Queen’s Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 15th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 8:30 pm, 15th May 2013

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 19 April, an accord was signed between Serbia and Kosovo that does not amount to the recognition of Kosovo but in effect concedes legal authority to Pristina over the whole territory, which is a step, although there are continued problems in the Serbian-controlled part north of the River Ibar. This shows the importance of EU membership as a magnet and is—dare I say it?—a triumph for a Member of this House, my noble friend Lady Ashton, and EU diplomacy. Perhaps the Minister will say a little about how Her Majesty’s Government intend to help both parties build on that agreement.

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 1 May Prime Minister Netanyahu told senior officials of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Israel needs to reach peace with the Palestinians to avoid becoming a bi-national state. Perhaps he now recognises that he had no answer to the question: “If not two states, then what? What is your plan B?”. Only a two-state solution can be properly sought. Perhaps his rethinking is being sparked by a hard look at demographic trends between the Mediterranean and the Jordan and the increasing international isolation of Israel, shown most markedly in the vote at the UN General Assembly last November, with the settlement policy criticised even by the Czech Foreign Minister, who alone of the EU countries supported Israel in that November vote.

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?