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Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's first reply and the implication that we shall continue to respond positively to requests for advice and help from governments in the Middle East on better governance. Nevertheless, is she aware that the press reports of the draft initiative—and I have myself seen only the press reports—are liable to be interpreted in the Middle East as attempts to impose inappropriate forms of government on those governments? Does she agree that we should perhaps wait to see how the constitution of Iraq develops—and, indeed, perhaps our own constitution—before attempting to impose constitutions on others?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I would agree, if that was what we were attempting to do. However, we are not trying to impose constitutions on others. The fact is that there are questions that the Arab countries themselves have identified as needing urgent address. Of course, advice and help will be given when it is asked for, but given in a spirit of partnership. It is important to recognise that we are talking about promoting the values of good governance, human rights, tolerance and the rule of law. Those are not "western" values, but values that many Arab countries are developing. They are universal values—the very values that are detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is that agenda that we want to work towards.

I stress to your Lordships that I was in the region when the leak came, and I am very aware of how the leak struck the countries of the region. The Foreign Office will be working very hard to establish the spirit of partnership to which I alluded.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister, together with the Foreign Secretary, use their influence to ensure that a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine is at the top of the EU and the G8 agenda? Is that not even more important than whatever progress can be made towards democracy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is an enormously important question. I remind the noble Lord what my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said when he made his speech last week. He said that,


He was very clear that it was not a question of doing one or the other and that the two things have to be matched with each other.

I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that before I came to the House today I had a meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mr Abu Ala, who brought with him a very powerful team, including Nabeel Sha'ath, Sayeb Erekat and Salam Sayyad. This

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afternoon, they are seeing my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to have further discussions on the important point that the noble Lord raised.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, presumably, the big thought behind all this talk of a greater Middle East initiative—and the Minister has been very much involved in those matters—is that there should be a vast area of stability throughout the Maghreb and Arab world, in which terrorism no longer receives any sponsors or encouragement but, on the contrary, is removed from all the agendas of all the states involved. Will she continue with her work in that direction? There seem to be three different versions of this initiative: the EU version, the NATO version, and the American version that she mentioned, and indeed a British version of the American version. Will she ensure that they all gradually coalesce into an effective and sensitive operation for the entire area, that they pull together rather than pull apart, as so often seems to be the case nowadays?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord is not implying that we shall pull apart from each other. It is important to see this in the context of addressing some of the problems that countries in the Middle East have themselves identified—the questions about regional economic growth, which is failing to keep pace with the growing population of those countries. We must remember that there is an extraordinary problem when 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 18 and when youth employment is in the region of 50 per cent at the moment. The World Bank has said that over 100 million jobs need to be created in the region in the next 20 years.

The noble Lord is right to identify the question of terrorism. It is enormously important but we cannot look at it in isolation. A bigger picture must be painted. Stability will be part and parcel of economic growth to deal with the questions that I have just identified to your Lordships.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the history of British and American policy in the Middle East has not always been good? In the light of recent history and that of the past 100 years, we ought to tread with great caution. Will she also accept that until we focus our attention on the root cause of injustice in the Holy Land and seek some resolution of that issue, the spreading of peace and freedom in the Middle East will be extremely difficult to achieve?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree in part. It would be very interesting for some of your Lordships to hear what I hear when I visit countries in the Middle East because I hear about historic friendship. I hear a great deal about the way in which this country has contributed to the growth of the countries concerned and to establishing the ways in which they deal with their international relationships. The right reverent Prelate should not run away with the idea that all the countries of the Middle East bear a huge grudge

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against this country. It is simply not the case. I hear a tremendous amount about friendship, historical links and the current vibrancy of our relationship. It is important to remember that countries such as Qatar and Bahrain are as different from Egypt and Saudi Arabia as we are from other European countries. One size does not fit all in this relationship. There are very different issues at stake and they must be addressed differently.

I do agree with the right reverend Prelate that we cannot separate out the problem of Israel and Palestine. For many countries in the region, this is a heart-felt, almost visceral, problem and it must be addressed. That was what my right honourable friend was doing in his speech last week.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the British Government have a clear understanding of exactly what the American concept of "the greater Middle East" covers? On Friday, I heard two American officials disagreeing about whether it was the Arab world or the Muslim world. Does it include Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and all the other "stan"s in Central Asia? Does it go, as one atlas put it, from Marrakesh to Bangladesh or further? Where is it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord sounds like those on the Benches opposite who asked me to define Europe or, on other occasions, those in your Lordships' House who want me to define NATO. I cannot speak for the American Administration. There are enough times when I am in the Middle East when I am asked to answer for American policy. I say very firmly that I am a British Minister and I answer the noble Lord as a British Minister. In the Foreign Office, we define the greater Middle East as the Arab world and the countries of North Africa that constitute the Maghreb.

Business

3.4 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, I have two brief statements about today's business. First, as noble Lords will have seen on the annunciator, a Statement on the Equitable Life inquiry will be repeated by my noble friend Lord McIntosh later this afternoon. It will come at some time after 4.30 p.m. Secondly, I have done the arithmetic on today's Second Reading debate. I admit that meeting the target time of 10 p.m. may be tricky. Allowing a little flexibility, I can tell your Lordships that if all noble Lords speak for about eight minutes we would still get to any vote, should there be a vote, at around 11 p.m., even allowing for the Statement. Putting this in the most courteous possible way, of the 45 noble Lords on the list for today's debate, 23 noble Lords also took part in the debate on a very similar subject on Thursday, 12 February. It may be that a balancing act could take place between those who have already given us the benefit of their wisdom and those who are fresh.

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Business of the House: Standing Order 41

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 41 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Friday 26 March to allow the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury to be taken first.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Constitutional Reform Bill [HL]

3.6 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Constitutional Reform Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Constitutional Reform Bill will abolish the office of the Lord Chancellor and make changes to the way in which the functions vested in that office are handled. It will also create the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, create the Judicial Appointments Commission and remove the right of the Lord President of the Council to sit judicially.

The Bill is one of the Bills referred to in this Session's gracious Speech. It is a significant part of the Government's legislative programme. We believe that the Bill should be considered by this House and then passed to the elected House for its consideration during the course of this parliamentary Session. That is how our democracy works. It allows Bills to be introduced into this House.

We must ensure that we get the detail of the Bill right. In ensuring sufficient time to do that, we must also ensure that the inevitable uncertainty that will surround the arrangements while they are being considered is kept to the minimum required to ensure proper scrutiny. A long period of uncertainty is not good for our legal system.

The essence of the Bill is not new. In 1972, in their report The Judiciary, leading members of Justice recommended the creation of an advisory judicial appointments commission, comprising precisely the sort of membership that we are now proposing: legal professionals, the judiciary and lay members. They repeated the call 20 years later in their 1992 report. The Law Society echoed this call four years ago in a report that called for:


    "An independent [Judicial Appointments] Commission . . . responsible for the recruitment, selection and promotion of candidates from the widest possible pool".

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Almost 10 years ago, shortly before his appointment as my predecessor, my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg said in a speech to the 1996 Bar Conference:


    "Labour favours an Advisory Commission on Judicial Appointments at all levels . . . It would include representatives of the judges and the professions, as well as a strong, high quality lay element".

That is precisely what we are now legislating for.

Similarly, it is five years since Justice made a similar call for reform of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords and the office of Lord Chancellor, saying:


    "We firmly believe that the present arrangements are inherently flawed, and that reform of the judicial functions of the Law Lords and of the Lord Chancellor is not a luxury but a practical necessity. The profoundly changed role both of the judiciary and of the Lord Chancellor's Department, together with the changes being brought about by the renewal of the British constitution, make it imperative that there should be a final court with sufficient authority, expertise and resources to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice at the highest level".

The reforms have been consulted on in detail for seven months. They will be debated in Parliament for many months to come. They will receive detailed and proper scrutiny. In a constitutional change of this importance, proper consideration of the Bill is vital. That it should be considered by the elected Chamber is, however, the foundation of our parliamentary democracy. This House has almost always accepted that. Our role here is to scrutinise and revise. To prevent the Commons even looking at the Bill is to break with that approach. It has been done once before in modern times in relation to a government Bill—the Hare Coursing Bill, in 1975. That Bill, once referred to a Select Committee in this House, was killed there. The Commons never got a chance to look at it. The effect of the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, is that the Bill will certainly not be passed by Parliament within this Session and it may never be considered by the Commons, and that we oppose it.


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