we can know who ultimately benefits from the profits of companies and ensure that taxes are paid in the countries where those profits are made.
Finally, I welcome the commitment to a hunger summit prior to the G8 meeting. This concentrates attention on where it primarily belongs—on the appalling truth that the world has the capacity to grow enough food for its population and yet NGOs, Governments and individuals still need to provide for those who starve. That is the greatest scandal of all in our world economy.
My Lords, the gracious Speech includes a defence Bill and I speak to encourage the Minister of Defence to hold the Government’s position on recruitment and training of 16 to 18 year-olds to the Armed Forces, because siren voices are complaining that Army recruitment of under-18s is a waste of money. Other voices say that the Government should reconsider allowing 16 year-olds to enlist.
Here I should declare my interests. I am a member of the Defence Study Group of your Lordships’ House; I am from Plymouth, the home of the Navy and Marine Commandos, in which my family has served for generations; and I have employed many young people in fish processing units—not the most happy places to be, but useful—while they wait to go into the Army. It used to be a great tradition that they would go off and return within a year or so in uniform, for us all to gaze at them and glory at how much they had changed and improved.
In these difficult years of recession, many young people find it very difficult to find a job at all, and the social cost of the unemployed young is huge—youth on the loose, bored, losing confidence, depressed, prey to gangs in some places and obesity in others, in single-parenthood, dependent on government payouts, and open to temptations of all sorts. This is not the way to start a life and represents money wasted. The earlier that we can offer opportunities to these young people the better. We can give them greater confidence and pride by setting them on the road that perhaps their fathers or mothers took before them to apprenticeships, BTEC qualifications, training, and personal and team success. It may even be that they can learn to drive a tank.
The cost of recruiting these 16 to 18 year-olds is not wasted. In the year 2012-13, the Army identified that just 12% of under-18s leave before completion of their training, as against 14% of those over 18 who do so. It is the youngest entrant soldiers who stay as soldiers for the longest. It is they who become the best NCOs, and they are a great investment for us. This House is witness to the many years served here by our Staff Superintendent, Peter Horsfall. He was a member of the Coldstream Guards at the age of 16. Many of our Doorkeepers have backgrounds as boy soldiers and apprentices, and many of them became NCOs. They tell me that it is the NCOs who actually run the Army.
I turn to my second point, on allowing 16 year-olds to enlist. The Government believe that their policies on under-18s in service are robust and comply with national and international law. They have taken steps to bestow special safeguards on young people below the age of 18, under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. It continues to be the rule that they do not go to the front line to fight until they have reached the age of 18. Of course, a comprehensive welfare system is in place for all service personnel. I hope that the Minister—a soldier himself—will continue to support this Government’s route.
Finally, the voices “against” are against preparing the next generation for circumstances which are not abstract but real. Those same voices would, I suspect, leap to praise the youngster—the 16 year-old—who has performed well during a local crisis such as a flood, a fire or an accident. So often that youngster is a scout or a guide but is also an Army cadet, a Navy cadet, an Air Force cadet, or a boy or girl soldier.
My Lords, one of the features of the Queen’s Speech was that it implied that there would be less legislation. I believe that that is excellent because—this has nothing to do with party politics—it enables this House to spend more time considering big issues, including monitoring the programmes of government.
The policies and actions of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID are very important in helping the UK’s commercial and industrial interests, as well as ensuring that the UK works with other nations to deal with the global problems of climate change, the threat to the environment, global pandemics, and prospective food and water shortages, some of which were referred to by the retiring Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, and the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. The role of science in this area of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and defence was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Reid.
I declare interests as a professor, as a director of a small company and as a member of GLOBE, and I want to touch on that. With its limited numbers, further reduced by this Government, could the Foreign Office be more effective in collaborating with other UK, UN and EU organisations? First, I want to compliment the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for its support for and collaboration with NGOs, one of which is GLOBE. This has had the remarkable effect of bringing together Ministers, civil servants, parliamentarians and now UN agencies to achieve, rather unexpectedly, general agreement about national legislation to deal with climate change. There has been some learning in this process but it has been effective, and I believe that there is, as it were, a general moral in that.
However, I should like to introduce a slightly more sour note in commenting that the FCO could be considerably more effective in working with other branches of government to promote UK interests and commercial interests. The United States embassies use US government agencies to promote US business in quite a forward and ruthless way, rather unlike our embassies. This is a point made by Americans and foreigners all around the world. We are very good at some of the broader political issues but, as I see it, often we are not so great at pushing for British interests. The Chancellor increased some funding for this purpose. We had a debate in the House of Lords but I believe that more can be done. One point is that UK government agencies could provide objective information about UK companies and products. Here, I have a vested interest, as I say. However, it is nothing like the kind of information provided by the United States, which has, for example, whole sections in its embassy in Beijing pushing US technology.
Some UK companies felt that there were great opportunities to develop products based on the UK’s success with the Olympic Games and our success in developing east London—something that the British Government wanted to happen. However, the funding being put forward by other countries for similar kinds of urban renewal projects makes it quite difficult for British companies to compete, as has been stated to me.
The United States also uses its technical and commercial colleagues as part of its delegations to meetings of the United Nations technical agencies.
I used to represent the UK at the World Meteorological Organisation. We had civil servants; the Americans had a whole array of people. Every night, they would ring up the Department of State and would get information back. It was a very different operation. I believe that this is a significant problem and that the Foreign Office should do more in monitoring and promoting the use of the UK delegation to the United Nations, not only to be effective but to promote UK interests. In fact, some of the UK government agencies which are part of these delegations do not take it as seriously as they should. Indeed, a recent chief executive of a UK agency said, “I don’t regard this as part of my job at all”. The job description of the new Foreign Office chief scientific adviser did not even mention the United Nations or the UN agencies, which are enormously important for all these technical issues.
As the Government, through the United Nations department at the Foreign Office, are not able, or choose not to, give sufficient information about what is going on, if you really want to find out what is happening in this whole world of UN agencies and you are no longer an official, you can use, on either your BlackBerry or your iPhone, the extremely effective information provided by IID, an organisation in Canada. From that, for example, we can learn this week about what is happening in the Arctic Council. Last week, we could hear about what was happening in discussions on the Stockholm and other conventions. Surely, if the United Kingdom wants to promote itself as a country which is really on top of the use of the internet and communications, the Foreign Office should be at the forefront of informing at the very least parliamentarians but also, one would hope, the public about what it is doing.
Through a PQ, I had correspondence from the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. Apparently this year is the International Year of Water Co-operation but no information is to be provided about the UK objectives and there is to be no report on what happens at the United Nations. Yet today I understand that the Prime Minister is talking at the United Nations about the importance of water. Therefore, we really need to do more.
Equally important in the role of UN agencies is their help in developing countries. I am sure that the late Lord Brett, who was a great advocate of the International Labour Organisation, would have been reassured to hear that the ILO played a very positive role in calls for trade union involvement and more consultation following the Dhaka disaster.
I should like to touch on Europe, which the Minister was very enthusiastic about. “Hear, hear” could be heard a lot as she made her speech. The Ministers in BIS are even more positive about the EU, and I particularly commend the enthusiasm of Mr Willetts in promoting the space industry. This involves not only software, in which the UK has often been very strong, but hardware, which leads to jobs. Of course, David Willetts has a constituency with a lot of factories in the space business, but it is a very important aspect.
We need our UK embassies and consulates to inform the rest of the world not only about the UK’s technology but about how we are working with the other countries of Europe. It is very interesting that last week in China the French Prime Minister spoke about the excellence of the Airbus. The wings of the Airbus are made in Britain. How often does the British Prime Minister talk about a European project in which the British and French are participating? Then the German Prime Minister might talk about Rolls-Royce, which has factories in Germany. This would be the development of a broader way of working. When you go to embassies and consulates, it is regrettable how little advocacy there is about the important role of the UK working on the most advanced projects in Europe.
Finally, I should like to say—perhaps uniquely in this afternoon’s debate—that people have been talking about the UK as an important global player with networks and so on. However, surely we should be thinking beyond the framework of World War II and the Cold War. It is extraordinary that this little country, then with 2% of the world’s GDP and a population of 50 million, along with France should still have seats on the United Nations Security Council. Surely one seat should be for Europe with a population of 500 million, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, and the other for India, which is soon to be the country with the largest population. This will not happen immediately but surely there should be the beginnings of a discussion about the future by Parliament, the United Nations associations and other foreign relations. We cannot carry on with this World War II framework.
My Lords, I warmly echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on the right of the Chagossians to return to their homeland, from which they were ejected many years ago in one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history. I also join her in welcoming the review by the Government of their Chagos policy, which I hope will lead to the removal of this blot on our reputation.
Up to this point the Government have had an excellent record on international development and I am proud, with my noble friend Lady Northover, that we hit the target of 0.7% of GNI this year, as promised in the coalition programme for government. However, as several noble Lords have said, the Bill to enshrine this commitment in law, which is also in the programme, is not in the gracious Speech and it has been reported that the Prime Minister has dropped it entirely. That cannot be because of the pressure of other legislation, so it looks as though the Tories are laying the ground for cuts in spending after 2016 if they get the opportunity. I am sure that Liberal Democrats will note this breach of the coalition agreement.
Another Bill that has disappeared from the list is the one on the standard packaging of cigarettes. This would have been consistent with the proposed European directive to strengthen the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which was supported by your Lordships’ European Union Committee and strongly backed by Cancer Research UK but which is desirable independently as a means of deterring people from taking up smoking, as the director of health and well-being at Public Health England has advised. The opposition comes from the tobacco manufacturers and from Nigel Farage, who is apparently unconcerned that almost a quarter of a million young people between the ages of 11 and 15 take up smoking each year. One assumes that the Bill was axed in the panic over UKIP’s threat to the Tory vote even before the local elections.
Mr Cameron also pandered to the supposed dislike by the electorate of everything European in September last year by again attempting to placate the UKIPs and Tory crypto UKIPs when he announced during a visit to Brazil, rather than in the Commons, that the UK would opt out of some 130 EU pre-Lisbon justice and policing measures. The coalition agreement committed us to approaching legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case-by-case basis with a view to maximising our country’s security. There is no doubt whatever that European measures on corruption, drugs, pornography, terrorism, illegal migration, cyberattacks, organised crime and racism have enhanced our security, because these offences are all borderless.
Co-operation between law enforcement authorities across Europe is essential for investigations, the exchange of evidence and information and for the recovery of the proceeds of crime. We need institutions such as Europol and Eurojust to manage the links between the 27 member states, and we need the European arrest warrant to ensure that we do not get saddled with all the criminals in Europe. It is the height of folly to jeopardise all this as it is by no means certain that we can walk back into the measures that we like the day after leaving them.
We all agree that the European Union can be improved, but we do not improve our chances of contributing to that discussion by constantly threatening to leave it. What conceivable grounds are there for thinking that other member states would agree to renegotiate membership on more favourable terms for us—a point on which I agree with my noble friend Lord Lawson? There are more likely to be demands from other European countries for the annulment of the extraordinary rights that we already enjoy in the European Union.
Unsurprisingly, the word “Europe” does not appear anywhere in the gracious Speech, but there is no mention of the Commonwealth either, as several noble Lords have remarked. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are both attending the CHOGM in Sri Lanka in November, as are the heads of all the other member states so far except Canada, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, mentioned. The Australians say that it is better to stay engaged because of the extra leverage that it gives us in the run-up to CHOGM, but how has that been illustrated? Amnesty International describes the systematic attack on dissent, including the impeachment of the chief justice without due process, her replacement by a close associate of President Rajapaksa, the blocking of BBC broadcasts, the arbitrary detention and disappearance of hundreds of government opponents and the targeting and removal of journalists such as the chief editor of the Sunday Leader, Frederica Jansz, after she had been threatened by the Defence Secretary in a foul-mouthed diatribe.
If the Commonwealth does have the influence that Australia believes it has, will the Government suggest to Sri Lanka that it issues an open invitation to the UN Special Procedures so that their advice on human rights issues can be considered before the CHOGM?
How can the Commonwealth encourage Bangladesh to uphold the fundamental values of the recently adopted charter, including democracy, human rights, the rule of law, the separation of powers, freedom of expression, good governance, tolerance, respect and understanding and the role of civil society? In Bangladesh, political objectives are pursued on the streets instead of in Parliament, most recently when Islamist mobs rioted in downtown Dhaka at the beginning of May in support of a 13-point list of demands that included the execution of atheist bloggers, a law against blasphemy and restrictions on women at work. These objectives are clearly incompatible with the Commonwealth charter, but at the same time security forces used disproportionate force against the Islamists, causing many deaths, and the Government closed down two TV channels that were reporting the mayhem.
Previously, huge demonstrations and counter- demonstrations had erupted over the death sentence passed by the war crimes tribunal against a person for offences committed in the liberation war of 1971. Those proceedings were not conducted in accordance with the rule of law and are the source of violent divisions in Bangladeshi society.
There are also gratuitous attacks on members of religious and ethnic minorities, particularly the indigenous inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Government have failed to implement the CHT accord of 1997, promised by Sheikh Hasina within the lifetime of this Parliament, and they no longer recognise the native inhabitants of the CHT as indigenous people. As co-chair of the international CHT Commission, I asked the Government to raise these matters in the Bangladesh universal periodic review, which has just taken place, and I would be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply can tell me whether they did so.
Pakistan, too, in spite of the successful elections, warrants the attention of the Commonwealth. As the Commons International Development Committee says, it exhibits unstable politics, a large defence budget, historic levels of significant corruption, tax avoidance, low levels of expenditure on education and health programmes, and its status is that of a middle-income country. Pakistan is the largest recipient of UK aid, but our aims of promoting peace and stability in the border areas, thus creating the conditions for achieving the MDGs there, have already failed. During the election, more than 100 candidates and election workers were murdered by Islamist terrorists. Over recent years there has been a crescendo of murders and massacres of religious minorities throughout Pakistan, which the international community cannot and must not ignore.
My noble friends Lord Ashdown and Lord King of Bridgwater both raised the issue of the global threat of Salafist terrorism against the Shia Muslim communities. This is nowhere more acute than in Pakistan. The movement is alternatively aimed at the creation of a universal caliphate based on a supposed model from the 7th century. Its activities will not be confined to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali or Syria, and we ignore it at our peril. I regret that neither in the gracious Speech nor anywhere else in government policy do we see the prospect of a coherent strategy to combat this ideology.
My Lords, the gracious Speech last week set out the Government’s intent to prevent conflict and reduce terrorism. These are ambitious aims to encapsulate in such a few words, especially given the kind of international turmoil that we currently see in so many parts of the world. So how are they to be achieved?
The conflict in Syria steals most of the headlines these days, and not without cause. The consequences for the Syrian people are tragic and the stresses on the wider region become ever more worrying, but what can external actors do to help address these issues? The first thing, perhaps, is to ensure that by their actions they do not make the situation even worse. We know little for sure about the Syrian opposition groups. We believe that some of them at least are pursuing an extremist agenda, and the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, has pointed out some of the other concerns about the nature of the conflict. The Assad regime is extremely unsavoury and we would certainly like to see something better in its place, but how content are we that this is actually achievable?
These are not new questions, but there is a natural concern that while we grapple with them, so far unsuccessfully, more people are dying and the humanitarian situation is growing steadily worse. I have sympathy with this concern, but it is important to remember that the issue in Syria is essentially political in nature and that any attempt to address it must itself be at root political. Employing military force in the region without a clear and achievable political objective would be a leap into the unknown and would certainly risk worsening the situation rather than improving it. We most certainly can and should be making every effort to contain the regional impact of the conflict. We see the consequences in Turkey, in Lebanon and, most worryingly of all, in Jordan. Sustaining and increasing our support for the latter country is perhaps one of the most useful things we can do in this crisis, at least in the immediate future.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s second term and a new Secretary of State present yet another window of opportunity for the Middle East peace process. The current regional turmoil makes progress on this issue more rather than less pressing. The experience of many weary years makes us naturally cautious about expecting too much, if anything at all, from the latest efforts in this regard. Nevertheless, unrelenting persistence is one of the most important prerequisites for dealing with the problem. As has been pointed out already, Israeli settlements are certainly a major obstacle, but treating them en masse is likely to make them a showstopper in any negotiations. Some of these settlements would almost certainly remain on the Israeli side of the line under any land swap deal, while others are much more controversial, and it is on these that negotiators should perhaps focus their efforts.
The Palestinians, for their part, will have to acknowledge that there can be no right of return. This presents all sorts of difficulties, but there are no easy parts to this puzzle. This is another issue on which negotiators should perhaps concentrate their efforts to find an acceptable formula. Most important of all, the peace process needs to focus on constituents within Israel and the West Bank. The leaders are important, but if they cannot deliver the key elements of their constituencies, they will be unable to make the concessions necessary for progress. It may be unrealistic to expect a resolution of the Palestinian issue in the near term, but just a degree of movement on these key points would go at least some way to relieving the air of stagnation and pessimism that seems so prevalent at the moment.
There are of course a great many other challenges for the UK on the international scene, and numerous potential threats to our interests. Other noble Lords have covered or will cover some of these, and time precludes me from touching on more of them today, but they exist and we must guard against them. If we are to do so, we shall need the appropriate resources, including adequately manned, equipped and trained Armed Forces. The Government’s plans for Future Force 2020 set out how that particular requirement is to be achieved. These plans, while constrained to a greater degree than I believe wise, are at least coherent, but when they were conceived during the strategic defence and security review in 2010, it was made clear that they depended on real-terms increases in the defence budget—and, I stress, in the entire budget, not just in the equipment programme—in each of the years after 2015: that is, beyond the period of the 2010 spending review from financial year 2015-16 onwards.
This is the basis on which the Ministry of Defence has conducted its planning over the past three years, but far from increasing the budget from 2015-16 the Government seem to be about to reduce it further, and the prospect for the succeeding years does not look bright. Some will say that the circumstances have changed and the economy is not where, in 2010, we all hoped it would be by now and therefore we have to tighten our belts further. They would say that defence cannot be protected from this further pressure. That may indeed be the Government’s judgment, but in announcing the outcome of the 2010 review in another place, the Prime Minister himself was clear that the plans for Future Force 2020 depend on the sort of budget increases that I have outlined.
One does not have to be a master logician to work out that the reverse must also be true: that without those rises, the Government’s plans for the Armed Forces will be unachievable. That appears to be the current situation. The Ministry of Defence is working to a plan that is not being funded appropriately and that will therefore fail. I should be grateful if the Minister could say in his winding up how his department intends to square this circle.
Finally, I feel that I, too, must say a word about the Afghan interpreters who contributed so much to our operations in their country and who now face such a fraught future. The Government have so far declined to put in place for them a scheme similar to the one that allowed endangered Iraqi interpreters to settle in the UK. I simply cannot understand this. I accept entirely the desirability of talented Afghans remaining in and contributing to the development of their country, and I welcome the introduction of incentives to persuade them to do so, but if they judge that the risk to themselves and their families outweighs the incentives to remain, surely we have a duty to provide them with a viable alternative. It is simply not good enough to say that they can apply for asylum like everybody else; they deserve far better from us than that.
The moral argument for treating these people as a special case is clear, but there is a practical one, too. As the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, noted, we shall certainly need high quality interpreters in future crises. If we are to persuade people to work for us in such a capacity and in such circumstances, they will need to have some confidence in the long-term prospects for themselves and for their families. We need to be seen as a country that looks after those who serve it. That, I regret to say, is not how we are seen at the moment. The case for a change of course is overwhelming. The Government’s case for their current stance is, to my mind, wholly underwhelming.
My Lords, I am pleased once again to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, in a debate in your Lordships’ House because it gives me an opportunity to commend his well-argued and characteristically clearly delivered speech. I sense from the response of noble Lords that the Minister would be well advised to heed the words of the noble and gallant Lord, as indeed I did every day that I was the Secretary of State for Defence when we served together in the MoD. I am also pleased because it gives me an opportunity, which I have not had so far, to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord on his elevation to Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. I remind noble Lords of my entry in the Register ofLords’ Interests, particularly my involvement in organisations associated with non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament issues.
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Chatham House rules apply to those discussions so I will not—even if I could in the short time available to me—share with noble Lords all of what was said. However, it was an extensive agenda, covering nuclear, biological, chemical and cyber threats. There was a significant discussion about the defeated ambition to have a conference on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East, and all aspects of proliferation were discussed. Many of the national delegations present had been at the preparatory committee of the NPT review in Geneva and had come from there. It was good to see that the Egyptians were at the conference in Split despite their leaving the NPT review disappointed that no date was fixed for a rearranged conference on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The House will also be aware that the fourth P5 meeting to discuss the P5 obligations under Point 5 of the 64-point plan that came from the NPT review in 2010 and the
P5 obligations under Article 5 of the NPT took place on the margins of the Geneva discussion, hosted by Russia.
I think there will be agreement on all sides of the House that these are important issues. In almost any hierarchy of threats, these issues would be high in anybody’s priorities and on the list of issues being discussed. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, when representing a European organisation in that environment, when both the United States and Russia are represented, and if China is also in the room, you have to have pretty sharp elbows as a European to get into the discussion. The scale of their weapons capabilities is such that Europeans, even when aggregated, appear rather small. It was slightly disappointing and worrying that there was no Russian voice in these discussions and at the conference, for the first time to my knowledge.
What was even more disappointing from my perspective was that there was no official United Kingdom voice either. At the NATO discussion on weapons of mass destruction, we appeared to have no point to make. This is not the only recent example of our country not being represented at important discussions relating to the threats and challenges that the world faces. Recently, the Norwegians convened a meeting to discuss the humanitarian effects of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and we did not turn up. On that occasion, I think, it was out of solidarity with our P5 partners, none of which turned up to take part in that discussion, to my disappointment and that of many other countries of the world, and which I am sure your Lordships will share. Although it was no surprise to me, I share the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that these issues did not deserve one line in the gracious Speech.
As will be clear to every noble Lord in this debate in your Lordships’ House today, the range of this debate shows the extensive competition there is for that priority. Almost every noble Lord who has spoken has bemoaned the fact that something was not in the Queen’s Speech. Of course, not everything can be in it, and the range of challenges for priority are very obvious from the nature of this debate. However, it is also obvious that if Europe is to seize the opportunities of the future, it has to deal with the legacies of its past. That has been a significant part of the debate this afternoon and it will be into the evening.
Nowhere is that more evident than in defence and security issues. The blunt truth is that the security policies of the Euro-Atlantic region remain largely on Cold War autopilot, 20 years or more after the end of the Cold War. The Euro-Atlantic region is home to nine of the 14 states in the world that have nuclear weapons on their soil and 95% of the nuclear weapons that exist in the world. However, we seem always to want to talk about the “other”, instead of what is in our own neighbourhood. We are home to large strategic nuclear forces, many—indeed, thousands—of which are ready to be launched in minutes. Thankfully, that does not include the United Kingdom’s forces, but it does include Russian and American forces. Thousands of tactical weapons remain in Europe and a decades-old missile defence debate remains stuck in neutral. New security challenges associated with prompt-strike forces, cybersecurity and space remain contentious and inadequately addressed.
This legacy contributes to tensions and mistrust across the Euro-Atlantic region and needlessly drives up the risks and costs of national defence at a time of unprecedented austerity and tight national budgets. We must ask ourselves why, two decades after the Cold War ended, the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and other European nations spend hundreds of billions of dollars, roubles, euros and pounds in response to these tensions while both local and national leaders face a growing list of fiscal demands and unmet needs. This is not just about guns versus butter, although that is a very attractive argument in the current environment. The likelihood of a major war in Europe may have radically reduced since the end of the Cold War but this legacy undermines any effort to build a true Euro-Atlantic partnership to meet the common threats and challenges of the 21st century, which we can all list and which we all know will have to be addressed in a collective and multilateral fashion across the world. The status quo divides our continent and will set Europe and Russia up for a future of failure and irrelevance in the emerging international system if it is not addressed.
Many across the world believe that we need a new approach to defence and security issues in the Euro-Atlantic region. In response to that growing demand, the European Leadership Network, under my chairmanship, the Nuclear Threat Initiative under the chairmanship of Senator Sam Nunn, the Russian International Affairs Council under the chairmanship of Igor Ivanov, the former Russian Defence Minister, and the Munich Security Conference, under the chairmanship of Wolfgang Ischinger, brought together a Track II dialogue to discuss some of these challenges with experts. I was pleased to be able to invite my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who accepted, and General Sir John McColl, the former DSACEUR, who recently retired and is now the Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, to join that significant group of people, including very senior former soldiers from Russia and the United States, to address some of these issues.
I do not have time now to go into the detail, but I have a copy of the report from that dialogue and I commend it to both the House and the Government. It is a comprehensive document that sets out the principles that ought to instruct such a dialogue and a step-by-step approach to take us, over 15 years, away from this difficult set of circumstances that we have got ourselves into by not addressing these challenges. We need political leadership but we will not have it if we do not even recognise this challenge when we set the course for a year’s debates.
My Lords, I want to address the implications of a referendum in 2017, which I do not think have been properly considered very often. I very much agreed with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Howell when he said that the European Union is, at present, in a state of flux. It faces entirely new circumstances and completely new challenges, but that is not an argument in favour of having a referendum in 2017. If the eurozone is to survive, it will need some greater degree of fiscal co-ordination and some initiative for growth. Both of these mean more Europe and yet there has never been greater disillusionment with Brussels throughout Europe than there is at the present time—people want less Europe. How will that be resolved? We will not know by 2017. How large will the eurozone be? It may be smaller but it may be larger. What will its relations be with the outside?
Another thing that will be needed is a banking union. However, Germany and France are very far apart at the moment about what sort of banking union there should be. It is likely to take considerable time and is not something that is likely to be resolved by 2017. The form of any banking union will have very serious implications for the City of London. What sort of Europe is likely to have emerged by 2017? We do not know. If we are going to have a referendum that is meaningful, the choice must be clear, but we will not know what sort of Union we are supposed to vote on—either to leave or to stay in.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also said that we should play a leading part in the kind of changes that Europe needs. I completely agree. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said that there were many opportunities for us to exploit the need for change that there is in Europe. I entirely agree. But what will be the effect on our influence in Europe in leading these changes if we have a fixed referendum that leads to the possibility—indeed, in many people’s eyes, the likelihood—of an exit?
Many people in Europe look at the polls and the rise of UKIP, this xenophobic, populist party. They hear the speeches of my noble friend Lord Lawson and other Tory grandees, and indeed the statements made by some Cabinet Ministers, and they assume that Britain is likely to exit. What sort of concessions are they likely to make if they think that we are not going to be a member in any case? How will they respond to what in effect is a threat—“If you do not give us what we want, we will walk away”? Fixing a referendum is not likely to enable us to achieve the kind of changes that we want and need, because you can achieve those only if you are inside, if you have a commitment to the Union, not if you are threatening to leave and exercising what will appear to some as a form of blackmail—when we need good will.
My third reason is that the only people likely to benefit from a referendum in 2017 will be the antis, which is not surprising; that is why they are in favour. Suppose the Conservatives win the next election and Mr Cameron starts his negotiation for substantial repatriation of powers backed by the threat of walking away in a referendum, is he likely to achieve these successes? He is extremely unlikely to do so. He may get a few cosmetic concessions, a few sops thrown to him, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Lawson that people will see through that; there will not be any substantial repatriation of powers. If he is still Prime Minister—which would then be somewhat unlikely—what would Mr Cameron do in a referendum if all his negotiations have failed? He could not say, “But we must still say yes”. The Government would be forced to support a no campaign, together with a vitriolic anti-European press. One could not guarantee a repetition of 1975, when all three parties were in favour and so was the press.
What happens if Labour wins the election and commits itself to a referendum in 2017, which fortunately so far it has not done? Suppose that Labour, too, feels that it cannot be left out in this competition for the popular vote, would it agree to a referendum? Two years after the election, just at the time when Governments are supremely unpopular, a Labour Government would have a vote, which would be unanimously opposed by an anti-Europe Conservative Party and the press. Again, it is quite likely that the result would be exit.
Who will be the beneficiaries of a referendum that is fixed in 2017? I am not opposed to the idea of a referendum when we know exactly what we are voting for and if it is an absolutely major issue such as whether or not we should join the euro. I am not opposed to a referendum in principle. I am not very keen on it; on the whole I am a supporter of Burke in this matter. Let us assume that there is the likelihood of an exit. What would be the result of that? We would finally have an answer to the problem posed by Dean Acheson when he said:
“Great Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role”.
We have not yet found a role—I think we have to face that fact—but if we exited from Europe we would have found a role, and what would it be? The sort of influence we would have in the world if we exited from Europe would be that of a less prosperous Norway or Switzerland.
My Lords, I will comment on the EU at the end. First, I will speak on conflict and post-conflict states. I begin by acknowledging the work of our Armed Forces, diplomats, journalists and aid workers in Afghanistan. There have been many casualties among Afghan soldiers and civilians as well as our own soldiers and Marines, but we often forget that our own civilians and aid workers are also working in a dangerous environment. I declare an interest because two members of my family have served in that capacity, while another is currently serving in our Armed Forces.
I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord King, and others about the translators. I put it to the Minister—when he comes back—that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has a resettlement programme which would exactly fit this group of refugees. I hope that he will give us a reply on that point.
One key aim we have all been fighting for in Afghanistan has been the rights of women. Madonna said recently, when making a generous donation, that she did not want to live in a world where women and girls are treated as they are in Afghanistan. I expect the same could be said by all of us, yet despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said at the beginning, it appears almost inevitable that after we have withdrawn our Armed Forces, we shall gradually downgrade our aid programme, at least from the scale on which it has been operating
At best, we shall see continuity and perhaps a return to true Islamic ideals, which respect the role of women. At worst, we shall see the Taliban exerting increasing pressure and perhaps returning to power.
I look back at what the aid agencies were saying during the Taliban era after 1996, when any movement of women from their homes was discouraged and education was banned in many areas. I was at that time involved in a clandestine project in Badghis province to support girls’ education in private homes, which was the only way of doing it. At that time the UN and most of the large aid agencies were wary of getting involved at all. Women were discouraged even from working for the United Nations agencies—we forget that.
Of course, the situation has dramatically changed and it seems almost inconceivable that today’s programmes for women can be reversed. We are told that after NATO withdraws, aid through agencies such as our own DfID will continue, but we have to be realistic: less security means less protection for programmes outside the main cities. Every degree of un-Islamic prejudice or extreme interpretation of the Sharia in the madrassahs means less take-up of education and more opportunities for terrorism. Can the Minister assure me that DfID will maintain its support for education and that its programmes in rural areas, including the successful National Solidarity Programme, will continue to have priority and be given adequate support? Knowing that protection will be provided by the Afghan army and police, what arrangements are being made to equip and train Afghan soldiers and men after 2014?
It is not just Afghanistan that will lose international aid but Pakistan, which, besides foreign aid, has received massive US backing for the war against the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. We should recognise, especially this week, that Pakistan has made huge sacrifices and is still at war with terrorism, as are we. Whatever the future make-up of Governments in Kabul and Islamabad, the world will not tolerate the brutality of the Taliban towards young women or men seeking education in either country.
We remember the pleas of the remarkable Malala Yousafzai, the child activist who was the victim of the Taliban. She has been nominated by Desmond Tutu for the Nobel Peace Price. Dr Nafisa Shah, a prominent Member of Parliament and chair of the National Commission for Human Development, said recently that no other nation was suffering from terrorism like Pakistan, and yet,
“there seems to be little understanding … from the international community. The world needs to ... support us to promote, expand and strengthen the political and social space for a democratic and progressive civil society”.
It is certainly time to congratulate Pakistan and its new leader. Although the election last weekend saw violent episodes, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, earlier, it at least demonstrated a leap forward in the democratic process following electoral reform and a recent strengthening of the judiciary. I am pleased to say that we have been part of that. DfID, alongside its focus on girls’ education, supported voter mobilisation, with an emphasis on the participation of rural women voters. We are claiming to have helped 100,000 first-time women voters in that election.
I was impressed also by our involvement in helping IDPs—internally displaced persons—in the Khyber region, especially with water and sanitation. This is the key frontier area around Peshawar—where we should be working—represented by a famous cricketer whose anti-corruption campaign has won him a lot of votes. Most of the IDPs have fled violence in the tribal areas, but the vast majority of them, 88%, are still living outside any organised camps or UN protection. Foreign investment in Pakistan is draining away and donors are getting tougher. Even our own International Development Committee in its latest report has emphasised corruption and human rights violations and calls for more effective aid through the aid programme and through IMF lending, conditional on better governance. Pakistan is a fragile state, but, for reasons of history and security, we must do our utmost to remain there, both to meet emergency needs and to respond to the pleas of the heroic Malala and many others working for a better future.
Nepal is another Asian post-conflict state still recovering from the bloodshed of only a few years ago before the Maoists entered government. Political stultification has set in and the country is now run by civil servants, for lack of any Ministers, pending elections which are always being postponed. I know that our aid programme is still in place despite delays in the forestry programme, but we cannot consider that Nepal is yet off the danger list.
In Africa, thankfully, May has been a month of positive development. We have to be pleased that the Kenyan elections went well, although while the new president remains on the ICC list, there can be no lasting political stability. Kenya has played a vital role in the quelling of al-Shabaab in Somalia, although that country will take years to rebuild and the diaspora is still cautious.
Sudan and South Sudan, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Cox, are due to reopen oil supplies at any moment following the success of Thabo Mbeki’s high level panel under the auspices, we must remember, of the Ethiopian Government and the African Union. The 50th anniversary of the AU would be a good opportunity to celebrate ultimate reconciliation between the two sides of Sudan, but unfortunate1y, as my noble friend said, the conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei still have to be resolved.
Nearer home, we need to work harder to promote more reconciliation in Europe’s own conflict states, notably between Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vucic visited four Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo last week and spoke in favour of the recent compromise agreement in Brussels, saying that it was the only way for Serbia to survive. He is right. I firmly believe in gradual enlargement of the EU as a means of preserving peace in Europe.
Once the quarrelling in the Conservative Party is over, I hope that the coalition or whatever Government succeeds it will bring this country back to its senses. We belong in Europe and we have to remain in Europe if we are going to solve any of the problems there or in conflict states all round the globe.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly about a rather narrow but important issue: the expansion of our Reserve Forces. There was reference in the gracious Speech to this, but, so far, the response from not only colleagues in both Houses of Parliament but also in the press has been rather muted. I can assure my noble friend on the Front Bench that I am not expecting any reply this evening; I seek simply to place on record my strong support and admiration for what the Minister has achieved already in supporting the Reserve Forces.
My very modest qualification for contributing to this debate is having been the Minister responsible for the Reserve Forces in the United Kingdom and recently, during the past decade, president of the Reserve Forces Association. I commence by paying tribute to the 29 Territorial Army soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan in recent years.
The Government have a very ambitious target—the gracious Speech referred very briefly to this—of increasing the number of the Reserve Forces to 30,000 by 2018 from a current base of about half that, and half that, frankly, is not as well trained as would have been the case 10, 20 or 30 years ago. The challenge is significant and represents the most radical reform over the past 50 years.
The advantage of recruiting men and women into our Reserve Forces is that they often have very special skills; for example, as engineers, doctors, linguists et cetera. There is also greater geographical cover and therefore a relationship between our Armed Forces and the community which is now becoming either limited or non-existent as our Regular Forces fall in number and are concentrated in fewer bases.
According to exchanges that I have had with the Ministry of Defence, a White Paper on precisely how we are going to recruit 30,000 reserves is due very soon. It will set out the challenges. In my judgment, a sensible notice period has to be given to employers, particularly small employers, about when a reservist is likely to be called up. That has been one of the biggest problems that the Territorial Army has faced during the past 20 or 30 years. We also need to increase employer awareness of the requirements. This is particularly important for small firms. If you employ only five or six people, it is extremely important that you know how long the notice period will be before someone is called up, how long they will be away and when they will be back. There must be an opportunity for young men and women who join the reserves as officers to command. During the past 10 or 20 years when we have sent troops to Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict, we have sent regular soldiers and reservist soldiers but not the young officers who need to get experience in command. We need to deploy units of the Reserve Forces together with the Regular Forces so that they can train together in this country and serve together.
A distinguished previous Black Rod in this House and I worked on post-traumatic stress, which is extremely important as other Ministers who have served in the Ministry of Defence know. It affects far too many of our returning regular soldiers. We have to make sure that services are available also for our reservists. It is a hidden and very worrying problem for many in civilian society.
To double the size of our Reserve Forces from about 15,000—I would not claim that all of them were properly or fully trained—to 30,000 by 2018 is a bold objective, but I congratulate not only the Minister but the Ministry of Defence and the senior military staff there on making sure that we are going to meet that challenge. I am sure that it will be in the interests of service to the country, and I hope that we will see and debate the White Paper very soon.
My Lords, I want to raise an issue on which there is cross-party consensus: the previous Government’s commitment to meet the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid and to legislate on that by 2013. This was taken on by the current Government and included in the coalition agreement. The Minister pointed out in her opening contribution that this year the UK reached that target and was the first G8 country to do so. I welcome that achievement: I am very proud of our country for it.
However, the commitment to legislate on that is missing from the gracious Speech. I have heard the argument that having met the target legislation is not necessary. I cannot put it better than the former International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, who said last March:
“I think it takes it beyond doubt. And also we and the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party all made clear at the time of the general election that we would legislate. It takes it out of politics. On the whole, politicians should do what they say they are going to do”.
UK aid works. Every year, it helps raise more than 3 million people out of poverty and gets millions of children into school. In 2012 alone, it stopped 2.7 million mothers and children going hungry and vaccinated 12 million children against life-threatening diseases. Instead of making the case that that is the right thing to do from the perspectives of both global social justice and long-term national interest, the Prime Minister puts internal party interest above giving leadership on an issue that has multiparty consensus.
As my noble friend Lord McConnell said in his contribution, in recent weeks we have seen a series of off-the-record briefings and ad hoc policy announcements that appear designed to appease those in the Conservative Party opposed to increased aid. We have had from the suggestion that in future UK aid will be used to replace cuts to the defence budget and promote British trade interests to ending our aid programme to South Africa. The latter was originally spun as a decision agreed by the South African Government. That patently was not the case. Again, that is putting media headlines three days ahead of local elections before the needs of South Africa’s poor, our foreign policy interests and our relationship with a country that is central to progress in Africa and the wider world.
The critics of legislation also ignore the fact that making permanent the link between 0.7% and gross national income would ensure that the UK aid contribution will always be related to the health of our economy. In an increasingly interconnected world, the fortunes of people in the UK are linked to those of people in developing countries. The untapped potential of developing nations represents lost customers, trade and ultimately growth for the UK and global economy. Investing in effective development means investing in new markets for UK companies abroad. As UK aid is used to lift more people out of poverty and provide developing countries with opportunities to enter international markets, UK companies will have an expanded market as new companies develop and consumers have increased disposable income. The CBI has estimated that the impact of the UK working in new markets in these sectors could lead to a £20 billion boost to the UK economy.
Effective aid, particularly when targeted at fragile and conflict-affected states, can assist in averting security threats and instability. For example, with 43% of the world’s population now under the age of 25 concentrated in some of the world’s poorest nations, well-targeted aid can provide better life chances and opportunities to young people who would otherwise face a future with little or no prospects. This is an important moment. It is time for all of us, Government and Opposition, to come out and be proud of UK aid and what it achieves.
My Lords, following three decades of conflict and international sanctions, Iraq’s economy is set to become one of the fastest growing in the world over the next 10 years. Its GDP growth for 2013 is forecast for around 14%, largely fuelled by a rapidly developing hydrocarbons sector that already generates around $8 billion a month in oil revenues. On the back of this sizeable wealth stream, Iraq’s import demand is projected to increase by 150% by 2020, with major opportunities in sectors including power generation, infrastructure, healthcare, education, financial and professional services, telecoms, security and defence, IT and beyond. Inevitably, rapid population growth is also anticipated, from maybe 30 million today to maybe 70 million or beyond. These are large numbers for government and the private sector to satisfy demand for investment.
Where is Britain in this? British companies are especially well placed to capitalise on investment opportunities in Iraq given the significant historical and cultural ties that exist between us, as well as the UK’s solid reputation for quality and transparent business practices. UK exports to Iraq totalled £782 million in 2011 and exports of goods increased 40% in 2012 to just over £1 billion. Although commendable, this is minuscule compared with Turkish trade with Iraq, which climbed to $8.3 billion in 2011 from $2.8 billion in 2007 according to Turkish government statistics. Almost 600 Turkish construction companies are working in Iraq according to the Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Board. Iran’s trade with Iraq is worth more than $10 billion according to the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce—that is 10 times as much as Britain’s.
Iraq is rebuilding the country from the ground up but there is continuing evidence that Britain is losing out to competitors, especially from the Far East and other European countries. There are many examples: massive contracts to build huge power stations in Basra have gone already to Greek and Turkish companies and recent defence expenditure favoured Russia and the Czech Republic. Iraq is rebuilding her railway system at a cost of more than $60 billion. The world’s first railway engine was invented here in Britain and a UK company, Bombardier, makes high-performance trains that are sold all over the world. Yet only this week the Iraqi Government announced that they were importing 10 trains from China.
I must point out that British company BP and Anglo-Dutch company Shell are between them producing more than 70% of federal Iraq’s total income from two giant oil and gas fields at Rumaila and Al Majnoon. Shell has just started a unique $18 billion gas capture programme, the first in the world, which will enable Iraq to fuel all its power stations with gas by the end of the decade. That will provide wealth for the Iraqi economy and jobs for the Iraqi people. It is a fantastic achievement by one British-owned and one partly British-owned company, with subcontractors that in many instances are also British. We should be very proud of their achievements.
Other sectors in Iraq such as construction and infrastructure are wide open to British expertise. Where is agriculture or the many other things we have to offer? With a few exceptions, I am sorry to say that British business is making less impact than we should in the federal Republic of Iraq and even less in areas such as the Kurdish regional government.
Alas, it is not only in Iraq that Britain has failed in the region. At the Opportunity Kuwait conference last week, I was disturbed to hear that Britain had only 2% of all investment in Kuwait by foreign companies, compared with 14% by the Netherlands. High-profile and important British politicians, including our Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and the Lord Mayor of the City of London, have shuttled through Gulf countries lately, aiming not just to sell British goods, such as warplanes, but to attract oil money to help fund pressing UK infrastructure needs.
Our bilateral trade with Gulf countries is estimated by analysts to be worth more than $15 billion annually, but that is still a modest sum given the estimated $2.2 trillion-worth of infrastructure under way in the Arabian peninsular states. We can and must do more. I pay tribute here to the extraordinary skills and sheer hard work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I share its focus on the paramount importance of the development of the free market and the private sector as fundamental to the development of democracy. I am delighted that under the skilful leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, UKTI’s excellence is both more obvious and more effective in the region. UKBA is also working immensely hard.
Indeed, I am proud to be leading a UKTI-IBBC 100-strong mission to Iraq—I should explain that I chair the Iraq Britain Business Council. There, we will be led by a UK Cabinet Minister, the right honourable Member for Havant. We will be focusing on opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises and, in particular on universities and science—his portfolio.
I believe that the key to success for Britain in Iraq and the region lies in rebuilding confidence. There remains in Britain much hesitancy about Iraq. We should be proud of the important part that we played in freeing the Iraqi people from their decades-long misery, which included institutionalised torture, genocide and slaughter by chemical weapons. We should be very proud of the work of our wonderful Armed Forces.
In just 10 years, Iraq has made huge strides forward. The recent free and fair local elections, and a growth rate today of well over 10% surely show that Iraq is fast becoming one of the most powerful countries in the region, and also the most stable. It is surely the best financial partner for us all. I believe that confidence-building measures, which I urge the Government to adopt, are the key to opening the door for a truly successful partnership between Iraq and Britain.
My Lords, I wish to draw attention to the issue of the United Kingdom’s contribution to international development and, in doing so, to express serious concern to the Government about the absence of any detailed reference to it in the gracious Speech. In so doing, I find myself repeating the concerns already expressed in this debate by, among others, my noble and right reverend friend the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury.
Back in 2010, the Government made a strong and welcome commitment to give priority to international development. This would be achieved, we were told, by protection for the overseas aid budget by pledging to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid from 2013 and, most important of all, by cementing that commitment in legislation. The welcome that such intentions received from many sources indicated, if evidence were required, the widespread willingness to support international aid. That support came from across the political arena, from voluntary aid societies such as Christian Aid, humanitarian aid agencies, the churches and many others.
In this year’s Budget, the United Kingdom finally reached the target of 0.7%. Is it any wonder that there has been genuine and widespread disappointment that a Bill to enshrine that target has been omitted from the Queen’s Speech? Those promises issued in 2010 were one thing. A failure to move ahead on legislation which would have overwhelming support in this House, in the other place and in the country, is difficult to understand.
We are told that there are such economic pressures at present—pressures which were not fully understood in 2010 and which have arisen since—that it is dangerous to translate intentions into law and that 0.7% must remain the aspiration only. In the light of economic recession, such arguments spring easily to our mind, yet the temptation to reallocate resources across the board in times of economic hardship raises serious dangers for such matters as overseas aid.
However, legislation which would allow long-term reassurance—a long-term basis for planning and long-term reassurance for the voluntary sector—is vital. Such legislation would underscore the effectiveness of the United Kingdom’s overseas aid. As we approach the G8 conference in Fermanagh, such legislation would show the world that the United Kingdom can provide global leadership in attempts to reduce world poverty and to reduce the desperate plight of the hungry. Such legislation would demonstrate to the world that Britain had the courage to back up good intentions even in difficult economic situations.
In the complex tapestry of challenge in our current economic climate, the issue of overseas aid stands high on our list of priorities on moral grounds. One can think of numerous examples where effective aid programmes save lives, lift communities out of poverty and—of equal importance—empower people to take control of their own lives. Hardly a day passes without vivid and tragic evidence in the media of such needs. As one who has often found himself visiting areas of such desperate human need, I have a sense of pride in recognising how much our contribution as a nation has made to the amelioration of such suffering.
Our nation has so often demonstrated that generosity, that compassion, and we have seen ourselves rise steadily in the global estimate of those who are willing to provide aid. Surely, by enshrining those intentions in legislation we would have done much to raise the morale of so many involved.
I remind the House of the words of the Prime Minister when he said,
“We will not balance the books on the backs of the poorest”.
By placing a legal duty on the Government by allocating 0.7% of GNI in years to come, we would become the first country in the world to provide a permanent guarantee to those who need it most that we will live up to promises that we have made.
My final point comes from connections with the ongoing tragic situation in Syria. Words fail us in the face of the relentless suffering of the people of Syria. We commend the strong leadership of the United Nations in the international humanitarian response. We commend the Secretary of State for International development on her efforts in support of the UN initiative, but we must not forget the ongoing work of humanitarian aid agencies in our country, and their workers who face such danger in Syria and elsewhere at this time. However, there is the question of co-ordination. Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient effort is being made to co-ordinate the efforts of the voluntary agencies involved in the Syrian situation, and co-ordinate them well with those of government and international humanitarian aid at this time?
Overseas aid has long been a sign of our compassion as a people. In a world order where humanitarian need is now the most critical reality, surely we have a moral duty as well as a political duty to give urgent consideration to this question.
My Lords, having worked in international development for the best working years of my life, I can only admire the admirable simplicity of the approach of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, to this subject. However, as I will demonstrate, I do not think that compassion is enough. I also regret that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is not in his place. I worked for an organisation that had equity investments in three seed companies in Africa. It worked very closely with the largest privately owned American seed company. It brought clonal tea to Zimbabwe and Tanzania and bred elite oil palms for the Far East. In fact, it did everything that the noble Lord suggested should be done now, and I was part of the British aid programme at the time.
International development and aid has in fact always been controversial. It has never been a simple subject. Indeed, if your Lordships were to read the 238 pages of DfID’s annual report—perhaps noble Lords do not read those 238 pages—you may end up, like me, completely confused. I say that advisedly. I am not sure, but I think that DfID is driven by the millennium development goals, yet those are not working. It is true to say that the countries that will be able to achieve the millennium development goals would have achieved them anyway and that those that cannot achieve them would never have done so anyway. There are countries going in and out of the green, amber and red definitions of the millennium goals, which certainly need to be thoroughly revised in 2015.
Our own House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee wrote a very good report about the effectiveness of aid, which noble Lords will no doubt have read. Reading that report, you see that there is deep controversy in the evidence given to that committee about the effectiveness of aid. Whatever might be said about my noble friend Lord Ashcroft’s blogs, he knew and knows about Zimbabwe from when he was young, and about Belize. Those are two quite difficult countries and in his blogs there are very interesting views.
There used to be great debate in this House about development and aid. Lord Balogh and Lord Bauer used to go head to head. Lord Balogh was an adviser on official development assistance, while Lord Bauer would say that economic growth and development were what was needed and that aid interrupted the progress towards economic growth and the elimination or amelioration of poverty. We now have consensus, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins referred to, so we cease to debate the matter as we are all agreed. All that does, if I may say so, is open the door to Mr Nigel Farage—not a very welcome development—because, as he says, if all three Front Benches agree there must be something wrong. On that proposition, I agree with him, even if his attitude to aid is completely mistaken.
I suggest a way of thinking about economic development and international development. There are four strands to it. First, there is economic growth, which leads one on to poverty. I think everybody agrees—the Secretary of State has said it—that economic growth is the most important means of reducing poverty. The House of Lords committee said that economic growth is essential if poverty is to be reduced, which is of course absolutely right. Secondly, the millennium development goals talk about the eradication of poverty but then refer to the eradication of extreme poverty. However, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that we have poverty in the United Kingdom. Thirdly, we have corruption. Nothing should be done if it leads to corruption and we must do everything to avoid it, but we have corruption here. We have not lost it; there is still some about. Fourthly, there is disaster relief, which I would like to leave out, but of course if Cockermouth gets flooded we give its people relief.
We need economic growth now in the United Kingdom. I have heard economic growth mentioned several times tonight in connection with the eurozone and Europe. We have not eliminated poverty and we never will. We have corruption. The Charity Commission is looking at the moment at a charity that appears to have behaved very badly. Is anybody suggesting that we should get rid of the serious fraud squad? We do disaster relief, too, so when thinking about international development we should stop thinking about achieving things and about targets or exits and endings. It is not that at all but a continuous process, which has gone on here and in the whole of the developed world and will go on everywhere else. When it goes on successfully, of course we will build much more interesting relationships of the kind my noble friend Lady Nicholson mentioned with Iraq, because that is all part of how you come out of problems of one sort or another and create positive relationships. We can make sense of the debate about international development only when we realise that none of the four strands which I have mentioned go away. They all persist.
I have quickly to declare an interest. I used to work for a thing that was called the Commonwealth Development Corporation. It was a classic development finance institution. We used to look for economic opportunities, carrying our own technology and management capability with us. We were prepared to lead and to be in consortia. We took risks and went where other people—the pure private sector—were not quite prepared to go. We did things that were quite risky and exciting and on the whole very successful. However, the previous Administration wanted rid of it. They thought that there was no place for such a gap-filling development finance institution, so they tried to sell it to the private sector. They modelled it on that private sector and left it in limbo.
The Secretary of State now says, “We work with the CDC”, although she qualifies that by describing it as the “revitalised” CDC. I wonder what that means and whether my noble friend on the Front Bench will tell us, if not now then later, when we have a Statement on CDC. I hope that we might get a trailer tonight because we still need a classically designed development finance institution that is not aid per se, or a profit maximiser, but a central economic development institution.
My Lords, I do not share the expertise of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, or the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on development, so I shall return to mainstream foreign affairs. On them, the gracious Speech is thin. Bizarrely, the European Union is not mentioned, yet it is likely to dominate the debate, at least until the general election as the civil war within the Conservative ranks continues. The unfortunate Prime Minister, like a penguin house keeper in a zoo, keeps feeding fish to the Eurosceptic critics hoping they will be satisfied, but they swallow the fish and will continue to ask for more.
So not turning to Europe, I look elsewhere. Traditionally, these debates turn into somewhat gloomy analyses of wars and rumours of wars, blighted hopes, such as, perhaps, the Arab spring, massacres, floods, tempests and development ending with an appeal that we must do something. There are, of course, many such events and crises in our world today, but temperamentally, as a Welsh nonconformist, I seek signs of hope and improvement since we last had such a debate, and there are indeed such signs of hope: for the first time, one civilian Government has followed another in Pakistan; a general election in Kenya ended without tribal massacres; discoveries of natural resources will assist needy Commonwealth countries, such as Ghana and Papua New Guinea and developing countries such as Indonesia; and the PKK has agreed a ceasefire with the Government of Turkey. Major challenges remain, but there are positive developments in Somalia. Last September, the first President was elected since 1991 and elections are planned by 2016. I warmly congratulate the Foreign Secretary on co-hosting the London conference earlier this month and receiving pledges of support, particularly for the security sector. Piracy has more than halved.
Nearer home, there are continued improvements in the western Balkans. On
After these signs of hope, I turn to more traditional themes: Israel/Palestine and the Syrian refugee crisis. I have just returned from that area. It is clear that the parties concerned cannot reach agreement on their own, and outside intervention, particularly that of the United States, is needed. The area is known not for any spirit of compromise or for power sharing but for winner takes all, so President Assad and Israel face existential threats, and there is the danger of both conflicts spreading regionally well beyond their borders.
As for the Middle East peace process, having recently visited Israel, I read with approval the excellent article by Sir Tom Phillips, our former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and to Israel, in August’s edition of Prospect. He gave 10 rules for why hopes for peace have grown bleaker in the past six years. However, since then some developments suggest that the prospects are marginally less bleak. As wags might say, “We have reached the last chance yet again”. Senator Kerry has been very active in what might be a pre-negotiation phase. I was delighted that my meetings with Abu Mazen and Tzipi Livni were interrupted by him. Qatar, on behalf of the Arab League, modified the Arab peace initiative to include agreed minor border swaps.
The Palestinian Authority has delayed taking Israel to the International Criminal Court, and although there have been ambiguous signals from Israel on a settlement freeze, on
Alas, neither side seems ready to educate their constituencies. The Palestinians refuse to abandon the illusion of some vast right of return to Israel proper, and Israel refuses to educate its constituency about the future of Jerusalem. Of course we have to understand Israel’s need for solid security arrangements, for regional recognition of its legitimacy and to avoid silly gestures, such as that by Professor Hawking. If there were to be a sustained international effort, there are at least some limited signs of hope.
On Syria and refugees, we despair at the paralysis at the United Nations, the military stalemate, the danger of the conflict spreading regionally and the continued suffering. Only a political solution can solve the problem, hence the importance of last week’s meeting in Moscow between Senator Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. The UN and the Arab League envoy, Mr Brahimi, called the decision to seek to convene an international conference before the end of this month,
“the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time”.
I will make three brief observations from my recent visit to Jordan. First, on the scale of the humanitarian disaster, an estimated 4 million refugees will have fled Syria by the end of the year. There are 140,000 refugees in the Za’atri camp, which I visited in Jordan. There has been a failure of the international community to respond adequately, with only about one-third of the sums pledged at Kuwait actually available for the UN to spend on those refugees. Secondly, on the financial and resource pressures on the fragile state of Jordan, at present 10% of the population of Jordan is composed of refugees; by the year end it will be 25%; and by this time next year it is estimated to be 40%.
Finally, there is an apparent lack of planning in the international community for the day after Assad. Any successor Government in Syria will inherit a wasteland for which vast reconstruction resources are needed. I ask the Minister what is being done to encourage the laggards to honour the promises made at Kuwait to pay for the Syrian refugees. What are HMG doing to help Jordan? What lessons have been learnt from reconstruction after the fall of Saddam in Iraq? Given the poor precedent of the international response to the refugee crisis from Syria, what preparations are there to assist the reconstruction of that sad country after the eventual fall of Assad?
My Lords, I was delighted when the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, introduced himself as a Welsh nonconformist. It is not often that you find one Welsh nonconformist following another in these debates, but I am delighted to do so.
This year is very special: it is the 20th anniversary of the Maastricht treaty. We have, since 1993, been European citizens, each of us endowed with the rights of free movement, settlement and employment across the Union. Of course, we are anxious, and others even more so, about the lifting of barriers for some European
Union workers at the beginning of next year. I suggest that we remove all hostility and suspicion and treat them as they are: fellow citizens of the European Union. If we treat them otherwise, we are asking for trouble. Facts must take prominence; scaremongering must be stamped out.
Of course we treat refugees differently; they are not economic migrants. Asylum seekers do not travel to this country to find work. Instead, they petition us for protection from persecution in their own countries. However, this does not always happen. Asylum seekers are not always treated with dignity and the compassion which many of them need. The whole field of immigration in which they find themselves is a minefield. I was trying to understand and plough my way through some of it the other day. It needs simplifying and modifying. Some who submit applications for UK residence have to wait months if not years for an initial decision. One, we know, is still waiting after four and half years. We need to look at the Immigration Rules. They need to be clear and understandable to the main, ordinary user.
At the close of 2012, we saw the effect of this minefield with the backlog of asylum applications, which stood at 28,500. The backlog had peaked in 2000 when 120,400 cases were waiting for their asylum applications to be dealt with. Things have improved, but the present situation remains unacceptable, especially when we consider that many exist on a mere £36.62 per week during this time. If you read some of the newspapers, you would think that they were given a £1 million cheque when they arrive at Dover, but they exist on a meagre pittance. They are barred from seeking work, which is where I will eventually go with this speech. They survive on pitifully low levels of support. They are unable to contribute or integrate. They are in a legal limbo.
It was found that 25% of those who appealed because they had been denied a place in the UK were successful. The primary reason was that Home Office staff were wrongly making negative assessments. That is not to say that the policies are entirely wrong. However, we are told that often the case owners simply do not follow those policies. All employers—case owners, interviewers, interpreters and decision-makers—should be trained to the highest level, mentored and professionally developed. We could have a career structure for immigration officers, who could go from one qualification to another so that we have the best qualified staff possible to deal with these applications in the first instance. If we do not deal with them in the first instance, we are wasting a lot of taxpayers’ money and reducing asylum seekers and their children to massive anxiety.
We do not say that the Home Office is not doing anything right; things have improved in the past year. However, I am simply calling on Her Majesty’s Government to review how Home Office employees are both recruited and trained. This must be improved. A lot of this backlog—I have been to Croydon and seen the queue at six o’clock in the morning—could be removed if these officers were properly trained.
Like many on these Benches and in other parts of the House, I want our immigration department to be the envy of the world: firm yet fair, attracting skilled migrants but also sheltering those who are fleeing a well founded fear of persecution. Yes, we crack down on abuse, but we ensure that we meet—and I would like to see us surpass—our human rights obligations and commitments. I was delighted when the Minister for Justice, my colleague the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that he had no plan whatever to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. We must not withdraw. One of the great sayings that I relish is that of Dr Martin Luther King: that we seek to build,
“a society that can live with its conscience”.
We seek to live in a society that is true to its conscience.
I think most would agree that we should not prevent those who can from contributing to the good of society. It is bizarre to think that today we have a system of work in which only those who are serious about finding employment can claim benefits, so we deny the most needy asylum seekers—many of whom are forced into poverty, poor health and hunger by our own immigration laws—the dignity of paying their own way in life.
We can draw inspiration from the recast reception conditions directive. I suggest that we consider applications for permission to work from those who have waited six months—not 12 months or more, as at present—so that after six months they will be eligible to take a job. The benefit would be enormous in many directions. Our friends in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden all allow them to work in that six-month period. If that is good enough for them, I suggest that we should consider it good enough for ourselves. Those are the obligations and steps that can be taken. However, we also have a moral step to take.
I was looking at the fourth commandment. I do not often look at it. It says that we should care for the stranger within our gates, not only for our families, our manservant and maidservant. We should remember this. It is, after all, a commandment. Finally, therefore, because my time is at an end, I plead with the political parties: do not aim to win easy votes by coming down hard on migrants in a populist way. Let us instead have a sensible, rational discussion, keeping in mind at all times the tremendous contribution that migrants have made to this nation down the centuries and the enormous benefits we harvest today. I suggest that we must care for the stranger within our gates.
My Lords, I have very great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has just said. However, in this long debate I believe and hope that I may have found an area which has not yet been covered.
I want to argue that the war on terror, as waged since 2001, has been a costly failure. Afghanistan and Iraq were then already suffering trauma from previous wars and the impact of sanctions. Today they remain dysfunctional states, with high levels of corruption. Despite having major natural resources, it is likely that both countries will need more than one generation to become normal societies. As a side-effect, Pakistan has been partly destabilized, with political assassinations not fully curbed by elements of martial law. This is particularly serious in a country that owns nuclear weapons. All three countries are saddled with huge police and military forces for which they have difficulty paying except at the expense of their civilian populations. For example, in Pakistan barely half the children attend primary school. In Iraq the security forces are almost 1 million-strong, which equates to 12% of adult males. This is happening at a time when the Government of Iraq cannot organise sufficient electricity, water or sewers, and while schools and health services are poor.
The war in Syria, where some British volunteers are probably fighting, threatens—as has been mentioned—Iraq and Lebanon, together with Jordan and Turkey. Meanwhile, the virus of terrorism has spread widely to Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Algeria and elsewhere. The extreme jihadi pursuit of aggressive war remains attractive to partially educated young people. However, even graduates, when politically powerless, can be recruited to the ideology of violence. Unstable and despairing people can make good suicide bombers.
I am not alone in thinking that the so-called war on terror has gone badly wrong. Experienced British diplomats such as Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles and Sir Ivor Roberts have expressed strong disquiet. In the United States Mr Robert Grenier, the former CIA chief in Pakistan who was later director of its antiterrorism centre, proposed that the United States should find ways of appealing to the many Muslims who have sympathies with al-Qaeda but who disapprove of its methods. He said that the US would have to open paths to justice for those long denied it, whether in Kashmir, Chechnya or Palestine.
Unethical methods and shortcuts considered expedient largely explain why the West does not hold the high moral ground. Indefinite detention without trial for 10 years or more cannot be justified by law-abiding democracies. Guantanamo Bay remains open despite President Obama’s pledge to close it. We do not know how many other prisoners are detained elsewhere.
I remind Her Majesty’s Government of the case of Mr Shaker Aamer, the former British resident, who has twice been cleared for release but who remains incarcerated and separated from his family, who cannot visit him. In the past, suspects have undoubtedly been transferred to third countries for purposes of torture. Enhanced interrogation by techniques such as waterboarding were approved. If we still condemn what was done by the Gestapo and the KGB—as I hope we do—surely the West has to be clear and open about its treatment of suspects. Do the Government accept the criticisms that have been made of the Gibson inquiry? They should also be warned that many eyes will watch their implementation of the Justice and Security Act.
In recent years a shoot-to-kill policy has been adopted, overturning the previous doctrine of minimum force. So-called targeted drone attacks have killed many innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, as well as some suspected terrorists. Each death or wounding raises up scores of relatives eager for revenge. Warfare by remote control will never win hearts and minds, but it will alienate many. It should at the minimum be controlled by civilians and not intelligence agencies.
Everything I have mentioned, together with the long-standing demonisation of national resistance and liberation movements, should be reconsidered most urgently. We should understand how religious beliefs often motivate political behaviour. We should examine the demographics of North Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia. These will guide and govern what is likely to happen in future.
The co-ordinated use of soft power, which has been mentioned already, seems a better strategy, usable alongside or instead of hard power. Joseph Nye defines soft power as the,
“ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion or payments”.
For him, there were three components of such power—culture, where this can attract others; political values, where these are credibly projected; and foreign policies, where they are,
“seen as legitimate and having moral authority”.
During the Cold War, the West by and large had these. I fear, however, that during the war on terror it may have lost them. Robert Pape, Mr B Raman and others have described ways to recover credibility.
Huge sums have been lavished on brutal rulers and on allies who demand far more from us than they can give in return. Further billions have been spent in search of military victory in countries that have then needed complete reconstruction. We must re-examine what we have tried to achieve and the methods that we have condoned for so long. Only after fundamental revision and acknowledgement of policy faults will we be able to face the world with a good conscience. The days of single-power hegemony are over, just as much as those of empire. Hard as it may be, these are the facts that we have to face. They demand the recasting of our foreign, defence and security policies, and our security should rely less on searches and other static protections and far more on good intelligence.
My Lords, I want to focus on three separate areas in my speech today to show how Her Majesty’s Government are pursuing sensible policies in two of them but are severely lacking in initiative on the third.
The first is Hong Kong, which I visited as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary China Group delegation in February, under the able leadership of my noble friend Lord Wei. Every aspect of our visit was excellently planned, from the detailed FCO briefing before we left to the full programme while we were there. Further credit is due to the Hong Kong Government and the consul-general there, Caroline Wilson, for their superb organisation and interest in hearing our feedback. The British Chamber of Commerce executive director, Christopher Hammerbeck, was a credit to the organisation, and our trade envoy, the noble Lord, Lord Marland, was most helpful.
What we learnt overall was totally contrary to my expectations. I had believed that the dead hand of communism would have stifled enterprise and initiative. After a week, I realised that the opposite is true. The Chinese have skilfully allowed, under the principle of “one country, two systems”, the entrepreneurial spirit to continue. Business is not weighed down by unnecessary regulation, tax rates are low and government finances are in good shape, while the focus of the economy has moved away from manufacturing and is now service based.
The UK is making an excellent effort to increase trade. Exports of goods were up by 21% in 2011. Noting the strength of our trade with China, I support the Prime Minister in not needing to apologise for meeting the Dalai Lama. He should note that every US president has met the Tibetan spiritual leader, and this has not affected the USA’s exports to China as a whole, which are up 20% in dollar terms from 2010 to 2012.
The one area that seemed to cause concern to Hong Kong businessmen, as expressed at a fascinating meeting with the Vision 2047 Foundation, was that UK politicians’ visits to China were too often only to sign deals. The feeling was that not enough regular contact was being made outside these events. When I reported this back to the consul-general, her excellent suggestion was that I should express concern to BIS and the FCO, so this is what I am doing.
The second area I wish to discuss is Taiwan. I declare an interest as a member of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group, having made visits to Taiwan under its auspices in 2011 and 2012. The country is fascinating as it has made great strides to a two party democratic system. President Ma, who was elected for a second term last year as KMT president, has taken the pragmatic and sensible view that it is better to improve relations with the mainland, which had fallen into a parlous state, through increasing trade links and travel between Taiwan and the mainland. Noble Lords may not know that 1 million out of a population of 23 million work on the mainland. Since 2008, the number of weekly flights between Taiwan and the mainland has increased from zero to 616. There have been 18 cross-strait agreements with the mainland. As a result, the Taiwanese economy showed excellent growth overall during his first term although, like many other countries, it has suffered more in 2011 and 2012.
Although we do not have an ambassador in Taiwan, I was very impressed on both visits with the very good work that our British trade and cultural representative, David Campbell, who has just retired, has done there. He had an excellent finger on the pulse of the political scene, business and cultural opportunities. In 2012, the UK was Taiwan’s second largest trading partner in Europe. An EU-Taiwan economic co-operation agreement would further strengthen the relationship. Can the Government help progress this?
As stated, the Government are in general pursuing the correct policies with regard to Hong Kong and Taiwan. I wish I could say the same about our relationship with Cyprus. I declare an interest as a member of the all-party Northern Cyprus group. The current dispute between Turkish and Greek Cypriots is now more than 40 years old. Over those 40 years, there have been many serious attempts by people of good will from both sides of the island and from outside organisations to bring about a resolution. All those attempts failed and all had one very significant fact in common: as noble Lords might expect, they all used the political machinery of the island as the primary, if not the sole, mechanism for negotiation. Perhaps repeated failure of essentially the same process, albeit with different actors, should come as no surprise. However, at some stage, those involved have to address the obvious question of whether it really makes sense to do the same thing over and over again and expect something different to happen. The two communities seem to be resigned to the status quo. Research conducted last July shows that over 70% of both communities now feel that they should assert their own rights, even if it means that members of the other community would be adversely affected. The same survey revealed that only 14% of Turkish Cypriots and 39% of Greek Cypriots would prefer a feasible solution now to an optimal solution sometime in the future.
This is all regrettable but does it really matter? The two sides are de facto separate states. I believe that it is very important to the people of Cyprus, the people of the eastern Mediterranean and to Britain. The eastern Mediterranean is now more troubled and unstable than at any time in the past decade. We have a civil war in Syria, enormous tension between Iran and Israel and unresolved situations in Libya and Egypt. Now, in addition, there are the problems raised by the huge gas finds in Cypriot territorial waters. Exactly who that gas belongs to and in what quantities, how to develop the fields and how to transport the gas are all questions which, if unresolved, are highly likely to add severely to the political tensions. They may also stop the gas fields being developed at all in the foreseeable future.
Last September, Alexander Downer, the UN envoy who has struggled for many years to achieve a settlement, said that the Greek and Turkish sides now had a strong economic reason to agree to a reunification that would reduce the sovereign risk of investing in Cyprus, clear up the problems of investing in property, grow GDP and offer the capacity to service and pay off debt. The British Foreign Secretary made a similar comment when he said last autumn that,
“we have supported the rights of Cyprus to develop resources, but I hope that doing so can somehow be an incentive for a settlement to the problem, rather than a disincentive”.
How the banking crisis among the Greek Cypriot banks will affect the issue is still a matter for conjecture. However, if you are to compare the state of the Turkish economy, which is booming, and the Greek economy, which is in a state of collapse, a neutral observer would say that more Turkish input to the Cyprus economy would be hugely beneficial.
The UN Secretary-General’s report of March last year stated,
“Civil society also has a crucial role to play in building public confidence in the process. Unfortunately, civil society organizations, and women’s groups in particular, remain outside the framework of the negotiations. I therefore call on the sides”— and indeed the FCO—
“to step up their engagement with civil society and women’s groups, with a view to building public confidence in the benefits of a settlement”.
This view has been repeated by James Ker-Lindsey of the LSE, and was hinted at by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in its report of March of last year. This opinion was strongly expressed by myself and many others in the Moses Room debate on Cyprus on
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Northbrook, and I will follow him in speaking about the situation in Cyprus. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, before I do that, I join others in saying how sorry I am that our 0.7% aid commitment was not in the gracious Speech. I have heard it said that this omission resulted from the negative reaction of some Tory MPs. If this is true, it is a pity. If it is not true, it is hard to see why the 0.7% commitment was left out. In either case, I am glad that we are currently on target and that Nick Clegg has confirmed that he remains committed to writing the 0.7% into law.
When I spoke about Cyprus in the debate on the humble Address last year, I was, on the whole, fairly pessimistic about the prospects for reunification, as was the UN’s representative Alexander Downer and most of those involved in the process of negotiation at the time. I pointed out a year ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, has done today, that there was a fundamental reason for being pessimistic—namely, that the negotiations over reunification had been going on for around 40 years, using the same methods, often with the same people and always with the same result: failure.
I argued then that some new event, stimulus or approach was needed if any progress were to be made. In the past 12 months there has been no shortage of new events. Most obviously, the economic situation in the south has worsened very dramatically; the region itself has become more and more unstable as the conflict in Syria continues and as the danger of Turkey being drawn into the conflict increases; and Turkey itself has grown in economic strength, regional influence and overall importance.
Furthermore, the existence of huge gas reserves in Cypriot territorial waters now presents itself as a possible way out of the economic difficulties being experienced on both sides of the island. There are the cautious beginnings of a feeling among those involved in the effort to reunify that there may just be, for the first time in many years, a real opportunity to make progress. I would not go so far as to say that there is yet optimism, but the pervading pessimism may have abated a little.
There are some encouraging signs. The election of President Anastasiades, who voted for the Annan plan, is surely encouraging. The realisation that the gas finds may help all Cyprus economically is encouraging. The work being done in this area by the FCO with the two diaspora communities will, I am sure, prove to be helpful if it is developed and continued. In addition, Alexander Downer, the UN’s representative, is back and active on the island—not entirely to everyone’s complete satisfaction, of course. Five days ago, the
Cyprus Mail carried an article by a former Greek Cypriot ambassador, headlined,
“Alexander Downer’s odious transgression”.
I acknowledge of course that the reunification process cannot currently be right at the top of President Anastasiades’s agenda, and I know that the fact that negotiations have not yet recommenced is a source of real frustration to Turkey and to Turkish Cypriots. Turkey’s Foreign Minister was quoted in Today’s Zaman two weeks ago as saying that the Turkish Cypriot side’s call to restart talks should be urgently addressed. By contrast, the Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister has recently said that negotiations should wait until October. I think that both points of view are entirely understandable. October is, after all, only four months away, which is not a long time in the context of 40 years of negotiation.
I remain encouraged that President Anastasiades has explicitly restated the high priority that he assigns to the reunification process. The fact is that both sides of the island badly need the gas finds to be exploited, or at least to be recognised as commercially exploitable. The economic difficulties of the south are well known and highly visible, but the north is an economic dependency of Turkey and it needs investment on a large scale if it is to escape poverty, fulfil its citizens’ aspirations and realise its potential. Gas would go a long way to helping this. It is estimated that $3 billion a year could accrue to Cyprus from gas, and this would be on top of the estimated 3% per annum growth in GDP predicted as a consequence of reunification.
The difficulties to overcome are immense. Where the pipeline should come ashore, how supply is to be guaranteed free of interference and how the proceeds are to be managed are just three obvious and fairly difficult questions. None the less, without gas revenue, the economic prospects for both sides are really very bleak indeed and I think that this realisation may have got home or be getting home.
In discussions and critiques of the reunification process, inevitably a lot of attention has been paid to the governing UN resolutions and to the treaty of guarantee signed by the UK, as is quite right. However, I think that in the past the UN resolutions may have been subjected to a very strict reading, which might not have helped creative thinking or discussion.
Much attention has also been paid to the fact that the negotiations must be held by Cypriots for Cypriots. This requirement has been interpreted far too narrowly. It is entirely possible for interested third parties to involve themselves at the invitation of the principals without contravening this rule. This applies to us. All the parties acknowledge our legitimate interests and obligations as the ex-colonial power and treaty guarantor. All parties welcome, at least some of the time, our efforts to help. I know that the FCO is aware of the constant need for tact and delicacy in what is a complex and often passionately contested situation.
I think that now is the time for the UK to increase its involvement in Cyprus. I urge the Government to continue to look for ways of persuading both sides of the island to expand their traditional models of negotiation, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, said, to create room for the voices of civil society—and women in particular—and for the business community inside these discussions, and to continue here their valuable dialogue with the diasporas. I also urge the Government to press the case for an early agreement on confidence-building measures. It would be very helpful if the sides could be persuaded of the merits of gradualism and of the defects of “nothing agreed until everything agreed”.
The people of Cyprus need to see progress. For 40 years, there has been essentially none at all. There needs to be something that gives new hope and fresh energy to the popular desire—such as it is—for reunification.
Things have changed significantly in the past 12 months. We may now be looking at the most favourable set of circumstances for successful negotiation for reunification that we have seen or can foresee. It would be an absolute tragedy if negotiations continued to fail. It would be an absolute tragedy if both sides of the island were condemned to poverty because the gas fields could not be exploited as a result of the continued division of the island.
My Lords, in the seven years that I have been in your Lordships’ House I have missed a gracious Speech on only two occasions, one of which was last week while I was attending the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town. I was attending there with two roles in mind: one as the vice chairman of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Civil Society—I was delighted to hear the two references to civil society in Cyprus by the noble Lords, Lord Northbrook and Lord Sharkey—and the other as a director of KPMG, in which I declare an interest and to which I shall refer later.
One thing that was abundantly apparent at the WEF on Africa was that among the thousand leaders who had gathered from politics, business and civil society there was a profound enthusiasm and great new optimism about the state of their countries and their continent. Enormous wealth was on display, not only from political leaders but from business executives who now see much of Africa’s wealth being realised. During the course of the week, Realizing Africa’s Wealth, a new report by the UNDP, was published about building inclusive businesses for shared prosperity. Poverty is being replaced with the language of prosperity. As the report indicates, some of the good news is that remittances at $50 billion a year and foreign direct investment of $58 billion a year is roughly, in total, four times that of foreign aid engagements within the continent. So there is good news to be had despite the continuing gloom of those remaining still desperately poor.
I was fascinated to note that the Prime Minister has broken away from his frustrations over Europe and Bills in the other place while in New York to spend a little time today at the UN, where he is discussing what will be the next sustainable development goals. On the sustainable development goals, which should replace the millennium development goals from 2015, the Prime Minister said, according to the Guardian, which is the only serious newspaper to carry a major report on this today, that there will be 10 new objectives, which are all believable, necessary, realisable, we hope, and intellectually defensible. They are obvious issues such as ending extreme poverty, ending hunger, ensuring the provision of safe and sustainable water, school development, empowering girls and women and so on. There is nothing that we would dispute.
However, the Guardian reports that the Prime Minister is busy disputing with the President of Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world which probably will not achieve any one of the major millennium development goals, whether there should be a provision in the new sustainable development goals on removing income inequality. I find that odd. No. 10 says, according to the Guardian, that the Prime Minister wants to keep the focus on measurable concrete actions that are going to help to alleviate poverty and keep the focus on being something that people could judge whether we are delivering. If one thing is abundantly apparent in the new optimism in Africa it is that income disparity is becoming an ugly reality. There are booming numbers of new billionaires and multi-millionaires in Africa’s new wealthy cities who are becoming gated and divided from the poor that they once lived alongside. Those poor remain without water, electricity, social supplies, good hospitalisation, healthcare and adequate work. It is an absolute necessity to close the gap in that income disparity and I am somewhat despaired, if not shocked, at David Cameron’s approach. I hope the Minister will consider taking this aspect back to No 10. It is rather odd to dispute with the president of one of the poorest, most conflict-ridden zones in the world a fundamental principle point on removing income disparity.
Perhaps I may move on to a second area in the few minutes left to me—I declare a specific interest as a director of KPMG International—which is the work that my firm does on behalf of DfID in leading and supporting the work of the Independent Commission on Aid Impact. When the previous Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, took up office in 2010, he had established by 2011 the Independent Commission on Aid Impact, which reports to the Select Committee in another place. In the course of the exactly two years that ICAI has been in existence, it has published 21 reports of great significance. In fact, at this moment an ICAI commissioner, Mark Foster, formerly head of Accenture, and a group of assessors are in Jordan and the Lebanon looking at the refugee crisis for a report for DfID.
Some of ICAI’s reports have looked at DfID’s approach to anti-corruption, oversight of EU aid to low-income countries, electoral support through the UNDP, engagement with the World Bank, climate change, impacts in Bangladesh, the health sector in Zimbabwe, education programmes in Nigeria and so on. In total, ICAI has made 85 independent recommendations to DfID, of which the department has accepted 70 in full, 11 in part and has rejected only four. In other words, the case is proven that there is a need for an independent body that looks hard at £11.8 billion of public expenditure and comes to a sensible, independent adjudication on value for money and takes an adequate approach to ensure that the public get a sound investment. Indeed, ICAI has just published its latest report on the work of UNICEF, in which I am delighted to declare an interest as a vice-president and to mention the UK president, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who is in his place.
However, it is interesting to discover that ICAI is being reviewed by the Cabinet Office, which it has asked DfID to undertake, so the very body to which the recommendations of ICAI are meant to go is assessing whether it would like the commission to continue. That seems to me to be a significant potential conflict of interest. It is obvious that if ICAI can make 85 independent recommendations which had not previously been seen and have 70 of them accepted, there is a real and genuine need to maintain the independence of the independent commission and strengthen its role, not just for the remaining two years of its life, but beyond.
For my last point I want to declare another interest as a member of Trade Out of Poverty, a group chaired by Peter Lilley from another place. As we all know, there is continuing pressure on trade negotiations to be completed by the end of this year. Should trade opportunity be better liberalised as markets would require, it would release new energy into the market system, boosting the potential of poor communities, particularly agricultural communities, by an estimated further trillion dollars of income that would go to the poorest people. Solving trade issues will be up to the big decision-makers and the G8 must play its part. The group firmly believes that it is necessary to open up rich country markets unconditionally to the poorest countries of all, and that it is time to end the ridiculous subsidies, such as $2 per cow per day in the EU and $3 billion spent in the US to subsidise cotton and then dump it, which undermines the jobs of 25,000 cotton growers in the poor world, particularly in Africa. It is time to stop protecting our own agricultural base through subsidy and let the rest of the world have access to markets and thus generate jobs. It is time to let trade be what delivers the economic future necessary for the world’s poorest.
My Lords, I had to smile a little as I listened to my noble friend Lord Lawson talking about the case for leaving the European Union. In areas further east there is a strong desire to join the Union. Perhaps that desire has something to do with the prospect of handouts, but far be it from me to delve into their motives.
Over the past three years I have paid three visits to the western Balkans, first to Bosnia-Herzegovina, moving on to Republika Srpska and Banja Luka further north. The second visit was made at the end of last year to Serbia and Kosovo, and we also visited the Serb-dominated area north of the Ibar river. Finally, just a few weeks ago we went to Macedonia. All these countries share very strong aspirations to join the European Union and, to a lesser extent, NATO as well. All are very anxious to open negotiations as soon as possible. The response of the European Union has, correctly of course, been to say to all of them that they still have a great deal to do to qualify for membership. Indeed, there is a vast amount that needs to be done before they can join.
The fact is that, in so many of these countries, they find it extremely hard to live together in harmony. There is a degree of malevolence which is scarcely below the surface and, too frequently, pops up above the surface. In Bosnia, development is bedevilled by the existence of Republika Srpska in the north and its connections with Serbia and Belgrade. Kosovo, too, is a country divided, with a Serbian enclave to the north and suffering from a lack of recognition. Macedonia is a country in limbo, facing non-recognition by Greece and other states, with added confusion and doubt raised by the recent remarks of the Albanian leadership about aspirations for a Greater Albania.
There is much to be done before we can contemplate European Union membership for these states. My guess is that, if they were to join prematurely, they would be nothing but trouble until they can put their house in order. We must insist that they learn to live amicably with each other before European Union membership is a reality for them. I know of course that recent steps and meetings between them have made an important start to this essential progress and I certainly would welcome real progress when it can be made. Cathy Ashton—the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton—of course has, within the past few weeks, quite rightly prided herself that the recent so-called agreement between Serbia and Kosovo could lead to a breakthrough and to the beginning of negotiations for EU membership for them. However, to be honest, the agreement that she negotiated and worked on is only paper-thin. Serbia still refuses to recognise Kosovo and still funds Kosovan municipalities, particularly those north of the Ibar river.
Turning to Bosnia, again we hear of progress in the past few days in the talks between Belgrade and Sarajevo. However, the truth is that there is no love lost between the two, in spite of the Dayton agreement. Perhaps I am being cynical, but I cannot help wondering whether these recent, rather cosmetic, so-called agreements and understandings are, in reality, examples of what I would describe as them going through the motions in order to get accession negotiations for European membership started while, at the same time, not really intending to put their differences behind them.
Frankly, the European Union and its entire membership holds the whip hand here and can use that power to offer the carrot of European Union membership. We must make it clear—and stick to it—that unless the west Balkan states learn to drop their antagonisms, and are seen genuinely to do so, we really do not have a place for them in either the European Union or NATO. It is essential that the Government and the Foreign Office insist on the European Union—the Commission or whoever it is that does the negotiating—using very strong negotiating positions in insisting that we can welcome these countries into the European Union and NATO only if their relationship with their neighbours and their own citizens is one of peacefulness and tolerance.
My Lords, the gracious Speech referred to the Government bringing forward measures,
“to improve the way this country procures defence equipment”.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, has covered to some degree the number of questions that that raises. It is shorthand for government-owned contractor-operated, although for some time the MoD, rightly, was considering various models.
My concern is that we seem to have slipped into the one model—GOCO—on which the MoD is now concentrating its resources and time, in an area that, as has already been said, receives £14.5 billion a year expenditure, with 16,500 people working in it. My concern is that such a large decision should have the proper processes, which must include a debate in the other place and indeed this House. I ask the Minister: is that going to be possible before the Government move to a decision in principle to go out to the OEJU process for inviting bidders, or decide to appoint a preferred bidder; in other words, that we are not faced with a foregone conclusion on which no influence at all will be able to be brought to bear by this House or the other place?
There has been quite a public debate, although there has not been much in Parliament. I initiated a debate in the Moses Room a short while ago but I think the Minister would readily agree that he was not in a position to give answers of any substance to the questions that were asked. The Financial Times has followed this very closely. As recently as last week, on
There are two other issues I would like to touch on that were not covered in the gracious Speech, although one has been covered in this debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown: the interpreters in Afghanistan. We have a real and moral responsibility there. We accepted that principle when we reached arrangements for the interpreters in Iraq and we cannot walk away from the duty of care that we have to the interpreters in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister has not given a definitive answer on this. He says that the Government are looking at it. He said a short while ago that money would be available but in the majority of cases money is not necessarily the issue; it is their future safety and that of their families. I would welcome an answer from the Minister on that.
The third area I would like to cover has not been covered at all in this debate. I have just mentioned our moral duty to the interpreters in Afghanistan. We have an overall moral duty to our Armed Forces. Indeed, in this debate, rightly, due respect and credit have been given to the service they give this country day in and day out, many of them paying with their lives. As a country, we have a contract with our Armed Forces, the Armed Forces covenant. It covers a number of areas. One relates to members of our Armed Forces not being allowed to join a trade union or federation to represent them, the argument being that their officers in the rank system represent them. The previous Government, under some duress—they did not want to do it—set up a Service Complaints Commissioner. She took office in 2008 and since then has published an annual report. Her report stated quite clearly, and backed it up with facts, that the number of complaints was increasing. That may be a good thing—it may be that, because people know that the service is there, they are making complaints—but I would have thought that the fact that 48% more cases were dealt with last year than in the previous year, with 46% of complaints still not resolved at unit level, is something to be concerned about. The Select Committee on Defence in another place is also concerned.
The commissioner has said, “I’m not really as effective as I could and should be in meeting the responsibility to the Armed Forces”. The Armed Forces should have an ombudsman, who would step in almost as a last resort. The concern within the services is, understandably, the rank system—the belief that the officer rank system is what maintains discipline and looks after service personnel. I only wish that that were the case; all too often, that falls down. The Navy has certainly improved its complaints system by saying, “What is reasonable? Let’s not just stick to the rules. Let us sometimes put those on one side and deal with the complaint”. Its list of complaints has gone down. That is not true of the Army, where the number has gone up. There is certainly great resistance within the services to the idea of an ombudsman. I gather that the service chiefs said that they did not understand what an ombudsman did, but they were sure that they did not want one. I think that many of us could picture them saying that.
Earlier this year, the Select Committee on Defence in another place published a report which said that it, too, felt that there needed to be an ombudsman. Like the Service Complaints Commissioner, it did not define what the remit should be; it was something that needed to be discussed between the MoD—taking into account the concerns about rank—and the Service Complaints Commissioner. Although the deadline has passed, the Government have not yet responded to that report but have in any statements that they have made said that they are not in favour of an ombudsman.
I believe that this is an integral part of the Armed Forces covenant. The Armed Forces are entitled to it; we have a responsibility to them. Many of them are leaving the services without their complaint having been dealt with. This may appear a small matter—if the decision was the right one, it would be—but we have a complaints system which is not meeting the needs of our service personnel. If that is part of the Armed Forces covenant—and it is—we are falling down on our responsibility to our own service personnel. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurances in response to the questions that have been put on this matter.
My Lords, I strongly believe in the United Kingdom Government’s overseas development budget, which is making a huge difference to the lives of millions of people around the world. It helps in reducing poverty, addressing dire medical needs, providing nutrition, combating deadly diseases such as TB, malaria and AIDS, empowering women and tackling radicalisation in many parts of the world. In the past 12 months, I have had the opportunity of visiting South Sudan and Ethiopia and have witnessed how our aid is helping to build the lives of some of the neediest people in the world. While I fully understand the economic situation at home and the hardship that some of our own citizens have to go through, I fully support our commitment to DfID. Can the Minister assure the House that we will continue that commitment?
On the diplomatic front, the world’s focus has been on developments in the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. However, I have watched the Indian subcontinent more closely. India is steadily making its place in the emerging economies of the world but the gap between rich and poor in that country is not decreasing. Hence more people suffer from hunger and poverty in India than anywhere else in the region. Yet, according to Russia Today, India is stepping up its space programme with a higher budget, the launch of a new satellite and a proposed mission to Mars. The country’s space agency will attempt 10 space missions by November 2013, bringing its total budget to $1.3 billion.
In Pakistan, at the end of the elected Government’s tenure, elections have been held despite many threats and deadly attacks by extremists. The new Government face many challenges including terrorism, law and order, corruption, an energy crisis and the country’s relations with its neighbours, particularly with its historic rival, India. The good news is that Indian Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr Nawaz Sharif have exchanged warm greetings. Let us hope that they are able to resolve their disputes, including the Kashmir issue according to the wishes of its people. If that happens, it will ultimately save both countries millions of pounds from their defence budgets that they need to spend on their publics.
Bangladesh is generally known as a progressive, multi-party democracy and a growing economy in south-east Asia. It has strong political and economic ties with the United Kingdom. Our bilateral trade has steadily grown over the years, largely in favour of Bangladesh. Bangladesh also receives £250 million in aid from the United Kingdom every year—at least until 2015. In the past few years, reports of corruption, torture, extrajudicial killings and the sudden disappearance of journalists and political activists from opposition parties have risen significantly. It is over a year now since Mr Ilias Ali, one of the prominent leaders of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was kidnapped along with his driver. He has not been found since. I had the opportunity of meeting Mr Ali on his visit to the United Kingdom a few months before he was kidnapped. He is one out of thousands of such victims considered by many to have been abducted by government agencies and who have not been seen since—some have been found dead.
According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2013, the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh has worsened in 2012,
“as the government narrowed political and civil society space, continued to shield abusive security forces from accountability, and flatly ignored calls by Human Rights Watch to reform laws and procedures in flawed war crimes and mutiny trials”.
In February 2013, the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, expressed concern at aspects of non-compliance with fair trial and due process reported during proceedings before Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, including the pronouncement of death sentences.
Another deadly fire in a Bangladeshi garments factory this time killed over 1,200 people—one of the deadliest industrial disasters in history. The disaster has created worldwide concern for the factory workers who provide, through their sweat and blood, cheap clothes for the developed world. However, before all the victims of the factory collapse were buried, another human tragedy visited Bangladesh with the killings of unknown numbers of opposition protestors by the Government in the early hours of
Bangladesh has been known as a land of religious moderation and the Bangladeshi diaspora are generally recognised as such. About half a million British Bangladeshis in the UK are troubled by the recent events in Bangladesh. On behalf of many of them, I ask the Minister to urge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to use its good offices to ascertain the truth behind the
“The collapse of the building is just a precursor to the imminent collapse of all our state institutions. If we don't face up to the cracks in our state systems, then we as a nation will get lost in the debris of the collapse ... We will have to find ways to fix the institutions to protect them from complete collapse”.
The situation in Bangladesh is showing all signs of anarchy and civil war that could derail democracy and drag the country back into the dark ages. It is time for the influential friendly countries such as the United Kingdom to help Bangladesh to bring back peace, tolerance and reconciliation to the country. I ask the Minister to ask the Foreign Secretary to raise those issues with his counterpart or indeed with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, at the earliest opportunity.
My Lords, the gracious Speech referred to the importance of ensuring security, good governance and development. There was no reference to the important role that our Government continue to play in the economic, social and political developments in Africa. In her opening speech, the noble Baroness spoke about the successful elections in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the positive developments in Somalia—all very encouraging. She did not speak about the recent election in Kenya, which thankfully was peaceful and where President Kenyatta has given a commitment to the devolution of government and the promotion of growth as well as much needed infrastructure development.
In my short allotted time, I shall touch briefly on three challenges facing southern Africa: the forthcoming general election in Zimbabwe, which is likely to be in
September; the millennium development goals, more specifically food insecurity and the need for more support infrastructure, particularly by the Commonwealth Development Corporation; and, finally, an issue close to my heart, as I wear the tie, the poaching crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.
The recent successful referendum on the constitution in Zimbabwe should be the first step towards democratic reforms leading to the general election scheduled for September. So far, so good. Although over the past five years there has been considerable economic progress in the country, with the so-called unity Government of the MDC and ZANU-PF, the army, the police and the dreaded CIO are all still controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, which raises the threat that the forthcoming elections may be marred by intimidation.
To ensure that the elections are free and fair, transparent, non-violent and sustainable, it is essential that international observers are allowed to monitor the general election. Unfortunately, not much progress has been achieved in getting that consent from ZANU-PF. That is certainly a cause of concern. Can the Minister assure us that we will put pressure on SADC as the guarantor of democracy in Zimbabwe to ensure that that essential check and balance is put in place? The dividends of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe would be a huge boost not just to the country but to the entire region. It would lead to the lifting of the remaining economic sanctions and, I hope, pave the way to Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to the millennium development goals and the fact that many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have made major progress towards achieving them, while my noble friend Lord Hastings referred to the wealth divide in Africa. While there has been steady economic growth with improvements in poverty reduction, universal primary education, gender parity and healthcare on the continent, the lack of efficient farming, inadequate storage and, in particular, poor infrastructure and transportation have added to the threat of a major and escalating food insecurity crisis.
The lack of adequate infrastructure in Africa has been identified as one of the major impediments to development and economic growth. Increasing the power supply is a key driver of sustainable growth. Most countries in Africa have chronic power supply problems. The Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is controlled by DfID, has played a major role in investing in African infrastructure but could, in my opinion, play a much bigger role in stemming the rise of China’s influence across the continent, in which it has already carved out a substantial role.
Finally, in speaking of the Chinese impact on Africa, while China has in many ways played an important role in the economic transformation of sub-Saharan Africa, by importing its own labour force it has been responsible for the worst wildlife poaching crisis in the continent for several decades, particularly of elephants for the ivory trade and in rhino horn. According to an official recent CITES report, up to 11.7% of Africa’s elephants were illegally killed in 2011, which equates to almost 25,000 elephants in a single year, to supply ivory to the illegal markets in China and the Far East.
If this continues, elephants in many countries in Africa will be facing extinction within a decade. The poaching crisis in rhinos is equally stark. What measures can our Government take to draw attention to this crisis and to put pressure, particularly on the Chinese Government, to tackle it?
In conclusion, we have been a leader in international development and have played a pivotal role in ensuring progress in Africa. I hope that the Minister, in winding up this debate, can either write to me or give me some assurances that we are taking a proactive approach to tackling some of these issues.
My Lords, I must admit to finding myself a little emotionally confused. I have suddenly realised that this is my 50th Queen’s Speech. I have spoken on most of them. One year, I was minding my own business when the Leader of the House asked if I would see him. He asked, “Would you be kind enough to agree to reply to the Queen’s Speech?”. So I put my name down to vote, but I did not know that I would be grabbed and taken off to a dinner where the Chief Whip guarded the door. They then read the speech and I was meant to sit on a Bench and say something.
I was also told that I should wear naval uniform. Having been a sub-lieutenant, I had grown a bit. It was quite difficult to find one to fit, so we had to borrow an admiral’s and take a couple of stripes off it. Then I was given a sword, but I had never had a sword before and did not know what to do. I was seconding the reply to Lady Macleod, who was Iain Macleod’s widow. She was slightly disabled and had a walking stick, and as I stood up to speak I picked up her walking stick by mistake. I remember I was given a wonderful brief by bright young people in the Foreign Office who were twice my age. Everything was provided for me. I was told what to say and that I should possibly deliver some historic joke, so I looked something up and said that I remembered the words of that great admiral Jacky Fisher that the role of Army should be that of a projectile to be fired by the British Navy.
I shall try to work out why all the bits that used to be in the Queen’s Speech are not there. I shall treat the Speech like a Bill. There are 37 clauses. The first states that,
“my Government’s legislative programme will continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world”.
As my noble friend Lord Howell mentioned, there is hardly anything in it about defence or anything at all.
We come to foreign affairs. Is the EU a foreign affair? Are members of the continent of Europe foreigners? Of course they are foreigners in the eyes of British subjects. They are not Europeans, and nor are we. I was told that I would be treasurer of the Conservative group for Europe to raise a lot of money and go around the country to persuade people to vote yes in the referendum. In that House, we had a great debate on entering the EU—the EEC as it was then called—and had the biggest majority, other than for the abolition of hanging. There was an enormous majority in the House of Commons, but suddenly people became anti something. I was asked and it was my job. I would go around the country, speak and raise money. I drove all around the country, not realising that the party was sufficiently intelligent to believe that I was young enough to be able to take the strain.
I was told that I was going at the last moment to Manchester and that it was a dinner jacket do. I did not really have a dinner jacket that fitted, but I put it on on the train and when I got there, a dinner-jacket chap came up to me and said, “Oh, thank goodness you’ve arrived. We thought you’d forgotten or you couldn’t get back in time”. I went to the dinner and sat there waiting to make the standard speech I had, slightly nervous, I am afraid, as I am now. The head man turned to me and said, “Well, Professor, if you’re ready, please deliver your address”. I said, “Excuse me?”. He said, “You are Professor McCluskey? You’ve just come back from Antarctica haven’t you?”, and I suddenly realised that I was at the wrong dinner.
People like me became known as the Snopake speakers. If the Minister was too tired to go, they would send a young blade who could hang himself. You would go and scratch the menu and the Snopake would come off and you would try to see what was underneath. It might say “law”, and you knew it was probably Willie Whitelaw.
I went round this great country of ours and realised to my surprise that there was a great opportunity. At that time, we coined the phrase: “Britain in Europe; it’s our business to be there”. It was business related, not politics related. I believe that is one of the problems at the moment: how do we divide it into two? How does the Labour Party, which flatly refused to send a delegation to the European Parliament in the beginning and we then had to fund Peter Kirk going, change around? If we look to moving towards a referendum, is there suddenly going to be a switch of attitude?
The world is a wonderfully large place. I have been privileged in recent months to have some remarkable briefs by bright people in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office and genuinely believe that we have a worldwide role. My noble friend Lord Howell pointed out that the Commonwealth has not been quite so widely mentioned, but if you look at the opportunities that exist, you must go back to why we went to places in the beginning. We went because they had raw materials and the ability to produce things.
I was put on to go to the francophone territories. I did not know what “phone” meant. I knew gramophone. When I was on the Council of Europe, I was in Paris and I was asked whether I would go and meet the Foreign Minister of Mauritania. I thought Mauritania was a ship; I did not know it was a country or that it was one of the biggest iron producers in the world. Until I went round all the French territories, I did not know that the sole reason why people had gone to them was to create added value for the natural resources, whether they were labour, water, agriculture or sun.
I really believe in the potential that we have with the Commonwealth these days, if we just get out our historical atlases and look at what we used to go there for. Then we look at the sea. Naturally, and I have raised this before, we look at the economic exclusion zones. You find the United Kingdom, her overseas territories and the Commonwealth occupy the biggest slot of the sea in the whole world. If you then, by chance, look at some other countries, such as France and its territories, you realise that the maritime world is the most important of all and you have a great opportunity.
I have spoken before on all aspects of trade, but I get quite excited now as I look at the potential that exists for alliances that we can pool. I really believe that foreign policy is one of the most important issues that we can address today, and who is going to decide with whom we are going to do what and when.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The topic of my speech is international development.
British aid to India will end officially in 2015, a decision that has caused controversy among politicians and charity organisations alike. Some people say that if India is able to afford a multi-million pound space programme, then she has reached a position of development where aid is no longer needed. Others rightly point to the grim reality that for many people in pockets of India it is in fact one of the worst places in the world to live today.
It cannot be denied that both points are true, but where does that leave Britain? Personally, I take the same stance as the right honourable William Hague, that since we can and should recognise India’s position as a growing superpower, there must be a shift from simply providing aid to fostering skills and training. This is true of many other countries around the world. It will ensure sustainable development for the future of developing countries, as opposed to dependent growth.
It is also important to note that the term “development” is not restricted to economic prosperity. India is an example of a country seemingly rich with its booming economy, but desperately poor given its dismal living standards. When we look at a country’s development, we need to look not only at its economy but also its health standards, literacy rates, social progress and promotion of fundamental human rights.
Living standards are often far worse for women, and in India the issues faced by widows can make their lives barely worth living. This is particularly important, since although women make up just over 50% of the world’s population, they account for 70% of the world’s poor. Through a transition from giving financial aid to delivering skills and training, we can try to address this gap. I declare an interest as the founder of the Loomba Foundation, and I have seen this gap myself through my foundation’s most recent sewing-machine project in my home state of Punjab and in Andhra Pradesh. At present, we are in the process of empowering 10,000 widows in India by providing each with a sewing machine and skilled training to make garments. This offers them much more than a lifelong skill. It gives a widow the opportunity to generate her own income. It gives her back her dignity, independence and the real chance of a future.
These effects are not limited to a widow as an individual, but extend to her children who no longer need to sacrifice their education, and to her family who no longer need to live from hand to mouth. She has, in essence, lifted herself and her family out of poverty—and that is one less family to add to the statistics. The principle goes back to the age-old saying: teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry. The same can be said in the case of development and a woman’s place in its process. Educate and empower a woman and you save a family, eliminate poverty and develop a country.
My noble friend Lord Hussain just spoke about the political situation in Bangladesh. However, if we look at its economic situation we can get a better understanding of the vital role that women play in development. Bangladesh was once dismissed as having no hope of a future, but today it is hailed as a model of development. In the past decade, Bangladesh has slashed its poverty by half, ensured that 90% of its girl children are enrolled in school, moderated population growth, limited child mortality, increased life expectancy and ensured overall social progress for all. This success has, in large part, been due to the empowerment of women, not only through education and family planning but also through microcredit schemes aimed at giving out tiny loans to the destitute, thanks to Muhammad Yunus.
What has emerged as a result is a picture of growing prosperity. By no means is Bangladesh developed in every sense, but grass-roots development is taking place, which is important in signalling sustainability. Therefore, as we go back to the issue of aid and international development, I feel that the solution lies in investment in women’s empowerment through skill training and education. I hope that the Minister agrees with me, and that he will push for the vocational skill training and empowerment of women as an integral part of international development.
My Lords, just as Syrian territory has become a mosaic of every brand of political and religious extremism and operational terrain for barbarous practices, neither the USA nor Europe is in the mood to intervene decisively on the ground or in the air—shades of Iraq and Afghanistan. So in parentheses, the tragedy of at least one of the Iraq campaigns lies not so much in its moral deficit but in its inadequate preparation and execution. Frankly, can the overthrow of that most savage and inhuman regime in Baghdad, fielding one of the largest armies in the world, be held to be a deep moral error?
In the case of Syria it may well be that by now the choice between the brutal Assad regime and some heinous elements from the terror scene must be extremely difficult, but had the West reacted much earlier, before Islamic fanatics crossed the porous borders of Syria, we might have avoided the present, most distressing, situation.
I fully agree with the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that this war in Syria is a war of religious sects within the larger frame of the great faith of Islam—probably one of the bitterest fights between the sects. However, it is even more complicated than that, because both the Sunnis and the Shia are not united. The Sunnis are divided into those who take their cue from the House of Saud and from some of the Emirates, and the Wahhabis; the others, such as al-Qaeda and other splinter groups, are much more radical, and indeed hate the guardians of the holy places.
Among the Shia are the Alawites and the pro-Assad faction, and the much more powerful and decisively important followers and liegemen of Iran, which of course wishes to become the great power in the Middle East.
When aspects of existential threat to a peaceful neighbour are implicit in the present situation in Syria, the civilised world must understand and not decry the initiatives of a seriously threatened country. I refer to the Israeli air strikes on a research institute, storage facilities and convoys of the most sophisticated, up-to-date rockets on their way from Iran through Syria to Lebanon and destined for Hezbollah, a movement which, in word and deed, stands for the elimination of the state of Israel.
One of the grim leitmotifs of the political and religious wars on Syrian soil is the ambition of Iran to thwart an international campaign of economic boycott and possible military action by establishing a second front in Lebanon by raining tens of thousands of rockets on Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and in the mean time amassing an arsenal of 60,000 rockets that are meant to have a harassing and demoralising effect on Israel’s citizens. When the stakes are so high, sniping criticism of the Israeli Government from the outside world, some of it full of bile and bias, is at best unfair and at worst irresponsible. Israel’s intervention renders a signal service to the cause of peace by weakening Assad’s strongest partner and arms procurer, Iran.
The recent visits of President Obama’s Secretaries of State and Defence to the region may hold out a flicker of hope and faith in the resumption of bilateral talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Enemies of a two-state solution in the Arab world have gained ground since the Arab spring because neither the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egyptian Government, with their links to Hamas, nor restive forces on the West Bank reluctant to drop sweeping preconditions make compromise easy. However, there is a more realistic outlook in the Gulf emirates and above all in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. On the other side, recent Israeli elections have brought new forces to the fore which consider a two-state solution the only desirable outcome. If Obama were able to rival President Clinton’s solid personal engagement, and if Europe seconded him, the chances of success would grow exponentially. In parentheses, ironically and sadly, the possibility of Europe playing a part comes at a time when we are discussing whether we should be in or out of the European Union.
For peace talks to succeed we could now have spokesmen on both sides who are filled with good faith. In Mr Netanyahu’s Government, Mrs Livni and Mr Lapid, a rising star, are passionately committed to an honourable agreement. The Palestinian Authority should make use of that remarkable man, former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who with President Abbas’s help could be reinstated. The Arab League, Saudis and Jordanians can be trusted to opt for peace, but it is a challenge for all of us throughout the world to work for reconciliation and to avoid offensive and provocative initiatives.
In conclusion, I will express my deep regret that the great scientist and humanist, Stephen Hawking, felt that he should boycott a scientific conference in Israel under the auspices of the one man who has always stood for peace and close co-operation between Israel and all her Arab neighbours: President Shimon Peres. Academic boycott strengthens the enemies of free speech and, in its radical forms, one must classify these associations of academics, certain human rights groups, trade unions and professional organisations as either innocent “useful idiots” or intentional handmaidens to the enemies of freedom.
My Lords, many noble Lords have highlighted the essential work being done by our courageous servicemen and servicewomen around the world in protecting us at home from the global terrorist threat. I join in paying tribute to their service and what they are doing for us. But there is another global war—the war against poverty. Many British NGOs and people who work for them are putting themselves in harm’s way in very difficult countries and situations to provide healthcare, sanitation and education to the world’s poorest—organisations such as Save the Children, Christian Aid, Oxfam, CAFOD and the British Red Cross. We can be equally proud of their work in the name of this country and what they do to represent our interests.
According to the most recent global terrorism index, there were 4,564 terrorist incidents resulting in 7,473 deaths in the past year. Most of those incidents have been clustered in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. In the global war against poverty, we live in a world in which 11 million children die each year from preventable diseases. In the six hours so far of this debate, more children have died from preventable diseases around the world than have died in the entire previous year through terrorist attacks. That is not to minimise one and emphasise the other, but it is very important that we remember that.
When I say that those diseases are preventable, research shows that 6 million of those 11 million children who die each year could be saved by low-tech, evidence-based and cost-effective measures, such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticides and bed nets. They could make a profound difference to people’s lives. Supplements of vitamin A taken every four to six months can reduce child mortality from all causes by as much as 23%, measles deaths by 50% and deaths from diarrhoea by 33%.
Bill and Melinda Gates have done so much in this area. In fact, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already dispensed £21 billion, which is three times the level of the entire British aid budget, as existed last year. It has given that money to seek to eradicate certain diseases. Bill Gates said:
“All you need is over 90% of children to have the vaccine drop three times and the disease stops spreading. The number of cases eventually goes to zero. The great thing about finishing polio is that we’ll have resources to get going on malaria and measles”.
There is a realistic possibility, presented by Bill and Melinda Gates, of the eradication of those diseases that kill so many children in our world. That is not surprising, given that I regard this Government’s commitment to achieving 0.7% of GNI and their realisation of that as perhaps their most significant political decision, and one of the most courageous political decisions that I have ever witnessed. To raise it to that level, to increase over the past year, at a time of acute economic hardship, the budget for overseas aid by almost £3 billion, is something that required real leadership. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to capitulate on that and pander to some of the populist press, which would prefer that the money was spent elsewhere. But David Cameron has shown immense leadership and courage in standing firm on that, which is something for which he deserves credit and in which we can all take great pride. While Britain is increasing its aid budget in the current year, other countries in Europe such as Germany and France are cutting their aid budgets. Even Sweden is cutting its aid budget this year by 3.3%. It is a tragedy that this should be the situation when the war on poverty was beginning to be won and victory was getting closer. However, we wish the Prime Minister well in trying to bring people to the table.
Some people have made the point that what we actually needed in the gracious Speech was a piece of legislation to tell us to do what was morally right. Personally, I do not think that we need a piece of legislation. We have had endless promises from the UN. The 0.7% commitment goes back to the Pearson commission in 1969. It has come up through the OECD, it was raised at the UN Security Council and at the Gleneagles summit and still has not been honoured. However, today, it is being honoured. There ought to be an annual debate about the world’s poor. We ought to see that as a conscious moral choice and an obligation. I would not want to see a piece of legislation take that away and be almost like a direct debit. I would like it to be seen as a constant ongoing debate in which we remember the world’s poorest.
In conclusion, there is a wonderful campaign at present called the “If” campaign. Sometimes charities and NGOs can compete with each other for resources and projects. However, they have all come together around the simple concept that there is enough food for everyone and yet 2.3 million children die each year because of malnutrition. The Prime Minister, who organised a hunger summit during the Olympic Games on
My Lords, when I noted that my name was in the 50th position on the speakers list, I was minded to dig out an old after-dinner speech and seek to entertain your Lordships for a few minutes. However, I am very happy to note that the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in his inimitable way, has pre-empted me on that.
With your Lordships’ indulgence I would like to say a few words by way of preface to my main remarks on the way in which we conduct these debates on the gracious Speech. I have always found the structure bizarre. Why can we not segment each daily debate and group the speakers so that those who wish to address one topic can follow each other, permitting the Minister or Whip speaking for the appropriate department to answer speeches focusing on that topic before we go on to the next topic, which in turn would be answered by the Minister or Whip answering for the relevant department, and so on? I pity the poor Ministers who have to wind up at the end of an eight-hour debate which has covered issues in the remit of as many as five different departments. Capable as they are, it is an unreasonable burden. It is cruel and unusual punishment. I believe that a sequenced, segmented debate would bring greater coherence and maybe even greater interaction among speakers addressing the same topic. In my humble view, both Front and Back Benches would benefit. I should say that I am not expecting the Minister to react to this because it is a matter for the House, not the Government.
I now come to the substance of my brief remarks. I need hardly remind the House that the word “Europe” is nowhere to be found in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister’s staff seem to have obeyed the instruction to eschew the “E” word with even more zeal than did the staff of “Fawlty Towers” when instructed not to mention the war, but it has not done the Government any good. Within hours they were embroiled, yet again, in their own internal war over an in/out referendum.
In a debate on the humble Address, custom allows us to comment on matters related to, but conspicuously absent from, the list of measures that the Government have just announced in the gracious Speech. That is just as well, for otherwise this year’s four-day debate would be remembered as the one in which never had so much been said by so many about so little. Therefore, I, like others who have spoken before me, will dare to use the “E” word, but in relation only to the question of a referendum. I do this within the framework of today’s debate because the shape of our future relations with not only Europe but the wider world will be determined by the outcome of any referendum.
Let me at the outset lay my cards on the table. My right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition is absolutely right when he says that Labour will not commit to an in/out referendum by a set date, and he is equally right not to rule out a referendum when the time is judged to be ripe. Therefore, when Tory spokespersons and some of the media tell us that Labour has once again made clear that it will never trust the British people to have their say and opposes a referendum, they have, to put it charitably, either misread what the Leader of the Opposition said in his address to the annual conference of Progress last Saturday, or they are deliberately making a misleading statement. What is at stake is the national interest. My right honourable friend said in his speech that,
“our national interest lies in staying in the European Union and working for the changes that will make it work better for Britain”.
That is the logical approach. Europhile though I am, I am not blind to the huge shortcomings in the structure and functioning of the European Union. There is deep thinking and massive work to be done to make the Union fit for purpose—to serve the peoples of all its member states, with their full participation in that process of reform and their consent to its outcome.
Those looking for an early exit are in reality saying, “It’s broke, it can’t be fixed, and we want nothing more to do with it”. Any idea that Britain might offer its wisdom and skills to help to design a better Union is alien to them. They are the defeatists. Others, such as the Prime Minister, say, “Let’s negotiate a few concessions from our fellow member states and then see if the British people will buy them”. As the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, has correctly observed, such concessions are bound to be inconsequential. At least I can agree with him on that.
The case for staying in cannot be credibly made, let alone won, on the basis of inconsequential concessions. The people will not be fooled by that. The case for staying in can be credibly made and eventually won only when, with Britain’s help, serious reforms are agreed and put in place to the satisfaction of all its members. It is to this that we should be now turning our minds and applying our best efforts. It is a daunting challenge but, together with our European partners, we can meet it. There are plenty of interesting ideas being discussed here as to how we might best fashion a more flexible two-speed or two-tier European Union, more accountable to national parliaments and people, in which those inside the eurozone and those outside it respect each others’ rights and preferences and work together to each others’ advantage. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, suggested a possible way forward to that end.
The Government should engage fully with other EU Governments to develop these ideas and not simply go whining to them for concessions that irritate them and do little, if anything, for us. For those who accept this approach, it follows logically that you call a referendum when you are able to show the people what a reformed Union looks like. Will we know by 2017? If we do, we could go ahead with a referendum, but it could well take longer than that. Why, therefore, commit to a referendum with an irrevocable deadline, and so far in advance? It makes no sense unless you are determined to invoke Article 50 and embark on a long and complex negotiation to leave the European Union, whatever the reform process might produce.
I should like to see a Government who have the courage to say to the people, “Let us see what we can do to make the Union work for all of us. Give us the time to achieve that”. That will take political courage, and I am convinced that my right honourable friend Ed Miliband has that courage. Political courage has not been much in evidence of late in the European corridors of power. I recall what the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, said five years ago as the great financial crisis unfolded. He said, “We know what needs to be done but we don’t know how to get re-elected when we’ve done it”. Spoken half in jest maybe, but he correctly identified what lies in the back of the minds of too many leaders facing tough decisions. We need more leaders with the courage of the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who in 2003 set out his Agenda 2010 to reform his country’s social system and labour market to improve economic growth and reduce unemployment. It was deeply unpopular in his own Social Democratic Party and many thousands of members left the party, but he persevered even though he knew it would cost him the next election, and indeed it did. However, the reforms went through, the eventual effects were what he had hoped for and Germany has benefited from them ever since. That is political courage.
I was therefore heartened last Saturday to hear Ed Miliband once again remind us forcefully that Labour, despite what the Tories claim, will always stand up for the national interest. I take that as a personal pledge, and I trust him not to waver in his stance on the in or out referendum. I trust him not to heed siren voices warning that such a stance, logical as it may be, could nevertheless cost him and his party dearly at the next election. I hope that the party will stand with him in rock-solid support.
Charles de Gaulle once remarked that, since a politician never believes what he is saying, he is always astonished when others believe him. Of course, the general, throughout his life, held a pretty jaundiced view of politicians. And so, it seems, do most of the British people these days. If we are to restore confidence in the political class, we, with our differing political labels and beliefs, have to say what we believe is right and in the true national interest, not, as so often, what we think will gain us short-term political advantage. In discussing our future relationship with the European Union, and in acting in concert with our European partners to fashion a Union fit for purpose for all of us, that must be our guiding principle. We must show that de Gaulle’s perception of politicians does not apply here.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, although naturally I speak this evening in a purely individual—perhaps even eccentric—capacity.
Unlike any previous Parliament in the years since 1945, we know when the next defence review will take place. By my calculation, it will be the 12th such review since VE Day and we will receive it in the autumn of 2015, a few months the other side of the May 2015 general election if the coalition does not collapse in the mean time and the House of Commons activates the get-out clause in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
Whitehall, quite rightly, is already gearing up for the next defence review with a series of preparatory papers already commissioned by the Cabinet Office on geographical areas of concern and functional topics of various kinds. As in the autumn of 2010, the 2015 strategic defence and security review will be twinned with a new national security strategy document.
I have considerable sympathy for the framers of the 2010 SDSR and NSS. They had to work at great speed and against a financial backdrop that resulted in the combined exercise possessing the characteristics of a fistful of absolutely desperate spending reviews overlain with the thinnest patina of strategy. The 2010 productions reflected, too, the usual British tussle between what Paul Cornish and Andrew Dorman have aptly described as “smart muddling through” and “grand strategy”.
There was, however, only one passage in the 2010 national security strategy which, to be a trifle unkind, clings to the velcro of memory. It was written under instruction to be boring and, my Lords, it succeeded. The sentence that stands out is truly in technicolour and it is in the introduction:
“The National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion that Britain’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence”.
I am a convinced supporter of the idea of a National Security Council. I think that it is an innovation of the Prime Minister that will endure. However, this product of its collective wisdom was a mixture of Tommy Cooper-style “just like that” assertion of the worst political kind and hubris, not least because the very next day the strategic defence and security review revealed that several of our instruments of influence in the world were going to be reduced—indeed, shrivelled —substantially.
The next pairing of NSS and SDSR in 2015 must do better than that. It must not fall into the trap described by the great cosmologist Carl Sagan of confusing hopes with facts, as the unfortunate 2010 NSS declaration plainly did. I respectfully suggest to whoever finds themselves in government in the summer and early autumn of 2015 that they open the next National Security Strategy document with a different kind of introduction. A 2,000-word essay—no more than that is needed—of Britain’s place in the world, the range of resources we can realistically apply to whatever aspirations the following pages display, and why and how we should deploy those resources effectively and successfully when and where we can.
I share the impulse that we should strive to be a force for good in the world, but in 2015 Parliament and the public will need a long, deep, illusion-free look at our country’s appetite to remain a global player given our size, wealth, population and economic capacities. None of the previous 11 post-war defence reviews did this satisfactorily—not one of them. Such a think piece must pass the Sagan hopes and facts test, too.
Allied to such an essay we would benefit from two extras. First, a statement of what the 2015 Government believe are the core musts of British defence provision. My list would be—and it is only a personal list—air defence of the UK; home defence of the UK, not least against cyber attack, and including the capacity of the Armed Forces to bring aid to the civil authorities if required; the sustenance of the UK nuclear deterrent; the security of the eastern Atlantic and the near north; maintaining our NATO commitments; and our duties to the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. After this can come the almost limitless list of “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to” if we had the kit, the money, the allies and the legal cover.
On the resources front, the drafters of and customers for the 2015 SDSR and NSS will need to remember the lessons of defence reviews past. Full funding for the settlement agreed is rarely forthcoming and unforeseen events usually change the picture, sometimes dramatically, in the periods between reviews.
On that score, horizon scanning is enjoying a welcome revival and boost across Whitehall, and not only in the politico-military departments, thanks to a review commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, last year and carried out under the supervision of Jon Day, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. It was declassified in January.
Finally, that second extra to a possible opening think piece in the 2015 National Security Strategy. We have up until now had three years’ experience of the National Security Council and its supporting apparatus at work. Might this be the time to review how all the inputting departments and agencies have adapted themselves to this new and welcome broader-gauge approach which, in structural terms, is better than any of its predecessor Cabinet Committees since 1945? An audit and a capability review of all these inputs would be of real value and a summary of its findings could be included in the National Security Strategy of 2015.
We can as a country do a great deal of good in the world, but let us not over-reach, let us not over-preach, and let us do in the world what we sensibly can with the skills and the capacities with which our history has endowed us, but no more than that.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—I would follow him almost anywhere—but not on this day his logic and his argument.
I wish to say a few words about Syria and the tragedy that is being played out there. More than 80,000 have already been killed and there will be many more to come. It is only right that we want to help and, as my noble friend Lady Northover indicated earlier, we are doing so. Yet, there is always the law of unintended consequences that dogs our every step in the Middle East. Syria is not a country or a crisis in isolation. It comes with the context of so much that has gone before. Let us take Iraq, for instance. It is almost exactly 10 years since we invaded, and yet all those years and all those lives later, Iraq is a country still beset by religious and ethnic division and consumed by corruption. We invaded the country genuinely committed to supporting democracy, human rights and western values. We left that country with the images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay burnt into our reputation, and into the imaginations of a generation of young Arabs. Those tiny, irritating, unintended consequences have bitten us hard.
Much the same might be said of our involvement in Afghanistan. Earlier, the Minister said that we are “on track”, but we shall see. We have troops on the ground, so I want to be extremely cautious about what I say, and as the president of the Langford and Wylye branch of the Royal British Legion, I want very much to pay tribute to the servicemen of our Armed Forces and the sacrifices that so many of them have made. But there is one question above all others that must be asked when we consider these issues. After all these years and the expenditure of lives and treasure in our war on terror, have we succeeded in making Britain a safer place? Unless we can say that that is clearly the case, that Britain is more secure, we must at least consider the possibility that the policy we have been pursuing has been wrong.
I want to put this into a little more context before I get to Syria by talking about Libya. We overthrew Gaddafi, a man who we had once armed, just as we had once armed Saddam Hussein, and even Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Soviets. The law of unintended consequences had a field day with that one. It is still too early to measure the success in Libya. There is still widespread violence and lawlessness, and despite all the support we have given to the new Libyan Government, we seem to be no closer to discovering the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing or bringing to justice the killer of PC Yvonne Fletcher. It is not just truth or justice that have disappeared into the sands, so has Gaddafi’s enormous arsenal of weapons. Some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles, artillery pieces, mortar rounds and much more have flown away and found new homes. Those weapons are now turning up in new hotspots in north Africa and the Middle East—Algeria, Niger, Mali, Somalia and, of course, Gaza, although that is scarcely a new hotspot. These are more unintended consequences.
Some of those weapons have turned up in Syria as well, contributing to the bloodbath and the inhumanity. As a result, it is being argued with increasing passion in some quarters that we must do something, go further, arm the good guys. I understand the deep humanitarian concern that lies behind such suggestions. The Minister herself as good as said something earlier today about amending the EU arms embargo and facilitating a negotiated solution, but putting more weapons into that area might also facilitate an even greater catastrophe. The war in Syria, as we have heard from many speakers in the debate, is not simply a civil war, it is part of a war of sectarianism that is burning across so much of the Middle East. It is a war of opposing ideologies, tribes, cultures and religions; a kaleidoscope of confusion.
That raises a question: if we intervene, just who are we supporting? Simply being an enemy of Assad does not make any group a friend of this country. The Middle East is not a pick-and-mix sweet shop. It is a cauldron of subtle and shifting loyalties that in the past we have had little success in understanding, let alone exploiting. It is being argued in some quarters, possibly even implied in what the Minister said in her remarks earlier, that because Assad’s arsenal is huge, we must give the rebels more and thus level up the playing field—or level up the killing field. It is suggested, for instance, that we supply items such as body armour, which does not kill. No, it does not, but the weapons in the hands of those wearing the body armour will most certainly kill.
I believe that, so far, the Government have got our policy in Syria right. They have provided humanitarian aid and there must be more—much more—of that. We have supported our great ally Turkey, whose interests and frontiers are so directly threatened. The Prime Minister has emphasised the need for an international solution. He has gone to Russia and talked with others in the Middle East in the attempt to find some common ground and to isolate the conflict. We should also talk to the Iranians, if we can, after their elections in a few weeks.
Talking may not find any easy solution, but there may be no solution of any sort in Syria, not for a few years. We lack the ability to make it otherwise.
Sometimes it is braver and far wiser to resist the siren call to arms and to do less rather than to promise more. We should be providing no military equipment of any sort to the conflict in Syria. We should instead remember that there is no tragedy in Syria that cannot be made far worse by misguided western intervention and by allowing ourselves to be caught, yet again, by that unavoidable law of unintended consequence.
My Lords, we have heard excellent speeches today, covering so many areas not included in the gracious Speech. I will focus most of my remarks on the defence reform Bill, which is mentioned in the gracious Speech.
I welcome the Bill as it addresses the fundamental areas of defence that have needed urgent attention for some time. Although the detail is needed, at least it sends the signal that the coalition Government are serious about improving procurement. I trust that no noble Lord in this Chamber is calling for the status quo to be maintained where defence procurement is concerned, but that does not mean that we can leap straight into any particularly new model without careful scrutiny of the proposals, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said so eloquently. One lesson from my experience of outsourcing is that a service that is badly run in-house is unlikely to be transformed overnight simply by letting a contract with the private sector for that service. My noble friend Lord Lee has set out many questions about the GOCO alternative and I am sure, in due course, that the Minister will reply to that book of questions, which were, I believe, asked from such a very positive stance that they need to be answered.
The Royal United Services Institute has rejected the GOCO idea as “undemocratic” and said it would put the power in the hands of defence contractors, on the basis that the MoD is not good at negotiating contracts with the private sector. The main question is whether the MoD should negotiate contracts with the private sector to negotiate on its behalf. I do not agree with the rejection of the proposals, but I have some questions. How will the contractors’ fees or commission be calculated? Would it be possible to keep some procurement in-house if the purchases were non-contentious, such as buying off the shelf? Why pay commission if it is so easy to purchase? Can the Minister make clear that the contractor will not itself be a defence contractor in any way? What safeguards will there be to avert conflicts of interest? How would a contractor be picked? Sadly, in this global world, many firms have connections which would make that conflict of interest quite difficult to avoid.
A newspaper has reported that Defence Equipment and Support consists of 16,000 civil servants. A couple of noble Lords have said that today. If this is true, a light-hearted observation at this time of night might be: how many members of MoD staff does it take to change a light-bulb? Sixteen thousand is a lot of people. My noble friend Lord Lee asked if this meant that we could not put our house in order. I am afraid that we do seem to be unable to put our house in order. If we were able to reduce this 16,000 down to, say, 1,000 to deal with the intelligent customer function, as is proposed, that model needs be looked at very carefully. There is also a MoD warehouse full of equipment and parts. What is the value of this stock, and should moves be made to sell off the items so as to realise the cash and save costs on the warehousing?
This debate has covered a number of subjects, including the Middle East. I do not want to dwell on it but will make one or two points on the Israel-Palestinian impasse. My noble friend Lord Alderdice very clearly put the case for a regional solution using the Arab peace process. That is certainly a way forward. But my point, which I have often made in this Chamber, is that peace is not possible, a Palestinian state is not possible and a secure Israel is not possible unless both parties come bilaterally to the negotiating table without any preconditions. If that happens, there may possibly be a state of Palestine and a more secure State of Israel, but if it does not, I guarantee that there will be no peace.
My noble friend Lord Ashdown made a very potent case about the treatment of the Afghan interpreters. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take that forward in his answer. My noble friend Lord Ashdown also talked about whether we should lift the Syrian arms embargo, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. I agree with them that we should not supply more arms to Syria.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made an explosive intervention about Trident, which I heartily endorse, and I hope that my right honourable friend in the other place who is dealing with the review of whether there should be a like-for-like replacement for Trident will take those remarks, which were so well put, very much to heart.
My noble friend Lord Chidgey put a very potent case for food security, particularly in Africa, and other noble Lords have said the same. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can address that in his reply.
My noble friend Lord Sharkey and others talked about the 0.7% aid target, and a comment was just made about the fact that there was no need for legislation. We must all take pride that we have got to the 0.7% without any legislation, but I confirm to noble Lords that the Liberal Democrats are committed to putting this into law.
We hear discussion of the Ministry of Defence becoming a more intelligent consumer, but we must hear in concrete terms how this transformation is to take place. It has been promised many times over by different Administrations. Overall, I think many in your Lordships’ House believe that a deep change in MoD culture is needed, particularly in procurement, but we will need to be persuaded—and I hope we will be—that the GOCO proposals really are the answer to our procurement problems. We have heard today from sceptics about GOCO but I wonder what their solution would be. I am convinced that real change is needed and I hope that when my noble friend the Minister replies the fears expressed today can be addressed.
We heard from a number of noble Lords about Europe. During the passage of the defence reform Bill, I hope that we will value the pooling of resources within the European Union. European Union countries spend about €200 billion on defence. In these financially pressurised times, there are strong arguments for looking for opportunities for joint procurement. The recent paper
Europe’s Strategic Cacophony says:
“Europe’s defence ambitions are crippled by the lack of a common strategic outlook”.
There are so many ways in which we must progress the reform of procurement and I hope that we will do that with the defence reform Bill when it comes from the other place.
My Lords, I feel very privileged to have the 54th slot on the speakers list and to be the last Back-Bench speaker in this fascinating debate. I want to concentrate solely on matters relating to the International Criminal Court.
I welcome warmly the support that the UK Government have given to international criminal justice before and since the Rome statute came into effect. I paid a visit to the court last month under the auspices of the parliamentary network, Parliamentarians for Global Action. The officials whom I met at the ICC spoke most warmly of the UK Government’s support for the ICC system and for the co-operation extended to the ICC in its investigations and prosecutions. The UK was one of the few states to condemn the visit of Omar al-Bashir, for whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant, to Chad. All that is much appreciated.
The court is now at the beginning of its second decade of applying the rule of law to crimes against humanity. The Foreign Secretary said in March:
“I am pleased to hear today that Bosco Ntaganda is on his way to The Hague. This is a hugely significant day for victims of conflict in the region. I hope it will contribute to a resolution of the problems in the eastern DRC along with determined efforts to implement wider peace agreements”.
When he said that, he summed up the huge change that the existence of the court has brought to victims, to helping resolve conflicts and to bringing peace.
The Rome statute represents a leap forward in international criminal justice in a number of respects. First, the court has severe punishments for those who are convicted, but it does not have the death penalty. That sends a message around the world about the proportionality of the use of the death penalty in those countries which retain it. I particularly welcome that, as I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
Secondly, the court gives victims a right that they never had before to participate in court proceedings by expressing their views and their experiences through their own legal representatives. Victims also have the possibility of reparations. The UK Government’s announcement of a contribution of a further £0.5 million to the criminal court’s trust fund for victims, the third such contribution, is enormously to be welcomed.
Thirdly, the court has the most advanced gender provisions. The Rome statute is the first international treaty to identify crimes against women as crimes against humanity, as war crimes and, in some cases, as genocide. These provisions are all exemplary. The Government’s initiative on sexual violence and the G8 declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict are a great encouragement to all those trying to respond to this particularly terrible aspect of war and conflict.
Against this background of the Government’s long-term support for the ICC, perhaps I may raise with the Minister just two issues. First, there is the question of the crime of aggression and the Kampala amendments. These are the amendments to the statute agreed in Kampala in 2010 that will enable the court by 2017 to begin a process to exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime of aggression. Some 30 notifications are needed for the amendments to be activated. The UK played an important role in Kampala in achieving a consensus on the amendments. What is the Government’s thinking now on ratifying the Kampala amendments? Are the Government working with other states’ parties, especially in the European Union and Commonwealth, to encourage ratification? Are the Government proposing to incorporate the definition of the crime of aggression in our domestic legislation?
Secondly, there is the very difficult question of the ICC budget. Clearly there are financial difficulties and the court must seek efficiencies and use its money wisely, but the Minister must be aware of the great concern among a large number of those involved about the approach being taken to the ICC and the imposition of a zero-growth budget. This is happening at a time when more cases are being undertaken and there is wide encouragement to take more action against sexual violence. This approach to the budget could bring the danger that there will only be enough funds for conducting cases before the court, so that all the other work essential for justice to be done will be reduced. In particular there is a fear that work with victims and outreach to affected communities will be seriously impaired. Are these concerns being recognised and addressed? I do not expect the Minister to answer these questions tonight: he has not had very much notice. Perhaps he will be able to write to me sometime in the near future.
My Lords, as I am sure noble Lords anticipated, indeed expected, today’s debate has been wide-ranging and has covered a great many issues, from the Chagos islanders to cybersecurity and attacks. That was inevitable in a debate covering Foreign Office, international development and defence matters. However, that is not in any way a criticism. Particularly in a far from secure and stable world, defence policy, foreign policy and our international development goals should be geared towards agreed, co-ordinated objectives and priorities, with our diplomats and Armed Forces working in tandem alongside our international aid and development programmes to deliver them, recognising the role that the use of soft power can play.
Whether that has been the case, or is likely to be the case over the next two years, is another matter. The 2010 strategic defence and security review was not related to Foreign Office or international development goals. It was a straight exercise in rapidly cutting costs at a time when the economy had been restored to growth over the previous nine months. The consequences of rushed decisions were highlighted by a recent National Audit Office report that was scathing about the double U-turn since 2010—which means we are now back where we started from—on the Joint Strike Fighters for our future aircraft carriers. We now learn from
Lockheed Martin, the programme’s main contractor, that US Government spending cuts could inflate the overall cost of the F-35 jet fighter, since a reduction in the number of aircraft under construction at any time could drive up unit costs. What is the Government’s assessment of the possible impact of US Government spending cuts on the cost of the Joint Strike Fighter? Has provision been made in the budget for an increase in cost or would such an increase mean that we have to purchase a smaller number of aircraft?
An indication of just how rushed was the 2010 SDSR came when the Government told us it could be some months—up to another seven months from now since the phrase used was “later this year”—before they could make a decision on whether to offer Afghan interpreters, fearful for their lives as our front-line troops withdraw, the same option to move to this country as was offered to Iraqi interpreters who had served our Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde have already spoken on this issue far more eloquently than I could manage.
It seems odd that a Government prepared to make decisions on an SDSR in six months need longer than that to make what is surely a more straightforward single decision on Afghan interpreters. Perhaps it is a case of defence policy being determined by the objectives of others, rather than by co-ordinated Foreign Office, defence and international development objectives. I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on the current situation on Afghan interpreters when he replies and, if he cannot tell us what decision the Government have made, at least explain why it is taking so long to come to a conclusion.
At this point, I refer to the speech made by my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the issue of the Chagos islanders—a matter also referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Avebury. The issue is whether they should be able to return to the outer islands. My noble friend referred to the statement made in 2010 by the now Foreign Secretary that he would,
“work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.
My noble friend asked what the Government were doing or intending to do in the light of that undertaking. I do not know what that statement by the Foreign Secretary was meant to mean. I hope that the Minister will provide a direct answer to my noble friend’s question when he responds.
It is not easy to ensure that defence, foreign office and international development actions are synchronised towards common policy goals if policy is changed for no clear reason. The Government have previously said more than once that they are committed to legislating for 0.7% of gross national income, in line with the UN target, to be spent on international aid and development. Several noble Lords have expressed concern that there was no mention of such legislation in the gracious Speech. No indication has been given about when such legislation may appear. We are now hearing suggestions emanating from the centre of government that UK aid should be redirected to prop up a defence budget facing further cuts—cuts about which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, expressed such powerful concern, to which I await the Minister’s response.
The previous Labour Government’s commitment to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid and to legislate on it by 2008 was taken on by the current Government and included in the coalition agreement. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what has happened to the undertaking on that legislation in the coalition agreement and what are the Government’s intentions on the issue, including how they consider that the absence of that previously promised legislation will promote international aid and development objectives.
A further area where policy appears to be shifting is over Europe; a number of your Lordships have spoken on that matter. The vision of the larger party in the coalition appears to be that the European Union should be a free trade area and nothing more. The Prime Minister has plans to try to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership and then hold a referendum in 2017. Large sections of his party want a referendum on our continuing membership as soon as possible, with a view to securing a no vote. What is clear is that the larger party in the coalition will probably spend much of its time between now and the general election contemplating its own navel over Europe. The statute in this country as it stands provides for a referendum if there is a significant transfer of sovereignty from Britain to Brussels. We have no plans to repeal that legislation. We are not in favour of the status quo and will make the case for reform of Europe but reform, not exit, must be the priority.
The gracious Speech indicated that we will be experiencing a relatively unusual event: a defence Bill that is separate and distinct from the five-yearly Armed Forces Bill. The defence Bill is to address the issue of changes that the Government wish to make in defence procurement arrangements and their intentions in respect of the expansion of our Reserve Forces. There have of course already been changes in the working arrangements between the Ministry of Defence and the private sector, following changes progressed under the previous Government by my noble friend Lord Drayson, which are resulting in improved co-operation and shared knowledge and expertise, particularly in fields of advanced technology, that enable better control of costs and enhanced value for money. It is not clear what impact the changes being contemplated by the Government for future procurement will have on these arrangements, and certainly not what improvement they would bring and how.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, and my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde asked the Minister a number of questions about the effect and impact of the proposed GOCO. I will not repeat those questions but I am as interested as the noble Lord and my noble friend are in the answers that the Minister gives. We will want to be satisfied that any proposed changes by the Government will improve the present situation. We will want to be satisfied that any new arrangements involving the private sector will be transparent, ensure that there is value for money and, at the very least, not lead to less information about procurement activity and costs being in the public domain than is the case at present.
The Government’s defence Bill is also intended to help strengthen our Reserve Forces in the light of the decision that with the contraction in the size of our regular forces, the reserves will have a more prominent role. It would be helpful if the Minister could update the House with the progress being made on this issue. What is the most recent assessment of the willingness of business and industry to employ reservists on the basis of the greater commitment that will be required in future, and what is the feedback from existing and potential reservists on their willingness to be away from their civilian career for longer periods than at present? Are the Government still absolutely confident of finding sufficient reservists of the required quality, in the required timescale, to meet the increased role and level of commitment that will be needed under the Government’s future plans? Is there a plan B if the Government’s expectations are not realised and, if so, what is it?
At the beginning of this debate, some hours ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, paid tribute to our Armed Forces—to their bravery and commitment, and to the sacrifice that all too many of them have made on behalf of our country. On this side, we associate ourselves wholeheartedly with those tributes. We owe our Armed Forces clarity and consistency on their role, through co-ordinated defence, Foreign Office and international aid and development policies and objectives. We also owe them a determination to ensure that the resources we provide in all forms are sufficient, appropriate and relevant to ensure that the demands and objectives we place on our Armed Forces can be delivered.
My Lords, today’s excellent debate has reminded us repeatedly of the opening words of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman: that we live in an uncertain and unstable world. We are fortunate to be able to rely on the men and women working across the FCO, DfID, the MoD and the agencies. Their dedication to maintaining our security, protecting our interests and promoting our values means that Britain is able to act as a force for good in the world, defending our own citizens and the citizens of other countries when they, too, need defending.
Within the Ministry of Defence, our vision is to deliver a versatile, agile and battle-winning Armed Forces, working effectively with each other and with people ready to lead, to accept responsibility and to spend wisely to protect our security in a changing world. I, too, pay particular tribute to our Armed Forces. Their bravery and professionalism represent the very best qualities our nation has to offer. We owe them, and the families who support them, an enormous debt of gratitude. Their role is difficult and frequently very dangerous. We must never forget the sacrifices that they make on our behalf.
I will now do my very best to respond to the many questions asked during this excellent debate before I run out of time, but if I cannot I will write to noble Lords.
Many noble Lords mentioned Afghanistan. In the Ministry of Defence, current operations in Afghanistan remain our priority. In the light of the changing nature of the operation, we have looked at how we can best deploy what will be declining numbers of troops and smaller amounts of equipment over the next 18 months to deliver the best possible protection to our people while continuing to provide the Afghans with the support they need during this critical transition period.
Brigades deploying to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick have usually done so on a six-monthly basis. This pattern of rotation has worked well for the enduring deployment, but is judged not to be sustainable during the final months of the drawdown period. The Army has therefore decided that the brigade deploying in October—Herrick 19—will deploy for eight months, from October this year until June 2014. The subsequent brigade—Herrick 20—will deploy for six months, from June to December next year when the ISAF campaign concludes, but the deployment could extend up to nine months for a small number of individuals who may be needed to support final redeployment activity post-December 2014. Those eligible will be paid a Herrick drawdown allowance of £50 per day from the seven and a half month point until the end of their tour in addition to their normal allowances.
My noble friend Lord King asked whether we can extract the equipment that we will need. I assure him that we are well on track to withdraw all that we require. We are not putting all our eggs into one basket but are using air, land and sea to bring our kit back.
The delivery of the acquisition and support of defence equipment is one of the key parts of the Armed Forces Bill, as announced in the Queen’s speech. This has been recognised by successive Governments as being in need of reform. There have been attempts to make improvements but, frankly, none has had lasting effect. This Government set up the materiel strategy project to find a radical solution to a persistent problem. The legislation that we are bringing forward will enable us to make the necessary changes should the recently announced assessment phase conclude that a GOCO is the best solution, but we have made no decision as yet. That will follow when we have determined what the marketplace can deliver. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked whether we can have a debate on this issue. I would certainly welcome one and will take it up with the usual channels.
We owe it to the men and women of the armed services to deliver the equipment they need to do the job we ask of them. My noble friend Lord Lee made the point that no other country is currently taking this approach, but that does not mean that we should not. Many are watching with interest, because they too recognise and face the problems that we are trying to solve. I assure my noble friend Lord Palmer that the GOCO contractor will not be a major defence contractor, as potential bidders will have to satisfy us about how they would deal with conflicts of interest. We are not just looking at the market. DE&S+ is the MoD alternative to a GOCO model and is being developed in parallel. The GOCO model will be tested against DE&S+ next year before a final decision is made.
As also mentioned in the Queen’s speech, we are intent on developing the reserves, which were mentioned by a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Freeman, who I thank for his continued support. The reserves are a vital component of our
Armed Forces. As my noble friend said, 29 have sadly been killed in Afghanistan. The reserves have consistently made and continue to make a significant contribution to the nation’s security at home and overseas. Our plans are challenging, but we are determined to stick with them. Looking forward, reserve forces will be central to our new Future Force 2020 structure, forming a greater proportion of the whole force than in the past. Our future reserves will be a fully integrated component of the Armed Forces.
We recognise the contribution that employers make in supporting their reservist employees. We recognise that they have needs and challenges in a tough economic climate, so we shall work with employers to establish better relationships and to enable them to plan ahead for reservist training and mobilisations. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said, we are looking at financial incentives for those employers to whom it matters: small and medium-sized employers.
We need to increase the size of the reserves, but the numbers that we need are well within historic levels. We are investing an additional £1.8 billion over 10 years to help deliver these changes. The new proposition for the reserves will be set out in the forthcoming White Paper on Future Reserves 2020, to be published by the Summer Recess. The White Paper will set out an extensive programme of measures further to develop and grow the role of the reserves.
The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig and Lord Stirrup, were both concerned abut the defence budget. In 2012, the MoD announced that it had balanced its budget. We have now set out a fully funded and affordable equipment programme of nearly £160 billion over the next 10 years to meet Future Force 2020, which has recently been audited by the National Audit Office. The Government are fully committed to increasing the equipment budget by 1% a year from 2015, but of course we have a spending review under way for 2015-16 which will cover the rest of the defence budget. As the Defence Secretary has made clear, there are some genuine efficiencies we can make, but any further significant reductions would have an impact upon capabilities.
Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Dobbs, the noble Lord, Lord Eames, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, were deeply concerned about Syria. After more than two years of bloodshed, this conflict has reached catastrophic proportions. Almost 80,000 people have been killed; there are more than 1.4 million refugees in neighbouring countries; more than 4.2 million civilians are displaced within Syria; and more than 6.8 million people are in dire humanitarian need.
The UK’s total humanitarian funding for Syria and the region to date is £141 million, which has all been allocated, including the £50 million pledged at Kuwait. UK aid is already funding food for more than 140,000 people a month, and water for more than 400,000. We have provided more than 100,000 medical consultations. We know our support is reaching people in all 14 governorates of Syria as well as refugees in the neighbouring countries.
Several noble Lords including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and my noble friend Lord Ashdown were concerned that we might be arming the opposition. We have taken no decision to send arms to anyone in Syria. We have always said that the goal of amending the embargo is to create the conditions for a negotiated settlement.
My noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, were concerned that the Commonwealth was not mentioned in the gracious Speech. I assure them both that the Government are strongly committed to strengthening our engagement with and role within the Commonwealth. Because of the importance we attach to the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have decided to attend this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka.
Many noble Lords, as one would expect, touched on the EU, which was well covered by my noble friend Lady Northover. David Cameron has said that if he is Prime Minister, there will be an in-out referendum in the next Parliament. Yesterday the Conservative Party published a draft Bill to legislate for an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. We are examining all opportunities to bring this Bill before Parliament, including as a Private Member’s Bill. As my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Lawson said, the EU is changing because of the eurozone crisis. As part of these changes we want to negotiate a fresh settlement in the EU that is a better settlement for Britain, and then put the result of those negotiations to the British people. We want to be able to campaign heart and soul for Britain to stay in the EU under that new settlement, and we are confident that we will be able to do so, but the British people must have the final choice.
I was happy to hear that my noble friend Lord Northbrook has had a successful visit to Hong Kong. We want a strong and positive relationship with China, which I believe is of mutual benefit. Our bilateral trade with China is growing faster than that of any other country in Europe, and we welcomed a huge increase in Chinese investment last year. We have more Chinese students than any other foreign nationality, and numbers are still rising healthily. This benefits both countries. When dealing with Tibet this Government’s approach has always been clear and consistent. The Chinese Government are aware of our policy on Tibet.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Bates, Lord Chidgey, Lord Avebury, Lord Sharkey, Lord Hussain, and the noble Lords, Lord McConnell, Lord Collins, Lord Eames, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, spoke about our commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid. The coalition Government are the first UK Government ever to meet this, and we are the first G8 country to do so. I can also assure noble Lords that we remain fully committed to delivering 0.7% of GNI on aid. I can also assure the noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Collins, that only aid which conforms to OECD rules counts as ODA, and we will adhere to that.
We agree with my noble friend Lord Chidgey that good governance should be a core part of new development goals. We also agree with him, and with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, about the importance of the development of agriculture to tackle hunger and malnutrition. DfID invests heavily in new farming techniques, and, as my noble friend Lord Bates pointed out, we will host a global Nutrition for Growth event on
My noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, flagged up Pakistan. The new Pakistani Government will have an important responsibility to implement urgently needed economic and tax reforms. DfID works extensively on tax reforms in developing countries. In South Sudan, I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that DfID has allocated £40 million to help with humanitarian aid in 2013. In Burma we have provided £2 million for humanitarian support, with a focus on water, sanitation and nutrition. The Foreign Secretary and Aung San Suu Kyi agreed two weeks ago that it was time for the EU to move beyond sanctions.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was concerned about our continuing commitment to Afghan development. I can reassure the noble Earl that DfID will provide £178 million every year at least until 2017. We are working with the Afghan Government to ensure the protection of women’s rights. In regard to Bangladesh, I can assure my noble friend Lord Avebury that the Chittagong Hill Tracts were raised in the universal periodic review.
My noble friend Lord Eccles and the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, mentioned CDC. A revitalised and reformed CDC is at the heart of the Government’s emphasis on the private sector in development. New investments are made only in the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.
The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Ramsbotham, my noble friends Lord Ashdown and Lord King, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, were very concerned about the situation of the Afghan interpreters. I will take back the strength of feeling in the House tonight to my department. However, as the Prime Minister restated very recently, people who have laid their life on the line for the United Kingdom will not be abandoned.
My noble friend Lady Nicholson drew attention to the opportunities in Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out the fragile state of Jordan. My noble friends Lord Northbrook and Lord Sharkey made important points about Cyprus. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, spoke eloquently about southern Africa. I assure him that we will play an active role in ensuring fair elections in Zimbabwe.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for his sympathy for me tonight. I have heard enough amusing stories from him to know that he would be a brilliant after-dinner speaker, and I am sorry that I have never heard him.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid, made a very thoughtful speech on cybersecurity. I assure noble Lords that this is an area that we take very seriously and in which we invest a great deal of money, as the noble Lord said. We have trained 37,000 personnel and established a joint forces cybergroup, with close links across industry, government and partner nations. As the noble Lord said, we have committed £650 million over four years to the transformative national cybersecurity programme to bolster cybersecurity.
The noble Lord, Lord West, asked whether we were taking a risk with the two carriers. They are on track to be completed on time. More importantly, the aircraft that they will carry, the Lightning, is on track to have a squadron operational by 2016 for training in the United States. As the noble Lord knows, pilots are already flying the aircraft in United States, and we hope that they will be flying off the first carrier around 2020.
The noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Browne, mentioned the Trident replacement. Certainly I would welcome a debate on this issue, which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has asked for. UK nuclear policy remains one of minimum deterrence. We maintain a minimum level of nuclear weapons to guarantee a credible deterrent against any potential aggressor. The UK is fully committed to working towards a world free from nuclear weapons, is living up to the letter and spirit of its international legal obligations, and has a strong record on fulfilling its disarmament commitments.
My noble friend Lady Wilcox mentioned the recruiting and training of 16 to 18 year-olds. The minimum age for entry into the UK Armed Forces reflects the normal school leaving age of 16. There is no intention to change this policy, which is compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked why the Chagos islanders could not return. We regret what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. The responsibility for decisions taken then has been acknowledged by successive Governments. However, the reasons for not allowing resettlement, namely feasibility and defence security, are clear and compelling. The Government will continue to look at the issues involved and engage with all those with an interest.
The passion and intelligence of today’s debate show that noble Lords understand that the defence of the realm is, as the noble Lord, Lord West, said, the first duty of any Government. In closing, I will say only this: the task of safeguarding our national security, developing stability overseas and promoting our prosperity does not take place in a vacuum. Above all, our efforts must be credible, and it is this Government who are putting the country back on a sustainable footing.