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House of Lords

Thursday, 18th November 1999.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Lord Gascoyne-Cecil

The Right Honourable Robert Michael James Viscount Cranborne, having been created Baron Gascoyne-Cecil, of Essendon in the County of Rutland, for life, took the oath.

Lord Shepherd of Spalding

The Right Honourable Malcolm Newton Lord Shepherd, having been created Baron Shepherd of Spalding, of Spalding in the County of Lincolnshire, for life, took the oath.

Armed Forces Discipline Bill [H.L.]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957 in relation to custody, the right to elect court martial trial and appeals against findings made or punishments awarded on summary dealing or summary trial; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Children (Leaving Care) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision in relation to children and young persons who are being or have been looked after by a local authority; to replace Section 24 of the Children Act 1989; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Burlison.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill [H.L.]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for determining the mode of trial in the case of offences triable either

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summarily or on indictment; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate Bill [H.L.]

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill providing for an inspectorate for the Crown Prosecution Service; and connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Nuclear Safeguards Bill [H.L.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to enable effect to be given to the protocol signed at Vienna on 22nd September 1998, additional to the agreement for the application of safeguards in the United Kingdom in connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; to allow effect to be given to that agreement in certain territories outside the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Committee of Selection

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That in accordance with Standing Order 63 a Committee of Selection be appointed to select and propose to the House the names of the Lords to form each Select Committee of the House (except the Committee of Selection itself and any committee otherwise provided for by statute or by order of the House) or any other body not being a Select Committee referred to it by the Chairman of Committees, and the Panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees; and that the following Lords together with the Chairman of Committees be named of the committee--

L. Burnham,

L. Carter,

L. Harris of Greenwich,

L. Henley,

B. Jay of Paddington,

L. McIntosh of Haringey,

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L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank,

L. Strathclyde,

V. Tenby,

L. Weatherill.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

3.5 p.m.

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

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

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is a privilege for me to open this important debate on the last gracious Speech of the current millennium. The Government's aim in the Queen's Speech is clear: to set out a radical and reforming programme of legislation built around enterprise and fairness and creating a modern Britain. I look forward to the debate and, in particular, to the maiden speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I am sure all your Lordships wish them well.

I know that the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, signalled their intention of making more general comments. But from these Benches we recognise the importance of opening the debate on foreign and defence policy by addressing foreign and defence policy issues and recognising Britain's important role as an effective international partner. We shall go on developing those themes in the current year.

In addressing these issues we are building on action to secure a platform of economic stability and steady growth. Last week my right honourable friend the Chancellor set out the Government's economic programme for enterprise and fairness. Yesterday the gracious Speech laid out a parallel strategy for our legislation this year.

The legislative programme is large--28 Bills in all, with Bills for enterprise, including promoting e-commerce and better regulation; Bills for fairness, including greater protection for children and decent pensions for all; and Bills to modernise Britain aimed at improving democracy and opening up Whitehall. Not only is this a large agenda, it is also a bold agenda. It is an agenda which continues to reflect the priorities set out in the Government's manifesto--crime, welfare, transport, education and health. And as my noble friend the Leader of the House made clear yesterday, it is an agenda which the Government are determined to secure in both Houses of Parliament, whatever tactics may be deployed in an attempt to

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frustrate it. I am sure that we will demonstrate our coherence and vision, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seems to doubt so much.

Enterprise, fairness and modernisation are central to the approach the Government have taken in relation to Britain's foreign and defence policy. Those policies are rooted in the Government's vision about Britain's place in the world, both today and in the future. This Government intend to deliver a foreign and security policy and international development programme which are radical, modern and forward looking.

This Government are convinced of the need to engage fully and actively as part of the international community in the debates which will shape the world in which we live during the next century. Those debates concern the future shape and role of the European Union; the need to improve Europe's security and defence capability; and the many other changes that face us in the new millennium, from tackling international crime to facing up to environmental and humanitarian problems and tackling world poverty. The debates are a crucial dimension in developing our agenda for a modern Britain built on enterprise and fairness.

We live in an interconnected and interdependent world. We cannot opt out of these discussions. To do so would be to abrogate our ability to influence events. That is not Britain's way. Our way is to contribute, to be partners, to sustain our friendships and to forge new alliances while such relationships can contribute to peace, stability, social justice and a better and more prosperous life. That is true at home and it is true in our international life too.

Our role is a vital one, as one of the largest and most populous European states; as the world's fifth largest economy and a major trading nation; as a member of the UN Security Council, the G8, NATO and the Commonwealth; and as the possessors of probably the most respected Armed Forces in the world.

Since this Government came to power we have made clear that we want to use the resources we have to benefit the people of this country, of Europe and of the world. Crucial to this is promoting international stability: everything else, our security, prosperity and human rights, flow from this. We will engage with any country where we can make progress through dialogue to meet these objectives, particularly with those countries who believe, as we do, in freedom and democracy, in the rule of law and in human rights.

Stemming from this is a determination to help those in poverty in the world. Justice demands that people in poverty be given the opportunity to improve their lives. Reducing poverty is a clear responsibility of the international community. It is important because it is right in itself but it is also vital in promoting stability. Tackling poverty is one of the major ways of preventing conflict, avoiding confrontation and reducing organised crime. These issues are issues on the streets of London among young people with drug problems and they are issues on the streets of every city in the world. So we are committed to the UN's target

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of halving the proportion of the world's population living in abject poverty by 2015. This means helping a billion people out of poverty within 20 years. The target is visionary and it is achievable, but only if we adopt the appropriate policies nationally and internationally.

One of this Government's major achievements has been to forge a new role for Britain in Europe. Our strategy, clear from the start, has been to make Britain a leading partner in Europe. Europe is fundamental to Britain. In 1997 the people of this country made a simple and crucial choice. They chose to elect a government who wanted the European Union to work, not one that wished that the European Union did not exist; a government who would build effective relationships with our European partners and use them to benefit Britain, not one who chose to be marginalised, shouting instructions from the sidelines. Above all, the people of Britain chose a government who would work constructively to build an open, effective and enlarged European Union.

Perhaps I may tell the House about the kind of European Union we are working for. It is one which extends stability and prosperity across our continent, ending the false divide of the cold war, and in so doing opens new markets and new investment opportunities for business; a Europe which takes effective action through closer police co-operation to combat cross-border crime and drug trafficking; and a Europe which can have a clearer voice in the world and make a more effective contribution on the foreign policy stage.

It is because Britain is committed to the success of the EU that we are also committed to reforming it. Economic reform is one of the biggest challenges facing Europe. It is vital that Europe should prosper as much in the next century as it has in this. This Government are working actively and constructively with our partners to put together an economic strategy which will best serve Europe's interests in the years to come, starting at the special Council meeting in Lisbon next March which will discuss European economic reform.

But Europe still has a long way to go. In October last year the Prime Minister called for a fresh debate on Europe's security and defence arrangements. He said that it was time for Europe to live up to its responsibilities on the international stage and time for our economic and political weight to be matched by a stronger foreign and security policy. Since then the Kosovo crisis has reaffirmed the need to make changes. While today the majority of KFOR troops are Europeans, commanded by a European NATO commander, it was American military power that provided the lion's share of our capability during the Kosovo crisis itself.

With all too few exceptions, Europe's armed forces are still structured to meet the requirements of the cold war rather than the requirements of the next century. They are static when they need to be deployable. They are hampered by their reliance on national fixed infrastructure when they need to be sustainable for long periods in theatres of operations. They are focused on single tasks when they need to be flexible.

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So we need to pull more weight. We all need to modernise to respond to the changing world. We need to address this by reforming our institutions and by looking at the capabilities of our forces themselves. This is why the United Kingdom and France launched a joint defence initiative at the end of last year. This year we have made progress with that initiative, working together as Europeans and with our American allies to begin to pull together structures that will allow Europe to play its proper role in the world.

But none of this changes the fundamental importance of NATO. I know that noble Lords opposite will question my noble friend Lady Scotland on this issue when she replies to the debate. I know that because they always do. So let me anticipate the question from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I assure the House that NATO is, and must remain, the cornerstone of our defence and security policy, and will be the only organisation for conducting collective defence in Europe.

I am sure that we all wish the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, well in his new role as Secretary General of NATO. He was a terrific Secretary of State and I have no doubt that his expertise, talent and commitment will be highly valued in NATO.

NATO will also be the organisation we will use for many crisis management operations, in particular those where Europeans and Americans wish to act together. But at the same time we must be able to provide an additional capability which will allow the EU ready access to NATO assets to act in support of a European crisis management operation where this is appropriate. The work which this Government are leading with those countries which share our values and enjoy our freedoms will, by improving the effectiveness of its European pillar, strengthen NATO as a part of a whole.

I am pleased to say that Britain has led the way with the Strategic Defence Review, which was announced last year and is now being successfully implemented. The SDR points the way ahead on the sort of armed forces which Europe needs to meet the challenges of the new century. It is a radical and far-reaching modernisation of the way we can manage and deliver defence in the world in which we now live.

Overshadowing everything we have done in defence and security this year was the conflict in Kosovo. This was not a conflict we sought. It was not a conflict we wanted to see take place. But it was a conflict that once engaged upon, we were determined to win. With our allies in NATO, we are working hard in Kosovo now on the restoration of the country, reconstructing its towns and villages, putting back together its businesses and its communities, helping to revive its character, its spirit and its people. That we are able to do so is a testament to the people in Kosovo. They saw their country being destroyed. They saw their homes and their communities being ripped apart. They saw their friends, relatives and loved ones being subjected to appalling atrocities and malevolent murder in the most sustained, vicious and brutal demonstration of ethnic cleansing in Europe for half a century.

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This was not a conflict of politics or of positioning; it was not a conflict of economics or of expediency. This was the most simple and yet the most profound of conflicts. It was a choice between action and inaction; between responding to the most fundamental cry for help and standing aside from that cry. It was a choice between right and wrong.

NATO's member countries took a decision to stand together, and to stand together for Kosovo. We sustained that decision. We laid down the objectives we were determined to fulfil; we stuck to those objectives and we secured them.

Do not forget that we did so against a received wisdom--some of it expressed in this House, sometimes very passionately--that the strategy and the tactics that we had adopted not only would not succeed but could not succeed. I believe that, in spite of these views, NATO kept its collective nerve. I am proud to say, too, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was central to the maintenance of that steadfastness.

Kosovo is a good example of foreign policy, military action and international development working well together: military action as the execution of foreign policy and securing its objectives--which were in turn helped towards fruition by deft diplomacy, led for Britain by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary--and international development to help build a post-conflict society.

We restored the peace in Kosovo. That, together with conflict prevention, is the key role we identified for our Armed Forces in the Strategic Defence Review. We have sustained that role in Bosnia, in the NATO-led peacekeeping force which has done so much to restore civil institutions, stability and prosperity to the people of a country which was only a few years ago riven by ethnic conflict, hatred, violence and brutality.

But these roles of defusing conflict are not limited to our immediate sphere of influence in Europe. Like many countries across the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to play a part in securing stability where regional conflicts place it under threat.

We have given strong support to the efforts to take forward the Middle East peace process. The Government believe that the election of Ehud Barak has created a new window of opportunity for the peace process to move forward, and we look to all parties involved in this complex and long-standing conflict to spare no effort in working for its resolution.

I was in the Middle East only last weekend, talking to our friends in Jordan. Our strong relationship with Jordan is a further example of how Britain is helping to increase the prospect of real stability in a region steeped in a tangled history of sometimes bloody conflict. In his last visit to this country earlier this year, King Hussein of Jordan asked my right honourable friend the Prime Minister what Britain could do to help increase Jordan's security. The Prime Minister responded positively and swiftly. Last weekend I saw some of the results, including the Challenger tanks that Britain has given to Jordan which I believe will help

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sustain that country's ability to defend itself. Jordan's new king, Abdullah, has already made an impressive start, following in his father's footsteps as a force for peace, stability and moderation in the region.

Of course, Saddam Hussein continues to pose grave risks to his neighbours and to the international community, especially with his attempts to develop biological and chemical weapons in defiance of successive decisions of the United Nations Security Council and in defiance of his international obligations.

I am sure that noble Lords will recall that before the no-fly zones were established, Saddam Hussein made extensive use of helicopter gunships against the Kurdish population in the north as well as attacking Shi'a Muslims in the south. I can assure noble Lords that coalition activity is strictly limited to proportionate self-defence against carefully selected military targets. It is initiated only when coalition forces are directly threatened. Should Saddam Hussein cease his attacks on our aircraft there would be no need for us to take this defensive action. The only alternative to allowing our pilots to defend themselves properly would be to give up patrols and leave the Kurds and Shi'a Muslims exposed to Saddam's full might. This we are not prepared to do.

We have been working intensively over the past few months to reach agreement in the Security Council on a new, comprehensive way forward on Iraq. This approach would pave the way for the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, improve the humanitarian effort and address the issue of Kuwaiti detainees. We can take satisfaction that Britain has played a major role in looking to restore unity on Iraq in the Security Council.

But with Saddam Hussein vigilance will be our watchword. We have made it clear that our differences are not with the Iraqi people. We do not seek conflict--but neither would we shirk from it if again it proved to be necessary.

Of course, our forces are making a significant contribution to the Australian-led international force to East Timor, demonstrating once again our commitment to contribute speedily to international efforts to produce peace and stability and to supporting the United Nations. We were able to respond to this crisis quickly because the Strategic Defence Review has encouraged more joint working between the services so that they are able better to provide a quick, flexible and appropriate response to unexpected developments. By pooling our resources, by breaking down traditional barriers, by putting together in this case the right combination of naval power, infantry and air transport, all under joint command at short notice and ready to act on the far side of the world, we were able to demonstrate the validity of our modernised approach.

If I may, I shall now pay tribute to our servicemen and servicewomen. I know that it is always traditional to do so in these debates, but I do so in a particularly heartfelt way because I now have a growing knowledge of what our servicemen and servicewomen do. British

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troops are welcome in many parts of the world in dealing with crises and disaster because they are complete professionals. They are superbly trained; their codes of conduct and their fairness in dealing with civilian populations are widely acknowledged as second to none. For example, following the return to civilian rule in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the MoD, the DfID and the Foreign Office are actively engaged with both Governments in helping to rebuild their countries after years of terrible suffering. Our troops are playing a crucial role in that rebuilding. This is indeed joined-up government in action. It is making a real difference on the ground.

I am happy to say that our Armed Forces are now forming partnerships in providing advice and training to the armed forces of friendly states, advising on organisation--including, of course, the importance of democratic control--and helping to promote peaceful and stable societies.

Given the scale and breadth of this activity, concerns are raised in many forums, including ministerial ones, about overstretch in our Armed Forces. May I make it clear that the Government fully recognise the importance of this issue. With the advice of the senior personnel across our military services, including Sir Charles Guthrie, a distinguished and forward thinking Chief of the Defence Staff, the problem is being addressed. But it is vital to understand what the problem is.

There are two components in any staffing shortages--rates of recruitment and rates of retention. On recruitment, we have made significant and impressive progress, the best in the Army in the past decade. On retention, the picture is far more complex. Many of our trained personnel leave the Armed Forces for family reasons. The Government are tackling this in a number of different ways. They include implementing guaranteed post-tour leave to allow personnel to spend much-needed time with their families. We have doubled the telephone allowance so that personnel are now able to speak to their families for up to 20 minutes a week at no cost, wherever they are in the world. We are taking special steps in the Balkans to allow people to keep in touch by e-mail--"electronic blueys", as I understand this facility is known.

Moreover, the Government are, of course, constantly reviewing our troop deployment. For example, in Bosnia conditions have improved to the extent that this year it has been possible significantly to reduce the size of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, allowing us to reduce our troop commitment from some 4,500 to around 3,300 by the end of the year. As I was able to report to your Lordships only last week, whereas we had almost 13,000 military personnel committed to the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosovo earlier this year, our deployment currently stands at under 5,000 and is due to reduce to fewer than 4,000 in the next couple of months.

Another important component of Armed Forces policies is the absolute commitment to equality and diversity and to developing a culture within the Armed

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Forces that accepts recruits from all sections of the community. I am encouraged that the services are in the forefront of progress in the public sector, but I am also shocked by some of the isolated cases of bullying, intimidation and harassment which still occur. The only acceptable standards in the Armed Forces are the very highest, and we shall be absolutely ruthless with anyone who does not live up to those standards. Wherever it occurs, racism is as unacceptable in Her Majesty's Armed Forces as it is anywhere in the country.

Our commitment to our people applies not just to the regular forces but also to the reserves. I have heard it said--sometimes from those who should know better--that this Government do not care about the reserves. That simply is not the case. As the SDR recommended, we are in fact using them as never before. We are integrating our reserve forces more closely with their regular counterparts and we are ensuring that they are properly manned, equipped and trained and that they have proper resources. Reserves are not there simply to be counted. They are there to be involved and I am pleased to say that that is what is happening.

As the gracious Speech announced, today saw the First Reading of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill. The Bill makes some adjustments to the procedures for administering discipline in the services, bringing under judicial control decisions concerning detention pending charge and trial. It also introduces a right of appeal for those whose discipline cases have been dealt with summarily.

There will be plenty of opportunity over the coming weeks for your Lordships to scrutinise this measure and I do not propose that we should anticipate the Second Reading debate today.

The gracious Speech also mentioned our overseas territories. We shall take forward our offer of British citizenship in our relationship with those territories, for whom we have not only a particular responsibility but also a very great affection. As the former Minister responsible for those territories, I am particularly pleased about that, and I know that my successor, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will pursue that matter vigorously. Those territories and our other friends in the Caribbean are very much in our thoughts and prayers as Hurricane Lenny approaches them in the next couple of days.

Overseas, the OSCE is meeting today and, of course, Chechnya will be near the top of the agenda. I know how many of your Lordships have expressed concern about the volatile situation there. Her Majesty's Government will pursue every means available to help to bring peace to that troubled part of the world.

As the gracious Speech made clear, the values engendered in all of us of democracy, the rule of law and human rights are at the heart of our policies. Both at home and abroad, fairness and enterprise are the bedrock for peace and prosperity. The problems which the world faces are complex, diverse and numerous. From the troubled relationships of our good friends India and Pakistan, to the seemingly endemic violence

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in the Great Lake area of Africa, from the emerging democracy in Indonesia to the international fight in South America and Asia against the drugs trade, we are indeed faced with huge challenges. But we are determined to respond in the way expected of us by the people of Britain. Our record demonstrates that. The people of this country hate oppression; they value fairness and decency and want to see Britain as a force for good in the world. I believe that we shall be better equipped to face the range of international challenges with a modern foreign defence and international development policy; a policy which sees Britain playing its full part in resolving international issues; and a policy which has at its heart the security of this country.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion for an humble Address, at the end of the Address to insert, "but regret the failure of Your Majesty's Government to reduce the burden of taxation and regulation and deplore the incoherence and the lack of vision of the measures proposed by Your Majesty's Government for the coming Session of Parliament".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the amendment to the humble Address standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do so conscious that this has not been done for some three years. Indeed, it has not been done by our party in 50 years and more since the war. That I do so is perhaps a sign of what we may see in this Session: a more confident and a more assertive House of Lords. It is a House shorn of that mythical, massive, in-built Tory majority that we used to hear about so much. Scarcely one-third of this House is Conservative. It is a House that was the deliberate creation of the Government's flagship Bill last Session; a House that has been described as "more legitimate" by none other than the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. If we are now politically correct, even in the noble Baroness's eyes, we cannot go far wrong.

At this juncture, on behalf of the whole House, perhaps I may say what a pleasure it is to congratulate the noble Baroness on her birthday today.

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