Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I look forward to many more contributions from him, not least when we debate the White Paper, when perhaps he may be less controversial.

Noble Lords: More!

Lord Astor of Hever: Or more controversial, my Lords.

I join other noble Lords in paying tribute for the Iraq operation to our Armed Forces and to their families—in particular to the families of those killed on operations—and to the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence civilian staff, those at Permanent Joint Headquarters and at other defence establishments involved in planning and execution.

I shall speak briefly on the Territorial Army. In 1914, my grandfather, Sir Douglas Haig, set up the Territorial Force to reinforce the regular Army.

The Options for Change review saw TA strength reduced to 63,500. Under this Government, the TA has been slashed to less than 40,000, including recruits and university OTCs, who cannot be operationally deployed. Can the Minister confirm the claim by the Sunday Times that TA manpower will be further reduced to fewer than 30,000? It is surely madness to cut numbers when the world has never been a more dangerous place.

TA soldiers provide tremendous value for money. They have provided up to 14 per cent of the Army's strength in former Yugoslavia, been deployed to Sierra

3 Dec 2003 : Column 345

Leone and are still in Afghanistan. As my noble friend Lord Howell said, reserves account for 25 percent of the Iraq deployment and four TA soldiers died there. In October, The Times reported the very short notice given to some reservists mobilised compulsorily for Iraq. Five days is not long enough to tell families and hand over a civilian job. I understand that that is being addressed and I hope that the noble Baroness can give us an update.

Full-time reserve service members make good the shortfall in the regular Army and are limited to about 1,100. They have proved indispensable during recent operations. Why has an instruction been issued banning any further employment and extension of service to full-time reservists at this time, when the regular Army is still 5,000 under strength? Now comes the announcement of the next call-up of reservists: 1,100 men and women to deploy in February. At the current operational tempo, we are in danger of running out of reservists. Already, the reserve of the reserves is too low.

The TA is also being asked to form the 14 civil contingency reaction forces. Two companies of the TA's London regiment, which plays a major role in civil contingency cover for London, are being sent to Iraq. How do the Government plan to protect London in their absence?

Without the TA, the regular Army would not be able to meet its current operational commitments. In those circumstances, one would expect significant emphasis to be given to the training of TA officers and soldiers. Yet increasingly, that is not the case. A TA infantry officer is no longer trained in the use of support weapons, such as the MILAN anti-tank weapon. Without additional training, a TA major cannot be used in a regular infantry battalion, other than as a watch-keeper or liaison officer. The TA infantry use different vehicles and weapons. A similar situation applies in the more technical arms, where individuals are not trained on the computer equipment and technical systems they will use once mobilised.

Following the savage cuts under the Strategic Defence Review, a TA company comprises only two rifle platoons plus a support platoon. But one of those in practice becomes a recruit training platoon, leaving an infantry company that is only platoon strength. TA soldiers, therefore, are highly unlikely to experience training at company, let alone battalion level.

The financial pressure on our regular forces grows every year, even as their commitments grow. There is an increasing incentive to use territorials to fill the gaps, often without any thought for the impact that that may have on their military or civilian careers.

The TA is now in a downward spiral of inadequate training and equipment, leading to a decline in its overall usefulness to the regular Army in anything other than the most specialist areas. Combined with poor administration, disrupted training and inadequate career management, the future of the TA looks worse than it has since the end of the Second World War.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 346

5.6 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, unlike other right reverend Prelates, whose predecessors leave your Lordships' House on retirement, I have the distinct privilege of sitting under the watchful eye of my distinguished antecedent, my noble and right reverend friend Lord Sheppard. It feels like coming in to bat for the first time opposite the captain, who has already scored a century—and most of that with sixes.

I feel that in this debate, which features Europe, I should confess to your Lordships that I am half Scottish and half Welsh. That means that by the law of resultant forces I was bound to end up in Liverpool. I was on "Thought for the Day" on Radio 4 once when Scotland were playing Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. I thought that it would be good to end the piece by saying in both Gaelic and in Welsh, "May the best man win". When I enquired on the telephone of a lecturer at the University of Cardiff if he could tell me what was the Welsh for, "May the best man win", he said, "There is no such phrase in the Welsh language".

During the past 20 years, I have served as a minister in the Church of England in the south-west, the south-east, the north-east and now the north-west of England. In the north especially, I have observed the unique role that faith communities have in our society. Last month, the regional development agency in the north-west published an important new report called Faith in England's North West. It has regional, national and European significance. It demonstrates with statistics what many of us know anecdotally: that the faith communities make a remarkable contribution to the social capital of this country.

Of more than 4,000 questionnaires, 54 per cent were returned, revealing that more than 45,000 volunteers were actively involved in their communities and that the faith communities are strongest where the social need is greatest. Quantifying the number of volunteers, professional ministers and community buildings helps us to understand how important a trellis the faith communities are creating on which to grow the vine of flourishing communities. Indeed, the working together of faith communities at local level and the fostering of good relationships between the faith communities regionally significantly contributes to the good relations between the faiths internationally, and therefore to global security.

In the north-west region, old rivalries are dying. Liverpool was an enthusiastic supporter of Manchester's great achievements in holding the Commonwealth Games and Manchester a champion of Liverpool's successful bid to become European City of Culture in 2008. However, I must say that one of the biggest challenges to my faith as Bishop of Liverpool was when, on my way in to Anfield to watch Liverpool play Manchester United, I was asked to pray for David Beckham's foot. I was tempted to ask which one and what for. I leave it to your Lordships to speculate on what I did, for I do not wish to be controversial. I will happily tell your Lordships the result privately. Suffice it to say that that was certainly a day when the best men won.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 347

Like other regions in Europe, the north-west of England is a contrast of urban and rural landscapes. It is a region engaging seriously and strenuously with both urban and rural regeneration. And, where necessary, environmental issues are being taken ever more seriously.

We live at a unique moment in the history of the human family. Previously, human actions were trivial by comparison with the processes of nature. That is no longer the case. Now the very forces of nature literally tremble at the power exerted by human actions. The future of the earth is not just a regional issue but a national and European one.

In my engagement with young people, I have been struck by their anxiety over global insecurity and by the concern for the way we treat the environment. During Lent in the millennium year, I toured the diocese of Liverpool, which covers 1.5 million people. I went into many schools and met thousands of young people. I wanted to hear their dreams and dreads of the future. I wanted to tell them why I thought that the moral and spiritual values of the Christian faith were still relevant 2,000 years on.

In a discussion about the future of the planet, I asked them on a scale of nought to 10 how worried they were about the earth's future. I asked them to put their hands up if they placed themselves between five to 10. It is no exaggeration to tell your Lordships that in every single school 100 per cent of hands went up.

I then asked them to what extent they thought we ought to do something about the future of the environment. Again, I asked them to place themselves on a scale of nought to 10. In every case, 98 or 99 per cent of young people put their hands up to indicate that there was a moral case for taking action about the future of the earth.

There is an African proverb which says, "We have borrowed the present from our children". It makes me aware of the responsibilities that we have in your Lordships' House as we in Britain play our part with other nations in Europe and in the rest of the world, creating a global community which is founded upon justice and mercy so as to secure the future stability of the earth.

I look forward to serving here in your Lordships' House.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, it is my privilege to comment on the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. I have been known to be critical of Bishops, which perhaps is a good thing, but, happily, individual Bishops can entirely reverse my opinion. The speech we have just heard was full of humour, enriched by the work he has done in his field and the knowledge he has gathered. I am sure that he will be a great asset to the House and I hope that we will hear him often.

As a former member of the Royal Air Force, I want to speak today because of certain threats I have read in various Scottish newspapers about the future of

3 Dec 2003 : Column 348

some of our famous regiments. In particular, as I live in Angus, I am concerned about the future of the Black Watch. I was pleased to hear denials of any intention to amalgamate or destroy the great regiments of this country.

That was all right, until I came across a copy of an interview in The Times with the Defence Secretary, Mr Hoon. The Defence Secretary said that he was planning radical changes because warfare was increasingly reliant on high-tech weaponry and sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems, not on tanks and soldiers with bayonets. That struck me as a sinister remark. Mr Hoon did deny that he was thinking of abolishing well-known regiments.

Highlighting the new era of high-tech wars, it was revealed in the article that the battle for Basra by British troops in March was first fought by computer, using the most detailed war game model ever produced. I understand that many hours were spent on producing plans which were submitted to General Reith, who was to command the operation.

I am certain that it is absolutely necessary to use computers for gaining information which will be of great value in future, but I do not know whether the production to the commander in chief of five or six separate plans will be useful. However, one thing is certain, as was said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, in his maiden speech: they all depend on what is happening on the battlefield. And what happens on the battlefield depends on the quality of the troops in the front line. They are essential and no war has ever proved that more than the Iraq war.

A brilliant battle was fought with all the workings of modern technology. The brilliant advance to Baghdad, executed in appallingly hot weather, was marvellously done. However, there were not the troops on the ground to consolidate the victory. I also understand that the American chiefs of staff wanted at least twice the number they had.

The behaviour of our troops in Basra has made us all very proud. Without denigrating any other regiment, the Black Watch in particular distinguished itself. The colonel who ventured into a hostile mob, taking off his helmet and putting on his bonnet with the red hackle, was a stroke of genius and bravery which would never have been indicated by a computer.

We and the regiments need proper reassurance. We need to know that the Army, the chiefs of staff and the Defence Secretary appreciate that more infantry are needed on the ground in any war to which we are liable to be party. I hope and trust that when it comes to the point, instead of trying to amalgamate the Black Watch or any other regiment, the Government will consider forming a second battalion of that famous regiment.

5.19 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, when I listened to the gracious Speech last Wednesday and heard the commitment to promoting peace in the Middle East, I was more pessimistic about Israeli/Palestinian relations than I am today, one week later.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 349

Last week, I was privileged to be one of the British participants and to chair part of the first Rabin Peace Seminar organised by the Labour Friends of Israel and the Yigal Allon Educational Trust. The Palestinian and Israeli participants were senior, experienced politicians and officials, some of whom knew one another well from years of meetings and negotiations. All were in positions of current responsibility in their community and administration, although none, of course, made any official commitment.

Our hope was that a quiet and discreet country venue in Britain would provide both sides with a useful opportunity to further their relationships and their dialogue, especially at this particular moment, when there seems to be a real window of opportunity for movement. In recent weeks, we have had the extraordinary statement by the Israeli army's chief of staff that repressing Palestinians was reducing Israel's security, not helping it. We have also had the even more extraordinary position of four former heads of the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, joining together to say that Israel must find peace and that the present policy was not doing that. All that has given new life to a badly weakened Israeli peace movement. We also had the Geneva accord, signed publicly on Monday. So, it is a moment of hope.

What I found encouraging about the Rabin seminar was the depth, detail and strength of the dialogue, which all the British contingent found impressive to observe. We were assured that the name of Rabin was, in the context of peace, acceptable to both sides. We have offered to hold a further such event.

One thing that was clear was that there was no point in rehearsing painful history. Both sides have grievances and tragic experiences aplenty. Although history can never be forgotten—far less ignored—one must deal with the present and the future. What is true for Israelis and Palestinians should also be true for outside commentators, many of whom do no service to anyone with a one-sided interpretation of history. I am afraid that this House is not immune from that: too often we hear interventions that seem to treat the Israeli/Palestinian situation as if history started in 1967. If we are talking about the observation of UN resolutions, let us start not with 242 but with 181, from 1947, which established the state of Israel, as well as Palestine. If we talk about appalling conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps, let us not start in 1967, when Israel took control, but speak also about the situation when countries such as Jordan and Egypt were in control.

I speak with some feeling on the matter. I first visited Gaza in August 1967. It was dreadful, but the Israelis had been there only a matter of weeks. The awful conditions in Gaza were there when it was Egypt's responsibility. Egypt did not give the Palestinians free access to Egypt proper, so they had to stay in those conditions from 1948.

Unfortunately, time does not permit me to deal with Iraq, which will have to await another opportunity. No one can pretend that there are not enormous problems. Solutions will not be quick, easy, painless or

3 Dec 2003 : Column 350

cheap, but I believe that resolution is possible. Outside the Sunni triangle, conditions are improving; even inside it, that would be more clearly the case, if sabotage could be crushed. It seems to me that NATO could play a useful role in Iraq. NATO already provides logistical support to Poland for its co-ordination of the multinational division in its area of control in Iraq.

In the past year, NATO has passed through turbulent times. Some say that, last February, NATO looked into the abyss. It is certainly true that many realised, at that time, the importance of NATO and its need to exist. NATO has shown itself, once again, to be resilient and capable of changing to meet new challenges. The reason why NATO is now in Afghanistan and, perhaps, could soon be further involved in Iraq is that, in the current world, if you do not go out of theatre, that which is out of theatre will inevitably come to you.

We parliamentarians and politicians have a responsibility to ensure that our citizens understand the new NATO—not the NATO of its founding fathers or even our own fathers, but the widening defensive alliance that is NATO today, facing new, different and some, as yet, unknown challenges with its broadening and active membership. Last week, NATO and EU staffs held a joint exercise to test the mechanisms by which NATO assets can be used in EU operations in which NATO is not involved. This week, NATO and EU foreign ministers are meeting for consultations. I am confident that an increased European defence capability—something talked about as desirable for many years by the Americans as well as the Europeans—can be accommodated alongside the NATO of today and the future.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Inge: My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble and gallant friend Lord Boyce on his excellent maiden speech and saying how nice it is to see the Royal Navy represented at the appropriate level in the House.

I was glad to hear what the Minister said about the threat. I say that because I think that there is a head-in-the-sand approach to the seriousness of that threat. I quote from Robert Cooper's excellent book, The Breaking of Nations. As noble Lords will know, he is a highly respected serving British diplomat. He says:


    "The worst times in European history were in the 14th century after the 100 Years War, in the 17th century at the time of the 30 Years War and in the first half of the 20th century. The 21st century may be worse than any of these. The wars of the 20th century in Europe were the first great wars of industrial society . . . In this multiple catastrophe, the single most important thing that went wrong was that technology overran political maturity. The new century risks being overrun by both anarchy and technology. Two great destroyers of history may reinforce each other. Both the spread of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction point to a world in which Western governments are losing control. The spread of the technology of mass destruction represents a massive redistribution of power away from the industrial and democratic states towards smaller states that may be less stable and have less of a stake in an orderly world; or more dramatically still may represent a redistribution of power away from the state itself and towards individuals, that is to say terrorists or criminals".

3 Dec 2003 : Column 351

I recognise that meeting the challenge will require concerted action that goes well beyond military capability. However, our Armed Forces will have a key and vital role to play. To an extent, that has been acknowledged by the Government, but—it is a big "but"—that recognition is not matched by anything like adequate defence funding. Despite the uplift last year, a large gap remains. My noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank has pointed out the immediate problems that the new resource accounting has brought about. We are trying to find something close to 1 billion now and in the following three years. Such things as recruiting have been stopped. We cannot suddenly turn them on again.

The Strategic Defence Review was an important step in recognising that our Armed Forces needed to be capable of deploying, fighting and winning in high-intensity conflicts well outside the NATO area and the area beyond. However, the SDR was significantly underfunded and did not anticipate the high level of operational activity facing our Armed Forces.

Several of your Lordships referred to the Secretary of State's speech at the Royal United Services Institute in June this year. I agree with much of what he said about improving the fighting capability of our Armed Forces and equipping them with some of the high-tech capabilities that he talked about. However, like several noble Lords, I believe that that is just one end of the spectrum of conflict and that we will find that the need for infantry—for boots on the ground—is as high as ever. It is foolhardy to talk of a peace dividend from Northern Ireland, when we have so many other operational commitments. That was also referred to by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Boyce and Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank.

I should like, if I may, to give noble Lords a flavour of the pressure on the Regular and Reserve Army at the moment. A number of your Lordships have talked about the tremendous commitment that the reservists have shown. I am told that more than 7,000 are currently deployed on operations, which is a very high figure. I would argue that we need a radical review of what we expect from our Reserve Forces, first in homeland defence, and secondly as reinforcements for the Regular Army. That is urgent work. My sense is that the Reserve Forces will need a significantly larger budget.

For the Regular Army the average interval between tours is about 10 months, whereas it should be about 24 months. I know that we have never achieved that, but we are talking about a serious level of over-commitment. Six operational tours have been extended this year. In addition, many individuals have had their tours extended and 10 unit moves have been frozen. All that is bound to have an impact on retention, family life and training standards. Those are not small issues. They paint a stark picture of the challenges currently facing our Armed Forces.

Part of the problem is that our Armed Forces always come up trumps. There is a very real danger that people do not take the risk of operational failure

3 Dec 2003 : Column 352

seriously enough. The fact is that our Armed Forces are too small for the tasks that are laid upon them. The Army needs a minimum of 4,000 to 5,000 men and women to increase certain unit establishments to make them more robust.

I cannot stress too strongly that our fantastic Armed Forces are seriously underfunded. We are increasing the risk of operational failure. A one-off lift in the defence budget will simply not solve this deep-seated problem.

I turn to the White Paper. I hope that it will contain real substance and not be a superficial bland document about defence policy and the new strategic environment. I hope that it will make clear statements about the future equipment programme and matters such as improving operational logistics support, training, recruiting and retention and, all-importantly, the effects on our families.

Finally, I should like to say a brief word about NATO and Europe. Before doing so, however, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who I believe has been an outstandingly successful Secretary-General who will be much missed when he leaves NATO at the end of this year.

It seems likely that in major conflicts in the future our Armed Forces will operate in coalitions of the willing and, I hope, with the Americans. However, getting the balance right between NATO and Europe warrants a debate in itself. I was glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, just said about the importance of NATO. I know that some think that NATO is outdated. I fundamentally disagree with that view, not only because America is the key nation in the NATO alliance, but also because NATO has radically changed since the end of the Cold War and is enormously important to the future.

I think that there is a real danger of Europe setting up some sort of wishy-washy duplicate command and control organisation. That would be an unnecessary waste of money and use manpower from already heavily overstretched regiments and units. It would also worry the Americans. If Europe is serious about defence, then it should improve its military fighting capability. I am not sure that people realise just how inadequate Europe's military capability is.

It was Lloyd George who said that war is too important to be left to the generals. Surprisingly, there are some aspects of that sentiment with which I agree. However, it means that a huge responsibility is placed on political leaders to ensure that our wonderful Armed Forces are large enough, have the best equipment and are trained and well led and ready to face threats to the United Kingdom's interests. If Ministers do not face up to this responsibility they risk military failure. Put starkly, it means that they are ready to ask our wonderful servicemen and servicewomen to face danger knowing that they have been inadequately funded.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, raised the issue of what our servicemen and servicewomen want and expect. I think that the Armed Forces will be looking to the Prime Minister for help to ensure that they are adequately funded.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 353

5.34 p.m.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I should like to congratulate both noble Lords on their excellent maiden speeches. We certainly look forward to more speeches from them.

There are several references in the gracious Speech to international affairs. Perhaps that is not surprising given that, since the previous gracious Speech, we have become involved in a war in Iraq. International sympathy for the United States post-September 11th extended to action in Afghanistan, where Al'Qaeda training camps were known to be based. Yet when President Bush talked of the axis of evil, singling out Iraq, our Prime Minister made it clear that he did not connect Iraq to Al'Qaeda. Yet, inexorably, the UK was drawn into war, ostensibly not to achieve regime change—a matter of doubtful international legality, however evil Saddam Hussein might be—but because of the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction.

There were many warnings before that war about the wide repercussions which would result if action against Iraq was seen to be led not by the international community but rather by a country often regarded as militarily and culturally imperialistic. In the Middle East, one very strongly encounters the feeling that the US and the UK have taken unilateral action in Iraq; that the problems of Israel/Palestine are not being properly addressed; and that the US—and, unfortunately, by association, the UK—does not understand the Islamic Arab world and its culture, and certainly does not realise the extent to which western culture drew from it. There is a huge gulf in understanding.

Al'Qaeda is now operating in Iraq, and Iraq is being used as an excuse for further terrorist atrocities elsewhere in the world. There is little doubt that the UK is now four-square in the sights of those who exploit misunderstandings around the world.

What control do we have over events in Iraq? We are supposedly joint partners in the Coalition Provisional Authority, administered by Paul Bremer. He returns to the United States to report. He changes direction at their request. We asked the noble Baroness the Leader of the House how many times he has come to London to report. The answer came back that he has not made one such visit.

Reconstruction requires security, yet each month sees an escalation of insecurity. What is needed to establish security, as one UK official involved has said, is to win hearts and minds. That would be a difficult task at the best of times, as we have seen in Northern Ireland. We are engaged in an enterprise that did not have UN international backing; as the junior partner to a nation not known for its international understanding and not viewed with sympathy in the area it seeks to control; at odds with many of our European allies; with a widened gulf of misunderstanding with Arab countries; and endangering the stability of our own multicultural communities.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 354

In this situation, indeed we must throw ourselves into the reconstruction of Iraq, trying to involve those in the region in this task and passing on the control of the country to the Iraqis as soon as possible. However, we have the obligation not to leave them in chaos. I welcome the Government's commitment to that.

Now, predictably and predicted, we find ourselves also having to redirect aid "sooner than planned" from poor people round the world to the reconstruction of Iraq. Could the Minister yet tell me precisely which projects are to be finished before their originally planned time?

The Government have in the past been rightly commended for their commitment to international development, to helping the poor around the world. Iraq threatens that legacy. It is not only funds draining to Iraq, but also attention. In Afghanistan, for instance, a small proportion of the country is secure. Opium production is soaring, despite the Chancellor's pledge that within 10 years we would no longer find Afghan opium on Britain's streets. Now there must also be an increased danger that, as aid to Latin America is cut, the cocaine that emanates from there will increasingly make its way to the UK.

With so much effort focused on Iraq, it is not surprising if perhaps the greatest challenge of our time, the rise and rise of HIV/AIDS, is not getting the international attention that it should. I am glad to see reference to that in the gracious Speech and welcome the Government's call for action on HIV/AIDS published on Monday. However, the scale of the crisis is such that massive efforts will have to be made on the international scene. I am not sure why we must wait until next year for the Government's strategy on the issue. Meanwhile, the catastrophe gains momentum. A report this week showed that in some areas of Botswana there is a 60 per cent incidence of AIDS among workers. A doctor from Durban told me last week that he now spends most of his weekends attending funerals of hospital staff.

AIDS afflicts those who should be most economically active. We shall see economies implode as a result of the disease. But, above all, there is the social cost. How can we have stability and development if the only people left in a country are old people and children? What are the longer-term consequences of such a disaster? That is why the WHO aim of three by five—3 million people into treatment by 2005—is so unambitious. Yet even that will be difficult to achieve on current estimates.

Although children are mentioned in the introduction of the Government's action plan, there seems to be nothing further in the plan about the care of those children. Already, some 14 million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. By 2010, there will be 40 million AIDS orphans in Africa alone. Save the Children describes the absence of a priority focus on AIDS orphans as alarming and says that they must be given the highest priority. Will the noble Baroness say how the Government plan to help those children?

If the situation were not so appalling, it would be farcical now to contemplate delivering the millennium development goals by 2015. How can we increase the

3 Dec 2003 : Column 355

number of children in education if their parents are dying? How can we promote the equality of the sexes if girls must look after their sick relatives? How can we strengthen economies while they are imploding with deaths in every sector? All those slow advances in development in Africa, and the rapid advances in countries such as India and China, will count for nothing if the catastrophic situation is not addressed.

Iraq becomes a distraction from that. As other noble Lords have said, we find ourselves in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world. However much the Government may now wish to concentrate on public services and the situation at home, they cannot do so. They have their own responsibilities for what we have already undertaken internationally. A clear focus on those responsibilities must be their top priority in the months ahead.

5.44 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I wish to concentrate on other matters. I support fully the comments made by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford and other noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords on the importance of ensuring that, in any efforts to strengthen European co-operation, we do not undermine the vital importance and crucial role of NATO.

I welcome yet another Chief of Defence Staff, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, a distinguished submariner, who, we are all delighted, has surfaced in the Chamber at last. There is probably no other occupation in which one appreciates more the value of every single member of the service. The strong speeches made by other noble and gallant Lords, particularly the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Guthrie and Lord Inge, highlighted the importance of people in the future of our defences and Armed Forces.

I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. During his witty, profound speech he said that there was no phrase in the Welsh language for "May the best man win". That is almost my text also—I do not think that the phrase is available in any dialect in Afghanistan; nor is it common in the languages in Iraq. "May the best man win" is not the language being used at present.

Against that background, I echo the words of the Foreign Secretary in opening the response in the other place to the gracious Speech. He said that he thought the world situation to be more dangerous now than it has been for decades. Not only is there a threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there is an intelligence warning that an invasion of Iraq could lead to a greater threat of terrorism in this country—I do not think that anybody would challenge that seriously. That is now putting great strain on the resources of the free and democratic world.

I read a quotation from a distinguished American general, on which noble Lords may wish to comment, given that there is a slight feeling that American resources are unlimited. He said that seven of their 10 available divisions were now committed in Afghanistan and Iraq;

3 Dec 2003 : Column 356

that they could not do that for much longer than another year; but, at the same time, they understood that the forecast was that they might be there for another 10 years.

The challenge that we face was not without warning. In our debate in this House before the invasion of Iraq, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent, said that we would win the war but asked whether we could win the peace. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said that it was easy to get in but difficult to get out. Those warnings were clearly given. We face a serious and very dangerous situation.

In the opening Question to the Prime Minister in another place today, yet another Member of this Parliament who is a reservist, Andrew Murrison MP, talked about the deteriorating security situation. We hear encouraging statements from Ministers but I attach some importance to a warning about the situation from someone who has returned so recently. I am not sure whether he was in Basra, which one regarded previously as one of the better areas.

In 1880, the Secretary of State for India said:


    "All that has been accomplished in Afghanistan has been the disintegration of a state, and a condition of anarchy throughout the country".

In 2003, that threat exists in Afghanistan and Iraq. It must not be allowed to happen.

The seriousness of our involvement and the implications of failure are too grave to contemplate. We are at a very dangerous time. My noble friend Lord Howell referred to the possibility of having nearly seized Saddam. If that were achieved, it would be the single most important factor in tilting the balance of Iraqi sentiment. Otherwise, against the suggestions of an increasingly organised resistance and increasingly sophisticated attacks on the United States and United Kingdom forces, diplomats and others, including the United Nations, who are sadly on the front line and have suffered grievous casualties, the importance of getting on top of the situation soon could not be greater.

Those currently co-operating with the coalition and trying to play their part in bringing Iraq out of its nightmare into a happier future know the fate that would await them if the process were to fail and the allies and the coalition withdrew. So the importance of not being allowed to fail could not be more clearly stated. That is the challenge against which we debate the gracious Speech. This is an extremely dangerous time for our country, both abroad and at home.

In this situation, we will depend on the people. We will depend on our armed services, our intelligence services and our security forces in their various forms. In that connection, and it may sound odd to introduce this, I am grateful for what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said about the new appointment on the Conservative Front Bench in the shape of Nicholas Soames, who knows that people matter. I am delighted to see somebody getting involved in the political discussions on these issues who has worn uniform. I know that his appointment will be widely welcomed, as the noble and gallant Lord said.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 357

I raise one point with the Minister about his opening speech: I am acutely worried that we are putting a huge strain on the Armed Forces. I strove and failed as Secretary of State for Defence, as a number of noble and gallant Lords know, to achieve a 24-month tour interval. Intervals of six or 10 months have been quoted in this Chamber today, which is absolutely impossible. It is no good Ministers standing up and saying how wonderful our Armed Forces are and how they can always be relied on to perform superbly. They do it because they are superbly trained and because they are ready, trained and equipped for the task. With the tour intervals that they are facing at the present, that is obviously impossible.

The Minister referred to 46,000 troops, which is equivalent to those involved in the first Gulf War. However, the first Gulf War involved 46,000 out of 310,000 troops. We are now into 46,000 out of a total of 210,000 resources. We have a TA—and I was criticised for reducing it to 63,000—that is now down to 40,000 and falling, and a number of its members are involved in the front line in a quite unprecedented way, so the strain is there.

Government Ministers can be accused of sounding complacent. I do not challenge the Government about that because it is the duty of Ministers to defend the Government and they are not going to stand up and say that they have got it all wrong and failed. I hope that, although they have to defend the Government position from the Dispatch Box, they are seized with the seriousness of the situation. If what was suggested by one of the noble and gallant Lords is true and even basic recruitment has been stopped because of a shortage of funds, that is a very serious matter. However, I am also concerned about retention. If those tour intervals remain, the pressure on families of continual deployment of people overseas will become intolerable. It is one thing for regulars, but if it is applied to reservists as well we will rapidly find a seriously deteriorating situation.

We depend on and are proud of our armed services, to which I pay yet another tribute, because I once had the privilege of being involved with them in a position of responsibility. We must consider their interests. It is not just for their benefit: it is for our own selfish interests as well. At this dangerous and challenging time, we must ensure that we maintain the calibre and quality of our Armed Forces for whatever fresh challenges may arise.

5.54 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I join with others in congratulating my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, on his perceptive and challenging speech. We look forward to more. I was tempted to take up the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord King, about whether, "May the best man win" can be said in Dari or Arabic. I am sure that it can, but that is by the way.

The Minister told us that the Iraqi Governing Council and the coalition have announced a timetable; for the framing of fundamental law, the introduction of a

3 Dec 2003 : Column 358

transitional government, elections to a constitutional convention and, eventually, the emergence of an Iraqi government which has the consent of the Iraqi people. Those are all laudable aims, but I hope that some hard thinking is being done in Baghdad, Washington and Whitehall about how all of this is to be achieved. It is said, for example, that a transitional national assembly will be established through "transparent and democratic caucuses". Does that mean that local custom and religious tradition will be taken into account?

In Afghanistan, the Allies encouraged the convening of the Loya Jirgah, a traditional meeting of elders with political and judicial powers. The notion of a Jirgah was modified—the inclusion of women, for example—but its use legitimises the development of government by consent in a country which has been ravaged by one tyrant after another. Whether democracy takes root in Afghanistan still remains to be seen but, if it does, it may well be in a form recognisable by the Afghans themselves.

Samir Al-Khahil, in his book on Iraq, Republic of Fear, points out how democracy was imposed on the Iraqi people under the British mandate but that it never really took root because it was unrelated to local political consciousness. That must not be allowed to happen again. It has often been pointed out that traditional Islamic polity emphasises "participation" rather than "representation". The idea of shura involves widespread consultation, instead of focusing too narrowly and too quickly on producing so-called elected representatives. One of the reasons for the Ba'athist success has been its understanding of participatory politics, however ruthlessly it may have been manipulated by its members. It is to be hoped that the transitional assembly and its government will be based on participatory bodies at the local level. The abuse of shura in Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere should not discourage us from its proper use in Iraq.

If shura is a religious idea, baica is a cultural one in the context of Iraq. In traditional Arab societies it signals the approval by a group, tribe, clan or religious community, of those claiming to lead. However informally that is done, such expressions of confidence in the process, as well as in the people produced by the process, will be necessary if the assembly and government are to receive legitimisation.

The Ottoman insistence on the millet system, which defined almost autonomous communities usually on the basis of religion and ethnicity, still influences the mentalities of many in countries such as Iraq. Such sensibilities must be taken into account. That may mean a more federalist than unitary structure at the national level but, in any case, the principle of subsidiarity will have to be respected so that the national government do not seek to do what the communities can do for themselves. At the same time, the system should ensure participation—that word again—particularly of minority ethnic and religious groups at the national level. I am aware that in this respect the make-up of the present Governing Council has itself been criticised—for not having enough Christian representatives, for example. Naturally, it is being asked how the role of Islam should be acknowledged in any future constitution of Iraq. That

3 Dec 2003 : Column 359

is also an important issue in Afghanistan. My own view is that the place of Islam in national life should certainly be acknowledged, but its role should be that of influencing and resourcing rather than coercing. For example, the Sharia or Islamic law can be seen to provide the guiding principles for law making. But such laws would also take account of modernity, with its opportunities and problems. That kind of cross-fertilisation would make for a creative marriage of the traditional and the contemporary.

The Governing Council's declaration that the new fundamental law will be based on respect for human rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance is greatly to be welcomed. Needless to say, those must also be the basic principles governing law-making in Afghanistan. Iraq has a long history of significant religious and ethnic communities living side by side. That must not only be recognised, but also be positively encouraged. The fate of the Iraqi Jews should not be shared by the remaining Assyrian, Syrian and Chaldean Christians, the Mandaeans and the Yezidis.

The challenge is to create a modern state in Iraq that is governed by consent; a state in which political, legal and civil institutions have arisen out of its rich heritage, but also relate well to modern conditions and expectations. It is most important that they should not be seen merely as "imports" from the West or anywhere else. They should be able to deliver fiscal probity and accountability, while, at the same time, manage Iraq's considerable human and natural resources for the well being of all sections of its population. The international community will not have such an opportunity again. It should be used wisely and for the benefit of the Iraqi people—all of them.

6.1 p.m.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, it would be fair to say that successive governments have tried to support the needs of our Armed Forces in the changing strategic environment in which they are expected to operate. However, it was clear in the 1990s that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the threat that it posed, there were major reductions to all our Armed Forces. The strength of reductions was severe. I am sure that we on the Opposition Benches at the time were not slow to criticise the Government for their actions. A good deal of our equipment was either out of date or below the required standard in any case.

It was clear to all that changes were necessary if we were to play our role in a new strategic environment. Of course, changes were made. Our Armed Forces may have far fewer tanks, fast aircraft and naval escorts than a decade ago, but they are much better organised and equipped to handle expeditionary operations.

Decisive combat operations have finished in Iraq. We are now focused on stabilisation operations. We conducted a carefully targeted military campaign within the constraints of international law. We are

3 Dec 2003 : Column 360

very proud of British servicemen and women, whose sacrifices will not be forgotten. After our recent experience in Iraq, I am sure that there will be a need for more radical change to ensure that we have planned our procurement policy to meet the needs of the next decade in order to keep the British Armed Forces among the best in the world. However, we were very pleased with the way in which our equipment performed in Iraq, particularly in the demanding circumstances and harsh conditions.

It is important for the country and the Armed Forces that the Government get it right and provide the very best equipment now and in the future. While I am on the issue of procurement, perhaps I may compliment the Government on their policy of trying to buy from our home base with the proviso that equipment is good enough to match the very best that there is internationally. I know that with partnerships and foreign shareholding ownership, it is not always easy to determine a UK company. However, it is important that British-based companies are given a fair crack of the whip to produce the best for the internal market and to be in a position to compete in the export field.

It is not always easy for the Government to keep pace with changes in technology, interoperability, flexibility and speed. As we have seen in the past, previous governments have not always got it right. But I am confident that this Government will get it right and will provide equipment that will meet the needs of a modem armed force. We owe it to our servicemen and women to equip them with the very best.

There are many British-based companies that can produce to a high level; they should be helped to sustain the quality of their workforce. I would like to mention Swan Hunter on Tyneside, which has a proud record in the defence industry. I am sure that it will be a valuable asset in the future of naval shipbuilding. It currently employs 1,500 workers at the Wallsend yard. I am pleased to say that Swans, having gone out of business and now returning, is bringing a welcome vibrancy to the town. The chairman, Jaap Kroese, has taken a big gamble and has invested a great deal of his own money in the company in an effort to maintain a shipbuilding presence in the area.

I would like to take this opportunity to mention the work carried out by Northern Defence Industries, which is a cluster of small and medium enterprises in the defence industry covering the north east and Yorkshire. NDI's main mission is to obtain more work for companies that are involved with it. It does that by working closely with prime contractors to build up regional supply chains. Its members share best practice to increase competitiveness. It has already been successful in helping to win business on two hand-held missile systems for the Army. When the two competing companies took their aircraft carrier road shows to the north east, NDI encouraged over 200 companies to register as potential suppliers. I should like to compliment One North East and Yorkshire Forward, both regional development agencies, for their innovative organisation and their funding of NDI, as well as the companies that give commercial sponsorship.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 361

Northern Defence Industries is an object lesson in what the usually ignored part of the defence industrial base can achieve. I congratulate all those involved, especially the chief executive, David Bowles, on the remarkable achievements to date. With a large amount of future projects in the pipeline, I am sure that it will not be resting on its laurels. I do not envy the Minister's task of trying to satisfy everyone, while, at the same time, attempting to obtain the best equipment to help our Armed Forces retain their decisive edge throughout the next decade.

6.8 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, it has already been mentioned that two years ago we went to war in Afghanistan. We inflicted heavy damage and untold loss of life among soldiers and civilians, as well as successfully driving out the Taliban. We did it because we were bringing freedom and democracy. We thought that refugees would return, girls would go back to school, women would show their faces and musicians would play in the streets. We imagined that the people were waiting for change and crying out for us to release them.

However, it was not as simple as that. Refugees have not returned in the numbers expected. Most women are staying at home. A minority of girls are in school. Many people still seem to fear the return of the hated Taliban; some remain suspicious of the motives of new foreign invaders. But we must not be too disappointed. The Afghan people have their own traditions, councils and ethnic differences. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester so ably said, these must be taken into account during reconstruction.

As we know from history, national unity is a hard-earned prize, which is mostly the product of military strength. Today's coalition rests on fragile alliances of commanders in the north, west and south. President Karzai controls only a proportion of the Pashtun in the south. Despite the efforts of the coalition, the militias are still armed and terrorism still has a hold on the south-east where the Taliban and Al'Qaeda continue to control mines and money-belts.

The noble Lord, Lord King, mentioned 1880, which was rather dire in view of the scale of United Kingdom losses, but it was a warning to which we must listen. This is not one nation, yet the whole UN operation is run from the centre. There are hundreds of aid workers in Kabul plying between heavily barricaded compounds of embassies and UN agencies. In Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, the aid agencies are well established, but to the south and east of the capital they work at their peril, remembering vicious attacks on agencies such as the Red Cross and, more recently, the UNHCR.

All UN operations in Ghazni have now been suspended, In Kandahar, Jalalabad and Gardez, the Afghanistan United Nations Assistance Mission now has only a skeleton staff. In a country where two years ago humanitarian work had seemed such an obvious necessity, the good Samaritans are themselves now in need of our protection. As the noble Baroness,

3 Dec 2003 : Column 362

Lady Northover, mentioned, the irony here is that Afghanistan had been one of the poorest countries in the world. According to Save the Children, even today one in four children dies before the age of five, and 60 per cent of those deaths are preventable. Over two-thirds of the schools are still not functioning and tens of thousands of children are at work rather than at school. This is another country where the millennium development goals still seem almost unattainable.

Owing to the war, among other factors, 5.9 million people are still listed by the World Food Programme as "highly vulnerable" and in need of assistance. That figure includes 1.2 million returned refugees, 400,000 displaced people and hundreds of thousands of urban poor who can be seen on the streets of Kabul and elsewhere. These are images to be found in many countries, but because of its special circumstances, Afghanistan is among the very poorest and most deserving of international aid.

Yet because of our decision to enter Iraq, Afghanistan is not receiving enough international attention. The delivery of aid is well behind the Tokyo pledges. It is estimated, for example, that there is a peacekeeper in Iraq for every 92 Iraqi citizens, while there are over 5,000 Afghanis for each peacekeeper. The warning given this week to NATO members by my noble friend Lord Robertson in this context—not to neglect Afghanistan—must be taken seriously; and for those noble Lords concerned about the European arrangements for defence, Afghanistan is currently the test case for NATO acting outside its own normal arena. Reconstruction is not possible without security.

The ISAF forces outside Kabul are seriously under strength, and all we are offering is a few hundred German and Norwegian soldiers, along with some more Greek and Belgian helicopters. However, that is not aimed at the British effort because I know that the Foreign Office is working hard with our NATO allies to try to encourage them to join in with this effort. The British are having some success with the provincial reconstruction teams, but those are small in number and many more soldiers are needed alongside the Afghan army and police in preparation for next year's elections which, not surprisingly, the Taliban intends to oppose and disrupt.

The elections will be a critical test of confidence. In a recent survey of Afghan opinion conducted by NGOs such as CARE, Oxfam and six Afghan NGOs in eight provinces, 87 per cent of the respondents said that they would vote in the elections next year. Ninety-five per cent of the men and 78 per cent of the women surveyed said that they would vote, and 73 per cent thought that the elections would bring about positive changes—although a lower proportion, only around 70 per cent, seemed to be aware of the issues involved.

There will be a huge task of civic education around these elections. By its own admission, our embassy still needs to develop a policy involving some of the Afghan NGOs already engaged in work in preparation for next week's Loya Jirgah.

Meanwhile, international attention long ago moved to Iraq. I was delighted that Her Majesty mentioned Afghanistan ahead of Iraq, which is not often heard

3 Dec 2003 : Column 363

nowadays, perhaps for chronological or alphabetical reasons. However, the recent visit by President Bush once again polarised attitudes in this country. Many of us who regretted our original entry into Iraq still regret the Prime Minister's conversion to a presidential international style and the distance he continues to keep from the United Nations.

So, as we approach Hutton, some relevant questions arise. Are we really winning the war on terror or is there some misconception? Is the very strength of our military hardware, which is designed to scatter the enemy much as the Greeks did under Alexander, actually generating new units of terror? Is terrorism itself a form of desperation? Are we offering the best long-term solutions? Are aid workers, for example, increasingly seen as the purveyors of western ideas and culture, being perceived as the agents of anti-terrorism instead of anti-poverty? Are we doing enough in considering new approaches in Iraq and Afghanistan?

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester was correct: surely we have to beware of imposing our own forms of democracy, religion and culture. When we attend to hearts and minds, we must not give Al'Qaeda the argument that the West has developed a new and subtle form of imperialism. Still more, we must renounce territorial claims or other forms of aggression dressed up as self-defence because they will serve to refuel the very terrorism we are fighting against.

Along with many noble Lords, I should like to see a return to international law based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council, many of which we have totally ignored throughout the Middle East. In Iraq and Afghanistan we have a special responsibility. Far from disengaging, we must build on the respect which many people in the Middle East have for the positive values that they associate with Britain, Europe and the United States. These include religious tolerance, the rule of law, the dignity of individuals and even, to some extent, human rights and democratic government where they coincide with traditional values.

Through institutions such as the British Council, our universities, the BBC and DfID we have already developed links with scholars, lawyers, teachers and artists throughout the Middle East. We do not want to jeopardise those links through our military involvement and our alliances outside the UN, which to many look like neo-colonialism. The vast majority firmly reject extremism and fundamentalism and we have to work twice as hard to retain their support.

6.17 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, in following the noble Earl, I should like briefly to try to connect the subjects of the global war against terrorism with the continuing struggle for greater global justice and development. I was very struck that, when President Bush was in London, his immediate reaction to the terrible bombings in Istanbul was to refer first of all to "homeland security". Perhaps that is understandable,

3 Dec 2003 : Column 364

given the domestic television audience in America, but when will we realise that there is only one homeland now, and that is the world in which we all live?

I say that not just in the sense that, to paraphrase Trotsky's famous statement about communism, you cannot have security in one country, and not even as the President was right to announce after 9/11 that the war against terrorism is global, but in the wider and deeper sense that the world is painfully coming of age. Our deep interdependence, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred, is becoming more and more palpable. The poor, the sick and the starving of the world—1.5 billion people—are as much our poor as were the urban destitute to our Victorian forefathers in this country. They pose for us exactly the same question: one nation or two; one world or two? Disraeli referred to,


    "Two nations; between whom there is . . . no sympathy, who are as ignorant of each other's . . . feelings, as if they were . . . inhabitants of different planets".

We have only one planet and on it we all know that the environmental effects of a growing population, whether manifested as grinding poverty or over-hasty industrialisation, is our shared problem. We all know that pandemics such as SARS or HIV/AIDS, of which my noble friend Lady Northover spoke so eloquently, are no respecters of national boundaries. So globalisation is not just about free trade or the Internet; it is about the close interdependence of the whole world.

Military strategists have long recognised that national security lies not simply in military capacity, important as that is, but in the context of health, wealth, education, stability and shared values. How much more does that apply to international security? I, for one, very much regret in the aftermath of 9/11 that the US Administration, alongside the global coalition on terrorism, failed to launch a parallel global coalition for sustainable development and justice—in short, for real security. The subsequent alienation of most of the world from the United States has a great deal to do with that failure of imagination.

Terrorism is nothing new; as long as there are fanatics who put their fundamentalist creeds above the claims of common humanity, there will go on being terrorism at one level or another. No doubt, it will be made potentially more deadly by advanced technology and the spread of destructive modern weapons, and the terrorists must be driven back and contained. However, I should have thought that we British have learned one lesson, either in Northern Ireland or, years ago, in Malaya—in both of which I had a small involvement. The terrorist must not be able to rely on the support of the community. He must be denied acquiescence, refuge and help, because the community does not accept that he is on their side.

The tragedy of this century is that millions of peaceable people who would not themselves dream of killing or maiming vaguely feel that, in a perceived struggle against the imposed will and might of the United States, these fanatics are somehow on their side. Do not mistake that for the naive and patronising argument that poverty itself engenders terrorism. I do not believe that for one moment. However, I do believe

3 Dec 2003 : Column 365

that a really effective response, and the creation of true security, which diminishes the likelihood of successful terrorism, depends on denying any succour to the fanatics.

We need a twin-track approach: tough on terrorism, but tender to a world that is seething with a sense of injustice at deep problems, and believes itself to be ignored by the wealthy and powerful. To be fair to the Prime Minister, in his notable speech in Brighton two years ago and in flickers ever since—notably in his genuine concern for the future of Africa—there have been indications that he and the Government well understand what is needed, as I believe do the British people. I was struck by the information that the right reverend Prelate gave us in his notable maiden speech.

Nothing much has happened, however. The G8 funds for NePAD have not left the bank manager's safe. There is no new global Marshall Plan. Even the new AIDS money from the United States is hobbled around by unilateralism and the prejudices of the so-called moral majority. The Israel/Palestine situation has been allowed to deteriorate further. Kyoto is in ruins. The world trade system still does not offer full market access to the developing world.

If I should point to a failure of the Anglo-American relationship at this time of international crisis, it lies in the failure on one hand of British leadership to capture the imagination of the leadership, and thence of the people, of the United States, in a realisation of their profound power for good in a troubled world and, on the other hand, a failure by that same leadership to negotiate more effectively with our ally to secure British and global objectives. Of course, we do not have an alliance of equals with the United States, but we should demand an alliance of reciprocity, which we are not getting.

Some will point to the President's speech in London as evidence of a more positive approach. He spoke warmly of democracy. I yield to no one in my own commitment to democracy. I wish the world was more democratic, that this country was more democratic, and that this House was even half democratic. However, I wonder whether democracy is enough, and whether it will not take some time to get established in the Middle East. After all, it took us a few centuries. I wonder, too, whether its establishment does not depend, crucially, on parallel conditions, such as a national identity that transcends other loyalties, such as relative civic calm and the rule of law, and such as the basics of life being in place. I fear that a rush to voting as the instant and universal panacea could prove to have dangerous unintended consequences, such as a boost to those whose goal is theocracy, not democracy at all.

There are some hard questions to be answered about the military adventure in Iraq. I do not refer to the professionalism and courage of our armed services, which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, portrayed for us so eloquently. But has it contributed to a more secure world; has it strengthened the United Nations, the European Union and NATO, or has it weakened them? Has it stemmed the rise of

3 Dec 2003 : Column 366

fundamentalist Islam, or swollen it? Has it brought a two-state solution nearer for the festering Israel/Palestine question, or has it pushed it further away? Has it boosted support for the war against terrorism or created more acquiescence in those foul deeds?

If our only positive message is democracy, particularly when that democracy seems to be delivered on the business end of precision-guided munitions, I fear that our strategy for a more secure world is pathetically inadequate. A more secure world depends crucially on a more just world, and I believe and hope that Her Majesty's Government will be seen to lead the quest for global justice and development.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I should like to play a variation on one line of the gracious Speech, which reads:


    "My Government will work for a strong partnership between Europe and the United States, underpinned by Nato".

It is common ground in this House that there should be a strong partnership between Europe and the United States. Whether that partnership should be underpinned by NATO and whether Europe's security would be seriously compromised without the NATO alliance is the question.

That security comes at a cost, and we should be clear about that. True enough, NATO offers us security, but it is also a mechanism for subordinating the foreign and security policy of Europe to that of the United States. America offers most of Europe protection—in particular the all-important nuclear guarantee—in return for Europe renouncing any ambition to become an independent centre of power in the world. That was the situation inherited from the Cold War. The question is: does it any longer make sense?

As the two noble Lords in opening the debate pointed out, last weekend the Foreign Ministers of the European Union, meeting in Naples, agreed the first step to developing an independent military capacity. They agreed to set up a small operational planning unit outside NATO. That tiny step towards what might be called a unilateral declaration of independence was predictably denounced by United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as a challenge to NATO. Equally predictably, our own Government insist that it is perfectly consistent with the NATO underpinning to which they are committed.

I do not intend to adjudicate between those two views. I want to address a rather different question. Why are we so willing to accept the rather ignominious position of being a permanent protectorate of the United States? Why do 450 million Europeans need 250 million Americans to defend them? Robert Kagan, the intellectual guru of the Bush administration, has one answer: the Europeans are soft. He writes that,


    "Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus",

with mingled envy and contempt.

It is true that Europeans are more reluctant to use force than the Americans are—not surprisingly, given their history. But that does not explain, as Kagan thinks it does, the reluctance of what Rumsfeld calls

3 Dec 2003 : Column 367

"old Europe" to support the United States in Iraq. Russia and China, which few people believe inhabit Venus, also opposed the US action; while Britain, as we know, took part in it. French opposition did not come from softness; they disagreed with American policy.

Then again, you can hardly say that the Europeans spend no money on defence. The combined defence budgets of the European Union countries total 185 billion dollars. That is about half of what the United States spends. Compare this with 50 billion a year spent by Russia and China. Those are large amounts of money, but what defence do we get for it? The trouble is that, apart from the small but efficient British and French armed forces (which include operational nuclear weapons), EU military expenditure is mostly wasted. It is this waste, not the amount spent, which makes the European Union a military pygmy.

Why this dysfunctional defence system? As I see it, the main reason is that we have never been able to crack the German problem. The old joke has it that NATO was formed to "keep America in, Germany down, and Russia out". After the Second World War, America had to be in, because it was the only power which had the nuclear weapons to deter the massive land forces of the Soviet Union, and no one wanted to entrust that job to a restored German army, least of all the Germans themselves after the battering their armed forces had taken on the eastern front.

Today, when it is no longer a question of keeping Russia out, we need to keep the Americans in because we still feel that we need to keep the Germans down. I say this, shocking as it may seem, because no one is willing to accept a serious military revival of Germany, which would almost certainly lead to the Germans acquiring nuclear weapons. The Russians do not want it, we do not want it, the east Europeans do not want it, and neither do the French. This, indeed, is the hole at the centre of the grand French design for an independent Europe. Europe cannot become an alternative pole of power without Germany, and no one wants an independent Germany to be at or near the centre of that pole of power, even if it is enfolded by the European Union.

We are debating British, not French, foreign policy. Much as I would like to see a more independent Europe, I cannot accept the proposition that we have to choose between the United States and Europe. There is no choice, actually, because there is no presently acceptable basis for a European alternative.

The Prime Minister can certainly be faulted for his judgment on the threat posed by Iraq. He can be criticised for an excessive public subservience to the Bush Administration. But on the central issue of who guarantees our safety, he is right. He understands with great clarity that no European alternative to America's defence guarantee is currently available, and it might not be desirable even if it were available.

For there is, of course, a potential alternative which has long been hinted at; that is, the political union of France and Germany. That would finesse the problem

3 Dec 2003 : Column 368

of a German finger on the nuclear trigger. That is the real alternative to reliance on America. The European superstate which the Eurosceptics fear will come about, if at all, not through the Brussels directives or the feeble federalist initiatives that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, so much feared in his speech, but through the political consolidation of the core of the European Union. It is not the European Union which will grow into a political giant, but a political giant might grow up within the European Union, to which we as well as our American ally will one day have to define our attitudes. But that is the subject for a very different, and much less comfortable, discussion than the one we are having now.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar: My Lords, in vowing to wage war against terrorism, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the Minister today seem to me to ignore the vital truth that when you are trying to diminish terrorism by sensible police and intelligence activity, the most stupid thing you can possibly do is gratuitously to increase the number of terrorists. But that, of course, is exactly what Britain and America did when they invaded Iraq.

The other day the Foreign Secretary absurdly said that the consulate bombing in Istanbul had nothing to do with the war in Iraq. How does he know, I wonder? What we do know, however, from the Hutton inquiry, is that the Prime Minister was warned last February that an invasion of Iraq would increase the danger of terrorism. Indeed, it was so obvious that increased terrorism would be a major consequence of the war that some of us, without any access to intelligence sources, firmly predicted that it was bound to happen, and, of course, it did.

President Bush now says that the American aim is to create a new democratic order not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East. If so, I do not think that he is going the right way about it. As we have seen, the Americans are already having considerable difficulty in Iraq. As noble and gallant Lords have rightly pointed out today, the British Army, as we would expect, is a model occupier. But unfortunately the same cannot be said of the American army. Some of the activities that we see on television seem almost designed to increase the number of opponents to the occupation. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, for the American army not even to count the number of Iraqi civilians it kills is surely highly provocative and extraordinarily arrogant. More importantly, as I believe has been suggested by more than one speaker, there is considerable doubt whether you can create democracy at the point of a gun.

Then there is the difficulty that Iraq is a relatively recent and an artificial country. Even under ideal conditions it would be extremely difficult to create democracy in Iraq, and the current conditions are about as unideal as it would be possible to get. Iraq may well split into three, which would cause tremendous instability throughout the Middle East.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 369

The sincerity of the sponsor of this whole process, the Bush administration, is deeply suspect in Iraq. It is widely believed that America's real objective—in addition, of course, to the overriding one of securing President Bush's re-election—is to set up an allegedly democratic government which will be an obedient subject of Washington. A genuinely democratic Iraqi government would almost certainly be strongly anti-American. The Americans are under the delusion that Arab hostility to the United States is caused by Arab dictatorships. That is not the case; it is caused by the Arabs' fully understandable dislike of American foreign policy.

In view of American behaviour not only in Iraq but also over Israel, the Bush administration's assumption that the Arabs regard it as a force for good and take it seriously as the harbinger of democracy in the Middle East indicates both denial and self-delusion. Admittedly, Bush goes on talking about the need for a Palestinian state, which is certainly welcome, but so far he has done absolutely nothing to bring that about. Indeed, he has gone along with everything that Ariel Sharon wants to do and seems to have made no objection to the fact that over the past three years Sharon has invariably wrecked any chance of peace, as he evidently aimed to do on Monday with his actions in Ramallah. Sharon has now even provoked the very hard-line Israeli commander-in-chief and four former heads of Shin Bet to protest against his provocations. Although he has been responsible for killing a very large number of Palestinian civilians, including over 400 children, the Bush administration has done nothing to stop his ceaseless rape of the West Bank by the continual creation of settlements.

As former President Carter's security adviser, Mr Brzezinski, has pointed out, Israel's,


    "settlements are colonial fortifications on the hill with swimming pools",

while down below the Arabs often have no proper drinking water and some 50 per cent of them are unemployed. By any standards Sharon's settlement policy is disgraceful, yet the Bush administration not only allows their creation, despite their flagrant illegality, but goes on paying for them by giving Israel vast quantities of aid.

The same applies to Sharon's horrible wall, which is even worse than the Berlin Wall as it involves wholesale theft of Arab land—some 17 per cent of the West Bank—and the strangling of Arab towns. Yet Sharon vows to continue building it and tells the Palestinians that his "patience is running out"—a sentence with a very unhappy history. Meanwhile, all President Bush does is to reduce America's loan guarantees by the derisory amount of 3 per cent.

British foreign policy in the past few years has been an utter failure. The Prime Minister has involved us in an unnecessary and unjust war on completely bogus pretexts. He has thus greatly increased the risks of terrorist attack, both in this country and on British interests abroad. He talks about the special relationship with America, but that phrase has long

3 Dec 2003 : Column 370

been merely a grandiose description of Britain's dependence on and obedience to the United States. That has never been more true than it is today.

The Prime Minister goes on wagging his tail to President Bush, but he is rarely even given a very small biscuit as a reward. As even the New York Times has pointed out, it is difficult to see what the Prime Minister has reaped from his obsequiousness to the President. The sooner he makes a fundamental change in British foreign policy, the better for Britain and for himself.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, during the past four years I have had the privilege of serving the Council of Europe as its rapporteur on the conflict in Chechnya. The devastation of that country is almost indescribable. The wanton and systematic destruction of Grozny was one of the first sights I saw on the first of eight visits during my period of service. I finished that service deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation, and angry about the human rights situation. What preoccupied me most was the counter-productivity of Russian policy. If Russia had set out to provoke the role and significance of extremists, it could not do much better. If it wanted to drive young men into the arms of the extremist recruiters for terrorist activity, its policy was almost perfect.

If we are concerned about counter-productivity in Chechnya, we have to look to areas where we have much more direct responsibility. I am sure that noble Lords from all parts of the House will share with me deep anxieties about the role of Guantanamo Bay in the fight against global terrorism, not only in human rights terms, but in political terms because of its counter-productivity. The pictures and images projected to the world from Guantanamo Bay play directly into the hands of extremists and recruiters of new generations of terrorists.

The excuse and rationale for Guantanamo Bay is that it is there to make a stand for democracy, accountable government, human rights and decency in the world. It is therefore essential that everything that happens there should be justified in terms of those principles, instead of which we see doubts, misgivings and the absence of any legal principles on which the place is operated. We have more disturbing worries about where harsh treatment ends and torture begins. We have the reality that deals are being struck on avoiding the death penalty, with whatever implications that has for those who do not have deals struck on their behalf.

If I may say so, we in this country have an almost total preoccupation with the British people in Guantanamo Bay. Of course, as a Briton, I care desperately about the British people in Guantanamo Bay, and of course it is a primary responsibility of the British Government to look to what happens to them. However, if we look or appear to look at only the interests of the British, that will underline the very counter-productivity that I have described. The world will say that we are doing deals with the Americans—our partners—but what of the

3 Dec 2003 : Column 371

principles that we say matter so far as they apply to everyone in Guantanamo Bay? What of the universality of those principles and the even-handedness with which we are committed to them?

My noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale spoke very tellingly of her experiences of the seminar this week on the Israel/Palestine issue. She spoke of her hope. What happened in Geneva this week is certainly encouraging, as indeed are the initiatives being taken by former security chiefs such as Shalom, Peri, Gillon and Ayalon. Some of us would say that it is unfortunate that they are not prepared to go far enough in contemplating the return of refugees, but at least security chiefs, with a proven record, are saying that there is no military solution to the problem and that a political solution has to be found.

If a political solution is to be found, it will be necessary to talk to the representatives of the Palestinian people in whom the Palestinian people have confidence. Others cannot cherry-pick the people with whom they are prepared to talk. If there is to be a political solution, there has to be ownership in the Palestinian community. The chance of rejection has to be minimised.

I am glad that, in talking about Israel/Palestine during the debate, there has been reference to the underlying injustices. I was formerly a director of Oxfam, am very close to it and know that it is working in that situation. It is right up against the humanitarian consequences of what has been happening—the closures, the wall, and denying people access to water, health facilities, education, employment and their own land to farm. Those are the injustices that breed terrorists. It is no good fluffing that issue; they do. Furthermore, those injustices, if not tackled fundamentally, will deny any prospect of building peace. There has to be a commitment to justice.

I am not ashamed to say that I am one of those who has held all my life that we should never forget the Holocaust. It would be a grim day for human society if we forgot what happened then. However, our concern in the Holocaust was not that the people were Jewish, but that they were human beings. If we do not therefore make a stand for the Palestinians every bit as strong as the stand that we made for the Jewish people, where will we be the next time the Jewish people come under persistent persecution? We have to have international and universal standards by which we stand firm and justify our actions. If we are to win the battle against global terrorism and for global security, it will be won in hearts and minds. That means consistent commitment to principle on our part.

6.48 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I serve as vice-chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy Committee in the European Parliament. Our task is to deepen the community of values referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and to widen the circle of peace within the borders of the European Union. In that, we have worked hard in the past months and years on the enlargement process. We look forward

3 Dec 2003 : Column 372

immensely to the enlargement of the Union on 1st May next year, when we will be reflecting the views of 470 million citizens and the Union will be producing one quarter of the world's GDP.

I welcome the single voice that the new Foreign Minister of the European Union will have. Despite his double-hatted position, I still see a weakness—so does my committee—in the democratic accountability of that Minister. There remains a gap between the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission on foreign affairs and common defence and security policy. That is a defect that must be addressed in the long run. It cannot be allowed to continue.

However, as we move towards the new Treaty of Rome, inevitably there is a great sadness over the European Union at the deaths of the Italian military police, the Spanish intelligence agents and the many other Iraqi citizens and civilians of different nations who have died. That draws me to speak about Iraq this evening as it is inevitably my responsibility in the European Parliament, for which I serve as rapporteur.

What is our aim today in relation to Iraq? Many words have already been spoken by your Lordships this evening on whether or not it was correct to invade that country. My own view is well known and well recorded. I saw no way to topple the regime other than by armed intervention. I say that with great sadness—I am no warmonger. I have spent my life trying to pick up the pieces of other people's quarrels. I have worked with many of the wonderful agencies that Britain and other nations have produced—for example, Save the Children and Barnardo's—which help so many millions of poverty-stricken and miserable human beings who do not have the benefits that we have had in our safe and comfortable lives in recent years.

I do not want to waste your Lordships' time this evening in discussing further whether or not it was right to topple the regime. However, I find it a very curious argument that we would have been right to leave the regime in place. Why should that be the case? I cannot see the purpose of it. Twelve years of wasted UN resolutions had achieved nothing. Indeed, I believe that 83 per cent of all the weapons sold to Iraq in the two decades before the 1991, or second, Gulf War were sold by France and Russia. Were not those two dissenting voices the loudest and most pre-eminent in the United Nations Security Council?

That is a debate that will go on for ever, but I want now to talk about the future. Indeed, as James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, said at the Madrid conference,


    "Let us not waste further time in discussing why we are here. Let us look ahead and see what is to be done now".

Surely all of us in this House have a similar, if not the same, target: a safe and stable Iraq. That is a prize of inestimable value, first, for the Iraqi people, who, to me, are the top priority—their suffering has been unimaginable and has included genocide—and, secondly, for the settlement of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I see that as a benefit of a safe and stable Iraq, if only because Saddam Hussein and his notorious ancien

3 Dec 2003 : Column 373

regime were backing the Palestinian jihad and thereby further enhancing the conflict between Palestine and Israel.

Of course, a safe and stable Iraq will also be a victory for moderate Islam—the Islam that demands civilisation and the Islam that is rooted and grounded in civilisation, stability, the rule of law and human rights. I include human rights for women, too. Your Lordships should remember that human rights for women and for widows—I am a widow—came first with Islam. Hundreds and hundreds of years later, another Abrahamic faith, which is reflected by the Lords Spiritual opposite me today, entered the scene and decided that perhaps women should have equal rights as well. That occurred many hundreds of years after Islam gave widows financial benefits.

A safe and stable Iraq also represents a very large step forward—this is an important point—in the fulfilment of goals clearly outlined in the Arab Human Development Report. A number of noble Lords have talked as though human rights are somehow inappropriate, undesirable or even undesired on the Arabian peninsula. That is not so. The lie is given to that attitude by the Arab Human Development Report. At last, the Arabian peninsula has stood up and said, "We are missing human rights; we are missing equal rights for women; and we are missing access to health and education. This is why we are so far behind".

Therefore, equal opportunities for men and women and a federal structure in Iraq will enhance the chances of the existence of minority rights, as also identified in the Arab Human Development Report. They will give protection, we hope, to the weak and vulnerable and care for children. All those things were totally missing in the previous Iraq because the share of Iraq's wealth that belonged to the Iraqi people—those in the north, middle and south—was held in the hands of the evil few. Therefore, the redistribution of that wealth must surely be the underlying goal.

A larger goal is for the region to be free of weapons of mass destruction. Whether or not we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they were used there—not only in living memory but in very recent years—against the Iraqis themselves and against her neighbours. They were used against the Islamic Republic of Iran and Kuwait at least, as well as inside Iraq. Therefore, that threat of action with weapons of mass destruction from Iraq against her neighbours and other states will have been removed.

Those goals have been incorporated in the reconstruction of Iraq. Madrid was a very good beginning—I was there. But the toppling of Saddam Hussein also uncovered international terrorism inside Iraq. I refer to the notorious MKO. Coincidentally I stayed in one of its largest military bases in Iraq and visited it again on Saturday and Sunday last weekend. Who can say that the members of the MKO were not international terrorists when they had six massive military bases inside Iraq? We have discovered Ansar al-Islam, the Al'Qaeda network and Palestinian jihad fanaticism, and all kinds of Yemenis and others are pouring in from Libya.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 374

International terrorism was certainly enhanced by Saddam Hussein and, in some instances, occurred inside Iraq. The reconstruction of Iraq must be matched by an enhanced fight against terrorism in the region and internationally.

We have many reconstruction tools and conflict resolution, which the European Union is well skilled in putting forward. We have seen that in Kosovo and Bosnia, in particular, but also in the rest of the world. We are using those tools. There is also multilateralism. Since the bombing incident in August, the United Nations may not be present physically as much as it was but I am sure that it will be back soon. None the less, based in Amman and Kuwait, the United Nations is very active indeed. Capacity building and the setting up of civil society, including national NGOs, and the establishment of justice and the rule of law are surely the keys to conflict resolution inside Iraq. All those are possible in the new Iraq, just as none was possible under Saddam. No one was free under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

Earlier, the Minister mentioned that the United Kingdom was striving to be a force for good. How does that look on the ground? In Basra this weekend, I saw the splendid changes that have taken place. I have been visiting regularly since April, and earlier from another angle. Basra is considerably enhanced. There is more money and more cars and fewer donkey carts. The economy is improving and the place is considerably cleaner. Many more shops are open and trading is taking place. I was out in the evening, at night and during the day and I was perfectly comfortable.

I turn to the subject of the return of refugees. Here, I pay tribute to Iran, which has been particularly powerful in championing and looking after millions of refugees from Iraq. Essential services are starting to return, albeit far too slowly. I visited the Marshes and went to Al Tarubah village. I remind your Lordships of the armed displacements forced upon the Iraqi Marsh Arabs. Al Tarubah village has suffered from forced displacement. Over the past 12 years, between 14 and 17 times helicopters have descended and streams of soldiers have poured in with machine guns. The Marsh Arabs told me that they moved a maximum of 40 kilometres—a minimum of 10 each time. They lost everything. They have suffered 100 per cent permanent ills, 97 per cent lack of access to medical care for 20 years and 87 per cent illiteracy. They have nothing. They have no jobs and no skills and have been forcibly dispossessed and placed elsewhere time and time again. It is amazing that their social cohesion has persisted through thousands of years of history.

What do we see in modern day Iraq? We see a very difficult time ahead; we see many people still suffering drastically; but we see a real possibility of a free Iraq. There is also a real possibility of an example being shown to the citizens of the Arabian peninsula of freedom, the kinds of freedom that we enjoy here. The opposite, the enemy of peace, is organised crime and assaults on civilisations and cultures that international

3 Dec 2003 : Column 375

terrorism represents. While the price of action now is tough and difficult, the price of leaving the situation alone will be far greater.

7.1 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, that is a fascinating and a difficult act to follow. Any defence policy needs men to implement it, capabilities, equipment, armaments, heavy lift machinery, intelligence and training, the right command structure and above all, it needs the readiness of nation states to invest in defence and to fund the strategies that they have set for their armed forces. The EU began with a reasonable goal, the Petersberg tasks; that is peace-keeping but not national defence, which was the province of NATO.

The ESDP provided two models: Berlin Plus where NATO provides the operational headquarters and commander, helps with planning and provides NATO assets such as heavy lift gear and intelligence; or the so-called autonomous model where one nation takes the lead as the framework nation, the operational planning is done in and with the national headquarters and the lead nation provides the operational commander. In all EU operations the political and strategic direction is set by the EU's own political and military committees.

From the beginning the EU nations have failed to put into defence the money that is needed to create or to equip an effective force. All the EU nations but the UK, and to some extent France, have conscript armies designed for defence, not for sophisticated peacekeeping intervention. Change will be slow. A review of capability shortfall, which was begun in 2000, reported in 2002 that out of 40 major shortfalls 30 were still outstanding. No plans have been made to address some of them. Others could not hope to be delivered before August 2010 or 2012 or later. A NATO capability review revealed much the same level of shortfall. Reaching the headline goal depends disproportionately on spending by Britain and France. What has happened to the A300 is relevant.

However, two weeks after the capabilities shortfall report, the ESDP declared at Laeken, in December 2001, that the Rapid Reaction Force was operational; which meant that it was able to put an effective force in the field. In January 2000, 100,000 troops had been, in theory, committed to the headline goals—12,500 from this country. Were they professional? Were they trained? Quality matters; not merely quantity. Conscript troops are necessarily inexperienced.

All such troops are double-hatted. Initially they were committed, and they remain committed, to NATO. Now the EU has assumed yet another commitment: a formal commitment to the UN involving joint exercises, training and command structures. Nor is it remembered that a handful of key specialists—signallers, intelligence people and highly trained technical specialists—are all double-hatted. Ours are already overworked. They are essential troops who move from commitment to commitment without a pause. Are they soon to be treble-hatted? The

3 Dec 2003 : Column 376

probability is that many of them will leave for lucrative jobs in civilian life. Overstretch is a major threat and retention is a growing problem. The EU is not helping in that regard.

The EU has had three small operations: in Macedonia there was a police operation and recently there was Artemis in the DRC led by France, the framework nation, with some British troops, and I believe a handful of Belgians, for three months. It has set up an ever-growing complex of committees and its own intelligence centre, the Joint Situation Centre, is connected to five national military headquarters. It has spent much more of its energy on creating a growing bureaucracy than, for example, training on the ground. Training with NATO has begun only this year.

The present option, Berlin Plus, or the option of the framework nation leading from a national operational headquarters, should surely offer sufficient scope to an organisation whose members are simply not ready to spend on defence and who, like our own government, appear to regard their armed forces as simply another useful lever for perceived political advantage. Our country, like the others, will spend on social issues—there are votes in that—but not on the most valuable asset that it has in its international relations, its armed services which do not have a voice—no big conversations with them—and whose duty is our defence.

Does anyone suppose that the special relationship would last five minutes without our military card? Yet we see our Government today choosing, quite unnecessarily, to become the ally of the French and the Germans in their new venture when instead they should be acting as the leader of the newly freed world—the Poles, the Hungarians, the Czechs and such European countries as Denmark, Holland and Spain who look across the Atlantic for their protection but who also value NATO for its very imaginative programmes with the young as well as its military effort.

Russia has not gone away. It thinks long. NATO does not threaten the EU, but the reverse is true. The French and the Germans are prepared to use their relationship with Russia to drive the Americans out of Europe and to establish a hegemony of their own to dominate Europe, with Russia sharing the spoils. I am not talking in military terms, but simply in terms of weight and power. We are supporting them in a totally unnecessary, expensive and militarily inoperable new organisation with more institutions, more grand commitments—even a building—and more grand strategies by the high representative Mr Solana. But whose boots will be on the ground? Ours. Let us remember that once a common strategy has been agreed in any area of EU policy, implementation is by QMV, even for defence. The French and the Germans have committed a mean-spirited act of vanity, pique and ambition to control, which contributes nothing to EU capability.

At the last joint meeting with the Russians the EU discussed the use of Russian long-haul aircraft for EU-led crisis management operations and other promising

3 Dec 2003 : Column 377

new avenues for EU-Russian co-operation in the area of ESDP. Soon we shall be told that NATO assets are not necessary; yet NATO is our only guard against the asymmetric threat. We do not need yet another EU institution which will proliferate in bureaucratic bodies while none of the nations concerned are increasing their defence spending or moving in any way to actual capability.

Nor do we need the grand vision of yet more commitment of troops and resources which is represented by the EU plan rushed through in September 2003 without proper consideration for EU/UN co-operation in crisis management, which includes the framework for practical arrangements on security, crisis management exercises, training activities and crisis assessment. The Brahimi plan is dead so the EU has produced something even more ineffective that will produce endless committees. The demand for staff officers for all that bureaucracy is draining from the services, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said, the very officers whom we need to train real troops for real military tasks.

Decisions in the EU on military matters are being made for purely political—and inept political—reasons. We cannot deliver on any existing ESDP or NATO requirement without spending on our over-stretched services; nor can we defend our country. While the Treasury is simply not prepared to fund the Government's own defence programme, that same Government have taken on a totally unnecessary and offensive new initiative which is guaranteed to be developed to threaten NATO and to drive our best friends out of Europe. In my view, the one thing that the Government have to do now is to put their money where their mouth is and support the services if they wish to use them.

7.8 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, it is a privilege to speak late in a debate that has seen the distinguished maiden speeches of my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, who is well known and well regarded in both Hampshire dioceses.

I was glad to note in the gracious Speech the Government's commitment to,


    "help war-torn countries, particularly in Africa, to seize the opportunities for development which peace can bring".—[Official Report, 26/11/03; col. 4]

As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out, first there has to be peace. I want to bring to the attention of the House the situation that is still faced by millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in northern Uganda. In raising those matters it is fascinating to find myself speaking after the noble Baroness, Lady Park, who in April spoke most intriguingly about her own experience when representing Her Majesty's Government in Brazzaville and Leopoldville 40 plus years ago when I was still an undergraduate. I hope to elicit from the Minister the Government's intentions, now and in the coming months, in response to the latest report, published in

3 Dec 2003 : Column 378

October this year, of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC.

I speak both as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention and as Bishop of the only diocese in the Church of England with a partner relationship with the Anglican Church in the Congo. I spent nearly three weeks there a year ago and I remain in close contact both with Congolese and with expatriates living and serving in some of its most pressured areas. I am also privileged to be in contact with a number of Ugandans living in northern and central Uganda, where hundreds of thousands of people continue to be at the mercy of the LRA and other insurgent and bandit groups.

It is essential first to note that there have been very significant positive developments in and for the DRC in the past year. In particular, the establishment of a Transitional National Government and modest progress in establishing the national army; the stabilising of the situation in Bunia by the remarkably swift deployment and excellent service of the interim emergency multinational force, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred, and the opening of humanitarian access to all parts of Bunia; and the arrival there in September of a fresh UN force, MONUC, with an enhanced Chapter VII mandate. These are real gains. There are others, too, and Her Majesty's Government, through painstaking work by Ministers and officials, have played an important part in their achievement.

But the progress remains extremely fragile. I quote from a report, MONUC: Mandate to Succeed, published in September by Refugees International:


    "The tasks facing international leaders, the UN, MONUC, and the new civilian transitional national leadership—many of whom are leaders of the armed groups committing the atrocities—are monumental. Lack of funding, internal power struggles, the presence of armed groups that have little to gain from peace, outside influence from Rwanda and Uganda and an untested MONUC force all add to the difficulty of the situation".

Oxfam has recently repeated that:


    "The Eastern DRC remains one of the world's worst humanitarian crises".

Human suffering in eastern Congo between 1999 and 2003 has been greater than in any armed conflict since World War II. What haunts those few brave people, Congolese and expatriate, who are in a position to provide the rest of the world with this kind of appalling information, is that they know how very little of a vast area is accessible to the kinds of observation upon which it is based. But they have only too credible reports, often from people they know and trust, about what is being perpetrated away from the eyes of any but the victims.

In the time available, I can only point summarily to four matters around which I urge the Government to further action, with EU partners, with the Governments of the Great Lakes countries and at the UN, if the present fragile moment of opportunity is to be consolidated and built upon. Those four matters are MONUC; UK companies and individuals involved in exploitation;

3 Dec 2003 : Column 379

what Refugees International called "internal power struggles" and "outside influence"; and arms control, with particular attention to so-called "small arms", which are not small when they enable atrocities upon yourself and your loved ones and the pillage or destruction of everything that makes a hard life just possible.

MONUC II has to be better supported, better equipped and better led than its predecessor, encouraged fully to fulfil its mandate and very significantly enlarged so that its presence can make for the order and security for which people long down the whole length of eastern Congo. There is no security, no access for observers or medical personnel and no possibility of bringing to justice the perpetrators of the atrocities of the past years even 20 miles from Bunia. But mass killings, violent rapes and other atrocities continue to occur many hundreds of miles to the south, across the Kivus and along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The UN force in Liberia is, I understand, around twice the size of that now being deployed in Bunia, and Liberia is smaller than Ituri, the region in which Bunia stands, which itself makes up perhaps a quarter of the area which needs to be in view.

The October 2003 report of the UN panel of experts continues to name UK-based companies and individuals as having participated in the illegal exploitation of Congolese natural resources. In paragraphs 20 and 21 of that report, on page 6—in a welter of acronyms that I shall not lay upon your Lordships—the panel notes its meetings with the OECD's Committee on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises, made up of the national contact points of the 34 countries subscribing to its guidelines. It notes that a participant described the meeting as a "wake-up" call for those involved and for the whole system.

Those close to all this are concerned that Her Majesty's Government are dragging their feet about acting against UK-based companies and individuals named by the panel on the ground that the panel's evidence remains insufficient. But how, in the conditions obtaining in the DRC, could the panel have done more? What further will the Government do to show that they are serious about all this and to gain the information that is required? Could the Trade and Industry Select Committee play a part?

The panel has produced for the UN further ample evidence that most, if not all, of those participating in the TNG are at the same time continuing to compete with each other in maintaining and developing their bases for power and mineral exploitation up and down the eastern Congo, thus prolonging the conflicts and the suffering of the people. In this, many of them continue to have the active support—indeed, to be acting as proxies—of powerful elements from neighbouring states whose forces have not comprehensively withdrawn within their own borders. Ugandans, let alone NGO personnel, have further linked Uganda's continuing failure to bring to an end the murderous activity of the LRA with the corruption of its armed forces by their years of largely

3 Dec 2003 : Column 380

illegal activity in the DRC. What further steps will the Government take in the light of this continuing, depressing information in support of the TNG process?

Lastly, and briefly, the panel repeatedly notes that illegal exploitation, the continuation of the conflict and the flow of arms are inextricably linked. Your Lordships, let alone the Government, will have seen Shattered Lives: the case for tough international arms control, recently published by Amnesty and Oxfam. Will the Government make the DRC an embargoed destination for arms, including so-called "small arms", sold from the UK or by UK nationals? Will they initiate effective end-use monitoring and effective sanctions? Why should powers of this order be in place with regard to UK nationals suspected of paedophilia or of terrorism but not of the trafficking of small arms?

Perhaps the Government's joint strategy paper for the Great Lakes Region, long required and anticipated and promised in October for 6th November, has been delayed so that it can include a full response to the range of questions that I have tried to summarise, raised for us all by the UN panel's report.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, 2003 was not a good year for the international organisations upon whose effectiveness and credibility much of Britain's foreign policy depends. This dependence is no matter of choice. Not for us the illusion of choice which beguiles the neo-conservatives in Washington and which led them to believe—wrongly as it turned out—that the world's only extant super-power could look after its own interests perfectly well without having to rely on others. We ourselves surely know that in any but the most exceptional circumstances we have to work collectively to protect and to further our own worldwide interests. For collective action to work, we need international organisations in good order, which are capable of acting not merely as international debating societies, but as a political, legal and operational framework.

The idea that all this can be done by rustling up an international posse when we need one—throwing together a coalition of the willing on the spur of the moment—is another illusion and is doomed to be revealed as such when we most need support; and when it is too late to try the alternative of a genuinely collective response. So that bad year in 2003 for international organisations is a bad year for our diplomacy too, and not something that we can afford to regret from afar and to pass by on the other side.

The most damaged of the organisations is the United Nations. It was paralysed in the early months of the year by divisions in the Security Council over how to handle Iraq and grievously wounded by the suicide attack in Baghdad, which led to the withdrawal of most of its personnel and thus to a weakening of its crucial input if a stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq is to emerge from this year's events.

The positive side of the coin is that 2003 has also shown that even when the UN is scraping the bottom of one of its cyclical downs, it remains as indispensable

3 Dec 2003 : Column 381

as ever. Why otherwise is it being asked to take on complex and daunting peacekeeping duties in Liberia and the Congo, as the right reverend Prelate has just reminded us? Why is it to the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency that we are all turning to help head off a crisis in Iran? Why will we almost certainly need that agency's international inspectors in North Korea if that crisis too is to be headed off? If it is to be to the UN that we look for the political, legal and operational framework within which to handle these problems, it cannot possibly be in our interest that the organisation should be deprived of the support and resources it needs to bounce back from this year's low.

Less damaged, but nevertheless in far from brilliant shape, is the European Union. It too was damaged by the Iraq crisis, which split it down the middle and cast doubt on the viability of attempts to rise to one of its next great challenges—the implementation of a common foreign and security policy. Most of its main economies until very recently have stagnated and are struggling to achieve the structural reforms without which it will rapidly cease to be competitive in a globalised environment.

The challenge of settling the terms of the proposed constitutional treaty is before us; of absorbing the new member states; and of appointing a new commission which can restore the institution's credibility and capacity to act for the common good. All these challenges are upon us already; and failure to find a response to them will damage us all.

The latest inmate of the field hospital is the World Trade Organisation, which was damaged by the failure of the Cancun conference. We need to convince the developing countries with deeds as well as words that we are prepared to find remedies to their justified grievances, whether over agricultural trade or textiles, and to persuade them that their stake in a freer and fairer, rules-based, world trading system is as great as ours. They may have damaged themselves more than us by the failure at Cancun—as I believe they did—but that should be no cause of satisfaction or complacency, since in the long run we all stand to lose massively if the world were to slip back into protectionism or to split up into trading blocs.

So what should Britain be doing, faced with the weakening of these crucial organisations? Let us dispose immediately with the alibi that there is not much we can do. Britain plays a key role in all three, either directly or, at the WTO, through our membership of the European Union. If Britain sits on its hands in any of the three, if we are satisfied with reactive responses, simply fending off new ideas with defensive reflexes, we will severely undermine the efforts needed to repair the damage done in this unhappy year and to strengthen these organisations to face the challenges of the future.

At the UN the Secretary-General is setting up a panel— on which I have had the honour to be invited to serve—to analyse the security challenges of the present and the future and to advise on how best to achieve a collective response to them. Kofi Annan's

3 Dec 2003 : Column 382

speech to the General Assembly on 23rd September did not shy away from the need to consider pre-emptive action against terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction; but nor did he mince his words about the danger of unilateral responses to those threats. We should surely give him our full support in this task. We need to provide the UN, either directly or through the European Union, with the resources in men and material that it requires to manage peacekeeping operations, both in military and in civilian reconstruction terms—the latter often being even more important than the former.

In the European Union we also have a key role to play, even if the continuing uncertainty over our own membership of the euro hardly helps us to play it. The constitutional treaty, as the recent report of your Lordship's Select Committee shows, is moving broadly in a direction which meets Britain's interests; the development of a union of sovereign states, united in their diversity, but not slipping, as the myth-makers of Euro-scepticism would have it, irresistibly towards the creation of a superstate.

The Government made some constructive contributions to the work of the convention. They should continue to do that and not yield to the temptation, so often succumbed to in the past, which I fear the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, showed signs of yielding to, of fighting for battle honours which consist solely of points excluded and other people's ideas seen off. The agreement recently reached with France and Germany on defence issues shows that point is being taken.

The deadlines are just as short for the World Trade Organisation. It is really crucial that when the contracting parties meet in Geneva on 15th December that they should reach a consensus on getting the Doha round back on the rails. It is surely time for the European Union to give a lead—as it has begun to do but needs to do at the highest level—and to set an example. I hope that the heads of government will do that when they meet in 10 days' time.

All that sounds quite a lot to do in 2004. But it seems to me that, and as the debate has shown, none of these things are matters that we can afford to duck or skimp. We have had a year in which foreign policy, as a number of noble Lords have said, has been very high on the agenda. But that height has not always produced very happy results, so far. In 2004 we shall need a great deal of perseverance if we are to carry some of these tasks through to a more satisfactory state than they are in at the moment.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am going to make a plea to those who arrange our debates to have a look at the structure of today's debate and to consider whether in future years a different structure when debating the Queen's Speech might be more satisfactory.

I am not in any way criticising the quality of the speeches. They have been excellent. But I am left with a feeling of regret that I could not follow up any of

3 Dec 2003 : Column 383

them. By the time we reached my speech, in the welter of different subjects discussed everyone would have forgotten what was said.

We are debating four different topics: the European Union, international affairs, defence and international development. They are all extremely important and deserve separate days or substantial hours of debate.

I shall make two suggestions. The first is that there should be a Select Committee on international affairs. It should not deal with the European Union; that is excellently dealt with by the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I shall mention some of the topics which I think are important examples of what such a Select Committee could deal with. I include European defence policy because this is not simply a European matter, it is a transatlantic matter of great international importance. In order to be quite clear about the proposal I ask: why is the European defence policy necessary? I have never really had a satisfactory answer to that question. One would like to be sure that to make this proposal work there will be more spending by European governments. Those are two examples of what one could follow up if one had been able to debate the subject more today.

I agree with every word that my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said about Iraq. That particularly would have been very useful to follow up if we had been able to do so closer to his speech. The Middle East also is immensely important. One would like to know whether President Bush will keep to his undertaking to put as much pressure into solving this problem as the Prime Minister Tony Blair has put into solving the Northern Ireland problem. One would like also to follow up the recent speech by Kofi Annan in which he criticised the building of the Israeli wall.

On Afghanistan, one would like to follow up the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who has already been referred to, about the importance of stationing extra troops there. One would like to discuss the growing role of the warlords and how that can be controlled; one would like to discuss the extraordinary increase in the production of opium since the Taliban were overthrown.

On terrorism, one would like to debate the recent United Nations report, which states that most countries are not adequately dealing with or considering that problem. It is a worldwide problem, not one relating only to Western countries. As another example, one would like to discuss in that committee the United States's strategy of pre-emption, with especial reference to Iraq—a strategy that has recently again been criticised by Kofi Annan in another important statement.

One would like to explore nuclear proliferation, which has only recently been referred to in this debate. I am surprised that it has received so little discussion, because, as has been said, there is the question of Iran's nuclear policies, which divide the United States from European countries. I was astonished recently to read a report in a reputable British newspaper that Mr El Baradei, the

3 Dec 2003 : Column 384

director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had said that according to his calculations up to 40 countries could before long be capable of developing a nuclear weapon. If the noble Baroness who is to reply to the debate has come across that remark, I should be interested to hear her comments on it. It seemed a most extraordinary statement.

Georgia was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who also referred to the Chechen problem. That has become a more sensitive issue in recent days when a coup took place in Georgia—I am of course speaking of Asian Georgia, not American Georgia. That country may become much more important, because various American interests want to lay a pipeline through it and it is also a haven for Chechen rebels in the Pankisi Gorge. So that is another topic that would be relevant.

Africa is an enormous problem. The House knows that I have taken a close interest in Zimbabwe, which is an interesting country at the moment. The principal opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, recently changed its policy, as I mentioned to the noble Baroness who was replying to the debate yesterday, to call on the British Government to take the lead in calling for change in Zimbabwe.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development is another subject that we could usefully discuss in the Select Committee that I propose, because the President of Senegal has recently questioned the lack of impetus that he sees behind the development of NePAD's policy of exerting peer pressure in favour of good governance, the rule of law and human rights.

So there are about 10 subjects that would be suitable for the proposed Select Committee. I have not even mentioned defence or international development—defence would of course not be a matter for that committee.

So my impression of today's debate—one that I have received in previous years—is that it could have been much more coherent if it had been organised on a different basis. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, has amazing skill in pulling together various threads—any number of them; an unparalleled skill, in my experience—at great speed and within the 20 minute limit, if that is the limit. Nevertheless, that will not solve the problems to which I have referred. I hope that those who are concerned with these matters will consider how we could improve such Queen's Speech debates.

The way might be to separate the topics: three hours on a certain aspect; three hours in the same day's debate on a different topic. That would at least reduce what I consider to be the incoherence of today's debate.

We in this House have an unrivalled experience of international affairs. It far exceeds that in the other place. I say that having been in the other place for many, many years. I am told by a Member of the other place that in the debate there on international affairs a few days ago, for most of the debate two Back-Benchers were present on the Government side and six on the Opposition side. The skills and knowledge that

3 Dec 2003 : Column 385

we have as regards international affairs in this House could be better used and I hope that my proposal will be seriously considered.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Radice: My Lords, speaking as someone who was recently in the other House, I agree with what the noble Lord just said: the foreign affairs debates there are not nearly as good as they are here. I am certainly not yet in a position to criticise how we organise our business.

If I had been in the House of Commons on 18th March, I should have voted with the Government at the end of the Iraq debate—although with some serious misgivings. One of my misgivings was about the impact of the UK decision to back the United States, without a second UN resolution, on our relations with our European partners, especially France. That is the issue that I want to explore in my brief remarks.

As everyone knows, the Prime Minister has always insisted that there is no contradiction in being both a strong supporter of the United States, on one hand, and playing a leading role in the European Union, on the other. The Prime Minister's concept is that of a bridge, with the UK acting as a bridge across the Atlantic between the United States and Europe. There is no doubt that as a consequence of Iraq, the Prime Minister's bridge was for a time severely damaged.

Our decision to back the United States caused a serious breakdown in our relationship with our main European partners, especially France. As a consequence of that breakdown, things were said in London and Paris that should not have been said. In my view, that breakdown in our relationship was a big set-back to the United Kingdom's European policy. Something had to be done—and quickly—to remedy it, because the United Kingdom cannot achieve its objectives inside Europe without a good relationship with France.

By the same token, an effective, united European Union needs the United Kingdom, especially as regards defence and foreign policy. Here I should perhaps declare a non-pecuniary interest as chairman of the Franco-British Council, which was set up by President Pompidou and Prime Minister Heath to promote understanding between the two countries.

The two countries have a great deal in common. We were allies in the First World War and the Second World War; we are partners in the European Union and NATO; and we are big trading partners. Geographically, we are close neighbours, with large two-way flows of people on business, on holiday or even living in each other's countries. We are old nations with worldwide interests. Both countries have substantial armed forces that they are prepared to use—sometimes very effectively together, as we have seen in the Balkans and the Congo.

Despite what one might think, we have common attitudes in the European Union, especially over European Union institutions. We now need to build on those common attitudes and co-operation. We need to ensure that we co-operate more together. I welcome

3 Dec 2003 : Column 386

the recent summit between Prime Minister Blair and President Chirac—which, contrary to the reports in some newspapers, was in fact a success. I also welcome the recent mission of Britain, France and German Foreign Ministers in Iran. That was a good initiative and we must ensure that good comes out of it. We are certainly not finished there by any means.

Contrary to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in a vigorous speech, I welcome last weekend's agreement between Britain, France and Germany to set up a small EU operational planning unit. It will join the existing European Union military staff attached to the Council of Ministers. I do not believe that even the most hardened Eurosceptic can describe it as a threat to NATO. I do not believe that it is. Indeed, if it is backed up by enhanced military capability—I agree with all that has been said about the laggardness of European countries to provide their own defence—it could be extremely valuable as an additional arm in areas where NATO has decided not to operate.

I turn to the draft constitution. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Grenfell on his skilful chairmanship and on the report that he produced. Contrary to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who normally makes skilful and brilliant speeches, I do not see the convention or the draft constitution as part of a slippery slope to a federal superstate. Frankly, I see the opposite. I see it as a success for Franco-British ideas for a European Union based on the nation states. If the noble Lord doubts me, I invite him to read the first 16 clauses of the draft constitution. He will find that its language is quite different from the language of the Single European Act or the language of the Maastricht Treaty. It is important to read them all in context.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page